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A Crooked Line to West Homewood

Carlos Aleman is a familiar face in West Homewood, yet many may not know how he eventually ended up here. His story is quite remarkable, and there is little doubt that his experiences as an immigrant has shaped his desire to serve our community. We thought it would be fun to learn more about Carlos and to see how life has been six months after the election.

“I was born in Nicaragua in the middle of a civil war. My father, who as a teenager had traveled to the US several times to visit his family, began to prepare a way for my mother, brother and I to flee the violence around us. He joined other family members in San Francisco and began working while we stayed behind. My maternal grandmother collected the additional funds from family members and friends that we needed to meet my father, and at two-years-old, I boarded a plane with my mother and brother and headed for California.

I grew up in the Mission District in San Francisco, a predominantly working-class Latino neighborhood. My mother had married my father and became a mom as a teenager. She was only 19 years old when we immigrated from Nicaragua, and she became a single mom when my parents divorced just six years later. My mom began her vocational training as a clerk in a grocery store then she became a secretary at a public school. She learned English, earned her GED, and did her best to make ends meet. Just last year, my mother went back to college and earned multiple AA degrees. My father eventually started his own successful business, and although my parents separated, they both worked hard to co-parent and make sure that my brother and I were loved. It was from my parents that I learned the value of perseverance. Though times were difficult during my childhood, we felt fortunate to be surrounded by both my father and mother’s families who instilled in us the values of love and hard work. My brother and I attended the neighborhood public schools, which gave us the opportunity to learn English and Spanish as it was a bilingual elementary school. Some would say growing up and attending public school in an immigrant neighborhood would be difficult, but it was enriching. Our family took such good care of each other that I didn’t know our family was poor until much later in life.

All my family wanted was the opportunity to rise above the violence we fled in Nicaragua. Their dream, like so many other immigrants, was simple: to find good paying jobs that would provide a better life, raise their sons in a safe home, and give them access to a better education. My family’s story is one that shows when provided access to opportunities, it can change a family’s trajectory. In one generation, my brother earned his master’s degree at UC Berkeley, and I earned a PhD in History from Michigan State University. I believe our story is the exception and not the norm for immigrant families. The majority of immigrants don’t have access to opportunity or equality in the US, and many don’t have the family support like my brother and I experienced. There is certainly no straight line from point A to point B in the immigration journey.”

As Carlos traveled that crooked line, it eventually led him to East Lansing, MI where he met his wife Mercedes, who is from Puerto Rico. Both served as part of the Latino Graduate Student Association, and Mercedes was leading a project for bilingual speaking students when Carlos met her. “Mercedes was technically my boss for three or four months during the project. Almost immediately, I wondered if I should ask her out. I finally did, and she said ‘No.’ I didn’t give up, and once the project ended, I asked again, and she said ‘Yes!’ The rest is history. Mercedes is easily the smartest person I know. She’s sharp and beautiful. We got along so well, and our personalities complement each other. I’m social, she’s reserved. We are voracious readers and always exchange the books we love. We are both committed to making positive change in our communities, and every major decision for our family is made together.”

Landing in West Homewood

Carlos, Mercedes, and their then 4-year-old daughter Amelia landed in West Homewood in 2016 when Carlos was hired as a History professor at Samford University. Carlos has now entered the world of non-profits and serves as the Chief Operating Officer of HICA (the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama). Carlos and Mercedes chose to live in Homewood because of the schools, and West Homewood offered the most diversity. “On any given day at Patriot Park, our family sees other Latino families playing soccer and Muslim families walking around the park alongside black and white families, and this is what we want our daughter to call home.”

Four years after moving to West Homewood, Carlos made the decision to run for city council. His decision to run followed many conversations with Mercedes, as they developed a plan that would allow him to fulfill his responsibilities at home and work while running for election and hopefully serving on the council. “What led me to run for city council is my desire to make sure that this side of town was well represented and to show that our community is special. The council was all white prior to 2020, and I felt we needed diverse perspectives on the council to represent our diverse community. I discovered that others in this community felt the same as me. I was the candidate running for election, but there was a community desire to bring people together.”

The surprising gift that came from running for election was the friendships Carlos made throughout the neighborhood. He now regularly meets with a group of men, both black and white, who grew closer through his campaign. They regularly get together over bourbon and talk about being dads, work, race and the community.

As one of eleven representatives, Carlos has realistic goals about serving on the council. “Anything we are able to accomplish will be through collaboration and consensus. I am just one person, but my goal is to get our council to look at ways we can diversify the boards across our city. We don’t have to always pick the diverse candidate, but we can take a step in the right direction by considering other perspectives for these roles. I am also committed to getting sidewalks built in Forest Brook. What I love about West Homewood is the walkability, but the area south of Lakeshore need sidewalks so that families can access the greenway safely. It’s also important to have conversations about accessible housing, and I feel it’s time to quit being scared of what that can mean. It is great that our property values are skyrocketing, but are we sacrificing the diversity of our neighborhood? Accessible housing and smart development in areas of West Homewood that preserve diversity can work without sacrificing property values.”

There isn’t much Carlos would change about West Homewood. He simply wants to preserve what we have and maintain our family centric and welcoming neighborhood. “My greatest concern is that we are getting to a point that we aren’t able to maintain access to our neighborhood. Our daughter sees neighbors from all walks of life in our little cul-de-sac, and we need to be intentional about how we preserve the diversity of our schools and community. Sometimes, we are too quick to pat ourselves on the back for being diverse, and we can easily lose that vital part of our neighborhood.

More than anything, seeing this community through our daughter Amelia’s eyes is what makes me love living here. This is her community and all she has ever known. Hall Kent is so special to her, and it is wonderful that she can walk to the park and know so many neighbors and friends. She loves it here. My hope is that we can figure out a way to preserve the unique character of this community so that more children in the future will benefit from living here.”

We'd love to share your story if you live, work, or play in West Homewood.

*Photo by Lindsey Culver Photography

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