I would like to introduce my organization, Centro Presente, to this great city, which is our new home.
Actually, we’re not new to Somerville—we’ve worked here for many years, and we have hundreds of Somerville members, but we recently moved our headquarters to 17 Inner Belt Road.
Centro Presente was formed in 1981 to help immigrants become part of American society. At the time, they were mostly Salvadorans fleeing a brutal civil war. Sister Rose Marie, a Dominican nun affiliated with St. Mary’s of the Annunciation Church in Cambridge, saw these refugees coming to the church asking for help in a crisis. She got together with other people of faith, lawyers, and the refugees, and together they founded Centro Presente.
Even though we’ve been around 27 years, we have continued to be an organization of newcomers. Migration hasn’t stopped. In El Salvador, peace accords were signed in 1992, but now people are coming from several parts of Latin America because of the global economy. Countries in the global South are experiencing severe economic devastation and the result is migration. This is happening all over the world, not just here.
At Centro Presente, we provide legal immigration services to qualified immigrants. If you qualify under the law for a green card, to become a citizen, or to have a work permit, we will help you with the paperwork.
We also have an adult education program with usually about 500 people a year, where we offer classes in English, citizenship, basic computer skills, and basic education for immigrants to get them on the road for better educational and job opportunities.
And we have an after-school program with about 50 kids, ages 11 to 18, to develop leadership, keep youth out of trouble, and open up new opportunities, new ways of being, new windows on the world. We partner with other Somerville organizations for this program.
We also resolve wage and hour violations for workers. We advocate on behalf of workers vis-à-vis employers.
We serve about 3,000 people a year, mostly in Somerville, Boston, Cambridge, and Chelsea. About half are members of Centro Presente, and about 60 are active in teams that come together twice a month. These teams do the organizing and the community work, like the “Welcoming Massachusetts” campaign (more on that next week) and the work we do to help families that are facing detentions and deportations. We also register citizens to vote.
Members come together at least once a year in assemblies to make decisions and elect the board. All 1500 are invited but those who take part are mostly the team members.
At Centro Presente, we take democracy very seriously. It not something we take for granted. We come from countries that have histories of bloody civil wars in search of a democracy, so for us, it’s something really dear, something that we value, and that we try to live.
Membership in Centro Presente makes democracy come true in a very concrete way. When you come to the organization for our services, that creates a vertical relationship: we are the experts. Membership makes the relationship more horizontal, more equal. The member has the right to shape the organization, to make decisions about where the organization is going and what our priorities are going to be.
I’ll post more next week about those priorities.