Where were you born and raised?
Kansas City - I was born in KCK, then we lived in Olathe and Gardner, Kansas.
What is your family heritage?
We have traced our roots to Sweden - but most of Western Europe is represented. My mother remembers her grandparents speaking German. Since I was about 16 years-old, I have committed my life to work with Hispanic immigrants. My daughter is proudly a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States.
What is your occupation?
I am an immigration attorney and activist. In my daily work, I assist immigrant families in obtaining legal status for their loved ones so that they can live happily together. Outside of work, I often am organizing efforts to change laws and policies that are harming immigrant families such as our national immigration laws and our state-level restrictions on college access for immigrant youth.
How have you supported or contributed to the local Hispanic/Latinx community?
I began while still in high school, helping to start the first English classes in Johnson County. I then went to college in Chicago, Illinois at DePaul University where I studied Sociology and Spanish. I finished my degree at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, Mexico. When I came back to Kansas City, I started working in an immigration law office as a legal assistant and in the immigrant community as an organizer for civil rights. I then attended the University of Missouri - Kansas City law school. I continued working in immigration law and in civil rights, receiving the Del Corazon award for my work in the community. Throughout my career, I has fought fiercely for immigrant youth. After years of meetings, I was able to convince public universities in Missouri to admit DACA students. I then also persuaded the Missouri Department of Education to open scholarships to immigrant students. Unfortunately, lawmakers have rolled back some of that progress. I continue to work on this issue and to assist immigrant youth to achieve their college dreams. I've been awarded the Mexican Consulate's Ohtli Award, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Humanitarian of the Year, and Missouri Lawyer's Weekly's Up and Coming Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year.
How do you connect with your Hispanic/Latinx culture?
My family is bi-cultural. Everything we do bridges the Mexican and US cultures - from eating pozole on Saturday mornings to chanting in Spanish at protests for immigration justice.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
I feel very fortunate to have spent more than a month immersed in Latin America in high school. I first spent a week in Mexico with my church and then an entire month in Paraguay visiting family friends. Both experiences opened my eyes to different ways of viewing the world and equipped me to be of service to the immigrant community in KC when I returned. I spent my junior year of high school translating lunch menus and creating Spanish-English cheat sheets for teachers and students in Olathe as they saw a large number of immigrants for the first time. That is when we started the ESL program that is now at Johnson County Community College.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
It is an opportunity to highlight all the wonderful things that the Hispanic community brings to the U.S. From the historical roots to new immigrants, Hispanic-Americans bring family values and inspirational perseverance to our country. Mexican immigrants are now the most likely to expand their education upon arrival to the U.S. It brings me joy to lift up stories of Hispanic youth reaching their dreams.
In your opinion, what is the most important issue facing the Hispanic/Latinx community?
These are very serious times for the Hispanic/Latinx community. Despite their perseverance, the community has been under attack for quite some time. I worry about DACA youth under the threat of deportation. My heart breaks when I meet a U.S. citizen child whose parent has been taken from them after a traffic stop. We have an important opportunity to recognize the value of keeping families together in the upcoming election. It is a choice for the soul of our entire nation.