Maria and Raquel Melendez
Maria was born in Puerto Rico, but she moved to the U.S. in 1991. She wanted a better life for her and her kids. The first place she moved to in the U.S. was Westminster, MD.
INTERVIEWER: I’m Jenny Wallace, and joining me today is Maria Melendez and her daughter, Raquel. It is April 9, 2010. Thank you, Mrs. Melendez, for being with us today and sharing your memories. To begin with, why don’t you tell us where you were born and where you grew up?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I was born in Puerto Rico, and I was grew up in Puerto Rico.
INTERVIEWER: How long have you lived there before you moved to the United States?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Well, it’s been– I moved in 1991 to the United States.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you move to the United States?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I was looking for more opportunities, better way of living. Not only for me, but for my children, my family.
INTERVIEWER: So you– where did you first come to in the United States? Where did you– what city did you first live in?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Westminster.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you live in Westminster?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Around 20 years.
INTERVIEWER: How did you like it? How did it compare to Puerto Rico?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I think– well, I have to say Westminster is bigger than Puerto Rico, but I have a good time living in Westminster, actually. I like it. I think the people in Westminster are friendly. They like to help.
And I have the opportunity– I have the blessing to learn that my sister was living here, so I had somebody to lean on. And she is married to an American guy, so she’s fully bilingual, and she’s been living in Westminster for almost 30, 35 years. So she knows the area pretty well. So she helped me a lot.
INTERVIEWER: That’s very nice. Were you two the only, uh, family members to come to the United States? Is most of your family still back in Puerto Rico?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Yeah. She was the first one to move here. I follow her. And then my other two siblings came after us.
INTERVIEWER: Very nice. Where do you– where did you move after you lived in Westminster?
MARIA MELENDEZ: We moved to Hanover, Pennsylvania, where we’re living now.
INTERVIEWER: INTERVIEWER: And how does, uh, Pennsylvania compare to Westminster? Are they the same, or a little bit different?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Stores, food, there’s no difference at all. The weather is the same. But the people– I think the people in Carroll County are more friendly than Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, they’re more like, introverted?
RAQUEL MELENDEZ: Yeah, like they’re very closed off. They’re not very welcoming of, like, new people into the community.
MARIA MELENDEZ: Mm-hmm.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what was it like to raise your children from moving from Westminster to Pennsylvania? How did that affect them? Or?
MARIA MELENDEZ: As I said, in Westminster I had my sister’s support. So that’s helped me a lot. I also had my parents living at the time with me, who played a big role in my children’s education. So I don’t think I have it as bad.
So I can’t speak for them, because I didn’t go to the school, or hang around with their friends or whatever. But one thing that we as Puerto Ricans– uh, we like to keep our children, like, in our house.
MARIA MELENDEZ: We don’t have these sleepovers. We don’t have this go to the park, play basketball by yourself, not knowing where they’re going. So they were pretty close in the house. I think they– that, you know, it’s good to keep it that way.
INTERVIEWER: So family is very important, then.
MARIA MELENDEZ: Definitely. It’s all.
INTERVIEWER: Do you come back and see your sister a lot nowadays? Do you travel back and forth, or?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I would love to, but financially, it’s not possible. I can’t.
INTERVIEWER: OK, so to come back to Carroll County. What is your overall impression of the county, besides being friendly?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Um, I think it’s a little expensive to live in Carroll County. It is. And compared to Hanover, taxes they say it’s lower than in Hanover, but it is because this extra 1% is included in federal taxes. Well, we have to pay separately, so they think they’re not paying more taxes than we do. Uh, at the end, it’s more likely the same.
Um, about the children, schools in Hanover, I think they’re– at least the school they went to– it’s much better than Westminster. They are.
INTERVIEWER: And also you work in Carroll County. You work here at the college. Can you tell us a little bit about your job here and how you like it?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I love my job. Everybody does– no, everybody knows that. I love my job. And not only because it is– McDaniel College, what used to be Western Maryland College– it’s only because of the people who works at the college that makes the difference.
And I have to say. I have to. I think I work for the best department in the entire college. I love them dearly. They know that.
INTERVIEWER: You are– you are such a great secretary, and everybody appreciates you very much.
MARIA MELENDEZ: It’s because of them. They are the one who makes the difference.
INTERVIEWER: And also, what do you think about the diversity in the Carroll County area, especially Westminster? Have you noticed any changes with increased immigration, more minorities coming to the area?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I think it has increased in the past few years, definitely. I’ve seen more people from around the world like from Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Yes, definitely has increased.
And especially when I go grocery shopping, the fruits in the aisle, when I see these Goya products, when I see this Mexican corn that, by the way, is delicious. Go buy it if you see it.
Yes, I’ve seen that, and I– sometimes I just peek in the cart and I see this bottle of adobo. Everybody’s cooking with adobo right now. Just talking about the adobo. And I see like a box of, um, the tortillas, the shells for the Mexican tacos. And the– Yes, it has improved a lot. It has.
INTERVIEWER: That’s wonderful. I also know that you help teach English to other immigrants. Can you speak about that experience a little bit?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Well, it’s a nice experience. The same way they learn from me, I’m learning from them a lot. Because I teach two Mexican students. I have one from Guatemala, and I have one from El Salvador.
And it’s amazing how we speak the same Spanish language, but how different the meaning in the words are. So the way that they’re learning from me, I learn from them as well. And that’s a huge, nice experience.
INTERVIEWER: That’s wonderful. Do you help them here in Westminster, or in Hanover?
MARIA MELENDEZ: In Hanover.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the two communities you’ve lived in are accepting of different races, or do you think there are still some racial tensions?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I believe they’re accepting different races for as long as they don’t feel threatened. Uh, they don’t think we’re stealing– as I overheard– their jobs. Or we’re not trying to take over their praise or something like that. I think they’re accepting it a little bit. Look at our president.
INTERVIEWER: That is wonderful. Do you know of any ways how we could increase or improve diversity in the county? Besides offering these opportunities for members of the community to work with immigrants, do you have any other suggestions?
MARIA MELENDEZ: Well, I strongly believe that we should keep doing what we’ve been doing in the past. The Ramadan dinner. The Taste of Latin America. The Asian and Korean dinners are perfect events to educate American people of our culture. And to let them know that we eat food like them, too. That we’re friendly people, and that we are here just to help one another.
I see also in the music. I see more people trying to learn the salsa. By the way, they should try the merengue. But I see people trying to learn how to dance the salsa.
I receive more calls now from parents, asking for to tutor– any language to tutor– not only for their children, but for themselves as well. And that is a huge step. They’re interested in learning a different language– Spanish, German, Italian, doesn’t matter what they are. French. They were interested.
The way they dress, too. High heels, big earrings. Um, the way they style their hair. So yes, I’ve seen it, and it’s growing, and I think it’s going to continue to grow.
INTERVIEWER: It seems like some cultures are starting to blend and combine together.
MARIA MELENDEZ: Correct.
INTERVIEWER: Have you dealt with any difficult times with your time in Hanover or Westminster, and if you have, how have you dealt with them?
MARIA MELENDEZ: I think my difficult time was when I moved to Westminster, and only because I just got here. I wasn’t young, but I just got here. And I remember going to one of these fast food place with my family, and of course I order for myself and for them. And as soon as I opened my mouth, the lady, the cashier, she said, oh, my God! You have a strong accent!
And at the time it didn’t bother me. Because I knew she was right. I do have a strong accent. But eventually, I noticed myself, I didn’t dare to go out unless my oldest daughter, Angelica, accompanied me, so she can speak up for me, and I didn’t have to open my mouth.
And, um, it’s been, as I said, almost 15 years, and still I’m so conscious about my accent that I think that was like a [INAUDIBLE]. For me to say, oh, no, I don’t speak English. I don’t feel comfortable with the language.
But it’s because of that little tiny comment, that it’s been more than 15 years, and I still remember. I still feel a little– and when people say, oh, excuse me, what did you say? I think it’s because of my accent, and then I will always say, oh, I know I have a strong accent. So I think that’s a mark that’s still there, and I haven’t gotten over it.
INTERVIEWER: But your English is fine. I’ve talked to you many times throughout the past years that I’ve been at the college, and I’ve never had a single problem understanding you.
MARIA MELENDEZ: I know, but still, that comment is still there.
INTERVIEWER: Well, also, now do you plan on staying in Hanover for the next few years, or what are your plans? Do you want to go back home?
MARIA MELENDEZ: For the next few years, until my children college, I have no other option. But I would love– I would love– to come back to Carroll County. Definitely. I would love to come back to Carroll County.
First I have my sister lives here. All my friends are from Carroll County. I have no friends in Hanover. So I feel a little lonely. I would love to come back to Carroll County.
INTERVIEWER: Well, hopefully you can do that very soon.
MARIA MELENDEZ: Let’s see. I hope so, too.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you again, Mrs. Melendez, for sharing your memories with us today.
MARIA MELENDEZ: I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity, and for taking me into consideration.
INTERVIEWER: We thank you so much!
MARIA MELENDEZ: Thank you so much. OK.