Meet Jessica Diaz-Hurtado
Latino staffers at NPR share their family stories of perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work to achieve the American Dream. These stories are defined by universal values of pride, hope, and an endless determination to help shape the new American landscape.
My grandmother taught me what the fight in a person looks like. She was born and raised in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. With only an elementary school education, she learned to hustle from a young age. In the 1970s, she migrated to Washington D.C. Like many other immigrants, she was trying to find a better life to escape the poverty and violence back home. From selling Mary Kay products to doing domestic work, my grandmother began creating something out of nothing in the U.S. It wasn’t a dream, but it was an opportunity.
In the 1980s, my mother crossed the border to join her. The civil war was starting to pop off and she didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire. After she left, the war reached the city and people started waking up to bodies on their front door steps. Mattresses were being used to block windows from bullets coming in. And universities were being shut down. So she came to the U.S. to hustle too. With a high school degree, she went from waitressing at hotels to managing them.
My father grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bogotá, Colombia named barrio Kennedy. At 17 he left Bogotá, a time where violence ruled the city. Guerilla and paramilitary groups were on the rise and Bogotá wasn’t a place to live if you were poor. Mi tía was the first to migrate to D.C., where she married an Italian man. In the mid-1970s they opened up a deli in Cleveland Park called Vace. This helped her bring my dad and the rest of my Colombian family over. Although my dad worked in construction for most of my childhood, he pursued his education until he earned his bachelor’s degree. We both graduated on the same day.
“…he pursued his education until he earned his bachelor’s degree. We both graduated on the same day.”
Hustle and conflict helped form my identity as a Latina in the U.S. It guides my work as a journalist and artist. I am able to see a world my grandmothers couldn’t and I am forever indebted to my family. For the days they couldn’t eat because they didn’t have enough. For the times they were discriminated against and harassed. For their sacrifice and resistance. I write for them, for when they felt like they had no voice.