Latino Elgin counselor is working for change
Pita Betancourt doesn't believe in luck. She doesn't think she ended up in Elgin merely by coincidence.
"I think it was because I had to be here to do this work," said the Larkin Center counselor.
Betancourt is from the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi and has lived in Elgin with her husband for about 15 years.
When Betancourt arrived she felt out of place. She is a licensed psychologist in Mexico, but her degree is not valid in the United States and, without English, she felt lost.
So she took classes at Elgin Community College and learned the language.
Betancourt said she also confronted a sense of hostility toward Latinos she had heard about before she moved to this country.
"There is a big problem where people choose to see that immigrants come to take jobs but they don't value what they do here," Betancourt said. "People give their lives, their blood — they die here. But people don't see this."
She pointed to taxes paid by immigrants, documented or not, and the labor they contribute to communities as concrete examples of their worth.
Betancourt serves as a bridge between the Larkin Center and the Latino community in the Elgin nonprofit's individual and group counseling services. She leads workshops for adults, primarily focusing on self esteem.
Betancourt said funding is easier to get for youth, but it is equally important to address the needs of parents, who she says are the foundation of families. Immigrants who do not feel welcome in this country or proud of their achievements cannot teach their kids to be happy and healthy, she said.
Enhancing self esteem is the foundation of Betancourt's work.
"If you don't know how to be happy and how to accept yourself, nothing is going to work," Betancourt said.
Outside of the Larkin Center, Betancourt is a strong advocate for the Latino community and a member of a political group Morena-Illinois. The group formed after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a progressive candidate for Mexico's presidency, visited Chicago last October.
While Morena isn't affiliated with any particular party, the group is working toward Lopez Obrador's election to launch a change for the better in Mexico.
Betancourt speaks of Morena as a political movement uniting diverse groups of people on both sides of the border. The organization is urging everyone in the U.S. who can vote in Mexico to do so.
For Betancourt, who has always been concerned with social justice and human rights, it is critical for immigrants to continue fighting for change in their home country. Many would like to return (to their home country) but want better schools, job opportunities and safer communities, she said. To get these things, people must organize and demand them.
Morena is working more than ever leading up to Mexico's July presidential election, but Betancourt said whether their preferred candidate is elected or not, the movement will continue.
Betancourt said this is a year of profound change, as prophesied by the Mayans, and people need to come together with love, patience and good conscience to make the world a better place.
While Betancourt spends a lot of her time working within the Latino community, she is passionate about the bonds of humanity that tie us all together.
"We all come from the same place and we go to the same place," Betancourt said.
As human beings, she urges people from all groups to unite for change.
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