A STORY OF VIOLENCE, LOVE, AND IMMIGRATION FROM COLOMBIA TO SPAIN

I was born in San Carlos (Antioquia) region of Colombia on a farm that my great-grandparents built. My father, like his father, was a coffee grower and he had approximately 40 workers. Since my mother had heart disease and could not work, my older sisters, who were 20 and 22 years old when I was 8, helped in the production of coffee and kept our home clean. They grew up to be beautiful, voluptuous and hard-working women.

In San Carlos, gangs forced rural people like us to pay a percentage of our profits, give them a part of our land and the coffee we sold. These groups were increasingly violent. Although we paid them, it was never enough and my parents were worried. They lost sleep over thinking that someday a gang member could kidnap my sisters and do whatever he wanted with them. Torture them, violate them, or abuse them in any other way. Leaving everything they had built was the decision my parents took to protect my sisters. We left our farm and went to live in Medellín.

It was a drastic change. In San Carlos, we had our land, our belongings, friends, family, and network. Leaving for the city meant that we had to leave everything behind. No one wanted to buy our land because everyone knew that it was in a conflict zone. We were running away. 

In Medellín, my father did not find work easily because he was uneducated. By pure luck, he got hired as a security guard and our integration process to the city finally began. I was registered to elementary school and my sisters started working as cleaning staff. Once I graduated from high school, I found employment as a packer and stocker in a factory for a tobacco and liquor distribution company. After three months, I was already the head of inventory, and by the end of the year, I was in the logistics team. My supervisor saw my growth and he made me a proposal. He asked me if I wanted to study at the University of Medellin and become an accountant. I accepted his offer.

I worked during the day and studied in the night. I took care of my mother and became a father figure for my nephews. When I was 26, I finished university and with 15 people under my responsibility, I managed the company’s accounts. I bought a house for my parents, invited my friends out regularly, and traveled throughout Latin America. 

One day, some 40 armed men arrived at our office, got rid of the security people, and robbed the company. I was pulled a gun and when I resisted, it was jammed into my temple. The gang stole billions of pesos. To cover the damage, the insurance policy of the company guaranteed to pay 60% of the loss with the condition that all the personnel who handled the money were fired. And just like that, I lost my job.

When I was in college, I got to know a friend who owned a restaurant. She told me to come and work with her for a while. She didn’t have much to offer but I decided to say yes, work as a waiter temporarily in her restaurant, and apply for jobs in big companies.

While working in my friend’s restaurant, I met a guy and we started dating. He was one of the founders of the restaurant but back then I didn’t know it. When he first saw me, he stared at me and got me nervous. For me, he was a normal person but others treated him differently. Turns out, he was a famous hairdresser, appeared on TV, and took care of Colombian models ‘appearances. I wasn’t in his league. But still, he was a simple guy, always cheerful, and that appealed to me. Shortly after we got together, I started to live with him. He told me that although he was a famous hairdresser in his own right, his boss took away 50% of his earnings. From my point of view, he didn’t need to spend his whole life working for others. I convinced him to set up his own hairdresser. Our hairdresser.

We went big. We started with 20 employees in the center of Medellín. His clients were classy, wealthy women who spent tons of money to look fabulous for their husbands, boyfriends, meetings, or whatever they needed. They wouldn’t ever go to an ordinary hairdresser. That’s why we advertised on TV channels such as Caracol and launched a new line of products. We contracted with a few other channels to prepare their presenters under the condition that they aired our publicity. Within a year, our business flourished. We worked until midnight. Our stylists came to work motivated. Our customers — searching for the most exclusive products, the brightest, most voluminous hair — wanted to be divas and we made it happen.

We paid our taxes but that was not enough because we had once again gangs on our doorstep. In the beginning, we decided not to pay them and suffered the consequences: broken windows, stolen products, ruined chairs. I convinced my boyfriend that we paid to gangs so long as the company was working well. We had the responsibility to take care of our clients. And so we started paying 20% of our monthly earnings.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend was asked to participate in a reality show, and with my support, he went to Bogotá to compete against the best hairdressers in Colombia. Those guys were the best of the best; they worked in the United States for the richest and most famous – such as Victoria’s Secret women — and regularly traveled around the world assist the most beautiful women to make them even prettier. My boyfriend was closed up in a studio for three months doing the recording. The gangs, noticing his great success and popularity on TV, asked for more money. It was no longer 2,500 Euros a month. Rather, I had to pay approximately 5,000 Euros a month.

Each month became every 15 days.

Every 15 days soon was 8 days.

“No, this is going very well and we want our share,” gangs told me. There was no end. I decided not to pay them.

But the problem wasn’t solved. While my boyfriend was in the reality show, they could have killed me at home or on the way to work. My boyfriend was a public figure and the groups wanted to destroy our hairdresser, our house and everything we had built.

I went to the police. They tried to do something but these gangs are very clever. They check every moment to see if the police are there with you and apart from that there are a lot of gang members who are involved with the police. You don’t know if the police officers who come to protect you are with the gang.

I spoke with everyone, including politicians, who could help us.

I did a thousand things.

I filed complaints. 

I said: “Look at the cameras, watch how I give them money when they are threatening me. Look who they are and find them. “

I had all the evidence. But it meant nothing. 

My boyfriend didn’t win the reality show and he came back to Medellin. Realizing that the gang situation was out of control, he fell into depression. Seeing damage after damage after damage made him cry every day. Our employees were threatened. They were told that if their bosses didn’t pay, they would pay with their lives. They began to resign. One day, certain gang members confronted my boyfriend. “If you don’t pay, you pay with your life or your business goes to hell,” they said and they hit him in the head with a gun. 

What were we going to do? Crying and waiting for someone to come and kill us? There is no solution. You cannot make progress; you can only be yet another poor person in society.

While all this was happening, my boyfriend’s sister — who lived in Barcelona for the last 18 years– came to vacation in Colombia and get a boob job. We tried to hide our problems from her because we didn’t want to bother her with our troubles. But she noticed something was wrong. In the end, we told her everything. “Come to Spain,” she told us. She offered to share her place in Barcelona until we sorted things out. Overnight, we sold our hairdresser. We sold our house, and everything else in a month and went to Spain.

We were the best hairdressers in Medellin but in Barcelona, we did not have anything. We had to start from scratch. We arrived as tourists and immediately requested political asylum. I brought all the documents that I thought were going to serve us. The police who conducted the interview swept while listening to our story and reviewing our documents. With her, we started our asylum process and now every six months are asked to renew our ID cards.

Our first year in Spain, which just finished, has been depriving. My boyfriend’s sister, who worked as a waitress, lost her job and our savings have run out. We went to the Red Cross, NGOs which helped immigrants, and sought help in every corner. In Colombia, we used to do that to protect our business. In Spain, we have done it to have enough food to eat and pay the rent. We were committed to not die of hunger. I’ve found a job in a kitchen to wash dishes, and my boyfriend has been helping out in a small hairdresser. But the fact that here in Spain I now wash dishes to make ends meet doesn’t mean I haven’t studied hard or I don’t know how to manage personnel. I don’t mind working fifteen hours a day. I’m happy because I know that sooner or later, we’re going to set up our hairdresser in Barcelona and we will be the best.

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