David Tolen-Xolot Honored as Cesar Chavez Day Community Hero
March 30, 2015 | Chicago, IL
When David Tolen-Xolot came to the United States from Mexico in 1998, he possessed, like most immigrants arriving in a foreign land, little more than a dream of achieving a better life.
Nearly two decades later, the resilience which helped him realize that dream and the generosity he has shown to his fellow immigrants have earned him recognition from the Marguerite Casey Foundation as a 2015 Cesar Chavez Day Community Hero honoree.
The journey hasn’t always been easy. Upon arriving in Chicago, David found that dream to be a bit more elusive than he had first thought. Challenges included finding sufficient work to support himself—and to be able to send money back home to Mexico—as well as adapting to a radically different culture that was not always the most welcoming environment. He uses descriptors like “tough” and “fierce” to explain his struggle to survive as a newcomer to American society.
On top of that, there was the language barrier. “It took me a while to realize the importance of learning English,” Tolen-Xolot says, recalling how difficult it was to balance work with the time necessary to learn a new language.
Eventually he began taking classes in the English as a Second Language program at Erie Neighborhood House. Improving his language skills opened myriad opportunities for Tolen-Xolot. He credits the English classes he took at Erie House for newfound job mobility—he has ascended from assembler to group leader to production supervisor during his tenure with WaterSaver Faucet Co.—as well as a means to integrating more fully into the social fabric of his new community.
But Tolen-Xolot found so much more than just improved English language skills at Erie House—he discovered a nurturing environment in which he could develop self-confidence and become a voice for social justice.
“I learned to speak up for myself and for those who do not know how to defend themselves,” he explains. “I learned the importance of being involved in community organizing and talking about things that matter: equal opportunities; the right to education, housing and healthcare; women’s and LGBTQ rights; immigrant rights—but foremost the right to live with dignity and without fear of being cast away from a society reluctant to accept those born on the wrong side of the fence.”
Erie House recognized Tolen-Xolot’s passion for social change and invited him to join the Board of Directors as a program representative (Erie House reserves a certain number of seats on its Board of Directors for program participants in order to encourage leadership development and to ensure respective program needs are faithfully addressed and advocated for in Board activity).
Today, Tolen-Xolot is a full-fledged member of the Erie House Board of Directors and participates on several subcommittees aimed at supporting the organization’s mission. He is also active in various advocacy efforts addressing issues important to the Erie House community, including serving as a panelist for a community forum on immigration. Additionally, he organized a language exchange group to help others improve their language skills and bridge the gap between different cultures.
For Tolen-Xolot, giving back to the organization that has empowered him to succeed makes sense. “Erie Neighborhood House became the key for me to open the door to the other side,” he says. “I’m now able to be part of a more vibrant society.”