During the second semester of 2014, I received a call from a student asking specific details about our affordable housing programs. In particular, the young person seemed interested in housing scams and discrimination targeting residents from Spanish-speaking countries. Her questions were so precise and inquisitive, that I assumed she was interviewing me for a graduate-level research paper.
As the former executive director of The Lexington Housing Community Development Corporation, that was my first conversation with Cinthia Pecina, a transfer student at Davidson County Community College who was calling various nonprofit agencies to volunteer as a translator.
Our agency appeared on a list of possible locations seeking volunteers and Cinthia made it clear that she was looking for a real opportunity to impact the lives of others who faced a situation similar to her experiences. She interviewed our agency carefully before asking if we were accepting interns.
I later learned more about Cinthia and her path of becoming a United States citizen. She came to the United States from Mexico when she was 9 years old and did not speak English. When she first arrived, she had difficulty adjusting to a new language and culture. In November 2012, Cinthia’s purse was stolen and she had to prove she was a legal resident. Although the honor student had completed her secondary education, she suddenly couldn’t prove she was even allowed to be in this county. Without those documents, she couldn’t prove she was legally allowed to work. She couldn’t obtain another copy of her Social Security card or driver’s license until she received another copy of her permanent resident card, which would take months and a lot of money.
With the help of Casa Guadalupe Catholic Social Services in Greensboro, she submitted her application and was sworn in as a citizen in January 2013. Cinthia later enrolled at Davidson County Community College, and during one of her classes, a teacher gave her a list of service projects to earn extra credit. Harkening back to the days when she first came to this country, she decided to volunteer as a translator. When she contacted us, I knew that she was serious about seeking social justice for families. Outside of translating documents she worked alongside our staff as a translator and wrote about issues as a bilingual reporter in our Empowerment Magazine.
Her work inspired city agencies to contract with our program in order to hire Cinthia to help coordinate outreach including surveys and a neighborhood revitalization project for the Lexington Office of Business and Community Development. Cinthia’s work was instrumental in reaching residents of our city who could not speak English. She spent hot summer days going door-to-door visits in order to explain the city’s neighborhood plans and broaden the community feedback.
Indeed, Cinthia is out there changing the world. She emailed me recently to say that she graduated from UNC in 2017 with a degree in public policy. She started a new job in October working as a legal assistant at the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office, specifically working in the Domestic Violence Unit and she is looking toward law schools. “I am looking for volunteer opportunities this spring to maybe mentor middle or high school students,” she said. Indeed, Cinthia is one of our dreamers — but she’s not the only one.
It’s time to find a permanent immigration solution.
Republished with writer’s permission by Women AdvaNCe.
Antionette Kerr is a news correspondent, lover of poetry, publisher and consultant. Email her at email@example.com