Fifty years – a half-century – have come and gone since my childhood in Colombia ended, and my American childhood resumed after a six-year span of time away from my hometown of Miami, Florida.
My family’s unexpected “reverse migration” from Bogota, Colombia’s Andean capital city, in the spring of 1972 was precipitated by a cerebral hemorrhage – or “brain bleed,” if you prefer – that sent me to the pediatrics ward of a military hospital near our apartment in Chapinero for a few weeks not too long after my ninth birthday. Because I was so young at the time, and because our move back to the States was so quick – Mom sold or gave away everything that we could not ship to Miami while I was still convalescing and undergoing physical therapy at the Hospital Militar – and the changes were both abrupt and overwhelming, memories of my last days in Bogota are few and fragmented.
If you were to ask me how I felt about the move back to the United States at the time, I would have to say I had strong but mixed feelings.
On the one hand, we had visited Miami not that long before. Mom, Vicky, and I spent the 1971-1972 Christmas/New Year’s Day holiday in the Magic City, and even though that trip was marred by several things, including a case of bronchitis that laid me low for our last week of the vacation, I had a nice time then. Back then, Colombian television was only in black and white, and it did not have programming all day ‘round like it does now. So for me, such things as color TV, beaches – Bogota sits on a plateau 8,660 feet above sea level and is surrounded by the Cordillera Central of the Andes Mountains – and American football were novelties.
Based on that, and also on how hard I worked to assimilate quickly during my first year in Miami after the unexpected move, I can deduce that I must have been excited, even happy.
On the other hand, I was leaving everything and – especially – everyone I knew and loved behind in Bogota. For all their assurances that yes, we’d see each other as often as money and time allowed, I would be separated from:
- Both of my maternal grandparents, Tata and Quique
- My Uncle Octavio, his wife Maruja, and their seven children
- My Aunt Martha, her husband Pacho, and their five children
- My older half-sister, Vicky, who – at the time of our departure, anyway – refused to come to the States and was hellbent on making a life for herself in Bogota
- Many of my mom’s still living aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives
- Our own domestic staff, which included our live-in maids, Lili and Olimpia
- My classmates at Colegio El Nogal, who, due to my not being particularly close to any of them (I vaguely remember a bully I disliked, and one pretty girl named Diana) I have all but forgotten
I remember a great deal of my Miami childhood, as I refer to the period between the Spring/Summer of 1972 to the summer of my 14th year (1977) with a fair amount of clarity and historical accuracy. I can recall fads, such as Pet Rocks, Wacky Packages, tie-dye T-shirts, bell-bottomed jeans, Afros, disco (blecch), and stuff like Bicentennial quarters – I still get a thrill when I see one of those! – and restaurant chains (Lum’s, Taco Viva) that have gone the way of black-and-white TV (which I had), stereos with turntables, eight-track decks, and AM/FM radios (which I also had), and Farrah Fawcett-Majors posters (which, alas, I did not have).
And because I was blessed with friends who have remained true throughout various stages of our lives, I remember most of the kids (who are now adults heading into their late 50s and early 60s) I befriended in elementary. None, sadly, from Coral Park Elementary (except for a girl named Cheryl, who was briefly my first girlfriend 50 years ago), but I am still in contact with most of my close friends from Tropical Elementary School – now a Pre-K-to grade 5 school, but when I attended school there, it was a K-6 facility.
I sometimes feel sharp stabs of regret that I don’t have many vivid memories of my years in Bogota as a child. I mean, I remember my school uniform – plaid shorts in the school colors of blue-and-white, collared white shirts, blue sweaters that we had to wear in class and could only doff at recess, blue socks, and blue-white wingtip shoes, not sneakers – and that I didn’t go to and from school in a “proper” school bus but in a minibus or van. I also remember that I was already having issues with math, and – ironically – that I wasn’t particularly keen on English-language classes when I was a student at Colegio El Nogal.
But my memories don’t include the names and faces of the kids that I hung around with either at lunch or at recess. I remember – vaguely – a bully named Jaime and (as I mentioned earlier) a cute girl named Diana who were both in my third-grade class. I was not a surly, asocial kid. Far from it. Surely I must have had friends, right?
Ugh. I can’t remember that part of my childhood. The passage of time, combined with the rapidity of the changes in my family’s lives 50 years ago, has contributed to my forgetting.
And that, Dear Reader, is sad.
 One of the few memories I have from that nebulous time is that someone gave me an NFL football (the only one I ever owned) for Christmas, and I took it to Colegio El Nogal – where I was in third grade – and showed it to my fellow students during recess. To my surprise, there was one kid who had some understanding of how futbol americano is played, so he and I organized a quick – and not very well-played – game during our one-hour recess. I had to leave that football in Bogota – along with all of my other toys and most of my books – when we left Bogota not long after that.
 Frequent readers of this blog know that Vicky’s plan to live in an apartment she inherited as part of her late father’s estate did not go well, thanks to her reckless behavior and the family’s insistence that she could not live by herself in Bogota, even though she had just celebrated her 22nd birthday and was legally an adult. If you’re one of those Constant Readers, you no doubt recall that I believe that my family’s decision to force Vicky to also move to Miami never sat well with my half-sibling, and therefore set in motion the chain of events that led to our eventual estrangement after our mother died in July of 2015.