From Colombia to Cully

It all began with an enormous black sofa.

The secondhand couch was among the first items the Lazaro-Baquero family acquired after relocating from Colombia to an apartment in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood three years ago. Though it’s long since been replaced, the family is still talking (and laughing) about the days when it was the only piece of furniture in their otherwise empty living room.


When building a new life from scratch, says Francy Baquero, a little help and a whole lot of faith and humor definitely come in handy.

Francy, a nurse, and her husband, Jair Lazaro, a combat pilot, loved their home country. They had good jobs and were raising two sons, Juan David and Juan Jose. But they worked long hours, and Colombia was plagued by delinquency and corruption.

“Yes, we were professionals in our careers,” recalls Francy. “We made a lot of money, but we didn’t have a family life.”

After much prayer and conversation, Francy and Jair decided to expatriate. They considered Dubai and Florida, but ultimately settled on Portland; they’d visited during their honeymoon and were won over by its beauty and its friendly residents.

“In Colombia, they will rob you for your phone,” says Francy. “[Portland] is a place where you can raise children in tranquility.”

New country, new city, new language — the logistics were daunting, and for support, they turned to Hacienda Community Development Corporation (CDC). The Portland-based Hacienda CDC rents out 381 affordable housing units in the Cully neighborhood, mostly to low-income Latino families, but its services don’t stop there.

“Although providing housing itself is so important, the mission of Hacienda goes far beyond a roof over our families’ heads,” explains Jaclyn Sarna, the organization’s director of youth and family services.

Hacienda offers a host of youth and family services, plus economic and microenterprise development opportunities to renters like the Lazaro-Baquero family. Families have access to after-school programs and an onsite clinic, plus education on topics like finance, entrepreneurship, leasing laws and tenant rights.

The city of Portland’s been slow to move on affordable housing solutions, but Hacienda is wasting no time: The organization has recently purchased yet another large property in Cully, where it plans to build 150 more affordable housing units.

Today, Francy is a stay-at-home mom and Jair works in a warehouse. The boys, now 6 and 16, are thriving, and the family has added a daughter — Letizia, almost 2 — and moved into a larger apartment. Their new living room boasts a cozy assortment of (non-black) chairs and sofas, art adorns the walls, and vegetables grow in a communal plot out back.

Francy and Jair talk and pray a lot about what’s next: perhaps a move out of state, perhaps a home purchase (Hacienda helps with those), perhaps a U.S. nursing degree for Francy, perhaps another child.

Cully is a long way from Colombia, admits Francy, but here, she and her family are at peace: “It was the greatest blessing to come to Portland,” she says. “It’s very far from my home, and I miss many things from my life in Colombia, but I wouldn’t change anything … this is a country of blessings.”

Erin J Bernard
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