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Sacrifice in pursuit of the American dream

How Diana Benedict’s family worked for years to be together in the US.

Editor’s note: Denver Water celebrates and embraces the cultures around us that shape who we are today. Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our nation. Just like our customers, Denver Water employees have diverse backgrounds and we’re proud of our rich cultural diversity that reflects the 1.5 million people we serve.

Diana Benedict, software developer at Denver Water, has always been spunky — a trait she attributes to being the youngest of 11 siblings.

She was born in Periera, a city nestled in the lush coffee region in the central mountain range of Colombia. Her mother, Clara, was a homemaker, and her father, Vidal, was a carpenter and mechanic. Together, they provided their family with a comfortable life.

"We had a large house and people who worked in our home, like a housekeeper and a cook," Benedict said.

Benedict loved growing up in a large family, but her early years were marked by the absence of her parents.  

She was just six months old when her parents made the life-altering decision to move to the United States. She saw her father occasionally over the next several years, but she wouldn’t see her mother again until she was 6.

Diana Benedict, in 1972 at age 3, is pushed on a swing by her brother, Oscar, at a park near their home in Colombia. Photo credit: Diana Benedict.

It was the late 1960s, and a friend of her mother’s, who was living in the U.S., told Clara about the boundless opportunities in America. Inspired by the prospect of a better life for her children, Clara convinced Vidal to make the move.

"At the time, you’d apply to come to the U.S. and provide a list of your skills in the application. The government would then match your skills to areas of the country where they were needed, and you’d get permission to move there," Benedict explained.

Clara and Vidal applied and, after a year of waiting, were approved to relocate to New Jersey, just outside of New York City. However, they could only bring two of their children.

"It was such a hard decision — one that my mom still apologizes for today. They decided to bring two of my older siblings so that they could finish their education in the U.S. and work. The goal was to save money to bring the rest of us when they could," Benedict said.

So, she and her remaining siblings stayed in Colombia with their grandmother and aunt.

Diana Benedict sits on a swing, surrounded by her siblings who remained with her in Colombia when her parents first moved to the U.S. Back row from left: Vidal, Adriana, Liliana, Oscar (standing on the swing). Front row from left: Patty, Diana, Christina (cousin) and Johnny. This photo was sent to their mother in the U.S. so she could see how much the children had grown since she had last seen them. Photo credit: Diana Benedict.

Despite the separation from her parents and some of her siblings, Benedict’s childhood was filled with joyful memories of large, lively family gatherings and vibrant neighborhood play.

Over the next several years, her parents worked diligently to obtain their green cards and saved every penny to purchase plane tickets and hire a lawyer to bring their remaining children to the U.S.

"They couldn’t afford to bring us all over at the same time, so we went over in batches, a few of us at a time, starting with the older kids," Benedict said. “My father would fly to Colombia to pick a few of the kids up — it was very expensive, so my mother had to stay in New Jersey during those trips.”

It took more than five years for her parents to reunite the entire family in the U.S. Benedict was 6 years old when she — among the last of the siblings to come to the U.S. — arrived in New Jersey and finally saw her mother again.

"I clearly remember being at the airport in Colombia. I told the flight attendant, 'I am going to the U.S., and I know how to speak English,' and then I made up a bunch of gibberish, pretending it was English," Benedict said with a laugh.

Read more about Denver Water’s diverse workforce and the cultural experiences that shaped their lives.

She began first grade soon after arriving in New Jersey. With minimal language support in school, she relied on TV shows and her older siblings to learn English.

"I remember not knowing English, and then knowing English — nothing in between," Benedict said. "I was immersed, so it was easy for me to learn at such a young age."

Education was of paramount importance to her mother, a cornerstone of the sacrifices the parents made for their children.

"Education was one of the main reasons why my mother convinced my father to come to the U.S. and sacrifice so much, so it was always very important to me to do well in school," Benedict said.

She attended school in a diverse, multicultural area.

"I was so privileged to grow up being exposed to many different people from all types of backgrounds. We'd have gatherings at our home and always invite everyone. It wasn't just about celebrating with family but also sharing what you had with loved ones and friends, too."

Benedict, along with her mother, Clara, and some of her siblings, gather for a family photo at her wedding in June 2002. Back row from left: Liliana, Gladys, Blanca, Clara, Diana, Adriana and Patty. Front row from left: Oscar, Johnny and Frank. Photo credit: Diana Benedict.

Today, Benedict cherishes her heritage by preparing traditional Colombian food for her husband and three teenage children. She especially enjoys making arepas and empanadas on special occasions.

In 2023, she took her children to visit Colombia, only the second time she’d been back since leaving at age six.

"We visited the coffee region where I lived, and it was just as mountainous and beautiful, and the people were just as nice and kind, as I remembered," she said.

Diana Benedict with her husband and three children in Colombia in June 2023. From left: Kelvin; husband, Noah; Diana; Tesla and Maxwell. Photo credit: Diana Benedict.

As Benedict thinks back on the sacrifices her parents and older siblings made to bring the family to the U.S., she is overwhelmed with gratitude.

"My family worked so hard and gave up so much so that we could have a better life,” Benedict said.

“My oldest sister, Blanca, helped our family get a home in a nice neighborhood with a good school system, and she always made sure we were safe. I have so much gratitude and am so very thankful for the sacrifices my parents, grandmother, aunt and older siblings made for our family.”

Benedict loves her large family. Here, generations of family members gather for her mother’s 80th birthday in November 2011. Photo credit: Diana Benedict.