Every Tuesday evening, you’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, he’s only been with Estampa Colombiana for three months. He wasn’t always interested in dance. When he was growing up in Cali, Colombia, he much preferred playing soccer with his friends. “I wasn’t interested in the culture,” he said. “Now 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.”

To view Estampa Colombiana rehearsing “El Cienpies” click here.

In the beginning, Gustavo felt the difficulties of coming to a new and foreign land. “A place to fit in. That’s the difficult part. And the language, too,” he said. “Like 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.”

Whenever he sees a fellow Colombian, he tries to reach out. “I feel really happy when I see a Colombian,” he said. “If they just came, I ask them, ‘Do you need some help? Do you need to get around?’ For me it was difficult to fit in. That’s why I help out people, because I know it’s hard. Maybe for them it’s hard, too.”

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. “If you don’t have papers, it’s hard to get a job. If you don’t find a job, you cannot stay here. Maybe that is going to make us go back.”

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 “keep busy” he goes to school, dances and attends church. Gustavo recently graduated from a community college in Chicago with an Associate’s Degree in Energy and Arts.

***Gustavo’s last name has been omitted because of his immigration status.