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September 2011 Issue 4

P.O. Box 281
Portland, Maine 04112
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PESLSF would like to thank Katherine Peña for the production of the newsletter and the maintenance  of the website!
PESLSF sends out a huge thank you to the Peregrine Press for their generous contribution to the scholarship fund. PESLSF received a  percentage of the proceeds from the sale of prints from the "Dunia Moja"( "One World" in Swahili) exhibition held at the Lewis Gallery in the Portland Public Library during April and May of 2011. This stunning collection consisted of collaborative prints created jointly by the artists of Peregrine Press in Portland, Maine, and the artists of Women Networking in Zanzibar, Tanzania. If you did not  have an opportunity to see these breathtaking images firsthand,  please visit the Peregrine Press Website and learn more about the background of this amazing collaborative effort  conceived by Alice Spencer, a founding member of Peregrine, after visiting Zanzibar in early 2010 and teaching the fundamentals of stenciling and block printing to 12 professional Muslim henna artists, all women. Thank you, Peregrine Press, for your generosity. perigrine press
Interested in Volunteering?
PESLSF is always looking for people who want to help. There are a variety of positions available and all of them are rewarding on many levels.  
Contact Eleanor Goldberg for more information 
Inspired To Give?
PESLSF typically has more applicants for scholarships than it is able to fund.  Please consider giving a contribution now so that we can help more individuals attend a class in grammar, reading, or writing. Thank you for your generosity!




As the summer of 2011 is winding down, PESLSF is starting up a newsletter series of interviews of scholarship recipients who have been funded through your generosity.

All of these interviews  will be archived at the Sampson Center for Diversity at the of University of Southern Maine Glickman Library where the public will be able to learn more about Portland's immigrants who received scholarships through PESLSF. 

Victoria Perez crop

Victoria Perez, Colombia


The city of Cali, Colombia is located in the Cauca River Valley. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and extensive plains. In 1967, Victoria Perez was born into this tropical paradise where the temperature fluctuates only between 85 and 88 degrees year round. "It's hot, but there's a breeze" says Victoria. Like the gentle sea breeze described in a Gabriel García Márquez novel, the area where Victoria grew up is blessed by a cross breeze that blows into the valley from the Pacific west. She remembers riding a horse with her father in the valley. He worked for a hacendado, the plantation owner, and his job was to pay the workers. "Every Saturday when I was a child, I would go with him. There were plantain and sugar cane plantations. My father and I rode a horse together. I enjoyed it and it's so beautiful there. I was very, very lucky."

Victoria came from a family of "strong, wise women". With a song in her heart, Victoria stands and dances as she shares, "Older women dance salsa. The rhythm is like this", she says as she moves her feet and swishes her scarf, "This is the tradition of the strong woman. You can dance. Every holiday, we would go to my grandmother's house to dance." Although her memories of dancing, cooking and eating together with the family took place over thirty years ago, her descriptions of her heritage and traditions remain vivid and are told with so much gusto. As she related her story you could almost smell sancocho, a hearty soup of chicken, plantain, zapallo, pumpkin, and corn, cooking over a natural fire in a huge olla down by el río where everyone, young and old, congregated and danced 'til the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes a neighbor would share chicharrón, pork belly, and fried plantains. She admits, "I miss that of my country, this freedom. At that moment I was so happy. It was a moment very, very perfect in my family. This is the culture of my family, a strong woman who can dance and can continue life."

Victoria speaks Spanish and French fluently. While Spanish was the language spoken at home, for fifteen years she attended a French school in Cali. "I never learned English in Colombia. From my day care through high school, my second language was French. I did math in French. I did everything in French." When asked about why her parents had chosen a French school, Victoria replies," "My mother, this is my mother. She wanted me to learn a second language." When she finished high school, Victoria attended the Universidad Javeriana, one of the most prestigious universities in the city of Cali. "It was a Jesuit University. I was there for five years. I have a Bachelor Degree in Psychology."

When Victoria graduated she worked as a therapist under the supervision of a director who she described as a "perfectionist" and "excellent". She laughs as she says, "Every night, she checked on how you did your job and what you did wrong. She wanted you to do your best. She was very hard." After five years in this position, Victoria set her sights on Paris, where she was accepted at the University of Paris. She lived south of the city with her cousin and commuted by train every day, a two hour round trip. As a result she states, "I have a Master's Degree in Psychology."

When she moved to the United States, she settled in Miami where she lived with her sister. She sighs, "I looked for a job, but there was nothing for me because I didn't speak English. After two years, she moved to Maine and worked as a nanny and in day care. For the past five years she has been working for Goodwill Industries as a Direct Support Specialist where she is providing two individuals with one-on-one support, personal care, medications, and other daily tasks that help them live independently. While she is happy to be employed forty hours a week, she states proudly, "When I was in Colombia, I had a very nice job. I was an executive there. I had a very amazing job."

Like many immigrants, Victoria finds her lack of solid English skills a barrier to finding a job that measures up to her level of education and skills. She has attended classes for three years at Portland Adult Education. With her scholarship from PESLSF, she attends a grammar class at the University of Southern Maine's ESOL Program. She admits, "I need to learn English. I've taken vocabulary and reading classes. Now I do grammar. It's very confusing when I talk. People don't understand me. Sometimes I 'make' French, and I need to fix this." When Victoria talks, her sentences are a map to her past. They are curiously interspersed with Spanish and French. She knows this is something she wants to "fix".

Victoria's shows a lot of enthusiasm for her classes at USM. "I want to go to school. This is my passion. I love the class here. The classes are perfect. The classes are very high. I have an 'A' because I do extra homework in everything." When asked about her teachers, she reports, "The teachers care about you. It is the best. They want you to do better. They tell you when you're wrong. Here the people are very honest."

Victoria compares her life in Portland to her years in Paris. "There are many similarities between this city and my life in Paris. This is a beautiful city where you can walk and go everywhere. Centro Latino is doing a nice job working for the rights of people. I do volunteer work for them. There are many organizations working for the rights of people. This is what reminds me of Paris. My dream is to do volunteer work again, have an amazing job, and work with the community." She continues, "It's amazing here. The people are very nice, very smart people. People open their heart. I think I'm very lucky to live in Portland, Maine because people have this beauty and culture."

The national flower of Colombia is Cattleya trianae, the May Flower orchid. It represents love, beauty, strength and mature charm. It is a fitting metaphor for Victoria. As she answers the questions, Victoria shows her love and respect of her family and friends. She has overcome obstacles with her inner strength as she has tried to find her place. There is no doubt that Tía Margarita, Tía Dora and Abuelita would be proud of Victoria and her accomplishments. She is charming. Her sentences are punctuated by laughter. Her eyes sparkle when she smiles and declares, "I have a very interesting life. Thank you for this amazing opportunity. This class helped me grow as a person. Without this opportunity, I can't continue all my dreams."

New PESLSF Board Member, Margarita Ivanova


My name is Margarita Ivanova. I am from Bulgaria and I was born in a small town, Nova Zagora, located in the Southern part of the country.


I came to the United States for the first time in 1999 on a summer exchange program. After graduating with a Master's degree in French Language and literature at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria in 2000, I came back to the U.S. again to pursue studies in Hospitality Management at the Normandale Community College in Minneapolis, where I earned an Associate Degree.


Now I live in the West End of Portland with my husband,  Plamen. He is also Bulgarian and has lived in Portland for almost 12 years.

I currently work at CIEE( The Council on International Educational Exchange), where I am an Enterprise Funds Coordinator. My position involves working with students, recent university graduates and researchers from Hungary, the Baltic States and Slovakia who are given the opportunity to come to the United States on fully-funded scholarships to study, do internships or research, sponsored respectively by HAESF( the Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund), BAFF( the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation) and SAF( the Slovak American Foundation).

What attracted me to become part of PESLSF is my passion to help people who come to the United States in the pursuit of happiness to realize their dreams and build successful careers. I can completely relate to them as I have also had a similar experience.

At PESLSF, I will take part in the Scholarship Committee and the Oral History Project. I am very happy that I can contribute to PESLSF and I am very grateful to be given such opportunity.

Coming soon

The next PESLSF newsletter will feature the story Majid Majeed and Nihad Jasim from Iraq.