“At that time, my biggest fear was being illegal and at any moment can get taken out of the U.S.”
The United States is filled with a diverse variety of immigrants. Most of the time, these immigrants receive a bad reputation from society. In fact, my grandpa was an immigrant when he was younger. Here is his story.
Carlos Montalvan is from Managua, Nicaragua and is one of seven siblings. Managua is part of Central America and is surrounded by mostly water. Nicaragua borders Honduras to the North and Costa Rica to the South. This country is considered one of the harshest and poorest countries in Central America.
Nicaragua is mainly focused on agriculture (coffee, bananas, sugarcane, rice and beans) and industry (machinery, clothing, metals and textiles). This country contains a tropical climate with warm temperatures all year round.
Unfortunately, Montalvan was compelled at only eighteen years old from his home country due to a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that happened in the middle of the night on December 23, 1972; he was in a sticky situation with the President and government accused of corruption. The 6.2 magnitude earthquake had damaged almost all of the city. “It killed so many people, left a lot homeless and just destroyed most homes and businesses. It was a depressing sight. I was scared and sad,” Montalvan said.
The Nicaraguan government did a tragic and dreadful action: they ignored many areas that were damaged, did not provide any food and did not provide health care fast enough. My grandpa soon realized this was not the place to stay and continue his adolescent years and aim for a better future. While mainly being forced to leave his country, he provided his own choice to leave.
Luckily, Montalvan had the opportunity to flee to the U.S. by plane with a permit he already owned. He felt sad, distraught and lost due to leaving his parents and six siblings behind. The “better life” perspective he had visualized when he left Nicaragua was being surrounded by friends and family at some point, being financially stable and having some form of transportation and other necessities.
Arriving to a new area without knowing any background and lifestyle at all can be intimidating and make many question your arrival. My grandpa had some expectations when arriving: being able to get a hold of an education, being employed and growing accustomed to a different style of clothing. Most of these expectations that he had thought of managed to be correct.
Throughout living in the U.S., specifically Los Angeles, he was able to go to school to receive some education and acquire his first job which was in a warehouse. As for the clothing sense, it was way different compared to his home country, especially in the 1970s. In Nicaragua, their clothing included shorts, dresses, short sleeve shirts/blouses, tank tops, sandals, jeans and hats. On the other hand, LA consisted of dresses, boot cut pants, flowy shirts, tight shirts, boots and sneakers.
Obstacles and challenges were faced during his move to LA; his number one challenge was having to learn a new language, English. He was not familiar with English, but it was the main language in LA which made him eager to get a hold if it. Montalvan had to find some way to learn it and adapt to it in order to communicate and fit in. He simply learned by himself and school.
Montalvan would pick up the language when watching T.V., listening to the radio, going to school and going to work everyday. While living in a new place, he still thought about and missed Managua. He misses everything but especially the traditional food, not just eating hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza and sandwiches on the regular.
“They cooked meals with passion and love, always homemade,” Montalvan said. Some Nicaraguan traditional dishes are a soup called Mondongo, a dish that consists of yuca, chicharron and nacatamales.
Montalvan is now 63 and an American Citizen. He still lives in Los Angeles but is now surrounded by his siblings and other family members and friends, just as he envisioned his “better life.” He works in a tailor shoe/bag repair and has a stable lifestyle. He is married and has two children, a boy and a girl.
Montalvan also has two grandchildren, and I am one of them; the one who learned further background information to share her grandpa’s engaging, important story.