|Women's Intercultural Center's History|
During the summer of 1991, Sisters of Mercy Camilla Verret and Kathleen Erickson moved to the Southwest with the intention of living out their new direction: "a commitment to learning about multi-cultural realities and concern for women and children." The sisters rented a house on McKinley Street, just across from St. Anthony Church in Anthony, NM where they lived for two years.
In getting to know the area, they learned of the isolation women were suffering due to their recent migration to the U.S., hesitation to reach out to others, and their inability to speak English. With the help of local bi-lingual social workers and the usage of a house owned by the church, the sisters began meetings with various women, using a program on health and self-esteem from Latin America. The women in Anthony wanted more than weekly meetings. Activities seemed to just happen. As participation grew and word spread about the meetings, the NM Department of Health funded the work.
One of the women named Clara was grateful for the meetings and activities as she repeatedly said she felt like she had been released out a prison. She three children and was a talented seamstress. She spearheaded many of the craft activities and picnics. Clara had fled an abusive husband in Cd. Juarez, Chih., MX and had settled in Berino, NM with the assistance of social workers. Her young daughter, missing her Dad, and not understanding the situation called him and told him where the family was living. He contacted the Border Patrol to get her deported. Despite efforts by one of the social workers to talk with a lawyer, a judge, or anyone who might help; Clara was deported to Juarez. The group never heard from her again. This was the beginning of the sisters’ realization of how immigration issues impacted local people.
At the same time, Sr. Kathleen and a friend, Margaret Schellenberg, were approached by Ruben Garcia from the Annunciation House to, with his help, organize and host immersion experiences for groups who were interested in learning about immigration and border issues. The first groups hosted in Anthony slept on the living room floor of the sisters’ house and the house used for the women’s gatherings. This was the beginning of the Border Awareness Experience Program which is an integral component of the Center’s operations.
By the spring of 1993, Sisters Camilla, Kathleen, and the local women were considering the possibility of finding a place for a women’s center. There was a large house with a two-car garage and some storage areas, including a tiny “apartment” for sale on Lincoln Street, across the street from the church. The property took up half a block, including a large yard and parking area. The group initiated discussions on purchasing the property. The sisters thought if they could get money for a down payment, then the money being used for rent where they were currently living could be used as mortgage payments to payoff the property.
The significance of this decision included not only the financial issues, but the realization that it meant a long-term commitment, fund-raising and administration. Neither sister was interested in taking this on, having come from years of similar work and wanting to work more directly with people.
The evening prior to deciding whether to go forward, Sr. Kathleen sat on the steps in front of the Church thinking about these issues and deciding to vote against purchasing the property and starting a women’s center. Just then, she noticed a young woman pushing a baby carriage across the street. As she got close to the front of the Church, Sr. Kathleen saw that she was crying. After greeting one another, they talked. The young woman said her husband had come home drunk again and that she didn’t know what to do. She had no friends or family in Anthony and, although she said she wasn’t afraid of him, she felt extremely sad and alone. That was exactly why the group was considering a women’s center. Women in the area needed a place to meet and mutually support one another. The following day, both sisters agreed that it was a real need and decided to move forward. Fund-raising projects began.
Sr. Camilla did much of the negotiating with Mercy leadership and the owners of the property, eventually establishing the Women’s Intercultural Center as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in NM. The NM Department of Health helped fund the down payment and the Omaha Sisters of Mercy gave a sizable grant that was donated by Sr. Hilary Barella, who wanted it used for a project benefiting Hispanic women. The sisters also assumed the mortgage at no interest. In 2000, as part of the Jubilee year the Sisters of Mercy forgave the $13,000 outstanding debt on the property. The Sisters of Mercy also allowed sisters Damien, Kathleen and Camilla to work at the Center without a salary, a huge help to the Center budget for many years.
During the summer of 1993, the sisters and the local women met in the living room of the empty house. The group drew diagrams on big pieces of cardboard showing where they would put a kitchen, bathroom, gathering room and areas for sewing and ESL tutoring. The group included Magdalena Esparza, Marti11-na Filerio, Josefina Guzman, Isa Mary Hernandez and her daughter who had the same name, Norma Sanchez, and Diana Sosa among others.
Remodeling began and sisters Camilla and Kathleen moved into the house on August 1993 when sister Damien arrived from Kansas City, she came with enough furniture to furnish the house. Manny Leyva, from the Las Cruces Diocese, served as “contractor” for the remodeling. Local businessmen and women generously joined the Board of Directors.
For approximately seven years the Women’s Intercultural Center functioned in the1,500 square foot space, from the remodeling of the two-car garage and adjoining storage area which were turned into several small offices, a kitchen and a gathering space. Over the years, the space proved insufficient for the Center's expanding programs. The classes and projects brought in more participants and more ideas for new classes. It was time for a change. In the beginning of 2000, the women, staff and board of the Women’s Intercultural Center began to seriously consider the possibility of expanding their building.
The Women’s Intercultural Center Inauguration of the main Center building was held November 26, 2003. As a demonstration of commitment to operating in a collaborative style instead of inviting a “dignitary” to cut a ribbon or give a speech; the women stretched a long ribbon across the front of the Center and all those instrumental in completing the construction project cut the ribbon at the same time. Then Camilla led a “blessing tour” through the Center. Bishop Ramirez from Las Cruces presented the Center with a beautiful picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe which still hangs on the wall in the Blue Room.
That collaborative spirit continued as the women formed a co-operative, learning sewing and carpentry skills taught by Sr. Damien. They studied English, art, hair cutting, Reiki, and many other topics of interest. Weekly community meetings started with “our” song, “YO SOY MUJER” (I am woman), and each woman there introduced herself. For many, it was a major hurdle to speak up in a group. They were invited to be on committees, to make decisions,and to give their opinions about how the center should be run, what classes should be offered and when to have celebrations and potlucks. They were also invited to interact with the immersion groups which by that time were coming regularly to learn about border issues. Some hosted group participants in their homes others helped with the cooking for the groups and shared their stories with them.
Some of the women who were most involved at the Center developed employment skills and were hired on as part of the staff, a tradition which continues to date. As women learned English and gained confidence they moved on to attaining technical skills, higher education or employment. A steady stream of volunteers, many teaching English as a Second Language, helped the Center immeasurably. Most stayed for six months or a year. Lina Williams arrived in 1995 and has been a volunteer ESL teacher at the Center since then. Many volunteers came through the Sisters of Mercy Volunteer Corps.
All the people mentioned in this short history and many others had a part in developing and living out the mission of the Women’s Intercultural Center: “to be a place for women to learn and work together to develop their personal, spiritual, economic and political potential." And many more since then continue to expand the work and growth of the Women's Intercultural Center.
The Women's Intercultural Center has received the following awards:
|Conference presentations, publications & research|
The success of the organization has been presented at conferences and featured in books, publications and research documents/presentations:
I. Shibley, Ph.D.
The Best of the teaching professor.
Chapter 12: Student Work
"Border Awareness Experience: Valuable Short-Term Travel."
Presenter: Rebecca Sherry, WInC ESL Coordinator
Talking Circles: Using Student Leadership Discussions as a Classroom for Empowerment and Academic Skills Building.
NMCL/NMAEA Conference, Adult Education at the Crossroads: Community Voices and Social Change. (October 2005)
Latinas activists across borders: Women's grassroots organizing in Mexico and Texas.
Duke University Press (2007)
(pp 29, 101-103, 128, 133 and 139)
Implications of socio-cultural factors for the economic self-sufficiency and health of women in New Mexico / Texas - Mexico border communities: Findings from a community based participatory research project.(2008) Findings presented at the 2008 U.S. / Mexico Health Research Symposium: University of Texas at El Paso.
Frontera Women's Foundation evaluation report.
(January 22, 2008)
S. Gubala. Mujeres abnegadas: The role of border culture upon preventative maternal healthcare and family planning for women in rural U.S./Mexico border colonias. Brandeis University (12/2009).
D.S. Jones. Symbols of identity at the women's center. New Mexico State University (5/2010).
D.M. Gonzalez and L.M. Cote. Generating feminisms through community partnerships: Women's Intercultural Center and New Mexico State University. Presented at the 2010 Association of Women in Psychology Conference.
Women's Intercultural CenterWhere it Starts!