I was born in Cali, Colombia, near the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains. I am an immigrant, a Berea College alumna, and a Latina, who now works as a community organizer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
My country has been in a state of civil war for over four decades. The war has displaced over 3.8 million of my people, making my country home to the world’s second largest population of internally displaced people, surpassed only by the country of Sudan.
The war is deeply rooted in an unequal economic system. Due to the fact that the vast majority of wealth and resources are not controlled by the people, many Colombians have been left desperately impoverished. Government forces, on many occasions, have worked with the paramilitary in suppressing worker rights movements, labor union organizers, and human rights defenders. These cycles of violence, social injustice, environmental injustice, and economic injustice go hand-in-hand.
My mother and I immigrated to the United States in 1988 in search of the American Dream. We first settled in Fort Myers, Florida, where I began to reshape my personal identity. My mother and I were poor brown women without community, without social capital, and without knowledge of the language. To survive, we did the only thing we knew to do: we stuck together, worked hard, lived simply, searched for opportunity, and prayed. We did not lose hope and that was important because I was beginning to suspect that this dream of prosperity was never intended for me. The only folks I saw living out their dreams were the retired white people whose huge homes we cleaned.
When my mother married in 1994, her new husband moved us to Maryville, Tennessee, where we
found ourselves in the foothills of the mountains once again. Here was the first time that I saw or knew of poor white people and of poor white communities. I knew from a very personal sense what poverty, racism, and discrimination were. Although I didn’t quite understand classism, it seemed very familiar.
In the fall of 2000, I became a first year student at Berea College. There, I began to redefine how I viewed life and my role in it. I learned that it is not by coincidence that the region in the United States that is most rich in resources is also the region with the highest levels of poverty and environmental devastation. I have since learned that what we do to the land we do to the people.
In 2004, after graduating with a Sociology degree, I became a community organizer in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. I help organize community unions with residents who want to protect their land, water, and future. I work with those who want to help move this country toward a more sustainable future beyond coal and who want to protect and celebrate their heritage.
I decided to live in the Appalachian region because I was conceived and born into a struggle for a better way of life. Although I am painfully reminded that I’m not “from” here, I have a responsibility to help in creating change because I am planting roots and I am here to stay.