Every Tuesday evening, youâ€™ll find Gustavo dancing with the Estampa Colombiana Folkloric Dance Company in a small dance studio on Irving Park in Chicago. At 23 years old, Gustavo has been in Chicago for nine years.
With no prior dance experience, heâ€™s only been with Estampa Colombiana for three months. He wasnâ€™t always interested in dance. When he was growing up in Cali, Colombia, he much preferred playing soccer with his friends. â€œI wasnâ€™t interested in the culture,â€ he said. â€œNow that I am here in the U.S., because I see so many people from other countries, I want to know more about my own country.â€
To view Estampa Colombiana rehearsing “El Cienpies” click here.
In the beginning, Gustavo felt the difficulties of coming to a new and foreign land. â€œA place to fit in. Thatâ€™s the difficult part. And the language, too,â€ he said. â€œLike three or four years ago, I was just by myself, lonely. Now it is good for me. These past couple of years I have been making a lot of friends.â€
Whenever he sees a fellow Colombian, he tries to reach out. â€œI feel really happy when I see a Colombian,â€ he said. â€œIf they just came, I ask them, â€˜Do you need some help? Do you need to get around?â€™ For me it was difficult to fit in. Thatâ€™s why I help out people, because I know itâ€™s hard. Maybe for them itâ€™s hard, too.â€
Gustavo has not been back to Colombia since he left because he does not have legal status in America. It is a source of frustration and sadness for him. â€œIf you donâ€™t have papers, itâ€™s hard to get a job. If you donâ€™t find a job, you cannot stay here. Maybe that is going to make us go back.â€
He tries to stay connected to Colombia by reading news on the Internet and watching a favorite Colombian comedy which he has to search for on YouTube. To â€œkeep busyâ€ he goes to school, dances and attends church. Gustavo recently graduated from a community college in Chicago with an Associateâ€™s Degree in Energy and Arts.
***Gustavoâ€™s last name has been omitted because of his immigration status.