Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I had my own hair salon in Ecuador, and I’ll start again here”
“In the nineties, Alexandra started working as a dishwasher at café Florin, which was then called ‘Zeezicht’ and served as the set of television programme ‘Kopspijkers’. The Ecuadorian didn’t understand a word of what was being said, but that didn’t matter – she thought it was hilarious. As a recent immigrant, better jobs were hard to come by, but she wasn’t bothered. “You have to start somewhere.” A friendship she formed at Zeezicht led to a new job: baby-sitting.
A few years earlier, the scintillating Latina was still living in Ecuador, married to an Ecuadorian man. Even though they were both young, they had a young daughter together. They broke up in 1993. Alexandra’s was heart-broken, and she made a last-minute decision to join her family on a trip around the world. “My cousin persuaded me. ‘You’re joining us,’ she said, ‘we can’t leave you like this.’”
One night, in a Rotterdam café, Alexandra went to order drinks at the bar. It was a bit of a struggle, because she only spoke Spanish. “Need any help?” one of two young men at the bar asked her. She’d spotted him earlier; he was attractive. He was from Utrecht, she later discovered, and her future husband. “I can do it myself!” she griped, telling her cousin she thought he was mocking her. Again, her cousin took the initiative and invited him to join them, where Bert explained he hadn’t meant to insult her. Alexandra’s cousin pointed to her and said: ‘She’s single.’
The following day, they went on a coffee date. “He brought two dictionaries,” Alexandra recalls, laughing. “Spanish-Dutch and vice versa. We had a fantastic time.” As a still-married woman, she had never expected things to go this way. “I decided to stay in the Netherlands to get to know him better, flying back to Ecuador three months later when my visa expired.” Back to the young daughter she’d missed so much. She had a divorce to finalise and a lot to think about.
Flying the nest
When Bert visited her in Ecuador several months later and she saw how well he got on with her daughter, she knew she wanted this man in her life. In 1996, the love story, child included, settled in Utrecht. “I missed my family a lot during those early years,” says Alexandra, who gave birth to son Gijs in 1999. “My mother, who has since died, always said: ‘Don’t think about me, just enjoy your children. They’ll fly the nest before you know it.’ I often think about that.”
That’s especially true now: Alexandra’s daughter has moved out, and Gijs won’t be far behind – he’s off to Sweden to study next year. “Ice cream at Venezia?” Alexandra proposes. “It’s delicious. Sometimes they have wacky flavours like mozzarella.” Upon arriving at the ice cream van, her son turns out to be serving the ice cream. Enjoying her children: check!
Soon Alexandra will have more time for her dream: running her own hair salon at home in Leidsche Rijn. “In Ecuador I had my own salon, but my degree is worthless here, so I started a new hairdressing training course.” Alexandra’s class is multicultural, and she sees her fellow students as potential colleagues. “They are good at treating specific types of hair. And that’s good,” she says, beaming, “because we want to cater to every woman who walks through the door.”
Name: Alexandra Batallas
Place of birth: Machala, Ecuador
Motto: “Adapt to your possibilities and enjoy them”
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.