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Wendy Thompson-Marquez

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Harvest Empire

Posted: 06/13/2012 3:32 pm

As a child growing up in Peru, I dreamt about the United States. Even then, I realized that there was no country like the United States anywhere in the world. This is the feeling that drives so many people -- including me -- to leave their homelands in search of a better life and a more promising future.


My dream was to get an education, but like others immigrants who came seeking refuge from civil unrest or unrelenting poverty, my path in the United States was not an easy one. I arrived in 1987 on a tourist visa and found work as a nanny with two families in Maryland. I took care of three young children for eight years. These wonderful American families decided to sponsor my stay in the United States. During that time, I attended Montgomery College and then the University of Maryland, where I earned my degree in business administration


During the process of my sponsorship, which took almost eight years, I was undocumented and caught in an impossible Catch-22 situation. I could either live with the constant fear of deportation, or leave the United States knowing that my chances of re-entering the country legally from Peru were virtually zero. Today, every time I hear someone say that immigrants should just go home and wait in line, I think back to my years of living with fear and uncertainty. For the overwhelming majority of people in Latin America, there is no line; there is no possible path to the United States.


Once I legalized my status, I landed a job as a sales associate at the Washington, D.C. affiliate of Telemundo, the national Spanish-language television network. The same persistence that helped bring me to the United States made me a successful sales person, and one year later, I was named general manager of the Washington station. Long hours and a lot of hard work made it the most profitable in the station group, and I went on to manage 11 Telemundo affiliates in El Paso, Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Tampa and six other markets on the East coast.


As my business life improved, however, I could never forget the feelings of anxiety and insecurity I experienced while waiting for my green card. Being an immigrant has defined my life, and for this reason, I was inspired to produce Harvest of Empire, a documentary that examines the political and social roots of immigration from Latin America to the United States.


The truth is that our immigration laws do not reflect the economic and social realities of the United States or Latin America. A growing anti-immigrant movement has succeeded in polarizing communities across the country, tapping into fears about falling incomes and demographic diversity. In spite of these voices, immigrants continue working hard to give back to the country that has given us so much. In my case, I am driven to create a bridge of understanding between my fellow citizens and those in search of the American dream. My goal with Harvest of Empire is to educate audiences about the roots of the Latino presence in the United States, and the powerful "push factors" that triggered massive migrations throughout the hemisphere.


My American dream is the product of many people. None of them were connected to me by blood, and some of them were complete strangers. The one thing they had in common was that they never saw me as an "illegal alien," or any of the other derogatory terms used so often to describe Latino immigrants. They saw me as a human being.


The day of my of my naturalization ceremony, the judge told us that as U.S. citizens, we now had a duty to foster the American dream of other immigrants because the prosperity of our country was dependent on the prosperity of its people. Today I am a proud citizen of the United States, and I have a voice. But I also know what it means not to have one. I feel that I have a moral obligation to speak for those who cannot.

 
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