By Stephanie Garcia in the Baltimore Sun.
Ricardo Ortiz grew up around revolutionaries and unions advocating for food access and public education. As a boy, he attended marches with his single mother, a teacher and activist in Oaxaca — the second-poorest state in Mexico, where 58% of the population speaks an indigenous language.
“I have this hope that we can build a better place to live for our community,” said Ortiz, 30, a Northwest Baltimore Community Organizer at CASA, an advocacy and assistance organization for immigrants and Latinos.
“I come from an indigenous community, and my mother has always encouraged me to support my neighbors since I was a child.”
During the pandemic, Ortiz has organized a weekly food distribution at Fallstaff Elementary Middle School that serves 250 residents a week, including at least 100 Latinos. With CASA co-workers, he helped 115 residents apply for rental assistance and eviction prevention and connected an additional 150 with cash assistance.
Ortiz has drawn attention to the Latino community’s battle with COVID-19 in the 21224 ZIP code, which includes neighborhoods with significant Latino populations such as Highlandtown and Greektown.
And he has organized for the #CancelTheRent movement and Maryland Trust Act, the legislation would make Baltimore a sanctuary city, ending police partnership with ICE. Ortiz said this legislation would allow families to live better and feel safer.
“Not all migrants are illegal,” he said, noting that members of the community pay taxes and contribute to the U.S. economy.
Gabriela Roque, CASA’s Central Maryland lead organizer, hired Ortiz last April.“He has his own lived experiences as an immigrant in this country, which I think is super helpful for him as an organizer,” Roque said of Ortiz. “He can directly say, ‘I also struggled to learn English. I also struggle to feel at home here. I also struggle integrating into the society.’”
Last August, the gas explosion on Labyrinth Road shook Ortiz. For almost three weeks, he was on the ground in the Fallstaff neighborhood, a liaison between city agencies and the Hispanic community, helping folks file insurance claims and calling landlords repair blown-out windows.
Previously, Ortiz was a political journalist in Mexico, writing about migration, freedom of expression, and indigenous communities like his in Mixteca. When immigrating to Baltimore two years ago, Ortiz befriended indigenous migrants who spoke Mixtec as their mother tongue and little Spanish. They faced unique barriers accessing available health and social support services as interpretation is not available in their native language, Ortiz said.
He brought his talent as a reporter and activist in Mexico to Baltimore, documenting important moments for the Latino community, like the march for justice for Carmen Rodríguez. The mother was shot in front of her four children; Terrance Peterson and Martin Brooks were later charged with Rodríguez’s murder.