Proud To Be American

Jessica Valenzuela
Dec 4, 2014 · 4 min read
There is turmoil in America today. Issues of racism that are deeply rooted in this Great Country’s history. As an immigrant turned US Citizen I hear the anger of my fellow citizens. I too in many countless moments have been subject to “racial slurs.” There are many out there who choose to treat others with disrespect because they are different from them. As an immigrant, I chose to persevere. I did not allow others to define me. I worked hard. Today, I recognize that change is needed. But I will not let my fight for that change be defined by my past.

It’s a typical low-key Sunday evening for me. The weekend after Thanksgiving. My first Thanksgiving as a new American citizen.

I’m not hosting a party, or mingling with friends. I am relaxing in this beautiful place called San Francisco at times caught in between pondering about the exciting technology products am working on with awesome product, engineering and design teams, travels and the place I call home. Kayaking in the Bay, walking up and down the rolling hills, or checking out one of the local gastro pubs in town are the simple pleasures of bay life.

There are days now when I’ll even be concerned with gardening on the deck. Any serious gardener would laugh when they find out that the “garden” I lovingly tend to is comprised of potted succulents and aerophytes (air plants) around the house. It strikes me that someone would observe me as a typical cosmopolitan American with her #hipstergardening #firstworldproblems.


It was April 4, 1996 when I first came to the United States.

Grand Rapids, Michigan welcomed me in a magical way — white falling dust everywhere that made me feel colder than I’d ever felt before. Until this very day, I had never experienced snow. My clothes were layered on clumsily as I walked around freezing. I didn’t own a winter jacket and had no clue about proper snow boots.

At first sight, the locals probably thought, “Oh dear, are we part of the diversification zone now?” I recall being afraid of crossing the street to the nearest diner — it was the only place I could eat since I didn’t know my way around. There were no smartphones at the time.

The First Year

When I left the Philippines, my young wings were broken and my heart had been torn. America was a floatation device, my temporary source of oxygen while I searched to breathe easy again. The first year was hard. I frequently worried, “what if they unplug my air supply?” It was a suffocating and unbearable state of mind.

I had come to the United States without any expectations. I merely needed to survive and take shelter in her kindness and glory. With zero plans, all I knew is that I spoke and wrote English well, so I had two things going for me. Those would carry me somewhere; I had to believe it.

At the end of my first year in America, by way of my own design and heart, with luck and the help of others, my tenacious soul was flamed back to life.

That’s when I realized the books and histories that tell us that the human spirit is unbreakable were true. And I learned a few lessons along the way which I’d like to share.

Lesson #1: Go with the flow, the best plans are made when the unplanned arises.

I’ve had the opportunity since then to live in Michigan, Chicago, New York City and my current home, San Francisco. To say the least, I never chose those cities (except for New York City — really wanted to go there!).

Whenever I mention these places I call “home”, folks tend to observe that I’ve lived in major hubs and cities. “You’re a city girl” they say. Funny, I think the cities called me and not the other way around. I simply went with whatever came my way with passion.

I’d like to say that I’ve accomplished what I could in each place. Certainly in Chicago. New York City will always be there for me (and vice versa), even when I call San Francisco home now.

Lesson #2: Listen to your heart and pursue gut feelings.

Looking back from the broken and lost person I was walking around Grand Rapids without the proper winter coat or shoes is a huge contrast from my life today. I am very blessed with an abundance of love and support from my new family Chris and Amelia and friends (near and far).

I live a balanced and whole life pursuing dreams — incubating product ideas and helping teams and companies grow. Living in the world’s technology epicenter is a dizzying thought but it’s exciting and fulfilling. After following my gut and succeeding, I’m ready and able to give back.

Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid, be thankful, then pay it forward.

This image from Banksy showed up in my Twitter feed last week. I thought it perfect to describe my feelings leading up to August 19, a personal and significant day. I don’t know if Banksy meant the photo for some political agenda. For me it means just what it says. I know that Fear will break you down until there is nothing left of you inside and out. Don’t let it win. Don’t be afraid.

Found on Twitter, Image shared by @Therealbanksy

After that, just be thankful. Many people and things made it possible for me to be in the place I am now.

So, thank you for everything America and those who have helped me along my journey. I am proud to call myself American. I’m ready to give back and look forward to voting for my first time as a citizen!

    Jessica Valenzuela

    Written by

    A traveller not tourist. I love coffee, beer and ice cream. co-Founder and CEO

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