Loss of status, lack of words frustrate Colombian immigrants
By Marcela Flores Iga
Yasmin Gomez came from Colombia to East Boston a year ago to find
a safer life.
Things haven't been easy, she said, "but it
was this or nothing."
Feeling her life threatened in a country known
today for its violence, she says she had to leave everything – well-paid managerial
job in a big company, a nice house, her friends – even her
family. Once here, with no legal documents and no proficiency in
English, she had to settle for a minimum-wage job cleaning offices.
As the Office of New Bostonians reviews her legal
status, Gomez struggles to learn English. “I want to find a better job
and I want to be more involved in my community,” she said.
“Around 150,000 Colombians are currently living as
refugees in the United States”.
Like many other newcomers to East Boston from Colombia – often
well-educated immigrants who fled not only the civil war in their
country but also successful jobs as managers, architects and professor – Gomez
holds a deep sense of frustration.
It is a frustration borne of having to start from
scratch – of
having to rebuild a life.
some ways, that makes the situation of some of East Boston’s
Colombian immigrants different from other Hispanic immigrants
who came here seeking a better standard of living.
“The Hispanic Community in the United States is
a myth.” -Sgt. Arthur M. McCarthy of the East Boston
“The Hispanic community in the United States is a myth,” said
Sgt. Arthur M. McCarthy of the East Boston Police Department. “Just
because they all speak Spanish means their situation is the same…We
call them Hispanics or Latinos because it simplifies things for
But there is at least one common problem shared by most: a frustration
borne of an inability to communicate. Many new immigrants must
learn English, both to communicate and to get ahead. And that is
a frustration that is shared regardless of background or nationality.
They have to depend on others for daily interactions, are looked
at as different regardless of their efforts to adapt, settle for
minimum-wage jobs and see better opportunities fly away.
Loreta Pardi, the program director of the English as a Second
Language Program for adults at the East Boston Harborside Community
School, sees how Hispanic immigrants struggle every day between
two or three jobs to find a little time to learn English, what
they know is a key to open doors.
According to a survey by the program staff, most students said
their main concerns are: learning English and at the same time
having to adapt to the culture, keeping a job or multiple minimum-wage
jobs, supporting a family, having a house and immigration issues.
“It’s hard to study and focus when you have children
to take care of but don’t have a house, or money, or a legal
status,” Pardi said.
For these reasons, the progress is slow. Many students
need a whole year or more to complete the program. Others don’t
ever completely learn it after years of living here.
“We want to help new residents find better jobs, have economic
and social self-sufficiency, and enjoy their new life so eventually
they become more involved in the community and contribute through
civic participation,” she said.
East Boston in numbers: Immigrant population increases and
also poverty and unemployment rates.