When Cristina Jiménez was 13 years old, her family moved to the United States from Ecuador. Three years later, her peers started getting jobs at the mall. But Jiménez was undocumented; that was not an option for her. She opted instead to babysit and work as a “helper” to a social worker in her apartment building.
I recently talked with Jiménez, who is now the cofounder and president of United We Dream—a nonprofit that organizes immigrant-youth-led activism—and, at 33, the youngest of the MacArthur Fellows named last year. Immigration has been a hot-button issue during the Trump Administration; the president decided last September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, and Congress has not passed the hoped-for Dream Act legislation to reestablish legal status for so-called Dreamers. Jiménez and I spoke about her own immigration status, her parents’ career aspirations for her, and what happens when the boundaries between work and life blur. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Lolade Fadulu: I know that part of the reason your family moved to the United States was so that you and your brother would have access to a better education. I'm curious about your parents’ educational background and what their jobs were.
Cristina Jiménez: In Ecuador, both of my parents just reached high school in terms of their education. My dad grew up homeless, and so college wasn’t really a possibility for him, just based on all of the challenges that he faced while growing up. He started working at a car-manufacturing factory in Ecuador, became a union organizer when he was there, and then he went on to work for security at one of the largest banks in the country.