Behind Antonia Camacho’s quiet confidence lay many years of raising a family in arduous circumstances. After earning her degree in education, she moved her young son and daughter from Morales, Mexico to North Carolina to join their father who was a migrant agricultural worker. Though the family was reunited, they began their life in the states sleeping in the same fields where her husband worked. Antonia fought hard for each small advantage to better their lives: sheltering in an empty trailer, readying her children for daycare before the sun was up, and learning to drive a car.
“The only furniture in that trailer were the seats from a broken-down van. That was our dining room furniture,” she recalls
Eventually they rented a small house on the boss’ property. A local technical college allowed her to earn an equivalent teaching degree for free, and while she studied, she was offered a teaching job at the daycare her children attended. It took seven long years to complete her degree in early childhood education – she gifted her diploma to her children.
The family moved to Greenville in 2005, and Antonia’s youngest son, Jorge, was born. As she made friends and learned to navigate local community resources for young children, she was disheartened to see that Hispanic mothers were not accessing the same services that had helped her family survive in North Carolina. Antonia gave birth to Mami y Yo (Mommy and Me), a nonprofit which empowers and teaches Hispanic mothers to raise emotionally and socially healthy young children.
“I tell my moms that your status doesn’t matter; what matters is what you learn! I know I have changed lives. I can die in peace, because my moms have discovered their own leadership skills.”
When Mami y Yo was in dire need of a meeting space, Pastor Manuel Izquierdo, offered them a new home at Jesus El Rey Assembly of God Church, and eventually Antonia became the church administrator and secretary. With two important groups to guide, Antonia attended Hispanic Alliance Network Meetings to find community members with knowledge and resources for young mothers, and spread the word about Mami y Yo. Hispanic Alliance also learned more about the needs of the Hispanic community at Jesus El Rey. For three years in a row, they secured a grant from The Children’s Museum of the Upstate which sponsored a large group of church families for a special day of learning. Perhaps this was the calm before the storm.
It was Antonia’s birthday, June 13, 2017, when 150 Puerto Ricans working at a local food production company, were removed from their jobs, and evicted from their company housing, leaving them on the side of the road in the sweltering heat. Suspecting a case of labor trafficking, Hispanic leaders asked Jesus El Rey to provide lunch for the beleaguered group. Antonia remembered that it seemed odd that the group arrived off a bus with their suitcases. It quickly became evident that they had nowhere to go, and Jesus El Rey became their makeshift home for the next month.
“It was a challenge! We faced it without knowing what it was going to look like. But God gave me grace,” she insisted.
What ensued was a massive mobilization of multiple community partners and the Hispanic Alliance network to provide food, bedding, legal services, and job opportunities for the enormous group. But Antonia was the undisputed “mom” of the makeshift and sometimes unpredictable family. She gave them rules, listened to their stories, coordinated meals and scheduled the multiple service providers that swarmed the church to offer help. She was incredibly relieved when emergency funds raised by Hispanic Alliance were able to begin to send some of the homesick workers back to Puerto Rico. Two years have passed, and Antonia is still friends with some of the workers who were able to successfully settle in Greenville.
“After so much tiredness and confusion, it has been our biggest reward as a church to have those friends and connections.”
Weathering this crisis solidified the trust between church and nonprofit. Antonia and her son Jorge, now in seventh grade, have attended the Hispanic Alliance Start Your Own Business Class and Health Cooking Class as a family. Antonia knows that her intense focus on the needs of the community can be hard on her children.
“I think I am outside of the norm (as a mother),” she admits. “I am not going to give Jorge everything I didn’t have, rather, I want him to discover what he is capable of.”
Antonia has been a mother to many different groups of people – her church family, the members of Mami y Yo, 150 stranded workers, and her own children.
“More than anything, I want my children to learn to be of service,” she insists. “I try to encourage them to give more than what they think is possible.”
When Antonia and her family have given all they have, Hispanic Alliance will be there to support and equip them, and all our Hispanic families, for a bright future.