Portrait of an Immigrant: Octavio

October 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Octavio is a Panamanian immigrant. The third of four children Octavio was raised Rio Piedras just outside the city of Colon. He describes his upbringing as “comfortable,” there was nothing he lacked and his family was very close.

To provide for the family his mother worked as a school principal and his father as a bus driver. Following high school, Octavio went to work for his father, helping collect fares and providing security on the bus. At his time his father rented the bus he drove. Eventually Octavio and his wife would help his father purchase the bus he now drives.  

One afternoon after he left work he was walking by a neighbor’s house when he saw an American girl sitting reading a book. Not being the shy type he walked over to speak to her and invited her on a date to the ocean. Mary, who was serving with the Peace Corps, accepted the invitation and the two started dating. After two years of dating, Mary’s time with the Peace Corps ended. Before returning to the United States Octavio and Mary decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. In speaking of his love for Mary he is quick to say, “She makes me stronger.” The gift of a committed relationship.

In December of 2005, Octavio arrived in Minnesota on a fiancé visa with $60 in his pocket, no winter jacket, no driver’s license and his grasp of English was almost non-existent. The things we will do for love!

Not speaking English Octavio explained how it was “really, really hard, people talking and you can’t understand.” When he went out he found it frustrating that that people would not look at him, “there was no eye contact,” only acknowledging the people around him. When asked how he overcame this, he explained, “You need to be tough.” You need to be courageous and committed as well.

Octavio went to work in the Quick Lane of Tousley Ford helping perform routine services on cars. He eventually left Tousley to work in the construction industry. Committed to working hard and seeing people treated fairly Octavio became active in his union, LiUNA, where he serves on the board of Local Union 563.

Octavio and Mary have now two children. They are the center of his life with his greatest passion being, “raising my kids well.”

People come first for Octavio as he explained, “You must include other people, the world is big for me.”


Portrait of an Immigrant: Yvonne

October 21, 2016  •  2 Comments

Yvonne: Poland Yvonne is a Polish immigrant. In 1940 there was a knock on their front door and the Nazi officer instructed her to get out of her home. At the age of 8, Yvonne, along with her sister and mother, would spend the war in a forced labor camp. Her mom worked in a munitions factory while Yvonne and her sister worked in the kitchens. For those five years her mother would say to them, “Don’t worry, God will not forsake us.” Her father had been drafted into the Polish army in 1939.

As the war ended their camp was liberated by the Americans. They moved the family to a camp for displaced persons. At this camp they were once again able to go to church. The only option was Roman Catholic and they were a Lutheran family. Yvonne remembers her mom telling them, “There is one God in heaven, it doesn’t matter what building you go to, we pray to the same God.”

With Europe in the throes of being divided between the allies they had to choose between moving west with the GI’s or living under Russian controlled territory. They kept moving.

Yvonne believed her father had died in the war and without a male head of house emigration was closed to them. Eventually, in early 1946, Yvonne’s mom made the decision to return to Poland. They were making preparations for the move when there was a knock on the door of their hut. Her dad had found them. After being liberated by the Russians It had taken him 9 months of searching to locate his family. They were together again but instead of returning to Poland, they headed for Canada.

In Canada Yvonne met a young man who was vacationing in Montreal. As a 15 year old Karl had been conscripted into the Nazi army. They fell in love and married in 1957. Some of Yvonne’s friends demanded to know how she could marry a German. She reminded them of the generosity many Germans showed them while in the camps, “we are only alive because of the Germans.” Grace and forgiveness were at work in her life. Love conquers all.

Yvonne and Karl raised their family in the United States. Karl worked General Electric and Yvonne as a bank teller. Eventually she rose through the ranks to become Vice President for Branch Operations at American National Bank.

Now retired Yvonne continues to share her financial acumen through her volunteer work with the local church where she also sings in the choir.

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