Ricardo Morales: 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.

Ricardo Morales, Chicanos Por La Causa, Tucson, Ariz.

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

I connect with the immigrant community in a special way. I arrived in Tucson 6 years ago, and I know from my personal experience, the challenges immigrants face when they arrive in a new place they want to call home. When we are finally here walking down the streets, we look for ways to connect ourselves with this new unfamiliar place. I will never forget the first people and the first organizations that opened their hearts and doors for me. Six years later, it is an honor and I feel privileged to be able to contribute in a positive way that influences others who are seeking a friendly face, guidance, and support.

My primary role is to engage community residents and establish a grassroots base of trained volunteers to engage in immigrant advocacy efforts to improve the education, health, access to services, and civic engagement outcomes for residents of Southern Arizona, as well as advocate on the policy level. I also engage with and connect stakeholders, allies, organizations, and community leaders to establish permanent, community-focused and grassroots working groups focused on improving the lives of residents.

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

I consider myself a community server; I truly believe that in order to have a wonderful place to live in, we all need to be involved. During my previous jobs, by working with the American community in Guadalajara, Mexico, and with the Mexican community in Tucson, I was inspired by the love and commitment of these groups to work hard to and be great residents of their chosen land.

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

Living in a place where everybody feels welcomed and appreciated benefits the entire community. When all individuals are involved in a group effort, the results speak for themselves. In my experience, when we offer guidance, training and resources, we are giving them the tools for a quick and pleasant integration that provides great benefit for the receiving population.

4. How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

Community organizing has impacted our community because we address and work together to find solutions to common concerns or issues that our community faces. We are working together with different groups, organizations, foreign government representations, local authorities to learn the challenges our people have. As well as work along with community leaders to develop short and long-term solutions.

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

Outreach and communication play an important role on this, because they need to know you are there for them, that you exist to help them to fulfill their needs. Along with community leaders and other entities, empower them to be a voice in immigrant-led groups and grassroots immigrants’ rights organizations.

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

Our immigrant community has been empowered in our community principally by groups or organizations such as Chicanos Por La Causa. Organizations that are born for a cause. Chicanos Por La Causa, or CPLC, was born out of a grassroots social movement in 1969 by community members working to address the lack of resources and services available to low-income Latino communities in South-Central Phoenix and has been on the forefront in addressing social justice issues ever since.

When you empower immigrants or newcomers, the entire community benefits from that, because they are happier, more productive and they deliver more to their new city. In Tucson, an average of 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, and even though we have seen progress along the way, we do not see that number reflected in leadership positions. More work needs to be done.

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 vision is to have a confident, self-sufficient, empowered, engaged and involved community. Empowering the community to take necessary steps to improve their situation with our hand-up model instead of a handout model. Identifying their needs to propose the training, tools and resources that will fulfill their most pressing needs while developing a base of support. We also hope these efforts will be replicated nationwide, and immigrant integration becomes normalized in all communities, embracing the positive results.