I am the son of Colombian immigrants, a first-generation American. My parents were in the middle of their undergraduate studies when political unrest and economic uncertainty in Colombia, South America, led them to immigrate to the United States in the early 1970s, in hopes of a more stable, safe, and prosperous future. They left everything that they knew -- their community, family and country, because they believed that the United States would offer them a better life.
Upon arrival, knowing little-to-no English, they struggled socially and financially at first with learning a new language and with trying to make ends meet. My father worked (and still works) in a factory, and my mother had many working class jobs throughout my childhood. Even though my parents were never successful financially, they always sent money home to their family in Colombia.
I was born in New York City and grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood just outside of the Baltimore City limits. We struggled financially, but my parents always worked hard and paid their taxes. Throughout all of those difficult years, my parents never forgot why they really came to the United States, and that was to make a better life for my brother and me.
Education was of the highest value to my parents. I can still remember my brother and I not being allowed to go outside to play without finishing our homework first. Even though my parents missed Colombia and their family terribly, they knew that my brother and I were living a better life, with more opportunity than we would have had in their home country. Most importantly, we were receiving a better education than we likely would have in my parents’ neighborhood. And my parents knew this would open doors for us that we might not have had in Colombia.
My childhood was full of the same dichotomies that most first generation children experience. I was both proud to be Colombian, yet wanted nothing more than to fit in and be “normal”. I respected my parents and the fact that we spoke Spanish in the home, but at the same time, I was deeply embarrassed of them and their accents. I appreciated the sacrifices that my parents had made for me and yet, I wanted the latest sneakers. These conflicting emotions are common to many working class children, yet there is a unique additional layer for first-generation children because they are caught between two cultures – their family and their friends/new-found community.
Thanks to my parents immigrating to the United States, their sacrifices and pushing me to do well in school, I am now a physician. I am able to contribute to the health of my community and also find time to give back to my community in other ways. The organization that I have chosen to dedicate my time and my resources to is ILAP (www.ilapmaine.org). ILAP helps people do what the vast majority of our ancestors have done for years; immigrate to this country. I am inspired by recent immigrants that I have met both through ILAP and parents of my children’s friends. I am in awe of them and their stories and, at the same time, I can relate in a unique way to some of their struggles of being New Americans.
ILAP helps people find their new lives by doing the foundational work of improving their legal status. From green card applications and guiding people through the citizenship process, to asylum seekers, ILAP helps more than 3,000 low-income immigrants, like my parents, every year. My mom became a United States citizen in 1983. She was very proud, as was I of her.
Thank you for considering supporting ILAP. Your contributions help immigrants, who have made extreme sacrifices to be here, have that critical first stepping-stone of legal status, because without that the American Dream is impossible.
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