NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On February 2, Lazos America Unida officially opened its new community center at 57 Livingston Avenue, beneath the New Millenium Bank in downtown New Brunswick.
Spearheaded by community leader Teresa Vivar, the organization has been around for over a decade but has not maintained a steady headquarters until now.
Its mission is to represent and advocate "on behalf of the Mexican American community" and "strengthen the relationship between the Hispanic and the broader community through grassroots projects that seek to enhance and foster individual and collective prosperity."
Vivar outlined the many uses of the for the community-oriented space, including a community health clinic, legal assistance for immigrants, social and cultural events, Zumba classes, and community organizing meetings.
The very next day the center was already in use, hosting a well-attended event organized by Cosecha, a national movement "fighting for permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States."
The purpose of the February 3 meeting was to educate people about their campaign to get New Jersey to offer driving priveleges to undocumented immigrants who would otherwise qualify.
The organizations are working together towards a March 17 rally and march through the city, using the new center as a home base to organize.
The space also includes an office and studio for Carlos Ramírez, an award-winning bilingual reporter who works with this newspaper.
A number of local leaders were present for the opening ceremonies, which included a variety of performances and speeches, plus an array of authentic food.
Among the dignitaries there were Diego Gómez Pickering, who leads the Mexican government's Consulate General office in New York City, who helped to cut the ceremonial ribbon on the center.
In Spanish, Pickering said the Vivar was a "a great inspiration to all of us in the Mexican community in New Jersey" and spoke to the importance of New Brunswick as a key population center of the state's Hispanic community.
Vivar introduced a team that has been helping to raise funds for Oaxaca, the Mexican state that is the most common homeland for New Brunswick's immigrants.
The organization is working to strengthen connections with the state, located some 4,500 miles from the Hub City. The region sufferred a devastating earthquake in September.
"Oaxaco was already poor so with this situation, it's even worse," said Vivar. "So part of the trip to Mexico with Dr. Karen Alonzo is to visit Juchitán [a district within Oaxaca] and help and establish the relationship so we can send nurses and a health group over there."
Vivar said that, in the future, the new center will be hosting a weekly market to sell homemade art made by Oaxacan women "to establish the economy, and help the indiginous women."
Shortly after Vivar and her team arrived in Mexico last month, Oaxaca experienced another earthquake, but they have persevered with their mission in spite of the disaster.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.