by Jacklin Bolduan
This is not a typical day for Ramona Natera. As the attorney at the Catholic Multicultural Center, she can usually be found jetting around Madison and the surrounding area reaching out to immigrant families in need of legal resources and services. She’ll use today to play catch-up and to take her grandson to Goodman Pool.
“I always complain when it gets too quiet here. I’m used to the hustle and bustle. There’s always something going on and when there’s not it feels strange. So I love being here, I love having my office here, and the community just feels very safe coming in,” said Natera.
The Catholic Multicultural Center, located off of South Park Street, hosts an incredible breadth resources and services that include ESL and Spanish classes, childcare, a free meal every day of the week, a food pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a kids’ homework club, employment services, basic health services, a washer and dryer, a shower, and even a computer skills class — just to name a few.
“There’s always a cup of coffee and donut or a bagel. It doesn’t matter who walks through that door. You can be homeless, you can be the mayor. It doesn’t matter, you’re greeted the same way. I think I’ve been very fortunate to be able to have my own beliefs, and how I envision providing services really matches up here at CMC.”
Natera’s path was shaped by a desire to affect change in her community, and with the constant guidance of her mentors, she has certainly been able to do so. As the child of immigrant parents herself, Natera understands what some of the families she works with are going through.
“My parents came to Wisconsin in 1973. They were migrant farm workers. I still have cousins in Florida and Georgia who are migrant farm workers. So again, I feel very blessed to be where I’m at. I have a son and a grandson and I just feel very fortunate to be able to do the work I do and to be able to really believe in what I do and every single day I say, ‘Yup, it was the right decision.’”
Natera grew up in Madison and attended Hawthorne Elementary, Sherman Middle School, East High School, and went on to major in Political Science at UW Madison. Her decision to pursue a law degree came after one of her mentors nudged her to do so.
“When I used to work for Centro Hispano a long time ago, I used to call [Mary Castro] all the time with immigration-related questions and one day I guess she was having a bad day, she just said ‘You know what? You need to go to law school,’ and hung up on me. And I said, ‘Fine, I will.”
Natera attended UW Madison’s Law School and graduated in 2000.
“As a single parent it was a struggle. But I had a lot of help.”
In 2001 she had a small legal services program at CMC where she offered training and technical services on immigration law. She expressed to the executive director at the time that she wished she was doing direct client services.
“She grabbed me by the hand, walked me upstairs to this little office, clears off the desk and says ‘Here you are.’”
“From 2001 to 2004 I had my office at what was called Centro Guadalupano back then. And in June of 2012 [CMC Director] Andy Russell and I were having lunch, and he just really wanted to start an immigration program at CMC and I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ And so July of 2012 we began the Immigration Program and that’s when I came onboard.”
That same summer President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, which allows a temporary relief from deportation for individuals who immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. The program was expanded in 2014, but is set to eventually expire. DACA remains a large part of Natera’s work, as she came on full time this past summer to lead Immigration Services at CMC.
“What we’re focusing on at CMC is going out to the community, doing presentations. I present at the Latino Parent groups at LaFollette and Memorial. I was just at the Bilingual Resource Specialist Training last Friday. Just to let the community know about what really is happening, what’s not happening. What to be mindful of, careful of. You know, we really don’t want people to be taken advantage of. There are so many stories where somebody really doesn’t have a remedy available and they go ahead and file and it’s heartbreaking. People can’t afford to pay and then when they pay towards something that really is not going to get them a benefit that just hurts everybody.”
Natera feels most proud of the work that comes out of constant collaboration with other community organizations.
For example, in 2012, CMC collaborated with Jewish Social Services, Centro Hispano, MMSD, the Community Immigration Law Center, and private bar attorneys to host workshops on the DACA program.
“We helped over 447 families file DACAs for free. And that was amazing not only because of the collaboration, but because it sent a really positive message to the community that it is possible for different organizations to work together and to accomplish something.”
CMC continues to collaborate with these and other organizations. They are currently working with others on the Madison Community Citizenship Education Program, a course that hopes to encourage local permanent residents to become citizens and help to guide them through the process. The course will be open to the public.
“We are very accessible. I really like the group of people that are here. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s a calling. You don’t do this to get rich. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do this work. I really do.”
“There’s a lot of heart in this building. Even the people who come here on a daily basis to use our service. A lot of times, they don’t realize that they keep us going too. If it weren’t for the families and clients who trust you, we wouldn’t have a job. So as much as we give, we get a lot back.”
Natera cannot express enough appreciation and gratitude for the team at CMC and other community leaders, with a special thank you to the over 1,000 volunteers that keep CMC’s gears running.
To find out more about the resources offered through CMC, visit their website www.cmctoday.org, and mark your calendar for Saturday October 3, when the CMC will be hosting breast cancer workshops in Spanish. Workshops are
free and open to the public.