When Lorena Morales and her family decided to migrate from Bogota, Colombia to the United States of America, she had no idea that leaving her birth country would be the start of a lengthy journey towards reconnecting with her heritage. Although Lorena acknowledges that leaving Colombia at a young age made connecting to her heritage difficult, she says that being undocumented made it harder. For years, Lorena and her family were undocumented immigrants living in the USA. “My family came here on a tourist visa and just never left,” she says. Being an undocumented immigrant is very restrictive. Traveling back to Colombia would have jeopardized any chance of returning back to the USA. Lorena’s family, like many other undocumented migrants, didn’t take that risk. Consequently, Lorena couldn’t create her own experiences in Colombia and would have to rely on the experiences of others. It wasn’t until years later, after receiving a green card and later on becoming a US Citizen, that Lorena went back to Colombia. She left Colombia at 3 years old and returned as a 17-year-old high school student, but what about the time between then? How does a person so far away from home, connect to a place they hardly remember? Had she abandoned her heritage and adopted new cultures and traditions? These questions aren’t unique to Lorena. They are some of the very questions that migrant parents ponder on when they think about their children.
When migrant parents elect to take their children with them to their migration destination, they do so uneasy about what may become of their children. Concerns about the safety and development of migrant children differ amongst migrant groups, but most migrant parents do wonder how connected their children will be to their heritage if they are raised in a new country. Many try their best to ensure that their children are given a chance to celebrate the cultures and traditions that they would have in their home countries, but a time comes when it is left to the child to decide how connected they want to be. Assimilating into the country they have migrated to can be very attractive to migrant children. From school to leisure time, migrant children find themselves immersed in a society very different from the one their parents grew up in. This can sometimes cause tension in the home and push migrant children away from their heritage. However, that isn’t always the case. Lorena Morales is living proof that migrant children can stay connected, learn to appreciate their heritage, and celebrate their diversity.
For as long as she can remember, Lorena has been very proud of being Colombian and she credits her parents for that. The home environment that her parents created helped her remained connected to her Colombian heritage. Her parents spoke Spanish at home, cooked Colombian dishes, and they made sure to continue celebrating traditions passed down from generation to generation. Lorena says that, as a result of that upbringing, she feels as though she has always wanted to remain as Colombian as possible. “I go out of my way to try to be connected in any way I can. I always did art projects and any other projects I could on Colombia,” she says. Lorena’s connection to Colombia began like most migrant children, but has evolved because of something very different. Over the past three years, Lorena has been dancing traditional Colombian dance and that has brought her closer to her roots even more.
Lorena is part of a traditional Colombian dance group called El Tayrona. Lorena says that, when she is dancing traditional Colombian dance, she feels more connected to her heritage. “Every song has its story. A lot of them are about love or Colombian traditions and the people,” she says. So, when Lorena is dancing, she is telling the world about Colombia’s traditions, people, food, culture and more. Furthermore, Traditional Colombian dance has allowed Lorena to become more connected with her family. Her younger siblings and her father are all a part of El Tayrona, and she says she enjoys the time they spend together. They embrace their Colombia heritage together when they dance and teach us all many lessons by doing so.
Lorena’s connection to her roots has always been around her, but it has been traditional Colombian dance that allowed her to feel like she was really embracing it best. There is a everyone can learn from her story.
If you are a migrant parent and you are worried about how your child will connect with their heritage, look at Lorena’s story as a testament to the importance of creating a great home environment and allowing your child to find what it is that connects them to their roots the most.
If you are a migrant child or the child of immigrants, consider Lorena’s story as a reminder that there is so much more about your roots you may not know. Find what it is that draws you closer to your heritage and embrace it.
Lorena Morales, now 23 years old, is finishing up her master’s degree in Social Work. She is also currently interning with the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program. In that role, she helps underrepresented students stay on track and give them the right advice for college readiness. Now that she is much older, she travels to Colombia more frequently and has a better understanding of Colombia than when she was a child.