Menjivar: Bring positive change

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Eber Menjivar of Jasper, vice president of ALASI and a Jasper Utility Service Board member, poses for a portrait in front of Jasper City Hall on Dec. 1.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Eber Menjivar hopes to show by example how the younger generations can usher in the change they want to see in their community.

“I encourage people my age, to not just complain. Let's step up,” the 27-year-old Jasper man said. “We’re next in line so we might as well just start now.”

Eber is doing that. He is a member of the Jasper Utility Service Board as well as vice president of the Association of Latin Americans in Southern Indiana, also known as ALASI. His goal is the help improve the community he lives in and to encourage the Latino and Anglo communities to work together as one.

“I want to leave this community better than what I found it in,” he said.

Eber spent the first 12 years of his life in Los Angeles. In 2003, he and his family — his parents Jose and Maria, and his little brothers, Cristopher and Anthony — visited the Dubois County area to attend a relative’s wedding.

“All of mom's side of the family is here,” Eber said. “My parents, they liked it here; they liked what they saw. They thought that it would be a nice place to raise a family.”

A year later, in 2004, the Menjivar family packed all their belongings and drove almost 40 hours to settle in Jasper. Eber was 12 at the time.

Eber’s dad wanted to ultimately own a home. But “to own a house in Los Angeles is not impossible, but very hard,” he said. He was able to make that dream come true in Jasper.

“We were excited. I saw what we originally saw at the wedding,” Eber said, “a nice backyard and I can play soccer. I had my family there, my aunts and cousins. We were going to get a house. It was all picture perfect.”

But when he got here and got enrolled in school, his feelings changed a little.

“I moved here and was in fifth grade. And for all of my fifth grade year, I was miserable because I had no friends,” he said. “All of our friends were back in Los Angeles.”

And the cultural dynamic was different here.

“Over there [in Los Angeles], a classroom of 30 students, 28 of them were Latinos with maybe one white and one Armenian or one Asian,” Eber said. “And when I moved over here, it was the same 30 kids, but two of them were not white. I wasn't ready for the whole cultural shock of things, that I'm gonna stick out like a sore thumb and people are going to look at me different because I'm the new kid at school.”

There were students who did welcome him to school. “They were friendly and trying to make me comfortable,” Eber recalled. “And I appreciate that to this day.”

Eber got used to school, and graduated from Jasper High School. He then went to work at Kimball Electronics, where he has encountered even more supportive people.

“They’ve seen the potential in me and they’ve helped me develop,” he said. “I don't want to just go to work and be in the same position for 40 years. There are people like that, and that's OK if that is what makes them happy. But I knew I didn't want to. I'm OK with the same company, but not in the same job title.”

Eber has moved into different positions, and is now a process technician with the company. He has also purposely gotten involved in the community.

He participated in the Dubois County Leadership Academy. The team he was on created a music park in the park on 18th Street in Ferdinand so that people with physical or mental challenges can enjoy.

“Music is an international language,” Eber said. “So hopefully when you’re there playing a beat, someone else hears you and catches on, and then hopefully joins in.”

He also worked with another group to revitalize the park at Maple Grove trailer court in Japer. The group cleared overgrown greenery and added a shelter house to the area.

Eber participated in Jasper Citizens Academy, and learned a lot about government and utilities. “That’s was good insight,” he said. “Many people just turn on the faucet or flip the switch and don't really think about the whole process that goes with it. But where does the energy come from? Who is taking care of it? Where are the plants located? That was pretty cool to see and understand how that works.”

As part of ALASI, Eber helps the organization with activities that encourage involvement, interaction and, ultimately, unity between cultures. “We want to be that bridge,” he said. “We want to be that cross path where someone who does speak English is still able to get the information they need.”

To achieve this, ALASI partners with different organizations and with schools. For instance, ALASI worked with the Dubois County Health Department to translate information about the pandemic into Spanish. “That’s the biggest challenge, language,” Eber said.

But many more government entities and local organizations are posting documents and information in Spanish now. “That's awesome,” Eber said. “It feels good to see other people start realizing that there is this need.”

ALASI’s biggest community event is the annual Latino Culture Fest. “That festival has been amazing because it brings people together,” he said. “And that's the ultimate goal: to bring people together and work together and team up, and, you know, to get along.”

ALASI wants to be a bridge between the Latino and Anglo communities.

“The goal is to have that connection and to build better relations,” Eber said. “We are helping to show the differences, but at the same time, show how similar we are. We like music and they like music. We eat this kind of food and they they eat this kind of food.

“There are a lot of similarities we share, just in different ways.”

Even their journeys immigrating to America are similar.

“The same thing my people are doing right now, in the past couple decades, is the same thing that the German people did a couple hundred years ago,” Eber said, “to seek a better life. It's same thing, just different times. And some people forget that.”

Eber hopes that more people in the Latino and Anglo communities will step up and work together.

“You need both parties to be participants,” he said. “You need the white people to be inclusive. And the Latinos, we need to step out of our comfort zone and be a part of the community. That’s key. If the Latino community doesn't do that, we're never going to cross that bridge.”

There are a lot of wonderful people in each race and culture as well, Eber stressed.

“There's a lot of very good people here in Jasper and in Dubois County, and I’ve met them,” he said. “Yeah, I've came across some negative people who are close-minded. But I’ve come across many good people and I've shaken their hand. It's been awesome conversations, when you can really talk to someone and see who they are underneath. Despite what they're wearing or what position they have, there's a lot of good people.

“We have to unite, just being open minded and mindful.”

Anyone can help bridge that gap. “If you have a Latino at work, talk to them, ask them about their story, and share,” Eber said. “Share your story with them. It’s the little conversations that work, and to be open-minded and inclusive. Don't get scared to open up and start a conversation.”

Eber realizes that change will only come if people are willing to step up a be involved, himself included.

“I want to see a better Dubois County, a better United States, and just overall for the world to be a much better place. If it’s me as the one that's gonna do it, then so be it,” he said.

He encourages others, especially those in his generation, to do the same.

“Start working together, brainstorming ideas and working toward those. Maybe what the county needs or the city needs are those ideas,” he said. “Don’t be shy or embarrassed or think we're not the ones. Maybe we are the ones who can make the difference, make things happen, and bring positive change.”




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