Where are you from?

I am proudly from Utuado, Puerto Rico.

What was it like growing up?

I grow up in Utuado, Puerto Rico, a town located in in the central-western mountainous region of the island. Growing up around mountains gave me the opportunity to appreciate and love the natural environment as well to understand that happiness comes from simple moments.

What brought you to Cleveland?

Years ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer and Metro Hospital provides some of the best care for cancer patients. He died 3 years after but we were all so grateful for the amazing care he received while there. My mother decided to stay in Cleveland and I moved here with her in 2006.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

I had the impression that it was a community separated into groups and culture, a fast-living country where work came first and family was the last priority. With time, I have learned that the communities are actually trying to break these barriers and become more united. I still continue to believe that work is a high priority but it is up to each individual to find the balance between work and family time.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

Learning the language was a big challenge. Understanding that no matter how much try, you may never completely learn the language. This has always been a frustration but I continue to improve in my interactions with others.

What is your occupation?

I work as a Program Coordinator at Esperanza, Inc. helping high school students to create and reach for their own personal educational and community goals. I am also the founder of Project Model Institute and the Director of the Miss Ohio Latina state pageant where the queens represent each state at the Miss US Latina competition.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

I have received a lot of support for many of my projects and initiatives from the Cleveland community.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

I continue to celebrate Three Kings Day/ El día de los tres reyes magos which we celebrate each year on January 6th. We received our Christmas gifts on that day, in commemoration of the Magi’s visit. On La Víspera de Reyes (the Eve of Three Kings Day) we cut grass to put in a shoe box under our bed for the camels to eat and in exchange for the gift we receive. I don’t cut grass anymore but we do continue the tradition in our family.

What do you love about Cleveland?

I brought my love of nature with me from Puerto Rico. I look for different sites in Cleveland and throughout Ohio where I can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of nature. The Metro Parks and University Circle are some of my favorite areas in the city. In Cleveland, we have the benefits of a big city without losing the peacefulness of the countryside. It’s the best of both worlds and I feel like sometimes those who have lived here for many years do not appreciate it.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Immigrants to our country bring so much knowledge and so many talents along with their culture and their perspectives on diversity. I have found that immigrants find great value in the benefits and the opportunities here in the United States.

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

I think Cleveland should work to better promote their services available to immigrants and refugees so that the community knows more about what support is offered. I also think that assistance with transportation is necessary for our immigrants so that they are able to find services that will help them to establish their new lives here.