[Diocese of Texas] Undaunted by many challenges, the Rev. Alejandro Montes and San Mateo Episcopal Church continue to reach out to the Latino community in Southwest Houston and Bellaire. This week, Es Café, premiered from the church’s parish hall with a delicious Mexican-style breakfast and lots of needed help.
Open every Tuesday and Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Es Café offers homemade tortillas, scrambled eggs and salsa with sausage for a suggested donation of $3. The church’s real purpose with Es Café is to help people connect with community resources in a safe environment. Volunteers staff the griddle and the information table, offering a warm welcome to all who come.
“The idea is that we can be a center for information and education,” Montes said. “We tell [people] where the clinic is located or how they can get a lawyer for immigration.”
Banners inside and outside the church resemble the green, circular Starbucks logo but instead of a mermaid in the center, there is a cross surrounded by the words “Es Café” which stands for “ESperanza CAridad y FE,” hope, love and faith, all essential aspects of the café.
Inside the café, Montes mans an information table, ready to share his wealth of community knowledge to help people find clinics, immigration services and educational opportunities. In the afternoon, Es Café offers tutoring for children in addition to adult GED and English language classes in partnership with Legacy Community Health Services. San Mateo plans to provide childcare services during the classes if needed.
“And if you have spiritual needs, you can come and pray in chapel,” Montes said.
San Mateo was the first Spanish-speaking Episcopal church in the country to achieve independent parish status, and Montes continues to grow his flock through outreach efforts like Es Café.
“The only way to keep a Spanish parish is expansion,” Montes said. “We need more people, more people.”
Montes assumes a number of the 800 members of San Mateo are not in the United States legally. Most have lived and worked here for years, have started families, but are now afraid to drive after recent changes in state laws prohibit them from getting a driver’s license. And the threat of deportation is real. Parishioners of San Mateo have been sent to prison due to lack of documentation and have only been released after paying costly lawyer fees.
Montes, a Peruvian immigrant, recalled a few times when he had been pulled over by police for a “routine stop,” including one occasion when he was ordered to step out of his car and raise his hands in the air. “When I lowered my hands, they saw my (priest’s) collar and said, ‘I’m sorry, Father,'” Montes said.
Now, Montes is in his third year as a volunteer for the Houston Police Department through the Police and Clergy Alliance. He participates in ride-alongs with local policemen and is often assigned to school functions to help keep the peace.
“They can use me as a translator, not only for language, but for culture,” Montes said. “Sometimes the police don’t understand what someone is doing or why because of cultural differences.”
Speaking with Montes, it is clear he thinks there is much work to be done for the community. In addition to gang violence and the threat of deportation, many people lack access to healthcare, education and basic needs like food. Without language skills or proper documentation, many people are scared to seek help. The church hopes to be the bridge between those folks and the resources that are available.
To learn more about Es Café, call San Mateo at 713.664.7792 or visit Es Café at 6635 Alder Dr. in Houston.