After Hurricane Katrina, Cristiane Maria Rosales Fajardo jumped into the recovery, connecting anyone affected by the storm, as well as the influx of workers to help in relief efforts, with much-needed services when she was at the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA).
While working at VAYLA, Cristi shared with her supervisor, MK Ngyuen, how much she wanted to see an organization “that focused on the needs of Black and Brown community,” she says, as VAYLA focused at that time on the city’s Vietnamese community. While VAYLA has expanded its mission, Cristi was encouraged to start her own and she founded El Pueblo Nola – Nola Village.
“We work with various group such as Culture Aid NOLA, Journey for Justice and many different mutual aids group in New Orleans,” Cristi says, also noting that the organization was busy during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida helping people as far away as Houma and Lafayette.
Giving back to the community is a natural for Cristi. As an 8-year old, she moved from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to New Orleans, first living in Metairie, then in New Orleans East. She soon became her mother’s advocate saying that, “As a child, I was put into adult situations to translate.”
El Pueblo Nola is run from her home, with one of her goals to find an office or center to run existing programs and to expand.
To find out about the group and its services, visit ElPuebloNola.org
Tell us what your organization does: We serve the Black and Brown communities of New Orleans, with specific programs for the underserved Latinx community, in four key areas: health, education, civic and cultural. Our services include, but are not limited to: free HIV testing, health education, student advocacy, cultural programming, language rights and access, legal resources and know-your-rights training. We work to co-create support systems for our community so that members in need can access essential services and participate in mutual aid networks. We do this by training a core group of local leaders to use the key pillars of the organization by identifying needs, providing services and creating a nurturing environment in which people’s innate strengths can be harnessed for personal and community transformation.
Our work aims not only to provide services, but also to honor the dignity and culture of our members, no matter their legal status.
What have been the biggest – or most important – accomplishments? I take every daily task as a win. I have so many beautiful memories that if I had to choose just one it’s hard, so I’m sharing two.
First, we received a grant in the amount of $250,000 to directly support 600 families with $400 gift cards during the [COVID-19] pandemic and it was a beautiful moment to be able to help families in need.
Another memory was teaching a young garifuna young lady her history in planning for a cultural event. She became so proud to be a dark-skinned garifuna female and said to me, “Mrs. Cristi, This means that I am a Goddess and my skin color isn’t ugly.” And from that day forward she has blossomed into the Goddess she truly is. No grant or material things can make up for that moment.
What’s something about your organization that people most likely don’t know? We support many families with burial arrangements for our community members and we have done more than 160 funerals.
Is there a person (or mentor) that inspired you? MK Nguyen, my former supervisor [at VAYLA]. She would always say to me how brilliant I was. And how much knowledge I had and that I needed to be heard. At that time I didn’t understand or know my worth.
Is there a movie that changed your life? I love the movie Walkout, based on a true story of the 1968 East LA walkout, also known as the Chicano blowout. This movie showed me the power of true community support in creating a change with direct action.
What are you reading now? I haven’t had the pleasure to read anything lately. I’m in a state of life where I could write a couple of best sellers.
What is your perfect night out in New Orleans? I would have a full day of pampering myself and not feeling guilty about it. With a horse carriage ride in the French Quarter, dining at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and watching the sunset at the Lakefront.
Secret ambition? My secret ambition is to have a fully funded nonprofit community center that supports youth and families. I would love to have centers here in New Orleans as well as in South America and Central America.