Perla V Aguilar Alvarado: NIEP community organizer highlight

Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.

Perla V Aguilar Alvarado, Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, Las Cruces, N.M.

1. Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?

I enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community because these people are members of the community with such humble, hard-working, and unity between their people. It is an inspiration to see and motivates me to do this by good will rather than as a job.

2. What inspired you to enter this field of work?

My personal experiences have inspired me to work in this field. I came to the U.S. with my parents when I was five years old and witnessed the struggles my parents experienced. However, I appreciate where we are now. Since becoming a U.S. Citizen (or obtaining legal status), I feel more confident using my voice to advocate for others who have not been able to obtain legal status. The NIEP gives me the tools to help immigrant and refugee communities by providing resources and knowledge on how they can empower each other.

3. In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community? What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration?

Integration offers a power of unity and amplifies the voices of people, over matters in their communities that have often been ignored. When promoting integration, it is important to openly hear first and act after, to understand community members better. Each community is different, and each person goes through many journeys in life. Once you understand the journey of others, it is helpful to see what contributed to their successful integration whether it is with their community or country. Then you can highlight their experiences and witness their continued journey as they continue to work towards a better life. If we come together to act as one big voice against those many small voices who are trying to mute them, then there will be more change in community.

4. How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

When one goes into these small communities in New Mexico, there is a sense of exclusion from the rest of the state, as if they been forgotten as part of the state. This makes our job important to include them in information regarding financial aid, resources that would benefit their health and knowledge over legal rights that would protect them around their migratory status.

5. In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?

Immigrants and refugees have played a crucial role in grassroots movements from the moment they left their home country to build a better life for themselves in the United States. They face obstacles that native-born members do not have to. The immigrant and refugee communities have fought against life challenges to keep their families together, safe, and strong. They have incredible strength and resilience to overcome any additional challenges that come their way, the community will continue to find ways to thrive in their new home.

6. How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community? Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered?

The immigrant community has been empowered by knowing that there are people out there like Catholic Charities, who are advocating for them and willing to working alongside, educate, and provide them the tools to grow. Throughout the years, the organization has conducted workshops to educate and prepare the community on self-empowerment. Catholic Charities also connects them with partners in our network that will help them be more active in the communities around them. Our legal team is great and offers immigration services that help them build confidence and power to defend themselves and their families. Every act by us, big or small, helps them tremendously in their life and shows us how our contribution has empowered them in their community.

7. Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years? What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically?

Our project focuses on empowering immigrant communities through education and resources, while promoting immigrant integration and confidence to address social issues affecting the community. Our goal is also to help the community be self-sufficient, which we hope to do through advocacy, education, and community organizing efforts. Knowledge is a key factor that we focus on, so we provide workshops and classes that will help them learn how to overcome certain barriers in their journey to success. For example, we over ESL classes to the community to address the language barrier. We hope to expand these efforts and include GED workshops and citizenship prep classes.  We want the community to be knowledgeable about their basic rights, so they can protect themselves. Through the NIEP, we hope that communities across the country will see that there is the possibility for change for underprivileged communities of immigrants.