It was an exciting day for Colombians in East Boston this week as they had the rare opportunity to sit with their native country’s ambassador to the U.S.
Ambassador Carolina Barco Isakson, the daughter of Colombia’s former president Virgilio Barco Vargas, held a special meeting Monday at Zumix on Sumner Street with Colombian political organizers, community leaders and business owners to get a pulse of the Colombian community here in Eastie and the region.
In a candid conversation via a roundtable discussion, attendees came from a variety of Colombian organizations and raised issues with Barco.
One woman complained that young Colombian women working at Colombian restaurants were not being treated well. She worried that they were being exploited for the their looks and the girls were fearful to respond because they may be illegal.
A lead organizer, Gladys Oliveiras, described how she founded a Cultural Center of Colombians based in East Boston at 202 Maverick Street. She wanted the Colombian government’s support of the Cultural Center and wanted to help newly arrived Colombians become better integrated into U.S. society and culture.
There was one young woman–Juliana Jaramillo–who is a professional model. She spoke about helping the younger Colombians in Eastie and elsewhere. She wanted the Colombian government to give them scholarships if they are Colombian nationals, especially the illegal ones who won’t qualify for federal aid or in-state tuition.
Alejandro Magno, of the Colombian cultural association, CAFE, talked about the success of the Colombian festival in Eastie.
Carmenza Bruff, of the Dana Farber Cancer institute, discussed bringing a new program to Eastie that would expand public health benefits to residents including the large Latino population here.
Kim Dawson from Zumix closed it out thanking the Ambassador for her attendance and explaining that most of Zumix’s students are young people from Eastie and a majority of those are Colombian.
The Ambassador mentioned a few national issues including wanting the U.S. government to approve a free trade agreement with Colombian.
When asked about immigration policy, she said people needed to direct their inquiries to U.S. government officials and that she can only make recommendations.
Barco was born in Boston and graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor’s degree in Social and Economic Sciences. She received her Masters Degree in Business Administration and Urban and Regional Planning from Harvard University in 1975.
She was appointed Ambassador of Colombia to the U.S. in August 2006 by President Alvaro Uribe.
As Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs, between August 2002 and August 2006, Barco focused her objectives on three specific areas: To strengthen the Ministry’s diplomacy in order to get increase efficiency, mainly towards a direct support for the Colombian community abroad; to develop a strong communication policy in order to improve Colombia’s international image and contribute to a real understanding the country’s realities, and to promote trade and international cooperation, particularly for development programs.
She has worked in the public sector, being Director of the City Planning Department in Bogotá, and adviser to the Ministries of Development, Culture, and Environment, as well as to the National Planning Department and the Office of the Mayor of Bogotá.
She has also worked as international cooperation adviser to the United Nations Development Program, as researcher at Universidad de los Andes, and as a member of Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Board of Directors.