Vilma Salcedo Warner: Resident since 1995
This is a partial excerpt from Neighbors: Oral History from Madera, California Volume 2 by Lawrence F. Lihosit, a local historian. It is available at Maildrop and G.B.S. on Howard and on Amazon.com Books.
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Vilma Salcedo Warner was born on December 27, 1957 in a remote small river town called Puerto Uribe, Colombia (94 miles northwest of Medellin). At the age of four her family moved to Bogota. Ms. Warner began work at twelve to help her family, returning to night school a few years later. For the next sixteen years she worked, took care of nephews and nieces and studied, finally becoming a Certified Public Accountant. She immigrated to Madera at the age of thirty-eight where she founded a successful flower business and then returned to accounting. The mother of one, she is semi-retired and an active member of a Latin American women’s group.
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When Carolina was two years old, I decided that I needed a change in my life. At nearly thirty-eight years of age, I went to a marriage center (mail-order bride). The agency had connections with people in the United States including albums of photos and bios of people who might want to marry a Colombian. I signed up. A letter arrived from John Warner of Madera, California. Although I could read technical English well enough, this was personal so a girlfriend helped me to translate it. He was a retired teacher, a widower with four children. He proposed without ever having met me. At my age, I didn’t want more children. Also, I liked the fact that he had children so my daughter would have someone to play with. About the same time that I mailed off a response, the agency called me to advise that John had arrived in Bogota. I visited him in his hotel where we communicated with an interpreter. It came out that he had also been talking with another women in Bogota and they had just met but there was no chemistry. He impressed me as being a good person. At that time there was a computerized translator. So, I showed him around and we used this machine and signs to understand one another. He left after a few days but we kept writing.
The original idea was that I would get a tourist visa and travel to Madera to meet his children before deciding, but the American embassy refused my request. I have no idea why. I had my own condo, my own car and a job. He flew to Bogota and we had a civil ceremony because it was faster. His children were alone and he couldn’t take more than a week. We flew to the island of San Andreas in the Caribbean for a honeymoon and then he flew home.
I reapplied at the American embassy. Within two months, they granted me resident status. Carolina and I flew to Los Angeles where John was waiting. For some reason, customs took four hours! I even asked them, “Why are you holding me up so long, because I’m Colombian?” There was a drug problem at that time. They said that the person who filled out the paperwork was not there.
I had never been in the United States. It was the middle of the night when we finally got into John’s old Volkswagen van and pulled out of the airport. I remember that van sounded like a helicopter, “Chu, chu, chu.” He didn’t have a heater so we covered up with blankets. Since it was dark, almost midnight, I really didn’t see much on the drive.
In Madera the space impressed me. He owned two acres and the buildings are all spread out. Bogota is a big city with tall buildings. Madera was also a very calm place. It was a change but not a bad change. His first wife died and he married a second time but that ended in divorce. From that second marriage, John’s oldest was eleven and the others followed: nine, seven and four. They were from his first marriage.
With four children, John’s teacher retirement didn’t spread far enough so he worked for the California Conservation Corps and also taught agriculture in Clovis. At first, a woman who had been cleaning house for him acted as our translator. Soon, she stopped coming and I had to learn. Carolina and I used to watch children’s television programs like Barney together. John’s children also helped by showing me things and explaining how to say the word in English.
John knew that I liked flowers. When we arrived, the backyard had a big flower bed. I asked him if we could plant more.
“Of course,” he answered.
“Then, why don’t we sell them?”
Within a short time, he lost his job with the state, so he planted more flowers. We knew a woman who had a booth in the Clovis farmer’s market so we placed our flowers in her booth and paid her a commission. The flowers all sold.
The woman asked, “Why don’t you get your own booth?”
That’s how it started. We planted more flowers and paid for our own booth. Soon, we learned about bouquets. It was a success. We did our first wedding with florals and everything. It became a real business. Within a year or a year and a half I told John that I wanted to return to accounting.
I passed a written exam for the California prison system but I couldn’t pass the oral exam because I still had not learned the language well enough. So, I signed up for English classes here in Madera at the adult school. I passed all of their exams fast. I entered the local junior college and took a course in accounting and taxes to learn technical English.
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To be continued.