Norma Duckworth: Food insecurity and the role that poverty plays
As a young girl, Norma Duckworth found America a place of wealth but desperately wanted to return to her home in the poor countryside of Mexico. Food has always been a part of her life, as a bond with family loved ones and a hardship when it was scarce. Those experiences contributed to her drive for volunteerism and support of the local immigrant community, and her mission of faith in Milwaukee to feed the hungry and help anyone in need.
Q&A with Norma Duckworth
Q: What do you remember most about being a young girl in Mexico? And can you describe your family’s struggle with starvation?
A: My best memory of Mexico has always been my Great Grandfather (Papa Juanito), his love was the greatest gift I ever had. I remember riding the horse with my grandfather and going by a field and having lunch under the tree. It the best time ever, because all I ever wanted was to be around him. I do not recall much about starvation other than some of the stories that my mother shared with us about not having much to eat.
Q: What was the biggest culture shock you experienced when you immigrated to America? And how did you adapt to the transition when your poor world collided with a rich world?
A: My biggest culture shock was the food. I do not believe I had an easy time adapting to America because I left a place that I called home. I was the only child there, and when I got here I had to be with four other siblings. I remember crying a lot, and I did not care about being with my parents. All I wanted was to go back to Mexico.
Q: What is it like to be a hispanic woman in Milwaukee today, and have social conditions improved enough in recent years?
A: I believe we still have many challenges as Hispanic women. However, I feel comfortable of who I am, my heritage, and where I came from. I do believe some social conditions have improved, but we still have much work to do in areas like mental illness, homelessness, jobs, and affordable housing.
Q: Why do you think there is so much hate and fear towards immigrants, particularly Hispanics, who do the necessary work that white Americans refuse?
A: I believe it is the ignorance of people and the racist rhetoric they have heard repeated throughout a lifetime. The President has said some very nasty and racist things about the immigrant community and people believe the lies. We should know by now that the underpaid, most difficult, and labor intense jobs are done by immigrants. My father’s saying was “We came to America to work.” That means whatever is available we take no matter what the pay or conditions are. Immigrants are very hard working individuals.
Q: Is faith a part of your personal mission, and how is the religious community helping immigrants adjust to life in Milwaukee?
A: My faith is to live and reflect my Christian beliefs and values. We have many within the faith community that contribute financially to help immigrants, others give their time and talents to assist the families directly.
Q: Since the Presidential election of 2016, how would you describe the condition of Milwaukee’s Hispanic community?
A: The Hispanic community is in fear for our brothers and sisters, of what can happen to them. After the elections, many are living under very stressful conditions because of the unknown. Some families are afraid to go outside because they fear what can happen to them. However, I believe that our community has come together to stand up against this President, and that has made us community stronger and more united.
Q: What do you see as the biggest issues in Milwaukee, and how can people in the community advocate to resolve perennial problems like poverty and hunger?
A: Organizations and individuals not working together to better Milwaukee is a systematic problem in our city. Everyone works in a silo and protects their turf instead of sharing resources and collaborating towards a common goal. The best way to assist is to inform others in the community to get involved. For the past 25 years, that is what my husband and I have been doing. We find out what the needs are and connect resources to tackle them. Addressing issues like poverty means we need to find opportunities to give people jobs, internships, and raise minimum wage pay. Each community needs to work together to identify their problems, because they can be different from area to area. The way to assist with hunger locally is by supporting local agencies that have food pantries. An important effort is to pick up fresh and healthy food from stores to donate. It truly hurts me when I see people discard good food when we have so many people hungry next door.
Q: What other efforts are you working on in the city that you want people to know about, and need support for?
A: Assisting our immigrant community, homelessness, human trafficking, housing, and my Community Talks program. One of our main goals this year is to purchase and rehabbing a building for more space, and a large U-Haul truck to pickup and haul donations. We are always looking for financial support to remain sustainable and expand our mission.
Q: What is your vision for the future of Milwaukee, and do you have hope the situation will ever change?
A: My vision for Milwaukee is for our community to come together, and have a city that is prosperous for all people to live, work, and raise a family. I can never give up my hope or Milwaukee, that is why my husband and I continue the work in the city. We could never give up on the people who need us or our services. I do believe our situation in our city could drastically improve, but for this to happen each member of the community has to demand it. Not only from our leadership who represent us, but also from ourselves by taking pride in our community and making the effort – even sacrifice – to see that it becomes better.
Q: What advice would you offer young Latino women interested in a graduate degree but lacking hope in opportunities in Milwaukee?
A: My advice is to take time to know what particular field you truly want to be in, talk to people who are in the field, and always be open to new and exciting challenges.