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Seeking Freedom; A Tumultuous Journey From Guatemala to America

Updated: Aug 23


-Ana's Immigration Story-





December 2016, Ana Lopez Veliz hugs her mom tightly before embarking on a life changing bus ride. She’s only 18 and has started nursing school in Guatemala, but she has no choice, gang members have been harassing her and her family. She has a long trip ahead, on a bus full of strangers with the same goals and aspirations; to seek safety and freedom in the land of opportunities. Several weeks and many hotel stays later the bus reaches the San Diego border. Ana is taken into custody in California, where she will spend her next 30 days, sleeping on cots in a room full of other women ages 18 to 30. The women are fed frozen burritos slid through the bottom of the door to their cell. Some of them have already been here for months, but they hold hope that one day they can enjoy the freedoms they so deserve.


Ana turns 19 on the very first day she is in custody at the border. There are no birthday presents, no birthday cake but she considers herself lucky. Before Christmas, she has her hearing and is released to her uncle in California where she can celebrate Christmas as a free person! Her sister, Erika joins them and they are united once again for a very short time. After spending Christmas with her uncle in California, Ana is about to reunite with her sister Erika in Florida. They only met once before in their hometown in Guatemala when Erika received her paperwork to travel outside the US. Ana was only 17 years old when she called her older sister in America, to help her escape the gangs that were threatening her life. In January 2017 Ana arrived in Bradenton, Florida, and was also reunited with their sister Delmy. Ana feels safe for the first time in a very long time but it is not easy in a land where you do not speak English or understand the culture. Ana takes the only job she can, working in the kitchen of a restaurant as a food prep worker. It is here that she understands the very importance of learning English in order to better herself and give back to a community that has given her freedom. Erika introduces her to Project Light Language School where she can take affordable English courses. Soon after, Ana decides to move into her own place, she finds herself working two jobs while continuing her English classes, but things quickly become overwhelming as work hours start to overlap with school. It doesn’t seem right that she must now choose between work and English classes but it is a choice she must now make. She starts at a new English school, but it is slow and expensive; however, it fits into her schedule. Ana is determined to not give up!


This is where Ana’s journey with Project Light begins again. Ana was able to secure one job where she was making the same amount of money as her two jobs. Her schedule allows her to return to Project Light Language School and Ana quickly moves up in the language levels. Ana is now in level four classes that she attends in the evening, giving her the space to work around her job’s schedule. She has also started her path towards citizenship and is looking forward to taking our citizenship classes while actively working on her dream to be a nurse.


Ana’s second oldest sister, Delmy has also recently enrolled in Project Light classes, so she can advance her English language proficiency and access more opportunities. Erika continues on her journey to read and write proficiently. Today, all three Veliz sisters take classes at Project Light Language School and they continue to inspire their fellow students, the staff, and all of us at Project Light.