New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Stories from Carolina del Norte

Jaycie Vos, Maria Silvia Ramirez, Laura Villa-Torres, and Hannah E. Gill, with illustrations by Matthew Huynh

“‘When I got here, I felt like I was reborn because I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t walk anywhere because I didn’t know where I was going. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t be myself. So I always kept my principles and my culture, but I was reborn.’”

Although there is a longer history of Latino1 migration to the United States,  in recent decades, individuals from across Central and South America and the Caribbean have been putting down new roots in the U.S. South at a particularly high rate, bringing about significant social, cultural, political, and economic change. Home to one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country, North Carolina has experienced a dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population has grown from less than half of 1 percent to 8.4 percent in the past three decades.2  The state’s 800,000 Latinos bring a diverse array of backgrounds, experiences, struggles, triumphs, and stories about migration, settlement, and integration from across Latin America to the American South. These newcomers include migrants and second generation youth, farm workers, DREAM activists, college students, teachers, business owners, public figures, and professionals, and their stories reveal that there is truly no one migration narrative or version of what it means to be Latino/a in North Carolina in the twenty-first century.

Since 2006, the New Roots Latino Oral History Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has documented these migrant stories and is one of the largest repositories of interviews related to new Latino migrant destinations in the South; the repository holds more than 160 recorded interviews and transcripts, in both English and Spanish, relating to the immigration and settlement of Latinos in North Carolina.3 Although this work captures only a fraction of Latino lives in the state, it reflects a great diversity of experiences, from the life-changing to the mundane: countries of origin, age at migration, languages spoken, foodways, and cultural practices. These stories take us from deep suffering to acts of courage and resilience, and from discrimination to acceptance in a new home. New Roots oral histories shed light on the complex identities and experiences of new immigrants, and they help contextualize the region’s transforming social, economic, political, and cultural landscape in a time of significant immigration and educational reform.

Ed. Note: Interviews that are presented first in Spanish were conducted in Spanish, and interviews presented first in English were conducted in English. Transcribed segments have been condensed and edited for publication. Audio and full transcriptions available at newroots.lib.unc.edu.

Explore the New Roots/Nuevas Raíces website for interactive maps and more.

Video by Andrea Patiño Contreras and Victoria Bouloubasis.

Pedro J. Carreño

Interviewed by his daughter,
Michelle Carreño | April 11, 2015 (R-0803)

Pedro J. Carreño was born in La Uvita, located in the Andean mountains in Boyacá, Colombia. He grew up on a farm, and migrated to Bogotá for more opportunities at age seventeen. He married and had a child, and his family decided to venture out for new horizons and moved to New York. After twenty years in Long Island, his family moved to North Carolina, where his daughter Michelle grew up. Food plays an important role in his family, and he connects dishes from his hometown and what he grew on his parents’ farm to family traditions, identity, and overall balance and health in life.


 

LISTEN:
Pedro J. Carreño, Part I
Debiésemos enfocarnos más en calidad que en cantidad. La vida es eso – balance. El balance entre todos sus elementos.

Mi madre es la que hacia toda las cosas en la casa. Mi padre  era un farmer. Él trabajaba en una granja y todo el día se la pasaba trabajando. Ella era la que estaba en la casa cuidándonos, ella era la que se encargaba de hacer el almuerzo, ella era la que se encargaba de llevarnos a la escuela. Se encargaba de todas esas cosas. Y pues este es el rol que mas o menos la mayoría de las madres latinas tienen.

Siempre estábamos con ella en la cocina y veía mientras ella preparaba la comida. Entonces allí uno se da cuenta que ingredientes se usaban, como los usaban, cuanto lo cocinaban, todo eso. Cuando habían reuniones familiares, como por ejemplo si había una cosecha, mi abuelo recogía su cosecha y en esas reuniones había muchísima gente y se conjugaba muchos estilos de cocinar. Cuando había abundancia se comía bastante y cuando no, no.

La comida latinoamericana es una identidad múltiple. Desde México hasta la Patagonia hay mucha diversidad de comidas. A ver, ¿que otros platos? En la costa se come pescado…el coco es muy esencial lo preparan en el arroz, lo preparan en la salsas , lo  preparan en no se que cosas. En las montañas está el cocido que es una serie de tubérculos o sea como la papa y un montón de otras cosas. En Nariño ellos comen mucho cuy que son los conejillos de indias. Es una tradición incaica que viene desde el Perú y trascendió hasta el sur de Colombia.

La comida en la región de donde vengo es una comida que se ha generado por necesidades. La gente busca elementos para cocinar y para preparar sus comidas fuera de lo común ya que no hay suficientes recursos para comprar todas las cosas que la gente quisiese. Me acuerdo que por ejemplo una de las cosas que más me gustaba era una sopa que mi tía, mi abuela, y mi madre preparaban. Se llama cuchuco. Mi tía salía a las fincas a recoger hierbas salvajes. Había una hierba que se llamaba revanca. Ella colocaba esa hierba a esta comida y le daba un aroma muy rico. La sopa es basada en trigo y le colocaban algo de carne cuando había y cuando no había, pues no carne.

Mi padre construyo su horno de ladrillo en lo cual en leñas preparaba todo. Primero, preparaba el pan, la comida, todo eso. Todo se hacia desde el principio al fin y se usaban casi todas las cosas. Por ejemplo, sí mataba un animal no se desperdiciaba y unas de las cosas que él decía era para rendirle un tributo a los animales habría que utilizarlos todos. La idea era no desperdiciar. Como la familia surgió de bajos recursos, para poder sobrevivir la idea principal era consérvalo y utilizarlo todo. Entonces, esto es una de las gran cosas o diferencias que veo entre la sociedad estadounidense y lo que viví cuando era joven allá en Colombia. O sea que realmente aquí esto esta industrializado y se pierde la calidad y se hace cantidades masivas y hay mucho desperdicio.

La industrialización de la comida ha hecho un gran daño a las personas. Y lo podemos ver en la obesidad de los niños en las otras enfermedades que hay. Las personas son lo que comen.

Entonces, debiésemos enfocarnos más en calidad que en cantidad. La vida es eso – balance. El balance entre todos sus elementos, se puede aplicar a la comida, se puede aplicar a la manera de pensar, se puede aplicar a la manera de trabajar, de todo. ¿Entiendes? Tienes que buscar un balance porque por momentos uno se deja llevar por las cosas y se pierde ese balance.


 

LISTEN:
Pedro J. Carreño, Part II
LISTEN:
Pedro J. Carreño, Part III
We should focus more on quality than quantity. That’s what life is—balance, the balance between all its elements.

My mother did all the things around the house. My father was a farmer. He worked on a farm and spent all day working. She was the one that took care of us, she was in charge of making lunch, she was in charge of taking us to school. She took care of all that. And, well, this is the role that more or less the majority of Latina mothers have.

We were always with her in the kitchen, and I watched as she prepared the food. There, I learned what ingredients were used, how they were used, how long it was cooked, all of that. [M]y grandfather picked his harvest and in those gatherings a lot of people came, bringing together different styles of cooking. When there was abundance, we ate a lot and when there wasn’t, we didn’t.

Latin American food has multiple identities. From Mexico to Patagonia, there’s a lot of diversity in the foods we eat. Let’s see, what other dishes? On the coast they eat fish . . . coconut is very essential. They prepare it with rice, they prepare it in sauces, they prepare it in I don’t know what else. In the mountains there’s cocido, which is a series of root vegetables, like potatoes and a bunch of other things. In Nariño they eat a lot of cuy, which are guinea pigs. It’s an Incan tradition that came from Peru and transcended to the south of Colombia.

The cuisine in the region where I come from originated out of necessity. The people seek elements in their cooking and in preparing their foods that aren’t common since there aren’t enough resources to buy all the things the people would like. I remember, for example, one of the things I liked the most was a soup that my aunt, grandmother, and mother prepared. It was called cuchuco. My aunt would go out to the farms to pick wild herbs. There was an herb called revanca. She would add that herb to this food and it gave it a delicious aroma. The soup is based on wheat and they added meat when it was available, and when it wasn’t, then no meat.

My father constructed a brick oven in which he prepared everything over wood. First, he prepared the bread, the food, all of that. Everything was made from beginning to end using almost all the parts. For example, if an animal was killed, no part was wasted, and one of the things he used to say was that in order to render a tribute to the animals, all parts must be used. Since the family came from humble beginnings, in order to survive, the primary idea was to conserve and use everything. So, this is one of the big differences that I see between the society in the United States and [how] I lived when I was young in Colombia. Here things are industrialized and you lose the quality and massive amounts are made, creating a lot of waste. Industrialization of food has caused great harm to people. And we can see it in the obesity of children and other illnesses that exist. People are what they eat.

So we should focus more on quality than quantity. That’s what life is—balance, the balance between all its elements. It can be applied to food, it can be applied to a way of thinking, it can be applied to a way of working, to everything. You understand? You have to find a balance because sometimes one gets carried away with things and loses that balance.

Rodolfo Toledano García

Interviewed by Michelle Carreño
March 26, 2015 (R-0809)

Rodolfo Toledano García was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. Following his older brother’s footsteps, he moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, ten years ago, searching for a better future. He works as a chef and has an innate passion for cooking, which he attributes to his mother and grandmother. 


 

LISTEN:
Rodolfo Toledano García, Part I
Cuando llegué aquí, me sentí como que volví a nacer porque no podía hablar.

Yo soy una de esas personas locas que cree que la educación puede cambiar el mundo. Creo que educar a  las siguientes generaciones puede terminar con tantas cosas que no deberían estar aquí, como la discriminación, como robos, drogas, asesinatos todo eso. Creo que todo viene de la base de la casa y la educación puede cambiar todo eso.

La educación que se recibe, es una gran base para pensar diferente. Otra cosa es llegar a un mundo que es totalmente diferente. Un país que no conozco, una ciudad que nunca he pisado, un idioma que no hablo.  Cuando llegué aquí, me sentí como que volví a nacer porque no podía hablar, no podía caminar a ningún lado porque no sabía dónde iba. No podía hacer nada, no podía ser yo. Entonces, siempre mantuve mis principios y mi cultura. Pero volví, volví a nacer de un cierto punto: aprender costumbres diferentes, aprender otro idioma, a ver la vida de diferente manera.

Siempre he estado contra el machismo y siempre he creído que la mujer es igual que el hombre. Desgraciadamente en nuestra cultura la mujer es quien se queda en la casa. Se queda cocinando y cuando llega [el hombre] de trabajar, la mujer tiene que tener la comida lista. Creo que no es justo, no es correcto.

Estoy demasiado agradecido con este país. Creo que es lo mejor que me ha pasado es haber venido aquí. Porque si no, no estaría hablando de lo que estoy hablando ahorita. Tal ves si no hubiera venido yo aquí, sería una de esa personas machistas de las que hable y con cual no estoy de acuerdo.  Porque hubiera crecido en ese ambiente y quieras o no te hace de ese mismo tipo.

Cuando llegue empecé lavando trastes y siempre con esa ambición, con esa hambre de salir adelante. Es a lo que viene uno.  Y después empecé a cocinar y dure cocinando un rato. Obtuve muchas experiencias cocinando. Después fui supervisor y ahora soy gerente y cada día creciendo más…¡Me encanta! [mi trabajo].

Me he acostumbrado tanto a este país que no creo que puedo vivir en México, no le digas a mi mamá [Risas] porque no le va gustar. Pero me gustaría regresar a ver mi familia, mi gente, mis amigos, pero de vivir en México, ya no lo veo como una opción. Me encanta vivir en este país, la gente que conozco, mis amigos, todo. Estoy muy agradecido.


 

When I got here, I felt like I was reborn because I couldn’t speak.

I’m one of those crazy people [who] believes that education can change the world. I think that educating the next generations can end so many things that shouldn’t be here, like discrimination, robberies, drugs, homicide, all that. I think it all comes from the base of the home, and education can change all of that.

The education you receive is a great foundation for thinking differently. Another is arriving in a world that is completely different. A country I don’t know, a city I’ve never stepped in, a language that I don’t speak. When I got here, I felt like I was reborn because I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t walk anywhere because I didn’t know where I was going. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t be myself. So I always kept my principles and my culture, but I was reborn. I was reborn in a certain way: learning different customs, learning a new language, seeing life in a different way.

I’ve always been against machismo and I’ve always believed that women are equal to men. Unfortunately, in our culture [in Mexico], the woman is who stays at home. She stays cooking and when [the man] arrives from work, the woman needs to have the food ready. I don’t think that’s fair, it’s not right.

I’m so grateful to this country. I think the best thing that ever happened to me was coming here. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be talking about what I’m talking about now. Perhaps if I wasn’t here, I would be one of those chauvinistic persons I was talking about and whom I disagree with. Because I would have grown up in that environment and whether you want it or not, it makes you of that same type.

When I got here I started cleaning dishes, always with that ambition, with that hunger to get ahead. It’s why we come here. And later I started to cook and I continued cooking for a while. I got many experiences cooking. Later I became supervisor, and now I’m a manager, and every day growing more. I love [my job].

I’ve gotten so accustomed to this country that I don’t think I could live in Mexico. Don’t tell my mother [laughs] because she wouldn’t like it. But I would like to return to see my family, my people, my friends. But living in Mexico, I don’t see it as an option anymore. I love living in this country. The people I know, my friends, everything. I’m very grateful.

LISTEN:
Rodolfo Toledano García, Part II
LISTEN:
Rodolfo Toledano García, Part III

Emilio Vicente

Interviewed by Hannah E. Gill
June 25, 2014 (R-0699)

Emilio Vicente, a recent UNC graduate and activist for immigration reform, was born in Guatemala and moved with his family to Siler City, North Carolina, in 1997. He is a native K’iche speaker and was educated in U.S. schools where he learned English and Spanish. His parents worked in the agriculture industry until his father was paralyzed in a workplace accident, and they moved back to Guatemala with Emilio’s younger sister, while he and his older brother stayed in the United States. Emilio began advocating for undocumented students as a high school student, and has since worked in Washington, D.C., with the United We Dream organization, Students United for Immigrant Equality, and One State One Rate at UNC. He garnered national attention during his campaign for Student Body President at UNC.


 

LISTEN:
Emilio Vicente, Part I
Part of not identifying as indigenous was because I think it felt shameful for people to say that because you want to be the mestizo, like, the white person.

I grew up speaking K’iche’ [a Mayan language spoken by indigenous peoples] in Guatemala. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t know English or Spanish, so I was put in ESL classes. It was little bit harder because most  ESL classes are for Latinos. They speak Spanish. It’s obviously hard adjusting, but it was even harder for me and my mother because she was also in the same position. She didn’t know that much Spanish. The first few months [were] definitely an adjustment because it was completely different from what I was used to. Luckily, we were able to surpass the language barrier, and I enjoyed going to Siler City [NC] Elementary. During that time, North Carolina was going through a rapid migrant change, demographic change. It has now crossed the South, especially North Carolina, and definitely Siler City. So you see a really great example of what was happening or has happened since. Since then, a lot of my classmates were more majority Latino.

I was actually back in Siler City three weeks ago and my niece was graduating from the fifth grade class of Siler City Elementary . . . Now they have dual language classes where they teach you Spanish and English, formally. It’s not an ESL, or it’s not Spanish class. It’s a formal, educational setting where they’re talking in Spanish and English, where they teach you everything. It was great to be there at the graduation ceremony and see little kids speaking in Spanish and English. Even the little white kids were speaking perfect Spanish and I was blown away.

I definitely felt like I was an outsider during the first few years, because I knew other Guatemalans and they also spoke other languages. I don’t recall anyone out in my school who also spoke K’iche’, so it definitely made it harder.

I don’t speak it anymore because my dad was really adamant about, “You should learn Spanish and English. Those are going to be what is going to make you successful.” And also because I definitely saw that there’s a lot of racism in Latin America, maybe even more racism than there is in the U.S., towards indigenous peoples. So part of not identifying as indigenous was because I think it felt shameful for people to say that because you want to be the mestizo, like, the white person. Overall, you want to have a good complexion, you don’t want to be treated [badly] or judged because of your broken Spanish. I even remember my mom—I mean, she was definitely older when she came, so it was harder for her to learn Spanish, and I’m amazed that she learned it really well . . . She had an accent and it wasn’t her native language, and so I remember people making fun of her, or other Latinos making fun of her, because she couldn’t express herself and it made me frustrated and mad at people because they were judging me and my family because we couldn’t speak the language. But, overall, they were in the same position as we were.

I grew up under this mindset that I have to learn Spanish and English, I shouldn’t speak K’iche’ because it’s worthless, or it’s not going to help me in the future. It wasn’t until like four or five years ago, I realized that, “Oh wait, I should be proud of my heritage because it means a lot and there are great people who are indigenous and who have done amazing stuff.”

One of the things that I really wish, going back, definitely would have been having learned the language. I can understand it, but I can’t speak it anymore. It’s definitely frustrating. My grandmother, luckily, fortunately, is still alive, but she only speaks K’iche’. She understands Spanish and so whenever I talk to her I’m speaking to her in Spanish and she’s speaking in K’iche’. So it’s kind of a weird dynamic, and I really wish that I could speak it or even write it. Because I think it would be great to [immerse] myself in my own culture. Because I definitely don’t know my own culture, my first culture, at all.


 

LISTEN:
Emilio Vicente, Part II
LISTEN:
Emilio Vicente, Part III
Parte de no identificarme como indígena fue porque, yo creo, daba vergüenza a la gente decirlo, porque quieres ser mestizo, como la gente blanca.

Yo crecí hablando K´iche´ [un idioma maya que hablan algunos grupos indígenas] en Guatemala. Cuando vine a los Estados Unidos, yo no sabía ni inglés ni español, así que me pusieron en clases de inglés como segunda lengua. Fue un poco más difícil porque las clases de inglés como segunda lengua son para Latinos. Ellos hablan español. Es obvio que es muy difícil adaptarse, pero fue incluso más difícil para mí y mi mamá porque estábamos en la misma situación. Ella no sabía casi nada de español. Los primeros meses fueron realmente de adaptación porque todo era completamente diferente a lo que yo estaba acostumbrado. Por fortuna, pudimos sobrepasar la barrera del lenguaje y pude disfrutar ir a la escuela primaria de Siler City. Durante ese tiempo, Carolina del Norte estaba pasando por un cambio muy rápido en términos de la población migrante, cambios demográficos. Había ya cruzado el sur, especialmente Carolina del Norte, y definifivamente Siler City. Ahí ves un gran ejemplo de lo que estaba pasando o ha pasado desde entonces. Ya desde ese momento muchos de mis compañeros de clases fueron mayoritariamente latinos.

De hecho, estuve en Siler City hace tres semanas y mi sobrina se estaba graduando del quinto año en la escuela primaria de Siler City. Ahora tienen clases bilingües, donde enseñan español e inglés formalmente. No es una clase de inglés como segunda lengua y tampoco es una clase de español. Es un sistema de educación formal en el que están hablando en español y en inglés y en donde te enseñan de todo. Fue maravilloso estar ahí en la ceremonia de graduación y ver a los niños pequeños hablando español e inglés. Incluso los niños blancos pequeños estaban hablando español perfectamente, yo estaba totalmente sorprendido.

Definitivamente yo me sentía como un extraño durante los primeros años, porque yo conocía a otros guatemaltecos y ellos también hablaban otros idiomas. No recuerdo a nadie en mi escuela que también hablara K’iche’, así que definitivamente lo hizo más difícil.

Realmente ya no lo hablo porque mi papá estaba empeñado en, ¨Debes aprender a hablar español e inglés. Ésos son los que te van a llevar a ser exitoso.¨ Y también porque definitivamente creo que hay mucho racismo en Latinoamérica, incluso más racismo que aquí en los Estados Unidos, en contra de la gente indígena. Así que parte de no identificarme como indígena fue porque, yo creo, daba vergüenza a la gente decirlo, porque quieres ser mestizo, como, la gente blanca. En general, quieres tener una buena complexión, no quieres ser tratado [mal] o juzgado porque no hablas bien español. Incluso recuerdo a mi mamá – quiero decir, ella definitivamente era más grande cuando vino, por eso era más difícil para ella aprender español y estoy sorprendido de que lo aprendió muy bien . . . Ella tuvo un acento y era su lengua nativa, y entonces recuerdo a gente burlándose de ella, u otros latinos burlándose de ella, porque no podía expresarse y eso me hizo sentirme frustrado y enojado con la gente porque me estaban juzgando a mí y a mi familia porque no podíamos hablar el idioma. Pero, en general, ellos estaban en la misma posición en la que nosotros estábamos.

Crecí con la idea de que tenía que aprender español e inglés, que no debía hablar K’iche’ porque no vale nada, o porque no me va a ayudar en el futuro. No fue hasta hace como cuatro o cinco años que me di cuenta de que, “Espera, debería estar orgulloso de mi herencia, porque significa mucho y hay gente genial que son indígenas y que han hecho cosas maravillosas.”

Una de las cosas que realmente deseo, regresando, definitivamente sería haber aprendido la lengua. La puedo entender, pero ya no la hablo. Es definitivamente frustrante. Mi abuela, afortunadamente, todavía está viva, pero ella solo habla K’iche’. Ella entiende español y así que cuando hablo con ella, le hablo en español y ella me habla en K’iche’. Así que es una dinámica extraña y realmente desearía poder hablarlo o incluso escribirlo. Porque creo que sería genial [adentrarme] en mi propia cultura. Porque yo definitivamente no conozco my propia cultura, mi primera cultura, para nada.

Daniel Correa

Interviewed by Luis Acosta
February 26, 2015 (
R-0807)

Daniel Correa is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied journalism with an emphasis in advertising. He immigrated to the United States with his parents and younger sister from Bogotá, Colombia, in 2001, seeking political asylum. Correa moved to Miami at the age of eight and then to Cornelius, North Carolina, when he was thirteen to finish school. He was in a special English–Spanish learning program in Miami before coming to North Carolina.


 

LISTEN:
Daniel Correa, Part I
I don’t think we should ever take anything for granted.

I was born in Colombia. When I was 8 years old, the year 2001, the same year as the Twin Towers, that November we came to Miami, just in search of a better life. My parents came here to find better opportunities for me and my sister. And yeah, just a better future.

Columbia in the early ’90s, late ’80s, it was a dangerous place [with] drug campaigns, and Pablo Escobar, and many drug cartels. My mom was a journalist at those times. One reason she told me we came to this country was because she got a threat from the rebel forces over there . . . It was a minor threat, but to this day, [the rebel forces] are still in Colombia. They are not as violent as they used to be, but they still use terrorist tactics, and they kidnap important people in Colombia, and my mom didn’t want to take that risk . . . She asked for political asylum and they gave it to us, and we got to this country. Before that, my dad—he actually came to the U.S. because my uncle was already in Delaware. So my dad came to the U.S. and started working with him. And soon, the threat happened, and we decided to move over here.

[My mom] really wanted to go back because my whole family is over there. Literally everybody—my uncles, grandparents, cousins—and I guess you could say we are a small family; there [are] no more than 20 people and we are really close to each other. I guess that was really hard on her, and I was very young, but she tells me stories that [it was] hard on me as well. But yeah, she decided she wanted to go back and visit—and sometimes she wants to go back for good—but she was really persistent about how she wanted us to have a future here. She wanted us to become American citizens, because once you learn English, you’re bilingual, you are an American citizen. You can travel anywhere, doors open up for you as far as opportunities. That is the reason we are still here.

As soon as I moved here, it was a really hard change. I was really used to having people understand where I came from—and having the same struggles. The majority of my friends in Miami are Colombian. They were in the same situation that I was in. They came to this country for a better future, and my parents became friends with their parents. I guess I just created a bond, because we would know all the struggles we went through. Here in North Carolina it wasn’t like that. It was tough in the beginning, but I adapted to it . . . At the same time, I became an American as far as my customs, hobbies, and [the] majority of the things I do reflect more of an American than a Colombian [identity.] It’s not a bad thing, I just think we shouldn’t forget where we come from.

My mom is a journalist and now she has now transitioned into public relations. I guess I’m in the same field—I’m in the Journalism school—but I’m doing advertising as my concentration. Advertising is a totally different business, but that’s what I’m going for. [During my] first and second year of college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I think she helped me out a lot. I also had a lot of support from career counselors from my old school, and thanks to God everything turned out well.

[W]e should value sacrifices that people make . . . For [my parents], they made a huge sacrifice so that me and my sister could have a better life. It’s a sacrifice that I won’t ever forget. It’s the reason I’m at one of the best universities around now. I don’t think we should ever take anything for granted.


 

LISTEN:
Daniel Correa, Part II
LISTEN:
Daniel Correa, Part III
No creo que debemos dar nada por sentado.

Yo nací en Colombia. Cuando tenía 8 años, en el año 2001, el mismo año que cayeron las torres gemelas, ese noviembre nos venimos a Miami en búsqueda de una mejor vida. Mis padres vinieron acá para encontrar mejores oportunidades para mí y mi hermana. Y sí, sólo un mejor futuro.

Colombia, en el comienzo de los años ’90, en los últimos años de ’80, era un lugar peligroso…[con] campañas sobre las drogas, y Pablo Escobar, y muchos carteles de droga. Mi madre era una periodista en esos tiempos. Una razón que ella me contó por lo cual vinimos a este país fue por amenazas que ella recibió de fuerzas rebeles al . . . fue una amenaza pequeña, pero hasta el día de hoy [las fuerzas rebeldes] siguen en Colombia. No son tan violentas como eran antes, pero siguen usando tácticas terroristas, y secuestran a gente importante en Colombia, y mi madre no quizo tomar ese riesgo . . . Ella pidió asilo político y nos lo dieron, y llegamos a este país. Antes de eso, mi padre—en realidad él vino a EE.UU. porque mi tío ya vivía en Delaware. Entonces mi padre vino a EE.UU. y comenzó a trabajar con él. Y al poco tiempo, la amenaza ocurrió y decidimos mudarnos acá.

[Mi madre] en realidad quería regresar porque toda la familia está allá. Literalmente todos—mis tíos, mis abuelos, mis primos—y creo que podrías decir que somos una familia pequeña; no [hay] más de 20 personas y somos muy cercanos. Creo que eso fue muy difícil para ella, y yo era muy pequeño, pero ella me cuenta historias de que fue difícil para mi también. Pero si, ella decidió que quería regresar y visitar—y a veces ella quiere regresar para siempre—pero ella fue bien persistente en que quería que tuviéramos un futuro aquí. Ella quería que fuéramos ciudadanos americanos, porque cuando ya aprendes inglés eres bilingüe, eres un ciudadano americano. Puedes viajar a donde quieras y las puertas se abren para tí con respecto a oportunidades. Esa es la razón por lo cual todavía estamos aquí.

Tan pronto como me mudé aquí, fue un cambio muy duro. Yo estaba muy acostumbrado a que la gente entendiera de dónde vengo—y que tuvieran las mismas dificultades. La mayoría de mis amigos en Miami son colombianos. Se encontraban en la misma situación en la que yo estaba. Ellos vinieron a este país para un futuro mejor y mis padres se hicieron amigos de sus padres. Supongo que creamos un vínculo, porque entendiamos todas las luchas que hemos pasado. Aquí en Carolina del Norte no fue así. Fue difícil al principio, pero me adapté . . . Al mismo tiempo, me convertí en un americano en cuanto a mis costumbres, pasatiempos, y [la] mayoría de las cosas que hago reflejan más una [cultura] americana que colombiana. No es una cosa mala, sólo creo que no debemos olvidar de dónde venimos.

Mi mamá es una periodista y ahora trabaja en relaciones públicas. Creo que estoy en el mismo ámbito—estoy en la escuela de periodismo—pero mi concentración es publicidad. La publicidad es un negocio totalmente diferente, pero eso es lo que estoy haciendo . . . [Durante mi] primer y segundo año de universidad no estaba seguro de lo que quería hacer. Creo que ella me ha ayudado mucho. También tuve gran apoyo de consejeros de carrera en mi vieja escuela, y gracias a Dios todo salió bien.

[Nosotros] debemos valorar los sacrificios que la gente hace. . . Por [mis padres], ellos hicieron un enorme sacrificio para que mi hermana y yo pudiéramos tener una vida mejor. Es un sacrificio que no voy a olvidar nunca. Es la razón por la que estoy en una de las mejores universidades. No creo que debemos dar nada por sentado.

Alma Islas

Interviewed by Kayla Schliewe
March 18, 2015 (R-0811)

Alma Islas was born in Mexico City and moved to North Carolina as a small child with her family. She recently graduated from UNC, where she studied public policy and entrepreneurship. Islas joined Students United for Immigrant Equality, a student organization, and worked to promote awareness about immigration issues, particularly in higher education.


 

LISTEN:
Alma Islas, Part I
The American Dream, per se, gets crushed a lot, or comes with many obstacles for you to [overcome] when you don’t have documented status.

On paper, I always tend to say I am Mexican. Although I do have a deep appreciation for my culture, I honestly don’t feel like a Mexican. I feel like I am just as American as anyone else who was born and raised here.

Having undocumented status has been heavy on me receiving my education. As soon as I graduated high school, I panicked a little and thought that I was not going to be able to go to school because at the time the laws were a little vague. They weren’t sure whether to allow undocumented students into the university system, or even the community college system. Fortunately, I was able to enroll in community college. But let’s say that I wasn’t able to, due to my status, I would say that it would’ve been very hard for me. Devastating. Because it means I would have had to enter the workforce and suppressed an opportunity for me to excel in life. I think for Obama, or for the next president, to have a reform—if a DREAM act came true, [that] would mean a lot and would actually put a lot of kids into a better education, which can lead to better work life and more money for the economy.

One of the things about the American Dream: yes, a lot of people have conceptions, like myself, that you can come here and be whoever you want to be. But unfortunately, in America, the way of life is if you don’t have money, or you unfortunately don’t have documented status, you are very limited to what you can do. The American Dream, per se, gets crushed a lot, or comes with many obstacles for you to [overcome] when you don’t have documented status.

The most fearful thing is that I could remain this status for the rest of my life, which is kind of scary. Being undocumented, I don’t think that I am undocumented every day. So I feel like I’m an American, just as my roommates who were born here in the United States [feel]. But every once in awhile, for example, when considering a job, I have to think, “Well, I only have permission to work for X amount of time because of Obama’s deferred action. Once that runs out, what am I going to do?” It is a scary feeling when I have to think about things like that. Or even just having a steady life here. I have been very afraid that I would have to go back to Mexico and exercise my degree there. That is probably what I think about the most. Defining myself as an undocumented person in America is scary because there’s a lot of uncertainty about my future, and not necessarily knowing what will happen and what I will be able to do.

I like to look and see where I am. I don’t like to look backwards a lot, just because it can bring back sad feelings or emotional feelings that can just cloud up my judgment moving forward. But I do like to look at what obstacles I have overcome. For example, I thought that I wasn’t going to come here to UNC, just because I didn’t have the money. But I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that is going to put me through my last two years here. So I look at what I have overcome, and not dig in too deep to at the time why I couldn’t do it.

Although I do have limitations, I still can do a lot with those limitations that I have.


 

LISTEN:
Alma Islas, Part II
El sueño americano como tal es aplastado con frecuencia, o viene con muchos obstáculos a los que tienes que [sobreponerte] cuando no tienes documentos.

En el papel, siempre tiendo a decir que soy mexicana. Aunque tengo una apreciación profunda por mi cultura, yo honestamente no me siento mexicana. Me siento tan americana como cualquier otra persona que nació y creció aquí.

Tener un estatus de indocumentada ha tenido mucho peso para que yo pudiera tener una educación. En cuanto me gradué de la preparatoria, me dio un pequeño ataque de pánico y pensé que no iba a poder ir a la escuela, porque en ese momento las leyes eran un poco ambiguas. No estaban seguros si podían recibir estudiantes indocumentados en el sistema universitario, o incluso en el sistema de escuelas técnicas comunitarias. Afortunadamente me pude inscribir en una escuela técnica comunitaria. Pero digamos que yo no hubiera podido, debido a mi estatus, yo digo que hubiera sido muy difícil para mí. Devastador. Porque significa que yo hubiera tenido que entrar a la fuerza de trabajo y suprimir la oportunidad de triunfar en la vida. Yo pienso que Obama, o el siguiente presidente, tener una reforma—si la reforma de los, soñadores se volviera realidad, [eso] significaría mucho y pondría, de hecho, a muchos jóvenes en mejor situación de educación, lo cual puede generar mejores empleos y más dinero para la economía.

Una de las cosas sobre el sueño americano: sí, mucha gente tiene ideas, como yo, que puedes venir aquí y ser quien quieras ser. Pero, desafortunadamente, en Estados Unidos, la forma de vida es que si no tienes dinero, o tú desafortunadamente no tienes un estatus con documentos, estás muy limitado en las cosas que puedes hacer. El sueño americano como tal es aplastado con frecuencia, o viene con muchos obstáculos a los que tienes que [sobreponerte] cuando no tienes documentos.

Lo que me da más miedo es que me puedo quedar con este estatus migratorio por el resto de mi vida, lo cual es un poco alarmante. Estar indocumentada, yo no pienso en que estoy indocumentada todos los días. Así que, yo me siento como si fuera de Estados Unidos, tan de aquí como mis compañeras de casa que nacieron acá en Estados Unidos. Pero de vez en cuando, por ejemplo, cuando considero un trabajo, yo tengo que pensar, “Bueno, yo sólo tengo permiso de trabajar por un determinado tiempo por la acción diferida de Obama. Una vez que eso se acabe, ¿qué voy a hacer?” Es un sentimiento de miedo cuando tengo que pensar en ese tipo de cosas. O simplemente tener una vida estable aquí. He tenido mucho miedo de tener que regresar a México y tener que ejercer mi carrera allá. Tal vez eso es en lo que más pienso. Definirme como una persona indocumentada en los Estados Unidos me da miedo porque hay mucha incertidumbre sobre mi futuro, al no saber necesariamente qué va a pasar y qué voy a poder hacer.

Me gusta mirar y ver dónde estoy. No me gusta mucho mirar al pasado, simplemente porque puede traer sentimientos de tristeza o emociones que pueden obnubilar mis decisiones en el futuro. Pero si me gusta mirar los obstáculos que he pasado. Por ejemplo, yo pensé que no iba a venir aquí a UNC, solo porque no tenía el dinero. Pero fui lo suficientemente afortunada de recibir una beca que me va a perminitir pasar los dos años aquí. Así que veo lo que he superado y no le rasco muy profundo al tiempo de por qué no lo he logrado.

A pesar de que tengo limitaciones, puedo aún hacer muchas cosas con esas limitaciones que tengo.

Ana Laura Medrano

Interviewed by Elise Stephenson
April 19, 2011 (R-0473)

Ana Laura Medrano was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. When she was eleven years old, she moved to Washington, North Carolina, with her parents and two younger siblings. She is a graduate of UNC, where she hosted a local talk show called “Conexion Carolina” and coordinated an ESL program in the local Latino community. Medrano has a strong desire to serve the Latino community in the United States.


 

LISTEN:
Ana Laura Medrano, Part I
Now it is my responsibility as a Latina who is here—who is able to go to school, whose parents have been able to provide her with everything—to give back to her community.

[The migration process] was very tough. I can actually say it was the toughest experience I have ever gone through. It’s because, you know, I was eleven years old. I feel like it’s a transitional moment. My house was there, my grandparents, my cousins. I’m very family oriented. And so when Dad was like, “OK, we’re going to move to the U.S.,” being a little kid, I did not know what that meant. I was like, “OK, let’s go, it’s going to be fine.” I did not know what to expect. Once I moved here, I realized that, first of all, I don’t speak English. Second of all, I was used to being in the top of my class in Mexico, and then I move here and then people are treating me like I’m stupid because I can’t understand what’s going on in school, and things like that. And also my family, that was very rough. I couldn’t see my grandparents, my cousins. I didn’t know anyone. And obviously I made friends, I’m friendly, but it was still rough. I think the language barrier was the main problem, just because I was very outgoing when I was in Mexico and I feel like all of that was cut off when I got here. So it took me about a year to get used to things, going back to normal so I could be myself. But first I would cry like every night, and it actually made Dad think about going back, because he was like, “I didn’t think it was going to be this hard on them.” My sister was four and my brother was five. For them, it wasn’t tough because they were little. They got used to it. But I didn’t. It took me a while. But once I did, I was fine.

When I got here and I went through that experience—that rough transition—my views changed. I matured a lot. I was like, “OK, my parents brought me here for a reason. I have to suffer for a reason.” But now it is my responsibility as a Latina who is here—who is able to go to school, whose parents have been able to provide her with everything—to give back to her community. Ever since then I just focused a lot on the Latino community. When I was growing up in Beaufort I did a lot of events, a lot of things that would help Latinos. And so now it’s not that I don’t want to help any other group, but I just feel like it’s my responsibility to be one of the leaders in the community, to say, “Hey, I’m here to help you out,” because I didn’t have a rough time coming here. But that’s exactly why I have to help. I have to do something. I feel like that’s been a large part of my motivation to go to college . . . the fact that I know I have to help people. I want to be a lawyer someday, hopefully, or I want to be in a position where I can be a leader and have some impact in the community. I was able to go to college because of Dad. Because I am a resident. My friends weren’t able to go to college. Why? Just because they didn’t have anyone in their family who was a resident? I don’t think that’s fair. They are just as smart and intelligent as me. This is a very personal topic, but it just angers me. I just feel the need to do something. And so ever since then I’ve just been working with Latinos.


 

LISTEN:
Ana Laura Medrano, Part II
Ahora es mi responsabilidad como una latina que está acá, que tiene la posibilidad de ir a la escuela y que sus padres han podido proveerle todo, de dar algo a cambio a su comunidad.

[El proceso de migración] fue muy duro. De hecho puedo decir que fue la experiencia más dura que he pasado. Es porque, tú sabes, yo tenía once años. Creo que es un momento de transición. Mi casa estaba allá, mis abuelos, mis primos. A mí me gusta mi familia. Así que cuando mi papá dijo, “Ok, nos vamos a mudar a Estados Unidos”, siendo una niña pequeña, no sabía qué significaba eso. Yo estaba como “Ok, vámonos, va a estar bien.” No sabía que esperar. Una vez que me mudé aquí, me di cuenta que, primero que todo, no hablaba inglés. Segundo de todo, estaba acostumbrada a ser de las estudiantes con las calificaciones más altas en México y me mudo aquí y la gente me está tratado como que soy estúpida porque no puedo entender lo que está pasando en la escuela y cosas como esa. Y además mi familia, eso fue muy duro. No podía ver a mis abuelos, a mis primos. No conocía a nadie . . . Obviamente hice amigos, soy amigable, pero de todas formas fue duro. Yo creo que la barrera del language fue el principal problema, solo porque yo era muy extrovertida cuando estaba en México y siento como que todo eso fue cortado cuando llegué aquí. Así que me tomó cerca de un año acostumbrarme a las cosas, volver a la normalidad para poder ser yo. Pero primero, yo lloraba como todas las noches, e incluso eso hizo pensar a mi papá en regresar, porque él estaba como “Yo no sabía que iba a ser tan difícil para ellos.” Mi hermana tenía cuatro y mi hermano cinco. Para ellos no fue duro porque estaban pequeños. Se acostumbraron. Pero yo no. Me tomó un tiempo. Pero una vez que lo hice, estuve bien.

Cuando llegué aquí, y yo pasé por esa experiencia, esa transición tan dura, mi forma de ver las cosas cambió. Maduré mucho. Pensaba, “Bueno, mis padres me trajeron por una razón. Tengo que sufrir por una razón.” Pero ahora es mi responsabilidad como una latina que está acá, que tiene la posibilidad de ir a la escuela y que sus padres han podido proveerle todo, de dar algo a cambio a su comunidad. Desde entonces me he enfocado mucho más en la comunidad latina. Cuando yo estaba en Beaufort, yo organicé muchos eventos, muchas cosas que ayudaban a los latinos. Y pues ahora no es que no quiera ayudar a ningún otro grupo, sino que siento que es mi responsabilidad ser una de las líderes en la comunidad que diga, “oye, estoy aquí para ayudar,” porque yo no pasé momentos difíciles al venir aquí. Pero eso es exactamente la razón por la que yo tengo que ayudar. Tengo que hacer algo. Creo que esa ha sido en gran parte mi motivación para ir a la universidad, el hecho de saber que yo tengo que ayudar a la gente. Espero un día ser una abogada, o quisiera estar en un lugar en donde pueda ser una líder y tener un impacto en la comunidad. Yo pude ir a la universidad gracias a mi papá. Porque tengo la residencia. Mis amigos no pudieron ir a la universidad. ¿Por qué? ¿Sólo porque no tuvieron a nadie en su familia que fuera residente? Yo no creo que eso sea justo. Ellos son igual de listos e inteligente que yo. Esto es un tema muy personal, pero me hace enojar. Yo siento la necesidad de hacer algo. Así es que desde entonces, yo sólo he trabajado con los latinos.

Jaycie Vos is an archivist and the Coordinator of Collections for the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she works with faculty, students, archivists, activists, and all areas of southern community to preserve and share the South’s rich history. Vos earned her BA in English from Truman State University (2011) and her MS in library science from the University of North Carolina (2013).

Maria Silvia Ramirez was born in Caracas, Venezuela and immigrated to the United States in 1997. This transition instilled in her a deep fascination for languages and different cultures, which led her to earn a BA in German from the University of Florida and to study abroad in Europe. Ramirez currently works as the Bilingual Documentation Archivist for the Latino Migration Project and is earning an MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Laura Villa Torres is a PhD Candidate in Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her doctoral research focuses on migration and health, particularly the mental health of undocumented migrants in North Carolina. She currently works as the Outreach Bilingual Assistant for New Roots/Nuevas Raíces. Laura is from Mexico, and she holds a BA in Sociology from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Xochimilco (Mexico), and an MS in Public Health from the Gillings School.

Hannah E. Gill directs the Latino Migration Project, a collaborative initiative of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is an anthropologist with a specialization in Latin American/Caribbean migration studies.

Matthew Huynh is an artist based in New York City. His comics and drawings are informed by sumi-e ink painting and shodo calligraphy. His clients include the New York Times, The Smithsonian,and Sony Music. His work appears in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection, and his comics have been presented on the Sydney Opera House stage. See his work at matthuynh.com

NOTES

1.The use of the term “Latino” here is meant to be inclusive of South American, indigenous, mestizo, and Hispanic identities.

2. Hannah Gill, “Latinos in North Carolina: A Growing Part of the State’s Economic and Social Landscape,” in Perspectives on Immigration (Immigration Policy Center, March 2012), 3, http://www.charlottelaw.net/files/latinos_in_north_carolina_032112.pdf.

3. The collection receives regular contributions of about forty interviews annually from scholars at UNC-Chapel Hill through an ongoing research program of the Latino Migration Project (LMP), which trains upper level and graduate students with immigrant backgrounds and Spanish language fluency in oral history methodology. The collection also receives contributions from LMP staff, who conduct interviews throughout the state and region. These interviews are archived and made accessible online as part of the Southern Oral History Program’s collection in the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thanks to generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in collaboration with the Latino Migration Project, the Southern Oral History Program, and University Libraries, the New Roots team has developed a bilingual digital oral history archive and information system in both English and Spanish, launched in the spring of 2016: http://newroots.lib.unc.edu/. In addition to the oral history interviews, this innovative archive and information system offers maps and browsing options and a number of resources for researchers, K–12 educators and students, community members, and others around the globe.

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