It’s Never Too Late to Carve a New Path
Verónica Figoli’s story is, in part, a story of immigration, but like all immigrant stories, the geographical relocation is only the beginning. Hers is a story of creating, recognizing, and seizing opportunities. It is a story of carving a new path.
Verónica’s immigration story begins with her father, who left Italy in the aftermath of WWII seeking economic opportunities his war-ravaged country could not provide. He followed a sister to Venezuela, where his accounting skills landed him work with a lumber company and his sharp dressing and good looks caught the eye of the boss’s daughter, a young girl whose beautifully painted red fingernails captured his attention as well. Through a courtship conducted mostly in secret, through a hole in a wall, the two fell in love. A marriage and five children followed, the youngest of whom was Verónica.
As an immigrant, Verónica’s father knew that he would have to work even harder than those around him to carve out a path for himself in his adopted country. Beside learning Spanish, he also became fluent in English and encouraged his children to do the same. Therefore, upon completion of her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a fellowship with the United Nations Children’s Fund, work that sparked a life-long passion for development work, Verónica went to stay with a cousin in Atlanta to learn English. The language came easier than planned and, both because of the professional opportunities an advanced degree would offer and the political instability beginning to take hold in Venezuela at the time, she decided to extend her time in Atlanta to pursue a master’s degree.
Offered a full-time marketing position with Turner Broadcasting System Latin America following an internship, Verónica once again decided to stay. Not only was the work itself engaging, but it also gave her the opportunity to explore the romance she had recently rekindled. She had met David, an American medical student, years earlier at a wedding in Venezuela. They had lost touch but, late one night and with her cousin’s encouragement, she gave him a call to let him know she was in the country. They picked up where they had left off and eventually overcame geographic, cultural and religious barriers to start a life together.
The young couple moved to Baltimore, where Verónica had no job prospects and knew no one. When her attempts to find work in her field all came to nothing, she did as she had been taught by her father: she carved a new path. She took a job well below her qualifications at an Italian market, hoping to turn the connections she made there into something more in line with her training. Sure enough, one contact led to another, and she soon got hired to do marketing for a start-up company. It went well until one day, following a pitch to an important client, Verónica’s boss informed her that they had almost blown the deal because of her accent. She was stunned. She had worked so hard to learn the language and secure the right credentials and do the best work possible and here she was, being told none of it mattered because of her accent? Verónica took this feedback to heart. Her sense of self had been shattered, and it took years to overcome the desire to fit in and to reclaim her own identity.
Verónica and her husband relocated to Denver, where she once again relied on an ever expanding network, this time forged through a series of invitations for coffee, to find the professional connections she would need to reestablish herself. She went on so many coffee dates that a friend quipped that she might not find a job, but she certainly would be fully caffeinated! Those caffeine-fueled connections led to the creation of a multicultural marketing company and, later, a position in community engagement for DPS. Working with those families, many of whom were from immigrant and minority backgrounds, made present the vast disconnect between the haves and have nots that she had grown up witnessing in Venezuela and, to her dismay, also saw in her adopted home. Empowering systematically excluded community members to have a voice and striving to ensure their children had access to a high quality education proved to be one of the most challenging jobs she had ever had, but also one of the most rewarding.
Now, Verónica is just beginning her newest chapter, a role with Accion Opportunity Fund, while still raising her two sons far from her country of origin. It has not been easy. She misses her family and friends and is all too aware of what her boys have lost, not growing up with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins as a constant part of their lives. Building a life here in her adopted country has come with costs, but those have only served to increase Verónica’s determination to make the most of the life she has built, both for her own family and for all the families her work has the possibility to touch. “If I’m going to stay here, I’m going to make it count,” she says.
It is never too late to carve a new path, as Verónica has proven again and again.