Charles Asaah and Vanessa Lopez

Mexico and Cameroon

Social Worker and Engineer

My name is Vanessa Lopez and I am originally from Mexico. My mother had moved to the US when she got remarried and I stayed with my grandparents. 5 years later, my family arranged for a coyote to bring me to the US, I was 13 then.  

As a teenager, school was a place I could be safe. I’ve always excelled in academics and got good grades. When I was a junior in high school, I was placed in a magnet school. My English was still rough. I understood some, I was able to read, but I wasn’t really speaking it. That year, I got immersed in the language and went from getting a D minus on my first paper to getting an A minus at the end of that year. I got a lot of support from my teachers and the magnet program coordinator. She sent me to take summer classes at the community college while in high school. When I graduated, I was still 17. Back in those days, undocumented minors could take college classes with a parent’s social security number; so, that supported me to continue with my education. It wasn’t until 2002, when the UC system started receiving undocumented students with in-state tuition but no financial aid available. So, I had to work full-time during the day and go to school at night. Finally, in 2003, I was able to transfer to UCLA. At UCLA, I completed 2 years and graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish. It was with my husband’s support that I finally became a permanent resident in 2006. At that time, my husband was in the middle of his military career, my daughter was 1 year old, and I had relocated in the Central Valley. Now, I’m a U.S. naturalized citizen.  

With my family’s support, I hold a Master of Social Work. I work as a therapist providing home-based therapy services to mothers who are pregnant or parenting a baby less than 2 year of age. I’ve always felt grateful to the people and to this nation. However, the immigration policies have been very punitive to individuals who arrived in this country as minors, like myself. As an immigrant, you want to give back and contribute. My main purpose has always been to give back to this land for all it has given me. I wanted to contribute, and I think I have through my volunteer work and my career. I’ve been a good citizen, student, and parent. I started volunteering at age 15 at the church, fundraising money and making meals for the homeless. I supported kids in my apartment complex with tutoring, and helped adults learn English. In the Central Valley, I have volunteer in multiple cultural initiatives to promote health and wellbeing to Spanish speaking individuals, I facilitate a meditation group in Spanish, and I’m active in the Union for workers’ rights. The first thing my mother said to me about social responsibility was “You need to pay your taxes no matter what.” I started paying taxes at age 17. That’s something I do every single year since then. I know that with my contribution, our community benefits.

I have pondered many times in my lifetime about what would have been of my life if I would have stayed in Mexico. I think I might have not had the chance to go to school because I was a girl. Education was the main thing that attracted me to this country. As a girl, coming from a small country in a rural town, I thought this is my chance! Education as a woman has been a way to transform my family. My hope is that this country will continue to become a safe haven for people like me who may have no opportunities otherwise.  My promise to this country and its people is that I will share my gift of service and continue to contribute to the wellness and health of people. My plan is to get my license as a clinical social worker and create a space where individuals can receive health in a holistic manner. I also want to get a doctorate degree because I know that once I finish with my own career as a practitioner, I want to teach here in Central Valley to support students.

I have thought about how I would deal with someone who harbored animosity towards immigrants. I’ve experienced racism in the past. 2 out of 3 instances was inflicted by white men in a position of power. I was just becoming an adult at that time. Now, when I look back at that time, I realized that it was a vulnerable time but I was so resilient and persistent that it didn’t break me down or made me stop. If anything, their attack only made me want to demonstrate more and more my capacity and my love for this land. So if today, I have a chance to sit down and have a conversation with someone like those men, I would hear them out, remind myself that they’re just human and identify their own misinformation of people like me. I would share my journey with them, and my love for the land. I would share my struggles as a woman, as an immigrant, as a parent and perhaps in that conversation he will see that we are very similar. To end that conversation, I would invite this person to practice generosity and gratitude toward himself and his community, and I would thank him for being frank and stand my hand.

Racism is more than just hate. Racism is pain, is fear, is lack of belonging and connection. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience that suffering, regardless of their color.

My name is Charles Mofor Asaah. I’m originally from Cameroon in West Africa. Cameroon is a bilingual country, we speak French and English, so I am from the English part of Cameroon.

I came to America on a lottery visa program, the one that President Trump wants to eliminate. They call it Diversity Visa.

I have a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Santa Clara University. I work in electric power field. I’m an operations engineer for Turlock Irrigation District. I’m the operations engineer and also I’m the trainer for the system operators.

I am an example of the lottery system. The lottery system give opportunity to people in terrible countries like my country where they never, in their lifetime, thought to have an opportunity. It does not discriminate between the rich, the middle class and the poor. If you are lucky — it’s not even that you’re guaranteed you’ll get a visa, it’s just that you have a spot. It’s just that you win a visa. They don’t reserve you anything. They guarantee you a visa to come to America, but there’s a whole lot of requirements you have to go through. There are people who actually won the lottery and then they go to the embassy, they deny them the visa. My uncle won the same lottery visa. When he got there, they refused to give him the visa. It’s not something that’s guaranteed. The fact that you won the visa, you have to submit a set of requirements and most of the people who come here do meet the requirement.

You have to be a high school graduate. Besides being a high school graduate, you need to verify that your family will be able to support you in the event that you come here, for some unfortunate reason, you can’t make it; you can’t have a job, you can’t find — they want to make sure your family will be able to support you for at least six months. My family here just pretty much wrote an affidavit that they will be responsible for me. But some people don’t so they might refuse them, they might not.

The lottery visa program is — the way they talk about it on TV and in media, it looks as if it is a dangerous program. It’s not. This visa program, just to give you an example, there are certain countries that they do have this visa, some countries don’t. Not every country in Africa you can have the lottery visa.

The people who actually won this visa and come here, these are educated people. Some of them are college grads. They are high school graduates. Forgive my French — it’s not some riffraff on the side of the street that gets it. You have to meet a set amount of requirement, both medical, physical and educational requirement. It is not that you get a visa you come here. The screening already start from the day that you have the letter that you won. It gives people from all facets of life an opportunity.

 I said I came to this country about 22 years ago, it’s funny how I didn’t see it then. Now, I see so much hate around. There are people who say things I don’t even know if they’re thinking about it before they say it or they just say it because I feel there’s one part of the country that don’t want black and brown people around. I look at my children, I fear for them. I’m scared for them.