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Mexican native finds safety and renewed optimism in the U.S.

Like so many refugees, the decision to come to America for Jonny Fernandez was not a choice, but a necessity.

“The safety of my son, Tibet, and to make sure he wouldn’t be kidnapped as many kids who live in Mexico are, was what brought us here in 2005,” she says. “We needed a safe place. We couldn’t survive there. Just to be here now, I feel hope.”

It’s no surprise that Fernandez was concerned about her son’s safety: it’s estimated that up to 5,000 stranger-abductions resulting in child kidnappings occur every year in Mexico.

The decision to leave her native Veracruz was not an easy one, because she had been making a good living for more than 20 years as an aerobics instructor and even owned her own gym.  But on the advice of her brother, who had already relocated to Seattle, she decided to join him. That meant giving everything away and traveling with her two-year-old, having nothing but the bags she could carry.

Several years after living in the United States, Jonny met and married her husband, and together they have a young son, Pablo.

Of the proposed wall that President Trump wants built and paid for by Mexico, she says it’s an insult.

“What it’s telling us is that we are enemies.  We are survivors and we want a better life, so having the wall takes that hope and chance for surviving and getting a better life from happening,” Fernandez says.

Now that she has put many of her past safety concerns behind her, she couldn’t be happier doing outreach at Navos, where she helps counsel at-risk youths and helps them understand risky behavior that can lead to HIV, Hepatitis C and other preventable communicable diseases.

“My job goes far beyond the job description, and I feel grateful to be part of Neighborhood House because we’re helping provide safety for kids and helping boost their self-esteem.”