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A Hard Path to Success
My uncle was born in Sucre, Bolivia. Bolivia is a country in South America and Sucre is a very small town there. I wanted to interview him because I knew beforehand a little about his journey here and I found all he did very admirable. It may not have been a tragic and heartbreaking story of him traveling by sea and suffering day after day here under horrible conditions, but he did have a tough journey and I think that where he stands now in comparison to when he first got here is quite amazing and therefore I thought it would be great to learn more about his past.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in a small town called Sucre in Bolivia, and I was born in 1965.
What are some of your distinct memories of your homeland?
My friends, family, and extended family like my cousins. Most, if not all, of my family lived there so we were always together. I remember going to our version of your “uptown”; we call it the plaza. There I would hang out with friends after school and get a scoop of the famous ice cream from the park, they were the best testing ice cream. I also remember that we took many fieldtrips in school down to the countryside. Sometimes with our friends, sometimes with our family, and other times it was a combination of both.
Shot of La Plaza in Sucre, Bolivia
What caused you to want to immigrate?
I was interested in pursuing a college degree that was not available in my country in the field of medicine.
When did you leave? Did you have a choice? What was going through your mind?
I left in the winter of 1985. I did have the choice to come. I wanted to come to America always, and I couldn’t believe that I had the opportunity to come to the United States. I was anxious to see in person what you always saw in the movies. I was also worried about being so far from my family and friends and that I would be all alone here. Sucre is a very small town so you know everyone. You go to school with the same 30 kids from kindergarten all the way to senior year in high school. It was hard for me to be in such a big place not knowing anyone.
Did you have any set plans or goals for once you got here?
My goal was to come here to the US and work full time and be able to support myself throughout college and finish my career.
Were you able to accomplish them?
Absolutely. It was tough to do. I had to work full time during college, and so it took me longer to get my degree because I had to work so hard.
What was the hardest thing about leaving your hometown?
The hardest thing for me was being away from my family and friends.
What experiences did you encounter on your way? Have they made an impact on your life?
Since I flew here nothing too much occurred during my trip but I distinctly remember the first time I landed in Miami. I got to spend the whole day in Miami before I flew in to Chicago and so I left my suitcase in the airport and took a bus to a sea aquarium. It might not seem like something to big now but for me it was the first time that I had ever been to a theme park and so it was a memorable experience and it was also my first time being completely alone.
On your way to the US, what were you expecting America to be like?
I was expecting to see it like the movies. I pictured everything being beautiful, beautiful homes, big cities. I expected Chicago to be just a bunch of tall buildings. I did not know they were going to have residential areas.
When did you arrive? Where? What was going through your mind?
I arrived in the winter of 1985 to Chicago. I couldn’t believe that it was so dark so early. It was very cold and the airport was gigantic, it took me about an hour to get home. I also hated the neighborhood that I started off in because it was all the way in the south side. If I could have done it again I would have gone to California because of the weather and scenery.
Who were you with? Were you alone? What kinds of people did you meet along the way? Are you still in contact with them?
I came here by myself. I met people from all around the world through school but I only kept in contact with a couple of them. One of them is my best friend and the godfather of my daughter.
Did you have a language barrier? How were you able to adjust?
Luckily I didn’t have that great a barrier. Back home they taught us English in school so I knew how to speak and write it. The problem was that it was British English not American English, so it was hard to learn American pronunciation. With the support from my friends that I met along the way and through constant communication with my family overseas, I was able to improve my English.
What were some of the hardships you went through? How did you overcome them?
Not having family support like I could back home. I was struggling to make ends meet. Paying for tuition, which was very expensive for foreign students, not having too many friends, and having to endure a very physically intensive job. My job was working as a building maintenance.
Do you have a favorite memory from once you were here? What was it and what was it like?
My most memorable moment is when my parents came to visit me here for the first time. It was very emotional to be able to show them around and take them to see my school, show them where I lived, take them sightseeing, and take them to places that I had described over the phone and via letters. This was six years after I first arrived here. I was still in college and I was living in Chicago.
What was your normal schedule like?
I went to school during the day, and worked in the afternoon till midnight.
Did that affect your school performance?
It did affect school to some extent. It was very hard to study with my work schedule and I was very tired most of the time.
What did you miss most? Do you have any regrets?
I miss my family, friends, and my home food. Sometimes I do regret it because I didn’t get the chance to spend many important years with my family.
If you could do it again would you? Would you do anything different?
I think I would. I probably could have chosen a different major in school but at the time I was very interested in medicine.
Was it worth it that you came to the US?
I think so. I meet some people who have been great mentors to me, and it’s nice that your efforts at work are recognized. It feels good to also have a lot of freedom and independence.
Are you proud of what you have accomplished?
Yes I am very proud. It took a lot of work to get to where I am today but it was a good experience in the end.
Did you learn any major lessons after all your experiences?
America is a wonderful place to be in, but we shouldn’t take things for granted. It’s important for people from this country to travel overseas to appreciate cultures of other places from all over world.