Together, Immigrant Community in Chicago Glows with the Goodness of Art
It is impossible to miss Café Fenix on 2959 North Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois. The building is bursting with the many colors of the rainbow reflected in images of all living creatures, of the sun and the moon and the stars, of peace, joy, light and love. All of God’s creations.
But it is what’s inside Café Fénix that really brings the stunning imagery to life. The restaurant is managed by Cooperativa Fénix, a cooperative of women aimed at advancing leadership in the community. The eatery boasts barista training for young adults and offers “the best food and coffee in Chicago.”
Café Fénix is the literal gateway to Centro San Bonifacio, a community-run organization, incorporated in 1991, missioned to advance self-development through training and mobilizing Promotores de Salud — Community Health Promoters — who provide education and connect families to much needed services.
And glowing in the heart of Centro San Bonifacio and Café Fénix is Together We Shine, a peer support program for the Hispanic immigrant community that is filling every nook and cranny of the building and those within it with living color.
Together We Shine provides support services and activities to promote healthier relationships within the family system, including social and emotional learning, affirmation of culture and values, conflict resolution and referrals for social services. In other words, the program provides a broad palette of offerings for the community’s families.
Art is one of Together We Shine’s primary colors.
“Art is part of my own personal and spiritual evangelization,” says Marina Patiño, Centro San Bonifacio’s Director of Programs, who came to the center as health promoter in 2008 and then launched the art program, becoming its coordinator. Marina oversees Centro San Bonifacio’s youth development programming that includes many art offerings — like weekly classes for kids (26 currently enrolled) and art camp (which hosted 55 kids and their families in 2022) — as well as barista training for 11 students each year at Café Fénix. “Some of the young adults who came into our art programs at 10 years of age have completed barista training and are now studying to be certified food service managers,” says Marina.
Every vibrant Día de Muertos painting and café latte, hand crafted to the brim with beautiful foam art, begins with academic and emotional health — socioemotional development. To witness students who’ve emigrated to Chicago from Latin America and come to the center, speaking no English, utilizing the programs to gain academic success and life skills like self-care and conflict resolution, “is really great for us to see,” says Marina.
Parents who bring their children to Centro San Bonifacio have the opportunity to experience Together We Shine programming, many with linguistic disconnects, who find themselves overwhelmed outside of their Latin American culture. A mom with five kids who joined a social emotional group discovered that she had “a lot of work to do. I didn’t realize what my kids were dealing with,” navigating a new school, a new society, a new life.
“I understand the culture change, the challenges of it,” says Centro San Bonifacio Executive Director Alejandra Menendez about migrating to a big city like Chicago and immersion into “a vastly different ideology.” Emigrating from Mexico to Chicago herself in 2011, she knows this firsthand. “It’s like you’re reborn.” Alejandra, who came to the center as a participant, was hired to coordinate a mutual support group for adults and then promoted to co-director for administration. Very recently, Alejandra became executive director. “Many immigrant parents who have left everything behind are focused mainly on ‘the big dream.’” Centro San Bonifacio has the resources to aid them in securing a balance of physical, mental, spiritual and social health for their whole family.
But getting caught up in the rhythm of learning English and navigating a new culture can “sometimes be too much” for students and their parents, says Alejandra. “The kids need to hold on to their Latin American heritage, to speak Spanish,” in order to communicate with their relatives, carry on the legacy of rich, vibrant traditions. “This is very important to me.”
That is one of the reasons why the Centro San Bonifacio team strives to create cultural enrichment opportunities for families. Their Community Folk Art program includes art classes, mural painting and trips to the National Museum of Mexican Art and other Chicago museums. These experiences serve as opportunities for families to create art, to encounter other artists and to explore traditions and history together, thereby promoting the psycho-social health of the entire family. With support to facilitate this program, 250 children and their families participated in 10 special events plus museum trips in 2022.
Support from investors like FSPA, says Marina, has helped boost Centro San Bonifacio’s artistic license and expand program offerings to include more after-school art classes for students and new offerings that specifically support parents, like sip and paint nights and couples' workshops.
All of this goes to show that when you come through the doors of Café Fénix, you will encounter more than just the best organic, fair trade coffee in town. You will be embraced by a bright, shiny community dedicated to social justice, personal empowerment and cultural inclusivity — a warm and inviting space where all are welcome.
Learn more about Centro San Bonifacio at sanbonifacio.org.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Mexican Art
Community enrichment in full color
As part of Centro San Bonifacio’s Community Folk Art program, families have had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois. Two parents reflect on the rich, vibrant experience.
“I feel very happy for visiting the art museum, because I can see and learn with my children the importance of art in our lives. They learn from all these paintings, the materials, the colors and the message of each artist. All of that is very good because it is culture. Of the paintings we saw, my attention was drawn to the one made with waste materials such as hair and elements from ancient times. I invite families to enroll their children in the Centro San Bonifacio art program because they learn a lot and obtain good experiences.”
“We liked it a lot because we saw wonderful art from our culture. It reminded me of those traditions of our towns, for example, that of the sleeping woman called Mixtli, a princess, and the young warrior called Popoca, that was beautiful and very gratifying. I invite families to come and visit the museum because they are going to learn a lot. And, thanks to the Centro San Bonifacio for this experience. Everything was very well done.”