Tatiana Padilla

This is her story.

To understand why I am pursuing a career in social justice, I need to explain where I come from and what experiences have altered my life and made me the person I am today.

Let me take you back to December 15, 1999. I was almost five years old and living a comfortable life in my beautiful country of Colombia. But that particular day changed my life forever—that was the day my father was assassinated.

The instability and political tensions of the ’90s in Colombia were key factors in ending my father’s life. And why my mother and I fled our home country.

In our search for an escape, my mother relocated us to New York City. Leaving all that we knew behind was very difficult. But just two years after our flight, the catastrophic events of September 11 made illegally staying in the United States—our refuge from Columbia—nearly impossible.

My mother made yet another unpredictable decision—to continue our journey in Canada. Due to our circumstances, our small family was granted political refugee status by the Canadian government. Upon arriving in Canada, we were able to get our feet on the ground due to the generosity of a local refugee shelter, the Kitchener soup kitchen, and the Salvation Army.

It was at this point in my life, 11 years ago, that I had my first employment experience, delivering my neighborhood’s newspaper. My mother also began taking me to volunteer at a home for the elderly.

With these experiences, my mother taught me two irreplaceable lessons: First, when difficult times come you must do something to help yourself, being proactive about your own situation and the changes you want to make happen. Second, my mother showed me that even at our toughest times and lowest lows someone else may be enduring far more difficult situations.

After this point, my life resumed some sort of normality. My mother and I fulfilled our sanction for having stayed in the United States past what was allowed by our visas. We moved back, this time to the Midwest, where we’ve managed to create a place to call home. The last eight years have tested us with episodes of domestic violence, a divorce, and depression— but these are truly small feats in comparison to what brought us here.

So, why am I pursuing a career in social justice? I feel that I’ve been privileged to live the life I have and to have overcome the challenges placed before me.