Immigrants share their life stories with advocacy group
Immigrant Pathways Colorado hold luncheon at Littleton Museum
Posted Tuesday, May 16, 2017 9:11 am in the Littleton Independent
By Sonya Ellingboe
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!”
Immigrant program gets name change
Initiative offers help across metro area
Since it was founded in 2009, the Littleton Immigrant Integration Initiative has expanded its coverage across the metropolitan area, according to the chair of the busy nonprofit. It has offered assistance to immigrants from around the world as they are integrated into our communities via self-development grants.
Grant money has gone for English language classes, tools for work, professional certification, obtaining a “green card” and naturalization and citizenship requirements.
At an April 21 donor appreciation luncheon, a new banner was unfurled. The organization will continue its program of “one immigrant at a time,” assisting people from across the world, under a new name: “Immigrant Pathways Colorado.” The change reflects outreach across the metro area.
The initiative has assisted 36 individuals with citizenship applications, which can cost from $800 to $1,000 — a large amount to limited-income families. They have come from Bolivia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.
Currently, they receive about 19 requests a year, some through Littleton’s Immigrant Resources Center at Bemis Library, where the busy agency helps with English, connection to community services and application for U.S. citizenship.
A recent example that chair Susan Thornton cites with pride is the need of a young woman from Ethiopia who had passed her examinations to become a physician, but couldn’t afford to travel to interviews for a residency. She is happily situated in a program in Chicago, thanks to a grant.
Another success story is about a man who needed tools to work. It cost $300 a month to rent tools. Thornton visited the Breakfast Optimists with this need and the man, a translator who had to leave Iraq for personal safety, was able to work. He was here after a call from Joe Rice of Littleton, who was serving in Iraq, Thornton recalls. “He’ll arrive at the airport Friday — can you get him an apartment, find him a job and tools?”
Immigrant Pathways Colorado is completely community-supported. Fundraising events will include an annual campaign, a fall Taco Bar at Platte River Bar and Grill, with silent auction (they are looking for items) and an end of the year “ask” letter.
The April 21 luncheon speaker was journalist Helen Thorpe, who is author of “Just Like Us,” a story of four immigrant girls (two were documented citizens and two were not). Thorpe followed them for six years — out of high school and into college — including to parties, Mexican dance halls … “it was eye-opening to spend time in the Spanish-speaking Latino community.” She hung out with the girls as they dressed for a prom. The father of one was determined to go with her. The girls dealt with two cultural traditions.
Thorpe hopes to help more Americans realize how hard it is to become a citizen. Those here illegally have to return to their country and apply from there — which can take years. “I want people to understand about the undocumented life,” Thorpe repeated, saying she was still closely in touch with three of the girls.
Generous Grant Received from the Buck Foundation
Immigrant Pathway Colorado is proud to announce the receipt of a generous grant of $5,000 from the Buck Foundation of Littleton in September of 2015. The grant will help cover operating costs and increase the organization’s outreach and fundraising ability.
The Buck Foundation is a family foundation with a commitment to peace and social justice that supports children, youth, women, and minorities. It was founded by Douglas H. Buck and Mildred M. Buck in 1986 and benefits from continuing involvement and support by their children and grandchildren.
Based on the progressive values of the founders, the Buck Foundation maintains strong family values to help those most in need, and to work closely within the community to build a just world. Values of compassion, justice, fairness, inclusivity, and equality are central to the foundation and our philanthropy. The Buck Foundation originated in Colorado and continues strong associations there, although no family members currently live in Colorado.
Over the last 27 years small grants have been made to non-profit organizations, mostly in the Denver area. Some grants have been made to organizations in East Maui, Hawai’i, and to national organizations. The Buck Foundation makes grants through a responsive, open application process once each year. If you have not received a grant from the Buck Foundation in the past, you are required to complete an online letter of intent by February 15th. Full Grant applications are due on April 15th for those applicants who have received a grant from us in the past and for those new applicants who received an invitation to apply.
The Foundation supports grassroots organizations, often overlooked by mainstream philanthropy, that build a more just society by dealing with issues of human need, education, community development, support to immigrants, and the advancement of social justice and peace among nations and peoples. We support community-building activities, and we favor programs and organizations that are led by and work with people living in poverty, immigrants and refugees and people of color. The Buck Foundation values innovation and welcomes organizations prepared to take risks to address pressing social issues.
Recently a supporter of Immigrant Pathways Colorado very generously donated $1,000 in memory of her mother, Helen K. Amter. The donor said that her mother was a wonderful woman and a force behind many social justice activities — similar to activities of Immigrant Pathways Colorado — during her lifetime.
Do you have a family member you would like to honor with a donation? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us.
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THANK YOU TO OUR SILVER SPONSOR
Helen K. Amter, In Memorium