About 75 supporters of Immigrant Pathways Colorado gathered at the Littleton Museum for conversation, lunch and inspiration on a sunny May 4 — and to hear stories of three IPC grantees.
Susan Thornton spoke briefly about the organization’s programs: grants for English language study, GED test preparation, conversation circles, application for a green card, self-development, and new this year — a scholarship at Arapahoe Community College for a refugee or immigrant. She introduced a panel, led by educator Connie Shoemaker, who has aided many students of all ages and origins and is a co-founder of Immigrant Pathways.
Three women, all now U.S. citizens, were invited to talk about their experiences as immigrants after Shoemaker commented about building bridges rather than barriers: “Living in another country as a minority has taught me to learn another’s story, look into their eyes, celebrate similarities …”
She introduced Nisren Kurdi (Missy) from Baghdad, Iraq; Mary Siddall from Lima, Peru; and Dee Diaz, formerly from Maracaibo, Venezuela.
The first question was: Why are you here?
Missy spoke of the constant danger for the family of a translator — her husband. The couple and two children had to move every six months and were “scared about everything.” The final straw was the kidnapping and murder of her husband’s twin. “I said that’s enough—we have to move.” They were assisted by former state Rep. Joe Rice of Littleton, who was in the Army in Iraq at that time and did the necessary paperwork that brought the family in Colorado. Thornton recalled meeting her the day after she arrived, struggling with the language — a place where IPC could assist. On her first day in the U.S., she remembers the first good long sleep, somewhere safe — and waking up to “a wonderful day, the smell of a fresh breeze. I’ll never forget. It was like I came to life again!” The most difficult adjustment? “I wear a hijab. I feel the eyes on me. I get sad. I feel they want me to go home.”
Shoemaker added that she knows how much Missy misses family — her husband had eight brothers and eight sisters and Nisren, accompanied by 4-year-old Hussein, who was born here, is also from a large family. “I was just thinking about my husband and kids when we left.” She said she wanted to become a citizen “to vote for my president — to stand up for myself — you have to know me first!”
Mary Siddall, who was assisted with a grant to help her become a citizen, said she wanted to come to America to learn English and she wanted to come legally, so she arrived as an au pair and planned to stay one year. But, she met her future husband and went back and forth for a while, deciding there was no practical way to stay in Peru, which she described as “kind of safe” for a young woman who grew up in an upper-middle-class family. (But there was no secure hiking path like the High Line Canal — she is grateful for the security.) “I will call this home now,” she said, speaking of her business as a life coach. Her first day in the U.S. was actually at age 11, when her mother sent her on a kids’ tour to Disneyland. “It was so clean, organized, perfect. I tried to go every few years …” The hardest thing? She had been accustomed to having servants at home. “My husband had to teach me to cook! I didn’t have an education. I was lonely. In Peru, you open a window (on the street) and people stop to chat — here, no one stops to talk.” She became a citizen so she could vote.
Dee Diaz, a younger immigrant who also received help with the naturalization process, came to Colorado with her single mom and a brother when she was 8 years old. “Venezuela was very unsafe — we were never allowed to go outside. Once, a neighbor was robbed … When we came to Colorado, we could play outside …” But her dad, grandparents and other relatives are still in Venezuela. “People my age are demonstrating in the streets ... It’s so clean here. I didn’t flush my toilet paper for the first year I was here — no one told me I could!” Thinking about diversity, she said “there are a lot of blond, blue-eyed people in Venezuela. When we moved here, my mom told me I would have classmates who were Asian, African-American and other … She described her most difficult adjustment: “It’s hard to be away from family. There’s an entire revolution down there. I feel guilt — Why me? I can’t send them money or go help them out.” She’s conflicted about culture — she spent her adolescent years here. She became a citizen so she could have a U.S. passport, she said. She focuses on digital work and does a lot of missionary work, which requires travel. “In Venezuela, all news channels are censored. My grandmother calls me here to find out what’s going on in Venezuela!”
For information about Immigrant Pathways Colorado, see: ConnectingImmigrants.org.