Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA!)
The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA!), the brain-child of Executive Director, Isabel Rubio, opened its doors in 1999. Ms. Rubio, a long time Birmingham resident, recognized the need for an immigrant-integration focused organization in the state of Alabama, and she has worked hard to ensure that immigrant integration is the cornerstone of their mission and the primary goal of all of their services.
Ms. Rubio describes immigrant integration as the process of a person joining, participating and contributing to the fabric of an already existing community. The process is on-going and bilateral: as the immigrant integrates into the community, the community changes to reflect its new members. Ms. Rubio defines success as a community that focuses on helping all residents learn new cultures and customs and as they create a new reality together that interweaves all its residents into the whole.
Ms. Rubio admits that integration is hard to measure, as progress is often slow and occurs at very personal levels –in church hallways, school rooms, the neighborhood bank, and the mall. Immigrant integration is visible in often intangible ways that are hard to count or measure, such as immigrants’ increasing willingness to be seen at community events, school meetings, and protests at the state legislature. These results are difficult to include on a grant report, but Ms. Rubio says that progress is visible now in Birmingham, fifteen years after she began her efforts.
Despite the challenges, HICA! soldiers on, offering many services to the community, including financial literacy classes, ESL classes, immigration legal services, tax preparation assistance services and small business development services.
Ms. Rubio mentions that it is the economic integration that is often the easiest to see. Whereas fifteen years ago in Birmingham, Hispanics generally opened small neighborhood tiendas and landscaping businesses, she now sees this same community running jewelry stores, food stores, salons, and other types of businesses. HICA! has helped more than forty small businesses open through their asset building and economic development program, which provides business mentoring, support services, and matching loans with low interest rates.
HICA! plans to serve the Birmingham immigrant community for the long term and is continually reevaluating how to effectively push its agenda of inclusion. Ms. Rubio says they still have a long way to go, but she feels certain the community has embraced her organization and its mission of immigrant integration.