In the News
Mar 20, 2023
Culturally Appropriate Services for Marin’s Immigrant Communities
Mar 20, 2023
By Mary Sackett
Marin County is a beautiful place with a rich and complex history of multiculturalism. The Coast Miwok were the first people to steward the land, thousands of years ago. The delineating lines for Marin County fall on the ancestral lands of the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people who live here to this day. In the early 19th Century, Marin saw an influx of Spanish settlers. Religion, new dialects, and dairy farming were introduced by European and New American settlers. During World War II, shipbuilders migrated to Sausalito, which eventually became Marin’s only black community; many of their descendants still live in what is now called Marin City. Today, Marin is called home by communities from Central and South America, many seeking the promised welcome etched on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
One organization bringing together our history and cultures is the Multicultural Center of Marin (MCM). 20 years ago, MCM started as a welcome center in the Canal District of San Rafael with a mission to uplift our diverse immigrant population, to hold a space for families in crisis and those experiencing food insecurity, and to provide resources. Today, MCM has taken its mission of equity and inclusion to heart by expanding the breadth of its partnerships and offerings. This big tent approach welcomes people from the Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, the Latino community, indigenous peoples, youth, and anyone wishing to get involved. MCM and its partners together provide youth leadership opportunities, services for the unhoused, environmental justice working groups, and programs that promote and preserve the cultural assets of our immigrant communities.
In 2022, MCM relocated to the vacated Juice Beauty space on 5th Street in downtown San Rafael. The change has brought new life to the area and led to a series of new and exciting developments for the organization. The 7,500 square foot space hosts core programs, such as arts, media, and culture experiences, guided meditation and healing circles, family resources, and allows community groups such as the canal resilience community council to hold meetings to identify community needs and solutions for sea level rise, emergency preparedness, and food access, among other issues. Executive Director Douglas Mundo is optimistic about MCM’s next phase, “Moving to central San Rafael was an important change that reflects our value of serving multicultural families throughout Marin. We are closer to public transit and better connected than ever to our community partners around Marin. Our new location puts us physically in the center of Marin and has strengthened our partnerships in the community.”
With a new location, MCM can welcome other community partners. On the roster of partnering agencies is the Marin Asian Advocacy Project, led by Vinh Luu, serving Marin’s Vietnamese and Asian Pacific Islander communities. Luu’s team of staff and volunteers organize monthly meditation meetings and offer cultural and religious events and activities. MCM also continues to support native and indigenous people from Marin County, Mexico, and throughout the Americas by providing space and support, whether helping to form a non-profit or making available a place to gather. MCM serves as the lead organizer for San Rafael’s annual Día de Los Muertos celebration. These partnerships and events celebrate the diversity of Marin, its people, and its history. Together they provide an important opportunity for cultural exploration.
MCM has been a consistent leader in providing safety-net resources for over 250 Marin families. During the COVID pandemic, more than 3,000 Marin families received financial support via MCM’s emergency rental assistance program. With a decades-long program to provide food distribution every Saturday, MCM has established itself as a trusted community partner. The new location creates space for County services, the Ritter Center, SPAHR Center, and other groups that provide safety net resources. It takes shape as small medical services through Ritter’s mobile program, SPAHR’s risk reduction offerings, and education. The space comes alive with drumming, meditation, and social support every Monday from 1:00 – 3:00 pm.
Serving youth is a cornerstone of MCM’s work. MCM provides opportunities for youth to take leadership roles and have a hand in shaping initiatives within the organization. The work includes serving youth in the juvenile justice system. MCM works with the County of Marin and the Marin County Office of Education to connect youth with mentors and engage in prosocial activities, including an annual backpacking trip. In the past, MCM has worked with the Marin Community Office of Education, and Community Schools, and served as a resource to provide more culturally appropriate support for students with mentorship, and pro-social academic resources after school. The hope is to showcase the success of life after juvenile justice–graduating high school, finding employment opportunities, attending college, or even starting a business. This program is a success story that connects mentors with lived experience to youth and offers an opportunity for them to reach back and uplift those in need. It requires a coordinated dance of supporting teachers and students, and teaching parents how to navigate the system while working with families on ways to advocate for their children and create a path to success.
Continuing its vision to uplift youth, MCM also hosts a youth leadership development program called Presente, which trains young people to become next-generation leaders in the community. The program connects youth to leadership opportunities, to serve on the youth council, board and commissions, and to serve as mentors for the next generation as they themselves become community leaders. They teach youth how to navigate systems, build financial literacy, and gain life skills that prepare them for a successful future in the community. Graduates of the program have become bank managers, business owners, program staff, mentors, and community activists.
As Executive Director Douglas Mundo turns an eye to the future, he sees an opportunity to provide more services and support. The next item on the list is to bolster the range of economic opportunities and legal services available to community members. From immigration to juvenile justice to employment discrimination and establishing a 501(c)(3), there are daily questions and demands for legal advice. In line with this goal, MCM plans to establish a “Friends of MCM”, an inclusive list of volunteers, advisors, partnering agencies, and leaders who would offer expertise and connect people with other professionals to provide culturally appropriate community services. Even more than financial contributions, relationships drive the organization forward.
MCM welcomes anyone who would like to get involved. Its doors are open; take the opportunity to drop in when you have a chance. You can also learn more about the Multicultural Center of Marin by visiting multiculturalmarin.org.
Mary Sackett has dedicated the past 20 years to service in Marin County. She practiced law for 13 years in Marin, before transitioning to work for the Board of Supervisors. In 2022, she was elected to the Board of Supervisors to represent District 1. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Marin County Bar Association.