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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 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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After high school, I took a course at a secretarial school. They taught me how to type and take shorthand. Working in a factory would not have permitted me to continue studying at night. Plus, secretaries made more than factory workers.

I found work as a secretary so I could leave the office at six and go to class at night. I worked for many years for a Bogota paper and notebook manufacturer satellite office where they brought in the raw materials to process before bringing it in for sale. It was a family business: a mother and her two sons. The mother didn’t have any daughters and we clicked. She treated me like her own daughter and we developed a beautiful friendship.

I wanted to study dentistry but didn’t have the money. Not only that but the dentistry courses were offered during the day when I worked. At the paper workshop, I began to help the accountant with bookkeeping. Accounting classes were offered at night and accountants always have work.

I entered the Universidad Libre for accounting, paying for the studies with my own money. The program included five years and a final exam. At that time there were two types of accountants: autorizados (authorized) and titulados (with diploma). The autorizados were those people who had experience but no diploma (book-keeper). The titulados were the equivalent of Certified Public Accountants here.

At the age of twenty-five, I was curious about my real mother. This is not to say that there were problems with my madrastra. She had always treated me like her own. I met a woman who had been a friend of my birth-mother. Based upon her contact, I returned to the place of my birth which had changed names. It is now called Vigia del Fuerte. It was still a small town with no roads to get there but there was an airstrip. She had another family. I found out that I have seven younger half-brothers and sisters. Two of the elder sisters were in high school so I invited them to live with me in Bogota since there are better schools there. They accepted but once in Bogota, decided that they did not want to study. Instead, they worked. A few years later, they returned to Vigia del Fuerte and two other younger sisters came to live with me. The youngest became a nurse.

About this time, my sister, mother and I separated. My mother remarried, my sister opened a restaurant with a boyfriend and I briefly rented an apartment with a girlfriend. Once my mother and her new husband were settled, she told me, “Come live with us.” So, I moved in with them.

Before I graduated, they closed the workshop during an economic recession. First, I found temporary employment as an autorizado (bookkeeper) but later, found a job working for a German laboratory which produced shampoo. I worked with the employees’ credit union. It also built low cost housing for employees and I was able to buy a condominium.

At school, many of my professors bothered me but I had a rule not to get involved with them. Just before graduating from the university, I started dating a married professor who was separated from his wife. At that moment, there was no divorce in Colombia and his two daughters lived with him so we did not live together.

At thirty-two I graduated and was now a titulada (C.P.A.). The shampoo company did not need a titulada and what really interested me was a firm with computerized systems. I found work for another cooperative where I could put my education to use calculating loans, capital, etc. Cooperatives offer loans to employees based upon savings (like a savings and loan or a credit union) and I knew the basics since I had worked for a cooperative.

I had a relationship with that professor for a total of five years. At one point, we briefly broke up. Once we got back together, I became pregnant with Carolina at the age of thirty-five. He thought that I had become pregnant on purpose (which was not true) and left me. He never recognized her so I gave her both of my last names to protect her from prejudices. He and I continued talking like friends and I never talked badly about him to my daughter.

During this time, I worked as the manager of another cooperative within a well-known cosmetic factory. I was only there for about a year since the owner didn’t seem to like my style. I did things that they had not done before which the employees liked but she didn’t. I didn’t feel comfortable and resigned. So, while pregnant with Carolina, I free-lanced for various companies. This really wore me out because the distances in Bogota are great. Using public buses, it might be one or even two hours to get to a place. I had the opportunity of buying a small car.

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To be continued.



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