This is the first of our Hispanic Heritage Month series, "Our Countries, Our Heritage" where we are profiling a U.S. Hispanic from each of our Spanish-speaking Latin American and Caribbean homelands.
Rosmery Alonzo is the kind of woman you might catch on her cell phone as she drives to a funeral home with clothes for a deceased Honduran she doesn’t even know.
Alonzo is an unofficial mom, diplomat and booster of the Honduran immigrant community in her adopted city of North Miami, where she works as an office manager at a local law office during the day and by night ministers to Florida’s Honduran population.
“The Fundacion Hondureña Americana helps hondureños coordinate with the Consulate of Honduras when, for instance, someone passes away and the family needs help repatriating the body,” said Alonzo. “We also help those from Honduras access medical care and medicine, assistive devices like wheel chairs, and we support the community in any way we can so that they can better themselves.”
It’s a diverse list.
The Foundation is helping to build a soccer stadium in Honduras, is financing a local teen musical group’s album - which in turn will benefit their church - helps coordinate police-citizen bike patrols and generally has its fingers in any pie that will help Hondurans make their own lives, and make America, better.
“It’s all about getting unified and demonstrating that we do great things,” Alonzo said, “it’s not just crime, or violence or drugs.”
Born in Tegucigalpa, she had married young, gotten separated and caught the itch to start a new life by the time she was 23. Arriving in the U.S. shortly after on a visa that allowed her to serve as a program director in an organization helping impoverished women and children, Alonzo settled into life in the U.S. with a cousin who happened to live in North Miami Beach.
“I started from zero, practically, it was a little hard; there was a language barrier,” Alonzo recalled. And it got even harder once her initial post was over and she had to get a minimum wage job. “I worked at restaurants, 12-hour days for $2.25 per hour because I had to pay for English classes at the community college and then my visa ran out.”
Which is also when her outgoing personality, work ethic and customer service skills came into play.
“I met so many good people at the restaurant where I worked. I met a lot of lawyers and they helped me access Temporary Protected Status,” Alonzo said. “The people I met at that restaurant also helped me out of food service and into the office job I have today.”
A pathway to citizenship through Temporary Protected Status is very important to the Honduran community. TPS is a federal designation for residents of a country where poor conditions temporarily prevent residents from returning safely – Alonzo’s own father was killed by assassins, groups of which target innocent people as a matter of course in the country. The designation is set to expire July 5, 2016.
“There are many of us who need this to come through, we Hondurans are really hard workers,” Alonzo said. “If we get residency we will make a lot of money for the (U.S.) government in fees and taxes and then the employers won’t abuse us and pay us fair wages.”
“I see all these kids in our community, there is so much potential, they are the future of this country,” Alonzo said. “We are getting bigger and more prepared, we’re getting our kids graduated from college, we’re entrepreneurs.”
Aside from fears about the future, Alonzo enjoys having the best of both worlds – life in America, but with close contact with her fellow Hondurans.
“I am living the American Dream,” Alonzo said, “I have my family – three kids and a good, honest Cuban-American who loves Honduran food. We are a very happy family and we teach our kids to honor our roots, our customs.
“It’s funny, they go to a Brazilian school so they speak Portuguese at school and English outside, with their friends. But in my house we only speak Spanish or else they are in trouble with Mami because the person who can speak two languages or more is going to have a better life.”
The American Dream often evolves once it has been attained and so Alonzo has this one for America: “I am a U.S. citizen for more than 10 years now and I can tell you that I and many others are hungry, ready to elect the first Latino president.”
Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago-based nationally syndicated columnist and an NBC News Latino contributor. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.