Helping others achieve their dreams

Maria E.

Dominican Republic

Maria first came to the US from the Dominican Republic as an exchange student, and after spending a year in Florida she decided she wanted to stay. One of her sisters was already living in Fort Atkinson and she encouraged Maria to move. 

Even though she had studied English in college, she found the language barrier to be formidable. “I was learning English in my country, but when I got here, it was completely different,” she said. “The accent, and the speed.” She recalled a time when she was working at a fast-food restaurant and a customer asked for a bag with her order. The customer spoke quickly and Maria couldn’t understand her. “I was so nervous, and my mind blocked. And then she called me ‘stupid.’ I felt so bad. But those experiences have been pushing me to be where I am right now and to grow more and do more for my community.”

Maria has lived in Fort Atkinson for more than ten years, and she has been working at Spacesaver since 2008. She completed her Bachelor's degree with a double major in English and Spanish at the UW-Whitewater in 2015. “That was a real challenge, being a full-time employee and having my daughter,” she said. “The feeling when I went to my graduation was one of the best feelings I ever had.”

She would like to return to college for a degree in psychology, and in the meantime she has started an informal group for other Latinas who are striving to achieve their full potential. “I want to help other women accomplish their dreams, and to help them realize that there actually are no barriers that cannot be overcome," she said. "Bad experiences, or bad discipline, or people with bad attitudes might try to stop you. They might be in your way but I think it’s always possible to get what you want if you are consistent, and if you have faith, and if you work for it.”

This portrait and story are part of "A Place to Call Home," a special exhibition by writer and photographer Lori Compas at the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.