Expat stories · Lifestyle

Colombian Views On Living In USA

Next in my series of America- women of the world (AmericaWOW), I spent a delightful afternoon talking to Martha Hurtado, who moved to America, from Colombia. She immigrated over 16 years ago, and yet she has an incredible passion about Colombia. She and gave me a glimpse into her life and shared some Pandebono. She spoke about her life in the United States, how she got here, the love for ‘work’ Colombians have and the kind of food she relishes from her home country.

A little about Colombia

Tara: Which part of Colombia did you move from?

Martha: I come from Pereira. My town is close to Pererira. Pererira is like a big city and my town is Santa Rosa. And there is good transportation to get to Pererira – buses, taxis and little buses.

Tara: What is one image that comes to you when I say Colombia?

First My family. I miss them. The kind people. There are many kind people. The nature. We have a lot of nature, nice places.

Martha: All the time we try to walk when I be there. Every morning we see mountains. In my town we have Thermal water. It is from the Earth, since the volcanoes is close. So we have big pools in my town of hot water. So that place is beautiful and that place is beautiful and we can take a swim.

I asked Martha about wild animals that might be around. Being from the tropics, I assume one gets to see exotic animals when they want to.

Martha: We have a lot of animals and birds. In Pererira there is a zoo and we have a lot of places to visit.

Tara: Do you know anything about Bogota, the capital city?
( I wanted to know about the 3rd highest capital city in the world.)

Martha: It has a lot of people. ( laughs)  It has people from many countries and from many cities. It is like cosmopolitan. It has a lot of museums to visit. But I don’t know too much about Bogota but I know it is the capital of my country. The weather is nice. It is a little bit cooler.

But Santa Rosa is warmer. It is maybe 22 Centigrade. My town is 65F.

Moving to and living in the United States

Tara: When did you move to the United States?

Martha: I came here in September of 2001.

Tara: Oh my gosh! After the 9 / 11.

Martha: Yes. I came here September 23. I am a little scary because the airport and everybody are very ….
But I don’t have trouble to come here.

Tara: Why did you move to the United States?

Martha: Well. Uhm. Everybody talking about the American Dream, so I want.. Always want to wish to know this country. Our country you have all the time, movies and actress, singers. Yes! All the time we see, snow and everything like that, so I want to see everything. So god gave me the opportunity and I came here, now America.

Tara: That’s great. I kind of feel the same way. When you do not get to see snow, when you do not get to see the colors change so much,

Martha: Yes it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. The fall, the trees change the color, I think it’s very nice.

People that live here, my friends from the US, take it for granted. They say, ” Oh ya! fall. Yup! Spring!” But for me that I have never seen it. But for me that I’ve never seen it, it blows my mind to see the red, orange, yellow, brown. I am sure you feel the same way.

Martha: And the snow too. It’s too beautiful. Sometimes it’s difficult, when the snow turns dark ( meaning icy) and is a little dangerous. But otherwise beautiful.

Tara: When you left your family and came her, what were your thoughts when you were leaving? Did you come by yourself?

M: Yes. I came by myself. Very scary and very sad. Because I left my family. And my mommy and my brothers and sisters and my nieces and nephew. They were small. Now, they are big.
Very sad. Because the Spanish people are very close. We try to sharing a lot of time together. But I think we need to ‘fly.’
When you become an adult, you need to go.
And I want to know, I want to see other opportunities and I think America is the place to get opportunities.

T: What were some of the difficulties that you faced, on your first few days here in America?

M: Maybe the language. But when the time passed, I found a lot of people that spoke the Spanish. ( Laughs) So here it is a second language. Where ever you go, you find somebody speaking Spanish. Oh! I say, ” I understand.” It is very good. I thinking about the language, but with the time, I am relax.

T: You are able to communicate with people.

M: Yes. In my high school in Columbia, we have an English teacher, so I have a creative teacher. ALl the time she moves in the class. She dancing, she moving, and swings. She moves the arms. All the time she is moving while saying everything. So I think she is had a good method to teach. So i have a little English, not too much.
She repeat and she moved, with the arms and the body all the time. I think that helped me a little

T: What were some of the thing you knew about America, before you came.

M: I think you can see a lot of people, different people. You can see Indian people, Asian people and Europe people. Even Americans are different. That’s very nice.

T: I feel the same way. That’s why I started this project. You can see all these different people, from all over the world, sitting here. Like I get to talk to you and I learn about Columbia from you, without having to go there. I get to know about the language, the culture, the food from you- a Colombian.

M: That is very good and you can try a lot of different flavors. The food. I like Indian food, I like Asian food. ( We laugh) It’s very nice.

T: You’ve lived in this country, for 16 years now. Do you feel like this is home?

M: Yes. Yes!I like America. Now with my husband, It’s more good. I have somebody. And we share a lot of time together, when we are off from our jobs.
( Later, Martha told me that she married a man from Dominican Republic, 7 years ago, whom she met at her church. I believe that’s when she truly started to feel at home, in America. She had her wedding ceremony in Colombia among her family and friends.)

But I think I am OK. I am here. I miss my family, and my country. But when I have time, when I have vacation, I try to go there and enjoy.

T: Do your parents, family come here to visit? Have they come.

M: Yes. But my father die a long time. But my mommy came to Jersey two years ago. She was with me 4 months. Maybe this year, coming again. or maybe next year. But I am going to Colombia to visit.

T: Now that you are an American, citizen, you had your first Jury Duty. What was your experience like?

M: Was very nervous. Very very nervous. My English no is good. I don’t speak a fluent English. When I received the ( notice) for my jury duty, very scary, very nervous. I ask my boss, ” HELP! PLEASSSSSE! I don’t know English.” So my boos said, “Ok, let me call her and tell her you no speak Enghlish.” And she call. The lady said, “You need to come. You have to come. If you citizen, you need to learn English.” (laughs) So I say, “Ok. Ok. I will try.” I went and when we were in the room with the Judge, he call us and talk with us and ask us. He was very nice. Very very nice. So the people went to him and I said to him, “Excuse me sir, my English, no is good.” And he said, “Ok. Do not worry, you can go. He was with 2 lawyers and he said “It’s ok my dear don’t worry. You can go.” He is very very nice.
Now I relax and go out. (laughs)

On work

Martha spoke to me about how hard working Colombians are. They will do just about any work.

When Martha, first arrived she was alone and had long work days. She began by working at a Colombian bakery, where she worked 13 hours a day, 6 days a week. Then then moved to working at a better paying restaurant and then to baby sitting and teaching Spanish to the children she baby sat.

Now Martha has a regular work day and loves the family she work with.

Colombian Food in New Jersey

T: Now I have some questions about Colombia and food. I am a vegetarian/ vegan. I know Colombian restaurants hardly have any vegan food. Is that the same in Colombia or is that only here?

M: In Colombia, you have a lot of vegan restaurants.I know one, small one in Pererira. Usually I going there, when I visit my family. They have a home made food. Very good. They have fish too. So vegan food and fish.
A lot of people put the small restaurants that are vegan. I think in Columbia, the people now is worried about health.

T: So are there lots of vegan dishes in Colombia?

M: I think so, ya. They are creative recipes.

T: They are newer though. But age old Colombian recipes are mostly meat based?

M: No. Now the people make at home creative vegan recipes. In Columbia, we have a lot of diversity of dishes. Usually with chicken, beef, chorizo. But now, the people is working in that direction- vegan restaurant.

T: Where do you go here, to get Colombian groceries or for  Colombian food?

M: In Bergan line (Bergan Avenue in West NewYork, NJ) you can find a lot of restaurants and bakeries. My favorite is Noches. They have a lot of Pandebono, Empanades, everything with the dishes. And you can find more in the Began line, restaurant and bakeries.

Martha explains that the long Began avenue has several Colombian restaurants and grocery stories. Taking the light rail and get off at 49 and you  it’s a long avenue from North Bergan to Union city. And, not to make it sound like she was advertising for them, but she loves the  Pandebono at Noches restaurant. The restaurant is apparently a chain and has branches 26th, 49th, 52nd and 90th street.

Martha was very kind and brought some Pandebono, this popular bread for me to try. She also went hunting for cheese Empanades for me, but unfortunately they were all out and only could get her hands on the Chicken and beef ones.

T: Is there a favorite grocery store, for Colombian groceries that, you go to?

M: We have a little store. They have a lot of things from Columbia. It is on 52 street and Palisade Avenue.
( On looking it up, I believe the store is called, Carniceria Latina.)

Empanadas which I did not try. 🙁

Advice and closing words:
T: What are some advice or some words you would say to a young couple moving to the United States?

M: I say, ” Come. Don’t worry.”
Because I know, my people, in Colombia, loves to work. If they want to work or they want to moving her to work, come here. Come and work and good luck. Para lante. ( Laughs) Go  Ahead! ( she gestures with spreading her hands.)

T: Is there a community that Colombians can become a part if, here in USA, New Jersey, in New York.

M: Yes. in New York there are a lot of people in Astoria. In Northern Blvd. You have a lot of Colombian people. Here in Bergan line, in North Bergan- you have a lot of Colombians.

T: You’ve made friends and know many Colombians here!

M: Yes. I have a lot of friends.

T: No wonder you feel settle here.
If there were Americans, going to visit Colombia, what would your word of caution or some words of comfort be?

M: In Colombia, now, we have a lot of people from other countries and we glad. We glad. And they like my country, That is very good. If people want to go, I think it’s Ok. But please don’t talk on your phone, outside. Some things like that, because some people will take it. With the family I work, I love them, I love the kids, so I am a little scared, when they say they want to go to Colombia. Because, unfortunately, Colombia is a little no safe country. It is a beautiful country, The people is very kind and the people are hard workers, but you know, a little people cause that much trouble.
But we glad that people wants to go visit to our country. It’s very nice.

T: Any things else you would like to share about your life here.

M: I know my experience here was good. I was some years alone, so no easy, but no! Now I am comfortable here and happy.

In case you were wondering–I did try the Pandebonos. Martha, warmed them up slightly in the microwave before I ate one. They were super airy, light and soft. It was like a slightly sweet dinner roll, but with the consistency almost like the Asian, steamed bun. It is pretty filling. But was a perfect tea time snack for me, since I’d had a super light lunch. Delicious!

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