LATISM Top Blogueras to Visit United Nations: My Immigration Story

For the second year LATISM, the largest organization of Latinos in social media in the US, has selected a group of influential bloggers who represent the voices of their communities and readers to attend a 2 day leadership retreat. The retreat will take place in the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on September 18th and 19th and will provide workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions designed to empower and inspire Latina leaders on “What’s Next”. I am deeply honored to have been chosen by LATISM as one of the 2013 Top Blogueras, along with a group of amazing women who are using social media as a tool to promote change and do social good. Last year the Top Blogueras visited the White House and this year we have been invited to the United Nations to meet with top officials of the Secretariat to discuss issues that concern the Latino community ranging from education and health to business and gender equality. Today I am on a plane headed for New York and I am prepared to take the next step to realize my dream of using my website as a platform to empower and inspire Latino families to take pride in their culture, their heritage and their language.

waldorf astoria lobby
The Waldorf Astoria lobby.

The Top Bloguera retreat kicks off this year’s LATISM conference the premier event for Latinos engaged in social media. The conference’s program will focus on tech innovation and social media trends in the areas of Health, Education, Business and Technology.

To create awareness about the immigration reform we where asked to share our immigration story so here is mine.

How the American Dream Found Me

Many people come to United States looking for a better life, they leave their country in search of opportunity or safety, they come in search of the American dream.

Growing up in Guatemala I lived a comfortable life. I was very fortunate that my parents had the means to send me to a full immersion English school that not only taught me a second language but also taught me about the American culture. However I had never considered moving to the US. I love Guatemala and never intended to leave but life had other plans for me.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Photo: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz . All Rights Reserved.
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Photo: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz . All Rights Reserved.

At 32 my daughter came into my life. I felt blessed; I had a great job, I had my own apartment and was surrounded by friends and family. But there was something missing in my life and a few months after my daughter’s birth I met the man I was destined to be with, the man who would become my daughter’s real father. A first generation American he was in Guatemala visiting family and from the moment we met we knew it was meant to be. You can read our story HERE.

Soon he came back to visit and decided to stay. Two years later he was not happy in Guatemala and convinced me to move back to the US with him. By then my son was on the way. I thought it would be easy for me to find a job since I knew the language and the culture and that the transition would be smooth. Boy was I wrong!

We arrived in the US in march of 2008 leaving everything behind. We moved in with my in-laws and had to start from scratch in a time when the economy in the US was at it’s worst. Having a bilingual education and a degree in architecture did not do anything for me in a town that was one of the hardest hit when the housing market came crashing down. A few months after arriving in the US my daughter was diagnosed with autism and I felt as if my whole world had come crashing down on me.

As I worked hard to get informed about what her diagnosis meant and how to better help her I met a woman who changed my life. This complete stranger helped me navigate the educational system to get the services my daughter needed and it was then that I realized that there where so many Latino families out there who needed help. I volunteered in different organizations from Make A Wish Foundation to the Dual Language Learner’s Workgroup and Easter Seals. I advocated for Spanish speaking families of children with special needs to help them get the services their kids needed. It was then that I realized that in America I could make a difference, I could change people’s lives and make the world a better place for my family.

For a long time our economical situation was so bad that I even had to go to food banks because we didn’t have enough money for food and I could not apply for food stamps because I was not a citizen. Four years would go by before we could afford rent and move out of my in-law’s house but finally things started looking better. My volunteering eventually lead to part time jobs and a blog I started as a way to provide resources for Latino families suddenly became a business. Through my blog I got to meet a group of amazing Latinas (and Latinos) who’s stories and success continue to inspire me and finally I started to feel at home.

becoming an american citizen
Becoming an American citizen on 9/11.

On 9.11.2012 I became a citizen and as I vowed to protect and uphold the liberty of this country that had adopted me I turned to look at my daughter. She was with my husband and the families of all the new American citizens and she was the only one standing up, holding her hand up taking the oath of allegiance with the rest of us. I wept as I saw her so proud to become an American and I was filled with hope.

I now know that I am here for a reason. In Guatemala my daughter would never have the opportunity to live an independent and fulfilling life. In the US I am able to use my voice not only to advocate for her but to advocate for other children as well.

becoming an american citizen
Taking the pledge of allegiance.

I truly believe that I was meant to be here, I was meant to become an American so that I could raise my children in a safe environment where they can truly make their dreams become reality just as I am making my dreams a reality. I am proud to be an American and a Guatemalan because the United States has opened so many doors, but most of all it has opened my eyes to a life that is more meaningful, a life with a purpose. My American dream is being able to do what I love and make the world a better place for my family and here I can do that.

On September 21st I will be joining thousands of my Latino hermanos on the All 4 Immigration in NYC. To learn more about the march you can visit the Latism All For Immigration website HERE. Join us!

Do you have an immigration story? I would love to hear it and I encourage it to share it with others HERE.

5 thoughts on “LATISM Top Blogueras to Visit United Nations: My Immigration Story

  1. Paula, my friend, this is so moving and beautiful. My parents came to this country for a better life as well, and my life would not have been the same had they stayed in Cuba (although I wasn’t born there). I am so proud of you and the work you do!

  2. Leí antes la historia de como encontraste a tu amor. Que lindo que juntos han podido encontrar un camino lleno de oportunidades. A veces cuesta, pero siempre podemos tener la esperanza de encontrarlo y trabajar para lograrlo.
    Abrazo.

  3. I have never been to Guatemala but the pictures of the landscape is beautiful and I totally see why you loved it. I have a similar story, love kept me in this country but I am grateful of my path even if that was not my original plan. Un abrazo sooo nice to meet you!

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