Chinese Mutual Aid Association doubles down to help Ukrainian refugees, Chicago immigrants

A Chicago agency is preparing to assist refugees from Ukraine and other parts of the world, fulfilling its mission for 40 years now.

Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) has been helping refugees and immigrants find homes, jobs and community in Chicago.

At an English as a second language class, adult students pronounce words like "deductions," "gross pay," the language of the workforce.

Language and job assistance are some of the services offered by CMAA to help refugees navigate through life in a new country.


Since 1981, CMAA has been helping clients from childcare to elderly care, getting people homes and jobs, easing trauma.

Dennis Mondero, Executive Director of Chinese Mutual Aid Association, said the organization was started by Chinese and Vietnamese refugees and has grown into an agency that serves all cultures and ethnic groups. 

His family immigrated from the Philippines to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, 

"This neighborhood is the Ellis Island of Chicago, where the economic and ethnic mix of everything everywhere comes together. It was a beautiful thing growing up here," Mondero said.

Uptown is recognized as the most diverse neighborhood in Illinois.

Fadila Campara operates the Bosnian Herzegovinian American Community Center in an office inside CMAA’s building. Thirty years ago, she fled Bosnia, through Croatia and settled in Chicago. She survived the war and sees similar images coming out of Ukraine, "Yes, I watch on TV. I see people die, the bombing…  It was the same in Bosnia." 

CMAA helps refugees recover from the unimaginable. The desperation was painfully depicted recently by video of people fleeing from Afghanistan at the Kabul Airport.

Siam Pasarly was one of those Afghans. As a former government representative, he would have been a target, had he stayed in Afghanistan. To survive he had to leave his wife and daughter behind. 

Since then, his wife gave birth to their son. During his exodus, he said he saw people under his feet dying. He pulled several children over the fence at the airport and on the third day, decided he needed to save himself.

He spent six months in refugee camps and arrived in Chicago six weeks ago. On his second day in the city, he landed a job translating for fellow Afghan refugees. Pasarly says he painfully misses his family and his country. 

He keeps busy by working for the Muslim Women Resource Center on Chicago’s North Side. 

"I can help the people that need support the most. When I’m talking to them in my own language, they feel comfortable," Pasarly said.

It’s what all refugees yearn for, comfort and a future.

When asked why she stayed, Fadila Campara said, "Chicago is my city."