When news of the mass shooting at the Highland Park Independence Day Parade spread, most described the suburbs as affluent, mostly Anglo-Saxon, usually quiet and peaceful. But when the names of the victims began to appear, the story of a Mexican grandfather who was in a parade with his family made headlines.

For Cara Rositas-Sheftel, a longtime resident of Highland Park and director of Latino Affairs for Catholic Charities, this came as no surprise. Over the past decade, she said, the population of Spanish-speaking immigrants in her neighborhood has increased. Highland Park and neighboring towns such as Highwood “are thriving communities full of restaurants, and many of the people who work there speak Spanish and are now part of our community.”

Many of these families joined thousands of other participants in the July Fourth Parade, where Robert E. “Bobby” Crimo III was accused of killing seven and injuring dozens more. The two victims were Mexican grandparents, 78-year-old Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza and 69-year-old Eduardo Uvaldo.

When Rositas-Sheftel became responsible for coordinating bilingual interpreters for the family support center that was temporarily set up at Highland Park High School after the massacre, she noticed an “extreme need” of translators at the center and immediately contacted her colleague Maria Vidal de Haymes, professor at the School of Work Loyola University Social Welfare in Chicago for your help.

Three of Loyola’s bilingual students responded to the urgent call, Vidal de Haymes said. Edith Reynaga, Nohemi Rosales and Camille Morhun were among the volunteers who helped the victims and their families for more than a week after the shooting.

The three young women helped welcome the Spanish-speaking residents who felt connected by the language barrier and the large presence of police and other authorities. Students also assisted victims through FBI interviews and counseling sessions to help them process the traumatic event.

“They became the voice of a section of the community that desperately needed it; and immigrants – some who may be undocumented – take a long time to trust others to be their voice, ”said Rosita-Sheftel.

The urgent need for bilingual translators has subsequently not only highlighted the changing demographics in the suburbs, but also confirmed the need for bilingual social workers, therapists and crisis respondents, said Vidal de Haymes.

The Hispanic population in Highland Park is 9%, according to the latest data from the US census. More than 25 other volunteers from 20 organizations also helped at the center, which offered, among others, mental health services, legal advice, claims for crime victims, food and shelter.

“And sometimes it just wasn’t enough,” recalls Rosita-Sheftel. She added that more translators were needed as the days passed.

Rosita-Sheftel said the level of trust clients gave to students was essential to help them and demonstrates the importance of bilingual professionals informed of the trauma.

“I know the caliber and the heart of Loyola’s students,” she said.

Morhun, who had recently obtained a BA in Social Work and is currently participating in the Ministry of the Interior program in Loyola, was the first interpreter to arrive at the scene.

After receiving an email from Vidal de Haymes, her former professor, Morhun rushed to the school where she was only for social events since she grew up in Glenview, about 20 minutes from Highland Park.

“It was overwhelming,” she recalls. “But I knew I had to be there. Even though I am not of the same ethnic origin and no one in my family is Latino, I feel privileged to use my skills and abilities – which I have worked so hard on – to volunteer in this capacity. “

It was in kindergarten when Morhun was introduced to the Spanish language. She continued her education in high school and college.

When she became part of Loyola’s School of Social Work, Morhun said she was aware of the importance and need for bilingual welfare services. As a volunteer at the center, she became more involved in her future goal.

“This kind of internal terrorism is feared by everyone, but it is important to recognize that these populations (immigrants) experience trauma differently; some of the people I have worked with have experienced different kinds of violence in their home countries and use Highland Park as a place to find shelter, ”said Morhun. “We’ve been able to help establish a trust and connection that can go a really long way.”

All three students took part in Vidal de Haymes’ migration activities.

“I knew these three were very committed to justice and access to services in their (own) language,” said Vidal de Haymes.

Vidal de Haymes said there is a continued commitment to the development of bilingual social workers at Loyola’s School of Social Work. There are several programs, including Migration Studies and Social Work Program Specialization, that focus on supporting bilingual social workers who can develop linguistic and cultural skills to understand the dynamics of migration and the impact on binational families.

“They are students who have many classes that focus on understanding the dynamics of migration, politics and justice – but also what are the social and emotional consequences of migration,” said Vidal de Haymes.

Reynaga’s parents had emigrated from Mexico to the Chicago area, so volunteering at the center ended up close to home, she said. In each client, she was able to see her parents who inspired her to pursue her master’s studies at Loyola’s School of Social Work, specializing in migration research. She remembers translating for them as a child.

“I wanted to make sure I could help them make the most of their voice and still feel safe,” said Reynaga.

For Rosales, the opportunity to volunteer also touched her heart. She was born and raised in Mexico and knows firsthand the struggles of speaking Spanish only. “It wasn’t something I was proud of,” she said.

Being a bilingual social worker is “reclaiming and the beauty of being able to speak multiple languages ​​and seeing it as a strength to help the Latin community through a traumatic time,” said Rosales, adding that she is committed to promoting more mental and spiritual support to people of all walks of life and speakers different languages.

larodriguez@chicagotribune.com

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