Hundreds of Venezuelan immigrants attended an evening of familiar food, music and community at the United Lutheran Church in Oak Park over the holidays, offering them a sense of home and comfort for now while their future remains uncertain.
Organized largely by the immigrants themselves, the evening was a celebration of Christmas and a pause amid so many unknowns since leaving their home country. Currently, immigrants have safe havens and their own communities; but some of this may change in the coming weeks. However, on December 22, the group had a chance to rest.
Local youth group Revolutionary Youth Action League, or ROYAL, a group that has long advocated for Hispanics in the Oak Park school system, also helped organize the night. ROYAL started as a general support group for public school students who were themselves immigrants or felt outside the dominant culture, so their outreach at the Friday night event seemed like a natural fit, according to some of the participants
“All of the food made tonight was made by the community,” said ROYAL volunteer Cynthia Brita. “They have been cooking for three days.”
Local volunteers also ensured each child received a donated Christmas gift to mark the first Christmas in the area.
“This was a major operation,” Brita said.
Another volunteer, Cara Sharravel Blesch from Oak Park, has been volunteering with immigrants since October.
“Because I could,” he said, explaining why he was helping. “Because I speak Spanish, it seemed like an important way to support our neighbors who were actually on the street.”
The western suburban town, which shares a border with Chicago, hosts mostly immigrant families, Brita said. In this regard, the Venezuelan families who find themselves there are a little luckier than those in Chicago, who are often warehoused in large immigrant housing facilities.
“The majority of the Village Board supported it,” Brita said. “But there was a mixed reception. “I think they can do more and have the resources to do more because there are only a few hundred people here, not thousands like in Chicago.”
Public housing options in Oak Park will end on Jan. 31, but some local churches are providing resources and plan to continue helping families.
While some immigrants in Oak Park say they’ve heard they’ll have to move in the coming weeks, for now they’re more settled than they’ve been in a while; some are at the YMCA, scattered across three churches, apartment buildings and more. Carlton hotel.
Some said the Friday party was also a celebration of that.
Migrant mother Milagro, who wanted to be mentioned only by her first name, said, “We shared a special moment after going through so much.”
She said she arrived two months ago with her three children, ages 7, 12 and 18, and there was still a lot to worry about, especially where they would all live after January.
“We are currently at Carlton until January 31st and I don’t know where we will go after that,” he said.
He fears his family will be moved to Chicago and placed in a public housing facility.
Still, December Friday was not a time to worry about the future, and he thanked Oak Park volunteers, ROYAL, and United Lutheran Pastor Ole Schenk for allowing the group to use the church for the event. Everyone came for one night anyway, got together and things went well.
“It was so much fun,” Brita said as the party ended.
The food was familiar and all dishes were from home. The music was also Venezuelan; It was a celebration and reminder of a distant home before a months-long journey that ended at a bus terminal in Illinois in the winter.
But that Friday, after the cold downpour outside, the inside of the church was dry and warm and filled with the spirit of a holiday party; It was a weak point in a difficult time.
“This was about bringing some joy and peace to people who have gone through so much to be here,” Brita explained.
Jesse Wright is a freelancer.