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A love affair with human rights work since elementary school

Isabel Anadon, with the Latino Policy Forum, works "to influence the laws and policies that affect the everyday lives of Latino and immigrant communities."
Isabel Josie Anadon, senior policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago. 
Isabel Josie Anadon, senior policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago. 

Sept. 15 marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month — or, as it is known in Spanish, Mes de la Herencia Hispana — a time when the United States pays tribute to the history, culture and contributions of past and present Hispanic Americans. 

According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million Americans identify as Hispanic — and that number is growing. Immigration has long been a part of America’s national history, and the role that immigrants have played — and still play  in building this country is one of the reasons “the American dream” is still shared around the world today. America is a place where new beginnings and new lives are possible.

Over the next month, will be profiling outstanding Hispanic activists who are making a difference in the fight for immigration reform and who are providing critical support services to undocumented communities. 

"I fell in love with human rights work while still in elementary school."'

Name: Isabel Josie Anadon

City, State: Chicago, IL

Occupation/Organization: Senior Policy Analyst, Civic Engagement Manager/ Latino Policy Forum

How did you get involved with immigration advocacy?

I currently work at the Latino Policy Forum, the only organization in the Chicago area that facilitates the involvement of Latinos at all levels of public decision-making. The Forum allows me to hone my passion for immigration advocacy by working to influence the laws and policies that affect the everyday lives of Latino and immigrant communities while also ensuring their voices and experiences are heard. While my activism has developed and matured to include a systemic approach in addressing these issues through rigorous policy analysis and strategic advocacy, there are many experiences that have shaped my life’s work.

Though I’ve been actively and professionally engaged in immigration advocacy since 2006—I took part in mega-marches held across the country and assisted with May 1 Chicago efforts to turn out more than a million people—I fell in love with human rights work while still in elementary school. 

I still remember my first advocacy action. Accompanied by my mother, sometime in the mid-80s, I was a youth member with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. As youth, we were engaged and taught to understand the effects U.S. policies, implemented by President Regan’s administration, had on Central America. The devastating impact of these policies are still felt today. 

Give us a sense of what your day looks like:

Each morning, I wake up and first take care of myself and my two daughters, who are four years and seven months old. This special time, sharing and bonding with my family, is integral to my well-being and the start of my day.  

Once I arrive to my morning destination (my office, a community meeting, or event), my day continues with tasks that focus on building the leadership and power of Latino and immigrant communities. My work at the Forum centers around supporting and understanding the needs and issues felt by the Forum’s Immigration Acuerdo members. Acuerdo leaders work directly within the community. 

What is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented citizens?

That all Latinos are immigrants and all immigrants are Latinos. Although immigration policies affect almost every single Latino family, it affects each of us in a different way. Many of our families are mixed status—for instance, a U.S. citizen child living with undocumented parents. Many of us have transnational roots—which means some of us have dual identities with lives that are intertwined with a home country located thousands of miles away. Still, we very much feel we are a part of the United States and have a deep investment in the growth and prosperity of this nation as a whole. The Forum states succinctly that advancing Latinos advances a shared future.

"Although immigration policies affect almost every single Latino family, it affects each of us in a different way."'

What is your expectation of President Obama and Congress in regard to the border crisis?

Congress is unable to act effectively on issues that are important to many communities and especially to Latino communities. This includes addressing immigration reform and the current concerns related to the border. In addition, President Obama and Congress define the ‘border’ as the physical border separating the United States and Mexico which misrepresents modern day migration realities. Legislators must explore the push and pull factors that explain why individuals come to the United States regardless of the current process. Immigration reform needs to be comprehensive and cannot simply be considered a ‘domestic policy.’

What type of help is most needed on the ground and how can one get involved?

Latino and immigrant demographic growth and their economic contributions to this country haven’t translated to include adequate investments into leadership development and education. Latino communities are constantly bombarded with misinformation. Investments in effective training opportunities ensure that leaders are built within these communities. For example, the Forum has a program, which I led in developing, called Promotores de Inmigracion or Immigration Ambassadors. Participants who go through this program develop a strong understanding of immigration policy and its effects on communities. In turn, they pivot that knowledge into collective, strategic, and coordinated actions. The outcome is amazing to see as we watch people really blossom within the program. 

Was there ever an instance when you felt defeated? What made you keep going?

I have never felt ‘defeated’, but I have felt setbacks. For example in 2010, my work at the Forum centered around changing the narrative on comprehensive immigration reform. We worked really hard to shift the conversation from, “All or Nothing!” to “Let’s pass the Dream Act.” Our efforts made a difference, and as a country we came within a handful of votes to passing the Dream Act. So close in fact that when the Senate voted it down, it was a crushing blow. In retrospect, it was also a valuable lesson learned. Through challenges and struggles I also often find the brightest opportunities. I think incremental change is effective in achieving a long-term vision. 

Stay in touch with Isabel on Twitter: @ijanadon, @latinopolicy

For more stories, check out Alfredo Guiterrez: Leading Arizona activist on immigration reform’s biggest hurdle