I Was One of Them

When people ask me what ignites my professional passion, I always say, “I was one of them.” Back in 2006, my family immigrated to the United States. As many immigrants, they came looking for a better life for their children. For me, as a teenager, the move was a big adjustment. The abrupt change felt like being born again, but this time I was 15 years old.

I can’t even imagine how it must have felt for my parents, gambling with their future and betting on making a living to raise their two daughters. Leaving everything we knew behind and adapting to a completely different world was one of the biggest challenges of our lives.

My first academic experience in the United States was high school. Being the daughter of immigrants, and being an immigrant myself, meant that there was no room for failure. I grew up with this pressure that I needed to make my parents’ sacrifices worth it. Although I had all this passion and eagerness to study and become a professional, I didn’t know where to start. I remember asking a school advisor for guidance.

“I have 800 students, and I have to focus on the ones I know are going to make it” was her discouraging answer. According to her, an ESL (English as a Second Language) student wasn’t part of the group that was going to “make it.”

After I graduated high school, I ended up going to community college for the first two years and then transferring to a university, where I attained my undergrad and graduate degrees. While in school, I learned about a work-study program at the largest Spanish television network in the country. There, I was introduced to the corporate social responsibility world. To say that I fell in love with the work the company was doing to empower the Hispanic community is an understatement.

For the past decade, I have been leading purpose- driven programs to help Latinos attain a higher level of education, have access to affordable health care, learn the path to citizenship, and participate in democracy. Every day, I’m inspired by the stories of those who, like me and my family, have come to this country pursuing a dream but have no one to show them the right path.

Knowing first-hand the struggles these families go through allows me to understand and address their needs, because I was that person looking for guidance, that teenager making family decisions, that student who didn’t know how to go to college, that child who helped her parents file their taxes and apply for citizenship, and that go-between who translated every doctor’s visit and piece of mail that came to our house.