Chasing the right dream

Claudia Torres came to the United StatesIMG_4588 from Medellin, Columbia when she was 19.
"I love this country. I met my husband here and had my son here and most of my friends are American," she tells me in a lilting accent that makes ordinary words sound like a song.

The 46-year-old Norwalk, Conn. resident teaches Spanish and preschool and nannys part time. She and her husband, an Ecuadorian immigrant, met while in college and became citizens later.

Though hers is a success story, Torres worries others are not making the transition. They are chasing the wrong dream, a misunderstanding of values that even native-born residents fall prey to.

"It's about family. It's not about green dollars. People think about money all the time and they forget values," she says.

"The United States opened its doors to every body," Torres adds. "We should integrate ourselves into American society and learn its laws and its culture."

There are many differences that must be adapted to. Some are humorous, such as the less boisterous observation of Christmas and rigid way time dictates daily life.
Others are serious: differing ideas of discipline versus child abuse, for example, and a police force that cannot be paid off to get out of a speeding ticket, could result in criminal charges.

"Orgullo" or self-pride can be a stumbling  block.
"Immigrants say, 'Oh I don't want to speak because I will make a mistake,'" relates Torres. "That is wrong. Americans don't laugh at you because you make a mistake. When you know the law, you get more respect. When you make the effort, Americans give you more value."

"You need to create that separation," she says. "It's not to forget about where you come from, it's not to forget who you are. But you need to learn about where you are coming to."

She adds, "You need to learn the American dream — it's not that we come here to work like machines — because we are human, we have familes. We have to see our kids grow up."