ORLANDO, Fla. – José Vásquez, an immigrant from Colombia, said he’s living his best life as senior operations manager for the iconic nightclub Mango’s Tropical Cafe in Orlando. Getting to this point took more than 20 years to achieve.
“As an immigrant, it wasn’t easy starting, you know when I arrived in New York to become a manager, number one, I had to learn the language; I had to learn about hospitality in general,” the 41-year-old said.
In 1997, Vásquez moved from the small city of Armenia, Colombia to the Big Apple.
“I arrived in an area called Jackson Heights, Queens so that was an area full of immigrants at that moment,” he said.
At 17, he was faced with his father’s decision of uprooting his life to a foreign country, Vásquez said although the family wasn’t financially struggling, the crime rate in his country wasn’t easy to live with.
“It wasn’t as peaceful as we wanted it to be; there was a lot of violence so I think that’s probably one of the things that my dad decided to do was move us here and keep us away from all of that,” he said.
José and his family are among the Colombians that in 2017 represented 2 percent of the Hispanic population in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.
The study also indicated that from 2000 to 2017, the Colombian foreign-born population living in the United States grew by 99%-- from 383,000 to 763,000--making it the seventh-largest population in the U.S.
“We’re happy people. We are people that love to party, people that love to give, people that are generous,” he said. “We are hard workers, we are people who live entrepreneurial activities and you can see that in the community.”
In Florida, Colombian Americans have become a recognizable presence with more than one million living in the state.