My American Dream: From Ixtapa de la Concepción, Nayarit to Minnesota (and Back)

Things happen for a reason. Never in my life, when I use to live in Ixtapa de la Concepción, Nayarit, would I have imagined that I would be where I’m at; a Captain in the Minnesota National Guard.

I left Ixtapa, Mexico (30 minutes northwest of Rincón de Guayabitos) at the age of 12 and moved to California. I learned the language, finished high school and then came to realize that I was undocumented in the U.S.A. I did not have a voice, and I did not exist. My parents submitted my application, but because I was of age I had to submit the application myself. I was not able to work, drive or qualify for any financial aid, so I dropped out of college. After 3 years of working for cash, and now with a family to support, my wife told me about a place with “10,000 lakes” called Minnesota. She said her parents had a good job and that no matter where you went you would always see “we are hiring” signs.

Editor’s Note: Ulises Ayala’s story came across my desk via a Minnesota online news source. Being born and raised in Minnesota myself, I decided to reach out to Ulises to find out more about him, his family and his cause. We plan to meet in Minnesota this summer, after which we will run a follow-up story. 

On September 27, 2001 we packed a van and embarked in what was going to be a cultural shock to me, Minnesota was not California. As we were driving to Minnesota, the INS approved my working permit, so as soon as I found out, I applied at Golden Plump Poultry as a live receiver (hanging chickens), but that is not what I wanted. A few months later I became a lead, then a supervisor and then I was the senior supervisor at nights after 2 years of being with GNP. During that time, I received my Green Card (it is actually pink) and I remember that as soon as I got it, I called an Army Guard recruiter and enlisted as a 21 Bravo (combat engineer). A year passed by and I changed companies, I started working in Plymouth, Minnesota. I did the commute for 2 years. After a year of enlisting, I decided that I needed to go back to college. I enrolled in St. Cloud State University and finished my BA.

At the same time, I started attending the ROTC program but I was told I needed to be a U.S citizen in order to become an officer. So I did. On December 9th, 2008 I became a U.S citizen and in August 9th, 2009 I became an Officer in the United States Army recognized by the President of the United States (Military Intelligence Officer). After my military school and finishing my BA, I was called to deploy to the Middle East.

Ulises Ayala 4

During the first tour, I found myself having some extra money and that is when I decided to call my sister Maribel Ortega in Ixtapa, Nayarit. We started by donating 20 food baskets. The following year we provided 40, then 60 and now 100. At the same time, a friend that knew what I was doing, decided to help-out and we started helping others by painting the school, buying shoes for special needs kids, providing dental exams and then came the time to have a name and we decided with Ixtapa Foundation SC and then we became a 501 non-profit organization. Everything started with a phone call, now we have 4 members, a friend in California, my friend in Mexico, my sister and I.

What will be the end of our mission? We don’t know, all we know is that it is our responsibility to help others. I guess I have achieved my American Dream.

About the Ixtapa Foundation: Ixtapa Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is a private, non-profit organization that serves the people of Ixtapa Nayarit by supporting and operating programs in three core mission areas: education, science and community development. The Foundation strives to nurture the future leaders of Ixtapa. By example and by sharing its experience, the Foundation also contributes to human development regionally. In all of its activities, the Foundation promotes a culture of excellence in Ixtapa and furthers its role in supporting an innovative and open society that aspires to develop sustainable human capacity, social, and economic prosperity for a knowledge-based economy.

I hope you can help us share our site, foundation and gofundme account so that we can continue providing assistance to the students in Ixtapa, Nayarit. Currently most of our projects are funded from our pockets.

Here’s more information, and how you can help:

by Ulises Ayala

Here is a copy of the original news article…

Minnesota National Guardsman Raises Money for Poverty-Ridden Hometown

 | Minneapolis St. Paul
February 20, 2015

A Minnesota army national guardsman came to the United States as a child and earned his citizenship, but he honors his roots in a major way. He’s currently working to put an end to challenges faced by families in his poverty-ridden hometown just outside of Puerta Vallarta.

With just a few hundred bucks at a time, the young people in Ixtapa Nayarit, Mexico have been able to get a freshly painted church, shoes, food, and school supplies. Now through a new non-profit, the Minnesotan wants to help a group of students get their basic medical needs met so they can access a real shot at a bright future.

“We crossed the border in the U.S. when I was 12, funny thing it happened on July 4, 1989,” Ulises Ayala said. “I learned the language, graduated from high school, applied for residency, became a resident. After a few years of becoming a resident I joined the National Guard, two years later I became a U.S. citizen, and then a commissioned officer.”

During captain Ayala’s time in Kuwait, he noticed he had a little extra money in the bank. So he called his sister in Ixtapa Nayarit where non-profit help is scarce.

“We don’t have those organizations,” Ayala said. “If you get through elementary school, you’re really lucky. If you get through middle school, you have the golden ticket.”

The poverty-stricken town of just over 1,500 people is about 45 minutes north of Puerta Vallarta.

Eager to help young people there advance, Ayala started sending his extra funds to help – $200 at a time.

“They don’t have running water,” Ayala said. “Toilets are not like the ones we have here, it’s just a hole of cement, that’s it.”

With out of pocket support from his fellow guardsmen, Ayala has also sent hundreds of food baskets to hungry families and shoes to special needs children.

“It’s a great cause,” Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Newcomer said. “It’s amazing a little goes a long way there.

Ayala was able to help out even more after pooling his money with family members in California and Mexico.

“So 200 from them, 200 from California, and my 200 were able to help 72 students in Mexico get a dental exam,” Ayala said. “All the other projects have been funded out of pocket, just saving money here, not going out to eat, and making sacrifices.”

The 10-year army national guardsman now hopes that with support he can make sure middle school students in Ixtapa Nayarit have a real chance.

“If we get one student to go through the whole system, and that person becomes a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, something, anything, then all the headaches is nothing,” he said.

Ayala said the money raised will allow middle school students to get dental and medical exams so they can advance to high school.

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3 Reviews on “My American Dream: From Ixtapa de la Concepción, Nayarit to Minnesota (and Back)”

  1. :

    Inspirational! Gracias por su dedicación, esfuerzos y sacrificios de los dos lados de la línea. Especialmente para los más necesitados en nuestro pequeño pero hermoso pueblo de Ixtapa.

  2. :

    Thank you for what you did for us!!! and for what you did for Ixtapa De la Concepcion Nayarit!

  3. :

    Wonderful article. Very touching. Keep up the great work.

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