Today, Lorenzo Sierra is a city council representative of Avondale, Arizona, a diverse city of 80,000 people. He also works with the next generation of underprivileged Hispanic kids to help them achieve. It’s a mission that stems from his background: Sierra grew up in a poor Tucson neighborhood and was the first person in his family to attend college. Arriving on campus as a freshman was both exciting and frightening. “Having come from a poor neighborhood, the values are different; the pace of life is different; the expectations of you are different. People there are competitive,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to compete.”
Early on, Sierra was lucky to connect with other Hispanic students from similar backgrounds. He remembers a counselor telling them all: “You guys need to be friends” because “no one’s going to help you out here.” The counselor was right. “We did need each other,” Sierra says. And the group supported each other well after graduation. Many of them remain close today.
We really need these people—their passion, their skills, their experience—to drive our economy.
That support network inspired Sierra’s career in public service, as well as his thoughts about immigration reform. He’s active with a program called Aguila (Spanish for “eagle”), which mentors high-achieving high school students in networking, public speaking, and personal finance. “I tell these kids they’re carrying the hopes and dreams of all the brothers and sisters who didn’t have that chance,” Sierra says. “In many ways they are carrying those hopes and dreams with them through college. Sometimes that’s a burden, and sometimes that’s an inspiration.”
Many of the young people in this program are “DREAMers,” undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to this country as children. “In many ways, I think they embody what the American dream is all about,” Sierra says. He says many DREAMers have worked on his campaigns for city council, and he’s found them to be extremely committed. “They’re working hard, they’re doing all the right things, they’re playing by the rules,” he says.
Of course, there’s one notable exception. “There was one rule that was broken when they weren’t in a position to say otherwise,” he says, of their parents’ decision to bring them here without papers.
Sierra believes we need comprehensive immigration reform because America needs the passion and drive of these young immigrants—the same drive that propelled him to succeed in college and ultimately become an elected official. “We really need these people—their passion, their skills, their experience—to drive our economy,” he says.