Alabama can be daunting for newcomers, especially when there are cultural and language barriers. More than 20 years ago, Isabel Rubio founded the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama to assist Latinos who migrate to the state and to push for economic equality, civic engagement and social justice. Last month, Rubio announced she would step down as CEO of the organization at the end of the year.
WBHM’s Janae Pierre spoke with Rubio about her time leading HICA.
Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How Alabama’s Latino community has changed:
Many men came to northeast Alabama to do agricultural work. At that point, it was really only men. But over the years it has become families that have joined the husband or the father who are making work there in the tomato fields and other agricultural places like chicken plants. And really, since we have been doing the work, we have seen more family immigration. But the interesting point about all of this is that since 2000, the increase in our Hispanic population in Alabama has been through births and not through actual immigration, although we do continue to see people decide to make that journey to Alabama.
The effect of Alabama’s immigration law, known as HB56:
Those times during the summer of 2011 were the absolute worst times for our community. The Latino community in Birmingham was completely terrified. Every day at our office, we would have about 100 people who were coming to make sure that they have a document to protect their children if they were to become deported. This went on for the whole summer. We ended up filing a lawsuit against this and ultimately parts were overturned, but there are still pieces in place that impede the lives of Latinos. And the thing that happened is that our community mobilized to stand up for themselves. That had been something that we always worked to engage people to do. But it really took this external factor to push people over the edge, and that really has created a level of confidence in community members where folks are willing to speak out on their behalves and be advocates for themselves. And so for that, we are actually thankful, quite frankly.
Proudest moments with HICA:
The biggest thing is that our community created space for us, created space for our voice. We were hugely instrumental in the Hard-to-Count Collaborative during last year’s census. And I think when we see the numbers, we are going to see much higher numbers of Latinos in our state and that will be a huge achievement. But really on the day-to-day basis, I’m so proud of all of my staff members who, every day, do the work of helping increase the capacity and supporting Latino members of our community to buy houses, to open businesses, to become U.S. citizens, to access capital that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to access were it not for our Camino loan fund. Those [are] really sort of small things that our community has been able to access to help them grow are really the proudest accomplishments that I have. HICA has grown into the largest Latino-serving organization in the Deep South, and that’s something that we really didn’t even recognize until just recently.”
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