The Real Struggle of Being an Immigrant in Your Own Countries

Nov 7, 2015
9:44 AM
Bogotá, Colombia (Luz Adriana Villa/Flickr)

Bogotá, Colombia (Luz Adriana Villa/Flickr)

My father was born and raised on the southwest side of Bogotá in the Kennedy barrio, one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city. He migrated to the United States searching for better opportunities at the age of 17 and waited another 10 years before he came back to his homeland. Colombia has been in war for over 50 years, and the government just announced that the signing of a peace agreement would happen in the next six months, and 60 days after the FARC will disarm their troops. I wanted to cry. My heart took a deep breath at the fact that peace may be an option, that people no longer have to live in fear.

When I was younger, the FARC were always a blurry and scary figure standing in the way between the “me” in the United States and the summers in Colombia that could never happen. Growing up we weren’t allowed to visit because of kidnappings and violence threatened during the ’90s. It wasn’t until I was 20 that my dad took us to understand the half of ourselves that wasn’t taught through music, food and family back in the United States.

I fell in love.

It was better than what all the sensationalist movies taught me. I could see my father in everything: the accent, the empanadas, the salsa dancing in the plazas. It helped me understand a part of myself I thought I wasn’t ever going to discover.

So after I graduated from my masters program, I decided to move to Colombia. It’s only been a couple of months, but from internal conflicts, to being a free woman who expresses herself, it hasn’t been an easy move.

I come from the United States, where everything told me I was an immigrant, to Colombia, where I haven’t been Colombian enough to claim this identity. Every time people ask me where I’m from, it’s the easiest to say I’m Salvadoran. My mother is a Salvadoran immigrant, and we grew up going there a lot more, hence my more Salvadoran accent.

Don’t get me wrong though, I am still 100-percent Colombian and 100-percent Salvadoran. But living in the United States and growing up with my two cultures so far away, there always seemed to be a confusion of what I am more, as if there is a scale weighing my allegiance to either culture.

Mis paisanos are a beautiful and complex bunch. This war has created a resentment and strength that separates me from them. I have not lived through this war. I have not seen what they have seen. My family is still safe in the United States. I have not lost siblings and parents because of their beliefs, or because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a privilege I hold, being in constant state of “migrant” status, of traveling to the country my father left.

Last month in Medellín I went to the Casa Museo de La Memoria, and there was a project where young kids were given different words and told to define them. The words and definitions were displayed on a wall.

“Es que mi mama maneja un carro y unos senores de la caneria no pueden comer y le rompen el vidrio del carro y la matan y matan a mi papa y vivo solo”
(“That my mother drives a car and cane workers can’t eat and they break the glass of the car and kill her and kill my father and I live alone”)
– six years old

“Quitarle lo mejor a una persona”
(“Taking the best of someone”)
– nine years old

“Ser consciente de que los matan”
(“Being conscious of your death”)
– eight years old

“Es una persona con mucha plata y no le gusta nada”
(“A person with lots of money who doesn’t like anything”)
-10 years old

“Que mi mama no se muera y mi papa no se muera”
(“That my mother and father don’t die”)
– six years old

The stories I have heard remind me of the ones I would hear on my Salvadoran side from back in the ’80s.

I come from war-torn backgrounds with stories that will break your heart into millions of pieces, and my people will try and put it back together. The love my people have is immense. The strength they hold is an honor to witness. Their resilience is like a mountain, brave and admirable.

If you didn’t know, Ciudad Kennedy was originally settled by the Muisca people of the Andes. They were warriors, kings and queens slathered in gold and emerald. They are people who will continue to rebuild despite the brokenness.

So it doesn’t matter if I feel like an immigrant in my own countries. I don’t care if I will never be ni de aquí ni de allá. My identity is in constant migration and learning. It has meshed into one I can reclaim as my own, and its rarity makes me want to share it with those who have no idea. The stories and relationships created and heard are gold and emeralds to guard. Despite the struggles confronted, what a blessing it is to constantly learn about yourself, through others.


Jessica Diaz-Hurtado is a Colombian-Salvadoran researcher, multimedia storyteller and writer currently based in Colombia. She writes on culture, armed conflict and women’s issues in Latin America with a humanistic storytelling approach. You can follow her @_fulanitaaa_.