Immigrant Voices Podcast Project

Nicolasa from the Dominican Republic

August 17, 2020 Deborah Season 1 Episode 1
Immigrant Voices Podcast Project
Nicolasa from the Dominican Republic
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Nicolasa came to this country from the Dominican Republic at the age of 18 in 1987. Her journey to pursue her education was a long, rocky road that started with her earning her GED days before the birth of her third child. She suffered so many interruptions and delays in realizing her dream, but her resilience, determination, and desire carried her to her master’s in education as she brings technology support and services to over 100 immigrant families in Boston. 

Deborah:
Nicolasa came to this country from the Dominican Republic at the age of 18 in 1987. Her journey to pursue her education was a long, rocky road that started with her earning her GED days before the birth of her third child. She suffered so many interruptions and delays in realizing her dream, but her resilience, determination, and desire carried her to her master’s in education as she brings technology support and services to over 100 immigrant families in Boston. 

Getting to the U.S.
Deborah:
So my guest is Nicolasa from the Dominican Republic. Welcome Nicolasa. Why don’t you start by telling how you got here.

Nicolasa: 
Thank you, Deborah. Thank you for having me. I literally feel that my grandmother and my father pushed me out of the house. Even though I come from a poor family, my grandmother was extremely smart. And my father only completed his education to the sixth grade. Also very smart.  And they understood that with true education, I could achieve a better life and be successful in life. So they went the extra mile while I was living in the Dominican Republic.

Deborah:
So tell me, Nicolasa, how did you get from the private school in the Dominican Republic all the way to the United States while you were still in high school.

Nicolasa:
The department of education wanted to bring  new ideas and was looking into introducing sexual education in the school in the high school and they decided they were going to do it through peer leaders. And they elected a group of students from all around the country to take this training so they can talk to their friends, peers in the school. And then from there then it would be easier because it would be easier peer to peer talking. After that, they decided that Mexico was having a conference and then from all the students who were trained, they decided to select two students to represent the country in Mexico. So I was one of those students. And I got a visa to Mexico but I also got a visa because we were to stop in the United States. So close when we had everything prepared—it was supposed to be Christmas in 1987 I was supposed to go to Mexico — they had flights for us to go there and spend the time at the conference, but then they found out that all the flights to come back to the Dominican Republic were full. So we would have to stay in Mexico on our own for probably a week after the conference was over and there was no one there....

Deborah:
No one there to chaperone these teenagers who would be there all on their own. So what happened?

Nicolasa:
Because I had a visa to come to the United States, my mother, my grandmother, and my father decided that was a given opportunity that I shouldn’t let pass. So I never went to Mexico, so they canceled.  The organization that was sponsoring the trip to Mexico canceled. So what happened instead of going to Mexico, I came to the United States.

Deborah:
Did you have any family? Was there anybody there to meet you?

Nicolasa:
I didn’t have any family. I actually was supposed to . . . I had a friend in Florida that was supposed to open her house to me and I was supposed to stay there for a couple of months until I moved to New York, where the family of my then-boyfriend lived in New York. So when I arrived to Florida, Miami, and I went to her house, they had moved and never told me. 

Deborah:
So there was nobody there to meet you. Incredible!

Nicolasa:
And then I had to find myself on the streets of Miami. I didn’t speak any English. A little bit. I knew the colors. And I was able to count.

Deborah:
Did you want to go home?

Nicolasa:
I wanted to go back home, but they told me, “No! You’re not coming back home. We’re gonna find someplace where you’re gonna stay.” So I went back to the airport because I had left the airport in route to my friend’s house so I went back to the airport and I called my family and they said OK. Let’s see. So they called my boyfriend’s family in New York and then I bought another flight and I arrived in La Guardia New York. 1987.

Getting an education

Deborah:
So in 1987, you’re newly arrived from the Dominican Republic. You’re basically still a high school student. You haven’t graduated because it was during your senior year. And you find yourself with a new life in New York. What was it like?

Nicolasa:
From there I stayed with them for a couple of months. Then my boyfriend came and then we got together. So it was frustrating at first because I had all these dreams that I have with me that I wanted to achieve but I didn’t know how to. So then I started researching and I started . . . like learning. I went to an institute to learn English because I understood that if I wanted to be successful and get an education, I needed to learn the language. So, I went for a couple of months to an institute in New York. I started learning English. And from there, I had to stop because I was undocumented during that time and then from there I went to night school to study English in an adult program in New York. And from there it was like a lot of hopping and jumping before I could get to a place where I could continue to college. But because I didn’t know the educational system, I thought I couldn’t go to high school here. So it took me a while before I went back to school.

Deborah:
At that point, you had three children?

Nicolasa:
At that point, when I was living in New York, I had two. And then when I went to Boston after living in New York for three years, and when I came here,  I felt so frustrated because I love to study. I always saw myself attending school and then college. At that time I told my partner, like, you know, I feel so bad I feel like . . .  I don’t have a reason to be here. I feel like someone who is not servicing her purpose as a human. And then I connected with someone that told me about a school for adults called Muertas (Woman) Unidas (United). And they have GED classes and English classes there and so when I was eight months pregnant with my daughter I started taking classes. I remember the first time I was there, they said, “We’re gonna take you here if you want to take GED classes, but you have to promise us that you cannot deliver your baby here.” The funny story is that I completely. I finished the class. And then I completed the test. So two days after the test I delivered my baby!

Deborah:
That’s incredible. And that was just the beginning of your long journey to reach your educational goals. How do you explain your resilience and the way you kept going. Tell me the story of that. I would really like to hear that.

Nicolasa:
Again, when I had my daughter then I came back and I started taking English classes. And one day another teacher told me, “I think you’re ready to go back to college.” I said like “college.” I don’t know. I don’t think my English isn’t that good. And she said, “Well, you should try.” So they helped me to do the paperwork and I registered myself at the Roxbury Community College. And I continued studying English there. And I remember that my daughter was a baby and she was very sick. She had asthma and she would get sick very often. And the teacher allowed me to bring her to the classroom. So that was a great support. Just having her with me all the time and being able to go to school. That helped me a lot. 

Then it was a time that I had to stop school because I became single with three small children. And I had to juggle my life and take care of my kids. And then again when I had the opportunity, I tried again in college. This time I felt more comfortable about my English and my knowledge of writing English and communicating in English so I registered at the Franklin Institute of Technology. My daughter was a year old at that time and she was doing much better. And I was there for three semesters. But then I had to quit.

Deborah:
To have to leave school again. That must have been a very hard decision.

Nicolasa:
I was working as a waitress in a restaurant. I was working from 6 to 2:30 a.m. Then I would go home, sleep for a little bit, but then I had to get up early to get the kids: two of them ready to go to school and then bring my daughter to daycare and then go back to school. And then it was the same: then come back, pick the kids, come home, take care of the kids, get ready to go to work. It was a lot. So I had to decide what was my priority at that time and my children were my priority. No doubt. So I dropped out of school. Again I was working, trying to do the best that I can for my children and from time to time I would go take a training, do something. Then a couple of more tries. I tried to go back to Cambridge College. It was unsuccessful. I couldn’t for the same reason, I couldn’t juggle the three things at the same time. So time went by. I had to put my education on hold. And just was working and taking care of my kids. Once I told myself, once my kids complete high school, finish high school then I will go back to college and complete my education and that’s how it happened. I remember was graduating. And she graduated in 2010, and in 2011, I registered at Bunker Hill Community College. That was amazing. Every day I would look forward to go there. Just the fact that I was learning. It was such a beautiful experience. And then, I completed my associate degree in political science. And then one day they had an open house with different universities and four-year colleges, and I learned about Northeastern University, a program that they had for adults. And I transferred. 

Deborah:
No more delays. Now you’re on your path for your undergraduate degree. Your bachelor’s degree.

Nicolasa:
Back to back, I completed my bachelor’s and that was amazing. That was finally my dream is come true. My kids were there with me. My friends. Some of my family came from another state. 

Deborah:
But that wasn’t enough for you, was it? You had to go on to graduate school.Tell me about that.

Nicolasa:
Something that I had dreamed for such a long time. And it happens in 2013. So that was amazing. And then, I got, you know what? I just love learning. So I went back and registered and I completed my masters in education. And again, that was amazing! That sometimes you think that you cannot achieve, but you set your mind to it, and sometimes it takes time for your dream to come true, but if we persevere, if we believe in ourselves, and then there’s a lot of pieces that need to come to place, and there’s a lot of people that also, who played a very important role on those pieces being put in place. And just not giving up. It’s something that, again, that I learned from my grandmother, that she sacrificed so much just to make sure that I get an education that that day was like giving her, even though she wasn’t here anymore, giving her what she worked so hard for. I feel extremely good, and I love what I’m doing, and I love that I was able to get my education. That was something that I longed for for so long. Something that I dreamed of. Yup, I love to learn I have to say.

Deborah:
So how long after you got your masters did it translate into an actual career?

Nicolasa:
Since 2011. Literally, since 2007, actually. And then I understood that the more I learned, the better I can support the families. So literally, I was working in this field and the knowledge that I acquired attending school, it just made me stronger, and given me a better understanding of the need of the family and how to support them in a better way. Sometime, we might have experience. We might ask how can I help someone. If I don’t have all the tools that I need. And that’s where my education comes in place. I learned so much about child development. Understanding the background of the families [I work with]. Understanding how the brain works. So it has given me another perspective. And, again, a better understanding on how to better support our families. So I’ve been working in this field, this career, with education that has given me more strength, more knowledge.  

Getting to work

Deborah:
I was going to ask you about your pathway to citizenship but I would like to seque from what you were saying about understanding about families, what you’ve learned during this pandemic in the work that you’ve done. I know you’ve been so, so busy. It’s such an unusual event in the history of the world.

Nicolasa:
Yah, I learned so much. We’re talking about resilience, right? And our families amidst the struggle and their needs. Because there is such a high need. And they are so strong and amazing and how they have come together to support each other. 

Deborah:
Now, these are all immigrants that you have been working with?

Nicolasa:
We have around a hundred families that I have high needs that we have identified. They don’t qualify for a lot of the resources that are out there. Because they cannot apply for unemployment. So that means we have been left behind. With no work. With no jobs. They don’t have a savings. They don’t have the resources that other people have, that some of us are so blessed. They are home. They don’t know what’s going to happen. Many of them are behind on their rent. Many of them...Every Thursday we have to bring meals and food for them. But at the same time, they have so much dignity, and they are just waiting for the moment to go back out there and work. And they’ve been day to day working with their children trying to help them continue their education without knowledge. Because many of our families never had the technology. They have a smart phone. And they know the basics. We bring technologies to them, we work with them over the phone to try to help them. But most of them learned and did it on their own. And they were resourceful. They tried to connect. If they find out one family needed something, they will call and connect them. That was the other thing that I admired about our families. If they find resources, they share the resources. They don’t keep it to themselves. And that something we saw in our communities. Families came together. Some of them have more resources so they said, so this is what we have so we are going to share. And they shared with the other families. Some of them said, “We’re here. We can help you bring in food.” It’s interesting. When we started bringing food to our families, Mr. Sara and myself, we went to Rosie’s Place, which is in Roxbury, and they would give us like five bags of food. And we would give it to the family that we knew they needed the most. Mr. Sara would go to ABCD, and he would get five bags of food and we would give it to five families. And then we started looking and searching and we found out this amazing agency, the Brazilian Working Center, and now we get every single week we get 85 meals for our families. So, and besides that then, we have the YMCA also, that offered to help. And they are delivering to another 85 families. 

So when we think back from five bags that we started to bringing to our families with only five bags, and then we were able to do this amazing job. Every Thursday, we come here. We have volunteers, parents who come here and bring food. They help us to distribute the food. Because we deliver the food to the families. So that’s another thing that we’ve been doing and that makes a huge difference because many of the families, even though they live in Brighton, Allston, the food sites that were available weren’t as close for them to go walking. And at the beginning of the pandemic, no one knew how infectious it was and people were afraid to go outside. 

So we were able to put together this group of people, amazing people, and we started bringing food to the families. Some of our families got infected with the virus, and we were able to support them. And then, the school parents council organized a fundraiser, a Go Fund Me page and they raised more than seven thousand dollars. And then, Lauren Fogarty, which is the director of extended services, she started contacting agencies and then we were able to raise more money, and then we were able to start supporting our families financially. Like if they needed to pay a bill, if they, some we helped with the rent, others we gave grocery gift cards. It’s just been an amazing experience seeing how the community comes together. 

But at the same time, we don’t want to forget that this pandemic has widened the gap for our families. Like, again, people that have a lot of resources, they were able to manage and they continue to manage, but then our families that don’t have so many resources, that are undocumented, they are falling behind because they don’t have enough money to pay the rent. And if there are resources that have been created for undocumented, it is a lottery. Some of our families have been lucky enough to get it. Many, the majority of our families have not. So they don’t know what’s going to happen when the rent moratorium is lifted because the rents that they owe need to be paid. And how are they going to pay? And that’s the question. And many of them won’t be able to go back to their jobs. Because again, the places where they were working are not working at full capacity. 

Deborah:
What about the immigrants and the families that weren’t able to stay home that were forced to go work. In some of the restaurants. Doing the take out food. Or healthcare workers. Did you have families that had to continue working?

Nicolasa:
So we have many families that had to continue working and there was another issue because then, they didn’t childcare. And then some of the older siblings had to take care of the younger siblings. And then their education was interrupted. Not only once, but twice, because now they don’t have the guidance that can sit down with them and tell them what to do, or when to do their homework, or when to connect. And some of those kids did not continue joining the Zoom classes even though we tried to reach out to them and tried do our best, there’s nothing we could do because the family didn’t have any other options. It’s like, your life has already been interrupted, but you’re being asked to get out of the house, and miss everything that’s going on. And who’s taking care of your children? 

Deborah:
What a dilemma! What a dilemma.

Nicolasa:
Again they weren’t given the option like, “Oh, you can stay home.” No you can’t because you cannot collect. And you didn’t get the stimulus check that many other people got, because you’re undocumented even though you’re paying taxes. Like all of us, you’re paying taxes every single paycheck, everywhere you shop, you pay taxes, and you fill out your taxes. Then, like any other person in the United States. However, you don’t get the benefits that you deserve. Just because you’re missing a piece of paper.

Deborah:
And how do you stay cheerful in the middle of all this?

Nicolasa:
It was hard. There was days, it was a struggle. Just to think about all the families and how we can best support them. But at the same time, when we were able to bring them a little bit of relief to their struggles, that kept me going. You know, sometimes it is not about how much, it’s about what little can I do for another person. And I think that’s the best part of this job. 

Deborah:
And to stay in the day. What can I do today?

Nicolasa:
What can I do today to alleviate the pain for someone, but at the same time when we were making the delivery that we would go to the families and we could see from afar, we see the children, we see the family. That was another thing. That was like the gas that I needed to keep going. And then every day we understood like, Oh we need to be there. We need to be there for supports. We need to hear. Sometimes people just call us, just to talk sometimes. Sometimes that’s what the family needs. They need to know that we are here for them, that we are strong for them. Because if they come to us and we are not strong for them, then they’re just going to crumble down, right?

Deborah:
It’s incredible work you’re doing. And at the end of the day, how do you renew your spirit after a day like that?

Nicolasa:
So something that I had learned, that when you love what you do, you don’t feel like it’s a job. Sometimes, just knowing that I was making a difference in the life of one of my families. Just know that one time there was a family that called me. That they didn’t have enough food for another week. And just knowing that I was able to bring them enough food for her and her family. That is what kept me going. Just knowing if I am strong I can make a difference in the life of another person. And I think that’s my purpose in life: trying to support whoever needs support.

Citizenship and the desire to vote

Deborah:
You’ve made a huge difference and continue to make a difference cause this pandemic isn’t about to disappear. Just circling back a little bit, can you retrace your personal path to citizenship?

Nicolasa:
I consider myself to be very fortunate. I came to the United States with a visa, and I came during a time they had recently passed amnesty. I was able to apply for the amnesty to get my work permit and eventually get my permanent residence. 

Deborah:
 Is that the green card?

Nicolasa:
I got the green card, yes. I don’t think it was a struggle. And again, throughout my entire, since I came to this country I would have people who were amazing and willing to help and in terms...I didn’t have a lot of guidance in terms of education, but I had a lot of guidance in terms of how to get my papers. There were a lot of people who came together and made that possible. I came here very young. They had approved amnesty during that time, and I was able to apply and qualify for it.

Deborah:
With amnesty, you still had to follow some kind of path to citizenship. Become naturalized?

Nicolasa:
It took me a while to get naturalized. And the reason why I became naturalized was that I understood the importance of voting. Unless you’re a citizen, you can’t have that right. The right to vote, right? And sometimes that’s the only voice that you have for yourself or for other immigrants. And just getting involved in political issues, understanding what was the need, what was the need for our community. And I said one day, “I need to vote!” Because that’s the only way my voice is going to be heard. If you go to the city hall and you have a complaint, sometimes they ask you is, “Ok. What is your name? Where do you vote?” Things like that which reminds me the power of the single vote. So that was the driving point behind my becoming a citizen. At first, I was reluctant. Because you know, I don’t want to lose my nationality. We have that mentality that if we become a citizen of another country, then you’d renounce your own country, your own culture, which is not true. Because I’m very proud of being Dominican, and I continue to honor my culture. But, again, just understanding how much power I have now that I can vote moved me to apply to become a naturalized citizen.

Deborah: 
And what year was it in which you became a naturalized citizen?

Nicolasa:
2006.

Deborah:
2006. Is there an object or something that you brought back in 1987 from the Dominican Republic that you still have?

Nicolasa:
Ya 1987. So, yes. I had an amazingly good friend. Her name is Maria, just like my grandmother. The night before I came to the United States, she came to the house and she brought me a small, tiny gray teddy bear. And it was amazing. I still have it. And everywhere I go I remember and it’s like, it reminds me who I am, where I’m coming from. It gives me ground. Cause sometimes, humans, we tend to forget who we are and why we should have a purpose in life and be humble. Every time I see it, it brings me back to my childhood, to the beautiful childhood that I had, and all the amazing people in my life. So I still have it! 

Deborah:
Can you send me a picture of it?

Nicolasa:
I will send you a picture of it.

What’s next?

Deborah:
This has been so inspiring for me to listen to your story, Nicolasa. I admire you so much. What about future dreams? where you on that score?

Nicolasa:

Yesterday I told to myself, “I need to write! I need to write!” And I’m gonna start writing and I’m gonna write the story of my life. 

Deborah:
It’s going to be a compelling one, that’s for sure.

Nicolasa:
I’m planning to take a course because I have to improve my writing. I love to write, actually. When I was little I used to write a lot of stories and poems. So, that is in my bucket list, not my bucket list, that’s I’m gonna do it.

Deborah:
How old are your children now?

Nicolasa:
My children, I’m so blessed. I got three amazing children. They are 31, 30, and my daughter is going to be 29. And I have four amazing grandchildren and one on the way which is due at the end of July. I’m very blessed.

Deborah:
Thanks so much, Nicolasa for this interview. I’m sure you’re going to inspire a lot of people

Nicolasa:
Thank you, Deborah. It’s been an amazing pleasure and I’m so happy having met you and having had the opportunity to share a classroom with you. I hope we can do it soon again.

Deborah:
Thanks, Nicolasa

I hope Nicolasa’s story has inspired you with a window into the life of such a determined, resilient and passionate person. If you enjoyed our conversation today and if the podcast channel you’re hearing this interview from doesn’t offer the transcript of Nicolasa’s journey, you can download it by visiting the Adult Education Program at Gardner Pilot Academy www.gpaesol.com

Thanks to our funders
Thank you for staying with us right to the end of this episode. A special thanks to music consultant Michael Bluestein who provided royalty-free music as background for each of my guest episodes. The Immigrant Voices Podcast Project is the brainchild of Michelle Duval the Program Director at the Adult Education Program at the Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston, Massachusetts. You can learn more about the English for Speakers of Other Languages at our website www. gpaesol.com. or by emailing Michelle Duval directly at [email protected] Without the funding of Charlesview, Inc., and the support of Jo-Ann Barbour its executive director, this project would never have been possible. And a big thank you to all the guests who participated in the series of interviews, and to our listeners, we say thank you and do come back for the next episode!

 



Introducing Nicolasa
Getting to the U.S.
Getting an Education
Starting a Career
Helping Families During the Pandemic
Gaining Citizenship and the Power to Vote
What's Next?