Tales of coming to America

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Cultural Council hosts storytelling program

NAUGATUCK — Felipe Flores left his job teaching at a preparatory school in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1983 to plow snow for the Department of Transportation in Connecticut.

“People asked what was wrong with me,” said Flores, now 58, of Lorann Circle.

Flores told of coming to the borough Friday during the Naugatuck Cultural Council’s “Telling Our Stories” program, which encouraged local people of varying backgrounds to describe how they came to live in the community.

Flores grew up near Mexico City and attained a college education. He said he is the only one of his family to have moved outside of a 20-mile radius in Mexico.

“Growing up, (it) was never in my plans to be where I am right now,” Flores said in accented English.

He met the American woman who would become his wife, Suzanne Flores, in Mexico when they taught at the same school. They married and had two children in Mexico, then moved to the United States to be close to her family in Sherman.

Ultimately, they settled in the borough for the inexpensive housing and the location, which allowed Suzanne Flores, now 62, to travel easily to both Hartford and West Haven for work. Felipe Flores eventually got his master’s degree and taught for at least 20 years at Naugatuck Valley Community College. The couple is now retired, although Felipe Flores continues to work on Greenlieef Consulting & Development, a company he co-founded to lobby the state on behalf of vulnerable groups who need protection during natural disasters.

A dozen people sat on stones under the warm noontime sun in the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, listening to Flores and a Jamaican woman, Ivy Magnan, tell of their culture shock upon arriving in Connecticut.

Magnan, 60, lives in New Haven, but her son is married to Vaneza Gouveia Clarke, the borough native who was honored earlier in the day for her role in saving the land off Gunntown Road that opened last year as a nature preserve.

Magnan said she came to the United States to join her sister, get an education and live in a better economy. Some aspects of the United States were hard to get used to, she said.

“Our way of life is slow and easy, and here it’s fast,” Magnan said.

The storytelling session was the result of brainstorming by members of the Naugatuck Cultural Council, including Len Yannielli, who is also a member of the committee that pushed to create, and now hosts events at, the Gunntown park.

Mayor Robert Mezzo, who is on the cultural council, said the group plans to hold similar programs during times when more people are not working. People who listen to such stories build better relationships across cultures, Mezzo said.

“I think eventually they can find something in someone’s journey to Naugatuck that reminds them of their own,” Mezzo said.