Beatriz Maya’s work is a labor of love that comes down to basics.
“The favorite part is the people that I meet. It’s talking to people. I love to do the organizing work, what I did at the beginning of LaConexion, just connecting with people and talking about what are their needs and what they want the organization to do and their visions,” she said.
Maya will be receiving the Drum Major for Peace award from the City of Bowling Green Human Relations Commission this year. The award is given to a Bowling Green citizen who exemplifies the teaching and the values of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr—courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service.
Maya is the executive director of LaConexion, and is a founder. It began as informal meetings in 2012 as an effort to empower the growing Latinx community in Wood County.
“We didn’t know, really, the scope of the need,” Maya said.
“We started as a Latinx organization,” she said. “Because there was no other organization like ours, particularly in assisting with the newcomers, we found ourselves serving a number of people not necessarily coming from Latin America. We decided we needed to expand programs and welcome anybody.”
English as a second language courses were offered from the beginning, and proven to be very popular, but today they are taught to anybody who might need the education.
“We have initiatives that benefit the whole community. So if Bowling Green is a welcoming community, it attracts people to the community and it contributes to the vitality of the whole community as well,” Maya said.
“We go back to the tradition of the United States as an immigrant country,” Maya said. “In the same way as before, receiving Germans and Italians and the Polish, people from England and the Irish. That continues and there is no difference whatever, except maybe the color of the skin, with the immigrants coming today.”
Immigrants choose America for many reasons, she said.
“Most of us are coming to provide for ourselves and to sustain our families, seeking for opportunities and seeking to establish ourselves in a community,” Maya said.
Aside from the introduction of new foods and cultural traditions, she said that there are many economic benefits, especially as the immigrants tend to start new businesses.
The demographics of immigrants have also helped to sustain the growth of workers needed in the region.
The list of other organizations and agencies LaConexion teams up with is lengthy, including: ABLE, Cocoon, The Brown Bag Food Project, Project Connect, United Way and a wide array of faith based organizations. The topics they cover include: improving conditions for essential workers, policing matters, justice issues, housing and homelessness, immigrant rights.
“I’m concerned about forgetting to name some of the many organizations we have collaborated with in the course of the eight years since we formed,” Maya said.
Today, the headquarters is still in Bowling Green, but the scope of their work covers the entire Northwest Ohio region, and includes all immigrants and refugees.
Maya is happy to do the other things that are required for a successful organization: Administration, organizing, grant writing, fundraising and networking.
“All of these things are necessary, but still the part that I enjoy more is to work with the members of the community.”
In addition to being a proud immigrant from Argentina, Maya has years of experience in working on immigrant issues.
Prior to LaConexion, Maya, who has a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut in Political Science. She then worked for FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Northwest Ohio. It’s a union of migrant farm workers.
She said her husband, Bowling Green State University Spanish language literature professor Francisco Cabanillas, also considers himself an immigrant, because he is originally from Puerto Rico. While citizenship issues are not a problem he has had to deal with, English was not his first language and Northwest Ohio is very different from the home where he grew up.
They met in graduate school in Connecticut and came to Bowling Green when he found a job at BGSU in 1991.
Their son is Nicolas Maya Cabanillas, who now lives in Houston.