Where are you from?

I am from Chile

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in the 80s under Pinochet’s dictatorship but most of my teen years were under a democratic government. I was raised in Santa Cruz, Chile’s central Valley, wine country today. I had a pretty happy childhood, very sheltered, family oriented. I went to Catholic school and then for College, I went to Universidad de Concepcion, and studied Journalism. Even though my parents were never involved in politics, music was their way to show me and express what their values, ideas and principles were at that time, and now. It is a happy memory now but it was not at the time, when I would wake up to the music of Victor Jara, Violeta Parra or Inti Illimani a very early Sunday morning, and both my parents would sing their songs and would tell me that one day I would love it too… and I did, I do.

I did not have the things kids have now either, of course. We only had 2 national TV stations with very restricted programming: the National TV and the Catholic TV; our main entertainment was going outside to play with my neighborhood friends and renting a VHS movie for the weekends. We travelled often to visit family in other towns and that was also a highlight of my childhood: my cousins, who I still love and miss with all my heart.

What brought you to Cleveland?

During my years at Universidad de Concepcion I had a professor that had a working relationship with the Dean of the College of Business at CSU. After working on a few research projects together, we became friends, and he and the College of Business gave me an opportunity to come to CSU to pursue my master’s degree under an international exchange program between both universities. That was 11 years ago, this August. I was given an opportunity and I took it. Almost like Cleveland chose me, in a way.

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

I was supposed to come to Cleveland for 2 years, get my master’s degree, and head back home, where a job at the University of Concepcion was waiting for me. I did not see myself living in the US, at all. I wanted to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn English, advance my academic career and go back. It was especially hard for me to adjust the first few years, and the weather and living Downtown did not help. I wanted to leave. So my experience here was always feeling like a passenger, not in a long term relationship with Cleveland, or the US. and that was 11 years ago…

Those first 2 years have been the hardest of my entire life, but at the same time, they taught me so much and they made me the person I am today, the person that decided to stay here in Cleveland, and form a family. And yes, my first thoughts about US and Cleveland DID change, a lot!

In Cleveland I met the 2 loves of my life, my husband, Joe, and almost 4 years ago, our son, Teddy. Cleveland has given me personal and professional opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have dreamt of back in Chile; In Cleveland I met my best friends, my sisters, and they have been my back bone to endure some of the hardest lessons in life. Today, Cleveland is everything for me and even though the snow still gets me, I wouldn’t change my life a bit.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I see mainly two biggest challenges: the language and the customs, norms, rules of the day to day living in another country. I was proficient in English but mostly at a technical, academic level that allowed me to pursue my degree; day to day English was super hard for me, as I did not have much experience with it. Speaking was also a lot harder to overcome than writing or reading. Language barriers, when mixed with a total disconnect from the customs, is not a good start. And yes, people may think they know a lot from movies and the internet; but you don’t live in a movie: you need to rent a house, get a phone, pay your bills, order food, get a credit card, pay your taxes, and you have NO idea how to do that and nobody teaches you that! How things work in a country are the hardest to learn, and understand, because people were born with those rules, norms, traditions, customs and they seem so obvious and common sense, but they are not if you have not lived here before.

What is your occupation?

I am the Diversity and Talent Manager for Thompson Hine, LLP.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Most of the “Clevelanders” I know are immigrants that settled in Cleveland, just like me. Most of them are from Latin America. And, since they have lived what I lived first hand, they have been the best at making me feel welcomed. I was always invited to family reunions, parties, networking events, that allowed me to meet new people and broaden my network, but mostly, feel at home. Later on, my husband and his family opened their doors and hearts and welcomed me to their lives. I think that being invited to family events, traditions or national holidays makes you feel like being part of something bigger, and I have appreciated that immensely.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

As many as I can but in practice two: Celebration of Independence of Chile, in September 18, and celebrating Christmas on December 24, at midnight. The Chilean independence is one of the biggest celebrations in Chile and I have tried to maintain it with my family and friends. We usually get together with other Chilean friends and have a barbeque, music and drinks. The Chilean flag hangs out our front door all month, in honor of my home country.

For Christmas, we invite my in laws and we have a Chilean style dinner at our place on December 24, and later, we open presents. It has worked perfectly for us (and specially for our son), because we get to celebrate, eat and open presents twice: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

What do you love about Cleveland?

The different foods and restaurants you can try; the Metroparks; Blossom and the orchestra; the libraries, the big and strong non profit community and the importance of charity, volunteerism and support to people with needs.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

I know it is a cliché but is true, everybody in this country is an immigrant and immigrants made and continue making this country great. We need to become part of this community, contribute to it, make it richer and stronger, and in order to do that we need to be at our fullest; if we feel like we belong and that our lives matter we will soon become advocates and contributors, and not a burden. We don’t want to be a burden, but without a welcoming community, it is harder to reach our potential.

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

After 11 years in Cleveland I would like to say that I am proud of living here, as a first generation immigrant. I feel welcome and appreciated. However, there is still a lot of misinformation and ignorance about international professionals and the options for work visas. My one suggestion would be to those companies that are still reluctant to hire professionals from other countries:the only way to remain competitive and relevant is to bring to the table people with different backgrounds ideas, opinions and worldviews, and allow them to be creative and, again, reach their potential. Take a leap of faith and more often than not, you will be extremely surprised.