"In the beginning, I cried everyday. I missed all the things I left there. But later on you change ... I didn’t miss it anymore. I love it here,” said Ines Romay, a senior who emigrated to the U.S. 33 years ago from Peru, and became a citizen 18 years ago.
Ines lives at the St. Vincent de Paul residence, one of Catholic Charities affordable apartment buildings for seniors, located on Chicago’s Northwest side. Ines learned about the building when a letter arrived from her alderman. She had been living in a market-rate apartment in the neighborhood and was concerned about her increasing rent payments.
Ines originally came to Chicago with her four-year old son to help her sister care for their mother. One of six children, Ines has three siblings who live in America. It was supposed to be a short stay, but her mother’s condition worsened and she stayed longer. To support herself and son, Ines went to work.
In Peru, Ines had worked as a public accountant. Here, because she had yet to master the English language, she found herself working at a hospital for three dollars an hour.
Like so many immigrants, Ines saw opportunity and moved up the economic ladder. Her sister heard about higher-paying jobs at an airline, and Ines began working there, nearly doubling her hourly wage. Starting out doing food preparation for international flights, Ines eventually moved into setting up first-class and business-class cabins. Her schedule was challenging. Because of international time differences she her work day very early in the morning. But she grew to like her job, and stayed 25 years until her retirement five years ago at age 71.
One of the differences Ines sees between the U.S. and Peru is how older people are regarded as workers. “Here you can work later,” she says. When she first immigrated, Ines said she had a lower standard of living here than she had enjoyed in her homeland as a professional. However, as a senior, she is now very glad to be a U.S. citizen. “I decided to become a citizen to be part of the country,” Ines says. “I like the activities here for seniors.”
Her son, now 37, works downtown and has his own music business on the side. He is still single, something Ines wishes would change, as she longs to be a grandmother. She has already started knitting baby items in hopes her son may someday need them. They get together often.
In retirement, Ines has had more time for her many interests. Because St. Vincent de Paul Residence houses the North Center Senior Satellite (a City of Chicago senior center run by Catholic Charities) Ines did not have to go far. She did a lot of painting at the center until her arthritis worsened, and now she enjoys jewelry-making classes. She has an active social life, which centers around her church. Ines enjoys films and she uses her computer to locate movies to view at home.
“I came here for two months, which has transformed into 33 years,” Ines laughs. “This is my home now.”