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Empowered Communities: Witnessing Love and Resilience at Family Focus Cicero

Despite the nonstop challenges of the past year and a half, our community has remained powerful, influential, and focused in so many ways.

By Michelle Ramirez, Lead Bilingual Case Manager, Family Focus Cicero

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Working at Family Focus Cicero, a local community nonprofit, I have had the privilege of seeing our families thrive through such overwhelming barriers and challenges in this past year. Taking a moment to step back and reflect, I wanted to share the incredible characteristics of our immigrant, Latinx, and communities of color and really give space to highlight our community power.

The immigrant experience is one of many complexities. It is a combination of generations, cultures, and ways of living on top of navigating cycles of systemic racism and lack of access to services and opportunity. There was and might still be a narrative of the “sleeping giant”: this growing group of people that is navigating society in a steady, almost unnoticeable way, though not necessarily thriving. However, the community of immigrants, Latinxs, and people of color that I know is one that is powerful, influential, and resilient.

Though the COVID-19 numbers are not where we want them to be, there is a sense of peace as vaccine information and vaccines themselves are becoming more accessible. Families are welcoming new perspectives and asking the questions needed to take the best and most effective approach to their own care and that of their families. Our families are realizing that they hold the key to questioning systems of oppression and the pathway to a more fulfilling life.

Through learning how to manage e-learning and sending emails, text images, or fax documents, our families are taking a stand and saying, “help me help myself, my family, and those around me.” From gathering information on public benefits, to verifying if public charge is applicable to them, to joining conversations with the state and IDPH, our communities are increasingly accessing a seat at the decision table. They are requesting interpreting services, sharing their perspectives on the ground, completing witness slips, signing pro-immigrant campaigns, and so much more.

During this past year, we have witnessed the community being there for each other. When one was COVID-19 positive, someone would reach out and deliver cleaning supplies, groceries, baby essentials, and other basic items. Families continue to send their comadres and vecinas to agencies that have helped them and assured them that they would be assisted in any way possible. It has been a time when local restaurants have worked with community nonprofits to ensure families in need had food at their table for their children, when agencies and municipalities worked together to ensure essentials such as water services were not suspended due to lack of payment.

It has been a time when self-advocacy and advocacy for others has been fundamental in continuing to have a home or access to emergency funds, when if you had un poquito de arroz, you made a meal for someone who did not.

In our culture, traditionally, men have tended to be the heads of households and moms have tended to stay home with the children. This is not the case for all, but it is for many of our families. We have seen community moms exploring their potential; holding conversations on empowerment, self-care, and self-love; and placing their crown on their own head. We have had many moms take leadership roles in their home and learn to voice their wants and needs. We have had children spend more time with their dads while their moms conducted Health Navigator or Parent Ambassador work, allowing children of all ages and fathers or paternal figures to further develop that life-lasting bond. We have also had dads embrace their role as fathers or father figures, learning that they too have parental rights, regardless of immigration status, and that they too have a voice⁠—a very beautiful one.

As this very eventful and impactful year is settling down, we must take a step back and give ourselves the pat in the back that we so deserve. We are a group of people that responds to challenges by staying focused, safe, and forward-moving. As someone who works on the ground and is a part and un producto orgulloso of the immigrant story, I see our determination and ever-growing will to not just survive, but to really thrive. It fills me with gratitude and honor to be part of this community.