We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofEmmanuel Montoya

I was born at Lawrence General Hospital in 2003. When I was born my parents had only been here for three years so they didn't speak much English. My dad first came to this country in 2000 from Medellin, Colombia. My mother came a few months later. The first language I spoke was Spanish. When I was little the only one in my family who spoke English was my sister. 

I grew up in Lawrence. On every single corner you would go to there was a corner store, we called them a bodega, where as kids we would buy candy and snacks. These bodegas would always have a Dominican vibe, bachata or merengue was always playing and most would sell good Dominican food like arroz con habichuela or American snacks like chips or ice cream. In Lawrence there were stores where no one spoke English, only Spanish. In Lawrence everyone loved baseball particularly The Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers. On weekends people loved to listen to music and spend time with their family and friends. Lawrence doesn't have the best roads or the most clean streets, but it does have nice people and food. This is how I would describe growing up in my hometown Lawrence. 

But for a long time I didn't really realize I was one of the only Colombians in the city. There were some Ecuadorians, some Salvadorans, but mostly there were Dominicans. I was around seven years old when I started paying more attention to skin color and ethnicity. I would travel to Lowell at least twice a month to visit my close friends, so close that I called them my cousins, they were Colombian too. The cities were only twenty minutes apart, but every time we would go to Lowell I would see many people of many different colors and different cultures. I felt a bit confused about how so many different people got to Lowell, but not to Lawrence, but I also learned about many other cultures when I was there. 

At my house we would celebrate many Colombian traditions. We would sing Colombian songs during Christmas, making natilla, buñuelos, and arepas. After my dad's seventh year here he was finally able to bring us all to Colombia. I got to meet a lot of family that I had never met and my parents got to see the people they left years ago. I will never forget seeing the excitement in everybody's face after seeing each other for so many years.  We began traveling to Colombia during the summer breaks. Every summer we would visit family, eat a lot of Colombian food, and get to visit other cities and towns. 

It was after one of these trips that I realized I was one of only a few Colombian students. I started to realize I was different. Even though almost all my classmates spoke Spanish, sometimes I couldn’t understand my Dominican friends. We would use different words, we spoke at different speeds, and we had different accents. For example if I saw a corner store in Colombia I would call it tienda, but my Dominican friends called it a bodega. We would ride a bus and I would call it _bus, but _my friends would say gua gua. Sometimes I felt a bit out of place, and I felt like I could not always share who I was, or about my culture. 

I moved to Lowell when I was 12. Here in Lowell I saw stores serving food from all over, I ate  ramen, burritos, and brazilian steak. I saw all types of people, I heard all types of languages and accents. I slowly adapted to a new city and new school. I started making friends from many countries. Not being in the minority for the first time felt unusual. It felt comfortable.  While I had always called Lawrence home, now in Lowell, it was exciting to be able to be openly and proudly Colombian.