Published on November 10, 2021

Neftali Lazaro's American dream

Neftali Lazaro, RT

Neftali Lazaro still remembers her first day on the job as a respiratory therapist for Community Hospital. As she was adjusting her face mask, someone said, “Drink some water before you put that on because you won’t have another chance to take it off for the next 12 hours.” It was the moment she knew she was realizing her dream for herself, her patients, and her family.

She also knew she would hand her first paycheck to her parents—her champions and source of inspiration.

Lazaro was 3 years old when her parents brought her from her native Mexico to Salinas. Having made the move a year before, her mom and dad had waited until they were in an apartment and no longer sleeping on cardboard in someone’s garage, to bring their child into a new life.

Lazaro, who started walking and talking at 10 months, figured out early that she wanted a successful life, beginning by becoming the first member of her family to graduate from a university. She worked diligently through school, earning straight A’s, and setting her sights on Loyola College. Yet, when applying for financial aid, she learned, as an immigrant, she was ineligible without a social security number.

Neftali Lazaro has always been a dreamer. But suddenly, Dreamer had a different definition—a person who has lived in the United States without official authorization since coming to the country as a minor.

My life dream shattered. Instead of going to a university, I went to work for a fast-food company, making $10 an hour, and I enrolled in Hartnell College. I was productive but no longer had a clear path or the tools to fulfill my career goals. —Neftali Lazaro

Yet, in 2012, through an executive action, President Obama created DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—to shield people from deportation, who were brought into the United States as children and did not have citizenship or legal residency status.

“I now had a social security number,” she says, “and the opportunity to apply for loans, for a better job, for advanced education. I could start dreaming again.”

Lazaro applied for a job at nearly 40 organizations, and Community Hospital was the only one that responded. Although the position in the Fountain Court Café was awarded to another applicant, the kitchen supervisor admired her work ethic and offered her a job.

“They started me at $19 an hour. I was so happy,” she says, “I think I cried. They had seen the potential in me. Managing a fast-food restaurant was not easy. I had to mop, sweep, and wash every dish by hand. At CHOMP, they have a machine.”

By 2014, Lazaro was working fulltime and attending Hartnell College. Although she’d never considered becoming a nurse, Eric LoMonaco, director of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, suggested she consider the Respiratory Care Program at Hartnell and become a respiratory therapist.

“I applied for the program,” she says, “and got in on my first try. Eric LoMonaco became my mentor. Every semester I interned at a different hospital. Whether it was random or destiny, my last semester, I was assigned to Community Hospital. I felt I had to be really good at everything I did because I already worked there.”

Neftali Lazaro graduated from the Respiratory Care Program on May 21—her mother’s birthday. Two weeks before, she was invited to join the respiratory care team at Community Hospital. She passed her board exams, got her license and, on July 2, put on her mask and went to work as a respiratory therapist.

“I love what I do,” she says. “I have since started an online bachelor’s program at Skyline College in San Mateo, and then I will get my Master’s degree in respiratory care. I am a professional now. Along with my sisters, I am my parents’ retirement plan. They launched my life, and Community Hospital launched my future.”

About the Author

Lisa Crawford

A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education, and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa also is a freelance writer, who specializes in the genres of art, architecture & automobiles, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published several books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.

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