Ten Minutes With Carola Otero Bracco
Neighbors Link Executive Director
Photo by Douglas Foulke
Carola Otero Bracco received her MBA from Duke and worked in financial management for several years before finding her life’s calling as executive director of Mount Kisco’s Neighbors Link, a center for our area’s burgeoning immigrant population. A tireless advocate for integrating our community, Bracco is a first-generation American. She lives just a mile away from her office with husband Andy and their children Jason, a college freshman, and Alicia, a Fox Lane junior.
How did your childhood influence your career? My family is from Bolivia but moved to the Washington, DC, area when my mom was pregnant with me. I’m the youngest of nine. So I watched as the rest of my family went through struggles adapting to life in this country. My dad was a lawyer in the public sector and instilled in us the importance of education and non-profit work.
How did you choose Mount Kisco as the place to put down roots? We had lived all over and knew we wanted a place that would give our kids a sense of my Latino heritage. We met the teachers, spoke to principals, and spent time here. The feeling of this community was what did it.
What have you seen as the biggest challenge facing the immigrant community? The loneliness and trauma of leaving family behind make it incredibly difficult for people to focus. It’s overwhelmingly debilitating to know that you may not see your children again or you can’t go back home when your mother dies. The most heartwarming thing for me is to see the courage and resilience these individuals have. Our work isn’t about sadness. It’s about changing the whole course of life for a family from one generation to the next.
What are some common myths? That’s easy: immigrants don’t want to learn English. I see the complete opposite every day. We teach classes from morning through night and still have a waiting list. It’s a huge challenge for someone to learn the language, study hard, raise a family, and hold down three different jobs. But we see parents in unbelievable numbers trying to understand how our school system works and how to be a part of it.
What has surprised you about our area? I had no idea I would be exposed to such a generous, affluent community. It’s fascinating for me to talk with mothers missing their children back home, then meet with others who want to fund programming to help these exact women.
How have you seen our community change in the last decade? We’ve come a long way in influencing the cultural dialogue. We provide cultural training to parents and children in school districts that aren’t that diverse. In one session we asked them to imagine the scenario where parents are forced to choose which of their children to bring to this country. It feels impossible, but this is a common problem facing immigrant families. It’s all about a conversation.