Meet Jorge Aguilar: Growing a future in the US with a faith sewn in Ecuador
The voices of our immigrant neighbors in the Berkshires
It took a lot of bubble wrap to get Jorge Aguilar’s statue of the “Virgen del Cisne” afely to Pittsfield. The four-foot tall statue was built for him in a workshop in Ecuador, his home country.
Aguilar left his hometown of Girón for the United States when he was 16. Now 30 and a proud homeowner and landlord in Pittsfield, he still very much misses his family back in his South American country.
“I have my faith in this Virgin,” he says in his Taylor Street living room where a votive candle burns as part of a shrine. “This is another thing that makes me feel at home.”
In his window, leggy seedlings grow toward winter light that’s not really adequate.
“It’s too early,” Aguilar agrees.
But he is a farmer’s son and says that his love for gardening – “for growing things” – connects him to his native land as well. He shows off an Ecuadorian variety of beans he can’t wait to plant again and shows pictures of a zambo squash you won’t find in your local supermarket.
“I like it here,” he says about Pittsfield. “The peace I have in my hometown is the peace I have in this town.”
His backyard gardening space is small. Last year, he also grew potatoes on the property of the Eastover hotel and resort in Lenox, where Aguilar is a full-time carpenter. He came to the Berkshires from Long Island seven years ago when his employer there, Ying Wang, bought and started redeveloping Eastover.
He only learned that the Long Island town of Patchogue was going to be his first destination in the U.S. shortly before he left Ecuador. A financial crisis in 1999 had devastated Ecuador’s economy. By 2003, the $25 a week teenaged Jorge earned was not enough to help his family make ends meet.
America beckoned. An uncle he didn’t know he had offered to look after him — in Patchogue.
“I knew I could help my family better here,” Aguilar says. “But it was really scary. I didn’t speak a word of English. My uncle was the only person I knew.”
Before he left Ecuador, he already worked construction jobs. On Long Island, he took any job he could: “sheetrock, tiling, framing, windows, doors ... I do everything.”
He lived with his Uncle José Aguilar for seven years.
“I really love him. He’s like a father for me,” his nephew says. “If I did something wrong, he was the one to correct me. I still talk to him on the phone a lot.”
The Spanish-speaking community on Long Island is so large that he didn’t really need to learn English. But after his move to the Berkshires, Aguilar quickly felt he couldn’t get by without it. He mastered the language enough to be able to negotiate the purchase of a house.
“That was in 2012. Ying told me it was the right time to do that, because the price was right,” he says. He has tenants now and would like to buy more real estate.
Ying Wang, the Eastover owner, has helped him with other things: “When I stepped on a nail, she took care of me with Chinese medicine. She’s always there for me.”
Aguilar sums up the three things most important to him: “My family, my gardening and the Virgin.”
On his tablet computer, he clicks on a video. It tells the 16th-century story of rains coming to Ecuador’s drought-stricken town of El Cisne after the faithful there acquired the statue that Aguilar’s replica in his living room is modelled after.
Every Aug. 17, a large procession delivers the original relic from El Cisne to the Cathedral of Loja, 18 miles away.
Every August in Pittsfield, Mass is celebrated for the “Virgen del Cisne” in St. Mark’s Church on West Street.
And Jorge Aguilar is there.
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