Veronica Felix: NIEP community organizer highlight
Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.
Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico
Roswell, New Mexico
Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?
I enjoy working with immigrants and the refugee community because they will do whatever it takes to improve their lives and especially the lives of their children. In working with immigrants and refugees, they come across as hardworking and ambitious individuals. They are willing to take on jobs that others don’t want to do. They tend to be very responsible individuals and because of their ambition, they are three times more likely to become economically stable and well off than other Americans. In the past, I worked on an organizing project that involved a group of 20 families and my goals were to: establish leadership development training programs; provide broader access to community resources and create personal action/improvement plans. The results were amazing. 90 percent of the participants reached their goals within two years.
What inspired you to enter this field of work?
I grew up in the labor movement. My father started working for the United Farmer Workers (UFW) Union as a labor organizer in 1965. My father taught me many things about organizing, and I still remember my father taking me to community meetings, marches and house visits. We also traveled to different states to promote the migrant workers’ grape boycott. As years went by, I would spend most of the summers volunteering at the UFW headquarters. I actually worked with Cesar Chavez for two summers, which further fueled my passion for organizing and helping immigrant families.
In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community?
What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration? Integrating immigrants into society is important if we are going to build a stronger, inclusive, and more vibrant and peaceful community. Integration engages and transforms communities and its members through sharing of resources, forging mutually beneficial partnerships and creating a more cohesive sense of community. Key aspects of my organizing work includes having one-on-one meetings with community leaders and building relationships with elected officials, decision makers, and members of all religious congregations.
How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?
I am pleased to report that voter registration in rural Chaves County, New Mexico has increased. Through these efforts, we now have a more diverse city council in Roswell, something that hasn’t happened in the past 12 years.
In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?
The immigrant community organized to raise concerns and issues they had with the Roswell School District’s superintendent. They asked fellow parents to sign petitions calling for his resignation, and they became active at school board meetings. The superintendent was eventually removed from his position as a result of the organizing campaign and community opposition.
How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community?
They have been empowered by envisioning a better future for themselves and their community and by addressing long-standing issues and inequality. They have worked hard from the beginning to set personal expectations, defined their roles and responsibilities, and have provided others with leadership training opportunities and access to resources. It has been important to provide them with leadership opportunities, allow them to create their own vision of the future and to address issues of importance to the immigrant community.
Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered?
In my experience, when immigrants feel empowered, they gain confidence and have hope, they feel good about helping their own community, and they feel that they finally have a voice to be heard. Also, their own personal self-esteem is improved through the knowledge that they are creating change, they are acting as role models to younger generations and providing others with hope.
Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years?
What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically? Currently, I’m conducting voter registration drives and public Know Your Rights forums as well as working closely with church congregations and leaders in Chaves County, New Mexico. I am also working with communities to identify and support individuals who may be interested in serving in public office. My goal is to empower immigrants so they can organize themselves and eventually become leaders in their communities.
For over 500 years, New Mexico has been a very diverse state, and I hope that we can serve as a model for how diverse individuals and groups of individuals can work together to build a more just and equitable society. My goal is to address community issues and inequality now but also build organizing campaigns and structures that will empower immigrants well into the future. To affect long-term change, politicians, our government, and decision-making agencies and entities must be more diverse to reflect the make-up of New Mexico’s population, which is primarily Latinx/Hispanic. I believe the key to affecting widespread and systematic change in society is by identifying and supporting individuals, especially immigrants, who want to serve in public office and who bring greater diversity and cultural competence to public policy making and decisions.