P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Celebrating Immigrant Mothers

 In honor of Mother's Day, we asked our 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows about their own mothers. These incredible mothers demonstrate the immense dedication that is characteristic of immigrant mothers who sacrifice their own home for a dream of a better life for their children and family. In some cases, they sacrifice their own educations and careers, which rarely translate in the United States, and often end up working the jobs they hope their children will not have to. Through it all, their perseverance, strength, and love carry us forward. Happy Mother's Day!

Ahmed Mukhtar Ahmed

2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Ahmed Mukhtar Ahmed's mother was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Though her family was well-educated, Ahmed's mother was barred entry to school and never received formal schooling because she was a woman. Ahmed was born in a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya after his family fled civil war violence in Mogadishu. He and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees when Ahmed was one and lived in Prince George's County, Maryland before moving to Rochester, Minnesota. Ahmed's mother currently works in kitchen services at the Mayo Clinic. Ahmed, who is a Rhodes Scholar, will be using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue an MD at Harvard University.

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"All that I am, all that I ever will be, is attributable to my mother. It didn't matter what life threw at her: crippling poverty, single parenthood, minimal social support - she remained unwavering in her commitment to my siblings and I through all of it. She taught us to value the things money can't buy and to work for causes greater than oneself. 


My favorite memory of my mother traces back to my first semester at Cornell University. I was struggling academically and felt lost, without a sense of direction at the school. Coming home that winter, I just felt utterly defeated. But, pulling into our driveway, I saw my mother running out of the house. It was a frigid Minnesota evening and she was running without a jacket, screaming, "MY BABY! You're home!"


It didn't matter how I did in school; it didn't matter what I accomplished or didn't; all that mattered to my mother was that her baby was home. And that has always stuck with me."


In the photo above, Ahmed is pictured with his mother at his graduation from Cornell University in 2017. "It was the first time my mom saw Cornell. She was beaming with joy and pride throughout that weekend," Ahmed said.

Sana Batool

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2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Sana Batool's mother, Mussarat, was born and raised in Quetta, Pakistan. She completed middle school but was unable to finish high school there. Sana's family belongs to the Hazara minority ethnic group, who have been suffering persecution by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to their ethnicity and religious views. After the conditions became worse for Hazaras in Quetta, Sana and her family migrated to the United States in search of a safe haven in 2013. In the photo, Sana (right) is pictured with Mussarat in 2019. Sana will be using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue her MD at Harvard University.

"My mother does not have any degrees and she does not speak fluent English. She is a homemaker, so some might say she has never worked a day in her life, but I’d say she has worked every single day of her life. I remember as a child, my mother used to sit with me and my brother for hours to make sure we got our homework done. She got me my first English alphabet book so I could learn to say my name in English. She shared all her religious knowledge with me and taught me to recite the Quran. She has inculcated a sense of responsibility and optimism in me that has carried me through tough times. Her unconditional love for our family is evident by her sacrifice of moving away from her parents with us to the United States."

Maria Camila Bustos 

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2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Maria Camila Bustos's mother was born in Florencia, Colombia. She worked for 20 years as a pediatrician in Colombia, where Camila was born and raised. They moved to Miami, Florida when Camila was 13. Camila is using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue a JD at Yale Law School. The photo of Camila and her mother, Norma, was taken in 1993 in Melgar, Colombia. Norma is holding Camila when she was just one-month old.


"My mamá sacrificed everything she knew for my sister and me. She dealt with everyone's judgement about leaving her career behind for her family, learned how to cook when she hated it, cleaned peoples' houses, battled cancer, and has given me the love and care that no one else ever will. My mom is a model of love, strength, and hope. She taught me everything I know, especially the importance of emotional intelligence and vulnerability. She taught me to work hard, but also to value humility and empathy above everything else. I adore her and owe her everything I am today. My mom is my role model. One day I hope to be as graceful, thoughtful, and kind as she is."

Ariel Chu 

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2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Ariel Chu's mom Anne Chu was born in Taichung, Taiwan in 1960. She received her bachelor's degree in philosophy and Chinese literature at National Taiwan University, and immigrated to the United States in 1987. She currently works as a real estate broker in Southern California. Ariel is using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to support an MFA in creative writing at Syracuse University. In the photo, Ariel is pictured with her mother at Sunset Cliffs, San Diego in 2018.


"My mother used to be a Chinese literature teacher, and her passion for storytelling shaped me into a writer. I strive to emulate her community-oriented ethos, her devotion to her loved ones, and her generosity in the face of hardship.


It was my mother who put my father through his American degree, giving up her literary pursuits to become the primary breadwinner of our household, raise two young children, and support her hospitalized father. She stayed up with me through endless high school all-nighters, cooking me midnight meals when I refused to sleep. We’d work on our respective projects into the early morning, long after the rest of our household had gone to bed. Because of our shared Chinese zodiac sign, my mother calls us 'night rats,' a designation I wear proudly.


To this day, my mother is my role model and the first writer I’ve ever loved."

Diana Delgado Cornejo

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Born in Lima, Peru, 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Diana Delgado Cornejo was five when she hopped on a plane to Los Angeles with her parents, both computer scientists. After 9/11, the company that sponsored her father laid off most of their foreign workers, and her whole family lost their visas. Diana's mother was the first in her family to go to college and the first to leave South America. Diana is using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue an MA in creative writing at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.


"As the middle child in a family of six children, my mom was forced to be independent from a young age. All the nourishment she wished she'd gotten, she gave to me and my little brother—always answering our infinite 'why' questions, listening to my stuffed animal fictional dramas with rapt interest, getting me enrolled in a summer camp for gifted children even though there was no policy for undocumented students. When I told her I wanted to be a writer, I'm sure a part of her computer scientist soul screamed, but she quickly recovered and pushed me to publish my stories and poems, building my courage all the way up to graduate school. When I told her I was queer, it took her quite a bit longer, but now she's marching for my rights in queer contingents at May Day marches. She has never let me doubt that she loves me."


Viviana Andazola Marquez 

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At the age of four, 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Viviana Andazola Marquez began to see the precarious nature of being undocumented after her parents, who immigrated to Colorado from Mexico, revealed to her that they were not in the United States legally. At the age of 12, her mother was detained by ICE, completely changing the course of Viviana and her family’s lives. Following her mother’s arrest, homelessness and poverty began to stalk her family. Viviana pinned her hope to education. Viviana will use the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue a JD.


“One of my favorite stories to tell about my mom is one from preschool. It was an incredibly snowy day, and my dad took the only car that was drivable in the snow. I peered out the window, half-crying because my mom told me she couldn't take me to school. My sadness eventually guilted my mom enough for her to offer to walk me to my bus stop, which was a 20 minute walk away. I got dressed and we waddled to my bus stop in the snow. My mom was especially waddling: she was pregnant with my sister, Isamar, and pretty far along in her pregnancy. We approached the parking lot and we caught the bus just as it was going to leave. Before I knew it, my mom was on the ground and I found myself conflicted for the first time. Was I going to miss the bus and try to help my mom, or was I going to catch the bus driver's attention before he took off? She read that I hesitated to leave because I wanted to help her, so she told me 'Vete, yo me levanto' 'Leave, I’ll get up on my own.'


She practically said the same words to me when I was going to leave for Yale University. There hasn't been a day I haven't felt guilt for leaving when I am such a crucial help, but my mom again and again has sacrificed to walk me to the bus stop. She has done everything to get up on her own, despite being a single mother of four. I will always admire her strength. Te quiero, mom. Happy Mother's Day.”

Grace Pan 

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2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Grace Pan and her mother are pictured at Grace's graduation from Yale College in 2017, 28 years after Grace's mother arrived in the United States. "Her physical overexertion and emotional labor have granted me access to the colonial brick walls of Yale not originally made for someone like me, and privileged me with intellectual choice and a voice. While I am not living out my mother's dream, that she has given me the ability to live out my own makes each one of my small successes hers as well," Grace writes. Grace is using the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to pursue a PhD in physics at Harvard University.


"Thirty years ago, my mother arrived in the United States bright-eyed and hungry for choice, with nothing more than $70 in cash and enrollment papers for a PhD program in Spanish literature. A year later, after a string of familial tragedies including the death of her mother and as the only poor, non-white student in her cohort, she dropped out. Had she stayed in China with her academic pedigree, she probably would have been catapulted even beyond China's ever-growing and wealthy middle class. Instead, thirty years and dozens of job rejections later, she takes two-hour-long commutes every day in the US to push around papers just so that we all have health insurance.


Unlike me, she has never had the privilege of wrestling with multiple identities and cultural dysphoria in an attempt to fit in - she's always felt like an outsider. Yet from the day she had her first taste of apple juice ('it was so good and so... different!') to today she does not regret her decision to immigrate. She came to the US not only for financial opportunity but for the freedom to think, to opine, and, as she would eventually realize, to give me the chance to do the same."

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