Immigrant Women Rise against Domestic Violence

Editor’s note:  In continuing our series on gender violence issues, Frontera NorteSur offers the first of two articles on a New Mexico community organization that struggles against domestic violence in the Spanish-speaking immigrant community.

Immigrant Women Rise against Domestic Violence

Off a busy Albuquerque boulevard, one of the city’s most vital services goes on quietly with its work.  Now 13 years old, Enlace Communitario, or Community Link, works non-stop to prevent and resolve domestic violence among the Duke City’s large, Spanish-speaking immigrant population.

Beginning with a handful of visionary founders, Enlace Comunitario now employs a fulltime staff of 31 and many volunteers who educate the community about the varied manifestations of domestic violence, as well as channels assistance and resources to victims.

To reach a big population in a geographically spread-out area, Enlace trains and deploys volunteers called promotoras, or promoters, who are typically survivors of domestic violence.

Recently, FNS sat down with three new promotoras to hear their stories and ideas as they get ready to hit the field.  Now in the prime of their lives, all of the women express a deep desire to give back to the community.

Originally from the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, Tomasita Turruviartes said the domestic violence she suffered resulted in a spell of homelessness.  Eventually finding her way to Enlace Comunitario, the mother of four got counseling and a legal referral to help her with obtaining a divorce and child support. Turruviartes considers herself fortunate to have received the aid.

“I was a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence,” she said in a firm voice. “Many women suffer from domestic violence, but they don’t talk about it or know where to go.”

Like many of her paisanos in Albuquerque, Isabel Licano hails from Chihuahua, the big Mexican state bordering New Mexico. Another survivor, Licano said her husband tormented her for 15 years, even sometimes locking her out of the house while destroying the personal documentation she possessed.

At one point, Licano admitted, she was on the verge of suicide. But like Turruviartes,  Licano found help at Enlace Comunitario . For the friendly woman, the meeting was a life-changer. “I’m here and I’m happy,” Licano said, her eyes brightening up the interview room.

A longtime worker in a fast food restaurant, Licano said she shares her experiences and insights with both fellow workers and regular customers.  Once, she recalled, a couple gave her a rose in gratitude.

Maria Hernandez arrived to Enlace Comunitario in a somewhat different way than her sister promotoras.  An immigrant from Aguascalientes, Mexico, Hernandez first lived in Nevada before her family decided it was too far from the homeland and undertook a search for a place closer to the border.

“Albuquerque was half way to Aguascalientes. We stopped here and liked the culture,” Hernandez said. “It’s like living in Mexico.”

After landing a job with Enlace Comunitario’s  children’s program, Hernandez was soon exposed to the organization’s mission. That got her thinking. Unlike many victims of domestic violence, Hernandez said she did not experience violence from her partner.  But from what she learned on the job,  Hernandez realized that her big family of 10 siblings back home had grown up with domestic violence as par-for-the-course.

“I identified everything. Sadly, I spent my whole life with domestic violence,” Hernandez sighed.

Informally, the childcare worker has since transformed Enlace Comunitario into a binational anti-domestic violence program by sharing her education with family members while on visits to Mexico.

“I told them I want to teach them what I learned in Albuquerque,” Hernandez added. “Everyone is now in therapy.”

Back in her New Mexico home, Hernandez’s association with Enlace has become multi-generational: two of her teenage children have participated in the group’s youth program.

Bustling with activity in a sprawling office complex, Enlace Comunitario might be called a one-stop shop for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

By contacting the non-profit organization, victims of domestic violence or persons just wanting to know more about the issue can get directed to counseling, legal help, support groups, and English and life skills classes.  They can find assistance with meeting rental payments, locating alternative shelter and navigating immigration rules and regulations.  A childcare program and a men’s group are among other the other services offered to the public.

As the name Enlace Comunitario denotes, the goal is to link people in need with the right assistance.

Although the organization stands as the only service of its kind for Spanish-speaking residents of greater Albuquerque, the issue it addresses is certainly not unique to the immigrant population.  Domestic violence is a “grave problem” that afflicts people everywhere, Hernandez was quick to add.

Popular education is a key component of Enlace Comunitario’s work, and the promotoras play an essential role.

After undergoing an intensive training, the promotoras give presentations to audiences in schools, community centers, churches, and many other places, said Ana Salazar, Enlace Comunitario’s engaging Latinas coordinator.

Claudia Medina, Enlace Comunitario’s co-founder and executive director, told FNS that the promotoras make a one-year commitment.  So far, the group has graduated 60 promotoras, she said.  Victims,  Medina emphasized, are encouraged to transform themselves into leaders.

Nowadays,  Enlace Comunitario  is so well-known that it doesn’t have to go out seeking venues-people call them, Salazar added.  A high community profile was exemplified by the organization’s float last month in Albuquerque’s 2013 Dia de los Muertos Marigold Parade.

Immigration status and geographic isolation are two of the main obstacles Enlace Comunitario confronts in carrying out is mission.  For undocumented women, threats from abusers to turn a victim in to the police or immigration authorities are common forms of psychological manipulation.

According to Hernandez, women are frequently threatened with destitution if they leave an abusive relationship.  “That’s why a lot of the community doesn’t speak out,” Turruviartes added.

In central New Mexico, many immigrants reside in the relative isolation of smaller communities outside Albuquerque’s city limits where the lack of help can be a huge problem for victims of violent relationships.

“If they want the services, they have to come to Albuquerque,” Salazar said. “It’s a barrier.”  Another issue is distrust of outsiders, an obstacle that can be effectively overcome through the medium of English classes, according to Salazar.

Tomasita Turruviartes, Isabel Licon and Maria Hernandez are busy women with jobs, school and families to raise.  But they all  agreed that volunteering with Enlace Comunitario while educating the community about ways to curb domestic violence is an integral part of their lives.

Along with six other women, the trio will be honored at a December 7 graduation ceremony for the 2013 class of promotoras.

“Like Isabel says, Enlace is like a home,” Hernandez said. “As a promotora, I am like a light to people in the darkness. We’re the lights.”

For more information about Enlace Comunitario, readers can go to:

-Kent Paterson

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