Immigrant Stories: People were much friendlier in the United States
When Luz Ortiz-Ford left Bogota, Colombia, she had just recently been married. She was leaving a very hard life in a dangerous part of the city. That experience didn’t prepare her for the small town life on the plains of Kansas.Gallacher: When you first arrived in the United States, did you feel welcome?Ortiz-Ford: You know, I felt very, very welcome, and I was very impressed with the people. Everybody was smiling and waving. In Colombia, especially in Bogota, you don’t see people smiling and waving. When you’re walking up the streets, you’re trying to run away from each other, because you don’t know if that person next to you is going to steal your purse. So, you can imagine when I came here smiling people saying “hi” made me wonder if I should trust them. I thought, “Why are they smiling at me? These people are strange. They’re waving.” It was so confusing because all of my life in Colombia, people who acted that way were usually trying to take advantage. You could expect that kind of behavior from your family and your closest relatives, your friends, but not from strangers, you don’t smile at strangers. I was taught to stay away from them.Gallacher: Because Bogota is a big city?Ortiz-Ford: It’s a big city. It is the capital of Colombia. And yes, nothing happened to me there, but you learn in those big cities to be very cautious, very much. So, when I first came to the United States I stayed very close to my father- and mother in-law. I think they loved me as much as I loved them. And, in the little time that I was in Kansas, I loved everybody. Everybody came to the house to meet me, to see the new wife. My husband’s family had been living there for many years. So, it was very nice to meet all these people. Then we went to Alaska. And in Alaska, the people were even nicer. It was just amazing to me how friendly people were. So I started learning and loosening up. And slowly I started smiling a little bit. In Colombia we didn’t get to smile a lot. We have these moods because, down there, they tell us, you’re not supposed to smile, be cautious to whom you smile and are friendly because it could be the wrong person. I grew up hearing this stuff, so coming up here, learning to smile, learning to say “hi,” learning all these friendly things that American people do. It was challenging, but I love it. Now I do, I trust everybody here, everybody.
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