For Gladys Vega, work at the Chelsea Collaborative doesn’t end when she leaves the office. (Video by Nyan Lynn)
By Melody Keilig
If there is one thing that Gladys Vega wants the Latino immigrant community of Chelsea to know, it’s their basic human rights.
Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative , has been with the organization since the start 28 years ago. She applied to work as a receptionist and became the second staff member. The organization’s focus is on community organizing, preservation of housing, immigrant rights, worker’s rights, youth empowerment and employment, and citizenship services.
“The Latinos here have a place,” she said.
When Vega began working, she saw a need for a Latino voice in a social services organization from the growing population of immigrants in Chelsea.
“As I continued to learn more about Chelsea and the interests of the people, then I began to create programs for the Chelsea Collaborative that allowed our people to participate. Rather than having an executive board of directors coming up with a plan for Chelsea, the people of Chelsea can create the plan.”
Vega talked about the importance of political involvement. (Video by Nyan Lynn)
Vega said communities of color need to know that if you want power, you have to fight for it.
According to Vega, a common problem for Latino immigrants is lack of knowledge of their rights as residents of the state and the U.S. With the Chelsea Collaborative, she is able to give them guidance and help them understand their rights.
Her work schedule is never consistent, with immigrants recognizing her and asking for guidance in unusual places, such as the grocery store or while she is walking around town.
“It’s very difficult to disconnect from the needs of the community and not think about a family that you find living in a porch paying $650 for rent, with no access to a kitchen, hardly access to a bathroom, and with children under the age of three,” she said. “How can you not be so emotionally drained at times when that’s the reality of your people?”
Good Relationship with Chelsea Police
Because of its status as a “sanctuary city,” immigrants in Chelsea have a good relationship with the local politicians and police department, making the possibility of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid unlikely.
Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes affirms the strong bond between the department and the community.
“I knew that if the Chelsea Police Department was going to become the highly trusted law enforcement organization that I envisioned, with the optimum level of faith and confidence of the public that we serve, I desperately needed the support and assistance of Gladys Vega and her reputable organization,” he said in an email.
Since Kyes became the police chief in 2007, he worked with Vega on the youth employment programs that the collaborative offers teens. Together, they mapped out plans for collaborating on the Summer Youth Employment Program and the CPD Community Action Team.
They also discussed ways the police department can meet and work with the community on an ongoing basis and have been holding meetings several times a year to ensure that they are benefiting each other and the people of Chelsea.
In the past, they have even set up public forums for Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials to talk with the community about their priorities and mission.
“For Gladys and I, it was important to keep the community informed and demonstrate that Chelsea police officers are there to be helpful and trusted. The Chelsea Collaborative has been absolutely essential in enhancing that level of trust that Chelsea residents have in their police department,” Kyes said in an email.
However, with the new administration, Vega remains worried about the massive immigrant deportations that President Trump promised throughout his campaign.
“I have never shed as many tears as seeing the fear our undocumented immigrants have of our president,” she said as she tried keep her posture upright and strong.
Vega said her work puts her on an emotional roller coaster. (Video by Nyan Lynn)
The Latino community is especially worried about the teenagers and young adults that have grown up in the U.S. and do not know much about their native country. Vega said it would not be fair to deport them, as they have only known Boston as their home.
Through community-oriented work, many of the young residents have gone to college and received Bachelor degrees. Some have run for political office, to give back to Chelsea, she said.
Vega said her biggest reward is seeing youth return to help others. (Video by Nyan Lynn)
“The children are not our future; they are our now,” Vega said.
Although she has been with the Chelsea Collaborative for more than two decades, Vega is never left without an important project or work to help the residents. She hopes that with the youth becoming empowered to receive an education, they can fight back against the stigmas that come with being an undocumented immigrant.
“We are taking challenges and turning them into victories,” Vega said. “If you stand for your rights, we can win.”