Celebrating Latino Leaders: Kica Matos
"I think despite the many advances we made in this country; we still have a long way to go. All of us need to step up and do everything that we can to protect the most vulnerable and protect our democracy."
Director of Immigrant Rights & Racial Justice, Center for Community Change
Hometown: Puerto Rico
Kica Matos’ work for social justice has solidified her legacy in New Haven. However, the love she now has for the city, was not a love at first sight.
“I did not love New Haven when I first came here. It took a little bit of getting used to,” Kica says. “I didn’t understand the way that New Haven ticked and I didn’t know very many people other than my husband’s friends. So, I decided if I was going to live here and I was going to be happy here I really needed to get steeped in the culture.”
To get more familiar with New Haven, Kica began to ride her bike through its neighborhoods. “I fell in love with the Fair Haven neighborhood and got to know the immigrant community here. We bought a house in Fair Haven and moved here, and we have been living here ever since. I met these incredibly community-oriented people with a real vision for what New Haven could be like.”
Kica’s career was what brought her to Fair Haven. Her first Job in New Haven was as the Executive Director at Junta for Progressive Action, an organization that provides services and programs that helps advance Greater New Haven’s Latino community.
“When I started working at Junta doing advocacy, especially on the immigration front, I really got the sense that this was a city that allowed you to have the space to advance a policy agenda,” Kica says. “In other cities the size of New York, for example, there is a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of red tape to cut through in order to make changes. I quickly found out that the size of New Haven, the reclusivity of local government, was such that you really could be steeped in community and advance a community-based social justice agenda in ways that you really could not in bigger spaces.”
Kica’s fight for immigration rights is going strong during this tumultuous political climate.
“The way that this community has responded to the climate of fear and hatred has been really inspirational,” Kica says. “We have seen people from all walks of life engaging in activism to protect our democracy. I think many people are feeling that our democracy is at stake and unless we step up to the plate to protect our most vulnerable we will see more incidents like Charlottesville.”
Although Kica’s focus is on immigration, she acknowledges that Latinos face challenges in other areas of daily life.
“The Latino/a community is a rapidly growing community in New Haven and in the State,” Kica says. “We continue to face many challenges, economical and educational; challenges related to health and access to health; and unfortunately, too many of our kids are in failing schools where the achievement gap is still considerably big. But at the same time, we are seeing economic advancement as more and more Latinos climb up the ladder. More and more Latinos are getting degrees and so we’re really seeing the evolution of a community.”
Kica believes that one way the local Latino community can become stronger is through networking. That is why she supports the efforts of the Progreso Latino Fund and the opportunities it provides Greater New Haven’s Latino community to gather and exchange ideas.
“We need to network as a community,” Kica says. “We need to pay attention to the needs of our community and we need to be generous. We need to give for the advancement of the Latino community. The opportunity for people to network and to engage philanthropically are really critical as is the need to focus philanthropy on the needs of the Latino community.”
Therefore, Kica continues to work to improve the social, political and economic status of the Latino community.
“I will always fight for justice because I think despite the many advances we made in this country; we still have a long way to go. All of us need to step up and do everything that we can to protect the most vulnerable and protect our democracy,” Kica says. “I would like people to say that I was a freedom fighter, who fought with a lot of love and a lot of courage. I would like my legacy to be one of love. I would like to feel that I left the world a little better than I found it, and I poured a lot of love into my work, my community and my family.”