In the mid 1990s, the Latino population began to increase dramatically in the metro Birmingham area. Isabel Rubio, a social worker at UAB, and Lisa Theus, Language services Coordinator at the Jefferson County Department of Health, noticed this increase. In conversation over the next several months, the same question continued so surface: Who, if anyone, was working with immigrant Latinos to make sure they are supported in transitioning to life in a new country, where language and customs are unfamiliar.
In 1999, several meetings were held to attempt to answer this prevailing question. As a result, ¡HICA! was created as a nonprofit organization that same year to consider concerns in the areas of access to healthcare, education, economic development, legal issues and community outreach for immigrant Latinos.
¡HICA!’s first official service endeavor was a 40-hour interpreter training course, the first such training offered in Alabama. In 2002 alone, ¡HICA! trained over 50 qualified bilingual individuals on the ethics and techniques of professional interpreting. May 2002 marked the first publication of 10,000 copies of Bienvenidos a Birmingham, the first comprehensive Spanish-language resource guide for Birmingham.
By 2003, ¡HICA! began working on advocacy issues facing the immigrant Latino community. Through relationships established with national organizations including The National Council of La Raza, The Mexican American Legal and Education Defense Fund, The National Immigration Forum, The National Immigration Law Center and the Center for Community Change, !HICA! was involved at the national level which strengthened our advocacy work at the state and local levels. During this year ¡HICA! became the first Alabama affiliate of the National Council of La Raza, the natio’s largest Latino civil rights organization. In the same year ¡HICA! provided training for 15 judicial court interpreters and relocated its office to a shared space in the heart of a local Hispanic community on the east side of Birmingham.
¡HICA!’s main program, the Resource and Referral Program, served more than 8500 Latino Immigrants in 2007. Calls ranged in scope from simple things like finding a locksmith to access a locked car to more serious issues such as assisting women in domestic violence situations. Referrals were made to various community agencies for service and, many times, ¡HICA! staff assisted when language difficulties arose.
Over the course of 2005, we implemented direct services to women in abusive relationships. We were able to do this with funding from ADECA through the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the United Way of Alabama through the YWCA.
By 2006, !HICA! had become a full Agency Partner with the United Way and had established a solid name and trust in the community. More and more women were approaching with domestic violence issues, and HICA served over 2500 people that year.
In that same year, HICA increased staff and hired a part-time mental health therapist and implemented ESOL classes.
With a nod to Hispanic tradition and a desire to find a creative, relevant fundraiser, HICA held the first Christmas Tamales Sale in 2003. Staff and volunteers cooked, packed, ate, dreamed and breathed tamales until the last dozen was delivered from a borrowed church kitchen by the end of December. 2006 was an exceptional year for the tamales sale—with a goal of selling 4,000 tamales, the outcome was over double that and a healthy sum was earned for the organization.
¡HICA! has received funding from various sources including United Way of Central Alabama, Alabama Power, Wachovia Bank, Vulcan Materials Company, State Farm, Publix, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation as well as many private donors. HICA is proud of the community relationships and local endeavors it has spawned since its inception. We were key in facilitating the start of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, and the Alabama Alliance for Latino Health and the Hispanic Business Council of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerece can trace their roots back to HICA!.
¡HICA! continues to speak at public events at the local and state levels. We have forged solid relationships with local government, universities (administration, faculty and students) and law enforcement officers from around the state. We have published and distributed over 25,000 Bienvenidos a Birmingham resource guides, made possible through Vulcan Materials, through schools, health clinics, churches, businesses, and social services agencies.