On March 31st of this year, I did something that really and truly was beyond my dreams. I became a part of TEDx. TED has been a program that has inspired me throughout the years. While I can't remember the exact moment I found TED, (probably in history class at school) I can say that TED has developed a desire in me to always push further, constantly innovate, and have a passion for sharing. As an 18 year old with a stubborn and driven mindset I wanted so bad to one day be able to stand on a TED stage and I wasn't going to let anything get in my way. What I did not realize was I would stand on a TED stage for the first time as a senior in high school waiting to graduate.

Story telling is something that has intrigued me from a young age. The idea of not only sharing stories through writings or music but verbally being able to say them and the difference that our voices can make just by telling a story. Some stories are seemingly more exciting than others while others are plain and simple. My story was just... my story. It didn't feel like anything massively out of the ordinary but that is precisely what got me to achieve one of my biggest dreams at a young age. My story led me to my passion.

And today I want to share my story with you.

Below is my TEDxSamfordU talk. Below is my life and who I am into a couple hundred sentences. Below is my family. Below are our struggles. Below are our challenges. Below is us. Below is who we are. Below is who I am. And I am an immigrant.

He knew where we lived. Where my brother went to school. What time my dad took my brother to swim practice. He knew every step we took, and was not afraid to come after.

Growing up in Medellin, Colombia has its fond memories. The city nicknamed after its eternal spring, never ceased to amaze with the beauty it held each day. One of the things most loved about Medellin is its people. Exuberant, caring, and genuine people. But, like most of Colombia, Medellin has a dark past. Beginning in the 80’s cocaine trafficking became a popular method of income for certain groups of people. This trafficking lead Colombia into being the largest exporter of Cocaine in the world for nearly 10 years. By 1982 Cocaine exports passed Colombia’s coffee exportation, previously its largest export in the country. Names like Pablo Escobar soon rose to power and by 1993 Medellin, Colombia was named the most dangerous city in the world. The metropolitan area soon turned dark and its beautiful people and eternal spring weather were now tainted with the blood shed from the brutal acts of the cartels. Ambition, power, and corruption now ran the city.

Our life was quite simple. Our weekly activities included going to parks, visiting museums, and spending time with friends. My favorites included heading to the mall to play in a huge pirate ship that had what my six year old mind loved: endless possibilities. My mother and father ran a successful appraising business right across the street from our house.

They had moved to Medellin straight after getting married. Every day they would walk across the street after sending us to school and work at what they loved. 

Looking back, we had a very comfortable and happy life, but as I grew up I began to learn more about the fears my parents experienced as we lived in a city ran by terror. Daily bombings, weekly shootings, and a forever angst of knowing if your loved ones were okay. There was no going out late at night into certain parts of town. . And for us, there was certainly no peace after receiving the phone call that changed our lives forever.

The business my parents built was a business my parents adored. My dad, a recognized architect, and my mom, a fervent business woman, worked with major national banks as part of their real estate team. It was a business they loved. Then, everything changed. My dad had the job to go into bank-owned houses to value the homes that would be soon up for sale. It was a difficult job as some of these houses were in the most dangerous parts of the city. In an unfortunate series of events, my dad was assigned to appraise a house previously owned by an elderly woman. He did so and things were well until one day at home, my dad received a phone call. The person on the other line knew my brother’s school and exactly what time my dad took him every day. He knew all of our activities. He knew where we went, when we went, and how we went. It happened that the elderly woman whose house had been taken by the bank to be sold was the mother of one of the cartel leaders in Medellin. Seeing as my dad went to appraise the house, this cartel leader was now threatening to kill my dad and my brother who at the time was just 11 years old. 

Our little family of four was rocked. It wasn’t long before the police and investigation forces were called in and our life completely changed. The next 6 months were spent not being able to be seen with my dad. My brother and dad moved back to my parent’s home city of Bucaramanga for a few months. Months passed and the situation did not seem to alleviate itself. Our only resort: leave the country. Sure enough, in February of 2002 my dad moved to the United States seeking political asylum.. We hoped it would only be a matter of months before we saw him again but the months turned into years. Medical tests, constant trips to the american embassy and a “pending” request caused the delay. My mom became a single mother for two years as we awaited the United State’s approval on our migration.

After 2 years, I could not believe it was him. I stood at the Atlanta airport holding onto my mom as she ran towards my dad. I was six years old and had gone nearly two years of not seeing my dad. It all seemed so surreal that I even began to have doubts it was him, mind my little six year old mind could not handle such great emotion at this age.

I moved to the US in August 26th of 2004 and began first grade at Vestavia Hills Elementary East.

Now,imagine becoming suddenly deaf and mute at the age of six. This is quite similar to what it feels like moving to a foreign country and not speaking the language. The one thing I did know how to say was “May I use the restroom, please”, a very crucial element to survival as a kid. Now is where the story really begins.

Ideally, moving to the United States would solve our problems. We were now safe –at least physically. The problem was, our lives were radically changed in every sense of the word. We quickly and unexpectedly went from having a comfortable life to having to begin from zero. You see, the United States was a place for shelter, but not a place for normality. My parents who both were successful business owners now resorted to cleaning offices, working at restaurants, and everything in between. 

This was not only true for my parents but also for some of my family on my mom’s side who had also left the country at the same time as my mom.  Like the stories of many immigrants, leaving your home country isn’t just leaving your family and belongings. It’s leaving your identity, leaving all the hard work over the years, and for some, leaving who you were completely behind. It's leaving your college education you worked so hard to get. It's leaving your friendships that have years rooted within them. It's going from having a housekeeper to being the housekeeper. It's going from having something to lose to ultimately having close to nothing to lose. 

But, that’s precisely what makes immigrants some of the most remarkable people in this world. Making something out of absolutely nothing, it’s what our lives have been challenged by these past 11 years. Going through times where food stamps were necessary. Going through phases of one of my parent not being employed. Persevering through the most difficult of times knowing there is a greater outcome in the end.

I can’t say I know what my parents went through or what anyone else has gone through but I know this: power is believing and believing is power. Power in believing that the impossible is a contradiction in itself because it does indeed say “I’m Possible”. From the age of seven I set myself a goal and within 4 months I was out of the English as a Second Language program, an entire 14 months before the predicted time. Power in believing that although the acts you do may be insignificant, they are significant enough to change one person’s life, much like my parent’s changed mine. 

Power in believing that anything is possible if you set your mind to it such as trying to move to New York City for college and doing a TEDx talk during second semester of your senior year and still try to graduate.

Power in believing that the efforts you make will soon change the world into a better place. 

Believe in the power of good and believe in the power of change. 

As an immigrant, change came quickly and unexpectedly but those chances made a person who can now stand in front of you today unafraid of the future and unashamed of her past.

My parents, Pilar and Holguer, while on vacation in Manizales, Colombia. (1992)

Last Christmas in Colombia (2003)

Labor day program at VHEE a few weeks after arriving. (2004)

First Christmas in the United States (2004)

The first time we saw snow..... ever.

My brother and me with Ana Sofia and Santiago who are the first generation children of immigrants (2008)

My brother (#10) on the high school soccer team. (2007)

The Pimientos take on Disney World (2005)

Senior night at VHHS soccer game (2011)

My mom swearing into US Citizenship. (2012)

While that was just the beginning of one of our story, thank you for taking time to read this today.

Thank you for your willingness to open your heart and mind to my story. May you carry that openness as you listen to others' stories.

We all have a story. Some are big. Some are small. But all are significant enough to share.


 -TEDxSamfordU team for putting this all together. You guys are awesome
- My fellow TEDx speakers Jason, Billy, Rachel, Laura & Dr. Randy. It was an absolute honor to share the stage with you all. 
- My family. To the ones who were there to hear me speak and the ones who watched me as my mom recorded it and put it on Facebook. 
-To my parents. I love you and I am so proud to be able to call you my parents.
-To my brother, thank you for showing me to always be proud of where we come from and to never forget it. 
- To my friends who embrace my family's story and our culture. My god am I grateful to have you guys in my life. Thank you for sitting there through endless spanish conversations with my parents. 
- To mi Tia Gladys, Tio Rey, Maria, Silvia, Alex, Juli, Ana y Santi, thank you for being the best family to grow up around. 
-To those at St. Peter's church who took in my family. I truly am so grateful for all the love and support as many of you watched me grow up through the years.

A VERY special thank you to everyone in the Vestavia Hills School System for making our transition so much smoother and helped me feel welcome throughout the years. In particular:

- To my first grade teacher Mrs. Dennis who quickly became one of my parent's favorite people when we moved here. I am not sure that you will ever read this but I will never forget your willingness and love to help make the move here an easier transition.
- To my ESL (English As A Second Language) teacher at VHEE who told my parents to call her when I became president of the United States. While I can't tell you that I am the president, yet, I can tell you that your confidence in me from that age has powered me through the years and will continue to power me through.
-To Mrs. Firth, my 8th grade science teacher, who easily became one of my favorite middle school teachers even though I only had her for a few months but I have never had more fun in a science class. Thank you for always being so loving and making me laugh! Miss you very much.
-To Mr. David Miles who is easily one of the best principals to ever exist. My family will always be so grateful for you and your kind heart when my brother and I went through Pizitz and became part of the Pirate family. 
- A very special thanks to Mrs. Seale, my 11th grade history teacher who happened to be one of the most loving and truly caring people I will meet in my lifetime. Thank you for opening my eyes and others into truly and genuinely caring for other people's stories. Thank you for pouring your love and passion not only into the classroom but also into my family's story. 
-To Dr. Fisk who allowed me to grow in my art and further express myself my senior year. Thank you for believing in my work and for always pushing me to be the best.
- To Mr. Lombardo who at the end of my high school career taught me things far beyond the classroom and expanded my mind in ways that I cannot imagine. Thank you for supporting me through it all and for allowing me to grow as much as I did. Also thank you for reviewing my TED talk so it would be the best it could be!
-To everyone at the Vestavia System that made my brother and I feel welcome, THANK YOU!  
-To ALL of my teachers and staff, I may have not said it often if at all, thank you for making me feel a part of this school and pouring your love into all of us. Vestavia will forever hold a special place in my heart because of you all.  

My brother Sebastian, a 2011 graduate, would also like to add a few thank you's to the list:

-To my AP French teacher, Mrs. Harlan who was the most caring and willing to help, in and out of the classroom. She is one of the legitimately nicest and most caring people I encountered at VHHS.

-To my French III teacher, Mr. Bouriche, in whose first-ever class I was in, and who very quickly earned the admiration and the love of all his students with his charisma and passion for teaching and coaching.

-To my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Latham, who always took the time and the effort not only to teach, but to listen and understand me as a student and as a person.

-To my JV soccer coach, Coach Harlan, who taught me the value of discipline and toughness while always believing in me and pushing me to be my best.

Finally to anyone who has ever helped my family and made us feel welcome. From the bottom of our hearts: THANK YOU. 

With Love,


1 comment

  1. Hey Marianna,

    I loved reading the history of your family's immigration. Truly a courageous move on the part of your parents. I am so proud of you and your drive to become the best you can be. I wish you the best in your future! (My son Kevin Bryant was in your grade and I was one of your subs.) I will pass your kind words along to Mrs. Dennis.


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