Lucia X, pseud.

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Hannah Jessen's interviews are a study of the lives of the mothers of migration, specifically the relationship between mother and child, the ways they support their families in a new context, the new concerns that come with raising their children in a different country, and their hopes for their families and for themselves in the future. In this interview with Lucia, Jessen hears from a migrant mother who was planning neither on coming to the United States, nor having children. However, her life was changed when she met her American husband while he was backpacking through her native Colombia. Now she is in the United States, studying to be a social worker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and raising their four-year-old son. She is a non-conventional Colombian woman who offered a unique perspective on bilingualism and biculturalism, as well as on the reasons for migrating.



Hannah Jessen: This is Hannah Jessen, and today I am interviewing Lucia. We are at El Centro Hispano on Monday, April 21, 2014 at 11 in the morning. Hello again, Lucia. It’s so nice to finally meet you after talking through email. Thank you for doing this interview with me. So just to start will you tell me a little bit about your past and where you’re from?
Lucia: I’m from Colombia. I’m from a city named Cartagena that is in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. And that makes a big difference because I haven’t met many Caribbeans, Colombian Caribbeans here. And when I say I’m from Colombia, people don’t understand why because the majority of the Colombians that are here are from the center of the country in the mountains. And there’s a big culture difference. So I always tend to explain that I’m from Colombia but from the Caribbean part of Colombia. Where I’m coming from there, tropical city. I don’t know what else specifically you want me to tell.
HJ: I guess maybe a little bit about your family.
L: My family, okay. My family -- I grew up in a family with my mom and dad and two older brothers. As it is normal there, I grew up very close to my mom’s side of the family and not too close to my dad’s side of the family. So my main links or the relationships are with my aunt and my grandmother, specifically, and then I have an uncle and a grandfather that I’m not also that close but --.
HJ: Okay, and they are all still in Colombia?
L: Yes, all of them are in Colombia. My brothers are in different cities in Colombia now, but they are in Colombia.
HJ: Okay. So I guess can you tell me a little bit now of when you decided to come to the States and kind of why?
L: [Laughs.] Yeah, well I guess it is a decision, but I never really dreamed about coming here. I was very curious about seeing the world and experience living in another culture, but it was more aiming for Europe more than the U.S. That is why I studied English since I was really little, and then I studied French. And I came to the U.S. because I happened to fall in love with a North American.
HJ: And where did you meet him?
L: We met there in Colombia. Yeah he was this backpacker that just pack and travel for years. So he was traveling from Beleza to Chile. And he travelled for a year and two months, and then he was right in Colombia with me.
HJ: Oh that’s so neat.
L: Yeah.
HJ: So you guys -- so you came back with him, or did you have to apply for a visa?
L: Well, yeah that was a little complicated because for both of us it was -- it’s like we really liked each other but none of us had the idea of you know getting bold with somebody who lives in another country. I wasn’t really thinking about it. But you know it was pretty special, it was powerful so we started just getting involved every time more without even noticing, and he went back after he finished his travel, he went back there and lived six months.
HJ: Went back to --?
L: To Cartagena.
HJ: Okay.
L: And he -- I was working in my thesis by that time. So he lived there for six months, and then he came back. We kept in touch. And then he came back for an entire year, and we moved in together there in Cartagena.
HJ: Okay, wow for a whole year.
L: And then -- for a whole year -- but then I got pregnant without planning
L: Oh goodness, yeah. But by that time you know it was hard because we really loved each other, we wanted to have a baby, you know. I was -- he wanted to marry. He had more experience with relationships than I did. So I knew I loved him, and I wanted to be with him. But I didn’t really want to come here. But then when there’s a baby involved, it makes sense. So yeah we start doing the process. While I was pregnant we applied for a fiancé visa. And we went through the whole process, and our son was born there in Colombia.
HJ: He was born in Colombia.
L: Yes, in Cartagena. By that time I was working at the university, and I also was fulfilling some post-graduate studies there.
HJ: Okay. And what year was this?
L: It was in 2009. 2009, 2010. Our son was born in 2010. April 2010, four years ago.
HJ: Okay.
L: So I got the visa. When our son was born I was done with my studies and my contract at the university. We came here. So his family -- well his mom and his sister went to Cartagena to meet the baby. And they went before when we were -- when he lived here the first six months I told you, they came here to meet me because they were like “Who’s this girl, that he’s like coming back to stay?” So they were very curious, so I met his mom and sister, his twin sister. And then we came here and the rest of his family was able to meet our son. And they are from St. Louis, Missouri. So our son was three months old when we came here. And I guess by that time is when I started to immigrate here, I immigrated here, we get married, and I start applying for the residency.
HJ: Okay. And do you have permanent residency now?
L: I do, yeah.
HJ: Great.
L: I can apply for -- to be a citizen. But I’m not ready to do that yet.
HJ: Not yet?
L: No.
HJ: You still hope that maybe someday you’ll be able to go back to Colombia to live?
L: Oh I -- yes, we definitely want to do that.
HJ: And he wants to as well?
L: He wants to, yeah he loves Colombia.
HJ: Good. Does he speak Spanish?
L: He does. Yeah, he has an amazing level of Spanish.
HJ: That’s great.
L: And he loves it, he loves the culture, the language. So that’s good.
HJ: Yeah. Well, so in your house now you just have the one son, correct?
L: Mhmm.
HJ: Does he speak Spanish and English, or how are you guys teaching him both?
L: Yeah we are. There are differing approaches you know when you have a bilingual family, bicultural. And we choose the approach that is one part one language. So I am the Spanish native speaker so I always speak Spanish with him. And my husband always speaks English to him. And you know that’s the general idea, but sometimes we find ourselves all of us speaking Spanish or sometimes we find ourselves speaking English. But that’s very rare. But we try most of the time just speaking Spanish to him all the time, he will speak English to him. But he is stronger in English now. But that goes in waves. Because his first years it was Spanish because I was spending more time with him so he didn’t go to school, so it was me who was here most of the time. So he was stronger in Spanish. And then when he goes out and has more other friends, and my husband’s mother moved here to North Carolina from St. Louis, and he was spending more time with her. So that goes in waves, you know, which one, which language grows stronger than the other. And then we go to Colombia, spend some time there and then he speaks Spanish better. But now he’s stronger in English, a little bit. Like when he speaks Spanish he says words in English, like he’s got the Spanglish going on.
HJ: Aw, that’s great though that he’s fluent though in both languages. That’s a great skill to have. And then culture-wise, how do you guys incorporate both American and Colombian culture in your family?
L: That’s a challenge especially because I think that my husband is not a very conventional American, and I’m not a very conventional Colombian or Latino American. We are -- I mean we’ve been called all of our lives weird in our own culture. So you know it’s very interesting. I was thinking about that and especially now that we were in the Easter time, and that’s very a big deal in my country especially in my city, we host semana santa because everybody there -- not everybody but most of the people are some branches of Cristianismo. And I grew up Christian but you know I’m not -- I don’t have any religion right now. I have a lot of respect for religion, but I don’t have any right now. Or I don’t practice any. But it’s very hard to separate the religious part from the culture part of it. So -- and that also happens to me when it’s Christmastime. You know I really don’t have the motivation to celebrate Christmas, but it’s a cultural thing. And then my husband comes from Judaism. He grew up Jewish. So we are like --.
HJ: An interesting mix.
L: What do we do? So I try to do the cultural parts of it, and I even told myself, okay for next year, for Easter I want to learn how to make this, I don’t know, it’s something sweet that we make there in my city during Easter. We call it dulces. It’s like -- the only thing I can think of is like a jelly but not as thick. It’s fruit-based, it’s really cool.
HJ: And what do you call it?
L: Dulces.
HJ: Dulces, oh okay.
L: It’s something sweet, so it’s like coconut with sugar or milk and it’s delicious.
HJ: Oh okay, sounds good.
L: So during this time, we do that so I was thinking, ‘I’m going to do that so my son has that,’ you know that we do this during Easter. We don’t do the bunny or the Easter bunny or whatever. That doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t -- and my husband never had that either so --. So I try to take some aspects of the cultural things that I think are very important. And also I think about my childhood. I loved my childhood, that was the happiest time of my life. I have a beautiful childhood. And you know I really think that -- we didn’t think about Santa Claus, we thought it was a baby Jesus who brought the presents. So I really think it was, you know, the baby Jesus bringing presents. I have all these fantasies and it was fun. And I really want to raise our child very rationally, that doesn’t have any of those fantasies of thinking that, you know, there is a Santa Claus or there is a Easter Bunny or whatever. So I try to do something that is related with my husband’s culture, Judaism, or the American culture in general and also from my culture.
HJ: Okay. So you were saying you had a really beautiful childhood. How do you think your son’s childhood here will be different from that?
L: Oh my goodness, yeah. A lot different. You know I grew up in Cartagena in [12:16] like a city by the ocean. And it has changed a lot because even my husband keeps telling me that like you know children now in Cartagena don’t have the childhood that you used to have. I’m getting close to my thirties, so it’s been a while and that’s the dynamic of reality. Reality changes from different ways. But it was super fun. It was -- I grew up in a working class neighborhood when there were a ton of kids, and every afternoon when it was cooler, because it’s a very, very hot city, you know, ninety degrees year round.
HJ: Wow, that is hot.
L: Yeah, so when the sun got cooler, we would just go out, want to play. The houses are so close together. Sometimes there’s just one wall separating one house to the other so you can hear the neighbor. You know that’s how close we lived there. And it’s a hot city so it’s a lot of outside, you know, people sitting in their yards just catching the wind, we say. I don’t know how you say that but like refreshing yourself with the wind. So it’s very an outside place, windows open, doors open all day. And he doesn’t have that of course. When it was raining, that was celebration for us, oh my gosh, it’s raining. We just go out and play in the rain all the kids. And sometimes I do that with him, you know, ‘it’s raining, let’s go outside.’ Especially all during the summer because I loved that when I was a kid. And I always have dogs, and here I can’t have dogs because it’s like having another child that never grows up. It’s expensive. And I had dogs, but our dogs were very wild. They would just come and go inside the house, we would feed them, they would just -- we didn’t have to fix them, they would reproduce themselves. And it was fun to have a dog like that, and now I feel a little sad that I’m not providing that for him, he’s not going to have a pet because --.
HJ: It’s a lot of work.
L: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, a lot of responsibility that we don’t want to have. We like to put the effort in something different. So it’s very different, but you know different is good too, and he’s got all the aspects I think that I didn’t have. Like learning two different languages from the very beginning, being a part of two cultures. This is going to be enriching in it’s own way.
HJ: Yeah, it’s rewarding in a different way. So how do you think your role of a mother is different here in the States than if you had -- say if you had married a Colombian man, and stayed there, and had children there, how do you think your role as mother here is different?
L: It’s huge. First, I’m having the experience of being a mom in this community that is a very progressive community in this area. And that’s also has made a lot of the mom I’m becoming. And I have a lot of problems or conflicts I will say when I go visit in Colombia. I have everybody giving me opinions about how should I raise my son. This is a simple example. You know our son was -- he grew up there and we were there for his first three months of life. And there was a huge pressure there that I should give him formula. And then our son was very fussy. I mean he is a very intense child. And everybody would just say, ‘Oh because you’re not giving him formula, he’s hungry all the time.’ And we really wanted to breastfeed him because I got pregnant and the first thing we do is reading everything about it and how to raise, what’s the best thing to do more than listening to my mom and other women around, what should I do. And everybody’s saying like yeah and then I have little boobs and they say, ‘you know, you can’t produce much milk there, where is he going to get -- he’s always upset because he’s hungry.’ So I have a huge pressure about giving him formula there. And also with giving birth. We wanted to have a natural birth with no anesthesia or anything like that or the epidural. And everyone was like oh my gosh, that’s going to be -- even my mom that she’s a very open-minded person and I am the way I am because of her, she really raised me in a very unconventional way to be a woman there. But still, she will be like freaking out because it’s better just, you know, go and get your C-section planned. You’ll be safe for you, safer for you, for the kid. No, we wanted to do it natural. So it was -- and this was not in Colombia, this was in my city because there are parts in Colombia that are more progressive than this city where I lived and I grew up. And then here is all the opposite. You know I encounter -- when we moved I encountered my neighbor, and she was all the opposite. She was having so much pressure because she couldn’t give birth naturally, she had all these complications, and then she couldn’t breastfeed her child because he had a very high pallet. And then she was having the opposite problem that I had so I think it definitely affects a lot of the way I am a mom. And especially you know like healthy habits, like in my country, I think I would generalize that kids -- you just give sweets to them. And I grew up eating sweets like crazy, and I really hope they wouldn’t have done that to me because when I get anxious that’s what I want, I need sugar. And with my son we are trying not to do that. And I think I am able to do that. I raise -- I got an awareness about healthier habits because of my contact with this culture and my husband. I think otherwise I wouldn’t have them. That’s just an example.
HJ: Right. So you feel like you have more freedom here in the way that you raise him instead of being influenced by family and culture?
L: Yeah I think there you just do that, what your mom tells you to do, and I think even I would’ve done a lot of -- at least with eating and stuff like that, I think I would’ve just do whatever she would suggest me and say advice.
HJ: Do you feel like your role as a wife is different here? I know being a mother here is different, but do you feel like being a wife is different here?
L: Wow. I really don’t know what life I would’ve been there. I mean I never really pictured myself as a wife. [Laughs]
HJ: Really?
L: Yeah.
HJ: Until you met him?
L: Yeah I guess, and I realized that when I met him and all the women of my age were already looking for guys and even younger there. Cause there, women get pregnant and have children at a very young age. And that’s very common. Not all of them, but it’s very common. So you know I noticed when I met him that I have all these plans for my life and none of them included meeting someone. And I wasn’t looking for someone. And it was very uncomfortable to feel that way for him, why do I want to be around him? I mean no, this feels weird. I even told him just don’t email me or call me cause this just feels too weird. I have my life planned and now everything is moving. So I don’t know, I really have no idea how. And my mom that she -- this is really funny because she was an activist when she was a young woman, very left wing, you know against the emperio. How do you say that?
HJ: Emperio? Empire?
L: Yeah. That the U.S. is the empire, she was very left wing. And then when I met him, I was feeling like this, well my dad’s going to be an American and my mom’s going to be freaked out because it’s an American guy I’m having feelings for. But she was excited because she was like, ‘Yeah, I would’ve guessed that you wouldn’t fall in love with a Colombian.’ So she was just excited that I just fell in love and there was the hope of a grandchild.
L: I don’t know if I’m making my point.
HJ: No, I understand. I think, was the word imperialism?
L: Imperialists, so she was against the imperialism. Like she was not very -- I thought she was going to be disappointed that I was getting involved with somebody from the emperio. That belonged to the --.
HJ: But she was just happy that you met somebody.
L: Yeah.
HJ: Was she disappointed before when you kind of decided that you maybe didn’t want to meet somebody or that you had different plans?
L: I didn’t -- I never decided, I just had --.
HJ: Just thoughts about it.
L: Yeah I mean it was not a conscious decision. I just -- it was not crossing my mind. You know I have a lot of aspirations. But meeting someone and having a family was not one of them. I just didn’t think about it. So I think she was partially, yeah, worried about it that I was just going to be a very successful, lonely woman.
HJ: Yes, I can see how a mother would be concerned about that.
L: Yeah I do too now.
HJ: Well what do you think has been the biggest challenge being a mother, whether it’s here or just in general?
L: Wow. Biggest challenge. I have a lot of challenges. Biggest one?
HJ: Or one of the biggest ones.
L: One of the biggest ones. I think it’s funny because this is probably not one of the biggest ones but for some reason it’s the first one I thought of: learning how to drive. [Laughs]
HJ: Oh really?
L: Yeah.
HJ: That’s interesting.
L: Yeah, and I think I could only survive without driving for two years was here in Carrboro. Yeah with a child, with a baby. Because here I could take the bus, I walked a lot.
HJ: Right, everything’s close.
L: It has parks, I mean just walking different directions. So that was only possible here in Carrboro to survive a long time. And it was hard for me to learn how to drive. It was -- you know there was a lot of things going on also.
HJ: And you were able to get your license with the visa that you had at that time?
L: Yeah, yeah. I just didn’t know how to drive cause I never did it and they never said I needed to learn to drive at some point. I’m not crazy about cars, I never thought I was going to have a car. Even just me -- it’s like it’s really hard for someone who doesn’t come from that place to understand, but even when I was driving the first time, I’m there, I’m freaking out, I’m cold and pale and I want to turn and then my hands are just like this. Like I didn’t even know how to maneuver.
HJ: Yeah, it’s not natural.
L: Yeah so that’s how it was for me to drive. And I think just driving brought out a lot of inner tension about moving here and being in a different country.
HJ: Having to learn new things that you didn’t think were necessary before.
L: And also, yeah, and also coming from feeling very competent in my own city, my own circle to here when there’s so many things I had to learn. And then for the first time I am experiencing feeling incompetent doing something. And the motherhood also faced me with that feeling so it was just too much for me to take at the same time.
HJ: Yeah cause it’s all new and foreign, so you kind of have to start over learning the ways here.
L: Yeah.
HJ: Yeah, I can imagine how that would be really hard. Are you glad ultimately though that you made that decision to come here?
L: Yes, yes. I am glad and especially now that I feel like I’m finally in a better place, when I know how to drive and my son is older and I find jobs here because that was another thing, finding jobs here. You know coming from being a professor there of philosophy and here when nobody will hire me because I don’t have any references here, they all tell me, yeah you have this amazing curriculum back in Colombia but how about here? So how did you start, right? So I’ve been working not in my field, but I am giving classes in Spanish and working with that ONG that works with Latino families that have made my days happier. That’s how I started volunteering also.
HJ: At the Human Rights Center?
L: Yes. And I also tried El Centro Hispano, but my son was younger by that time and I really couldn’t make it because I tried to do the tutoring program and it was like 6:30 and that was bedtime. And I tried but it didn’t work. So I tried again like a year later with the Human Rights Center.
HJ: Good.
L: So finally I’m getting to know people and being useful so right now I’m in a very good position. And now I got into this program at UNC.
HJ: Yeah, that’s great.
L: So I’m like, okay all these hard times the past year, now I’m getting the results, and I’m understanding that I had to go through all that to get to being in a better place, like now.
HJ: Right. And you’re feeling more competent now here?
L: Yes, more competent, definitely. Yeah I have that feedback that I wasn’t having for almost three years.
HJ: Wow.
L: Yeah. It was hard, but you know it’s like everything. When you have those kinds of experiences where you feel really uncomfortable but once you get through it and you are over it you realize how much you learned from that.
HJ: And that it was worth it.
L: Yeah, that it was worth it.
HJ: Do you think you want to have more kids in the future? Have you guys thought about that?
L: Yeah we have talked about that a lot, and at first we thought we will have another one, we will adopt one.
HJ: Oh okay.
L: But after the actual experience of having a child and also how hard it’s been for me to resume my professional life, we think maybe we’re just going to stop there with one. Because we don’t really see when it’s going to happen.
HJ: Right, it’s a lot of work.
L: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, and then I don’t want to have another one and send him to daycare at the age of six months or something. I was with this one almost for three years or two years fulltime. And it’s not fair to have another one and just not can be the same way I did. Not exactly the same way, but at least half of it. So we don’t think so, no.
HJ: Okay. Do you think it will be harder to be a mother next year when you’re in school again? Or I guess your son will be also in school. Will he be in kindergarten?
L: No he’s going to -- first he’s going to be one year and going to be in class. That’s why I took this longer program. So he already goes to preschool three days a week, half days. So he’s -- it’s funny when I told him that mommy was going to school, he said ‘so who’s going to take care of me?’
L: That’s what he’s worried about. He’s a worrier.
HJ: That’s sweet.
L: It’s funny, yeah. So I think it won’t change that much. And by the time I’m going to be busier, he’s going to go to preschool.
HJ: Okay, perfect. So you won’t miss out on much time with him?
L: Not much time, yeah.
HJ: Good. Well, let’s see. Yeah I think that was about all the questions, I had laid out. I didn’t know if you had any final thoughts or -- yeah, anything else to contribute?
L: I don’t know, I can’t think of anything right now.
HJ: Okay. No, that was great. It was really interesting to hear. It was a different perspective cause I’ve talked to several people but nobody who’s come here because they met somebody. So it was a different experience.
L: Yeah and that -- well, I can add this. I feel very out of place most of the time because where I’m coming from, the Colombian moms I encounter here, they came here first and then met their husbands here. And so they started from a desire of being in this culture and immigrated here, which was not my case. And also these moms that all of them are coming from a higher class level there in Colombia than I come from -- than I’m coming from. They are more like middle class there, and I come from working class there. So for me it’s always like a little barrier there between them and me because I don’t feel like I’m totally like them or we can really empathize in many things.
HJ: To relate.
L: Yeah to relate in many things, in many aspects of it. And also as I was saying at the beginning, all of them are coming from a different culture in Colombia than I’m coming from. I’m coming from the coast, and also sometimes there’s a little tension between the coast and the people from the interior because they think we’re lazy.
HJ: I didn’t know that.
L: Yeah.
HJ: That’s interesting. Do you also feel like there’s tension -- I know you do a lot of work with the Human Rights Center and other organizations. Do you ever feel like there’s tension between people who are still undocumented and you since you’ll be able to attain citizenship maybe one day if you want to? Do you think there’s tension there that it was -- that you kind of had that advantage to be able to obtain a visa?
L: Yeah, I don’t really think there is tension.
HJ: Good, that’s good.
L: I don’t think so. Yeah, all the opposite. I really feel when I work with the illegal immigrants that they’re so happy to have somebody that can speak Spanish to them.
HJ: Exactly.
L: And that, you know, they just -- and also I work at the -- this other organization I told you about that most of them are also illegal immigrants and families and they’re just happy to have someone they can speak Spanish to.
HJ: Who understands them.
L: Who understands them. So they don’t really think about like, oh you’re and legal immigrant, I’m not.
HJ: Cause you all still have the same experience of migration and change and challenge.
L: Yes, a similar experience. Because as I told you in my email, I came here as an immigrant, but I had a lot of guidance because my husband is from here. And then I have all his family that were crazy for me from the very beginning and very warm to me all this time. So I came here, and I found help and support.
HJ: And a community.
L: And a community. Yeah that’s right. And another thing is the same case with illegal immigrants.
HJ: They lack that community and the support often.
L: Probably they do have it but within the same illegal immigrant community.
HJ: Right, not from the outside.
L: Yeah, not from the people here in North America.
HJ: Which is unfortunate but true.
L: Yeah.
HJ: Okay well thank you again, this was so interesting to hear your story. So I appreciate you taking the time out.
L: Sure.