ROANOKE, Va. – Striving for the American Dream, the journey to attain U.S citizenship can be scary and disappointing for immigrants, but a Roanoke woman is helping Latinos find a pathway to U.S. citizenship — just like herself.
Every time Zuheil Alvarez Cortez hears the national anthem, it brings tears to her eyes.
In 2019, Zuheil saved $800 to start her five-month journey to becoming a U.S. citizen.
“For me, it was very touching to see other cultures and other people,” she said.
At 16 years old, Zuheli’s mother, Gabriela, moved four of her children from Mexico to California to start a new life.
“She wanted to help us,” she said. “...To value what we couldn’t have in Mexico. I wanted to continue studying because when I was in Mexico at 14, 15 years old I started working in the factories.”
But with little money and a fear of a long immigration process, Zuheil was worried about taking the big step to attaining citizenship.
“For more than 15 years my mom told me: ‘Zuheil, do your citizenship so you can vote and you can have a voice in the community,’” she said.
To encourage others to take the leap, she started The Dream Initiative in her mother’s honor.
She works with Roanoke nonprofits to share resources, like financial assistance and citizenship test classes, to Latinos who want to start the journey to becoming a citizen.
In nine months, Cortez helped five people gain their citizenship certificates.
“It means a lot to me because it’s the legacy of my mom and when my mom brought us to this country to have a better quality of life,” she said.
In addition, she launched a clothing exchange business to help families in need as they navigate through hardships.
Now, she is starting NuFocus Latinx to help give Hispanic innovators a chance to create their own dream.