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Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month with Legalpad

About the Series

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to embrace diversity and immigrants’ shared American heritage. To celebrate the 8th annual Immigrant Heritage month, we’re highlighting Legalpad’s biggest asset—its people.

To commemorate the 8th annual Immigrant Heritage Month, we will be publishing posts throughout the month of June that highlight the stories of Legalpad employees with immigrant roots. We celebrate and honor the generations of immigrant families that contribute – and continue to contribute – to the United States’ vast cultural diversity and strong workforce. 

At Legalpad, we focus on entrepreneurship. Every year, hundreds of thousands of talented and ambitious immigrants pursue work opportunities in the U.S. Immigrant founders are crucial leaders in innovation and create thousands of jobs — for example, 50% of unicorns (startups worth more than $1 billion) so far have been founded by immigrants — but the United States has yet to introduce a clear pathway for entrepreneurs to launch companies. 

We believe that ability – not birthplace – should determine opportunity. Our mission is to remove immigration roadblocks by making it faster, easier, and guaranteed for startup founders to secure the work visas they need to pursue and accelerate growth. 

Immigrant entrepreneurs are just one part of a much larger community of immigrants that make the United States rich in diversity. In this series, we’re highlighting Legalpad’s biggest asset – its people. Legalpad employees represent over ten countries and languages and countless experiences. Many share a personal connection to immigration.

These are their stories.

 

 

Nhu-Y Le

Born in Rach Gia, Vietnam
Speaks Vietnamese and English

I immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 with my parents and five older siblings. We immigrated to the U.S. with the help of my aunt and uncle, who had left Vietnam after the Vietnam War. My parents wanted to provide my siblings and me with better educational opportunities and a chance at upward mobility in the U.S., which would not have been possible in Vietnam at the time.   

Growing up in a predominantly White suburban town in Texas, all I wanted to do was fit in and be “normal”. I didn’t want to bring Vietnamese food to school or speak Vietnamese in public, because I was scared that other kids would make fun of me. I didn’t want my schoolmates to label me as The Immigrant. Fortunately, as I’ve grown up and matured, I’ve gained a deep appreciation for my Vietnamese heritage. I am no longer hiding from my immigrant identity. I am proud to be a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S., and my life-long passion is to advocate for other immigrants through employment-based immigration avenues. One of my favorite activities is playing Bau Cua Tom Ca (a traditional dice game) with my family during the Vietnamese New Year. I am teaching my son to participate in the annual family tournament this year!

Akansha Bhat

Born in New Delhi, India
Speaks Hindi, Kashmiri, and English

I immigrated to the U.S. from India in December 1998. My dad was initially denied a work visa. However, about a month after I was born, my dad received an H-1B to work in the U.S. He moved before us in early 1998 and spent the first year saving up for me and my mom to join him. My mom and I immigrated at the end of the year and arrived on Christmas Eve. 

Immigrant Heritage MonthMy parents have always had a strong sense of their Indian identity. Even now, they do their best to incorporate our ethnicity into our everyday lives. We still celebrate all the major Indian holidays and celebrations, American holidays like Independence Day, and a big Christmas! My mom is a fantastic cook, so we eat Indian food every night at home. She has even taught me how to make a few dishes. I have a lot of respect for people like my parents, who left everything behind for a better life.  Immigration has given me a deeper appreciation for my life, especially during the pandemic. I'm grateful and acknowledge the privilege immigration has given me. Working at Legalpad provides me with the opportunity to help other immigrants start their journeys. My dad came to the U.S. on an H-1B, and I am currently working on H-1B applications. It's a very full-circle moment for me. 

Alicia Thomas

Born in Bronx, NY
Speaks English and Jamaican Patois

 

Alicia Thomas My parents immigrated to the United States from Jamaica and the United Kingdom. As a kid, fitting in at American schools was challenging at times. Nothing about my life outside of school was traditionally American, so I was often out of the loop on the popular TV shows and fashion, and I always had unusual foods for lunch that my peers wanted to sample at lunchtime. As I got older, I embraced my roots more than I did as a child, but growing up, I was often frustrated with always being the "different" one.

Being a part of an immigrant family allowed me to travel at a very young age which helped me to build confidence and form a healthy relationship with autonomy.

Axel Damasco

Born in Narvacan, IIocos Sur, Philippines
Speaks English

I immigrated to the United States in June 1998, when I was 3 years old, accompanied by my parents and two siblings. My family moved to the United States on the premise of new adventures and greater opportunities--we came here to build a better life.

To put it into context, my family is from a rural part of the Philippines where people raised farm animals, traveled by motorcycle, and hand-pumped water from wells. It was a simple and easy lifestyle, but my parents wanted more for their children. My parents wanted to provide us with access to better education, job prospects, improved quality of life, and opportunities that were not immediately available in that part of the world.

Since I immigrated to the United States at a very young age, I found it very difficult to understand my identity as a Filipino American. In school, I would get bullied for being different, and a majority of the time I would be teased for not being “American.” I actively worked to separate myself from my Filipino heritage, which ultimately prevented me from learning more about my culture. For example, I am the only person in my family that does not know how to speak Tagalog (Filipino) because I refused to learn it when I was younger. Now that I’m older, I am trying a lot harder to embrace my roots and understand where I came from.

My favorite tradition is Noche Buena, where my family celebrates Christmas by throwing a huge late-night party on Christmas Eve, and we stay up until midnight to open presents. I really enjoyed it as a kid, because I wouldn’t have to wait until Christmas morning to open presents. Now I enjoy Noche Buena because I get to spend time with my extended family, catching up with my cousins, aunts, and uncles.

This is the first photo of me taken in the United States. (Super 90s vibes)

Kelsie Milham

Born in the United States
Speaks English and aspires to learn her native language Khmer.

My mom and her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1978. They were refugees fleeing from the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. My grandpa was in the Cambodian military, one of the target groups to get assassinated first. He was able to gather a small group of family members and friends and helped them all escape. He led everyone through the jungle for nine days and nine nights on foot. My mom was only ten years old, and my aunt was a baby. It was a brutal and traumatic journey, but they eventually reached the border of Thailand. They stayed at a refugee camp until a family in Roy, Washington, sponsored them to come to the U.S.

My mom said that growing up, from elementary to middle school, she never really fit in. She was teased a lot for being different and had a hard time making friends. For a while, she sadly grew up feeling ashamed of who she was and where she came from. I feel like this is a common issue with immigrant children, as they try to assimilate and fit in with their peers. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of self-hate in many communities.

 

My mom didn’t always feel like she fit in with her Cambodian community either. Many of them would talk badly about her and say she didn’t acknowledge her roots. She understood where their frustrations came from, but it still hurt. Coping with trauma from the genocide, not having adequate support from her community, and not fitting in with Americans took a toll on her. Eventually, throughout high school and adulthood, she learned to embrace her true self and identity. She made a great family friend in the community and is proud of her identity. She is also grateful to be an American, and though the journey has been hard, she loves our country and the opportunities she was able to have here.

I relate to what my mom is saying. There is this fine line that I teeter between the two communities. I’m sure many other first-generation immigrants and their second-generation kids can relate. Often, I never feel “Cambodian” enough or “American” enough. I don’t feel like I truly fit in with either side, and the disconnect impacts my identity. As I was born and raised in the U.S., I identify with being an American more. However, I am proud of my culture and heritage. As an adult, I am trying to reconnect to that part of my identity.

Although my mom tried to maintain Cambodian holidays, such as Cambodian New Year, we mostly celebrate American holidays. I also remember going to the temple often and having fun family parties. The music is still familiar to me and makes me smile anytime I hear it. My mom eventually remarried my dad. Since he was in the military, we moved around quite often. We didn’t have a Cambodian community because of this, so keeping up with these traditions was a bit harder. For me, the food is what keeps me connected to my culture. My mom is an amazing cook. I was spoiled with Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese food growing up. One of my favorite dishes is Yao Hon, which is a Cambodian-style hot pot!

Grandpa (the man who saved my family) and me

 

Vicky Roberts

Born in Madrid, Spain
Speaks English 

I immigrated to the U.S. from the U.K.  in 2011 with my husband and two young children. This was a secondment for two years for my husband’s international employer. We saw it as an opportunity to experience a different culture. Two years turned into three, and then we took the more permanent move to become green card holders and buy a house in the U.S.

Living in Long Island has allowed our family a better lifestyle as my husband is better paid by his employer in the U.S. than in the U.K. I have an understanding that ‘home’ for me is where I am living with my husband and children, and as long as I have that, I think I will be happy anywhere. We have no long-term plans for the future. Our daughter is now a junior in high school and looking at colleges throughout the U.S. (not the U.K).  She identifies herself as more American than British, so we will see where life takes us.

I enjoy living near the beach, and in a climate where we can spend a lot of time outdoors (particularly in the summer). I was a solicitor specializing in child care law in England. I have decided not to re-qualify as an attorney in the U.S., but instead, bring my legal skills and interest in helping people to my role as an Immigration Specialist at Legalpad.

My favorite holiday is Christmas, as that is a really big holiday in the U.K.  We celebrate by having a family meal on Christmas Day with roast turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, and cranberry sauce, yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, and vegetables. We spend the day together playing games including Bingo and watching the Christmas specials on TV.  Sometimes our family from England visits, or we visit them in the UK.

Pictures below of Caitlin and Luke (ages 7 and 5) on the flight to New York in July 2011.

Robert Villanueva

Born in the United States
Speaks English and Spanish

My Dad’s parents are from Culiacán, Sinaloa, but he was born in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, and my mom’s parents are from Hermosillo, Sonora and Guadalajara, Jalisco. Both sets of my grandparents came to the U.S. via the Bracero program in the 1950s and 1960s seeking better opportunities. For context, the Bracero program was a U.S. law allowing farmworkers from Mexico to obtain visas to work and live in the U.S.  When my family got to the U.S., they settled in the Salinas Valley region, where I was born, and where many of the migrant population at that time were living in labor camps. Among Mexican nationals, there was also a melting pot of Filipino, Guamanian, and Italian immigrants living in these segregated camps. My family, like many in that time, endured great hardships, from racism to labor abuses, to economic instability, but we remained resilient.

I grew up in a predominantly Latino community, where most, if not all, of my classmates, were either the children of immigrants or an immigrant, themself. Being Latino for me came with a sense of pride and love for my culture and the community that raised me. It wasn’t until college that I started to feel a sense of imposter syndrome when my non-Latino peers made microaggressions about my culture or about my lack of knowledge compared to them.

Working in immigration law has now shown me the level of impact I can have, and reminds me every day of my family’s story of resilience. Seeing great founders and industry leaders create change is a reminder that immigrants enrich the culture and innovation in the U.S. I am elated every day knowing I can help make America a better place and continue to advocate for immigrants globally.

Every year for Christmas, my family has a traditional Mexican feast, with homemade tamales by the dozens (like we’ll literally each eat about a dozen in one sitting).

Pictured above are paintings by my Uncle, who is an artist in Sacramento, CA. These are of my maternal grandmother, Socorro, our family’s matriarch, and the woman who traveled from Hermosillo, Sonora to the U.S. to give our family a fight for a better future. Both images depict her around the time she first arrived in the U.S.

Pictured above is my dad in Mexico right before they officially moved to the U.S.