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Violeta teaching Spanish at a day care.

I worked a lot when I came to the United States, beginning when I was 14 years old. The summer after moving here, I worked picking watermelon and cantaloupes. I worked in the fields for two summers, total and then I worked at a pharmacy in town. I was very unexperienced so I made coffee; it was the only thing I knew how to do. I also had a job cleaning classrooms after school and later, I worked cleaning tables at a restaurant. I had many jobs throughout high school. I even worked at a slaughter house before I went off to college at Iowa State. There, I worked in the cafeteria while attending classes. Then I got a job teaching kindergardeners Spanish in Ames’ community schools. I enjoyed this work and so later worked at a daycare, teaching young children Spanish. Eventually, I became a Resident Assistant for the George Carver Scholarship Program at Iowa State worked in that capacity until I graduated from college.

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Violeta teaching Spanish to elementary students.

After leaving Iowa State, I became a quality assurance auditor with Specialty Foods Group, but I quit my job so that I could help a community that was in crisis after an immigration raid. It wasn’t an official job, I was just volunteering. I did anything that I could for that community, you name it; I did it. That’s when I changed my field of interest from agriculture to the legal field. The raid took place at the slaughter house in Postville.  I was not working on the floor, I was a quality assurance auditor for an outside contractor, and I used to be on site just to make sure that the product was made properly. When the raid took place, it was very traumatic. Just seeing everything that happened and watching all of the people being taken away, it was overwhelming.

It brought back memories from when I was 7 years old. At that time I had a sibling that died. He was six months old and he died while I was holding him. At that time I was just a kid, and I didn’t understand. I couldn’t do anything to help, and we lived in the middle of nowhere. There were no doctors, there was nothing. So, while I was holding him he died and I couldn’t do anything. I always blamed myself for that because I didn’t do anything. Throughout my entire life I always felt that it was my fault. Every time my father would spank me, every time he would make me feel like shit, like I was worthless or when my mom did not defend me from what my dad used to do, I always believed that they felt the exact same way I did. They felt that it was my fault that he died because I didn’t do anything about it. I felt frustrated. While the raid was taking place, that same feeling of helplessness, of not being able to do anything, came over me.  I almost fainted because of all of the memories that it brought back. I remember getting up and I saying, “I’m not a little kid anymore. When my brother died I couldn’t do anything about it, but now I can do something about it.” So, I quit my job and went to the church and told them I was ready to help; I wanted to volunteer. And I did just that.

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Violeta celebrating her birthday in Postville, Iowa (2009).

I got kids from the school reconnected with their parents. I helped to get people out of immigration. There were so many things going on at once, and I just wanted to help. The church eventually hired me and put me in charge of helping all the women that were left behind with a GPS device on their foot. Also, there was a group of minors working at the slaughter house that were left behind so I assisted them with anything they needed. I assisted them with their immigration officer, I assisted with attorneys, I translated for them, and I just listened to them. There was a very small group of kids that had turned 18 a month, or a few weeks, or a few days before the raid and they were taken into custody and charged. They were taken to prison. Eventually when the state decided to press charges against the company for hiring minors, they searched for these kids in different prisons throughout the United States and decided to bring them back. The state attorneys in Des Moines were doing all of the work, and I was in Postville communicating with the families.

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Iowa State Troopers in Postville.

Those were days when I was getting maybe 2 hours of sleep at night. I didn’t care though, because the way I saw it was that for me it is a few hours of sleep that I’m missing but for these kids it’s their entire life. I got really, really close to those kids. We started doing a lot of immigration paperwork, so I helped with that. I worked with the criminal attorneys defending them, too. I worked with the state defenders and contacted the kids so that they could talk to them. Then I worked with the immigration officials just to make sure the kids were there and that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. I would drive them to Omaha or to Cedar Rapids whenever they had an appointment with an immigration officer. There were different agencies that were investigating the crimes that took place, but I was the one contacting the kids, contacting the women, contacting the men so they would talk to these people. It was a lot of work but I think it was worth it.

After all of that, I got a job as the Program Coordinator and Advocate for L.U.N.A in Des Moines, Iowa.  Once the position was terminated I did volunteer work at the Drake Legal Clinic for almost a year before a position opened and I applied for it.  Once I started working at the legal clinic, one of my co-workers became my mentor and walked me through the whole process of applying to Grad school.  I was admitted to Drake University College of Business and Public Administration and started classes in January 2014.

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