Photo courtesy of Rebeca Mendoza
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Evanston officials did not release much medical and regulatory information in Spanish.
Evanston resident Rebeca Mendoza wanted to address the issue. She translated city COVID-19 information into Spanish and posted it onto a Facebook page. After seeing an outpouring of questions and posts on the page, she formed an official nonprofit organization, Evanston Latinos, to support the Latinx community.
Evanston Latinos Vice President Juan Geracaris said the group primarily works to advocate for the Latinx community.
“There hasn’t been an official voice in Evanston for the Latinx community,” Geracaris said. “Finding out what the Spanish-speaking community’s needs are and being a space where people can communicate and share is really important.”
Rebeca Mendoza said the group’s priority is to promote equity and inclusion for immigrant and undocumented families.
Through that effort, Evanston Latinos established a “resilient home program,” which provided a week-long training for 40 households. The course covered information specific to COVID-19. Facilitators clarified myths, provided household technology for online school use and discussed how to deal with wage losses over the last two years.
The group has also advocated for immigrants and undocumented community members at the local and state government level. Undocumented immigrants were ineligible for government aid that provided relief to millions of Americans.
“All people who were undocumented were not able to receive stimulus or were fearful of public charge,” Rebeca Mendoza said. “A huge win for us was the creation of the (Northwestern) Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund, a plan specifically through the city of Evanston that allowed immigrants to make use of a fund parallel to the Emergency Relief Fund.”
Evanston Latinos also partnered with the Young Women’s Christian Association to create “Promotoras,” a group of female community health workers. The women attended a paid 30 hour training session which educated, empowered and equipped them with resources in areas of domestic violence.
The group has recently received two grants, one of which is through the Evanston Community Foundation. It will establish a racial healing program and document the existence of the Latinx community in Evanston.
“We hope to collect stories and trace when Latinos started coming to Evanston and their history here, as well as acknowledge the need for more racial equity,” Rebeca Mendoza said. “Because of language access, they’ve left the Spanish speaking community out of these conversations,”she said.
NU also awarded Evanston Latinos a grant to work with local artist Claudia Renteria to promote Latinx artists.
Rebeca Mendoza said the group wants to emphasize growing Latinx demographics within the community. She added that Evanston Latinos want the city to start actively including the Latinx community in its work.
City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza, a former community liaison and current volunteer, explained her biggest motivation for being a part of the group.
“One of the hardest things about being a Latina in Evanston is being told how much I am needed. My contributions are needed, my language, my culture, my skills, but yet the community is not investing in this permanent and growing need,” Stephanie Mendoza said.
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