For Luis A. Padilla, 40, of Broadway, Va., the “American dream” of poverty-to-success is not impossible. It is his life story.
The son of Luis Alonso and Fany Padilla and second oldest of four siblings, Luis started working full time in his home country of Honduras when he was just 14. He was an office boy, a “gopher” by day, and attended school evenings, Monday through Friday. He completed his high school studies at age 18 in 1985.
He dreamed of coming to the United States to attend college, well aware of the obstacles. His family had little money, and he wanted to speak English well enough not to depend on a translator. To that end, he took daily English classes nearly four years.
In 1989, Luis came to the U.S. with the International Visitors Exchange Program (IVEP) of Mennonite Central Committee. He worked six months at Rockhill Mennonite Community near Sellersville, Pa., then another six months at Goshen (Ind.) College as a member of the physical plant staff.
“I knew I didn’t have the finances or the connections to apply for college at that time, but I never lost sight of my dream,” he says.
Luis returned to his home city of San Pedro Sula and found employment as a personal trainer at a sports complex. He remembers this as a period of uncertainty. “People told me to stop dreaming, just keep working, but I was determined to persist until things started happening,” he said.
In 1997, he returned to the U.S., still single at age 31