GREAT BARRINGTON — Andres Huertas didn’t speak any English when his parents moved from Bogota, Colombia, to the Berkshires. It took a drawing of a soccer ball for him to realize that he might be able to communicate in his new country after all.
Another 10-year old boy at Undermountain School in Sheffield drew that picture and showed it to Andres as an invitation.
“I kind of understood what he was signaling,” Huertas recalls 17 years later, after his midnight shift as a police officer in Great Barrington. “That was one of my happiest memories as a child, because I was able to play soccer again. That’s how we were communicating, through pictures.”
He and his younger brother, Daniel, were the only Latino kids at Undermountain when they arrived in 2000. At that time, the school did not have a structured program to help immigrant children learn English.
“The only resource they had was a lunch lady from Mexico,” Huertas says. “She started coming to the classroom, but she would only be there for an hour in the morning or the afternoon because she had her other duties.”
“Tough times,” he says of those first months in the Berkshires. “Often I just didn’t want to go back to school because I didn’t understand anything anybody said.”
That changed with that soccer ball drawing and with the English language tutor who started working with him halfway through the school year.
“She was phenomenal,” he says about Jana Laiz, the tutor. “She taught me as much as she could. Little by little you start picking things up and you start taking risks. ou start saying things that may come out wrong, but you take that risk so you can communicate with someone.”
After that first year Huertas transferred to Searles Middle School in Great Barrington. Searles already had an English as a Second Language program. Laiz became his ESL teacher there as well. Huertas gives her credit for becoming fluent enough to no longer need ESL-support by seventh grade.
As happens in many immigrant families, Huertas then became his parents’ “mouth and ears” in English.
“At a very young age I was given that responsibility,” he says. “Being the oldest child it was kind of expected that I help my parents translate anything they needed for work, or letters from school, or going to doctor visits with them or my brothers.
“Even to this day, even though my parents speak English a lot better now, they’ll send something to me and ask, ‘Hey, can you explain this to me?’ ”
Officer Huertas, 28, readily agrees that his desire to become a cop is rooted in that experience.
“It definitely played a huge role,” he says in the Housatonic apartment he shares with his wife, Jenny. “To this day I watch out for my family. I do protect them. And I now I do it from the law enforcement side, which is even better.”
Soccer has remained “a huge part” of his life. Huertas was a star player at Monument Mountain Regional High School. He has been the coach of the Spartans’ junior varsity boys team since 2014.
A sense of community informs much of what he says. Since Jose Huertas and Gloria Escobar took their sons Andres and Daniel – their youngest son Nicholas was born here – to the Berkshires, many more Latinos and immigrants from other parts of the world have followed.
“The young kids now see a Hispanic police officer work here and I hope that I play a role model to them,” the Anna Maria College and State Police Academy graduate says. “I would hope that that would push them to always reach their goals."
A small Colombian pennant on the front door of his apartment greets visitors. Andres Huertas still feels a strong relationship with the country of his birth.
“I like to let people know where I am from,” he says. “I was mostly raised in the United States. I love my country. I am very patriotic. But I will never forget where I came from. Never."