Almost every weekend Lupita Perez starts her day by painting two red hearts on her cheeks and donning a cheery smile.
“I love my job” Perez, who became a U.S. citizen on May 11, 2018, said. “My mother told me to try being a clown. She said, ‘You’re funny, you make parties. Why don’t you start?’”
As a single mother of three, Perez lives in Oakwood and supports her children through her clown business and part-time job as a Zumba instructor.
She emigrated from Hidalgo, Mexico, 19 years ago to follow her parents and to escape a stagnant Mexican economy.
Her mother and father first moved to Gainesville in 1995 and told Perez about the opportunities the country provided. Perez said she never imagined leaving her hometown in Hidalgo until her parents shared glimpses of their prosperous life in Georgia.
“They wanted to make a better life,” Perez said. “They still live in Gainesville today.”
Perez hit the Georgia ground running, getting her first job at McDonald’s and later working at a T-shirt factory. Both were located in Cumming, which she said had more job openings than Gainesville during the time.
After settling with her parents and her job, she started pursuing citizenship.
This feature is part of The Times' special section, Hall-American, publishing in the Sunday, June 30, edition.
While shift work at a factory was paying the bills, it wasn’t the life Perez saw for herself. Looking for a more fulfilling career that also allowed her to spend more time with her three children, Perez went in an unexpected direction: Her own clown business.
She dubbed it El Mundo de Chispita, which translates to “The World of Sparkle.”
Donning vibrant wigs and frilly tutus, Perez transforms into her clown persona, Chispita, known by English speakers as Sparkle.
At children’s birthday parties and events, Perez unleashes her bubbly personality –– piñatas, balloons, games and face paint included.
It’s been 17 years since she started the party business, and in that time she’s grown into an area close to her heart: helping kids with special needs.
Perez works events catered to children with special needs and is in the process of launching her own foundation. Both efforts were inspired by her own daughter, Brenda Torres.
Now 16 years old, Brenda was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, when she was just more than a year old. Two years later, the cancer spread from one eye to the other, causing permanent blindness.
Despite her blindness, Brenda strives to live just like her peers.
“She can swim, play the guitar, play the piano, she models” Perez said. “I keep telling her, you’re blind, but you can do whatever you want.”
In the upcoming weeks, Perez will have established a foundation dedicated to her daughter called, Fundación Aby Angels y en la Tierra. This translates to Foundation Aby, Angels on Earth. Her daughter’s nickname and middle name is Aby
The proceeds raised through individual donations to the foundation will help fund Perez’s events for kids with special needs.
Brenda said the foundation’s spirit will reflect her mother’s motto.
“She tells me to not give up,” Brenda said. “There are a lot of special needs kids that want to give up on a lot of stuff, and people make them feel excluded. We don’t want that. We want to help them out.”
Perez recently reached out to the Mexican-American children’s musician who goes by the stage name, Tatiana. She messaged the singer and asked if she would be interested in helping with the foundation.
“I hoped that one day she would see the message,” Perez said. “I couldn’t believe it, but she texted back. She said she’d go for free and fly from Mexico.”
Perez said plans for an event with Tatiana will begin as soon as she receives the certification for her foundation.
Along with her big-picture plans, Perez works small acts of service into her clown business.
Two months ago she hosted a fashion show for her friend’s jewelry line, Naturaleza. Local children with special needs wore the handcrafted pieces and modeled them down a runway.
Perez intends to host more events like this with funds raised from her upcoming foundation.
Now as a U.S. citizen, Perez’s life, both business and personal, has become easier.
“I’m so happy,” Perez said. “I feel safer now that I’m a citizen, and I’m able to vote.”
Like many who go through the naturalization, she said the process was intimidating.
Perez didn’t know much English before moving to the U.S., and spent years learning both English and the history of the United States.
Brenda said her mother would stay up some nights studying for the naturalization test. This exam entails two parts — a civics test and an English reading, writing and speaking test.
Perez’s three children attended their mother’s naturalization ceremony on May 11, 2018, in Atlanta.
“I’m so relieved and happy for her,” Brenda said. “She works hard for whatever she wants. That inspired me to never give up and keep doing whatever it takes.”
Perez said she hopes that the citizens of Hall County realize that many immigrants like her “are good people.”
“I love helping people and the community,” Perez said. “People need to know that sometimes Hispanic people come here because they want to do better with their lives. They’re good, hard working people.”
Viviana Quijano, immigration attorney of Quijano Law in Norcross, describes naturalization as a “beautiful process.”
From her perspective, Quijano said she doesn’t see the steps to reach citizenship as difficult or tedious.
She said those who are married to a U.S. citizen and have remained a permanent resident can apply for citizenship after three years. Everyone else must live as a permanent resident with a green card for five years before pursuing naturalization.
In many cases, Quijano said people’s reservations are tied to their unfamiliarity with the English language.
Quijano said she offers an audio recording study guide, which helps people memorize the questions and answers in English.
“I like to motivate my clients,” Quijano said. “I tell them, this is the country where you can become whatever you want to be. Don't let fear stop you from becoming what you’ve always wanted to be.”
Like Quijano, Perez encourages those considering pursuing citizenship to “never say you can’t do it.”
“Some people say that they can’t speak good English and they’re scared,” Perez said. “You don’t need to be scared. You need to study, you need to work hard and feel comfortable. Don’t give up.”