Feet tapping the floor, Liliana and her father danced a traditional Mexican folk dance to celebrate her wedding. This wasn’t the first time they’d danced it together. She’d grown up dancing with her father ever since she was a little girl. Probably since she was three years old. Dancing was one way that she and her father embraced their Mexican heritage.
Liliana learned to dance on her own. As a girl, she would watch adults dancing at parties and then she would go home and practice the steps by herself. In a similar way, she learned about her Mexican family and culture from watching her parents – she’d left Mexico before she was old enough to have many memories of her own. Learning to dance and learning about her background taught her similar lessons about balance.
The day she married the love of her life could be seen as a day of perfect balance – a perfect balance between American tradition and Mexican flare, like her and her father’s perfect balance while tapping, turning, and spinning through the steps of the dance. On that day, everything fit. But life hadn’t always been so balanced for Liliana, and it hasn’t always been balanced since.
Living in the United States but being from Mexico has been hard for Liliana to balance. Two separate cultures, two separate places, two separate worlds often tug her in different directions. She loves living in the United States and the opportunities it brings her, but she hasn’t always felt like it’s her home. She loves how important family is in Mexican culture, but she hasn’t been able to visit all of her family in Mexico.
Culture and dance are not the only things that Liliana has to balance. She also balances studying, working, volunteering, and advocating for immigrants like herself. It’s a lot for her to keep spinning but being engaged in her community has helped keep the other areas of her life in balance. For example, her experience volunteering at the NOMAS led her into a full-time job as a legal assistant in another nonprofit where she loves being able to empathize with clients who are still undocumented. Having been a client of the NOMAS, she understands what her clients are facing firsthand. Now she balances full-time employment with college studies – the reason her parents brought her to the United States when she was three.
Liliana’s father wasn’t able to go to college in Mexico because his parents couldn’t afford to pay for both him and his brother to attend college at the same time. Instead of waiting until his brother finished school to study himself, Liliana’s father brought his young family to the United States so that he wouldn’t have to pick which of his children could have an education. He came so that they would all have the chance to study.
For Liliana, the chance to gain an education was balanced against living in the United States for years as an undocumented immigrant. She missed out on many opportunities that her citizen peers were offered. But she’s taken advantage of every opportunity that was offered to her and has made the most of them all.
Liliana has almost earned her bachelor’s degree, and she’s already done much more than her parents probably ever dreamed she would. As a spokesperson for many young immigrants, Liliana has published an opinion piece, been invited to Washington, DC as one of only 75 participants in a national leadership conference, and presented publicly on immigration topics.
Although she’s surely fulfilled her parents’ dreams, she doesn’t consider these accomplishments to be more important than what really helps her keep her balance: her religious commitment to following the example of Jesus Christ. To do that, she tries to love and help other people in every aspect of her life, including her immigration advocacy. She succeeded with the first client she represented as a volunteer at the NOMAS – a woman who she will never forget.
Liliana will continue dancing – tapping and twirling with perfect balance. Maybe someday she’ll join a Mexican folk dance group in the United States, striking another perfect balance between two different cultures to which she belongs. For now, she continues to search for that balance and finds happiness in helping others who are trying to find it too.