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Guatemala: Pedro and Maria Ochoa
Larger view
Pedro and Maria Ochoa at home with their four children. (MPR Photo/Bianca Vazquez Toness)

Minneapolis, Minn. — Pedro and Maria Ochoa, from Guatemala, have lived in Minneapolis 10 years. They left Guatemala primarily because of political unrest.

Pedro says the unrest and insecurity is still present there, years after the civil war ended.

"During the civil war, if someone didn't like you, they would kill you. Either the guerrillas or the military," says Pedro Ochoa. "Lots of people disappeared, including my brother-in-law. People still don't know what happened to him. So we couldn't put up with it anymore."

Pedro came to the U.S. first, and lived in Texas for six months. Maria joined him then, and they moved to California, where a brother of his was located.

They had a chance to come to Minnesota in 1996 -- Pedro says he had a job lined up with a flexible work schedule.

At that time, Pedro says, there weren't many Latinos in Minnesota.

"And there wasn't much to waste your money on like in California," he says. "That was the difference. There aren't so many places here to go out and spend money, so that's one reason we've stayed."

Maria says there are more opportunities in the U.S. She is going to school to learn English, and in the last yeahere. I'm going to school everyday now to learn English. In the last year, she got her driver's license.

Maria says during their first Minnesota winter, she fell on some ice and broke her arm, "so for a long time I was scared to walk outside in the winter."

If they still lived in Guatemala, Pedro jokes that his cholesterol wouldn't be so high.

"Because there we had to do exercise. The food is much different and not as fatty as it is here. Here when people walk, it's only the distance to their cars," he says.

Maria says she misses her parents and other family.

"I miss the food and music," she adds. "When I hear the marimba, I think of my country."