ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It takes some doing, but for a few moments architect/supervisor/entrepreneur/scholar/musician/mom Jackie Zamora slows down just long enough to chat about her busy life and how she got here.
Her journey as an immigrant is the purpose for our chat. But what she’s accomplished as a result is just as interesting, if not more so.
And that’s the point – how anybody from anywhere can go far, if given the chance.
For Zamora, “anywhere” was Lima, Peru, and her chance came because of her parents and mentors. She also credits the Citizenship, Civic Engagement and Community Resource Fair, a one-stop gathering of organizers, volunteers and immigration attorneys who walked her down the confusing and cumbersome path to citizenship.
She talks now in the hopes that others will benefit like she has from the fair, the next one scheduled for July 20 in Albuquerque and hosted by the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and El Centro de Igualdad.
“I’m infinitely grateful for the assistance they gave me when I needed the support and legal expertise to do the citizenship application,” she said. “Their process was easy, welcoming and free of any judgment. I owe them so much.”
This fair, which will be held at Los Duranes Community Center, promises to be the biggest one yet because of the fair’s increase in services and information available to the immigrant community, organizer Vanessa Gonzalez said.
“This fair is unique in that most citizenship fairs are geared specifically toward helping residents qualify for citizenship,” said Gonzalez of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and co-coordinator for Cities for Citizenship. “But many families are of mixed status in terms of immigration, so we’ve increased our services to provide something everyone can benefit from.”
That includes resources on civic engagement, housing, children’s care, mental health, census, employment and adult education.
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., will also be on hand to listen to constituents on immigration issues.
Navigating the path to citizenship will remain one of the key offerings at the fair, and those participants are encouraged to pre-register in advance.
Zamora took advantage of that opportunity at a May 2018 fair and became a U.S. citizen months later.
She came to the United States as a teenager, sent to Silver City like her older sister on a student visa. Language, however, was a barrier as she entered higher education. A year at Western New Mexico University did not go well. She transferred to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque but continued to falter.
She dropped out, worked a variety of jobs, including advocating for people with disabilities to help them find employment. That led her to join forces with mentor Cecilia Martinez Howard to found El Portal Employment Services.
Eventually, she went back to UNM, earned a bachelor’s degree, with a double major in Portuguese and Spanish and a minor in dance. She went on to earn two master’s degrees – one in community and regional planning, the other in construction management.
Today, she is a busy project coordinator for HB Construction.
“I love to see something built out of nothing,” she said.
She is also raising four children, ages 5 to 12, and is the ebullient and ubiquitous lead singer in five local bands, most notably the popular Baracutanga.
Zamora’s amazing journey has been one of hard work, accomplishment and gratitude. She was given the chance to go far, and she has.
She acknowledges, though, that her path was easier than many of the immigrants who come to the United States bedraggled, beleaguered, broke and alone. Her father, a mechanical engineer in Lima and later in Honduras as the political and economic climate in her country deteriorated, had the resources to send her.
But it was also a different time, she said, one that felt more welcoming to immigrants, who come to this country not looking for a handout but for a chance.
Today, those chances seem fewer and harder to come by.
“I would say that there’s an overall fear of not being able to access immigration services because of the fear of being apprehended and not be able to have the chance to change from illegal to legal status,” she said. “We are being judged and persecuted for crimes we haven’t committed.”
More immigrants, she said, deserve that chance, too.
“As my dear friend Glenn Kostur said: Why not build a longer table?” she said.
Zamora knows something about building things. Perhaps it’s a good idea to heed her advice.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.