A stepping stone to U.S. citizenship: Alicia Flores of La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth and Family Center in Oxnard
By Grier King 02/21/2013
Nestled comfortably in a small headquarters on West Fifth Street in Oxnard is a brilliant and much-needed resource, La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth and Family Center. Founded in 2005 by Alicia Flores, the center has proved an invaluable resource for the immigrant community of Ventura County.
“The purpose is to help the underserved. This is a grass-roots organization and [we] want to serve the community by helping them to adjust to a new country, to know what their rights are,” says Flores.
The center provides many services, including a food share program, a literacy program, computer classes and an ESL program. The food share provides food for 250 to 300 families per week, with the literacy program aiding participants in finishing the educations they weren’t able to conclude while in Mexico. The literacy program works in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate so that participants may receive their diplomas from Mexico. This ensures that, if any circumstances bring about a need to return to Mexico, the students will have the education credentials they need in order to find jobs.
In early October, 14 students graduated from the program and received their diplomas from Mexico.
Apart from education, the center also provides help for victims of domestic violence and fraudulent acts. These crimes against community members are what motivated Flores to create this resource.
“Our community is very vulnerable in the immigration process. I heard about a lot of [people] becoming victims of abuse; they are promised a process and they [the people who promised the process] commit fraud. They are promised a work permit and they [the people who promised the process] will just take their money or even put them on deportation,” Flores said. “Some don’t know their rights for their kids in school, or their rights in housing, or where to get some kind of help. This is a kind of guidance for them, when they have any problems, they come here to ask, ‘Where can I go to get a divorce?’ ‘Where can I go to get a restraining order?’ and things like that. The community [didn’t] know where to go to get help. That was one of my motivations to have this organization open for the community.”
The center also aids immigrant community members in becoming U.S. citizens. Since the recession, the fee for processing immigration paperwork has increased, making it a true struggle for immigrants, who often have low incomes, to afford the process, so things have slowed down for the center in that regard. However, before the recession struck, La Hermandad held “Citizenship Fairs” where 250-400 people would show up to have their paperwork processed in a single day. There are also classes held at the center to prepare those applying for citizenship with the test and interview they will face once their paperwork has been processed by the government.
“They put themselves last,” Flores said on the matter of the difficulties immigrants face in their process of pursuing citizenship. “They don’t continue going to school, they don’t [make] the effort to learn the English language. That’s the difficulty for them, the language, because they don’t have the time to continue going to school. That’s the barrier that they have.”
Since its opening, the center has produced 3,000 American Citizens.
Alfonso Villegas, of Oxnard, is one of La Hermandad’s latest success stories. He recently was granted U.S. citizenship and was able to register to vote just before the elections. Flores translated his words to English as he spoke, “It was my goal and my dream in life to become a US citizen, and I am very pleased to have received my training here to be able to do so. The teachers are good, and have many, many strengths; it’s nice. I’m very excited [to vote]!”
The people receiving aid from the center, however, aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits.
“I have learned a lot,” Flores said. “It’s been very satisfying for me, and a blessing. … You can help them change their life. They come back and they are very happy and thankful, and they tell you, ‘God bless you,’ and you can see that you were able to help make a change in that person’s life. That’s been my reward, to see that I was able to help.”
Volunteers are needed to teach English as a Second Language classes though it is not required that volunteers speak Spanish. Volunteers are also welcome for the food share program to distribute the food to families in need, and monetary donations are always greatly appreciated.
For more information, contact Alicia Flores at 483-4620 for inquiries, or visit the center at 520 W. Fifth St., #D, Oxnard.