"I spoke no English...I spoke German at the time I arrived in the United States"
"My dream was to go back to Peru and run my father's company"
"Coming from the East Coast to Tennessee was a change"
Maria Teresa “Tera” Vazquez is the President of Nashville-based Guy Brown Products and also the Board President of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
I recently interviewed Tera, and in this the first segment of a multi-part interview, she talks about coming to the United States from Lima, Peru. The rest of the interview will be published in an upcoming post on HispanicNashville.com
You came from Lima, Peru to the U.S. as a college student. What motivated your decision to come to the U.S., and what led you to pick Manhattanville College?
The reason I came to the United States was, my father passed away when I was 17, and my mother always believed that education - and always told us that education - is freedom. So she wanted us to get a better education than the one we would be getting in Peru. So she sent myself and two of my sisters to Manhattanville College. And the reason we ended up in Manhattanville College is because one of her best friends lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and they recommended that Manhattanville College was a very safe, private college with a good reputation, and we would be safe there. So that's the reason that we landed at Manhattanville College.
How hard was it to get into college from Peru and to get a student visa?
In those days, it wasn't too hard, because we hadn't had the terrorist attacks, so as long as you were financially solvent, the visas were not difficult to obtain at all, and we were fortunate that we had that solvency, so it was not difficult. It was difficult getting into the school, and translating the grades that we were getting, because our grades went from 11 to 20, so translating the grades into the American system was a little bit difficult, but we went through it.
You went on to American University for your MBA. Was that immediately following your bachelor's degree?
No, when I finished - when I graduated from college - with a B.A. in economics, my dream was to go back to Peru and run my father's company. But when I went to Peru and started working for the company, I realized that a bachelor's degree was not going to be enough, because it's still a man's world, and it used to be even a bigger man's world at the time. So I decided that I needed to get a higher degree of education in order for me to go back to Peru and run the company and be able to compete against men. So I worked in Peru at my father's company, which is called Pelikan Peru, for a year and a half and then I decided I needed to get a master's or higher education in order for me to be able to really compete against the males in Peru.
What was your impression of the United States after been in Manhattanville College and then later in D.C. at American?
I fell in love with the United States the minute I set foot in it. And I fell in love with the United States because it represented freedom to me - freedom to be whomever you want to be. If you work hard, you get somewhere; if you don't, you don't get anywhere. I come from a country where social classes were very strict, especially 30 years ago. There was almost no middle class, and there was no movement between the upper and lower classes. That always bothered me. When I first arrived to the States, I fell in love with the freedom of - everybody gets to wherever they need to get. You don't have to be born in the elite, and that's what I liked.
How did your adjustment go once you got here?
To Tennessee or the United States?
To the United States, it was tough at the beginning, because I spoke no English. I spoke German at the time I arrived in the United States, because I went to a private German school all my life in Peru. So I had to learn English during the summer session, and I learned enough English to be able to take college classes. So it was interesting. There's nothing like immersion; either you sink or swim. I came to college, spent the summer learning English and learned enough to go to college and loved it. It was really not a bad transition. Now coming from the East Coast to Tennessee was a change. When I arrived here, I was petrified about people talking to me on the phone, because I could not understand the people at the very beginning because of the accent. If you talked to me in person, I could understand perfectly, but over the phone, I was petrified. I could understand half of what people were saying - until my ear got adjusted to the accent, and people got adjusted to mine. It was an interesting period at the beginning.
Come back to HispanicNashville.com for the rest of the interview, to be published soon.