America Through a Refugee’s Eyes


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Mauldin, Commentary

November 22, 2021 by Scott Crosby - Views: 58

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America Through a Refugee’s Eyes

“This land – this house and this farm – is not yours.  We are giving it to the people from whom you stole it.”

“But this is our property.  My grandfather purchased it.  My grandfather built the house.  We till the fields.”

“Not any more.  Go back where you came from.”

“I was born here.  My parents were born here.  We are from here.”

“Not any more.  You are not of native blood.  If someone takes your home, or kills you, we will do nothing.”

This is the reality of life in a Socialist country.  What one has can be taken.  Rights?  They do not exist.

For this family, there was at least possibilities; at least, hope.  Their employer was an international company.  It offered them jobs elsewhere.  Though the husband had come to Bolivia at the age of two, he was an American.  His two children would therefore be American.  But his wife would have to apply for American citizenship – a long road.

“We always heard the U.S. is a wonderful place to live.  You always hear there is freedom, and there is respect for your assets.  Freedom is the most important thing, you know?”

The husband flew to Miami, to see what this country would be like.  

“The first day, that he landed, I will never forget that call:  ‘This is not just a wonderful country.  This is a beautiful country.’  So we made the decision to come; and of course we didn’t speak a word of English, so it’s going to be a hard transition.”

“The job would be in California; everything was looking good.”  But the all the risks “gave me second thoughts.”

“The only thing that I wanted was the best for my family; for my children.  I felt I was completely lost.”

She prayed for a sign. Going into work that morning in Bolivia, she bumped into someone she had not seen in fifteen years.  They talked about leaving Bolivia.

“Cristina, you need to go,” she said.  “You need to go to Mauldin, South Carolina.”

If she was looking for a sign – one that was specific and left no doubt – what could be more definitive? “She did not even say, ‘Greenville’!  She said Mauldin.”

“I did not even know South Carolina exists, at that point.”

When she told her husband she wanted to go to Mauldin, he was doubtful, of course.  But after he visited Mauldin, he called her.  “Of all the places I have visited, this is the place.”

Mauldin, they saw, is full of “good people, with good values.”

They were ready to go.  

But their company had no jobs near Mauldin.  “So if you go, you will have no job, and you don’t speak English.  You are going to start at the bottom, because you will know nobody.  You’re going to be washing dishes for the rest of your life.” The company’s advice:  “Go to California, learn English, and transition from there.”

“I had to decide:  what is important in my life?  What is the most important thing, that I need to stick to?”  

Her answer:  “My faith.”  She would not betray what had led her to Mauldin in the first place.  

“I can live washing dishes, because that is an honorable job.  There is nothing wrong with washing dishes for the rest of your life.  If I have to wash dishes, I will be the best dishwasher in the city.  There is no place for us but Mauldin, South Carolina.”

When someone puts it that way, do not expect them to remain at the level of washing dishes very long.  She interviewed for a job as a bank teller.  “I don’t know why they hired me.  I would not hire myself.”

But attitude and determination are crucial; employees with those qualities are always in high demand.  She promised them she would learn English quickly.  “Within ninety days, I will be your best employee.”  She made good on her promise.

A State Farm agent eventually hired her away from the bank, and within five years, she was his office manager, and working to get her own insurance license.  

When she went to complete the application to take the exam, she still did not know insurance terms.  

In the middle of those two weeks, her father took ill; he was dying.  While dealing with his decline and passing, she continued to study.  

“But I knew, I have to pass this test, you know?  My father would never forgive me, if because of his death, I will not pass the test; or I would leave an opportunity on the table, because he got sick at the wrong time.  He would never forgive me for that.  I have to pass this test for him!”

Every page of that book, she says, is curled from being wet with tears.

In the fourteen days before taking the test, she memorized the book.  She passed the test – with a score of 86.

She tells her kids, sometimes, “It is very easy to blame circumstances sometimes, not to do things.  But if you just take that accountability, and you are responsible to yourself, you will do it.”

Five years later, when a State Farm agency opportunity opened up in Mauldin, the company selected her to be their new agent.

 Meet Mauldin’s Cristina Ortiz

S204-1.jpgShe was born in Bolivia, trained as an engineer; now, proudly an American citizen, running her own business, in Mauldin – a State Farm Insurance Agency.  And not just any agency:  Cristina is State Farm’s top Agent, nation-wide.

Last year, a team from State Farm did a study of Cristina’s office, documenting what processes she uses. They will be established as examples for other State Farm Agencies to implement themselves.  

“I had to go through a lot of failures to be where I am,” she says.  “It’s just having the drive and the Dream.”

Anyone who knows Cristina knows the story does not stop there.  Quite the contrary; the more you learn about her involvement in other activities in the Upstate, the more you wonder:  how many hours is she packing into every day?  It seems like it must be more than 24, somehow.  Cristina can be found on a seeming constant basis as she provides support and creates opportunities for Spanish-speaking people, for the Mauldin Cultural Center, for the Mauldin Chamber of Commerce, running a mentoring program for young people, and much more – all while supporting and encouraging her own family; her husband and her two sons, who are all successful in their own right.  Through it all, she is always wearing a smile, simply because she so enjoys what she is doing.

Her family seems carved from the same mold.  When they were newly arrived from Bolivia, and she was dropping her five-year-old son off at his new school, he looked up at her, she recalls, and said, “Don’t worry, Mom.  I will be fine.”  

“That kid,” she says, “has an armor of courage.”  That acorn, even though it is now far across the country and attending one of the world’s top universities (pursuing a triple major in mathematics, physics, and politics), did not fall far from the tree.  

It is not hard to believe her when she says the people in her office are not a team; they are her friends.

In America, she notes, “Most people are responsible.  All my friends here, they are willing to do something, to help someone.”

America, for example, has “a Holocaust Memorial.  Do you think there is a Holocaust Memorial in Bolivia?”

“The American Dream is a reality.  We have a beautiful country.  We have a paradise.”

“People see me in my office and say, ‘You have it easy,’ and I say, ‘Sit down, and let me tell you my story.”

“I have a dream job,” she says, “We have knowledge, we have challenges, we have relationships, we have community, and as a business owner, tremendous impact.”

“The key is you.  You have to learn how to be the best with what you have.  Find something that you love to do, and that you are passionate about.  In every job, there is something you can be passionate about, and it’s your job to find that; to find something you can be passionate about.  Enjoy the journey.”

“Things are not perfect, but do not give up on hope.  Maybe the next day is going to be a little brighter.”

“You never know what is going to happen.  You must always do your best!  You don’t know when someone is watching.  There is always somebody watching.”

The difficult jobs we sometimes must take “make us who we are.”  Ask her sometime about her job washing snakes.

“When I was washing dishes, I made sure I was the best person at washing dishes in the whole place.”

“Every day I ask, ‘What can I do to make today better than the day before?’”

“No matter what you do, be the best.  That is a skill you can develop.”

“Those people who do not think things are very good should have a trip, and look what’s happening in Africa, and look what’s happening in South America, and Venezuela, and Cuba.  You can live in the biggest palace, but nothing works.  It’s terrifying.  The moment you take away freedom, you have nothing.”  

“Let’s keep America the way it is, and make it better.  What do I want to do to make this place better?”■

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