Photo: Horacio Esparza
Mexican-born Horacio Esparza says his activism on behalf of the disabled began the day after he went blind at age 7 and from then on struggled to have his family treat him the same way his 10 siblings were treated.
“I had to fight from day one so there would be no privileges or overprotection, and so they wouldn’t let themselves be overcome by taboos and try to hide me out of shame, as often happened in those days when there was a disabled person in the family,” Esparza recalled in an interview with Efe.
Forty-seven years have gone by, and after a life full of challenges and difficulties in Mexico and the United States, Esparza since 2008 has been executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living in Illinois, located in the Chicago suburb of Forest Park.
“A lot of people discouraged me when I applied for the job, and I too believed they weren’t going to hire me because I was blind, Latino and inexperienced, but life had taught me to fight and win in the worst of circumstances,” he said.
Horacio, his mother and siblings remained behind in Mexico when his father migrated to Chicago for work.
After the accident at school that left him blind, he went five years without attending class because his mother feared something would happen to him
He returned to the classroom when he was 12 in Guadalajara, where his family found him a special educational center for the blind.
The family joined Horacio’s father in Chicago in the mid-‘70s and the determined teen completed high school in three years.
He got his higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in Mexico’s Valle de Antemajac University, and at the Guadalajara Autonomous University.
Horacio became involved in activism for Hispanic causes and for the disabled when he established a support group called United Sightless Latinos of Illinois.
They would meet Saturdays with the undocumented blind, who had no right to rehab services, to teach them braille and notions about orientation, movement and daily activities. “Motivation, acceptance and adaptation to a new life are very important,” he said.
Horacio Esparza has also hosted since 2005 a Saturday radio program on which the blind can share their experiences, and runs a campaign to make sure that immigration reform does not forget about the undocumented disabled.