Meet Gloria Escobar: An English Language Learner who now teaches others financial literacy
ACCENTS: THE VOICES OF OUR IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORS IN THE BERKSHIRES
Her colleagues at Housatonic Curtains stopped sewing when the news broke about the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Gloria Escobar-Huertas could sense her co-workers' fear. But she didn’t understand.
“At that time I didn’t speak English and nobody around me could explain the situation,” Escobar recalls. “So I didn’t know if I had to get out of the building, or what else to do. Only when I came home and could watch the Spanish TV channels I understood how big was the catastrophe.”
She had emigrated from Bogota, Colombia, with her husband, Jose, and two young sons, Andres and Daniel, just a year earlier. She already took English classes whenever she could -- five nights a week and some mornings -- in Pittsfield and Great Barrington. But the frightening confusion of that catastrophic day was an even stronger motivation.
“I said, ‘I need to be able to communicate with people.’ ”
Today, communicating is Escobar’s job. As community development coordinator at Greylock Federal Credit Union, her mission is “to promote and provide financial literacy education.” She does so at area schools, at companies such as Onyx Specialty Papers and nonprofit organizations such as Berkshire Children & Families. She works with more than just other immigrants.
“It’s for anybody,” she says. “Anybody needs help with their finances.”
Gloria Escobar grew up with five brothers and sisters in a poor, close-knit Bogota neighborhood. Her family’s trade there is shoemaking.
“I was very well educated,” she says about her time in Catholic school. “It was very traditional. Disciplined. I am Catholic and that plays a very important role in my country and in my house. Today as well.”
She first came to the Berkshires in 1998 to visit her brother Raul, who had already moved his family here.
“I loved the place, I loved the people; everybody said ‘hello,’ “ she said. “ It was clean, it was summer, it was beautiful.
“I said, ‘I want to raise my children here.’ ”
Two years later Escobar made that happen. She acknowledges that it was especially “a shock” for her boys, then 10 and 4 years old. They knew no English when they began school. Their mom describes the invitation Andres, the 10-year-old, received from classmates to come play soccer. It came in the form of a ball drawn on a piece of paper.
The kids assimilated quickly. Andres (Huertas) is now a police officer in Great Barrington. His brother Daniel is enrolled at Berkshire Community College. Their 14-year old brother Nicholas will be at Monument Mountain Regional High School.
“They didn’t have the problems in their head,” Escobar jokes about her sons’ accentless English, meaning that her adult head had a much harder time fitting around her new country’s language when she arrived 17 years ago at age 31.
“I am very focused to succeed,” she says about the many thousands of hours she spent in English classes. She gratefully mentions colleagues at Housatonic Curtains who practiced with her during lunch breaks, and instructors at BCC and LitNet, where she studied English. She still works with tutors, concentrating now on pronunciation.
“My husband was very patient,” she says about Huertas, a carpenter at Ski Butternut. “I did have to miss some of our sons’ soccer games.”
After eight years and accounting classes at the Mildred Elley career training school in Pittsfield, Escobar gave up the manual labor at the sewing plant for a bank teller’s job at Greylock. A four-year stint managing all aspects of banking followed when she ran, by herself, the Hurlbut Employees Federal Credit Union in South Lee. She returned to Greylock (which sponsors the Accents series) after its merger with Hurlbut.
With that background, she now promotes financial literacy in the Berkshires, and she is involved in community initiatives such as the Festival Latino and the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire.
“I am teaching,” she says, “but I am also giving back everything I received.”
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