From 4,000 miles away in Quito, Ecuador, Nora Quinonez spoke of what it's like to be a refugee and a lawyer.
An attorney in her native Colombia, Quinonez began getting death threats and then an attempt on her life after she became involved in her hometown politics. She fled to Ecuador, and now works as a community legal adviser with Asylum Access, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to refugee rights, while also operating a local tourism business.
Quinonez had been scheduled to tell her story in person Thursday evening at Asylum Access' annual reception for staff and supporters at The Fairmont hotel. But because, like so many refugees, she doesn't have a passport or a bank account, she was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy. "In my reality, how could I have a bank account?" she said in Spanish via video message.
"To have work is to have life," said Executive Director Emily Arnold-Fernandez.
Laszlo Bock, vice president of people operations at Google, spoke about his family's escape from Romania in the 1970s, which involved a brief stay at an Austrian refugee camp. "To become a refugee takes tremendous courage," he said, noting one typically gives up language, culture, friends and even family. "You in a very real sense give up who you are."
Quinonez put the same thought another way: "Among refugees, every voice speaks the same anguish."