Latino Voices at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church


“We are economic refugees, not illegals,” Alicia * told an audience of about 30 people at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church on January 29.  Alicia, a student at Normandale College, spoke of crossing the border as an undocumented immigrant when she was 14 years old.  Six years earlier, her father had come to the United States. because of a medical condition that was too expensive to treat in Mexico City. Now the family wanted to be reunited.  Her mother, Alicia and her seven-year-old brother paid $1000 to cross the border.  It took three attempts in all to successfully make it across into the United States.

“When we got here we knew it was worth it,” said Alicia.  Years later, she was awarded a scholarship to the College of St. Catherine, but was not able to finish her degree because of her undocumented status. Alicia has been an organizer to get the Dream Act passed, both in Minnesota and federally.

“Never be afraid to ask a Latino their story,” said Maria Zavala, a community organizer for the Family Partnership. “It is actual and better story than you will find in the news.” 

Maria Zavala and Alicia spoke to the group as panelists from Latino Voices, a joint project of La Conexion De Las Americas and the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration.  Latino Voices educates the public by putting faces on immigration issues, as individuals tell their personal stories. Participants chose local churches to speak because churches feel like a safer place.

Zavala talked about families that come to the center in Minneapolis.  A few of the issues are: undocumented immigrants cannot get a house or decent apartment. They risk being deported if stopped by the police without having a driver’s license.  Kids have a difficult time in school.  Mental health concerns are high among teens, as is the incidence of suicide. “Kids don’t feel they are worth it,” said Maria. “Some families never reconnect. There is a 85% of separation rate.”
Kathleen Ganley, the facilitator for the panel, said “People now pay $3,000 from Mexico and $15,000 from Ecuador to cross the border.”  Ganley is on the faculty of Spanish and Portuguese studies at the University of Minnesota.
The next Latino Voices presentation tentatively set for April at Hamline University.


* Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual student.