Over 30 years ago, Loida Ratteray and her pregnant mother were forced to relocate from a small island off Colombia to America in order to secure better medical services for her then-toddler brother, who was ill. They could not speak any English, had no family to help them adjust to life in Miami, and faced near homelessness and tragedy in a short period of time. While Loida will be sharing her story on March 18 as part of the Women & Poverty series, hosted by the Women’s A.C.T group on Facebook, she shares her early years with her family with SheHUB.
“We lived very comfortable in Colombia, I don’t think we would’ve ever left at the time. But the thing that really made us migrate to the States was because my brother was born with a disability and the medical attention was not available because we lived on such a small island, San Andreas.
“We went to the capital…and the doctors recommended that he go to the States and that’s how we ended up there.”
Loida was just six years old when her family landed in Miami. Her father remained in Colombia to work and provide financial support to them.
“My parents were married, but at the time my mom was a single mother because she was doing it by herself with us. Coming from a Latin American country, converting the money into US dollars, it was hard for my Dad to send money. So, my mom really acted as single mother at that time until my dad could be reunited with us.
“I knew that we had only had one suitcase when we got there. It’s really hard when you migrate as an adult. So, imagine as a child because you leave all your friends, you leave everything you’ve known. You just pack your bags and your parents tell you are going to have to leave the country and here’s the reason why. But we have to go, we don’t know when we’re coming back. We don’t know the circumstances, but we are trusting God that we are going to be fine.
“So that’s when my memory takes me as a six-year-old. I actually picture myself learning English and typing. But there was a bit of excitement as well. Because everyone wants to go to the States when you come from a Latin American country. It’s a big deal. But it was not something we foresaw. We didn’t think we were going to move there as a family. It was an unforeseeable circumstance.
“The struggle was not knowing the language. Not knowing anything, like not knowing where we were going to live. Where was I going to go to school? What was going to happen to me? Like there were a lot of unknowns. The status of my brother’s health was a concern. The medical bills, the island where we lived—they fundraised and the little island. I’m really grateful for them because they really did a lot of fundraising. We were able to take those funds with us. But that was not going to last forever. On top of that my sister had not been born yet. So, my mom left pregnant with a child who had a lot of medical issues and a six-year-old.”
While she nor her mother spoke English, Loida says it wasn’t problematic in their new home: “The advantage of going to Miami is that everyone speaks Spanish. However, there was a lot of stuff that was in English. So, as you can imagine, I was going to school, I was translating medical documents for my mother. My mother would take me to the medical appointments, and I would be the translator for many of the doctors.
“It was not an unusual occurrence for my friends that are in a similar situation as me to do that.”
What Loida didn’t realise as a child was that she was actually honing her skills which would benefit her as an adult. She is now a professional translator.
As time moved on, Loida says her mother was struggling to survive in their new environment, but she was resilient.
She tells SheHUB, “Her faith really came into play in those moments of uncertainty. Especially with my brother and his progress, also as not knowing how to support the family at the time. Like who is going to hire a pregnant woman? How were we going to get to appointments with no transportation? What busses did we need to catch? There were so many unknowns. Trying to protect your children in a new country and taking care of yourself.
“The church played a vital role. They supported us by guiding us. If you go to any church in the world and you know fellowship, you will find brothers and sisters who will at least guide you. So, this provided an avenue for my mom to have support. So they became our church family, they became our support system. They showed us where to go for what.”
Loida’s mother eventually found a roommate, a mom of two like her, and they soon became best friends. While Loida’s mother was still married to her father, the woman recently separated from her husband. Because Loida’s mother was legally prohibited to work, they agreed on an arrangement which benefitted them both: while her roommate worked, Loida’s mother would watch her children.
But their peaceful world would soon be disrupted.
“My moms friend’s husband was abusive. He would call the house and he would threaten her verbally, so in the end it didn’t last long from what I can recall. It was probably three months at the most,” Loida recalls. “I remember the call, and I think I remember picking up the phone. He called to summon my mom’s friend. He said he wanted to speak to her. It was late at night. And I remember begging her not to go. She still went—and low and behold, the police came knocking at the door later. She had been murdered by her husband.”
To make matters worse, Loida says that because the two friends had similar last names, the murderer told the Police that her mother was a relative because he didn’t want their children to end up in foster care.
“But my mom could not lie. This was children they were talking about, and she was eight months pregnant and about to pop. I remember the police staying with us that night while she identified the body. So when you talk about my mom’s strength, I don’t know where she got it. I can imagine it was God.
“For her to be very close to delivery, having to identify her friend and we became homeless practically, because the house was not in my mom’s name. God is good, we were never homeless; we found a place to live within a few days. We stayed at the pastor’s home for a couple days and we were not allowed to go back to our house because the place had become a crime scene. I remember my mom in distress and sad. She was also mad at the man who did this to her friend and worried about the other kids.”
But what ever happened to the children of the murdered woman?
Loida explains, “Family was brought in from Colombia, and the grandparents took them back home. We never saw them again.”
To hear the rest of her family’s journey, Loida will be the featured speaker on March 18 in the closed Women’s A.C.T. group on Facebook.