Class of 2027: Hard Work And Sacrifice

A Colombian household, and an American future
Earlier this winter, Valentina Sanchez, Alonso Garcia, Juan Garcia, and Adriana Garcia enjoyed a night a home. Alonso attends kindergarten at John M. Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton. Durell Godfrey

Alonso Garcia comes from a long line of strong women.

In 1991, Oliva Pelaez, Alonso’s grandmother, left Medellin, Col­ombia, and arrived on the South Fork, unsure exactly of how long she’d stay.

Almost 25 years and three grandchildren later, she’s never once looked back.

After getting her cosmetology license and becoming a manicurist, Ms. Pelaez worked first at Gurney’s Resort and Spa in Montauk and later at the Water’s Edge Hair Salon in Amagansett. In 1996, her daughters, Adriana Garcia and Natalia Marin, then 18 and 15, joined her, with Ms. Garcia enrolling for a year at East Hampton High School to improve her English before starting cosmetology school and beginning work as a manicurist. 

In October of 2010, the three women took an off-season gamble and decided to pool their resources and open Elegant Touch, a nail salon on Railroad Avenue in East Hampton. Ms. Garcia can be found there five to six days a week, after dropping her two children off at school — Valentina Sanchez, 15, attends East Hampton High School and Alonso Garcia, 6, attends the John M. Marshall Elementary School.

Like most parents, Ms. Garcia wants her children to be happy. She also hopes they come to value the hard work and sacrifice particular to new immigrants, who arrived here with the dream of creating a better life not only for themselves, but for their families.

Alonso, 6, is one of 18 children in Kristen Tulp’s kindergarten class at John Marshall.

The East Hampton School District’s 2013-14 New York State Report Card reflects a changing East Hampton. Among the district’s 1,850 students, enrollment was 46 percent Latino, 46 percent white, 4 percent black, 2 percent Asian, and 2 percent multiracial. By contrast, a decade ago, enrollment was 68 percent white and 25 percent Latino.

Both Alonso and his sister, Valentina, are bilingual. Once they walk through their front door, only Spanish is spoken, as is increasingly common in the East Hampton School District. “That’s our rule,” explains Ms. Garcia, 38. “We only speak Spanish at home.” Alonso’s sister also had Ms. Tulp as a teacher.

Ms. Pelaez’s husband, Juan Garcia, 41, works as a painter. Prior to emigrating from Colombia in 2002, he was a mason and owned his own bar. He was one of nine children; his father worked as a farmer, and his mother stayed home.

Ms. Pelaez and Mr. Garcia met in 2006 at a party in East Hampton and married four years later on Sept. 25, 2010, at the St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk, with Alonso, then 1, decked out in a tuxedo that matched his father’s. Five days after the wedding, the families opened Elegant Touch.

“We share the same culture, the same religion,” explained Ms. Garcia, of the immediate bond between her and her husband. “I don’t have to worry about food. He knows what I’m cooking.”

Devout Catholics, the family attends weekly church services at either Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton or St. Therese in Montauk. During Lent, the family abstains from eating meat on Fridays.

Once at home, besides speaking Spanish, it’s important for Ms. Garcia to keep Colombian traditions alive. Every morning, when the house is still quiet, she gets up at 5:45 to prepare that evening’s dinner. Red ball beans are Alonso’s favorite. Around 6 p.m., once everyone has finished up with work and school, she’ll reheat supper and the foursome finally sit down to eat together as a family.

Alonso is an active little boy, whether skating, swimming, or playing soccer. While Valentina was content to sit quietly with crayons and a coloring book, Alonso prefers to stay in motion. Each week, during the fall and winter months, he takes soccer and in-line skating classes in Amagansett and swimming lessons at the Y.M.C.A.-East Hampton RECenter. During summers, he attends the Y.M.C.A. day camp.

Somewhat shy, but only with strangers, Alonso has closely shorn brown hair, which was recently gelled into a slight Mohawk, and brown eyes. In Ms. Tulp’s class, he loves playing with blocks during learning labs, when students rotate through different activity areas. Red is his favorite color and pizza is his favorite food. Jake is his closest friend. So far, he doesn’t know what he wants to do when he grows up.

The family travels regularly, trying to make a point of returning to Colombia at least once each year. For her 15th birthday in August, Valentina wanted nothing more than to see Cartagena. Given the busyness of the summer season, the family traveled to Cartagena over the Thanksgiving holiday, happily ensconced in a familiar language and familiar food.

During last week’s February recess, eager to escape the snow and the ice, Valentina accompanied her grandmother, her aunt, and 6-year-old cousin, Alondra, to the Dominican Republic. Alondra and Alonso are raised less like cousins and more like siblings — a close-knit dynamic shared by their mothers, who are inseparable.

Alonso stayed behind, happily keeping his mother company. On Monday, as Ms. Garcia worked, he watched his iPad, scribbled in some coloring books, and kept an eye on the occasional trains as they sped past the salon’s front window. By mid-week, he eventually succumbed to a two-hour nap in the back room.

“You always want the best for your kids. But sometimes what you want for them is not what they want,” she said last Thursday, during a break between clients. “I want them to know that whatever you want in your life, you have to work for it.”