Fernando Camargo almost didn’t come to Toledo. He was a 16-year-old exchange student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, a bustling city of 12 million in Brazil, when his high school advisor pointed out a tiny town outside of Toledo and said a family there had chosen him.
“It was a big change to go to the small town where they live,” he says now. “It’s just interesting that 22 years later I’m still here.”
More specifically, Camargo is back, after a return home to finish high school and earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Sao Paulo. And he’s back because during that year abroad in 1997-98 he fell in love with an American girl. The two are now married and have four children.
“It’s still hard for me. I miss Brazil, my family, my friends,” he says. “But Toledo ended up going from a necessity to a choice, and I’m happy here.”
It’s still hard for me. I miss Brazil, my family, my friends. But Toledo ended up going from a necessity to a choice, and I’m happy here.
Engineers are in high demand in the United States, and Camargo says he feels grateful that firms in the Toledo area gave him a shot as he developed his skills and worked toward his U.S. licensure. After 13 years with a civil engineering firm doing environmental projects, mostly on landfills, Camargo is now designing residential subdivisions and commercial site plans for a private development company. He also helps his wife operate her DIY wood-sign business, Board & Brush Creative Studio. “It’s a pretty satisfying thing to contribute to the economy,” he says.
In February 2018, Camargo became a U.S. citizen. Seven months later, he joined Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, and he’s ready to start actively promoting ideas on how to help immigrants assimilate.
“It’s like a feeling almost of duty,” Camargo says. “I look around and I see so many people who are struggling, and I’m just so fortunate to have a career, a well-paying job, a loving family, healthy kids.”
One idea is to help immigrants network for professional opportunities. Another is to circulate stories about individual immigrants to help boost understanding and empathy in these times. “I feel like the way it’s been lately it’s become very dehumanized,” he says. “You see children in cages and you get upset, but then you turn off the TV and go to bed… These are human beings who are just looking for a better life.”