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Saying Yes

09/01/2022 02:51 AM By Lisa Anderson
Ocala's Hispanic Community
Lina Piedrahita
Lina Piedrahita
Story & Photo by Lisa Anderson

Saying Yes

Successful Colombian Immigrates & Starts Over for Love

Lina Piedrahita is a real estate broker and owner of Professional Realty of Ocala, but her career looked a lot different when she graduated from the university in Colombia. She had a degree in agriculture, and her first position was at Chiquita Banana.

The degree program took six years, and there were only 22 people in the class. Of those 22, Lina and one other were the only women. At 21 years old, when she started with Chiquita, she was the only woman in her department that wasn’t a receptionist.

Lina’s employment took her about nine hours away from her hometown. “Back in 2001, it was very dangerous in Colombia. [Chiquita was] pretty close to the coast but also close to the mountains. So, it was a perfect place for kidnappings and drugs and stuff like that. It was my first experience out of college. It was great, because it was very challenging.”

Lina helped to manage farms, export planning, drainage design, pest control, and fertilization schedules and to manage people. “I had so many farms and thousands and thousands of acres under my wing.”

She was eventually offered a position with the governor to help manage his farms. “It was a huge company, but they didn’t have the infrastructure.” The challenge, more than the money, is what appealed the most to Lina about the new position. She had to be a lot more creative due to fewer resources.

Life-Changing

Lina had met her now husband Andres Arcila in college, but after graduation, they parted ways due to long distance. They did keep in touch, however, and when Andres decided to move to the U.S., Lina suddenly found herself facing a difficult decision: follow the man she loved or stay in Colombia at her current job, where they were offering to send her back to school for her master’s degree.

Lina talked with her boss about the situation, and “he looks at me and he’s like, ‘Lina, once in my life, I had a similar decision to make. I said no. There is not one day in my life that I don’t think about what if I would have said yes. You’re young. What’s the worst thing that can happen? If it’s definitely not what you want to do, then your family is here, and your job is here.’ I was looking for a signal and that was it!”

When Lina came to Ocala, the plan was to go to school in Gainesville and earn her master’s degree. “I couldn’t understand one word of English. People were talking to me, and I was like just give yourself some time.”

She had taken English, but she had learned it from Spanish-speaking teachers. Now, Lina found the American accent difficult to understand, and people spoke faster than she expected. She was constantly trying to get them to talk more slowly.
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Learning the Language

Finally, she gave up on the idea of getting her master’s degree and, instead, focused on learning English. After Andres was replaced with another employee, the couple lost their home and found themselves in a difficult position. They couldn’t find any place willing to rent to them without a social security number.

In the end, they landed in a motel, which could be rented by the hour, week, or month. They paid for a month not realizing the scary conditions they were placing themselves in.

Her husband found a job in Citra, and they only had one car. So, Lina would need to walk to the school for English classes. At first, this was not a big deal because people walked everywhere in Colombia, but after a few scary encounters with men following her, Lina started locking herself in the motel room and missing class.

She didn’t tell her husband about the events until just recently. He was working so hard, and she didn’t want him to feel worse about the situation they were in. Lina simply asked to drive him to and from work so she could drive to school to escape the heat.

Starting from Scratch

Eventually, the couple were able to purchase a mobile home that they bought directly from the owner. “It was old and dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty. We were not rich in Colombia, but I had everything I needed. I was trying to look past everything, thinking, ‘We can make it pretty. We can make it our own. It’s going to be okay.’”

Lina tried to find work, but again, not having a social security number made it difficult. It was with the help of her English teacher that Lina was matched with a former agricultural engineer from Ecuador who now owned a restaurant. Working in a restaurant was far from the type of position Lina had in Colombia, but it helped her get on her feet and opened the doors to new opportunities.

Lina and Andres got married and filed for political asylum, as Andres’ former employers had been dangerous people. This meant that they could not return to see their families or friends in Colombia for 10 years, and they needed to become U.S. citizens, first.

Today, Lina and family are U.S. citizens and have since been back to visit their family. Lina worked her way up through several companies before opening her brokerage firm in 2017. Now, she has the ability to help other people in her similar situation find housing, so they don’t wind up in the same places as herself and Andres.

Lina is highly active in the community and volunteers and donates to several charitable organizations.
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