Maria Ealey was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1981. During her early childhood, she grew up in a middle-class family and attended Catholic schools. In the interview, she describes drug cartel-related violence in Medellín and the impact on her family.
Following her aunt and grandmother, her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. They lived in South Paterson in what was, at that time, a predominantly Colombian and Arab neighborhood. While working part-time jobs to help support her family, Ms. Ealey went to high school at John F. Kennedy. She discusses the difficulties of transitioning to life in Paterson, learning English, and dealing with financial constraints associated with access to health care and higher education.
Initially, she went to Bergen County Community College for nursing, while also working full time. Then, she attended Berkeley College and studied international business, working early in her career for an attorney and a foundation. Currently, Ms. Ealey is a staff person in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University. She resides in Middlesex County.
This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.