On your Facebook profile pic you’re holding a sign with the word immigrant; Could you share a little bit more about your background?
Angela: Yes. I actually just gave a talk on my immigrant experience so I've been in that space thinking about it. So I moved here to raleigh in 1994. I had graduated from high school in 1993 in Colombia and I had just turned 17 years old. My only chance to go to a university was to go to this public university, which was the biggest public university in Bogota, Colombia called La Universidad Nacional. To get into this university you had to take this really hard admissions test and I did not pass. That was the only chance that I had, you know, there was no money to do anything else. I had to wait six months to reapply so my mom and dad, kind of like came together and decided that it would be a good idea for me to come to the US because I had an uncle that lived here. So yeah, I arrived in February of 1984 and I stayed I never went home.
So the decision to move to North Carolina was sort of arbitrary there wasn't any reason in particular that you decided to move here?
Angela: It was because I had family here, which is how a lot of immigration happens. My father had a brother [Carlos Salamanca] he had a restaurant and a family here so it just made sense. I was only going to come to study English. I think that [my parents] were worried that I was going to get in trouble because I was in love with this boy so they sent me off (laughs). Uh, but yeah that’s how I landed here in Raleigh out of all places.
Me: My immigration story is kind of similar. I had family here in NC as well and we ended up moving here permanently. As you know, even though our countries are beautiful, it's just really hard to progress (economically speaking) in Latin America.
Angela: It is and I think that for me what I knew at 17 years old was that I was bounded by my social class. I had a very large family and in my father’s side of the family, which is who I grew up around, there were lot of different ranges of social class and we were in the low low end so it was really evident for us. I don't think that there was any resentment. It was complex, but I knew, you know, that I was bound by that. I knew I was bound by where we lived; Bogota is divided by the north and the south and in the north is where the wealthy people love and in the South is where the poor people lived. The city has expanded in both directions and within those areas, there's people that have more money or less money [in the north side], but if you live in the south, you’re poor and that’s the end of it.
Me: Yes it is hard to get out of that cycle. My mom was a teacher in Mexico, so I think at some point she understood that with her salary there would be no way that she could get my siblings and I through college. And honestly I think that she was right, I would have never been able to get as good of an education as the one at NCSU. I'm very, very conscious of that.
Angela: For sure; I think for me I was fortunate enough that I went to a private school. But within that private school setting, you know, my social class was also really evident because I went to school with people that had a lot of money. I also lived on the wrong part of town per se. So when I was here [Raleigh], all of that went away immediately. So I'm really grateful that even though I didn't know immediately I could sense that people related to me in a different way.
What made you want to open a restaurant?
Angela: So I didn't know this at first but the life that I have today is not a life that I could have ever imagined. When I moved to the US in 1984, I worked in a restaurant with my uncle and he became sort of like a mentor. He taught me about cooking, eating out and to experience different things. He took me to really amazing places to eat, some fancy, some not, but he really was the one that introduced me to this restaurant culture.
It's really hard work. I worked as a server and bartender and sort of like an assistant manager for a long time. Then when I graduated from college I said, you know what, I'm not going to work in a restaurant anymore I’m tired. So I worked for the city for a little bit and enjoyed that very much because it had to do with performing arts and that's something that I liked. I'm an artist. I went to school for art. Then I got pregnant and at the time I was married and my husband was finishing school, but there was no certainty about our future. Before I had kids, I didn't care to live in a little apartment, I had a good life. But when I got pregnant I started thinking, OK, I want to give my kids to have a better life. They already had a good life but I think it just started nagging me like I need to do something where there's going to be financial stability in the long term. Then my uncle came, he said, hey there's an opportunity to open a restaurant downtown, do you want to look at it? and I said that I wasn’t sure. But then I got pregnant for the second time and it just kind of happened. I was in this searching mode like what are we going to do. Ana came along so now there were two kids. So I felt like this was an opportunity to set up a future for the kids that was going to be a lot more sustainable. So that’s what really drove me, it was not the passion for hospitality and cooking. I love it but it was not that it was the kids. It was the necessity to make something happen for the kids.
That is an amazing story. So what was your inspiration behind the theme of the restaurant? Did you come up with it yourself or did you collaborate?
Angela: No, so when we started the restaurant it was my uncle and I, kind of bouncing ideas off each other. Construction took a long time because it’s a historic building and every time we did something, something else came up. So it ended up being a much longer and extensive process. And in that process my uncle decided that he could not wait to be married to the love of his life. So he picked up his life and left to go to Colombia. He is a man of passion. He had reconnected with his high school sweetheart and it came a time that he was like, I gotta go, I gotta go marry this woman and I know that you can do this. I was like I have two little kids and I've never done this. What do you mean you gotta go? He said, I gotta go, I know that you can do it. So again, it was like I really need to make this work. I don't have a choice. I feel like, because of the social class thing, that I've always felt like I had to prove to my family and to the rest of the world that I'm worthy of what I have. And I think some of that was in play. But then as I got into it, you know, like decorating the restaurant, I used a lot of my art stuff from school to decorate the restaurant.
It's funny how when you're really in retrospect, everything is so connected. So when I was in college, I was in UNC for art school for two years. In those two years we ended up doing these collaborative shows at a cotton mill in Pittsboro, NC. But when we did them, the cotton mill had just been bought by a guy who wanted to renovate it, but he didn't have money so he was kinda like allowing us to play around. So with a professor and two other students, we went in there and we explored the whole thing and then invited a bunch of other artists to set up an exhibit. We did two big exhibits at the cotton mill that were really amazing. What was really amazing about them is that they were a collaboration between artists and they spoke about the community of artists and the community of people that care about historic spaces and history. It was a really positive thing. One of the pieces that I did there was this sign that I have at the restaurant that says Comunidad (community). Because I had become aware that I really loved Spanish language and art together and that I had to really own my language. So I was working with a lot of language and a lot of Spanish on how it relates to my environment. So I had that piece with me and when we finally got the walls up, I started to figure it out, I thought, what do I have and what do I want these walls to look like and feel like? and so a lot of that came from those projects.
Continue to Part 2: Angela’s philosophy of life and work