This Afro Cubana in Georgia is helping Latinos by always being there, not just during the election cycle.
All eyes are on Georgia. The once-red state turned blue in the presidential election victory for Democrat Joe Biden—and that’s mostly due to Latinos that voted in the Peach State. So how did this dramatic shift happen? How did Latino voters in Georgia double from the 2016 election? We can attribute a lot to the work done by outreach organizers like Rebeca Gibbons.
For Gibbons, the executive director of the nonprofit Unidos Latino Association, urging Latinos to vote in the presidential election wasn’t her only objective. She works with the community year round on several fronts, including informing Latinos about immigration rights and educational programs. Her aim is to strengthen the growing Latino community in Georgia and build trust.
This year, Gibbons had her work cut out for her. Not only did she and Unidos Latino members assist with voter outreach, but she had to simultaneously inform Latinos to fill out their census forms and provide them with COVID-19 resources. For Latinos in Georgia, organizers such as Gibbons provide the only lifeline they have.
“We get little notes and texts from people who say ‘thank you so much for that, it really helped a lot’ and ‘thank you for this,’ and ‘thank you for that,'” Gibbons recalls in an interview with The Americano about the appreciation Latinos would show after she dropped off food on their doorstep.
“I think that is more gratifying because you are doing it because you have always done it,” she says. “It’s a heart thing. We’re not doing this for publicity.”
Gibbons understands the importance of helping others. It’s what she has done all of her life.
The 48-year-old Cuban immigrant sought refuge in the US in 1980. She was one of 125,000 Cubans who fled on the Mariel boatlift.
Ever since that experience, Gibbons says, she’s been helping in some way or another, and it all started with her family.
“I learned English very quickly, and so I would always help my mom navigate, as children of immigrant parents so often do,” she says.
Gibbons and her family settled in Los Angeles. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she relocated with her child to Georgia after a friend told her about more opportunities there, and she’s been a Southerner ever since.
Through her experiences and outreach work, Gibbons says one of the main things that people should understand about how to engage Latinos in Georgia and throughout the US is to recognize that not all Latinos have the same needs.
“I think it’s important to be present at all times, especially when eyes are not on you because when eyes are on you like they are right now, there’s going to be a history already there,” Gibbons says.
“It’s important to have conversations with families and hear them out. We are the only Latino organization in these two counties [Rockdale and Newton]. So, my needs as an American citizen, as a Black Latina do not represent your needs, or someone else’s needs.” Gibbons says. “I need to have an ear on what’s going on so when an opportunity presents itself, like this [Senate runoff election], I can speak and advocate for this community and not the needs of Rebeca.”
Gibbons says Latinos are more engaged in politics and the ongoing conversation of elections and voting more than ever, and that older Latinos are making sure their children and grandchildren are registered to vote. They’re also inquiring about immigration issues, including DACA and the families separated at the border.
Gibbons isn’t just helping through her work with the Unidos Latino Association. She’s a mental health worker, the director of an after-school program, and a co-host of a radio show on WSB that focuses on mental health.
“I have a life! I’m a mother of two, a grandbaby on the way,” Gibbons says with a laugh. “So how do we do it all? With the grace of God.”