When you meet Xenia Martinez, a former IIBA client and current employee, it doesn’t take long to notice there’s something special about her–not just the warmth of her smile or her quick laughter, but her innate ability to inspire hope in people. “Everything is like a seed,” she says. “You just have to pour water on it to let it grow.”
Xenia brings her optimism and her legal skills to IIBA’s Redwood City office, where she works as an administrative assistant, supporting Jacqueline Raine. “She’s the same person who helped my mother to get her green card in 1986 and to petition to bring my brother and me here from El Salvador.” As Xenia says, “I am living my dream, helping the person who helped me.”
Xenia’s hope finds its roots in her family history. Born in El Salvador in the 1980’s, Xenia entered into a country marred by civil war. Not long after her birth, Xenia’s parents came to terms with the difficulties their young family faced–few job prospects, scarce food, and questionable security. They made the difficult decision to leave Xenia and her brother in the loving care of their grandparents, while Mom and Dad set out for the United States, looking to build a foundation for a more stable life.
Xenia, now 30 years old, still carries from the war years “the kind of memories that don’t go away.” But she also remembers her mothers’ hard work and dedication to her care during their ten-year separation. “She sent money for clothing, food, and private schooling. We wanted for nothing. Thanks to her, we lived a middle class life in El Salvador.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, Xenia’s parents never lost sight of their goal: to reunite their family in their new home. When her parents were granted amnesty and obtained green cards in 1986, with the assistance of IIBA, Xenia’s mother immediately petitioned to bring Xenia and her brother to the States. That petition was granted in 1993.
Xenia’s earliest memories of the U.S. include marveling over the size of the San Francisco Airport, hugging her American-born, four-year-old sister for the first time, and smelling Palmolive dish soap in her new kitchen. Xenia was eleven years old.
Soon after her arrival, Xenia enrolled in middle school, where she noticed a difference between herself and some of her classmates. “They felt such paranoia and fear because they were undocumented. It was so unfair.” Motivated by her friends’ struggles, Xenia decided “something needs to change.”
Xenia took advantage of every opportunity to educate herself, carrying a dictionary wherever she went, joining the Upward Bound program at Stanford, and earning a spot on the honor roll at school. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in History, Xenia completed UCLA Extension’s Paralegal Training Program.
Ask Xenia what the future holds for her, and she’ll tell you, “This is just the beginning,” her face lit up with possibility. She hopes to continue developing her legal expertise to further serve the immigrant community.
But for now, Xenia’s busy helping those middle school classmates whose fear of deportation first inspired her to create change. “They come into the IIBA office looking for help, and they see me there. I tell them not to give up hope. I tell them anything is possible.”