When Nubia Arias arrived in the U.S. from her native El Salvador in 1992, she was initially unhappy. Arias’ mother had been living in the U.S. for eight years, and during her absence, Arias and her three siblings were raised by their grandparents.
“My grandparents stayed in Salvador, so I had to separate from them,” Arias said. “My grandmother told me that after three months [in the U.S.] I would have the green card and I could return to be with her. …When I arrived my mother told me I had to stay. “I was so angry with her and I cried every day for a year,” Arias said. “I couldn’t understand the language at school and I hated this country.”
Once Arias learned to speak English, she said she began to feel more comfortable in her adopted country. Since her mother worked long hours as a housekeeper to provide for the family, Arias was raised primarily by her older sister.
Expectations were different in the U.S.
“In El Salvador, you get married, have children and take care of them. Women in El Salvador only work if they are educated,” Arias said. “In small towns where people have less means, it’s much more difficult.”
After graduating from high school, Arias joined Americorps and gained practical experience working in an elementary school and also in a health clinic. Eventually, she decided to get certified as a childcare provider. This October marks the 10th anniversary of her home-based business, Sunshine Bilingual Family Daycare.
Although Arias no longer wishes to return to live in El Salvador, there are many aspects of her home culture that she misses.
“One of the things I really like about El Salvador is the unity of the people,” she said. “It’s strange in this country because people don’t know their neighbors or help each other. In El Salvador, people take care of each other.”
“… People like to spend time together and have fun and there is no schedule. They don’t think a lot about materialism. They work to take care of their children. In the U.S., people work to have more and more and more.”
Arias distinctly remembers her first Christmas in the states.
“In El Salvador, Christmas is a big party. There is a huge meal with tamales, chicken sandwiches and different types of desserts. There are fireworks. People dance and the entire family is together. We go to Mass. Nobody works on December 24, which is when we celebrate. My first Christmas here my mother had to work that day and we stayed at the house by ourselves. Here, people have very sad celebrations.”
Another culture shock Nubia experienced was the American pace of life. “Everything is scheduled here. Parties start and finish at a certain time. In El Salvador, people don’t always watch the time. Here, life is ruled by the clock.” ‘
Arias and her now ex-husband discovered Hyattsville in 2001 through a friend. At first it felt very far from D.C., but today Hyattsville feels like home.
“Hyattsville has so many people from different countries. Where I live in West Hyattsville there are many Latinos,” she said. “But I also know people from the other side [of the city] through my work, the families whose children I care for. I feel like their children are my own.”
Still, Arias feels like she is the middle of two worlds.
“I don’t feel like I’m a “gringa,” [white] but the U.S. is home,” she said. I lost part of my Salvadorean culture to adapt to the American culture, but this country gave me many opportunities.
“In my country I wouldn’t have been able to have these opportunities or take care of my children. If people study and try hard, they can succeed in this country. This country opens its arms to women; this is much more difficult [in El Salvador].”
Julia Gaspar-Bates is a cross-cultural trainer and consultant. “Cultural Connections” is devoted to bringing forth the voices of immigrants and other foreigners who have settled in Hyattsville.