Luz Eneida Garcia is a Casa Latina Board Member and former co-Director. We asked her to tell her Casa Latina Story.
My Casa Latina Story
by Luz Eneida Garcia
I came from Puerto Rico to Northampton on September 23, 1993 with my son Freddy and $500.00 in my bag to start a new life for both of us. One of my childhood friends had told me that Northampton was a nice place to live and also that Massachusetts had great support for families with children with special care needs. My son, Freddie, has moderate to severe cerebral palsy so we definitely needed services.
Soon after I came to Northampton, I started to access services from the system: Department of Transitional Assistance, MassHealth, Department of Public Health, Department of Developmental Services (previously, the Department of Mental Retardation), Housing Authority, Fuel Assistance, free English classes, among others. During this time, I was busy studying and taking care of Freddie. Trying to understand services and adjust to a new culture while unable to speak English was very stressful for me, especially without the support of my family.
Not until six years later, when the outreach worker from Casa Latina knocked on my apartment door, did I learn about Casa’s services. I attended an educational program about Latino women heroes. The outreach worker was very excited about the program and encouraged me to participate. At that time I had my older son with special care needs as well as two other boys, three years old and two months old. I had graduated from Holyoke Community College and been accepted by Smith College. I was depressed because I had just ended my relationship with the father of my two younger children, and I was overwhelmed by child care demands, especially for my disabled son. Also, my dream was to continue studying early child hood education; I felt it was a better choice than business administration, which I had studied in Puerto Rico, to allow me to work full time and take care of my three children.
I informed the outreach worker that my participation in the community education program was impossible, given my other responsibilities. How could I attend every Wednesday, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm for 12 weeks? They offered child care, transportation, and snacks, but for me it just seemed out of the question. She told me to think about it and call her if I decided to go; I thought “no way Jose.” But, she came back and knocked on the door again. The second time, she was even more enthusiastic about my participation. She repeated the same information, but, this time, she insisted that attending would help me get connected with other people from the Latino community, particularly other Latino women. She also said that I also would learn more about services and support for my family. She convinced me.
Once I went to the first meeting, I confirmed what the outreach worker was talking about. Yes, it was a great opportunity to learn about the Latino women heroes, but, for me more than anything, it was the opportunity to connect with the Latino families that I missed and needed so much. The people that were there could understand my culture, and that was very significant for me. I recognized that I was isolated and completely disconnected from the community where I lived. Attending Casa Latina’s community educational program changed my life.
For 15 years, I went to all the community educational programs that Casa presented. I was invited to be a member of Casa’s Board. It was my first such experience. They mentored me and supported me with child care. I learned about the organization and about the community. I became a Co-President of the Board, and then I became the Co-Director for Administration of the program. I always had very strong support from the members of the Board and the staff, but more than anything, I received support from the people of the community that I have always loved. I have always felt accepted in Northampton, as in Puerto Rico, not only by my Latino community but by the larger community where I live.
With everything that I leaned through the years that I was a participant in the programs, a member of the Board and the Co-Director for Administration of Casa Latina, I was able to grow in so many different ways. Today, I have my own house which I could buy thanks to the support of Community Action and the Northampton Housing Authority; I have a great job as a care coordinator of the Care Coordination Program of the Department of Public Health; and I have a happy family which is part of this beautiful community where we live.
Without the opportunity that the outreach worker from Casa Latina, Inc. gave me when she came back to knock on my door and insisted on the importance of making connections and becoming educated, this story might have had a different end. The truth is that I could not be happier that it was the way it was. Also, I share this happiness with other people of the community that have had similar experiences; it’s what gives me a real sense of community, where everyone can have the same opportunity to educate, connect, and grow. I thank Casa Latina, Inc. for its commitment to our Latino community.