PORT ANGELES ¬– Many immigrants come to the United States seeking a better life.
Beatriz Giraldo, 61, came because her husband was tired of getting kidnapped in her native Colombia.
She brought with her a medicine bag full of holistic healing methods bridging both cultures.
In Colombia, Giraldo had been trained in psychoanalysis, holistic, group and family therapy, as well as Chinese traditional medicine.
“My whole life I have tried to find medicine and psychotherapy that goes beyond traditional medicine and works with the ancient past to heal people,” she said.
She was a divorced woman with two teenage children and a thriving practice as a psychotherapist in Bogota when she met her husband-to-be, David Kent, an American from Indianapolis.
Giraldo’s sister introduced them, as she knew him as a dance partner.
“He loves salsa, and they danced together a lot of places,” she said. “We dance a lot in Colombia.”
“We had a friendship for six months,” she said in thickly accented English. “Then he asked me to marry him. I was really surprised. But I strongly recommend second marriages.”
The couple married in 1996.
Giraldo continued to follow her passion, offering “mind and body” holistic healing based on psychotherapy, yoga and meditation in practice with her sisters.
While the newlyweds were happy in Colombia, the constantly unstable political climate made life a challenge.
Her husband worked as the library director at Bolivar College in Cali, Colombia, and just the fact that he was American made him a target for guerillas. He had been kidnapped once before and spent two weeks held by rebels in the mountains of Colombia.
When political unrest again threatened the country in 1999, the couple decided to move to America.
Her grown children soon followed and have forged successful lives in their new home.
Her son, Leonardo Espitia, is a doctor in Houston, while her daughter, Sandhya Espitia Klein, works at Harvard University as the international scholarship program officer for Central and South America.
New Mexico move
The couple chose Silver City, N.M., thinking there would be a large Spanish-speaking population for them to associate with.
To their surprise, “no one spoke Spanish,” Giraldo said.
The couple had always communicated in Spanish, but now Giraldo had no choice but to learn English.
She met a Navajo woman who, after learning of Giraldo’s training as healer, asked her to do a closing ceremony at a symposium on menopause.
Even though it was an all-women event, her husband ended up acting as a translator.
“After that, doors were opened to me,” she said. “At that point, I started my service to the community.”
While her English was shaky, she found a common language with the Navajo: drumming.
“It’s the universal language,” she said.
She began a drum circle there, with rhythms focused on centering energy and sending out healing vibrations.
She was honored by the Navajo with the gift of a buffalo drum, a simple hide-covered drum with a deep booming tone.
“Listen, you can hear the buffalo,” she said while recently demonstrating the drum.
After a year, she decided she needed a total immersion to force herself to become a proficient English speaker, so she enrolled in a master’s in counseling program at Western New Mexico University.
She had already earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the National University in Bogota, but she needed additional certification to practice in the United States.
With her limited English skills, she was allowed to record her class lectures, which she then worked with her husband to translate each night.
It took three years, but she received her master’s degree with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
Giraldo brought her newly minted degree to Port Angeles in 2004, where her husband had already moved to take a job as research librarian at Peninsula College.
They now live in a quiet 55 and older community with a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Giraldo has brought along her holistic healing practices.
Feels at home
While the Northwest corner of the United States is geographically distant from her native Colombia, Giraldo said she immediately felt at home here.
“In New Mexico, my connection was with the people, but here it’s with nature,” she said. “Here, nature called me.”
With her outgoing personality and wide range of skills, Giraldo quickly fit into her new home.
Her arrival coincided with the departure of Peninsula College’s Spanish instructor, and she was hired to take his place.
She taught academic Spanish classes for one year, and now teaches Spanish in continuing education classes.
She also earned a mental health counselor license in Washington.
Behavioral health manager
In order to practice her healing arts, she settled on an out-of-town position, as a behavioral health specialist with Sea Mar in Seattle, counseling bilingual low-income clients.
She rose to program manager in the Bellingham office before resigning last year to take a therapist position with Healthy Families in Port Angeles.
But in January of this year, the organization was the victim of budget cuts, and Giraldo was laid off.
“I think it’s sad when an organization like Healthy Families is not given enough budget to respond to the needs of the community,” she said.
Now, Giraldo is focusing on her holistic healing practices, which she is sharing with her community.
She has opened a private practice called Integral Therapy and is offering personal growth workshops called Dancing Toward Your Center, at the Center of Infinite Reflections, in Sequim.
She also can be found leading monthly drum circles at the Peninsula College Longhouse.
Dancing Toward Your Center focuses on seeking a connection between mind and body and a balance between movement and stillness.
The Colombian woman also blends the ancient Chinese art of Qui gong, the precursor to tai chi, into her practice.
“Qui gong uses small movements for healing,” she said. “Small movements make you fully aware of your body. In this ‘running time,’ Qui gong stops you.”For all her accomplishments, drive and passion, Giraldo’s mission in life comes down to one simple statement: “You have to live your life with love and compassion.”