Asking Alejandra

It’s a breezy day as I walk through the financial district of Bogota. I’ve never been to this part of the city before, but it’s like a mini-Manhattan. A few turns of the shoulder and I’m in an upscale neighborhood.

Money is intimidating. It’s one of those things you either have or don’t have. Guess which label I occupy.

Today I’m meeting a woman named Alejandra at a coffee shop.

“I’m here,” she texts, but in a space filled by only a few, she is nowhere to be found.

“I don’t see you,” I write back.

Google Maps in Bogota is unreliable, but a ten-minute walk later we meet outside a restaurant that sells chicken.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she says, grabbing my arm. “That guy has been staring at me for the last fifteen minutes.”

“Which guy?” I ask.

She points at a guy with a beard.

“Ah, I wouldn’t worry about it. He probably just thinks you’re hot,” I offer.

We soon sit down for a meal and a conversation.

If I was any more clueless, I’d think Alejandra is American, the sound of her voice not much different from mine. She was born in Bogota but spent the last decade in San Francisco.

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“It is a long story,” she says when asked about why she left Bogota.

“We have 20 minutes,” I tell her.

And then she begins to share bits of her past.

“My family was very dysfunctional,” she says. “My dad had two families. We were the hidden ones, so no one on his side knew. I couldn’t go around the city whenever I wanted.”

“My older sister was done with it. She moved to Argentina, then my brother moved to New York.”

This forced Alejandra to decide which direction her life would go at a young age.

“I was here, like, what should I do now? I always wanted to be a singer or actress.”

She first jumped on a plane and went to New York. Her brother took her in and explained many things, such as the nuances of American currency.

“I had no idea what a quarter was,” she laughs.

New York was fast and exciting, but Alejandra wanted to be in L.A. so she could pursue a career in entertainment. She ultimately landed in northern California.

“Ended up in this random place called San Mateo,” she says, describing a city 30 minutes from San Francisco.

“How were you able to do this?” I asked. “California is so expensive.”

“I had some money saved up,” she explains.

When Alejandra arrived, the Colombian currency was much stronger. 1,800 pesos was the equivalent to $1. This helped her get her feet on the ground and plan her next move. Since then the Colombian economy has dropped. $1 is now worth nearly 3,400 pesos.

Needing to become more immersed in American culture, she enrolled at the College of San Mateo. It was here that she was able to build her English skills while still earning credits. Progress came quick.

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“I finally reached English 101 with the Americans,” she laughs. “And then I transferred to San Francisco State.”

Asking Alejandra - Colombian Flag

During Alejandra’s time there, she earned a Broadcasting and Electronic Communication Arts degree.

“My thought was I’m going to finish my degree and then I’m going to pursue acting and singing,” she says.

Unfortunately, her goals were not quickly met. Not only was pursuing a career in acting not as glamorous as she hoped, expenditures were adding up.

“The reality over there [America] is different. It’s very hard. People think that because you live in the States you live rich. It’s simply not true,” Alejandra offers.

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Turbulence was a common thing in America for Alejandra. She often found herself in adverse situations.

“There have been so many,” she says when asked to describe the most difficult moment of her life.

Her third year abroad, her grandpa passed away. Adding to her despair, she wasn’t able to come home for the funeral.

“You realize what you got yourself into,” she says of being away from family for so long.

Soon after, the losses continued to pile up. Without her family, she had no support system. As a consequence, she fell into a dark state that had severe implications on her health.

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