In a global economy, businesses depend on international talent, says Fredeswinda Collazo, an instructional designer and former corporate learning officer. “The most successful companies are growing their talent from within and are inclusive of all cultures,” she says.
Collazo, who was born in Puerto Rico, has always been a U.S. citizen, but she connects with the immigrant experience. She grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, and at age 9 moved to what seemed like a very foreign land: the Bronx, in New York City. “It was tough,” she says. “We lived in a dilapidated building where an addict who lived on the rooftop screamed and cried because he didn’t have money for crack.”
“I knew from an early age that the key to a better life was through education, in helping others grow alongside me, and in finding ways to drive our success,” she says. After high school, Collazo worked full-time to put herself through the City University of New York, then worked her way up to project manager for a nonprofit, where she met her future husband, an immigrant who she says exemplified the best of what immigrants have to offer America.
As a country, we should enable those with the ability to relocate and help them create global communities that bond us to others.
Nelson A. Farias was a child when his family fled political upheaval in Chile in the 1970s, only to encounter prejudice in the United States. “It was harsher than it is now,” says Collazo. “They were referred to as ‘spics.’ Even teachers would tell him and his brothers: You’re an immigrant who has no right to education and will never amount to anything.”
Farias kept his head up, focused on his education, and put himself through college and graduate school. He became a U.S. citizen, and got a job as a software engineer at IBM in New York City. After the couple married, Collazo and Farias purchased a home in the Hudson River Valley, in 2000, and later built a house in Goshen, New York. Immigrants make up 12.2 percent of the population in New York’s 18th Congressional District, in the northern exurbs of New York City where Goshen is located. But they are far more likely to be of working age than are U.S.-born residents — 72 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64 compared with 49.6 percent of the U.S.-born — and as such are vital contributors to the regional economy. The foreign-born in the district pay $1 billion in taxes every year and wield $2.5 billion in annual spending power.
Collazo, — who moved on in her career to become vice president of instructional design at JP Morgan Chase, chief learning officer at Adaptive Wellness Concepts, and a learning and development executive at Moody’s Analytics and Canon USA — has now put her experience to use as founder of TruBLEND Learning, an evidence-based learning consultancy. “We apply adult-education and distance-learning research, as well as strategies from successful corporations, to your business situation,” she says. “You can create worldwide talent development initiatives, or only develop a small presentation or video. It’s up to your needs.”
She just wishes that her late husband could share in the excitement of her new business venture. Recalling his own hard work and success, she also wishes that the United States would adopt immigration reform that would encourage other families like his to contribute to America.
“As a country, we should enable those with the ability to relocate, and help them create global communities that bond us to others,” she says.