Preach. #immigration #immigrants #startedfromthebottom
Nannies, housecleaners, caregivers—they are sometimes called the world’s most invisible workforce. In the US alone, it’s estimated that more than 2 million people do this type of work. Most are women and many are immigrants.
As part of our Global Nation coverage, The World’s Monica Campbell has our first piece in a series about domestic workers: http://ow.ly/l4owh
Omar Curi was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He came to the United States at the age of two with his parents. Omar’s father was diagnosed with leukemia before migrating to the US, and spent time in Italy where he received a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. Soon after, in order to gain access to Boston’s innovative medical treatment, Omar’s family moved to Providence, RI with some Bolivian relatives who were already settled in the state.
Before getting sick and traveling to receive treatment, Omar’s father had several successful developments in Bolivia.
“My father, in fact, had one of the biggest markets and restaurants and a big farm. My father was always in the restaurant, so my whole entire family was pretty much raised in this industry.”
Omar got his first job in Providence when he was only twelve years old, making salads and washing dishes in a local restaurant.
Omar went to public school K-12 in North Providence, where his experiences were good ones. Arriving in the state at such a young age and being an immigrant did not affect him fitting in socially at all. When asked how he got his restaurant, Los Andes, started – Omar describes it as “A big accident”. While delivering newspapers for the Providence Journal, Omar got the idea that he could make some extra money by doing some landscaping for some of the customers that he delivered papers for. Soon after, he realized he was severely allergic to poison ivy.
Without intending to run a business at all and less than 21 years old, the opportunity fell into Omar’s lap to help manage another local Bolivian establishment. One day while Omar was at the restaurant, the owner (who he knew very well) asked him to give her a hand. At the end of the day, the owner offered him a job. Two months later, he was asked to help run the restaurant. Not wanting to get wrapped up in a complicated situation where the restaurant would be under his management but not officially his, Omar backed out of the deal.
Frustrated and wanting a place to call his own instead of just managing, Omar saw a “For Rent” sign on the building that is now the home of Los Andes.
“I called and called the number, and finally a couple days later they picked up the phone. I met up with the owner, came to look at the place, and the guy gave me an offer that was really generous. I took it.”
He asked his older brother, Cesin, if he would join the restaurant and he agreed and joined Omar that year. Cesin was already the manager of a five-star Italian restaurant at the time, and knew the business well. The location of Los Andes was already set up as a restaurant, so Omar just had to make it his own. “I was like, yeah, I’ll get this done in like three or four days…it took us about a month to get the whole entire place done.”
Today, Los Andes is a thriving Bolivian restaurant on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence, RI. “I never thought we would be where we are right now. Seven days a week, it’s crazy – weekends we even have a reservation list.” Most of the recipes are family traditions from Omar’s father, but others, such as the restaurant’s specials – are creations by his brother, Cesin.The restaurant has wonderful ratings and reviews. There have been multiple reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp, as well as several stories within Providence Monthly. 2012 was Los Andes’ biggest year yet – receiving awards from Providence Monthly and Rhode Island Monthly of “Best Dining Experience”, “South American Cuisine of the Year”, “Best Exotic Menu”, just to name a few. Omar has been a part of shows on FOX Providence and The Rhode Show, and will be featured on Chef Rebar on FOX next month. He has even received recognition from the State of Rhode Island for being the most successful Hispanic entrepreneur of Rhode Island.
Omar has not forgotten about the community throughout his growing success either, and is constantly giving back. “Whatever we can do; what goes around comes around, you know?”
Omar hasn’t stopped creating new goals for himself with the success of Los Andes. This is just the beginning! The restaurant is expanding to the second floor where a ceviche bar and a Peruvian style sushi bar will be opening within the next four months. Omar and his brothers also have plans to open a Bolivian rotisserie chicken restaurant in the building across the street. He has a vision for the future of Chalkstone Avenue in Providence:
“I’m not sure if you’re familiar [with] Federal Hill? It started with one Italian restaurant. So in the future we want to establish Chalkstone – with Los Andes as the start – as a South American community. Los Andes [is] the mountains of South America, and you have [countries such as] Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Down the line there will be a Peruvian restaurant, an Argentinean restaurant, etc….”
Rhode Island has been Omar’s home for the vast majority of his life. Now he is giving back to the community and transforming the city of Providence. He is sharing his culture and putting his mark on a place that has helped to make him into the man he is today.
Compiled and Written by Jenna Delgado and Brianna Smith
Antonio Simas was born in St. Michael, Portugal on October 18, 1941. At eight years old, his father was injured, which led his family to move to Brazil. In Brazil, Antonio went to seminary school for six years, learned the ways of life, and met his future wife, Lourdes. Antonio remembers having a good life in Brazil. He was challenged, however, when a business effort with his father did not provide him any income. Antonio told his father he needed to get his life on track. He was intrigued by his grandma’s suggestion to move to the United States, specifically to Rhode Island, where he had uncles and aunts who were already residing there. He remembers her saying,
“Antonio, why don’t you write your uncle over there, and go over there?”
After Antonio got all of his paperwork and documents squared away he was ready to make the big move. However, Lourdes, who was his fiancé at the time, would not let him go without her. In order to have the final marriage documents ready by the deadline, they got married at a courthouse and had to postpone the actual ceremony. Antonio and Lourdes married on November 15, 1965 and left Brazil on January 7, 1966, arriving in Rhode Island.
Overall Antonio felt welcomed when he arrived in Rhode Island, but he struggled with the language barrier since he did not know any English when he came. Antonio was eventually able to get past this difficulty and within a month of his arrival found a job at American Textiles; unfortunately the company ended up closing down. He was able to find various jobs as an insurance salesman, a truck driver for North American Redlines, a machinist and a cost estimator at Brown and Sharp to sustain himself and his family.
In 1977, Antonio and his family left the U.S. and went back to Brazil, but returned in 1983 as it was extremely difficult for Antonio to obtain a job in Brazil due to the suffering economy.
Antonio and Lourdes have three children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandchild. His hope for the future of his family, Rhode Island, and the United States in general, is an improved education system:
“What I would like to see in Rhode Island is a better system for education where everybody could afford [it]… What I would like to see for Rhode Island is exactly that because when you have an education it makes everything easier: to get a job, to make a living, and things like that… I want a high education with a low price; that’s what I want.”
Antonio has had many dreams, but due to the fact that he is a working man he has had to put some of his dreams aside. Instead of seeing this as a negative, he focuses on how much he has accomplished thus far in his life. He considers himself a blessed man and is happy with the life he has lived:
“I cannot complain about nothing. I many times have told my wife if I had to live my life over again, I would do exactly the same thing.”
Overall, he loves Rhode Island and describes it as a paradise. The only thing he dislikes about Rhode Island is the winter and the snow, which is something he was not used to coming from Brazil.
Antonio currently resides in East Providence and loves spending time with his close-knit family.
Written and compiled by Julia Guerette and Jack Kieckhafer
Dr. Onesimo Almeida was born in 1946, in the Azores Islands of Portugal. Although he has fond memories of relaxing on the beautiful beaches during the summers, he also remembers being a hard working student who was dedicated to his studies. At the age of 22, Onesimo moved to Lisbon to study at the Portuguese Catholic University. While attending university, Onesimo taught at a local night school as a means of income. Little did Onesimo know that this first teaching job would spark an interest in what would be his future career.
As an adolescent, Onesimo was unsure about his stance on the United States. He has memories of his grandfather sharing his negative experiences of the three years that he lived there during the Great Depression. Onesimo’s grandfather described America as being a place where people valued money and capitalism. Despite the fact that Onesimo’s grandfather was not fond of America, Onesimo still had many family members living in the United States, ultimately convincing him to migrate across the Atlantic Ocean.
Before migrating to the United States, Onesimo had traveled to and from America and Portugal three times to visit his family members. He says, “It grew in me…the more I came the more I came to like America.” He remembers there being great differences between the two countries. Portugal was under a dictatorship, so he did not have the same civil liberties in Portugal that he experienced in America. People could not speak freely and openly like they could in the United States. There were many more resources available for Americans than there were for the Portuguese. What he admired most about America, though, was their prestigious universities. As a visitor, Onesimo took courses at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.
In 1972, Onesimo joined his family in the United States, and worked as a Curriculum Coordinator of the Bilingual Program in Fall River Public Schools. While working as a Curriculum Coordinator, he began his MA in the Philosophy Department at Brown University. It was not until 1974 that he became a full time graduate student at Brown, where he eventually finished his PhD in 1980.
Onesimo was offered a job at Brown University for developing a program for bilingual education, and is now a professor at Brown teaching Portuguese Intellectual and Cultural history. He says that he always loved teaching and that was what he always wanted to do. Onesimo also has a passion for writing.
He has authored 20 books of essays and creative writing, more than 100 chapters in collective books, and at least 200 journal articles. He is also the editor of a dozen other books, the founder and director of Gávea-Brown publications, and co-director of three academic journals.
Onesimo’s talent and passion shines through, and he has been awarded many prizes and is a member of many honors societies. He loves his job and the city of Providence and hopes to continue teaching at Brown for as long as possible.
Onesimo will always remember his Portuguese roots, and continues to travel there, as well as other European countries, at least eight times a year. He jokingly calls the Atlantic Ocean the “Atlantic River” because he travels across it so often. He says that he cannot escape the Portuguese community in Rhode Island because he has many family members living nearby and there is a large Portuguese community living in New England.
Because he has always been surrounded by a strong Portuguese community, and has been able to travel back to his home country frequently, Onesimo says “I was able to get the best of both worlds.”
Onesimo believes that immigrating to Rhode Island was “easier then, than it is now,” andhopes that a future Rhode Island will grant his children the same opportunities that he had. He wants Rhode Islanders to break free from their “small state mentality” because this small state has great potential.
He says, “People are always surprised when they come to visit me in Rhode Island because there is so much more to Rhode Island than they think.”
He is confident and hopeful that Rhode Island will have a bright future.
Written and compiled by Will Bagnall and Nicole Brennan
Lemlem Yohannes was born in Massawa, Eritrea along with her two brothers and one sister. She was born in 1968, and until she was able to flee to America she grew up in a hostile atmosphere of civil, religious, and political wars. With the constant chaos of warfare and the threat of low-income rates, it can often be extremely difficult for a young child in Eritrea to complete their education.
Therefore, at the age of fourteen years old, Lemlem was forced to drop out of school and begin working as a teacher. She focused on teaching the children Tigrinya, one of the native languages of Eritrea. Lemlem also developed a love for mathematics, and helped teach that to children as well. Before she left school and began her teaching career, Lemlem met her husband, an Ethiopian man named Teferi. They now have two children together, a son and a daughter.
Soon after marrying her husband, Lemlem was forced to flee her home country of Eritrea for Ethiopia.
She recalls, “there is no peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is not good that my husband is Ethiopian and I’m Eritrean.”
Marriages between Eritreans and Ethiopians are often frowned upon because of the violent tension between the two countries. As Lemlem crossed into Ethiopia with her two children in order to be with her husband, she risked her life because of the strict border patrols between the neighboring countries.
Once she had safely arrived in Ethiopia, Lemlem and her husband were placed in a refugee camp. They were told that they would soon be brought to America. Lemlem remembers, “there was no work and no freedom because the governmental relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea is not good.” Inside the camp, people were no longer able to do all of the daily routines or traditions that they were once accustomed to, such as working and going to school. Having been a kindergarten teacher for over twenty years prior to moving to Ethiopia, it was quite a difficult transition for Lemlem to the very limited job availability inside the camp. Luckily, she was able to help teach the young children who were also refugees.
Finally, after four years of waiting and not knowing, Lemlem, her husband, and her two children were resettled to the United States in October 2012. She remembers the final step before being allowed to enter the country was a very intense interview by the Central Intelligence Agency. Since only arriving four months ago, Lemlem is still learning her way around Rhode Island and about American culture. She came directly to Rhode Island because she heard about Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. She is very thankful for Dorcas International because they have provided her with a house, clothes, and English as a Second Language classes.
Her goals in America are to, “study English and teach kindergarten because it is my field.”
Although Lemlem is still adjusting to life in Rhode Island, she is very happy here. She is content in knowing that her children are receiving a good education and learning step-by-step. Also, going to the local church makes her happy. She has been to downtown Providence once and thinks it is very different than the life she once knew. Lemlem hopes that she will one day be able to explore more of this wonderful state.
Her husband Terefi, who is from Ethiopia, works at Falvey Linen Supply and can speak English and Arabic. Lemlem is happy to work anywhere and is thankful for her husband’s help during this transitional time. Overall, she says that the United States and the city of Providence make her happy because there is freedom, unlike the places she has experienced for most of her life.
Written and compiled by Katie Baker, Liz Mcqueeny, and Brannon Walker-Hodges
Tatiana Cumplido was born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1980. She spent most of her young life attending school, and enjoying her close-knit family. Tatiana recalls, from a very young age, always being told that one day she would come to American. However, she doubted that the day would come.
“My father was always telling us ‘One day we are going to go to the United States,’ so I was growing up and always hearing my father say this, but by the time I was 16 I thought ‘when are we going to go to America if it’s taking this long?’”
Tatiana came to America on the eve of her 21st birthday. At that time Tatiana was working in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Since the petition, made by her Aunt, required her to leave before her 21st birthday, Tatiana was forced to quit her job and leave her old life without saying any goodbyes. Although everything happened so quickly, she looked forward to her new life in America, and all the opportunities that America was said to possess. “It was like a flash; I couldn’t prepare myself to say bye to my family over there.”
Tatiana arrived in Rhode Island, however her husband’s job took her to New Hampshire for a couple years. She then returned to Rhode Island and currently resides in Rumford where she works at a local bank. Her son attends the school across the street, and Tatiana embraces the convenience of the small community.
“Rhode Island is very small, so I like that you get to where you want to go quickly, which is nice.”
Tatiana enjoys Rhode Island, but she hopes that soon the economy will improve, and that there will be job opportunities for her son when it comes time for him to work. She encourages her son to embrace his Colombian culture, so that one day he will be able to go to Colombia to experience the beauty of Barranquilla and admire Colombia’s happiness and friendliness. She holds fears that her son may be bullied during his lifetime because they are immigrants, but fortunately his fellow students and teachers have embraced his uniqueness. She tells him, “Just open your heart because not everyone who comes from outside your country is going to be bad.”
Though Tatiana is happy with her life here in America, she does recall the hardships she faced during her transition. While she had taken English classes as a student in Colombia, it took her over a year to truly feel confident speaking English. Her transition was eased, however, by how welcomed she felt in Rhode Island. No one was as happy or friendly as they seemed in her home country, but she never felt discriminated against, or rejected. Tatiana is not saying that moving here was easy, but she made it worthwhile.
“We have to be very strong. It is going to be very hard in the beginning, but if you are determined in your mind that you are going to do better, that things aren’t always going to be the same, then you will change your life completely.”
Tatiana hopes that as a U.S. citizen she will be able to welcome people in the same way that she was welcomed. She hopes to share the love she has with those who need it the most. In this way, Tatiana will bring the community closer and help it become stronger. She knows what it felt like as a newcomer, and by having that advantage, she feels she will be especially comforting to those traveling here from all over the world.
“People come here with a lot of depression, leaving their family behind. They need support, and people should support them, because even though that person is coming from another country, that person can make a difference in this country.”
Written and compiled by Ana Gadoury and Mallory O’Dwyer
Petrona Rubio was born in El Salvador in 1952. She lived a happy life there, working on a farm, relaxing, and surrounding herself with friends and family. She described life in El Salvador as being community oriented, where family lived close by and neighbors felt like extended family members. She pointed out that in the United States, “everybody works, comes home, closes the doors and goes to sleep.” The isolated, individualistic lifestyle in the United States was a drastic change, according to Petrona, who was accustomed to a community oriented, family-based way of life in El Salvador.
While both Petrona and her daughter Aleida, now 39, have fond memories of their home country, the Civil War in El Salvador changed everything. When she was 26 years old, Petrona moved to the capital for a year to work to provide a life for her family, but tensions and violence in El Salvador quickly rose until a full-fledged war broke out in 1979.
“I was renting a room in the capital…and a bomb exploded in the next house and the windows came in. Because I wasn’t sleeping, it was one in the morning, I saw them throw a dead body through the window…I went to the street just to see what happened, because there was nobody, and the doors were on the floor and it was only the base of the house; everything was on the floor. It gets so scary.”
Fearing for her safety, she felt that she needed to find a better life somewhere else for herself and her children. Petrona migrated to the United States in 1979, leaving her children to live with her mother. “It was very hard, yes, because I had to leave my kids. They started crying and I said I’ll be back, I’ll be back in two years for you. Please don’t cry.”
Petrona arrived in Texas; she remembers feeling very intimidated about living in the United States because she couldn’t speak English. “I went to apply for jobs, but it was so hard for me because I could say a few words but due to my accent people couldn’t understand what I was saying.” She was unsure if she would be able to last in America, but she now says that it was the best decision she ever made.
Two years later, when Aleida was almost seven years old, her mother came back just like she promised. Petrona brought her children to the United States, even though they were undocumented. In the span of twenty years, the family moved from Texas to Wisconsin so Petrona could find a better job, and then to Minnesota to be closer to Petrona’s sister who was living there at the time.
Aleida was thrown into English classes with no knowledge of how to speak the language. She was lucky enough, however, to have teachers and friends who helped her, and she and her two sisters adjusted well to life in the United States. Aleida said, “If we stayed in El Salvador, we would not be where we are.”
Aleida ended up meeting her husband, Nick, in Minnesota, and the two moved to Rhode Island eight years ago. They now have two children, Maya and Noah, and Petrona has been living with them since November of 2012. Petrona always emphasized, during Aleida’s childhood, the importance of working for success and not waiting for good things to happen to you.
“There’s a lot of opportunities here and you see the opportunities and you take them. You work for what you want and you can get what you want. But if you don’t work for what you want, and you expect the government to help you, you will stay in the same place; you won’t move.”
Petrona believes “education is a way to better yourself.” As Aleida explained, becoming educated is “how your dreams come true in reality; they’re not just fairytales.” Due to her hard work and dedication, Aleida earned her Master’s degree in Community Based Art Education, and she now teaches at The Gordon School in Providence, RI where her children are currently attending. Her older sister is a nurse and her younger sister is graduating from law school this May. Petrona told her daughters to go to college so they could create better lives for themselves and their future children, and as she said with a smile, “I’m very happy. I have to thank them because they listened.”
Many of the values Aleida teaches in her house are ones her mother stressed while she was growing up. She wants to teach her children to respect everyone and understand that life is complicated, but most importantly she wants them to understand that everyone has a story, and it is important to preserve their family’s story and heritage.
“I think Rhode Island has a promising future…it seems like Rhode Island is embracing the differences in diversity and all kinds of backgrounds and hopefully we’ll allow students who’ve come to the United States very young with their parents to be able to go to college and think about their future…For me I feel like you’re being disconnected from your dreams if you are unable to go to a school that can support you and can show you how to do well in school. That’s cutting off an entire generation if they are not able to go to college.”
The family currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and they are very happy with their life here.
Written and compiled by Olivia Lieberthal and Muhammad Malik
Jessica Monteiro was born in Cape Verde in 1973. While raising a family of four kids, Jessica’s parents decided to come to America because of the lack of universities in Cape Verde. Her grandparents already resided in the United States, making the adjustment easier compared to many Cape Verdean immigrants. Jessica’s grandparents helped her parents through the immigration process by petitioning on their behalf. Soon after her parent’s arrival, Jessica and her siblings moved as well.
In order to join her parents, Jessica had to leave Cape Verde and move across the Atlantic:
“The moment I left, August 6, 1991, never forget, it was a little bit sad because none of us wanted to come, I was seventeen years old and we didn’t want to leave but my mom and dad were already here.”
Upon arriving to Providence, Rhode Island, Jessica started high school, which presented many challenges:
“My first memory was going to the school, it was tough. I went to Hope High School where there weren’t a lot of Cape Verdeans. There was a language barrier.”
She was immediately placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes because of her status as an immigrant. Jessica was frustrated by her placement in these classes, as she took ESL in Cape Verde that was more difficult than what she had experience at Hope.
After graduating from Hope High School, Jessica was interested in the possibility of becoming a flight attendant. Eventually she changed her mind, and decided to enroll in the University of Rhode Island. She pursued a double major in Spanish and Psychology, and later decided to go into social work after graduating. She first began working in a school system, but is currently working as an Outpatient Clinician at the Providence Center.
Jessica has considered returning to Cape Verde many times. “I would love to go back to Cape Verde and practice either social work or work for a shelter, homeless shelter, that’s what my goal was, if I go back to Cape Verde that’s what I would like to do.” Along with her interest in returning to Cape Verde, she also has Rhode Island aspirations. She would like to go back to school in order to get her PhD or become a psychiatrist. Some of this inspiration comes from her recognition of the areas in her field where Rhode Island falls short – such as a lack of sufficient bilingual psychiatrists.
Jessica continues to celebrate her Cape Verdean roots by speaking Creole with her son. She also celebrates Cape Verdean holidays, such as Cape Verde’s Independence Day on July 5th. She is not shy to show her pride for Cape Verde. “I still see my country as my first home. Even though I’ve been here for twenty-one years, I still say I’m going back home.” Although Jessica has achieved some personal success in the United States, she still possesses the ideal of working hard and striving for future goals. When asked about the future, she states,
“I don’t have fears, no I take everything day by day and I look at it, you know, how am I going to accomplish this.”
She maintains a positive attitude and wants to make a difference in her community in Rhode Island, as well as in her first home of Cape Verde.
Written and compiled by Cathlin O’Neill and Mollie Stackhouse