Unfinished Business

Immigrant Heritage Month 2016: My Mom’s American Dream

By Luisa Guaracao, a Leadership Conference Education Fund Communications Fellow

Long before I was conceived, my mom had a dream for me. She dreamed that I would speak perfect English – not that I would be an astronaut or the next president, ­­just that I wouldn’t have a heavy accent like she did (sorry mom). That may not seem like an extraordinary dream to most, but for a 23-year-old Colombian student who had trouble distinguishing “who” from ‘how,” it was a pretty big dream.

In the fall of 1987, my mom packed her bags and left Bucaramanga, a small city in Colombia, in route to Delaware. It was the first time she left the country. During her eight-month journey to the states she would try to accomplish one goal: to learn the English language.

When she arrived at the airport in Delaware, she realized that it was going to be a lot harder to accomplish her goal given that she couldn’t even order a taxi. That day, amidst her frustrations, she tried using a payphone to call one of her brothers to vent – but couldn’t reach him because she didn’t understand what the operator was saying. For the next few months, she would walk around with a Longman English Dictionary in her hand. Whenever she didn’t understand what someone was saying, she would hand them the dictionary and signal them to look up the word.

The frustration she felt from not being able to communicate with others was something she didn’t want her future kids to experience. She made a promise to move to the United States as soon as her first child was born so they could learn English at a young age.

Fast forward to 1992 and my sister, Ana, was born. Two years later, I joined her. Not long after, my mom purchased one-way tickets to Miami, Florida for the three us. Thanks to her, I now have a superpower that allows me to connect with people. I call it Spanglish. As for my mom, she can now order a taxi and has no problem arguing if a cab driver tries to rip her off.

It’s been over 15 years since we moved from Colombia and there is no doubt that we have assimilated into U.S. culture. I love Starbucks as much as any other American girl, but I’m proud to say that #IAmAnImmigrant and always will be.

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, join The Leadership Conference Education Fund and Welcome.us as we celebrate the incredible contributions that immigrants have made and continue to make to our nation. In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Texas, it’s important for us to amplify the stories of immigrants now more than ever. We encourage you to share your stories – today and beyond June – on social media using #IAmAnImmigrant.


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