A Justice For Our Neighbors Client and Volunteer Gives Back to her Community
Nancy’s earliest memory of America is an extremely happy one.
She was 8 years old when she arrived in New York with her younger sister, Lesly. Behind them was the familiar life of Guatemala and their beloved grandmother. In front of them was a new life in New York with the parents Nancy hadn’t seen in nearly five years. She was only 3 years old when they had left. She had been just a baby, really. Did she remember them from that time or did she just think she remembered them because of all the stories she had heard?
She knew that her parents had come to New York to find work. She knew they wanted a better life for their two girls. They wanted lives filled with choices and opportunities. They wanted lives safe from the terrible violence that rumbles through every town and every neighborhood of Guatemala. There were too many people doing bad things in their homeland, and too few good people who could stop them. So going to New York was a good and marvelous thing.
It was a joyous family reunion. “We were so happy,” Nancy recalls, still smiling at the memory so many years later. “It was difficult to be separated from our grandmother, but the excitement of seeing our parents again made up for it.”
The girls immediately started American school. It was difficult at first. “When I started, they didn’t have any ESL or bilingual education,” Nancy explains. “They mixed everybody together. We had to go to summer school. But our age and peer pressure helped a lot. My sister and I were speaking English in about a year. We made friends quickly, and that helped, too.”
Nancy did so well in school that her teachers skipped her to the fifth grade.
The family settled in Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens. Their apartment was small, but it was across the street from Kissena Park. There were picnics and games to play. There were turtles and ducks in the lake; the girls would save their extra bread to feed them. There were ice cream trucks in the summer and sleds to ride in the winter.
“I definitely had a very happy childhood,” remembers Nancy.
She wanted to give back. Nancy is the kind of person who always wants to give back.
The New York Justice For Our Neighbors Queens clinic, located in La Promesa Presbyterian Mission Church, opened 11 years ago. Nancy has been with them since the beginning. Both she and the JFON director were members of the church. One day, the director asked for volunteers. That was all it took.
Nancy started by helping with the filing. She then began translating and doing intake for clients. Her entire family volunteers at the clinic.
“We are blessed to have JFON in our church,” she says. “I have seen so many people get help through JFON. I’ve seen families reunite after so many years of being apart. I have been there. I have been in their shoes. When help comes, it is a great blessing.”
Nancy has firsthand experience with this particular blessing. She and her family are JFON volunteers, but also clients. Nancy’s father had been living without lawful status since 1989, until JFON helped him obtain his green card last year. JFON also represented the two sisters and helped them both obtain legal status—Lesly through her marriage to an American citizen, and Nancy through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Nancy struggles to put into words what receiving DACA status has meant to her.
“Before DACA, how can I put it? I was living in the shadows. When you don’t have documents, you have to take any kind of job. People try to take advantage of you. I was like any other teenager. I had dreams, plans to do so many things. None of it was possible until DACA.”
Nancy has a gift for working with young children.She is exactly the kind of person a parent wants taking care of and teaching their child; warm, loving, nurturing, patient, and fun. She puts those qualities to good use as the director of Sunday school at La Promesa Church and as head teacher at a local day care center. She started studying early education at one of New York’s excellent community colleges and hopes to finish her studies someday soon.
Nancy is married now. She is surrounded by a loving family. She has the future her parents dreamed of all those years ago—bright with promise and opportunity and many, many blessings.