Hispanic Teens Reach Out To Help Their Own – Quietly

June 6, 2017
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Sign from a rally on Feb. 27 in Red Bank supporting the borough as a “welcoming and inclusive community.” Photo by Jay Cook

By John Burton |

RED BANK – They are young and hopeful for the future, but they worry about that future for their families and their community. They are looking to help, even if it’s just in small ways.

“You know there is a barrier in the community, because there’s been a lot of things going on,” said one of the two young Hispanic women interviewed for this story, as she discussed the Hispanic community she’s lived in since coming to the United States as a child and her current efforts to help it.

She and her fellow organizers have named their group “Del Ortro Lado,” Spanish for “the other side.” Their shared goal is to “be a bridge in the community.”

The two women who spoke to The Two River Times on May 10, who we will call “Juana” and “Maria,” requested their names not be used or photos be taken, citing concerns over their families’ and their immigration status given the current climate.

“Things are very complicated for them,” said Maria, referring to their families and community. “There’s definitely a lot of fear in the community.”

Both women were born in Mexico and their immigration status in the United States is tenuous, as is that of family members. Juana, who is now 21, was 5 years old when she and her family came to Red Bank as undocumented immigrants. Maria, 23, came to the U.S. when she was 10. She and her family had spent a year in California before relocating to Red Bank. Juana’s family had overstayed their visa, she explained.

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Both women are now college graduates. Juana graduated last year from Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, with an associate degree in business administration; Maria graduated this month from Jersey City University, where she majored in political science and pre-law, with a minor in psychology. Maria hopes to pursue a career in advocacy, working for a non-profit. Juana works multiple jobs, at a local hotel, coffee shop and an area gym, and she too, would like to eventually work for a nonprofit advocacy organization, after going to a four-year college sometime in the near future.

Both women describe themselves as “Dreamers,” hoping to see the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act eventually become law; so far it hasn’t been authorized by federal lawmakers, but it is seen as a means for putting young, undocumented immigrants on a path to permanent residency. They’ve applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy enacted in 2012 that made these women eligible to apply to college and for work permits.

Maria and Juana have approximately eight current college students in similar situations to assist them with their efforts. “We just want to help as many people as we immediately can,” Maria said.

Del Ortro Lado held its first community gathering this month, using Lunch Break soup kitchen and food pantry, 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd., for the meeting. The group’s role, the women explained, will be to facilitate and to offer guidance on how members of the community, especially younger members who are in similar situations as the two, can obtain passports, other IDs, medical care, legal services, education opportunities and other things they might require, but fear approaching official governmental outlets for given the current environment and rhetoric on the national level. “It’s basic things, sometimes,” Juana said.

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“There’s definitely a fear. Unfortunately, there is a lot of distrust,” within the community, Maria said, with she and Juana fearing for their own future. “We thought there was risk in this for us,” she acknowledged. “It could bring unwanted attention to us.”

Ultimately, “For me,” Juana said, “I hope these families are able to feel safe and live lives they want to live.”

The group has received some support from the greater community and hopes to eventually work with other organizations.

Frank Argote-Freyre, director of the Latino Coalition, has seen similar grassroots organized in Freehold and in Belmar. Argote-Freyre said such groups are “emblematic of the Hispanic community, saying, ‘Hey, this is our country too and we’re going to stay here and work for it.’ ” He expects if the current climate continues, there will be more of these groups emerging and winning support in the larger communities.

He recommended the local group work with his organization and similar ones, relying on its resources to provide a wider range of services as the community continues to face “the angry rhetoric” from national groups and elected officials.

This article was first published in the May 25-June 1, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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