When Lakewood Ranch’s Sanddy Marchena received documentation in 1994 stating he was a U.S. citizen, being a teenager, he didn’t really realize the significance of the papers.
But he remembers his mother, Isabel Marizan, was ecstatic.
Reflecting on his life now at the age of 42, Marchena said his mother’s decision to emigrate her family from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. and obtain their citizenship led to a world of opportunities.
“I tell my wife all the time, that’s one of our most important documents,” Marchena said. “Now later in life, especially with what goes on in the world, I’m so thankful I’m a citizen of the United States. I’m thankful, but I’m also proud. I’m proud to call this country my country.”
In 1985, Marchena’s family moved to Manhattan, New York, after Marizan won a trip to New York as a reward for being the top salesperson for Mary Kay Cosmetics. She saw a world in which her sons could thrive and build successful lives.
At 5 years old, Marchena moved with his mother and brother Edwin to New York.
“I was young, but for my mother, I’m sure it was scary being the main provider for two children and one on the way,” Marchena said. “That key decision by my mother probably changed the trajectory of my life and my family now.”
After his family’s arrival in New York, Marizan’s first priority was for her children to learn English, Marchena said. His mother hired a tutor, and he went through a 30-day crash course in learning how to speak English.
“I must have learned well because I did really well in elementary school, grammar school and high school,” Marchena said. “It was important for my mom that as soon as we arrived I immerse myself in learning the language, even though to this day, she struggles with it.”
As a child, Marchena said he was like a sponge, wanting to learn anything he could and try new things, so he didn’t have a hard time learning the language or adjusting to life in the U.S.
But that doesn't mean he didn't notice the changes.
“I was a skinny kid from the Dominican Republic, and within six months of being here, I was pudgy and fat,” Marchena said with a laugh. “I discovered places like McDonald’s. I think that was one of my favorite places to go when I was 9 or 10 years old.”
Education has always been important to Marizan, so Marchena and his brothers always made sure they went to class, did their homework and studied.
“She believed education was the way to take our family to the next level,” Marchena said.
Marchena remembered his mother looking over his homework, even though she didn’t understand what she was looking at. But she always made sure he finished it.
The family moved to Union City, New Jersey, where Marchena continued his education.
His high school history teacher, Nellie Chapman, was instrumental in helping Marchena get accepted into Brown University. Chapman would take a group of students, including Marchena, on college tours.
“She believed before we even had an awareness that we could be successful and we could further ourselves,” Marchena said of Chapman.
Marchena recalled the day he received notice from Brown University regarding his application. He remembers watching a TV show where people were receiving acceptance letters to college.
“If it’s a regular letter, it means you didn’t get in; if you got in, it’s a big envelope,” he said. “I remember coming to my mailbox and seeing a big envelope. When I saw it was from Brown, I was excited. It’s the culmination of all my hard work. I’m not the smartest guy, but boy I will outwork you.”
When he graduated, Marchena gave his diploma to his mother as a symbol of gratitude for her influence in his achievement.
His mother, meanwhile, had been busy pursuing her own achievements, including owning multiple salons.
“If my mom had a 10th of the opportunities I’ve had in this great country, she’d be a known name,” Marchena said.
Marchena's career in banking with Capital One led to many good things in his life, including meeting his wife, Melodie Marchena, and learning about the Kiddie Academy franchise.
Marchena followed his mother's entrepreneurial example by purchasing two Kiddie Academies with his wife. They own Kiddie Academy of Cedar Knolls in New Jersey and took ownership of the Kiddie Academy of Lakewood Ranch on May 20.
He can’t wait for his mother to be able to visit him and his family in Lakewood Ranch so she can see the new business and the life he and Melodie have built for themselves and their daughters, Sophia and Camila.
“I can’t wait to see her eyes the first time she looks at the building,” Marchena said. “I know that she’ll be proud. I just wish I could do more.”
Marchena said becoming a U.S. citizen feels like a gift, and his job is to pass it on, whether that’s helping his staff at Kiddie Academy pursue their dreams or guiding his daughters to become contributing members of society.
Marchena wants to pass down his culture and Dominican heritage to his daughters.
“I don’t think you can go forward without understanding where you’re coming from,” he said.
Marizan’s decision to leave her family and friends in the Dominican Republic to move somewhere she only had been once before always has inspired Marchena to dream big.
“I need to be at least as courageous as my mom or at least 50% as courageous as her,” Marchena said. “That’s the great thing about this country: if you believe in yourself, if you’re someone who is resourceful, there’s nothing you can’t do. My mom had a vision, so for me, that’s what I try to impart on myself, my family, my two young daughters. I want them to have vision. There’s nothing they can’t accomplish.”