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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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I found a part-time job for a small, family owned insurance agency. They had five offices: Madera, Hanford, Dinuba and two in Fresno. I filled in for a woman who was on maternity leave. I learned their computerized system quickly. The woman on leave didn’t come back and they offered me her full-time job.

John and I started having problems about the education of his children. I come from a culture where children respect their elders. This culture is totally different. Here they do whatever they want and if you chastise them, they threaten you about calling the police. They were used to their stepmother doing everything. As they walked in the door, they would take off shoes and clothes, just dropping them. You couldn’t even walk. I tried to organize and discipline them.

“Put your shoes there. The clothes you take to your room. We want the common areas to be clean.” They treated me like their housekeeper. There were eight of us in the house because an older child of John’s came back to live with us.

I cooked for eight and when his ex-wife came, she might invite everyone out for fast food because it was easier. He never objected even though I ended up with all this food. One of his children had behavioral problems. He didn’t want to go to school and when I tried to discipline him, John overruled me. After about five years, I moved into an apartment in Clovis even though we were still married.

He found someone else and we divorced but continued as friends. I found a job working for the City of Madera Finance Department and moved back, buying a house. Carolina ended up in the same school as his children. Since I worked until five, Carolina stayed at his house until I picked her up.

I investigated the C.P.A. (Certified Public Accountant) exam here, but one of the prerequisites was that you had to work for three years under the auspices of a C.P.A. Once I started working for the city, I realized that I didn’t need that. I worked my way up to a supervisory position, the number two spot in the department.

I worked there until my daughter went to college in Santa Barbara. I found a job in Los Angeles to be closer to her but kept my home here and rented it out. After two or three years, my ex-boss in Madera called me about a job the City of San Luis Obispo which is even closer to Santa Barbara. The interview went very well and they offered me the job. I wasn’t that happy with my job in Hermosa Beach. My supervisor there had worked at that job for about 40 years and was immune to change. She also micro-managed. I accepted a better job with more money in San Luis Obispo. I worked there for three years before retiring from the state system. My mother was very sick in Colombia and I flew down to be with her. I was with her when she died.

Carolina finished college and now works in San Francisco. Knock on wood: I never had to resort to government subsidies except once when I collected unemployment. Fortunately, I always found work fast. Even though I’m retired, I still accept short time accounting jobs. Last year I was in the Bay Area working for the City of Daly City. They called me back this year but I had already promised my services to another firm.

When John got sick, Carolina visited him often and still called him daddy because he was the only father she really knew. He died this year. His youngest daughter still works the flower business.


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