Aida Calvopina

Transcript of Aida Calvopina
Interviewee: Aida Calvopina
Interviewer: Christina Xiques
Date: February 6, 2014
Place: Chicago, IL
Transcriber: Christina Xiques, as amended by Dorothy Nygren July 16, 2015
Total Time: 31:09

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

CX: This is Christina Xiques, interviewing Aida Calvopina, who comes from Ecuador. So Aida could you tell me a little bit about your earlier years, about your childhood? Any good memories, any happy memories?

AC: I came from Ecuador. I arrived in 1955.

CX: Okay.

AC: I have been here since 1955.

CX: Okay. Yes, I was going into those questions later on.

AC: Oh okay.

CX: But I just wanted to start out asking if you could say something, share with us anything, about your childhood… like a nice memory or….

AC: Well, I am the oldest in the family. We were seven siblings including me but three are dead. We are surviving, just four of us. But all my family is in Ecuador because the reason I came to this country is a very special reason actually.

CX: Okay.

AC: I came to Chicago although I didn’t like it coming here at first. After a while, I fell in love with the city.


CX: Okay….

AC: And I stayed. I even travelled with my husband. We travelled because of my health. I have asthma. We travelled all around the country in the United States, trying to find a place where I would feel more comfortable with my health, perhaps Florida, Arizona, or California.

CX: Okay.

AC: But I love Chicago. I cannot be away from Chicago, now that I have a family… not a big family but it’s growing.

CX: Right. You visited warmer places?

AC: I visited all those states but I am always saying, “No, let’s go back to Chicago.”

CX: That’s nice. So do you remember something going back to your childhood…. a good memory that you had?

AC: A good memory was that we were very, what they say, rambunctious children.

CX: Okay, that’s fine.

AC: You know, as kids.

CX: Okay.

AC: My mother could not find a place to live because we were too many. During those times there were always big families. Many Ecuadorians still keep the tradition of having lot of kids. When I go visiting over there they say, “You adopted the American way, one child that’s it (laughing).” But I tell them, “No it’s not that.” So, there were other reasons you know, but we were happy. We were a happy bunch you know.

CX: Okay.

AC: Well, we were raised by an aunt, my mother’s elder sister.

CX: Why is that?

AC: Because my father was separated from my mother when I was young.

CX: Okay.

AC: Then the second marriage. The rest of my siblings are from the second marriage.

CX: Ah, okay.

AC: Also that second marriage, after the fifth child I think, it broke up. Then we were left and my mother had to work. You know my father disappeared. So she had to work. When I was six years old her other husband came along. It was an up and down childhood.

CX: Okay.

AC: But there were good things.


CX: Was your aunt nice to you?

AC: My aunt was like a mother. Sometimes we didn’t know if we loved her more than we loved my mother. My mama is Mama. Tia in Spanish is auntie and we call her Matia. Even when she died my brothers and my sister decided we should put it in the announcement of her death in the newspaper, our dearest Matia, Mama Tia.

CX: That’s nice.

AC: Because she was a spinster. She didn’t get married precisely because she wanted to help my mother, so my mother could work.

CX: She sounds like a great woman.

AC: Oh she was.

CX: I call my aunt Tia too because I have Spanish blood in me too. So I call her Tia too.

AC: We called her Matia, and she was cute. Now when reminiscing, I remember there were times when she could not put up with us anymore. She never punished us. In those times you can spank children. But she always said, “I’m going to leave you guys, I don’t want to see you anymore.” And she pulled up the suitcases and started to pack. We started to cry, to scream and go ask for her forgiveness on our knees. “No, don’t go, no, no, no.” She said, “I told you not to do that, I told you to do this, I told you that.” Her way of correcting us was to say she was leaving us.


CX: Right, right so she never you said spanked you or….

AC: No. No, my mother was the one in charge of spanking (laughing).

CX: Okay, Did you live in a city or a village in Ecuador?

AC: We live in Quito, the city, in a suburban area, not in the center, in a neighborhood called La Victoria. Well, in the early years we lived in couple of neighborhoods.

CX: Okay, were you born there?

AC: Yes. I was born in Quito, within the city, what they call “barrios.” The barrio takes the name of the nearby church - Santa Catalina for example, because the Santa Catalina church was there and you know Ecuador is a very Catholic country.

CX: Right.

AC: And those times when I was young… we are talking eighty two years ago.

CX: OK. Alright.

AC: And then my mother, actually Matia won the lottery, but just a little portion.


CX: Okay so?

AC: So with that money my mother bought a lot in an area they were developing, like they call it here. It is an incorporated area before it became a suburb. Then we had our own house to rump around you know (laughing)… and no landlords to complain and say, “Oh your children do this. Your children do that.” We grew up there; we went to school.

CX: Okay, and so how was it like in your country? How was your life like when you were in Ecuador?

AC: Well, in what sense, economically, socially?

CX: Any sense you want to talk about.

AC: I would say it was a good life. There were times…. When you are small, actually your world is going to school, listening to your mother, doing good at school, doing homework, the regular things and then having dinner and going to bed.


CX: And how old were you when you came to the United States?

AC: I came in 1955.

CX: How old were you then?

AC: I think I was twenty one, twenty two.

CX: Okay so early twenties.

AC: Yeah, early twenties.

CX: Okay so what made you leave your homeland to come here to America?

AC: The reason I left was…. at that time, I fell in love with a man that my family didn’t approve of. He was five years older than I was. They did not like him. Well, he was a bachelor with all the trimmings. My mother, with two failed husbands, was afraid. She expected to for me to have a better marriage than her. I had plenty of boyfriends that she approved of but you cannot force love. I fell in love with this man for some reason, I don’t know.

CX: Okay.

AC: And then ….

CX: Was he from America?


AC: No. A friend of mine lived here and my mother said, “Why you don’t go for a vacation with her. Maybe time and distance will make you see a different way and see if you can get over this feeling there?” So that was a very trying time in my life because I had too much opposition. There were times I was crucified between him and my mother. She always talked about if I married him; I was going to kill her. Then I would be responsible for her death. . She tried everything. So I decided - okay I’m going.

CX: Okay.

AC: And I told her, “If I cannot forget him and if I don’t get out of this situation, I will come back. I will go straight from the airport to the church and get married to him.” I tell her and said. “Is that a deal?” She said, “But you are not going to come back. You’re going to find American boy over there you know. “

CX: So did you ever go back?

AC: Oh I have been there. The first trip - I took it after twelve years later when she had forgiven me.

CX: Why, forgive you for what?

AC: Marrying him.

CX: So you married him?

AC: Yes. He followed me.

CX: He did.


AC: I arrived here in April, when spring was just coming up. Then it was so ugly - bare trees you know. I said, “My God where did I come to?”

CX: Did you come straight to Chicago?

AC: Yeah.

CX: So you came straight to Chicago from Ecuador?

AC: Through Midway Airport because the O’Hare wasn’t built yet.

CX: Wow.

AC: And then in August he was here. April, May, June, July, August… three months and a half later he was here.

CX: Wow.

AC: We got married. I got married in the consulate of Ecuador. He arrived on Saturday, the following Monday we got married at the consulate. The following week we got married in the church.

CX: Wow.

AC: I told him, “Take a second thought. I am not, what they say, ‘shacking up’ with you. We have to get married because if my mother knows that you are here and I am living with you, she really is going to die. I’m going to kill her.” And then the following week I got married in the church.

CX: Wow. Are you still married to this man?


AC: I am a widow now. I was married forty years and he died, but it was a wonderful marriage.

CX: That’s so sweet.

AC: At the beginning it was a sad situation because of the opposition of my family and me being so far away, needing my family, my aunt, my mother, and my brothers and sisters. So it was a very hard time at that time. Then we got married. I got married in the Holy Name Cathedral. There were only eight people including myself and my friends whom I came to visit, to stay with. Actually I didn’t stay with them because right away they told me if I had brought some money with me, in Lincoln Park they had these kitchen little apartments, what they call an efficiency or studio. So I was independent right away.

CX: Was it here in Edgewater?


AC: No, It was in Armitage and Lincoln, the area called Lincoln Park.

CX: Lincoln Park. Okay I see. What was the biggest change for you since you moved to America?

AC: The biggest change?

CX: Yeah the biggest change for you when you moved here?

AC: The biggest change was the language.

CX: The language?

AC: In high school I took English as part of the curriculum, but my English was so bookish that people here could not understand and I could not understand them. Then I started to look for work. I went places and the first two words I learned in English were “No English, no job.” Wherever I knocked on doors and they saw me trying to make myself understood they said, “No English, no job.” That was the most horrible thing that I experienced when I came.


CX: So that was one of the questions I was going to ask you. What are the best experience and the worst experience? This is one of your worst experiences that you can remember?

AC: The worst experience was people telling me to be afraid of the black people. Over here black people are all over but they are American citizens. There are good and bad people. You know, I don’t judge anybody even now. When I started to work, I was afraid actually. Also I was a bus girl in a restaurant, and it was a very hard for me because the kind of the culture we have in Ecuador. To me it was a very diminishing job to be picking up dishes, cleaning tables, throwing out the garbage. They gave me a job from three to eleven o’clock in the evening. Every time I went by that corner near the restaurant I saw a couple who were blind sitting outside in summer sweating and asking… well they don’t ask. They just put a box down [for money]. I felt so terrible because as poor as people are in my country you never see that. One time I got a big glass of ice tea - two glasses - and I ran out and I gave it to them. I was scolded by the manager of the restaurant because he said, “We don’t give charity. You don’t have the right to get ice tea and give it to those people.” I said, “But hey, look at how they are. They are thirsty” and I started to cry. Those are the two worst things and of course when I first came to see the city with all those trees completely bare.

CX: I’m so sorry.

AC: Even now it makes me cry remembering that couple. Those are the worst impressions.


CX: What is one of the best experiences?

AC: The opportunities, the opportunities to be yourself. Then after I had my baby, we moved to the area where we live now. We moved farther north to the Saint Andrews area. I don’t know you are familiar with it?

CX: I am not familiar because I’m not from here.

AC: Yes, It’s also north you know. We lived in that area in two or three places and then we bought the condominium here and move to Edgewater in 1977 - precisely to this building.

CX: To this building.

AC: I’m living here thirty seven years.

CX: Wow.

AC: We moved here because my son was getting married and my husband liked to travel a lot. We have travelled a lot abroad.

CX: Okay.

AC: Then I studied to learn English because I said to myself, “If they want me to talk English….” I just went to night school. I took classes and then when my son went to school I learned from him everything he brought home from school. I volunteered at his school as a room mother just to be exposed to English.

CX: The language right because that was one of your most challenging thing you said when you moved here to the States.

AC: Yeah, you feel so ignorant to have a newspaper and book and not able to read.

CX: That must be difficult. So when did you move to Edgewater, you said in 1977?

AC: Yeah, in June of 1977, and I moved precisely to this place.


CX: Why did you move and why did you choose Edgewater?

AC: Because my first love was the lake, and I always prayed to the Lord that if I’m going to buy property, I want it to be a condominium by the lake. My husband said, “Having a house is a burden. Who’s going to take care of the house?” My son had already fallen in love and was going to get married. He was the one who helped us with shoveling the snow, the leaves; you know the keeping up of the house.

CX: Okay.

AC: So then we started to shop for a condominium.

CX: So it’s mostly because of the lake you said because of the view.

AC: Because of the lake; because of the convenience. I like this area. I looked for good transportation also for my work because by then I was working.

CX: Do you feel at home here in Edgewater?


AC: Oh yeah.

CX: You do?

AC: I feel at home here. I feel at home here at the building. Transportation is good. The area is clean. My church is close and I am part of that church. Also I work for the church because after my husband died, I mourned him. Since the year 2000 I threw myself into volunteer work. I gave to Chicago what Chicago gave to me. Because they gave me the opportunity. They gave me my job. I went to Mundelein College to take humans communications, business communications. The bank paid for it. So I started as a teller in the bank, and I advanced to part of management, where people invest their money. They saw the potential because I bring the best of my country to this country and my heart and myself. I always take the best and that’s what I tell everybody. I take the best of this country and blend it together and make it that the part of my life in what I’m going to give to my family to come.

CX: That’s nice.

AC: I blended together those two cultures. Because nothing is perfect you know. Our culture has also the ups and downs, their faults and also this country is not perfect. But is up to you to choose the best and make it your way of life and make yourself a good citizen and make a good example of yourself. I’m very proud of my family, my son, my grandchildren and now my little ones the great grandchildren. We show that when we come here we are taking this opportunity in the right way. You can bring up new citizens for this country.

Nowadays unfortunately everybody comes here just looking for the money they can make. The American dream… we have a group called the Diversity Team. When they ask me to speak about my experiences, I tell them the American dream is precisely what I say to you now. If you’re going to bring the best of your country, fine bring it. It’s the best package you can bring. But also absorb the best of this country. But don’t come thinking the American dream is to make money and then send it back, which many cultures are doing. Many other countries survive because of all the money going there. Why do we have this problem with gangs? Because people are more concerned of making the money so their kids are left at home taking care by themselves.


CX: I see.

AC: If I had had the opportunity to finish my college education, like I said in the beginning, I would have liked to pursue history, in all the fields of history, music history and geography history, etc. But I still educated myself too you know. And then I passed on the desire to my children to better themselves. To do better. To take the opportunity to go to college. You sacrifice for them - for my son. He went to De Paul University. He’s a computer engineer. My two grandchildren, my granddaughter went to Champaign University [University of Illinois at Champaign] and she got a degree in financial law. My grandson just graduated in May with a degree from Marquette University; science, physics and a minor in teaching chemistry.

CX: Wow, amazing!

AC: So right away they find jobs, as soon as they come out of the university. But this complaining and crying all the time - give me this free, give me that free. That attitude doesn’t go anywhere in any civilization, in any country in any culture. You have to do the best of your part to improve the next generation. If you were dirt poor over there and continue to be poor here, it’s not his country’s fault


CX: Okay yeah, so….

AC: And the first thing is to learn English.

CX: Right. So do you feel like you’re at home here in Edgewater?

AC: Oh yeah.

CX: You do?

AC: I do, and I have done a lot of things for Edgewater.

CX: Could you give me examples of things that you did?

AC: I volunteered with my church in many ways.


AC: I have my volunteer work close by. My church gave me that opportunity after my husband died. I work for St. Gertrude’s, which is close by. I have done a lot of volunteer work all over the city. After 2000 my church referred me to R.S.V.P. [Retired Senior Volunteer Program].

CX: Did you join any neighborhood organizations?

AC: Oh yeah.

CX: Okay, so you’re pretty involved?

AC: I’m pretty involved.

CX: In organizations and things in Edgewater?

AC: I have two recognitions from two groups and I have also been cited in two organizations’ articles - huge organizations. [Equip for Equality and Mather Life Ways]

CX: That’s nice, this is so interesting.

AC: But you know it’s the opportunity they want you to take. Because like I say, I do give all my support to this country - what they call for me to do.

CX: So you really want to give back?


AC: I’m an outgoing person. I like people I enjoy life. I do, you know. I love people, what they call it?

CX: People person?

AC: People person. I also like it to find out what you are, what is your experience, how you studied, anything I can help to get an idea. The moral of the American dream is a different way than other people see it. To me it doesn’t make sense the way they are screaming the American dream, the American dream, but they don’t do nothing about it.

CX: Okay.

AC: I always feel that in my heart, in myself, for my own benefit, I can say I fulfilled the American Dream. I raised a family that I am proud of. They are all responsible people, my next, my third generation my grandchildren are very, what should I say, responsible individuals who offer their best to this country. And I hope my great grandchildren do the same.

CX: Very nice. I really enjoyed hearing your story, thank you so much for sharing with us.

AC: Well I hope it is of some good you know.

CX: Yes of course… it definitely will be.

AC: I want to say one more thing. I can also say with pride. I have put the name of Ecuador here [in the United States] up high with the example of my acts and of my life.

CX: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

AC: Okay.