Karla’s Immigration Story: In both worlds

No matter what side of the immigration and citizen debate one gravitates to, the inability of our nation’s leaders to find consensus has been distressing to watch. During one of our team meetings, we found ourselves sharing our own stories of what the word immigration means to us. We thought we’d share a little more about our team members over the course of time.

Karla

Have you ever been alone at night, in an empty office? The hollowness of the office at night is startling.

Many of my earliest childhood memories surround a recollection of nights spent in an empty office building. At the age of six, I would stand alone in the quietness of it all. Grazing through the meticulous arrangement of cubicles, smelling the aroma of paper in the air, and marveling at the faces of loved ones, captured in picture frames, on top of desks, I would think about who sat in these spaces during the day.  Almost immediately, I would think that one day, I would sit in an office too, and have my own pictures up.

As I stood thinking, my mother and father knelt cleaning. They were working the part-time shift at the very building I was captivated by. And at the end of every shift, we’d close up shop together – my sisters and I would run across the office to turn off the lights before returning home with my parents.

As I grew older, it dawned on me that these earlier memories were one of a kind. Not everyone took their children to work with them, as they cleaned office buildings at night to complement their full-time shift earlier in the day. Indeed, time told me my upbringing was unconventional, and absolutely magical.

I was born in Bogota, Colombia. My parents migrated to the United States with their three daughters (ages 5, 2 and a newborn) in 1992. Settling in the urban metropolis of Union City, New Jersey, I grew up speaking English with friends and Spanish with family; listening to Ana Gabriel’s latin ballads at night, and jamming out to Aaliyah’s R&B hits during the day; eating government provided peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at school and consuming arroz con frijoles at home.

My two worlds co-existed, but in many ways were siloed from one another. As a young adult, I became more conscientious of this divide and have since tried to be more intentional about bridging my past with my present and future. I speak Spanglish with my cousins, cook vegan latin food, and try (albeit mediocrely) to dance salsa, for example.

But I often think of the parts of me that were lost through this immigration transition. “Who would I be had my parents stayed in Colombia?” Probably a better salsa dancer! But in all seriousness, I am so grateful that they did leave.

I am grateful that they sacrificed everything they ever knew to make a new life for their family here in the United States; that their perseverance and hard work translated in their determination to ensure their daughters all went to college; and that they took me with them, many moons ago, to the empty office building I once aspired to belong to.

[Picture above: A (grainy) picture of me and my family.]