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Longing for family

RYAN MCGAUGHEY/daily globe Jaidy Kolander poses Monday outside of a Nobles County Integration Collaborative office in Worthington. Kolander came from Colombia to the United States in 1980.

WORTHINGTON -- For 31 years, Jaidy Kolander has lived in the United States.

Every day over the course of all those years, she has thought about her homeland and who -- and what -- she has left behind.

"I do miss my country," said Jaidy, a native of Colombia who works at Nobles County Integration Collaborative in Worthington. "Every time I wake up, probably the first thing in my mind is my kids, my family. I talk to my family every weekend and see how they're doing, what's going on with them, what's going in the nation."

Jaidy (pronounced like Heidi) has enjoyed the opportunity to return to the South American nation on multiple occasions, and she has also welcomed visits from the two sons who stayed behind when she initially journeyed to the United States. But someday -- after retirement, she speculates -- she hopes to return home for good.

"My son is building me a house in Colombia -- my retirement house," Jaidy said, who anticipates that she and husband Larry will eventually settle there.

Growing up, and

marrying young

Jaidy was born in the city of Ibague, located in the department of Tolima, south of Colombia's capital of Bogota.

"Colombia is a very tropical, very warm country, especially my town," Jaidy said. "It's very warm -- we don't see snow there ever."

Jaidy grew up in Ibague along with twin sisters and an older sister. She attended school there, but "got married when I was going to turn 16 to my sweetheart from my school." At that point, she moved with her husband to Bogota.

"My husband was going to college at the time," Jaidy remembered. "I left my parents at home, and it was really hard. I never knew it was going to be so painful to leave them at that age."

Jaidy not only wed at a young age -- she also did so in secret.

"The day my mom and dad found out I got married ... my dad told me, well, there is a saying in my country that translates into, something like, 'If you get married, I guess you won a house and something to carry your groceries in.'" Jaidy said.

In other words, Jaidy had made the choice to be on her own. She and her husband went to live with one of his relatives, and he continued to attend school. She, meanwhile, finished classes for herself at home and later went to take tests at a Bogota school -- "I passed all of them because I had nothing to do all day but study," Jaidy said.

To assist with paying for her husband's education, Jaidy went to work, securing a job working with a secretary at a construction company in Bogota. Life would change monumentally, though, for her within the next few years.

Coming to America

Jaidy and her husband, who had two young boys, soon divorced, and Jaidy would go to work for an American company in Bogota. Her boss there was from Texas.

"He knew that I liked to go to school and that I would like to speak English. ... He saw me always trying to communicate with whatever English that I knew, which was almost nothing," Jaidy said. "He said, 'One day you will be able to speak English, Jaidy,' and that stuck with me."

In January 1980, Jaidy opted to set out for the United States. The journey was not without some unexpected turns of events.

"I had started making plans to either go to college or go to Europe; I had a friend who invited to me to go to Europe -- she was in France, in Paris -- and that's when I started looking at ways to get out of my country," Jaidy said.

"I came to America because I had to pass through America," she continued. "The week before we left Columbia, another lady ... she said, 'Why don't I come with you? I speak good English. I can probably be a good help to you."'

Jaidy and her new acquaintance first went to Miami, then soon headed for New York City. It was quite chilly there, and Jaidy ended up in the hospital with a very bad cold.

"I had a little money because I had been planning to go to Europe, but everything was spent with my sickness," Jaidy said. "At that point, my plan of going to Europe was stopped. I didn't have any money to go anyplace."

While she was still in the hospital, the woman who had accompanied Jaidy to the U.S. disappeared. That led to Jaidy calling another woman whose name and number were given to her by someone in Colombia before she left -- that woman came to the hospital, picked Jaidy up and let her live with her.

Moving west

Having "seen enough of what all the crazy people do in New York," Jaidy and her new friend left the Big Apple after six months and migrated to Salt Lake City, Utah. Her friend had a boyfriend who lived there and worked in the copper mines.

Jaidy soon heard rumors of widespread employment availability in Evanston, Wyo., where a lot of new oil wells were being built. She ended up working in an Evanston hotel -- and that's where she met Larry Kolander, the man who would become her second husband.

"He came to ask me out; I said, 'No English, please,'" Jaidy said. "He went and found an interpreter, which was my friend Sondra -- I was living with her at the time. ... When I first met Larry, we communicated a lot by signals."

A year later -- on March 31, 1982 -- Jaidy and Larry were married. They would remain in Wyoming until 1992, when they came to Minnesota. Larry had purchased his family's Jackson County farm, and he worked the land while Jaidy worked on developing English-language skills. In 1998, Jaidy began working at an insurance company in Jackson. About six years later, she took her job at the Collaborative.

"When I started working at the Collaborative, I learned so much about going to school," Jaidy explained. "My first desire was to be a doctor when I was a little girl, or when I was a teen ... but here I enjoy my job because we are trying to help students be successful, not only in high school, but so that they can finish college. They have tremendous opportunities here in America that I don't think other countries have.

"It's so good to work with the youth here," Jaidy went on. "I want to encourage these young kids to finish school because it's the only thing no one can take away from them. You can have a big house, a boat or a car, but it can all be gone in a minute. Education, nobody can take it away from you, and it will be good for students to finish for a bright future. I am so blessed that I have the opportunity to come work here. I have seen many people that don't even read or know much of anything ... come here and learn so much."

Remembering home

Even though she has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, some Colombian traditions remain very dear to Jaidy.

"Every time someone in my family has a birthday, I'm the first one calling them," she said. "I don't care if it's 5 a.m., I'm calling them. If I call my granddaughter and wish her a happy birthday, I can then call my sister ... or anyone else in the family ... and say, 'You have to buy the cake first.'"

Christmas is also a major event in Colombia, Jaidy said. The holiday is celebrated from Dec. 8 to Jan. 6, and "during all the time, it's party time" with family and spiritual celebrations. Jaidy didn't know about Santa until she came to the U.S., she added.

"I've spent Christmas in Colombia maybe a couple of times (since leaving), but I get very sad at Christmas because none of my family is here," Jaidy said. "On Dec. 24 in Colombia, nobody goes to bed. Everyone stays up and has a good time, sharing time with family. Here, because we live on a farm, we go bed early."

Jaidy finds it difficult to find Colombian food in the region and said her diet has become "Americanized," though she occasionally cooks Mexican or Italian cuisine. When she returns to her native land, she eats exclusively Colombian food.

Jaidy and Larry now live outside out of Lakefield, as Larry has retired from farming. It's from there that Jaidy travels to the work she finds so rewarding -- and continues to dream fondly of returning to Colombia. She earned her American citizenship in 1991, and is eligible for double citizenship.

"Like the farmer says, you can take the farm from the farmer, but you can't take the farm out of the father," Jaidy said. "Inside my heart, I'm still part of Columbia. I'm still part of the family I have there."

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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