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Realizing the Promise of America: My Immigration Story

Disponible en Español, aquí

People come to the United States from different countries and for different reasons. Many come looking for professional growth while others are escaping from a political dictator. Some come out of hunger—both for food and for education. Others, like me, come to this country to escape from the prejudice and lack of services for a child with special needs.

As the White House tackles immigration reform, it has established a website for people to tell their immigration stories. This is mine.

I came to the U.S. 9 years ago. I had a career, a house that was paid for and a nice car at my country. But when I was told that my son was coming with Down syndrome, I realized I didn’t have the most important thing: I didn’t have the security of knowing that he would be accepted and respected.

For many, it’s a bold move to immigrate to a different country for the sake of a child with special needs. I didn’t feel so much bold as I did desperate to change his future. A few years after we arrived here, life surprised me a second time when my daughter was born with the same condition.

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I have worked tirelessly to get where I am today. I am not the CEO of a big company, but I’m in a blessed position where I feel proud of myself. I have been a maid, a waitress and I even sold donuts for a while. And something that I learned to admire and respect about this country is that it doesn’t matter what you do, when you do it right, you keep moving up.

Many times, while scrubbing someone else’s toilettes or marble floors, I dreamed of being a writer, of speaking up for my kids, of changing the world a little bit. I vacuumed Persian rugs while listening to English language tapes to improve my accent. I was determined to be ready for that big day when I would stand at a podium and people would hear my voice, that of a Latina mom raising two kids with special needs.

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I never gave up on my dream and eventually the day came. For the last five years, I’ve worked as Family Resource Specialist for the Early Intervention Program of Southwest Florida. I not only give advice to new parents of kids with special needs, but I travel around the country to share my story and bringing hope to others. And last year, Latism made another of my dreams come true. I stood at a podium at the White House, talking about the things that I always wanted to say. And people were listening.

Since that day, many people who seemed unreachable to me have become part of my journey. I pitched Her Bad Mother and manager of Babble in an elevator. And to my surprise, that busy and well known businesswoman heard my voice (that tape never really helped me get rid of my Latina accent), and gave me the chance to become a Babble voice, and honor that has opened many doors to allow me to keep following my life’s mission: To open doors for those who are born with special needs.

Many times those doors are not as big as I would like them to be. Many times they seem too big, and I get tired from trying to push them open. Many times I get lost in the number of pageviews and retweets…and then I go back to the days when I didn’t have anything but my voice, and the only person listening to my dreamed-up speech was my reflection in the mirror.

People can think or tell you whatever they want about the immigrant experience in America. For me, being here today while raising my two kids has a deeper and greater meaning. I have found a reason to live and help others through my circumstances, and I know I’m in the perfect place. I can only be grateful to this country for all that it has given to us. America taught me to give by example, and since then, I started giving back to others and helping them to believe and take action for themselves and their kids, with or without special needs.

I don’t know where else I would have been able to achieve all these things. In a couple of months I’ll become an American Citizen and I swear that’s going to be one of the best days of my life. This is my country and I hope people never forget that this country is filled with grateful immigrants like me. America has always taught others to give from the heart in order to receive the best from others. It’s lessons couldn’t have rung truer for me.

Share here your immigration story!

Follow Emir and Ayelen’s adventures growing up with Down syndrome on facebook, twitter and instagram. We blog in Spanish on www.elianatardio.com

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