Se’maj Willis, Jeysi Gullien, and Natanya Jean-Pierre
New Orleans has a large population of Latin Americans, but it is not always easy for them to adapt to the new cultures and new ways of doing things. There’s a group that many Latin Americans go to when they need help. This group is called El Congresso. Their goal is to “Strengthen Latino Communities”. They do that by holding meetings every Wednesday from 7p.m. – 9p.m, filled with Latin American immigrants of different ages, and genders. As the people fill into the brown rows of wooden chairs, everyone breaks out into mini conversations. Many “hola’s” and “como esta’s “ are exchanged between members. El Congresso helps people assimilate to American culture without forgetting where they came from.
El Congreso is a Latin American support group. This organization has been around since the first year after Hurricane Katrina. It was founded mainly by Fernando Lopez. Fernando, a Mexican immigrant who felt the need to help his people become more familiar to this country, initiated the organization. He usually leads the Wednesday gatherings. Without him, there would be no structure and no order. Fernando sends out weekly messages to El Congresso’s members, letting them know the time and place of the next event. An example of one of Fernando’s texts is, “CONGRESSO – We are waiting for you this afternoon to hold our weekly meeting at 3401 Canal St, NOLA 70112 at 7:00pm. See you there! [translated from Spanish].” He is the backbone of this organization.
Whenever Latin Americans have questions dealing with American
society, El Congresso is where they go for advice. “If I have a problem I would seek help here” said Jhonny, a teenage boy from Honduras, who is also a part of the organization. He came to America when he was four, and had a rough time adjusting to the school system, because he didn’t speak english. He began to attend meetings last year. Other people attend the meetings to learn about their rights. Ana Rodriguez is one of the leaders of El Congreso. She came here from Venezuela when she was 18 to attend university. She joined El Congreso because, “[El] Congresso is [an] immigrant right[s] organization that helps protect the rights of immigrants.” Not only does El Congresso provide help to those who need it, but they also make sure they don’t forget where they came from.
Most of the members were actually born in Honduras, Venezuela, or somewhere else in Latin America. Keeping up with American culture can sometimes be a hard thing to do and El Congreso aims to ease the transition for Latin American immigrants. On top of that, they also try to keep their own culture existent. Jhonny also said that he, “Come[s] here because it helps me to keep in touch with my roots… I was forgetting where I came from and being here with all these people is helping me [remember].”
Immigrating from the comfort of their home countries, is like moving out of a house and leaving all your memories behind. El Congresso, in a way, makes up for the comfort they had to let go of. The group provides community-based services for Latin Americans, to keep their culture alive. That is why this organization is so important to the Latin American community.