Canal Alliance is proud to be a part of a diverse community of clients, volunteers, staff and partners. This Hispanic Heritage Month, we are celebrating just a few of their stories that demonstrate the strength, energy and pride in our Hispanic and Latino Heritage.
Written by Sabrina Campos, Dominican University
As we move furniture around, trying to find the best lighting and spot for the interview, he sits down on the edge of a chair, making conversation nonchalantly and asking us about our own stories from behind his desk.
Things weren’t always like this for Omar, especially not when he and his family first moved to the United States from Ecuador in 2002. “Corrupt bankers and politics found a way to deviate people’s money and I was one of the two million people that lost everything when the Ecuadorian economy collapsed… and I came to this country with an education, job experience… but like many people, I didn’t speak the language so I had to start over.”
From working for one of the biggest companies in Latin America, his first job here was as at a pet store cleaning bathrooms and organizing food for the animals inside, “It quickly took care of all my ego” but he still credits this job as an inspiration to become a better human being and to reinvent himself at 29.
Now, he’s the Chief Executive Officer of Canal Alliance, an organization dedicated to help immigrants who, much like himself, come to the United States looking for a better opportunity, for themselves and their families. “We’re helping families break the cycle of poverty through education. Most of the times, they’re fleeing from problems they did not create. Be it political, economical.”
Not being able to afford ESL (English as a Second Language) classes on a college campus when he first arrived in the country, he set out to find any non-profit that had these services, creating his own intensive schedule to learn the language. That’s how he first came across the company he now helps run. Going to classes and spending time there made him want to join the company and he did, as a volunteer, something he never thought he’d do. “I was only interested in the for-profit sector and that’s it but giving back to the community felt really good.”
Despite doing a complete 360, professionally, he still wanted to keep something intact, like Christmas, finding a balance between the two cultures, “In Latino culture we celebrate el veinticuatro, on Christmas Eve, but here, which is my wife’s culture, it’s the 25th, so we’ll have dinner and go to bed really late on Christmas Eve and then wake up really early to continue celebrating.”
He credits his heritage and family for helping him cope with the culture and social shock: perseverance, confidence, and trust in the process are the values his parents instilled in him and, that now, he hopes to transmit to his own children, hoping to make them “citizens of the world”, to be compassionate and understanding of other people’s journeys, all while staying true to their own cultural identity, “I still make them come and kiss us hello or goodbye though… or I’ll go do it in front of their friends” he says, finishing our interview with a laugh.
Video of the interview is available on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDxA-MHCBm4