After arriving in New York this summer from her native Peru, Juanita learned that the most important stop for her and her family was at Catholic Charities, which has assisted her migrant journey. She is currently seeking permanent residency status. Her name has been changed for this story.
Juanita learned the hard way that politics in her native Peru can be a nasty business.
I left a part of my heart in Peru. When I came here, I felt the warmth of my home.
With seven presidents over the past six years, tensions have run hot, with impeachments, and socialists and authoritarians vying for control. When she posted a message on social media this summer contrary to the current regime, the reaction was swift.
“We know who you are. We are watching you,” was the response from friends of the current government.
She was threatened, and her mother, a famous cabaret singer in the country, was as well. Juanita needed to leave her country, with her twin girls and husband, leaving behind her work on women’s economic development in the Peruvian government.
They sold everything they had, and embarked on a journey that took them into the migrant stream that has impacted New York City over the past year, assisted by Catholic Charities in establishing a new life.
“I will put this in God’s hands,” she told herself as the family headed for Mexico City, their first stop in a long journey. There she prayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe that they could safely find asylum in the United States.
They made it to Tijuana, just south of the California border. The family waited in a long line, with Mexican officials making determinations as to whether their paperwork was sufficient to stay or be sent back home. When she got to the front of the line, a customs official gave her a stern look as he perused her papers. She was sure they would be sent back to Peru.
But at that moment a woman officer walked by.
“I know you,” she told Juanita. They had apparently met seven years ago on vacation. Juanita did not remember her, but the connection seemed sufficient to allow her and her family temporary stay in Mexico.
“It was a miracle,” she recalls.
The family applied for political asylum after entering the U.S. through California. After a cross-country trip, they made it to the Red Cross Navigation Center on Manhattan’s West Side. After Juanita revealed that one of her daughters has autism, a friendly worker there told them they should contact Catholic Charities.
The family encountered more crises. Influenza struck her husband and children, with her husband hospitalized. Through it all, Juanita’s Catholic Charities caseworker was at her side, lining up resources to address the family’s education and health needs.
The family is now settled into a Manhattan apartment and Juanita serves as a volunteer for Catholic Charities assisting other immigrants.
She misses her wide family and social connections in Peru, and Catholic Charities helps to fill that void. As a fellow migrant, she offers a direct connection to those who come to the center seeking assistance.
“I left a part of my heart in Peru. When I came here, I felt the warmth of my home,” Juanita says. Her duties include translating for fellow Spanish-speaking migrants and welcoming them to their appointments with counselors from Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Services.