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Maria Pilar Bratko

Oakland, California

I was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1965. We arrived in NYC in summer 1969. My mom left me with neighbors that winter because she needed to return to Cali to collect my two older sisters. I spent that Christmas alone and scared despite our neighbors’ efforts to shower me with toy presents. Our migration was possible thanks to my mom marrying an American who was born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He, and then we, lived in a small one-bedroom in Chelsea, Manhattan. By the spring of 1970 I was already speaking English more fluently than my mom would achieve in her lifetime. This October my mom turned 79 years old and still she struggles with a heavy accent and a limited English vocabulary. I once read the writer Andre Aciman describe a lingering accent as, “…the tell-tale scar left by the unfinished struggle to acquire a new language. But it is much more.” I think this is certainly the case with my mom. As I’ve continued to acculturate and establish myself as a bilingual, bi-cultural psychotherapist, I’ve continued to study what the psychology looks like of one who comes from one country to build a life in another. What are the major areas to consider when working with immigrant Latinos? I hope to publish a book one day that will be a major contribution to the field of psychology where exploration of documentation status, (i.e. legal, illegal, part of the Dream Act, etc.), the loss in migration (i.e., family, culture, language of origin, identity, etc. left behind), trauma of the migration process (i.e. coyotes, mules, rape, etc.), acculturation (i.e. difficulty of learning based on developmental stage at immigration, identity confusion of hanging onto the known self while integrating the acculturated self). How does the experience of self differ when communicating in language of origin vs. language of majority culture? And on and on. Suffice it to say, I think I will find enough questions, and answers, and more questions to fill a book. And ultimately I hope the research will be a useful contribution for future generations of immigrants and those who choose to work with immigrants.