FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Cisneros Center of San Antonio has chosen Northwest Arkansas as its pilot community for the American Dream Initiative. The center was founded by Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton. The University of Arkansas, Walmart and other public and private groups are helping the initiative to connect local immigrants with community resources to enable them to successfully integrate into society.
To promote integration, the pilot program seeks to improve access for new immigrants to the resources and services they need to pursue the American Dream. An “American Dream Road Map” developed by the center includes several goals to engage immigrant family members in setting educational goals and breaking down barriers to academic achievement.
“The University of Arkansas and many other groups have partnered with the American Dream Initiative because it is in the region’s best interest to integrate immigrants into the Northwest Arkansas community,” said Bill Schwab, University Professor of sociology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
Schwab has been studying Northwest Arkansas’ Hispanic community since 2007. His contributions at the national level include work with organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of University Partnerships in the U.S. State Department.
Schwab and Cisneros met in Springdale in April 2013 when Cisneros served as keynote speaker for the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas 13th annual conference. Since then, Schwab has been consulting with the Cisneros Center on immigration in Northwest Arkansas and working closely with the center’s director Nicholas Perilla.
Cisneros will discuss the American Dream Initiative when he presents “Immigrant Integration: Investing in America¹s Future” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, in the Arkansas Union Theater. The event is free and the public is invited.
The initiative hinges on the its American Dream Fellows. This select group of young leaders commit 13 months to the program. After an initial application or nomination, candidates are interviewed by phone or video conference and given a performance task. The final step is a full-day interview in San Antonio. Fellows must have a college degree, a deep passion for the center’s mission and vision, the ability to work relentlessly toward ambitious goals, strong critical thing and interpersonal skills, exceptional oral and written communication skills and excellent organizational and management skills.
Jennifer Aguirre of Houston, Texas, Jessica Boyd of Little Rock and Jacob Perry of Fayetteville are the first group of American Dream Fellows. They began their residency in Northwest Arkansas after a training program in San Antonio. From July 2014 to August 2015 they will work with community stakeholders to identify and develop plans for removing barriers to immigrant integration. Schwab will work closely with the fellows during the pilot program. He will also introduce them at Cisneros’ presentation.
“I joined this initiative because I wanted to be part of something that makes the American Dream accessible to people from all communities and backgrounds,” Perry said. “Immigrants have been historically and are presently vital contributors to American progress and we must continue to make integration into the American system an attainable and dignified goal for immigrants.”
The initiative in Northwest Arkansas is the Cisneros Center’s inaugural program and will focus on communities that have experienced a significant growth in new immigrant population and where the infrastructure for immigrant integration is not fully developed.
“I joined the American Dream Initiative because I am passionate about empowering immigrants to overcome the daily barriers they face in order to live in happiness and prosperity in the United States,” Boyd said. “Immigrants are the foundation of the United States and I believe that immigrant integration is essential to our future as a nation – integrating immigrants benefits not only the current immigrant population, but all Americans.”
Additional goals include initiating public affairs campaigns that create awareness among immigrants and generate understanding in the general public. After assessing the pilot program, the Cisneros Center will implement the initiative in other communities across the country to expand the opportunities available to new Americans.
“I wanted to be part of the movement that will break down the barriers immigrant families currently face in their communities,” Aguirre said. “I am the daughter of immigrant parents who through their perseverance and commitment were able to achieve the American dream. For this to be true for other immigrant families, we must provide them with the necessary resources and opportunities to excel within their communities.”
The Cisneros Center is a 501(c)(3) non partisan, non-profit institution headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, committed to providing a national forum and platform for dialogue, information sharing and best practices cross-pollination that further accelerates the measurable social, economic and educational achievements in the lives of Latinos and immigrants.