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Juan Arias

In the late 1990s, at age 21, Juan Arias fled economic crisis in his native Ecuador. He landed in Richmond, Indiana, a small town with few Hispanic people. “When people saw me, they’d stare at me like I had a third eye,” he recalls. “It was isolating. I went from having friends and big holiday celebrations to no friends at all.”

A year later, when someone invited Juan to a local college party, he jumped at the chance. He quickly made friends his age, improved his English, and even met his future wife, Julie, an American. The two eventually married and moved to Dayton.

In the small city of Richmond, the couple felt out of place, but Dayton felt like home. Nobody stared; instead, they saw diverse couples all around. Juan also began attending Sinclair Community College. The school’s bilingual counselor helped him get involved on campus, enroll in advanced English classes and take full advantage of the school’s resources like their computer labs, the library, pool, and gym.

I was part of a community; I had my wife, my friends, and a place where I belonged.

In 2012, he graduated from the school’s aviation mechanic training program and was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Juan and Julie have seen Dayton’s commitment to immigrants firsthand. When they first arrived, Julie worked for a small community center that hosted the Latino Connection, which convened community stakeholders – the library, community center, schools, churches, and more – to support immigrants. Their work has helped bring interpretation and translation services to local healthcare providers and utilities. “Small things, like being able to understand your doctor or read your electric bill, can make a big difference,” Julie says.

Today, Juan and Julie are raising their two daughters in Dayton, are regular congregants at Unity church and give back as much as possible. They’ve volunteered as medical interpreters and have previously taken in a Moroccan family experiencing homelessness to live with them until they found their own place. Juan often uses his mechanical skills to help neighbors fix things around their homes. “I love helping others the way others helped me when I was just starting out,” he says.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…