“Friends are the family you choose,” my parents would often say when I was young. As we moved to New York from Buenos Aires, those words became so incredibly real to me. Being away from my relatives made me look for that warmth and closeness in other places, and as my parents predicted, I found it in my friends.
As a sibling of a child with disabilities, it was always my “job” to be guarded, and to vet every single person that we met. This was a responsibility that I somehow assumed for myself and took seriously. This meant that it was always difficult for me to have a large group of friends. I always preferred a small, but remarkably close group. I was always protective and picked my friends wisely.
My lucky stars must have aligned the day I met Nelly, a September morning in 1997. I probably should also thank our daughters, Iliana and Carolina, for having sat together that day in kindergarten class! Needless to say, that spearheaded a friendship that would stand the test of time. But through all this time, there was something that really stood out about Nelly, who became like a sister to me, her daughters Iliana and Ivana, who are like my nieces, and their late husband and father, Anibal: Their ability to understand my brother, love him for who he is, and the desire to be of service to those like him.
I really have no words to express my gratitude to them. They allowed their love for my brother to serve as a guiding principle in their lives. I never had to pretend to be anything around them. I could be myself. I could express my doubts and my fears. And most important of all, I could blindly trust them with my brother’s life. After all, they designed their lives around children and adults with disabilities: Nelly, Iliana, and Ivana all work in the field, in different capacities, and make a huge difference in people’s lives daily.
And when I say they make a difference, I really mean it. They really, really do. They all participate not only in their professional capacities but also bend over backwards to advance the rights of people with disabilities around the world. They fight for access and inclusion in every area of life. They do this because of their love, commitment, and passion for what is right.
Nelly, Iliana, and Ivana, thank you for being who you are, and for your respect, love, and dedication. I am proud to call you my FAMILY.