Migration has been part of human history since man followed herds, across the prairies looking for a better lands to live in and raise families. A person’s desire to overcome adversity, famine and violence is always the driving force behind migration. It is also the impetus that built this country. In today’s highly politicized, divided country, it’s easy to forget this country was built by immigrants and their love of freedom.
Today, thanks to globalization and easy access to communication, the countries and cultures that seemed unattainable at one time, seem to be within reach. And so, people pick up and go, leaving everything they know behind, just like they’ve always done. Migrants are part of our community. Each of them has a name, a story and left their homelands seeking better opportunities and safety for themselves and in many cases for their families – these are goals and aspirations that we all seek. We are not different. We are all part of the human struggle that seeks to live in peace and prosperity. In their honor, we would like to highlight the contributions of people and families who, because of violence or other adversities have risked it all to come here.
When Lourdes Ortega was 14 years old and still in middle school, she had no idea what it meant to be undocumented. One day, her classmate asked her if she had a social security number at school and was surprised to know that – unlike the rest of her classmates – she didn’t have one.
She was like the other thousands of immigrants who came here as children and would be subjected to live in the shadows, being bullied by her classmates and having limited prospects in her career.
Lourdes didn’t decide to come here. Her parents left Ecuador in 1998 due to the extreme devaluation of the national currency, which weakened their family economy and left her parents incapable of paying for school.
She was living in Ecuador with her grandmother Micaela when her parents sent word that they were ready for her to come to the United States.
For her, it was a time of joy, she had not lived with her parents since she was 7 years old and her parents’ decision would change her life.
“If I had not come, neither my sisters nor me would have been capable of studying,” states Lourdes.
But studying wasn’t easy.
As a university student, she had to pay tuition as a foreigner even though she had lived in Maryland for several years. However, she was determined to succeed. She started working as a waitress to be able to finish her schooling.
“I wanted to go to college. She attended a few years but was unable to finish. I had to pay at least $1,000 per month. I had to choose between feeding my little one and my parents or to study,” Lourdes said.
Despite the obstacles and guided by her faith, Lourdes carried on and obtained a two-year certificate as a nursing assistant.
“Even though I didn’t become a doctor like I always wanted to,” said said. “I have my nursing certificate now.”
Then in 2012, a monumental decision by President Barak Obama would change her life.
With the passage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, she was able to work legally for the first time in her life.
The first thing she did was buy a house in Baltimore, where she lives with her parents and two siblings.
“I feel very proud because, now, no one can kick us out of this place,” she said proudly.
She also opened a business in Baltimore where she offers cleaning services and employs 14 people.
Her worst fears may come true if President-elect Donald Trump rips up the executive order allowing children arrivals to work. She could lose her business, her home, her son.
Still, she says, one thing they cannot take from her is her education.
“My education, no one can take it away from me,” she says. “I trust God and have put my faith in him.”
In fact, she credits her faith, which only grew stronger during her trip, as the one thing that has helped her maintain her strength.
“During my trip, I didn’t know whether I would make it. I asked ‘God, if you want me to go to the United States, please let me arrive’. If not, then let me stay,” she said. “Now I am here and that says something.”
The same faith she placed in God during her trip, she is now placing in God so that one day she will get to see her sisters again. They live in Ecuador and she has not seen them in 18 years.
“I pray one day my family will be together again,” she said.