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New American Voices: Bertha Santos

BerthaSantosPhoto.jpg
Sam Hendren
/
89-7 NPR News
Bertha Santos serves up freshly baked Mexican-style breads at Panaderia Qaxaquena, 63 South Murray Hill Road in Columbus

Over the decades thousands of immigrants from scores of countries have made Central Ohio their home.  In conjunction with WOSU-TV’s upcoming documentary Columbus Neighborhoods - New Americans, 89.7 NPR News presents profiles of immigrants who have settled here.  

This installment we take a look at the story of Bertha Santos, an immigrant from southern Mexico who created a new life for herself and her family.

Bertha Santos chats with a customer near the check-out counter of the family’s bakery on the west side of Columbus. 

Santos took a leap of faith coming to the U.S. 

In her younger years, she worked as a nurse in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. But Santos wanted more adventure, so she left for a six-month stay in California.  God, she says, had other plans. 

She met and married her husband and they had four children.  The six-month stay turned into 11 years.  The family had relatives in Columbus, and at their urging and with a $1,000 in savings, Santos’ family pulled up stakes and moved to Ohio. 

It was tough at first with 20 people living in one Columbus apartment.  To earn money Bertha Santos baked bread and sold it door-to-door.  She used authentic Oaxacan recipes she’d brought from Mexico. 

Santos says she started her bread-baking business in 1998.  The bread she says, helped bring a little piece of home to Columbus. 

Her bread-baking business was so successful that two years later she opened a bakery specializing in Oaxacan style breads and other foods.  Since then, the business has flourished.  And so have her children: two have graduated from Ohio State, the other two attend college.  Santos calls Ohio the land of opportunity.

She says if she’d stayed in California, she likely would not own a house, her children probably would not have gone to college, and she would not have the life she has now.

Even with all of her successes, Santos says she still has a fondness for Oaxaca.

There are a lot of different emotions she says.  ‘I love the United States.  I left my nurse’s diploma hanging on the wall back in Mexico.  When I came to the United States I learned to love and to grow.’

‘When I go to Mexico, I am Mexican.  I love my country and I would never forget where I’m from.  And when I am here I also love my country – the country that gave me these opportunities.’

Bertha Santos recalls the cold, snowy days when she piled all four children in a van, along with loaves of freshly-baked bread.  God, she says, helped her family throughout their journey.

‘I am very thankful for God and for everybody that has helped us along the way.  When I arrived in Columbus, I met so many people who were happy to receive us with open arms.  We met people who were willing to help us without expecting anything in return.  There were people who were very nice and did not have any hate in their heart, and we are very grateful for God putting them in our paths.’

Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans premieres on January 18 at 9 p.m. on WOSU TV.

Support for New American Voices comes from Ohio Humanities.