Where are you from?

I am from Yauco, Puerto Rico

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in southwestern Puerto Rico close to the coast in a very traditional and conservative family. Growing up in Puerto Rico was amazing and I would not change it for anything in my life; I remember going to the beach with my family and friends almost every weekend. We visited my grandparents on the countryside every Sunday after mass. I remember the wonderful tours my grandfather took us on around the farm and eating fruit right off the trees like mangos, passion fruit , and acerola. Christmas was my favorite season, they were very festive, fun and full of traditions. The weather is nice year round and we barely notice seasonal changes. I went to public schools, our school district was very good, and we took an English class as part of our curriculum. I remember spending my summer outside with friends from the neighborhood. I got involved in sports, study groups, leadership and art. I really love our culture, our festivals etc. I had lots of friends. Education and learning to be bilingual in English and Spanish was very important to my father so he made sure that I got a good enough primary education to continue my studies in college. I went to the San German Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. After graduation, I took a leap of faith and decided to move to the United States to pursue life in the mainland, a decision I have never regretted.

What brought you to Cleveland?

After learning of all that Cleveland had to offer and visiting the city I quickly fell in love. Cleveland has a small but resilient Puerto Rican community making it easy to transition and network. No one would believe me, but the snow and change of climate was also factored into my decision. I have always wanted to build a snowman, make snow angels, and have a snow ball fight. Additionally, Cleveland has rich educational, cultural and social institutions that I wanted to take part in and that I saw myself raising a family in.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

From the moment I stepped foot into Cleveland Hopkins Airport upon my permanent arrival, I was intimidated by all of the differences I noticed. I experienced confusion and frustration, by the changes in my traditional lifestyle. Different social norms (West side was for whites and Latinos; the East side was for African Americans) were hard to get used to. Being away from family and friends was very challenging. But the most challenging part was my lack of language proficiency. Not being fluent was keeping away from getting a good job.

What is your occupation?

I work at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections as a Bilingual Election Program Coordinator

How have other Clevelanders made you felt welcomed?

I was very blessed to have a friend in Cleveland here who was familiar with area nonprofits and services and was able to guide me to those services. I was guided to organizations like El Barrio and the Spanish American Committee. These organizations had people that spoke my language and provided me with a sense of direction and hope. I got information related to ESL classes and job search. In Cleveland, I was not ashamed to speak Spanish, and found stores, restaurants and other places where I was able to find Latino products, food and people who looked like me and spoke the same language.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

My Spanish language, food, music, three kings, holydays, art etc.

What do you love about Cleveland?

All of the endless opportunities presented to me to succeed as a professional. I was able to accomplish my professional goals such as learning English and earning my master’s degree in Business Administration. I love it because I was able to connect with people from my country and culture and keep enjoying my traditions. I love the Lake the different neighborhoods, it is a great city to raise your children and my son was born here so it’s his city.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Because they want to feel like home, now they are part of our community and it is our responsibility to be inclusive; immigrants are looking for a better future, they sacrifice lots of things to come to the unknown, like me, and it is our job to show them empathy and give back to the community by making them feel welcome and provide the tools and resources to make their dreams come true.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

I think that it is important to collaborate with every organization in our community including the churches to ensure they learn about the great services Global Cleveland has to offer.