Latino Leaders: We are like you, Guerrero says

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Marina Guerrero of Huntingburg poses for a portrait at her home office on Monday. Guerrero is a dual language assistant for the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation and in her free time, helps Latino community members with immigration, language and employment resources. She often helps people in her home office and says there is a need for more community support.


Community expands beyond those who look and speak like you.

In Dubois County, the community is diverse in culture, race and language.

But people are people.

“We want to serve in the community. We want to be inclusive,” said Marina Guerrero of the Latino community. “We have so many of the same values. We like to serve others, especially when we see a need. We get together to help with fundraisers to help someone else.

“We want to be a part of something. We want to be a part of the community.”

Marina, who is a native of El Salvador, actively works to help foster more understanding. Her regular job is as a dual language assistant with the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation and working with the students in the English as a Second Language program. She also works with adults who are learning English through Redemption Christian Church’s Breaking Barriers program.

But in her off time, she helps people in the Latino community with various tasks that require understanding English.

“When I came, I was the same as others. I didn't know the language. I didn’t know how to find resources in the community. So I understand where they are coming from,” Marina said. “That’s why I want to help, because I understand the needs. I’ve been there.”

Marina, 45, has lived in Huntingburg with her children, 16-year-old son Jhosue and 15-year-old twins Jazmin and Jocelyn, since 2006. But when she came to the United States the first time in 1990, she came illegally. She was 16, and lived with family.

Although many look at that situation in disdain, Marina explained that dire situations in Latin American countries encourage people to take a risk and come to the United States.

“People risked their lives to be here,” she said, “because we don't have opportunities there. We have poverty. It's not that we want to leave our families, our friends, our neighborhoods. We come here for a better life, to better our lives for our family.”

After she graduated from high school, Marina went back to her native country of El Salvador. She attended school there and earned a teaching degree. She then moved back to the United States, got married in California and then moved to Mexico. “I moved back and forth a lot,” she said.

Marina lived in Mexico for three years before coming back to the United States and settling in Florida. In that back-and-forth time, she earned her permanent residency. She also got divorced and then moved to Dubois County.

“When I moved to Huntingburg, I was a single mom with three little kids,” she said.

It is her experience that motivates her to help others in the Latino community.

She chose to pursue social work, and earned a degree in the field from Vincennes University Jasper. “I wanted to help people, especially pregnant women,” Marina said. “I went through a lot when I was pregnant. So, you know, I wanted to help them. I wanted to help people that are in the same situation that I was.”

Now, Marina assists Latinos with various tasks that require an understanding of English.

“I’ve been helping since I moved here,” she said. “It’s like, I’m being a lawyer, immigration assistant, I help them with English forms, with the language, finding resources. I've done anything and everything with them."

Folks contacted Marina when they learned that she was bilingual.

“People called to ask me to help them make an appointment with [the] doctor, or help them fill out a form. So I started helping little by little,” she said. “I would make the phone call for them. I would help translate. I would go to social service appointments with them, to the hospital with them, to the school, and translate. I drive people to the immigration office and help them fill out forms.”

And Marina does all this during her non-work hours, out of her home. That showed her that there is a need for a physical location that people can go to get this kind of help.

“I want the community to see that we have a big need, a big need to have a place where I and others can help these people, like a center,” she said. “Most people I help come to my house. People are here, in and out. We need a place.”

She is hoping to get local groups, like churches, organizations and even employers, to help establish a center. “Most of the people are working at local factories around here. They are the ones we serve, and it’s not just with the language,” she said. “We help them in so many ways, like finding resources in the community, making appointments with the doctor, school-related related issues. I help with a lot of stuff. It's a big need to have a place and people who can help.”

She also works with people through the Breaking Barriers program, which is a year old. The fall session just finished with 25 students, and there are about 35 students on the waiting list. So the January program will be bigger.

“This has grown so much,” Marina said. “People are talking about it. We're happy because it's growing, and it's working. But that’s why we’re hoping that a center can be opened, where we can give the social services and support them with the language services.”

Not only are students learning English, but Marina is helping people with their own language.

“There are some who come who can’t read and write in Spanish. I help them with that too,” she explained. “In our country, we don't have as much of an opportunity to go to school. It's either, you know, women are not allowed because they had to stay home, or we can’t afford the education. And poverty is another factor. We had to work and provide for our family at very young age.”

Marina learned English over time.

“I went to school and I went to college, and I remember not knowing that much English,” she said. “I had to use the dictionary and educate myself. And over time, I learned it.”

Because of her experience, she wants to encourage others as they are trying to learn English. “Adult students tell me, ‘It’s so hard,’ and I tell them, 'Don’t think like that,'” she said. “'Don’t say that. If I can do it, you can do it.' This what I tell them.”

Marina has been involved in the Latino Collaboration Table and was involved with a committee in Huntingburg’s Stellar program. “But now I have three teenagers at home, so I don’t have as much time,” she said.

The work she does in the Latino community fills a lot of her free time. “It is a lot of work, but I get a lot of reward too,” she said. “I am happy to help someone.

"And I get a lot of food. People will show up with a lot of food that they cooked,” she added, laughing.

Marina knows the positive impact of helping others learn English and helping them with different tasks will be felt in the future.

“This is changing lives. They feel more confident,” she said. “In one or two years, these people will be able to to move on to a different position, get a better job, and be more active and productive in our community.

"That's what we want. We want to contribute to our community.”

Her hope is that more people from the Latino community and the Anglo community get to know each other. Talking will help people understand each other better, Marina explained.

“It's a long way to change people's mind, but we're getting there, you know, just by educating,” she said. “If we educate people and get to know people, we can make a big change. There are things we don’t know about each other. But once we start talking to each other, we understand more. That is the way to change minds.”

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