Smiling woman, long black hair

Starting Something New from Puerto Rico

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By Alexandra Ehms

Maria Eugenia Margarita Patricia Lopez-Duprey Ehms has gone through a journey. She transitioned from life in Puerto Rico to life in the United States.

She received a bachelor’s degree at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. She is now a mother of three living in Michigan and working as a media specialist at the local school. She reflects back on the first time she moved away from her home in the fall of 1986 to attend school at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York.

Smiling woman, long black hair
Maria Ehms poses on the grounds of Marymount College in her senior year, in March 1990. From Ehms’ personal archives.

AE: Describe the place where you grew up:

Ehms: Puerto Rico or La Isla del Encanto as it is called, is a beautiful place and I love it. It is warm and sunny. It’s just wonderful. It’s the place where I grew up. It’s the place where my family is. It’s where I feel different. I feel more energetic and more complete.

AE: When did you leave Puerto Rico? Was it a hard decision?

Ehms: I left Puerto Rico for the first time when I was 18. It was a tough decision for me because I had never been away from home, and because it was a huge sacrifice for my mom emotionally and financially. She was a single parent and money was tight, but she wanted me to get a good education and I appreciated that. She worked extra hours and had more than one job at a time to make it happen. I saw the sacrifice she was making and that gave the determination to succeed.     

AE: Why did you want to go to college in the United States?

Ehms: I thought it would be an opportunity to grow and kind of an adventure. Studying in New York would help me to experience many new things and give me many opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise get. As well as to learn the language even better. I thought I was going to go back home after graduation and live there for the rest of my life, so why not have an adventure!?

AE: How did you feel when you left? 

Ehms: A lot of mixed emotions. I was excited, scared, and even felt some guilt, but mostly I was excited to start something new.

AE: Did you feel different when you moved to the United States?

Ehms: When I said I was from Puerto Rico, I felt there was a bit of a stereotype. People would ask me if we had grocery stores and if we had the same clothing stores, like there were here. My friends wanted to know if I grew up doing the same things that they did here in the United States. I was really taken back by that. I thought everybody would know about Puerto Rico, but they didn’t. So, I actually tried to fool a couple of my friends and told them we lived in tepees and a couple of them believed it. It was funny, but sad, too. It goes to show that they did have a stereotype, but really because of a lack of knowledge [sic].

AE: How is your daily life different in the United States then in Puerto Rico?  

Ehms: Well, the biggest difference is that I have to speak English every single day. Luckily for me English became second nature. I think and dream in English. So, it is easy but it is still not my first language and I don’t get it right all the time. That’s hard, but the toughest thing is not living near my family. Not having the advantage of a big extended family to share holidays with or to share my kids with. They can’t experience growing up near family, especially their cousins and grandmother. That’s the hardest part, but we visit often.  

AE: How did you end up living permanently in the United States?  

Ehms: During my last semester of college, I did an internship at General Motors. While working there I met my now husband of 29 years. Because of his job we ended up settling here in Michigan with our three children.

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