Jimena Ladino

Interview by Natalie Saldarriaga, August 15, 2021


[0:03] Natalie Saldarriaga: Okay. So please introduce yourself. Tell us your name, where you are from, and yeah. 


[0:10] Jimena Ladino: Okay. I am Jimena Ladino. I am originally from Colombia. I was born in a city that is called Pereira in the coffee region where the coffee is grown, and I have been living in the United States for more than twenty years so I am kind of half and half. I am forty-two years old and I decided to share this story because, to this project because it kind of takes me close to my family to have those conversations and kind of have those, kind of discover new things and also, you know, going back to my culture and kind of reflect about what is my culture from a distance. 


[1:08] Natalie: Nice. So then how would you describe your cultural background?


[1:13] Jimena: Yeah. Colombia is a beautiful country and I am not saying that because I am from there. It’s really a beautiful country. Like Colombia has two, it has borders with two oceans. The other border is with a jungle in the Amazonia. It has beautiful landscapes and people in general, as a general, it’s a very happy people in general meaning that they, you know, they can easily be celebrating a lot of events during the year. However, in my culture now that I can see it from a distance and that I have been reflecting about my teenage years back in the eighties, my country is a very violent country. In general, we recently had a, it was an attempt to have a peace treaty and unfortunately people voted no. It looks like for some reason we insist on being in that cycle of war and unfortunately there is a lot of inequality in Colombia is a justice even though the laws are there and the structures are more or less well-done and well-written, the execution of that, of those laws, is mostly only for the poor and for the unfortunate, because the people that has influence and the level of corruption is horrible. So yeah, it has those two sides. I will define my culture as a, as you know, people that have a lot of love for life and happy and energetic, but at the same time that also makes us, I don’t know if it’s that, but also it’s a culture that unfortunately is a very violent country and it has had a lot of history and that’s kind of the reaction, right? Like, you know, if you have been suffering, if you have seen injustice since you were a child then you grew up with that feeling of okay this is what is my life and then if I don’t play the same game, I’m not going to get out of here. So people that really go to, like they work hard, they go educate themselves, they try, but the opportunities are limited and it’s sometimes, it’s very discouraging. 


[4:32] Natalie: And you said that reflecting now when you’re thinking about your culture, you see it as violent, but when you’re living there, is that how you perceive it or is it just something you’re used to?


[4:45] Jimena: Yeah, just to give you an example. When I was, I would say eleven years old, I’m talking about ‘83, 1983, 1984, but at that point it was a war between the cartels in Colombia. And everyday we used to hear like oh there is a bomb there, there is an attempt there of violence, and but at the same time you were around a lot of money because the other thing is that my country has been supported by the money that the drug trafficking brings in. It’s a lot of money, and that somehow has kind of balanced it out. So yes, I think what happened is that you grew up thinking that that’s the normal. And, you know, there are other things that in my region specifically where a lot of like normal for me too, but then I realized oh no this is not, and that’s the influence of the Catholic Church that is in this area specifically that also as a girl, as a teenage girl, create a lot of conflict in my decisions, like okay I didn’t want to do something but it was supposed to be that way. So I was like, at one point, yeah, it created a conflict. So yeah. I think you grew up in that context, so you think that is normal. It’s normal that the people yell at each other. It’s normal that the people, you see that the life is not worth it. Like literally. Like people just got killed and just life has to continue and then you, and you also see a lot of inequalities there. Classism. And you see that only the people with money have the possibilities and the others, they just live the life that they had to live and they don’t have those opportunities to get better so yes I think you grew up thinking that’s normal. 


[7:31] Natalie: Okay. And do you find that it’s still that way with family that you still have there or is there a change mentally at least?


[7:38] Jimena: Yeah, because I have been here for twenty, I have been living in the United States for twenty years. My perception, I will say it has continued being the same because I’m not there even though thanks to the social media and to, you know, the relationships that I still have, my friendships, and also my father that live there. I know that there are a lot of attempts to make it better. So for example in 1993, they wrote a new constitution. This constitution, it was a great constitution. This is the first time they actually recognized the indigenous communities as a part of the society and they served that position in the Senate, so they had representation for the first time so I think all of that is a lot of progress. But the thing is that a culture, you don’t change it like just because you write it down. I mean everything is in paper as I said in the beginning, the laws are there, there are fantastic people in the government. For example, in the Senate, there are fantastic, really great leaders, but the other side, this side that is trying to always take everything by the force and not allowing everybody to get to that level because they are afraid to lose the power, that’s what keeps pressure, everybody down. And we recently had a lot of episodes of protests, people protesting in the streets for months and nothing has changed so yeah it is very difficult because that’s when you think about, okay it’s probably part of the culture. It’s like okay there are certain things you may change, but if it’s part of the culture, then it will take years to actually make that transition. 


[10:13] Natalie: I see. Alright. And so then who is this story about and what relation do they have to you?


[10:20] Jimena: Okay. This is about my uncle. This is my second degree uncle. Mi tío en segundo degradó meaning my, he was my grandmother’s brother. My maternal grandmother’s brother. His name was Jesus. Jesús. So the relationship is a very good, a very close relationship. He died already. He died back in, I would say back in the early 2000s or earlier like 1990-something, late 90’s I would say. And he was my padrino.


[11:15] Natalie: Godfather.


[11:16] Jimena: Godfather. He was my godfather and then he was always like, you know, protecting me, he was always like asking my mom about me, and I remember beautiful like events where if I will be sick from a cold or something he will get there with a little gift. He was a rich man. So the story that I am about to tell, it’s about that. It’s about the possibility of a human being to get from the bottom—like very, very poor—to a very like to be a very successful person, I mean to a successful man. So yes, he was my uncle and my godfather. 


[12:20] Natalie: Okay. And who told you this story about him and when did they tell you this story?


[12:27] Jimena: My mom. And I learned this story when I was a child. So I learned this story I will say like by eight years old. She used to tell me like little stories here and there. And then more frequent, I started to talk with my aunt who is the oldest alive now. So that’s my mother’s sister. And then she also talked about that. And kind of this is a story that is pretty, I think it makes us as a family, it makes us proud. It’s one of those stories that you like to share because it has more positive sides than negative sides. So I think that’s it’s a, it is a story that I heard like by pieces. And it has been in my life since I was a child.


[13:34] Natalie: Okay, alright well go ahead and share the story with us then.


[13:39] Jimena: Okay, so my uncle used to, he was born in Bogotá in a family. They were pretty, I understand that they were pretty well-educated, meaning that they all had like higher education and I am talking about early 1900s. Okay so my grandmother, she was kind of in the middle of those. They were, I think there were around seven siblings and she was kind of in the middle, and my uncle, the one that I am about to talk, he was next to her and then there were two older brothers. But the majority of them had a higher education. Now I think that I don’t know, I think my uncle did not have a higher education for some reason. For some reason. But it’s interesting because his oldest brothers, they were engineers, architects, it was an architect, it was an engineer—a civil engineer, and it was a priest. The other one. And him, he was the fourth or the third one. I don’t know the order. He was the entrepreneur. El emprendedor. He grew up there, and my grandmother also was of course a part of the family. She also was educated. The other three sisters. I’m thinking three, three. Yeah I think they were like eight. Okay, so this story is that my uncle used to have, like he went to , you know, he started a business. What was his business? He started to sell candy in a corner. You know, candy, cigarettes, one thing to another. It was like, how do you call that? Convenience store stuff. But I’m talking about a small cart like my mother used to tell me like when it, because they still like if you go to, now in Bogotá they are not as common. But if you go to small cities or towns you can see the small carts in the streets of people selling candy, gum, cigarettes, like little things. So he started like that but I’m talking about early 1900s so this is Bogotá, this is you know the capital city of Colombia and this is the downtown of Bogotá. He then eventually, he used to be like very disciplined, he eventually came up, was able to get a little place in that area, but I’m talking about like a small place. And then he was, he started to build a business—a very solid business—and one of the things that I understand that he was lucky to have, I mean one, is that he got representations for one product from a small town that is called Veléz in Santander. It’s another department. It’s kind of another state. And they used to sell bocadillos. So the bocadillos are those guava candies so guava sweets. And he was the first one to kind of bring it into the city so he had the representation of that. And the other thing that I learned, it was that he was actually importing cigarettes. So the tobacco industry, I can’t imagine in that early time 1900s, was kind of something new. And he started to bring it, but I’m not sure if he brought it like, I understand that he brought it kind of underground like he didn’t kind of pay taxes on it. Like the proper taxes, so it looks like a very, it looks like it was a very lucrative business because nobody had the ability to sell the cigarettes at that price because he didn’t have to pay that. But then he gets like double, triple, four-size and he came up with by the 1950s, the fifties, he already has a huge deli. Kind of a deli market where he sells all kinds of products imported from Europe, he brings like wine, whiskey, I understand then he also imported a very famous whiskey. So this is a place where the high class capital people used to go and get their products, all their wine and the crackers, everything imported to Colombia. So yeah, that’s the story. The story is that it is kind of, my mom, when she told me this story, this story kind of makes us, as I said in the beginning, proud because you may think that it is impossible to be successful in a country that does not provide those type of opportunities. If you tell this story to an American, you will say oh okay hard work maybe you have more opportunities. But then as a Colombian girl you have seen your parents for example worked hard and they tried to build a business just like my father, that he resisted it to do anything illegal then he failed. He failed like three times because he couldn’t make it. So I’m not sure if my uncle did everything on the rule. I don’t know. He probably had to play around with the system. But he did it. And he did it pretty well. He came up like from zero zero, to have anything. And he ended up to have a very nice business and lucrative business and that’s the story.


[21:27] Natalie: Okay, that’s amazing! And in his older years, did he keep working? Did he sell his business to someone? Was there no more business?


[21:36] Jimena: Yeah, he got, late by the 90s, he was already kind of having a distance but this is the other side. My uncle was a very machista. How do you say machista Natalie?


[21:53] Natalie: Misogynist.


[21:56] Jimena: Yes. That’s the word. Because he gave all the priority to the, he had four children, two girls, female, and two male. He gave all the attention, the priority, to the two males. And the two girls were like, they, he was very, very clear, very obvious in the way that he used to treat his children in a different way because of their gender. So by the end of his life when he started to feel tired and ready because he was old and really tired, he attempted to leave this business to his older son but he, my cousin, the oldest son, he kind of found the first opportunity to emigrate and he came to the United States and he just like disappeared. He just disappeared like he didn’t want to do anything to do with the family. And that’s pretty interesting. It’s like he found like the opportunity just to run away and he run away. So we don’t know what the dynamics inside of that. I know that he was a violent man. I know that he used to hit my, his wife. 


[23:37] Natalie: Your cousin or your uncle?


[23:39] Jimena: My uncle.


[23:41] Natalie: Okay.


[23:42] Jimena: I know that this woman, this poor woman, I think she’s still alive. But she’s like very old. But I know this poor woman, he was very ignorant. So my uncle used to treat her like uh, no not even like a dog, like nothing. He used to just tell her what to do and she just followed his directions. And I will dare to affirm that the dynamics were around him because the older sister, oh I’m sorry the oldest daughter, she also emigrated and she also kind of, not disappeared, now she’s more in contact. But she never came back to Colombia, she’s like there. The youngest, my, she was actually my godmother, she was actually pretty sick, she had a condition, epilepsia. But he never took her to a doctor, so this poor woman just got to fifth grade and having all the resources because they could have ended up having a good education. They had the resources. They had the money. And she never could make it because of her illness. And the other, I think that’s Iván which is the youngest boy and he’s the one that stays with the mother. He became a lawyer. He works in the government. He’s a fantastic guy. But also because he grew up in the sixties so he came up like a little more kind of had developed a certain sensibility for people.


[25:42] Natalie: He was more conscious.


[25:44] Jimena: He was more conscious and all of that. And I’m not sure if at that time maybe my uncle realized okay I have been so tough with my other children so just okay let him be because um yeah because I feel that he is the only one that had that nice memories about his father. The others are kind of, have that conflict of a very strict father, that it was authoritarian and that was his personal side.


[26:22] Natalie: Yeah okay. Yeah it’s interesting to see I think with success and successful people, not always, but a lot of times there’s like another side to it that not everybody sees and it could be many things. In this situation, it was that he was successful in his career but in his personal life it wasn’t always equal.


[26:46] Jimena: Yes.


[26:47] Natalie: But it’s also interesting, kind of like the difference between your way of thinking of it and obviously his children’s way of thinking of it, where you took his story as like this inspiration because you saw one side but his children saw all the success but they also were affected by the personal life. And even though their father was so successful, they didn’t want anything to do with it.


[27:12] Jimena: Yes. Very interesting.


[27:16] Natalie: And so what do you, or do you think family history are important to share with each generation?


[27:26] Jimena: I think so. Yes. I think in general history is such an eye-opener. I personally love history. I think that history gives us a sense of what we are, what we are coming from, where we are coming from, what kind of tools do we have, conscious or unconscious, to continue our lives. So with this story specifically, I feel like since I was a child, I was able to see even though I saw my father failing so many times and trying, trying, trying. On the other side, I saw my uncle, you know, growing and being successful as other stories, of course. So I think having the option, the possibility of see those, listen to the stories, makes us as you said it before, it gives us a hope of things could get better. 


[28:47] Natalie: And in your house growing up, did your parents or your mother always tell you family stories or was this just this one story that she shared with you?


[29:01] Jimena: Yeah, my mom was a little more, my mom has a, she’s very desprendida, how you say that?


[29:20] Natalie: I’m not sure. What do you mean?


[29:23] Jimena: What I mean is that she’s not attached to anything really. Like she has been always, like my mom got married in Bogotá, in the capital, with my father and they moved four years later to Pereira and then she just left everything like she didn’t miss, like she was of course she was building a new life. She was there. And then when she moved back to Bogotá because she got divorced, and you know they got divorced. She also left everything and then when she came here she left everything. And I have never seen my mom like missing, you know what I mean? Like I have never seen my mom like oh I wish we could be in Colombia, oh I wish this. So I think part of what your question relates to my family is that my mother is not as, um, I would say like, is not the person that recreates those stories. I have found more, kind of those stories, in my uncle. He died already. And my aunt. I have, I used to have nine uncles and aunts from my mother’s side. And the same thing from my father’s side. But within my mother’s side, uncles and aunts, I had a very good relationship with them and then through them, I have learned a lot. So for example, my, the youngest uncle Marcos, he died already. He was actually the first one to die and he was the youngest. It was a heart attack. He used to be a hippie guy. He grew up in the sixties. He was very passionate about those stories. He used to tell me a lot of stories about the family, my grandpa, because I didn’t meet my grandpa, my grandfather. My grandmother, I met her. And I enjoyed her company since well when I was a child, and she died when I was seventeen years old. But yeah, I will say like through was more through like my far family like, my uncles and my aunts, than from my close family. My father, yeah, he used to tell me one or another story but it was not a frequent thing because my mother used to, would say like I don’t remember, I don’t know, like she was desprendida. She was never, she doesn’t miss anything, she’s just like okay. So.


[32:40] Natalie: And do you find that you’re the opposite of your mother? Like you know these stories now and you hold them tight to you and you make sure you remember them?


[32:50] Jimena: I think, yeah, I think I like to go back to it and kind of refresh and kind of learn from it. I love stories, yes. But not only like my stories, I love stories in general. I think stories really open up new worlds, new windows, through the experiences of others so yes I think even though my mom enjoys reading, for example her favorite genre is biographies. So she loves to read biographies. I would have to ask her, but then she’s not much about novels like me for example, short stories. So I don’t know. 


[34:01] Natalie: And do you find yourself sharing personal stories or family stories with other people in your family like I know you have nephews and a niece? Do you share stories with them or other family members?


[34:14] Jimena: Yeah. Yes. I share stories. So now, because I grew up already. I’m forty-two years old. So now there are a lot of things that I just remember very fresh from our childhood, for example, my younger brother Oscar and I. And I tell those stories to my nephew and my niece. And also because they show interest on it so they ask me about it. I think that generation is more likely to ask questions to see if they can relate to it. I don’t know like my nephew, he asks me things but just to kind of confirm like oh that’s why I am like that. Because my father used to do that, so I have permission to get out, take the car keys, and just drive around. No, you don’t have a license. You cannot do that. But my father used to do it so it’s kind of for him, specifically for my nephew, it’s kind of an excuse to know those sides of his father just to make sure he has an argument and say I do this because my father used to do it, you cannot tell me I cannot do it. 


[35:50] Natalie: That’s an interesting way to use history and family stories.


[35:54] Jimena: Yes, it is! It’s like, why, if I’m doing this, like what is the problem if my father, oh look my grandfather, he used to do this, he used to do that, why I cannot do it? Oh, I’m not gonna go to university, I don’t want to go to college. What do you mean you’re not gonna go to college?! Well my father did it without college. My grandfather did it without college. And you’re like, what are you gonna do? Yeah but you know, you explain, we all have different processes, different life, different generation, blah, blah, blah. But they use that, specifically my nephew, he’s muy rapidito en la cabeza


[36:42] Natalie: Interesting. But apart from being sneaky and trying to use it to your advantage, do you find that more and more people are becoming interested in their own history and their own culture and people want to know things?


[36:56] Jimena: Something that I discovered in my recent studying, I was studying social justice for the last year, and something that really opened my mind is that in order to have those conversations about social situations right now, like difficult situations or different political point of views or religious point of views, is being able to listen to the personal stories, to the personal narratives. So I went a little deeper and went to research and this is something that is actually out there in the conversation when they trying to come up with solutions for the, for example, for human rights. So what is fair, okay so let’s go back to the story of the people, the stories. Let’s go back to their experiences to be able to see and kind of get a certain sense of reality because there are a lot of, you know, ideas out there and it looks like it’s a good weapon I will say. It’s powerful, that’s what I want to say. A personal narrative is powerful. Personal narrative gives to others the possibility to understand the life of others and in that sense make us more sensibles, sensible about the others and have the possibility of having an agreement about what is fair, what is unfair, what do we deserve, what are the opportunities that we need to give to people in a society. So yes, I think it is getting, well I am an educator so in education, that’s something that I… There are a lot of educators just like me that are very interset on researching and open up those spaces especially, specifically in our context that is in the classroom to be able to listen to the stories of the student. They bring up a whole luggage so we are not talking about only like a culture, one culture, we’re talking about twenty-three different cultures so that makes us, okay, it makes our job more complex of course, because it’s more, but at the same time it’s richer in terms of diversity. We have the possibility to, but only if the educator is willing to listen to those stories and of course give the safe space to the students for them to share their story. So yeah, in education, my sense is that it is important to learn, to hear those stories. Oh, another thing is that specifically in language teaching, something that is really now in the conversation also and that has been proven that it actually works for the proficiency is telling stories. So if you teach through content, okay, then learning the language becomes something meaningful. Then you are not learning verbs. You are not learning words just because of words. You are learning stories so by listening to the stories you create not only the language connection but also an emotional connection and then that sticks with you. So that is another part that I really believe on. 


[41:25] Natalie: Exactly. And you can say that for many different subjects. I can see how language learning, it’s very helpful. But it kind of goes with the question I was going to ask you next but also in history class when you’re always being told the same stories and you don’t see yourself in those stories or anyone you know in those stories, it makes it very boring in history class. So what I was going to ask you is do you see or have you ever seen yourself reflected in history and the main stories that are usually told whether it be in Colombia or in the U.S.?


[42:06] Jimena: Yes. Yes. I recently finished a book, maybe you read it already, I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. It was, okay, that was my gift. Okay, this is a story. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story, I really love it. This is a girl that grew up in Chicago in an immigrant family from Mexico. So by reading this story, I somehow, okay I’m not Mexican, but somehow I created a certain connection with this girl even though I don’t even suffer fortunately or I don’t even remember being connected in the same way as a teenager because this girl suffered from depression and then but then the whole story of her parents immigrating and you know kind of getting through that cultural shock and trying to impose their own culture, their own beliefs, into another society and that conflict between those parents and children that are born in the United States, so all of that, yeah somehow I feel reflected on those stories. Immigrant stories because I feel a part of that community. I am part of that, the immigrant community. So yeah, everything that relates to the immigrant in general I feel very touched. The other aspect in history that really makes me like moves me is reading stories about the colonial time. There is an author that I really like. His name is William Ospina, a Colombian. He’s a historian, but he also is a poet and he’s fantastic. He’s fantastic. So he wrote a lot about colonialism and how our culture is created by all of that is you know, the European side influences in our values and in our way to think. So every time that I found those stories of colonialism even in the United States, I feel touched. When I read about Mexican-Americans and their struggles in the educational system for example, I feel touched. I feel related. If I read something or watch a movie about the African immigrants getting to Spain, to Italy, I feel touched. Because that’s part of what I have been doing, I have been there, I have been in this moving immigrant type of group or community. So. 


[45:58] Natalie: Okay. I see. And I’m just curious if you remember what history class is like in Colombia, if you took any history courses and what is spoken about? What are you taught?


[46:11] Jimena: In, okay, in high school, I actually remember the name of my teacher. Her name was, I don’t know, her last name was Orcasitas. She was from the coast and I remember she was telling us the stories just like that. People from the Atlantic coast, they’re very open with the language, they’re very like, “Oye, tu lo que vas hacer?”. They talk like, they talk fast, they are fresh, they don’t judge like the people from the mountains where I am from, we are very careful what to say, like we don’t want to say a bad word, it’s kind of like a part of the culture, the language culture there. And also combined with the capital city that I also lived for a while so it makes me a very kind of, uh, when I try to communicate my ideas, when I communicate them, or when I tell a story in a correct way. But people from the coast, so she used to be from the coast I remember. And she used to tell us, I remember she told us the story of Attila, the whole north, so it was a European story. I remember we also learned in the elementary school, we learned more history of Colombia, like local, the proximity. But then in high school, but we never, never learned about for example, Eastern, never. Or we, and the other interesting thing is that Latin America as an important part of our history, like pre-colonialism, we didn’t learn. I learned because of my own research in higher education, when I went to drama school in one of our art history class, that’s when I learned about the Aztecs, the Incas, the great pre-colonial civilizations. And I also learned because of my own research about history of the philosophy history but through my uncle, the uncle that I’m telling you that he died early. He also drew me through very good storybooks and that’s where I learned. But in a school, I will say, it was like  Colombian, not even Latin America, like I don’t remember learning in, I learned geography, but no history like Peru or Mexico. Then for higher education, it was like jumped to European, so it was like okay learning about Middle Ages, and the Golden Age, and then el renacimiento.


[49:54] Natalie: Renaissance.


[49:55] Jimena: Renaissance. And, um, and that was it. No, I learned more through my reading as a teenager, but just because of the guidance of my uncle and my aunt. 


[50:11] Natalie: Okay. And do you remember if you enjoyed those classes when you were younger or was it boring or?


[50:17] Jimena: Oh, this teacher I remember I enjoyed a lot. Because the other thing is that she, she used to let us draw a lot of kind of creating those stories in like storyboards. So I remember dedicating a lot of time to illustrate those stories. And I also because I learned, I liked to read since I was a child so I enjoyed those stories even though probably some of my classmates will think those were boring but for me were very enjoyable.


[51:12] Natalie: Okay. Well, I think those are all of the questions I had for you today. But thank you so much again for sharing your story especially a personal family story even though yours was a positive and a hopeful story, but as I think I’ve mentioned before, the idea of this project came from the importance of oral history especially with immigrants and immigrant families because when you move, you don’t bring all these physical objects that other families who have stayed in the same place for generations and generations have so then when our families move around, we have these stories that are so precious to us. So that’s what we want to do is record all of these stories and you know highlight the importance of telling stories to our family members. But is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?


[52:12] Jimena: No. Thank you for the opportunity as I said in the beginning, for me, kind of putting everything in words, kind of structure my memories, it is very refreshing. It kind of clarifies a lot of ideas that I may have previously about myself and then I will be like oh okay this is why. So yeah, these opportunities are fantastic. Thank you.


[52:55] Natalie: Okay. Thank you so much.



Project Support

This project was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.