Manuel “Manolo” Betancur

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Manuel “Manolo” Betancur


Where my anchor is

Years to citizenship


Arrived in the US


What do you remember about your journey to the U.S?

I remember coming to the U.S. with $900 in my pocket. I didn’t speak any English. I had my shoes, three pants, and three shirts. I received a scholarship to a small Presbyterian college in Tennessee. College started in August and I needed to make some money. In Miami, I worked as a gardener and in a warehouse. I didn’t have a car so I rode my bike everywhere. I carried fish in containers and pineapples. In August, I started college. I didn’t speak much English so I was a dishwasher. That was tough. To go from being an officer in the Colombian Navy to a dishwasher. Many times, I cried because I couldn’t speak their language. I remember thinking: I’m going to show these people in a few years from now that I’m going to be someone.

What was your path to citizenship?

I received an order for deportation because my attorney from Virginia didn’t transfer my papers to North Carolina and I missed an appointment. I arrived in federal court in DC. The judge said: "Tell me your story. Tell me what you’ve done in this country to change my mind about deporting you." I told him how I arrived in the U.S, how I worked as a gardener, that I didn’t speak much English, and how I participated in Americorps and supported immigrant farmers. The judge said: “First off, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for this country. You’re an example for other American citizens to follow. I order the Immigration Office to grant you citizenship.”

It felt like justice. I cried tears of happiness.

What did you give up? What did you gain?

I gave up: Happiness. Family. People who I am close to. My kids haven’t grown up in a community of neighbors and family similar to my life in Colombia.

I gained: Opportunity. My children have the privilege to attend a great school and are in a country where they can reach their dreams.

What message would you share with a newly arriving immigrant?

I used to have this sign outside of Manolo’s Bakery. It read: “The only thing to risk is to fall in love.” We, immigrants, make our community better. Please see that and take advantage of what we have to offer.

chris richardson