“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.
“Coming here to the United States, the main barrier I found was the language, and here in Baltimore I found that there is very little information about both politics and journalistic investigations in Spanish,” Ortiz said. “A community without information is a very vulnerable community. It’s a community that knows nothing and won’t know about their rights.”
Spanish language media in Baltimore include Ke Pachanga Radio, Somos Baltimore Latino and Mundo Latino.
His Facebook page is dedicated to reporting on news, investigations and stories about Baltimore’s Spanish-speaking community. Campaigning and shared car rides with Roque led to his organizing job with CASA. Ortiz began volunteering with CASA’s Mi Espacio program, teaching Latino youth about photography and connecting them with radio internships at WYPR.
“I learned a lot about his history as a gay Mexican man, immigrating to be with his husband here in the U.S., and it just surprised me how quickly he integrated himself in the city and in the politics and caring about his community,” Roque said.
Ortiz developed a multicultural project in Fallstaff to support the growing population of Latino immigrants in a historic community of Black and Jewish residents. He grew the first parent-teacher organization at Fallstaff Elementary Middle School to 25 members, connecting students with computers and technology literacy training. His outreach with Central American consulates lead to a CASA partnership that supported residents in obtaining passports and families who lost relatives to COVID-19.
Roque described Ortiz as a tireless optimist who motivates people and has “heart for the movement, for a social cause, for justice.”
Weekend Watch Newsletter
Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.
Ortiz feels a calling to continue working for the immigrant community.
“Many people come here out of need or fleeing violence, or coming because they have no opportunities in their home country,” Ortiz said. “It’s worth it that we remain organized and that we continue to raise our voices. Many people have realized that the migrant community has been essential, mainly on this issue of the pandemic, and that we also have rights and deserve to be taken into account.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie García is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities. Follow her @HagiaStephia.