Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Interview with Ulysses Jaen

I am grateful to have my first interview with Ulysses Jaen, who is willing to share his story with us all. Enjoy!


  1.      Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in Nicaragua, lived in California for decades, traveled throughout Central and North America as well as many European nations. Currently I reside in Southwest Florida.

  1.      What made you decide to do this interview?

Stereotypes may make good material for comedians in their routines; however, they are detrimental to those of us misinterpreted in real life as a result.

  1.      Where are you from and why did you decide to come to America?

I was born in a beautiful city named Matagalpa in the mountains of Nicaragua. When the revolution against US backed dictator Somoza erupted, my family played an active role and suffered greatly. The odds of surviving as identified opponents to this cruel tyranny were very slim. My parents decided to do anything they could to survive. We migrated to Southern California.

  1.      What was life like for you where you grew up?

It was a tough but happy life as a child. My father was a mechanic and my mother was a public school teacher and insurance saleslady. Between the two of them, they gave us a home, education and great memories. It was a life surrounded by amazing contrasts of social classes, opportunities and cultures. Those who allied themselves with the government did well but, those who dared to ask why so much injustice happened did not fare well.

  1.      What did you have to do to get here (i.e. paperwork, money, etc.)?

My father lost his business during the revolution. Our parents sold anything they could to pay officials for passports. My oldest brother was disguised and transported out of town in an ambulance as he was considered a guerilla fighter. My other brother suffered a superficial shot to his back and managed to get out to the capital and subsequently out of the country. The three oldest boys out of five made it to L.A. first and our family reunited months later as our parents struggled country to country trying to get though.

For money? What did we not do? I lost count at 52 different jobs as a teenager trying to scrape a living. I did a lot of landscaping work, restaurants, construction, hard and dangerous jobs that nobody lasted long doing.

  1.      What hardships did you face coming to America?

My two older brothers and I were supposed to be picked up and taken to live with family members in L.A. Nobody showed up to pick us up but, we found an angel who took us in and let us stay in his garage the first winter. We did not speak English, we had few clothes to wear, we did not know how to get around but we did not have time to think, we had to find ways to survive.

When our family reunited, another kind soul let us stay in a house he was trying to remodel. It was a two bedroom small house with no windows or comforts but we made the best of it. We welcomed anyone that asked for help and at one time we had twelve people sleeping on the floor, eating rice and beans and helping each other in any way that we could.

  1.      Once you came to America, what was life like?

It was hard but in a different way. People throw away things in this country that other people in the world would do so much to get. Because of my age, I had to keep registering in school so that my parents would not get into trouble so I went to five different high schools and worked on evenings and weekends to help the family.

My father struggled to make a living, he was very talented but employers took advantage of him and he suffered trying to support us. My brothers knew this and did what they could to pitch in and we all promised to do our best to one day achieve the American dream.

  1.      What helped you get to where you are today?

Faith and perseverance were crucial but, I was very fortunate to meet great people along the way. My family is an amazing inspiration and support system and always pushed me up when I have been down. I tried many things and failed as well as succeeded to a certain level. I started a gardening company, a courier service a truck and auto repair shop and a moving and deliveries company. I learned from each experience and I tried to get up and fight again. Education has helped me a lot. I knew that no matter what, investing in me was smart to do. I went to many community colleges part time until I graduated. I continued on to the university and received my Master’s in Public Administration, my Juris Doctorate and a Masters in Information and Library Sciences degree.

Knowing that I have a responsibility to the world around me, I try to teach and mentor every chance I get. I also do pro bono community service and I am an insane activist for social justice. My main focus is to help immigrant communities because I know first-hand how unfair they are treated.

  1.      How do different generations in your family experience America (i.e. immigrant-born vs. American-born generations)?

The difference is amazing. In one generation, our children are completely assimilated into American culture. Sure, they like Latin foods and sing along to songs I listen to frequently. It is the way that other people make them feel that is disturbing. Sometimes, other children expect that they only speak Spanish or Latin kids can’t understand why they don’t speak Spanish. The children live in two worlds of sorts. As for my generation, we are torn because we reminisce about a life we left behind but no longer exists. We crave old tastes, we miss old friends but there is no fulfillment possible. As for our parents, most certainly, they enjoy seeing their grandchildren live a safe and promising future. They also feel as outsiders as time goes by because what they took for granted in traditions, cultural peculiarities and customs are not respected or even attractive to the younger members of the family.

10.  Have you preserved any traditions, foods, languages, or customs from your native country?

Yes, very much so. I play and sing old songs, I cook for them family favorites, I make it a point to let them know the best traits such as love of family, respect for their elders, and more.

I feel it important for them to know that they are special. They have a wealth in their ancestry that they should cherish and not be ashamed of.

11.  How does your cultural heritage affect your views on immigration?

It affects my views on a daily basis. I understand how the gardener and the cook, the laborer and the grocer work hard to take care of their families and benefit me with their contributions. I can feel their pain and sing their praises as I know how hard it is for them. I understand how immigration laws are impossible to work with, much less try to learn and apply properly. I think that many people fail to see all the good that immigrants provide society with. Some people make it a point in their lives to promote anti-immigrant misinformation for multiple reasons, therefore, I make it a point to show that we are good people and we are here for the same reasons as all immigrants from all over the world which is to live a better life.

12. What else would you like to share with everyone about yourself, your family, or about immigration in general?

I want everyone to put themselves in our shoes and ask themselves what they would do if they had to endure the same circumstances. I want them to know that immigrants love this country just as much or more than others who have been here for generations. People who are willing to risk their lives to come here do so because they believe in America as the Promised Land. These people are the bravest, the hardest working, and the best from all over the world. The United States is what it is because of immigrants.

Mr. Jaen, thank you so much for being willing to share so openly about your story.

See pictures of what childhood looked like for Ulysses here.

Ulysses N. Jaen is Ave Maria School of Law Library’s Head of Public Services. 

Mr. Jaen brings over 30 years of experience to the School. He has worked as an entrepreneur, business manager and legal professional, taught in the Master’s in Legal Studies program at West Virginia University, and lectured on a variety of Advanced Legal Research topics while working for WVU. Mr Jaen currently teaches Administrative Ethics, Immigration and Border Security and Advanced Legal Research. 

Mr. Jaen performed legal research and writing, document translation and simultaneous interpretation services for the Law Office of Hamstead, Williams & Shook from 2009 to 2012 and for the Law Offices of Angotti & Straface from 2006 to 2009. He worked at the WVU College of Law Library from 2005 to 2012 and was promoted to Access Services Librarian in 2007. 

Mr. Jaen received his J.D. and a Master’s in Public Administration from West Virginia University. He also served as president of the Student Association of Public Administrators there. He completed his M.I.L.S., with an emphasis in leadership, from Florida State University. He was a Court appointed mediator and has completed training as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. 

Mr. Jaen is a member of the American Bar Association, the National Hispanic Bar Association, the American Association of Law Libraries (current vice chair/chair elect of the Diversity committee executive board until 2014 and prior chair of the Latino Caucus), and South Eastern Chapter of AALL (SEAALL) and has presented at numerous conferences, and for various organizations and agencies including the Department of Justice, Universities and community events.



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