Alexandra Restrepo, on childhood with a drug-addicted mother, the enduring love of her father, and fighting for her biggest dream
(Publication Date: 8.23.22)
Overview: Alexandra Restrepo and We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream host Adam Williams talk about Alex’s early childhood with an abusive, drug-addicted mother, and the love and sacrifices of her father.
We talk about her leaving the United States and growing up with her father’s family on a farm in Colombia, South America. Alex tells how she ended up falling into a pattern of toxic relationships and instability again, as she reached adulthood. Thankfully, that’s not where the story ends.
Seven years ago, Alex moved to Colorado. It was an escape. It also would be where her biggest dreams would come true. But not without a fight. As you listen to Alex talk, you’ll notice that she’s got that resilient, courageous spirit of a fighter.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Chaffee Housing Trust
We Are Chaffee
KHEN 106.9 Community Radio
Looking Upstream Host & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
Producer & We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Director of the Chaffee Housing Authority: Becky Gray
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, singing]
Adam Williams: Hi, I'm Adam Williams, host of We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream. A human-forward, conversational, storytelling podcast based in Chaffee County, Colorado.
This is the first episode, the first conversation of Looking Upstream. And today's guest, Alexandra Restrepo, does a phenomenal job of helping us lay the foundation of what this podcast is all about.
By connecting with personal and vulnerable stories, we're looking to engage with our community on a human level with empathy and compassion and understanding. Underlying these stories, we're speaking to what are known as upstream health factors that have a huge impact on all of us. Whether we recognize it or not, factors such as housing and living conditions, social inequities, and many related policies and systems and how they all lead to downstream effects on social behaviors and health, and ultimately the wellbeing of all of us as a community.
So, like I said, today's guest is Alexandra Restrepo. And in this conversation, Alex and I talk about her early childhood with an abusive drug addicted mother and the love and sacrifices of her father. We talk about her leaving the United States and growing up with her father's family on a farm in Colombia, South America.
Alex tells how she ended up falling into a pattern of toxic relationships and instability, again, as she reached adulthood. But thankfully that's not where the story ends. Seven years ago, Alex moved to Colorado. It was an escape. It also would be where her biggest dreams would come true, but not without a fight. And I think you'll agree as you listen to Alex talk. She's got that resilient, courageous spirit of a fighter. Here's my conversation with Alex Restrepo. Alex, welcome to the Looking Upstream podcast. I'm so glad to have you here today to talk with and share your story.
Alexandra Restrepo (01:45): Oh, well thank you guys for having me here. And yeah, I am super excited about this new whole podcast thing happening and everything.
Adam Williams (01:56): Well, I have a question that goes back to something you've already shared, okay? On the We Are Chaffee website, you created and shared a 4-minute video that hit some very significant moments in your life story. I would love to know why you made yourself vulnerable in that way, why you opened up and shared that story, because now you're here also being willing to elaborate and share even more of it. And I'm grateful for that, but I'm always interested in knowing why were you willing to share and be so vulnerable in the first place?
Alexandra Restrepo (02:35): Well, I really like to help a lot the community. I feel like sharing my story encourage, maybe will encourage some people to open themselves and see life in a different way. Maybe to help themselves in passing some obstacles or getting through life. Sometimes life is hard and it's complicated when you have been to rough situations, to start again and to have a new beginning of the life. Sometimes people don't see through those little or hard times or those little things in life that make it complicated for you. So, it's always good to hear those stories of overcoming those bad times in your life. And maybe it will be something to help people see their side of life and be encouraged to maybe look for help or to maybe take a step and look for help or look in finding their forever home.
Adam Williams (03:53): Yeah, I think, so often, we feel like whatever it is we're going through, especially when it's hard, we might be feeling anxious, depressed, all the things that feel so heavy to us and we feel alone, and we tend to keep those stories inside. We're afraid if we share it, someone's going to think whatever they think about us and it's not positive. That's what’s in our heads.
So, it really is important, I think, to be willing to share. And again, I'm grateful for your being here to do this. I want to get into that story that you did put into that video. Two of the key things there, this started back in your childhood, and that was with a mother who was struggling with addiction and a father who was so loving in how he supported you, cared for you, made decisions and choices to take care of you and protect you as best as he could through this.
Would you mind elaborating on that story? Share with us what was going on, what was the struggle with your mother and what she was going through, and how that affected you?
Alexandra Restrepo (04:55): Yeah, so my mom had a big addiction to drugs. At the time that I was born, she was heavily abusing and my dad had three jobs. He was working really hard to keep up with the family and she was a stay home mom. I feel like she tried. She tried several times in getting clean, but I think drugs were taking over her life. It was hard because then, she was all by herself with a child, trying to make the life for that child, a good way to raise her and everything. And also the side of my dad trying to work, sustaining that family, trying to keep up with a new daughter, a newborn, and trying to keep up with a drug addiction problem with my mom. And I think it was very heavy for her. Good thing that she now is sober and she's clean.
(05:55): I keep contact with her, but it was, I always see it, my dad sacrificed his life for my life. So, all the video and everything was kind of telling that story of how hard it was for me, but still that fighting, that trying to get to a safe place, a stable spot and all that. I think, all that past of abuse with my mom and everything encourage me a lot to be the person I am today and also to keep up with stable life, to find my house, which I got the option here in Salida to buy my house and own it. But yes, it was a big encouragement for me to keep living in life.
(06:46): And I always wanted to give back my dad what he did for me because I feel like he stopped living his life to live my life and all the transitionings that we did without my mom, not wanting to get sober. My dad took the decision of getting split. So, his family lives in Columbus, South America and he thought it was the best option for us to just move there and start a new beginning in life and everything. My grandparents had a farm. So, we went and lived there and it was very loving having the support and the love of his family.
(07:31): I grew up with my cousin and we were raised as brother and sister and I always had his support. So, after that whole hard time being abused by my mom and having to go through all the stuff that I went through, moving to that transition and then trying to go back in life and everything, we end up selling the farm and moving to the city. And I think that's when the transition, again, got a little bit hard. I went to my teenage age and then started getting out of the house.
(08:10): I decided to move out. I met a person that I 100% trusted it was going to be a good relationship, but it did not and end up not being a good relationship. It was also abusive, but that never stopped me on the fight. I wanted to find that stability. I wanted to find that secure place in life and yeah, it was several toxic relationships that I went through, but it never stopped me. I always had that strong... I want to fight. I want to get to that spot. And I think it was mainly inspired from my dad because he fight for me that fight after taking me from my mom's abuse and racing me in love with his family. I always see him as a fighter like-
Adam Williams (09:03): Right.
Alexandra Restrepo (09:04): ... a go-getter.
Adam Williams (09:06): You described in that video, right? This sacrificing, this love of your father, but he was having to work a lot, which meant he wasn't always able to be physically present. So, you were with your mom. You have mentioned the abuse. Your dad gave you a book as a way of trying to cope with this. Give you... Well, I'm not going to even speculate.
I am curious to know what that book was. Why he chose a book because it seems like such a thoughtful, intentional thing as opposed to maybe a teddy bear that you could curl up with. And this was meant to be a tool that somehow was a escape for you as... well, I don't even know how young were you.
Alexandra Restrepo (09:48): I was around five, six years old. The book was The Arc of Noah.
Adam Williams (09:56): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (09:56): Is that how you say it?
Adam Williams (09:56): Yeah. Yeah.
Alexandra Restrepo (09:57): Okay. And then we were raised as Catholic. So, it was really nice. It was a very small book, but I remember the day that he got home. He had two jobs. So, he worked the morning shift. He will come home for lunch and then he will work the night shift. Then he will come very late at night. So, sometimes I'll wait for him up for to get home.
And I remember the day that he, one of the days that he got home, he brought the little book with him and it was really nice. I've always been super on the side of animals. I love animals and everything. So, it was very touching for me, The Arc Noah, the whole story. And it's also kind of a surviving story. The whole story, it brings them to a new land, to a new life after the whole craziness, after all the damage that they had, the earth had.
(10:58): So, I think it helped me hold myself together and had that presence of my dad. He was not there, but I had the book, and that mean a lot for me. I don't have the book anymore, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. And I kind of memorized the book because I will read it, and read it, and read it, and read it. I think that's one of the things that pushed me to read.
I mentioned it in the video, when I moved to Colombia, my uncle will bring the newspaper and we will read it together. So, most of my family is bilingual. So, he will read to me in Spanish and then explain it to me in English. So, that's how I actually learn how to speak Spanish. We will read the newspaper every day together and it become a habit.
(11:56): We will read the newspaper every morning. And then after I grow up, it was just a habit of reading the newspaper every day. So, it kind of like those little habits that it stick to you in life. Yeah, but now that you bring it up, it makes me think that that surviving story encouraged me to keep up fighting for my surviving story, because when I look back in time and I think what would've been of my life if my dad would've not rescued me from my mom's abuse, I've probably would've take her same path. Who knows? It's unpredictable.
Adam Williams (12:37): That's one option that often happens, right?
Alexandra Restrepo (12:40): Exactly. Yeah.
Adam Williams (12:41): Have you ever talked with your dad in the years since about the significance of that book? About any of this, about the sacrifices he was making about? Because I would have to think that this really was challenging for him to be working so much knowing that he was having to leave you in a situation where your mom was struggling. You are struggling then in her care.
And this book was meant to be something that I'm sure was, "Hey, here's a piece of me that's with you." And at the same time, he's not able to be physically present because he's trying to provide for your life. Have you had conversation around any or all of this in the years since?
Alexandra Restrepo (13:19): Yeah. So, when I did the whole storytelling, I did this all by myself. I didn't tell anybody. I didn't share my idea of doing this with anybody. I wanted to kind of be a surprise, my own thing. And then, when we finished the whole recording of the story, I sent it to my dad and my dad was he couldn't believe I had such a fresh memory of that book.
And it was so... a big mark in my life. It made a huge difference. Obviously, as a parent, you blame yourself for every mistake that you make and everything. I feel like he felt guilty at the beginning. There was a lot of things that we did not talk until I released this video.
So, we didn't talk about the physical abuse of my mom. Those were things that we never talked about. He knew about it, but I guess he didn't want to revive that hurt, that pain of those hurting feelings that you have from it. Let's say the trauma and all that stuff.
Adam Williams (14:28): Probably for him and you, right?
Alexandra Restrepo (14:30): Exactly. Yeah. I mainly him feeling guilty of having-
Adam Williams (14:33): Sure.
Alexandra Restrepo (14:33): ... to work so hard and not being able to protect your daughter when those situations happened. But I made it mainly in showing of how much we have overcome, him as a parent and me as a daughter, of how well out of that situation, we have come out of.
How my life became better out of us leaving that my mom and them getting divorced and all that stuff, which parents try to, they try to stick together because it's the whole deal of you want to raise your kid, with a family and everything.
(15:15): So, it was nice. It was a closing of a cycle. We closed this book and it's over. We're done. It doesn't hurt anymore going back and looking at those times before I did the story, hurt... and I feel ashamed. I didn't feel very proud of the situation that was happening. And then let's say having, being able to expose this and knowing that we all go through different things in our lives and made me stronger and made me want to show it so people can be able to say, "Oh, you went through that and I'm going to something similar." I feel you. And if you got over it and you passed this obstacle, why I cannot do it?
Adam Williams (16:11): So, to be clear, to make sure I'm hearing you clearly, this was pain that you were carrying until the video?
Alexandra Restrepo (16:18): Yes.
Adam Williams (16:18): Until you went through that process, how long ago was that? And we're talking in the last couple of years?
Alexandra Restrepo (16:25): So, this was in the outbreak of COVID. I believe 2019.
Adam Williams (16:31): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (16:33):
So, that was when we did the recording of The Storytellers.
Adam Williams (16:36): That's amazing, right? And well, I'm already sold on the value of storytelling and in sharing, and in that communication and being vulnerable about it. And it's because how we started this conversation and I asked you why,. And you're talking about one aspect of that is to encourage others, to also be willing to look into their story and be willing to share it because you don't know who is going to touch.
So, again, especially now, am I being aware of this? Thank you for doing that video, but also then coming here because now we're going even deeper. And I want to step back a second and ask, where were you living? Where were you growing up when your parents were together when all of this was happening?
Alexandra Restrepo (17:20): So, I was born in New York. That was just like, we were visiting my aunts in New York and I was just born there by coincidence.
Adam Williams (17:33): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (17:34): But we used to live in Tampa, Florida. That's where my parents started their lives. And we lived there in Tampa, Florida until I was six years old. And that's when my parents decide to take their own paths and everything.
Adam Williams (17:51): So, that's when you went to Colombia, South America?
Alexandra Restrepo (17:54): Yes.
Adam Williams (17:54): From six until I think it was 17 or so. You're with?
Alexandra Restrepo (17:58): No. Actually, I lived in Colombia until seven years ago. I've only been in this light for seven years.
Adam Williams (18:07): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (18:07): So, I lived practically my entire life.
Adam Williams (18:10): Gotcha.
Alexandra Restrepo (18:10): Yes.
Adam Williams (18:10): So, you left home. I think from your video now, I'm remembering-
Alexandra Restrepo (18:14): Yes.
Adam Williams (18:14): ... you left the family farm on your own then at 17, but that doesn't mean that's when you left Colombia. Got it.
So, you go down there and you were talking about learning Spanish by reading the newspaper together. So, your father is Colombian. He knew Spanish and English, right? Your family is largely bilingual like you said. I'm curious what other memories you have from that time. It sounds like it was an amazing period when you were growing up with your cousin who you also sort of recognized as a brother from that closeness.
Alexandra Restrepo (18:46): Yes.
Adam Williams (18:46): What else have we not explored there yet in terms of what that life was and what that showed you that it could be, as was an improvement from what you had had in your early years?
Alexandra Restrepo (18:59): So, we came from living in the city. I used to live in Tampa, Florida. We lived in the city, not at the outsides. And when we moved to Colombia, we moved to my grandparents farm. So, we live at the outsides. So, I had contact with pigs, chicken, cows, horses, and it was a very calm life. It was very... quiet.
My dad tried to make it as loving as he could, knowing that from the trauma and the hard time that we came from, I want to say it was the best time of my life. I love farms and animals. I've always been pushed unto animals. Actually, when we moved to the farm, one of my dreams was becoming a vet, a vet tech. In Colombia, it's kind of hard when you have low income to afford to pay one of those expensive careers so... but it was really nice. It was very touching. My grandma took over the mom role. So, I always seen her like my mom, which is very nice to say that this year, she turned 101 years old.
Adam Williams (20:21): Oh, wow!
Alexandra Restrepo (20:21): Yes. So, yeah. It was a totally different picture of what I was coming from, to what I arrived. And I think this also was a discussion, a family discussion that they did like, "Okay. We come from this hard time, let's step up and make it the best that we can for her." And I cannot say anything bad because all my family tried the best to give me the most loving and caring time. Going back to what I was thinking just a second ago that we were talking about the video, before I made the video, I learned I did not have compassion to myself.
(21:08): I used to be very, very hard to myself and not take anything... like mistakes or anything, easy in me. And I think, that was also because of the hard time that I was coming from the abuse and all that bad atmosphere that I had with my mom. But I learned that I had to take a step back and give myself some compassion. And I think that also helped closing that cycle of that hurt, that shame, that being angry also because I used to be very angry of why did she do that?
(21:56): I remember one time that my dad asked her, "Why you don't want to take care of your daughter? What's going on?" And she said, "I never wanted a daughter. I want drugs." So, I always ask myself why? Why? Why did you do that? And then I feel like this, I was not having also compassion for her state of mind, for her position. And this is not trying to excuse her. This is trying to see it in a different healing way. Also, when made that video, when I shared it with a bunch of people, everyone said, "You should start going to therapy. It's good to talk to somebody that is professional in this area." And my answer always was, "I don't need therapy. I think I'm fine. I'm not going crazy." But with my actual partner right now, he used to be part of place that helps people with mental issues.
(22:58): And one day, I remember asking him, "Do you think I need to go to therapy?" And he said, "It's not that you need it or not. It's always good to go to therapy and share what's your feeling and what's your story and everything." They're professionals. They know what's better for you. They know how to guide you in a better direction. So, that started a little of my thinking of, "Oh, I think I should try just to talk and everything." Because I had that anger and that frustration of not understanding why did my mom do that? And I wanted to blame it in myself, because it's always easier to blame it on yourself.
Adam Williams (23:40): Well, we carry that hurt, I think. Right? And that's our first go to. We're the closest ones to ourselves, right?
Alexandra Restrepo (23:46): Yeah.
Adam Williams (23:46): And we tend to hurt those who are closest to us in general. It's amazing to me that you came to this place with therapy after having created that video and started to share your story. So, it started with your own exploration, yeah and-
Alexandra Restrepo (24:02): Yes.
Adam Williams (24:03): ... the catharsis of that, the healing that started there, I wonder now if you have had, like I asked about you and your father, have you talked with your mom about any of these things? Have you been able to have a heart to heart where you can ask that question, why?
Alexandra Restrepo (24:21): Yeah. So, actually, in my first session, my therapy session, my first therapy session, I shared my video with my therapist. And the second therapy session that we had, she put homework to me and it was contacting my mom. I have not talked to her since I'm 12 years old. I've talked to her over text message and maybe some phone calls of, "Happy birthday. I hope you're doing well." That's it. No deeper conversations about past. So, my homework was reaching out to her and sharing all these thoughts. All these why did you not think of the life that you were kind of destroying or hurting so bad?
(25:08): So, after putting that homework on the side for a couple weeks, I think I finally got the encouragement to reach out to her. And after I think we had a nice deep conversation of two hours, I finally got to understand her side, because I never had a chance, like you said, to talk to her or anything. And being able to listen to her, what she was going through in that time made me understand of we are our own worlds and nobody knows what's going in each other's brains.
(25:47): So, it was nice. It was a healing, closing chapter. I still talk to her. We don't have a deep relationship as a mother and a daughter, but I can say we're friends now. We are friends. And that was my whole goal with my therapist, getting to a point that I was not going to be angry or frustrated talking to her because I was very angry and anger was the first feeling that could come up to my head when I think about my mom.
Adam Williams (26:20):
Alexandra Restrepo (26:20): So, being able to talk to her and knowing that she's sober now, because that was my other fear. I don't want to talk to a person that's still abusing drugs. But she's been in sober for, I want to say, over 10 years. So, that was really nice. It was also feeling that whole, that I had in my heart of I never had a mom. And the only thing I can feel when I think of her was pain. Now, when I think of her, I think of a friend that I can communicate with. And now I want to support her. I want her to not feel bad of things that happened in the past that I was able to overcome. And I want her to sometime in her life, to feel that same way of this is all in the past and we're done with this and we can have a nice healing process of friends now.
Adam Williams (27:24): I'm glad for you that, especially, that your mom was able to receive that conversation well and knowing that she had been going through some process herself for now, you think at this point, more than 10 years. I'm sure that had to involve some digging into her own emotions, her own anger, her own shame.
As a parent, myself, understanding... We feel like everything we do. If it's not very clearly right, it sure feels wrong. We all struggle with that. Let alone someone who has made some of those choices or has struggled with some of those challenges within herself.
So, I'm happy for you to have that conversation. It's amazing that you're in this place talking about compassion. And I guess what comes to mind too, is the idea that things, how they play out for a reason. And what I'm referring to there, I know this has all been very challenging.
(28:15): What I'm specifically referring to is the idea of, again, going back to how you created the video. You started your own healing and your own dealing with those emotions, then with therapy. Your mom was doing her work and then you two got to come together and have the conversation at that time. And you didn't know that when you were leading into it, but I'm glad for you that you were able to get there. I'm sure it helps her too.
(28:38): I want to ask you about this time when you moved away from the family there in Colombia. You were 17. You mentioned you kind of went on into... sounds like some challenges. You described it as toxic relationships in that video, but what else? What was the reason that... What's the motivation for you to leave home then, leave the farm? Where were you trying to go with your own life and independence at that point?
Alexandra Restrepo (29:06): So, at the age of 17, my family got into a bad economic situation. So, we had to sell the farm.
Adam Williams (29:16): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (29:17): And me thinking and digging in my head, that was the only safety place I had. The farm, at the outsides of the city, with the animals. My grandparents started getting older and it was far away from the city. So, making accommodations for them and for school, we all decided that was better for us to sell the farm and move to the city. And that's when I realized that was not my life. City was not my life.
Adam Williams (29:48): Okay.
Alexandra Restrepo (29:49): So, I started looking for ways to escape the city, to move back to the outsides or a farm, or have that, find that loving and safety place that I was used to. And I met one of my partners at that time and he was all about moving outside of the city.
(30:08): So, I think that was my escape plan. I have this person, he is all about moving out of the city. Let's do it. Without knowing or giving it a chance to know each other deeply and knowing mainly what I was signing up for. And this person had a very hard alcoholic problem. So, it was a constant struggle. I kind of went back to the same abuse, the same physical abuse, and it was not healthy.
But again, I didn't have anything to find that safe place. So, I keep searching for it. And after I decide for five years that I was in that toxic relationship, after I decide to finish it, I found someone else and it was kind of like the same thing. I try to start my stability, trying to find that safety place. And it was just never there. I think in the video, if you've seen it, you probably have seen it, when I refer to that time, there's bags always packed in the picture. Well, that's how I felt. I felt like I always had a backpack ready to go anytime I needed to escape.
(31:31): And it was that stress and that suffering. Constant. And looking for that safety place that I couldn't find with them. So, at the first chance that I have an escape to get out of it, I took it, which it was my cousin. He used to live in Florida. He moved here to Colorado and he asked me one day, "Why don't you come and visit?" And, "It would be nice."
I was still in that toxic relationship when I decided to step away and start a new life. I kind of left everything and just pack bags and took them, and moved to Salida. I did not have the idea to live here. I came here with just the idea of a vacation. But something created that safety place here. I feel safe when I moved here. I feel away, I moved far away from danger, from that toxic environment. So, I think I reset my brain and I said, "Let's give myself a chance to a new start."
Adam Williams (32:53): Was escaping that stress and uncertainty of what was going on, was that the primary focus in your life at that point? Did you have other ideas of how you were going to work or do these things? You'd mentioned wanting to be a vet tech and that wasn't possible at the time, but I'm curious about the rest of this picture because over this period of years, you're talking about you're grown into an adult and you're going on with your life while trying to manage these relationships that are echoing, unfortunately, some things from your early childhood. But we're seeing progress here as you move to, and as we continue to tell your story, we're going to get to amazingly positive things. What was on your mind that were really the goals or the vision at the time when you, other than maybe to get away?
Alexandra Restrepo (33:46): Buying a house. Buying a house, because that made me think, or I convinced myself and my brain that I could not have a family slash do what I wanted if I didn't have my own house.
Adam Williams (34:03): That freedom and independence of-
Alexandra Restrepo (34:04): Exactly. And not having to worry because I was always worrying about, oh my God! My boyfriend got home drunk again. He's being loud. They're definitely going to ask us to move out of the house. They're going to ask us to move out next month. So, that uncertainty of stability. Yeah, I always had in my brain, I want to buy a house. I want to be a homeowner. I want to own the place that I want to call my home.
Adam Williams (34:35): When did that really start for you? Do you have a particular moment or memory of when you realized this moving around thing, some of these other details are super stressful and this might be the answer to all the things I really want in my life. Do you remember that moment if there was one?
Alexandra Restrepo (34:52): So, I remember a set moment that I knew I wanted a house and I wanted to buy a house. I wanted to be a homeowner. When I graduate from school, from high school. So, when my dad, actually, my dad is a chef. So, I grew up in a kitchen with him cooking all the time, which is my passion. My passion is cooking. And when I graduate from high school, I said, "Oh, I want to go to culinary school."
And my dad's answer was, "You're not going to be a slave of the kitchen like I am. So, I'm not going to support you going to culinary school." So, it was kind of like a frustration and angry because I wanted to do that. And I was limited of doing it. So, I remember I told my dad, I said, "I am going." I said, at the age of 25, I'm going to be a homeowner. I'm going to have my family. And once I'm a homeowner, I'm going to have kids.
(35:47): But sometimes, life is not how you plan it. And you get a lot of, let's say, ups and downs in your path that... In the path that you're working or you're building in your life. So that didn't came out as I planned, but I didn't go to culinary school, but I went to bartending school. So, I became a mixologist in Colombia.
I went to bartending school for over two years, and I graduated there. I went to a nightclub and I worked there as a bartender slash bar manager for about three, four years. And actually that was my last job. That was the last job I left before I moved here. So that makes me think of that was the set time that I had in my brain. That strong feeling that I hold myself into and that encouragement of keep fighting in life because I wanted to be a homeowner.
(36:48): And when I moved here, I fell in love with Salida. It was such a nice and small town. It made me think of the little town of the outside of the city that we used to live in Colombia. So, all of those little things started adding up and coming back to what I was actually fighting in life for. It came back to my head, Oh, I was fighting to be a homeowner. I'm going to keep my fight. I'm going to keep going for what I've been trying to get in life."
Adam Williams (37:20): So we've got a clearer dream at this point and it's not easy. It's not easy, and I know that you've already shared with me a little bit of... It kind of sounds like you are almost in and alone, in terms of the people who are surrounding you, you're working hard like your dad did when you were young. Tell that story. What was going on at that point? And how did you find and cultivate that self-belief, that resilience and courage to say, I'm going to fight, I'm going to get this dream.
Alexandra Restrepo (37:57): Well, when I decide to come on vacation here, I came in wintertime. And I got my first job at the Hampton Inn as a housekeeper. And I always questioned myself almost like, "Why am I doing this? Why am I... I'm a bartender. I'm a mixologist. I have my degree. Why am I cleaning bathrooms? Why am I cleaning rooms?" But I feel like life puts you where you're supposed to be, right? And it was a growing in life.
I feel like I had to go through that to learn experience in my life of appreciating every single thing we have. And they had an open bartending position at River's Edge. And I got the opportunity to work there. And before I left the Hampton Inn, I saw a flyer. And it said, "Do you want your own home?" And it was habitat for humanity. Advertising, be a homeowner, help the community, build the homes and everything. And I ask every single person at the Hampton Inn about it.
(39:14): And I remember my dad used to tell me this. Don't tell everybody your dreams because people tend to ruin them. And I was just trying to look for help, for a good way, a better pointing, where to start. So, I took that flyer and I asked everybody. And everyone was like, "Nah, you'll never get to afford a house in Salida."
And that was technically the answer from everybody that I had, that I ask about. But I never destroyed my dream. I had it. I kept it. And I looked at it every day, when I woke up. It was my encouragement to keep fighting in life. Also I had my dad in Colombia, still living there and doing his own life. So, it was kind of like, okay, that I keep fighting because I want to support my dad. I want to do what he did for me when I was starting my life. He did everything and anything he could.
(40:14): So, I feel like I owe him something back, and I want him to feel that. That I am fighting to become that person he wants me to succeed in life and be good at whatever you do. My dad always said, "You should know a little bit of everything in life. You should know a little bit of how to do everything." Not deeply, but know how to change a tire, know how to fix things that in your house, like little things like that. So, all those little encouragements kept me in my fight. In my I want to get to that point.
Adam Williams (40:53): How did you end up ultimately succeeding? You have all these people telling you can't do that. And I mean, I'm sure we both understand where they were coming from, right? They're working a similar type of job. And they're saying, well, I don't believe I can. I know the money I make. It's very difficult to do. And you didn't let that stop you. How did this end up coming together? Because as you've said, I think already, that you got there.
Alexandra Restrepo (41:19): Yeah. So, I feel like when I transitioned to River's Edge, I had a really great work family. And those were the ones that always encouraged me. They're like... They always were I fell down and they were like, "You got this." You move from another country. There's nothing to stop you. So, that people encouraged me. So, there was the side of people that never believed in me, but there was the other side of people that truly believed in me, that wanted me to get to that spot.
I worked for a long time, three jobs, not having days off. So yes, getting to this point was not easy, but I had a lot of support from my work family. And then from my loyal customers, my loyal customers that would come every weekend and sit at the bar at 216 Ferraro's where I used to work. And ask me, "So how's the paperwork going with your house, Alex? You got this girl. You're a go-getter.”
(42:24): And all those little things, knowing that they didn't know me, they didn't know anything about my life, touched my heart and give me the encouragement to keep going. And the Chaffee Housing Trust also believing in me, and standing there, and keeping in the process because my process to get the house was about two years. So, it was a lot of believing. I start the video saying, I call my friend Reid, and I told them I couldn't wait anymore because the process was taking too long. I'm working three jobs. I don't have time for myself. I was tired, stress, angry, frustrated.
But always, Reid had a good answer back to me of the comparensies of you're paying someone else's mortgage right now. If you get to own your house, you'll pay your own mortgage. So, always that bright light in my head was there of, yes, it's right. I am fighting for this. It's not easy. I will get there. But having that idea of me as a renter, paying someone else's mortgage, was what hold me there. Hold me tight of keeping the fight of trying to get to that dream.
Adam Williams (43:52): You mentioned your dad telling you that when you share your dream, a lot of times people come along and they censor it, right? Because they don't see it for themselves. They don't see what's possible. They don't see how it is for you. Maybe they're talking to themselves. But here's the flip side of sharing your dream when we share it with the right people, right as you get that support and you find the avenues to that success. So, Read, you mentioned him, who is he working with? What's his last name again? Remind me in-
Alexandra Restrepo (44:21): Reid McCullough. Yeah, he is part of the Chaffee Housing Trust. So, I met him, and we started the whole process of getting my paperwork done. Mainly trying to find a person that will take over my mortgage, either a bank or the USDA, that would loan me that money to start. Also knowing that I had no credit, because I just started my life here, I was paying taxes for just two years because I moved from Colombia, I had no record here. Basically, when we started looking for my records, we kind of came to a conclusion that I technically didn't exist in the United States because I have never paid taxes, I never worked. So, I was here but not here. So, starting all that building of my credit and building that trust in other people to loan me that, I guess not people, entities, to loan me that money.
(45:25): And we applied to several places. I got lucky to have the support of the USDA and get the loan through them. And again, Reid McCullough was a big support in getting through this process and I call him an angel. I always call him an angel. And it was actually easier for all my process, because sometimes all the paperwork that I had to do, it was hard to understand in English and Reid speaks Spanish. So, that was something that helped me a lot in the process of signing documentation, knowing what was I signing myself to? What was I getting into?
Adam Williams (46:09): Right, and so you have this house. How long have you had it?
Alexandra Restrepo (46:13): It's three years now.
Adam Williams (46:15): Okay. What has changed in your life then? What is it you feel now that you've reached this huge dream? This dream you were so resilient and courageous to keep going fo even when there were some people who said impossible. What's changed for you?
Alexandra Restrepo (46:31): Oh, gigantic things and I feel like my life did a twist of 180 degrees. I used to work three jobs before. Now, I only work one. It give me emotional, mental, and health stability. Not having to kill myself working three jobs not having a day off. My whole thought in my head, it was, am I going to be able to afford working one job and enjoying my house because that was my feel. I'm like, I'm going to be just work, work, work, and just coming home and sleeping.
(47:14): But I feel like once I finished and we closed that cycle of stress because it was a lot of stress I thought for a while I was not going to be able to do it. And all the waiting because the process was so long, it's relieved. It was like, I took some weight off my back. I've been at my current job for three years and I love it. And I love sharing all this with the community so they'll see it's possible because every and anything that you put in your mind, and you put your time and effort to, it's possible to get it done.
Adam Williams (47:59): I wonder about the definition of the idea or the concept of home for you now. We're talking about stability. Your wellbeing sounds like it's just so dramatically improved. Have you thought about, or if somebody says the word home or in any way they say it, if you hear it in a movie, you hear it in a song, you hear it in somebody use the word in some form, what comes to your mind?
Alexandra Restrepo (48:26): Salida. Salida and their beautiful community, and I have a picture in my living room. So, when I bought the house, I called those people, my industry, family, people that I mention, I call them and I said, "Okay, I got the house. I want you guys to come over." And I took a picture with them and I have it framed in my living room and I made a speech. It was kind of funny because this was something that nobody, none of them were expecting. I made a speech for each of them thinking how much and how big they were in my life at that point. How much they helped me or their words did something in me that keep me in that fight. So, when you say home, I think of Salida. I think of all the beautiful people that helped me get to this spot and how much I've loved this place.
(49:34): And I feel excited for when people come and I see people walking around as a tourist and I feel happy that we have people visiting our town or they recognize us for something. I feel proud of my town. One of my bosses said to me, when I bought my house, she said, "Alex, you are a local now." And it was really nice because she has two kids and she said, "Now, you're going to see my two kids grow up and most likely you're going to see my daughter get married and my son get married and probably see them go to college and come back to visit."
(50:15): It's really nice to see the people that I worked with, teenagers that were going to school, that were bussers slash servers slash runners at the restaurants that I used to work with, that they graduate from school. They went to college and they come back in summer to visit. So, all of those things fill my heart with love. I never feel part of something until I got here and I feel part of the community and I feel like home, this is my home.
I want to see my kids grow up here and make their lives. My brother and sister-in-law now have a baby. He was born here. So, it's really nice to see his life starting here and how better is going to be his chance to be in life and all the opportunities he has here different than if he was born in Colombia.
Adam Williams (51:13): I think it's really important to point out. You mentioned community. That this is not the end of the story where you received your dream. You ended up accomplishing that. You also just like you're sharing your story now, which I think is about connection and encouraging others, you contribute in the community. You're a board member on the Chaffee Housing Trust. And I think you're involved in the community in other ways too. You're giving back. Would you care to share some of what that contribution is for you and why it's important to you to do?
Alexandra Restrepo (51:48): I always want to help people out. So, my boyfriend points it out as a people pleaser. And also that's something that I'm trying to work in therapy, but I like it. I like helping people. I like to see people happy. And I think that's why mainly I wanted to become a cook because I wanted to share that love and my talent of making good food and making another person happy and enjoying it.
But yes, now being part of the Chaffee Housing Trust, and being able to share all of these new developments that is happening, all these new constructions, all these new opportunities for people to be homeowners, to be a first time buyer, it makes my life happier. It fills my heart. In certain way... I don't know, serving to the community, helping out all the businesses and everything. That's mainly what fills my heart and it makes me happy to be able to make people see my success and then try to get them there if that's their dream.
Adam Williams (53:14): I'm going to wrap up with this last question that kind of dovetails with those thoughts. What advice or encouragement do you offer others when asked or you'd like to offer now who also might have dreams or might even struggle to identify what they are, but see in you? Someone who not only could put this dream up there, but actually reach and grab it.
Alexandra Restrepo (53:39): I want to say a couple of things. First, don't stop fighting. It's not impossible. It's hard sometimes, but it's not impossible. Anything that you put into your life and you project to you and the universe, it's possible. Anything and everything is possible if you put your energy and your effort into it. Also, whatever is your dream, if it's becoming a homeowner or becoming owner of your own restaurant or starting a podcast, anything. Go out there, research for it. Don't ever let people put that dream down, keep fighting for it and research.
Try to go out there and find whatever you need. There's a lot of options and programs here in Chaffee County to help people out. So, I will say, start looking at those programs and anything can fit in what you're looking for. And if you feel encouraged, about what I am saying, and you will like to talk to me, anytime you see me out there, talk to me. I will be super happy to share my time, my story, give you a hug, encourage you, or either help you out with whatever I can.
Adam Williams (55:07): Thanks for sharing your story with us today, Alex. It's not easy to be vulnerable and open, and I so much appreciate that you see the value in doing it. And I know that there's someone out there today who's listening, who is benefiting and connecting with you today. So, thank you for your sharing today.
Alexandra Restrepo (55:26): Thank you for having me here. And yeah, I hope a lot of people listens to this and they get encouraged to start or continue what they're doing.
Adam Williams (55:38): That was my conversation with Alexandra Restrepo. If what Alex shared here today resonated with you, you can email comments to Lisa Martin, one of our producers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or whatever platform you use, assuming it has that functionality. Otherwise, and as always, spreading the word to family, friends, coworkers, the person behind you in line at the grocery store, on social media and so on … that’s all good stuff, too.
Once again, I’m your host, Adam Williams. And now I’d like to thank sound engineer, producer and editor Jon Pray; KHEN radio, where we recorded today’s conversation in Salida, Colorado; Heather Gorby, for her expertise in graphic and web design; Lisa Martin, producer and Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Initiative, Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and Becky Gray, Director of the Chaffee Housing Authority.
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org, and on Instagram and Facebook @wearechaffee.
Lastly, thank you for listening. And, until next time, as we say at We Are Chaffee … Be human. Share stories.