"Think about this: when and where would you be an immigrant?" Before the presentation by Nelly Ortiz began, Tony Nelson, Ortiz’s interpreter, began with these words. It set the mood to the presentation that followed, in which Ortiz told her story about how and why she immigrated into the United States.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Office of Cultural Diversity had the opportunity to host Nelly Ortiz on Dec. 3 as part of their series on Immigration. The event was sponsored by the Latino Chicano Student Association and the Latino/Chicano Student Programs.
As Ortiz’s interpreter, Nelson gave the audience a quick history on the Centro Autónomo (Autonomous Center) in which he and Ortiz work. This center is located in Chicago, Ill., and is a center run by the community with donations but no government money.
"There are many myths surrounding immigration," said Nelson. "Those that want illegal immigrants to leave the country are getting paid by companies that make their profit from hiring undocumented workers."
He continued by saying that there are a lot of myths used by people who have never even spoken to an undocumented person. After this quick introduction, Nelson took his seat and the floor was taken over by Nelly Ortiz.
Ortiz, originally from Cuenca, Ecuador, came to the United States in 1995 in search of a better life. Ortiz began by telling the audience the initial reason why she came to the U.S.
At the age of 17, Ortiz set out to look for a job and found one at a Coca Cola factory in Cuenca, Ecuador. Here, she would go door to door selling the product to people and establishing customers.
Ortiz believed she had landed a dream job, which at age 17 was rare to find. "But, the reality was different," Ortiz said. She continued by saying that both psychological and sexual abuses began. She left the factory.
Ortiz then decided to come to the United States. She asked around and found that the price to get to the United States was $7,000. It was a high price, but she was determined to make it. She started saving, and in 1994 she had her interview with a "coyote."
Ortiz explained that a "coyote" is the person who takes charge of bringing a person to the United States. This person usually gets the money and arranges everything, but does not usually cross the border with the person who paid them.
After her interview with the coyote, Ortiz flew from Quito, Ecuador, to Guatemala and "it seemed as if the whole trip was going to be beautiful," Ortiz said. But it was not. Ortiz spent nights and weeks in solitude with no light of day. She didn’t have any food to eat or a place to sleep. All her belongings were stolen one night, but "this did not stop me."
Once she arrived in Mexico, her goal was Phoenix, Ariz. She crossed the border through a tunnel, and a car was waiting for her and six other women who had joined her. She thought "Ya, finally, it’s over," but that was not quite true. The driver of the car had no insurance, no title to the car and no license to his name. He was speeding, and the police stopped him.
Ortiz and the women spent a night in jail, and the sheriff told them they were going to return them to their home countries. Defeated, Ortiz realized it had not worked out. "But, something miraculous happened," Ortiz said.
The sheriff, instead of driving them to Mexico and handing them over to be sent to their home countries, dropped them off at the border and said to them, "Try again, and good luck."
Ortiz believes this was a miracle from God, and arriving in Phoenix for a second time, she was able to breathe. While her troubles were not over, and the "coyote" blackmailed Ortiz’s father into another $2,000, Ortiz finally arrived in Chicago, Ill., where she has lived since.
Once in Chicago she faced her new goal, paying back the $9,000 she had borrowed to be able to get to the United States. "I worked double-shifts and was not able to attend school, thus my lack of the English language," Ortiz said.
Ortiz met her husband and they were married. While she was very happy, her happiness did not last long. She had a son who was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his eye. He underwent eight months of chemotherapy. While the struggle of this reality was hard on her and her husband, today she is happy to say her son is doing very well.
"Life has not been a walk in the park for me," Ortiz said. "I still undergo discrimination at my job where my boss does not care how her employees are."
Ortiz now heads a small cleaning company in which all the money that a person should get paid for the work they do, goes to the person who did the job. "Todos igual, nadie es diferente (Everyone is the equal, no one is different)." This is what Ortiz has to say about the cleaning company.
Ortiz hopes that we take something from this testimony. "Your families have all gone through this, whether it was your grandparents or their parents or grandparents," Ortiz said. "All I want is my voice to be heard, and I only ask for your respect."
Ortiz ended her speech by saying, "I might not be intelligent, but I know what I am worth."