Duenes’ experience helps local immigrants

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2002

When she was a little baby, Ivon Duenes was in the arms of her mother crossing a bridge on the Rio Grande that divides her hometown Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, 20-some years ago.

Now, Duenes, as a coordinator of the Newcomer’s Resource Center, serves those who have followed the same path. She acts as a bridge that connects her fellow Mexicans and immigrants from other countries or states with our Minnesota community.

“I want to give them not only information they need, but also the sense of community &045; a kind of feeling that you are not alone here,” Duenes said.

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The Newcomer’s Resource Center was established by the Community Action Agency to meet the increasing demand for information about housing, education, immigration, legal affairs and other social services available in Albert Lea and Freeborn County. Duenes, who speaks Spanish as well as English, was hired to launch the service.

The startup of the new organization was bumpy, according to Community Action Executive Director Collette Turcotte.

Denial by the state for a $77,000 grant has pushed the whole project into jeopardy. Another $20,000 promised by the County Family Service Collaborative was contingent on the state grant, so that money will not be available either. Community Action had no choice but revise the center’s operation from full time to part time. Still, it will need to fill the expected budget deficit.

But Duenes is full of ambition to expand the center’s service from simple referrals to activities that cultivate the diversity in the community.

Being a minority in the community and having seen the experience of her mother and fellow coworkers at the Farmland plant, Duenes feels that cultural identity is extremely important.

“You can’t forget where you came from,” Duenes said. “And different cultures also add values to the community, broadening our perspectives. Celebrating cultures brought by the newcomers can liven up the community. I have seen a lot of people enjoying them.”

The 2000 Census shows that almost 10 percent of Albert Lea residents are Hispanic origin, and they play an important role through labor force and as consumers. A study by Mankato State University suggests that incorporating the newcomers into society would be the key for community development.

The Newcomer’s Resource Center is open twice a week: Monday and Wednesday, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The telephone number is 379-5660.