Bald Eagle with American flag.

"My message to anyone who wants to listen is simple: The American Dream is alive and well and my story proves it."

Some are convinced that the American Dream is dead.

I disagree.

As an immigrant and a domestic violence abuse survivor, I am proof it’s possible to break down barriers to achieve the American Dream.

After arriving in Arizona from Mexico with little money and no English, my mother worked hard as a cook to raise my five siblings and me. Thanks to my mother’s sacrifices, I was able to pursue an education.

Eventually, I met my ex-husband. And like many domestic abuse survivors, things were great at first. Then it became a living hell.

Fortunately, I was able to escape this nightmare. Being on my own was incredibly scary. Having few discernable job skills and little work experience, the prospect of generating an income was daunting – especially when trying to raise two young children.

Thankfully, I wasn’t entirely alone. My mother was able to get me a job in the janitorial services company where she worked as a janitor. 

My duties in my new job quite literally included mopping the floors at night. I didn’t earn much money, but I was happy to have a job and earn an honest living.

Determined to make the most of this opportunity, I worked hard and stayed focused. I also began learning English and asked my bosses for additional work. My hard work paid off. I was eventually promoted to operations manager. 

From there, as they say, the rest is history.

Today, along with my new husband, I run M & R Inc, a million-dollar janitorial services company and a franchisee of Jani-King Commercial Cleaning – the company that first took a chance on me all those years back.

I share my story not to brag, but to serve as a reminder that it is entirely possible to accomplish amazing things in this land of opportunity.

 I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams running a company when I was living under the constant fear of an abusive husband, having little education and speaking little English that I would be where I am today.

Many immigrants are contributing positively to our country and creating opportunities for others.

 According to a recent report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, “the rate of entrepreneurs in 2017 was much higher for Latinos than in any other group.” 

Another report by the Brookings Institution found that almost half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Immigrants are not just starting Fortune 500 companies. They are also innovating and contributing yo places where they work.

One of my favorite examples is the story of Richard Montanez, a Mexican immigrant working as a factory janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in California, responsible for creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – a top-selling product. Today, Richard is an executive at Frito Lay.

Besides having started at the bottom like me, I also admire Richard’s commitment to giving back. 

Recently, he said, “Latinos who have made it like myself have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it. I do it because I can and I know what it is like to be hungry.”

I couldn’t agree more, which is why I think that one of the best ways we can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month is not only to celebrate our community’s many accomplishments but also look for ways to pass on what we know to younger generations.

My message to anyone who wants to listen is simple: The American Dream is alive and well and my story proves it. 

- Martha Llamas owns Jani King of Phoenix Commercial Cleaning & Janitorial Services. She volunteers for the LIBRE Initiative and with the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

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