This is why living in America is a gift I don’t take for granted

To: Latin American Immigrants

From: Hortencia Swinderman (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To Latin American Immigrants, 

I, too, know what it is like to come to America and not know the language very well. I know what it is like to leave your friends behind. I know what it’s like to watch your parents start over as you begin your journey at the very bottom. As hard as it may seem at the moment, I want you to know you can achieve your goals. 

Hortencia came to America when she was 15 years old.

Originally, I am from a small town in Michoacan, Mexico, called Papatzindan. In the mid-’80s, we moved to Morelia (capital of the state). My mother spent several years getting documents in order. She wanted to make sure that if and when she decided to leave Mexico, we would do so legally. But for a long time, she wasn’t sure whether or not we should stay or go. Both of my parents had small businesses in Morelia. My mom owned a hair salon with several employees and my father owned a shop where he manufactured and sold leather goods. Several times my father’s shop, which was inside our house, got broken into by criminals. Frequently, there were random shootings in our town. So much so, many of my cousins had been shot. Then, one day, my family and I were in the middle of a restaurant when a shooting broke out right in front of us. That moment, I think, did it for my mom. That’s when she decided we had to leave. 

I was the oldest of four children. When I was 15 years old, we came to America and settled in Lorain, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, where we had some family. While I took English in school in Mexico, I was not totally fluent. For a whole year, possibly even two years, I was mad at my mom for bringing us here. I went on a little strike and refused to eat. In general, I didn’t like the burgers and pizzas the school served, so I lived on Cheetos.

For a whole year, possibly even two years, I was mad at my mom for bringing us here

My life in America started to turn around when a teacher in school, Mrs. Childrens, asked me if I was planning to stay here permanently. I told her I didn’t know and she said she wanted to recommend me for a special program. It involved learning computers, business and language skills. I decided to go for it since my teacher seemed to have so much faith in me. Immediately, I did well. Every time I handed in a paper or any assignment, my teacher told me she was impressed with my progress, how quickly I could pick up on new material and how much time I put into each assignment. Grades were always important to me. When I started to get a command of the language and realized that I could excel here, I began to get excited about the possibilities.

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Hortencia excelled at school, which changed her mindset.

Right before my senior year, I started working. I got a job at Allstate, assisting an insurance agent. Simultaneously, I also worked at Wendy’s. At Allstate, I got a good sense of how the business world operated. Meanwhile, my managers at Wendy’s saw that I was reliable, so they continuously gave me more responsibilities. When I turned 18, they promoted me to assistant crew leader. They wanted to keep moving me up the ladder, but I accepted a store manager position elsewhere. 

Fast forward 20-something years later, I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and I am now a U.S. citizen.  Through the years, I have had several administrative jobs and even once was part-owner in a restaurant. I’ve been married three times, which hasn’t been easy but now my third husband and I have two children. And together, we decided to pursue all of our dreams. 

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My husband is a filmmaker. In 2017-2018, we started a business to teach kids how to be filmmakers. Also, I always had an interest in real estate and I decided to get my real estate license. 

While COVID has posed its challenges this year, I am still among the top Spanish-speaking realtors in the region. And our film academy has been growing each year. 

I am proud of how far I have come since I came to this country 30 years ago and I am even more looking forward to where I, along with my family, are headed. Whether you just got here, or if you have been here for a while, please don’t give up on whatever it is that you want to do. Sometimes, the journey is not easy or fast. However, if you find the right resources, maintain a positive mindset, meet the right people and put forth more effort than is expected, you will see progress and, eventually, success.

In this country, there is an opportunity for everyone. And thankfully in America, achieving your goals is not all about where you start but rather how hard you are willing to work.

Your dreams are possible. 

Proud to be an American,

Hortencia Swinderman
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