Asked to describe herself in one word Elvia thinks for a moment, “Cranky!” she laughs with a broad smile across her face. At a glance, she is a vibrant woman, full of joyful brilliance, hands that are always busy, whether they be chopping vegetables for a family dinner or with grandchildren crowded around her tugging at her shirt. Elvia’s story is that of courage, compassion, and heart. She is tenacious and tender, she is fierce but forgiving. Her generosity radiates golden, honey warm light from her. She is both thoughtful with her actions and intentional with her words. Elvia does not like to stay still; she still maintains a part time job and in her free time is often found with one or all four of her grandchildren in a park or at the zoo. When asked about what she is most proud of she does not hesitate, “My family.” She told us her story candidly after which she sighed and said, “I don’t think anyone has ever asked me these things before.”
Eliva, the first daughter of four children, was born in Lima, Peru. She lived there until she was almost sixteen years old then emigrated to the United States to live with an aunt. She remembers this as a difficult and tremendous moment; seeing snow for the first time, navigating a new school, and trying to learn a new language all while aching for home. She cried nearly everyday; the language was hard and in the early 1960’s there was no help for students who didn’t speak English. It was sink or swim. She was taken in by a group of girls from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica who were dealing with similar issues. They helped each other learn the language and manage classes, quickly becoming a tight knit group of friends. She is still in touch with these women today.
The decision to leave Lima was not easy. Things in Peru were not ideal and she struggled at home to get along with her new stepfather, “You know it’s hard when it’s not your father. No matter how hard I tried or he tried, it just wasn’t the same.” She is proud now that she was able to forge her own path and also to sponsor her mother and subsequently her three siblings to emigrate about ten years later. “I’m glad I came over here because I was able to give myself and my family, especially my siblings, a better life, better opportunities. And now my children and my grandchildren too, will have a better life.”
It was through her brothers, Victor and Carlos, that she met her husband, Pepe. The boys came to the house to play soccer for a friend’s party in April of 1976. He must have been a good soccer player because they went out in May and were married in June of the same year. Her son, Michael, was born the following year and then a daughter, Melissa, in 1979 and Michelle in 1983. It was a quick decision to marry but she knew it was the right decision. Elvia follows her intuition, listens closely to her heart, and stays steadfast in her convictions.
Now residing in New York City, Elvia lives with her eldest son and spends much of her days taking care of her grandchildren, exploring the abundance of sights in the city, and working part time for a local doctor’s office. She loves New York; she is still finding new places she’s never seen before even after 50 years of living in the city. When asked whether Lima or New York is home now, she pauses thoughtfully, “Home? I guess for me home is just being here with my family. That’s the main thing, my family.”