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My immigration story: una chapina comes to Colorado.

In order to understand a piece of the Convivio Café story I would like to share a bit about my personal story. The story of a Guatemalan kid (una chapina) born with an identical twin sister, raised in Guatemala city with dreams of being a fashion designer-artist-doctor-restaurant owner-teacher (all at once, of course) when she grew up. That's me. I had the good fortune of growing up with a dad who spoke English and taught us a second language as kids. "Uno nunca sabe cuando le va a servir saber otro idioma." My Dad's voice always rings in my head - you never know when speaking a second language will come in handy. To my Dad, us kids were lucky and on the right path to speak inglés. To my friends in la colonia, the Paiz kids were just weird.

There I am on the right - one of the two twin sisters hopping into my parent's VW bus, uniforms and lunches in tow, ready for school. I wasn't kidding when I said identical twin - can you even tell which of those kiddos I am? ;)

Fast forward to my college years, studying design at La U (as the university is colloquially known in Guate), loving life. I was so proud of my friend group, my family and yes, my country. But as it happens, after those years I met a guy from Xela, the second largest city on the other side of the country, in the Western Highlands. I'll skip over the super romantic wining and dining and falling in love... and just skip to the part where we ended up making a life together and deciding to tie the knot. We started our life - and family - in Guatemala City, but it wasn't long before an opportunity opened up for him to work in the US with a non-profit, and we decided to jump. All those years of inglés would finally pay off as I made the big trek North. Tony's work visa was for 3 years - I thought, 3 years? That's nothing! So in 2002 we left our beloved home of Guate with an 18-month old kiddo, 4 suitcases and a general sense of ease knowing I'd be back in no time.

From the 'Land of Eternal Spring' (as Guatemala is so adoringly known) to Colorado, the 'Land of 300 Days of Sunshine.' Except, there wasn't sunshine. We arrived in January, in the middle of a snow storm, with little to lean on but our love for each other. We left a culture where everything revolved around community and family (and I mean toda la familia, neighbors and strangers and distant cousins too) to a place entrenched in the pride of a pioneering spirit, a place where independence is strength. Go figure, here we were the 'city-mice' from el sur (south of the border) who don't snowboard, or go camping, or climb fourteeners. We would soon learn our next very important word in inglés - outdoorsy. (I'll just add here that, 20 years later, we do hike, love craft beer and green chili, and we've even been - willingly - to Casa Bonita twice. The original, pre-pandemic Casa Bonita. I think we're Coloradans now.)

It would be a disservice not to be completely honest about the dichotomy of privilege and hardship I have experienced as an immigrant in the US. I am privileged by two clear cut advantages that make my US life vastly different from many of my fellow inmigrantes. First, we came with a work visa. AKA - we were documented. Second, we both spoke inglés. 25%+ of Guatemala's population is illiterate, so we consider ourselves incredibly privileged to have two languages taught to us as kiddos.

We showed up with a very narrow understanding of how immigrants should be, or how immigrants should do X, Y and Z to get accepted. We knew the rules and we subtly abided by them. But our position of privilege separated and protected us from some of the harsher, sometimes life-threatening circumstances of so many other newcomers to this land.

We navigated the immigration system as a family and were eventually awarded citizenship. And we navigated this as a documented family, following the rules, getting in line and doing it the way you are supposed to, as many folks today want immigrants to do. Let me tell you that my family's journey from being awarded a work visa in 2001, moving to Colorado in 2002, paying taxes for years, contributing to our growing community for years, building a life and a family and careers in this state, then finally becoming citizens in 2018 - this whole process literally took us 17 years and thousands of dollars. We learned a lot throughout those years, and especially the life-altering lesson of how unfair, unjust, and dehumanizing the immigration system is for the beautiful diversity of immigrants that make our communities great.

As you can see in the pictures below, the day we finally got sworn in as US citizens, I was a little more than elated, let's say. And we threw an epic fiesta with our diverse Colorado family.

Why is this relevant to the Convivio Café story? As our website states:

"In Guatemala, a convivio is a get together where we are all welcome. We gather around crowded tables with our friends and neighbors to share, connect, and enjoy delicious culturally-rooted food and drink. At Convivio Café we want to celebrate the roots of our neighborhood—some deep and some newly planted—as they grow side by side".

That has literally been my immigration story in the US of A. My expectation of 3 short years in the US has somehow turned into 20+. I have come to experience friendship and connection in a country so different from my own, but surrounded by community to welcome me in.

Yes I could write a few more posts about specifics of our immigration stories and the season I worked as a paralegal for an Immigration Law Firm, my own experience with feeling the opposite of welcoming from certain folks, and getting to know my fellow immigrants, knowing families, listening to stories, writing letters to immigration judges on behalf of friends in deportation proceedings: changing my very black and white point of view and expanding my awareness of the gray.

In all honesty growing up in Guate, through life in Colorado and our immigration journey I have always been a PROUD chapina y latina. There have been moments in my life where the pride has taken a quieter form, trying to prove myself, to conform, to make sure I follow the rules so I'm accepted, to make sure they see the value I have, and all that I contribute to this social experiment of a nation founded by immigrants - our collective fruit salad, the analogy I prefer over melting pot.

And while I've been proud at times, and that pride has grown, I want to feel LOUD too. There are very few spaces where I really experience that welcoming spirit that makes this immigrant lady feel like I can be LOUD and PROUD about my heritage, my accent, my family, my culture. I want to shout it from the rooftops and let others feel the warmth of my culture.

That is what I want this Guate-inspired café to be. A place where friends and community from other lands can come and find space to just be. Be themselves, be proud of where they come from, and be loud about who they are. A place to share that with others and not feel ostracized for it. A place to order café en español without worrying about not being able to pronounce that fancy drink on the menu. A place where the Colorado families with deep roots, as well as the Colorado transplants (from Midwest America and Central America) can feel the connection with community. No matter where you were born, we can all bloom where we are planted, through the language of our heart, through a place for togetherness.

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1 Comment

Stefanie Fox
Stefanie Fox
Sep 06, 2022

Thank you for sharing a beautiful piece of your journey!

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