My name is Andrea Leon-Grossman. I immigrated from Mexico in September of 1993, and I am the first in my family to graduate and the first to become an activist.

I was fortunate to get a scholarship to go to Art School and graduated with a BFA in 1996. After graduating, I worked as a graphic designer at La Opinión newspaper and began the struggle of navigating the immigration system to keep my legal status. As a Mexican national it proved not to be a small feat.

I hired my first immigration attorney and had an awful experience. I realized it was not just the attorney – the system was fundamentally broken. But even though I had it tough, I realized there were many more who had it way tougher than me. I started talking to my representatives and got a caseworker. I became an activist.Andrea Leon

In 2001, I graduated with an MA from Syracuse University, and through that program I began getting real experience by working for non-profits.

Five years later when one of the most anti-immigrant bills appeared on the scene – it would have criminalized undocumented people in this country – I joined the march for immigrant rights in Los Angeles. Organizers were expecting about 100,000, but the final count was close to 750,000.

When advocates of the bill held town hall meetings to demonstrate that American people wanted undocumented immigrants to be deported, I tried to attend. As it turned out, the “public” event wasn’t as public as advertised, and only selected (anti-immigrant) speakers were allowed in. I stayed outside and became the de-facto spokesperson for the couple of immigrant rights groups that were in attendance.

I am now an Art Director, and I love my profession; but being able to speak up and be an activist is something that makes my heart beat louder, harder and faster. I am proud to be able to elbow my way into my representatives offices as much as being able to pitch a story to the media and shed light on important issues.

Nowadays, I am able to combine my profession and my passion working with NGOs and doing what I can to promote environmental justice and immigrant rights.

In 2011, nearly 18 years after I arrived to this country, I received the great news about getting my permanent residency, and earlier in 2016, 23 years after arriving to this country, I was sworn in as an American citizen. I will finally be able to vote in the country I live in!

Having personally gone through the immigration bureaucracy, through miles of red tape to acquire my solar rooftop and electric car as a way to protect the environment, I realized how deeply broken the system is and how many corporations are fighting to keep the status quo.

An obscene amount of money is spent in contributions to ensure elected officials will be in place who will keep corporations’ interests in mind. I am a firm believer that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem; so I chose to be part of the solution and got engaged.

I hope other Latinos also get civically active. Elected officials work for us, we need to remind them of that and hold them accountable.