Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago and at age 9 my family moved to Colombia, South America, where I lived for more than 30 years.

What was it like growing up?

Growing up in Colombia was great primarily because of all of the family activities. I have a large family – 92 first cousins and I know them all – AND many of us still stay in touch! Either Saturdays at my Grandmother’s house where the adults would play cards and the kids would just play or large holidays at my uncles’ country homes were always fun and are wonderful memories.

What brought you to Cleveland?

Research. Not in a R&D kind of way, but when I decided to move back to the States as a single mom with 2 kids, I spent 2 months (in the winter) researching and visiting different cities, including Cleveland. I wanted the best possible option for me and my kids. I looked at size, cultural offer, school systems, cost of living, ease of getting around, possible networks, among other things. After staying with friends and family, walking streets, reading magazines, checking job options, I decided on Cleveland. For some odd reason, it felt like home from the beginning.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

I always wanted to live again in the U.S. as an adult, but didn’t have the chance. I was taking a huge risk, so I wanted to make sure I had all the information to make the best choice possible. I was not disappointed.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

Twelve years ago the job market was very different from today and even though I had been in Human Resources for over 10 years, I had no idea how to job search here. Things were very different and I had to learn. I had a very bad experience with my first job and even considered going back. Even though I had the best possible “adjustment mentor”, life skills were also a challenge. In Colombia there is no self-service. You have help everywhere and you can only imagine my distress when in the middle of a snowstorm I didn’t know how to put gas in my rental car! I started crying at a pump until a very kind gentleman helped me.

What is your occupation?

I work for The Centers for Families and Children as the Director of El Barrio Workforce Center.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

I have nothing but gratitude towards Cleveland and its people. I married a Clevelander and have made Cleveland our home; that’s how welcomed I feel! I have also met so many people through work that I enjoy interacting with. Everyone is kind, warm and interested in my background.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

My kids (and my husband) will not forgive me if I don’t make occasional Colombian dishes, we continue to follow soccer teams and get together with family based here in the U.S. as often as possible.

What do you love about Cleveland?

The options. If you are in the mood for downtown, there’s so much to see and do. The cultural offer is outstanding. I love the distinct neighborhood vibe of the West side, but I also love the quieter slower pace of the Eastern suburbs. The Metroparks are a gem to have in our backyard. I can go on and on. Hard to peg one thing.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

This country was founded by immigrants and immigrants have made it great. That has never changed and never should. Diversity of perspective makes greatness.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

More education on diverse communities. There is so much misinformation and misconception about certain cultures, creating ignorance and fear. We need more efforts to break down stereotypes and show the benefits of a culturally diverse community.