By Reynaldo Mena
Around two years ago, Claudia Botero received a call that changed the course and purpose of her life.
“Look, your dad is not feeling well, he’s acting strange, why don’t you invite us to Las Vegas?” her mother Blanca Lilia told her. Claudia didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“Come over, we’re going to be here,” she replied.
There was no reason to doubt her mother’s judgment. For Claudia, her father had been everything; he was the cornerstone of the family.
“Eres una berraquita,” Claudia remembers her father always saying to her affectionately.
From then on, a series of events unfolded like a roller coaster. Her parents arrived, and indeed, her father looked dim, sad. He had a terrible headache. She thought it was a migraine. But upon arriving in Las Vegas, he had a stroke, and they immediately took him to a hospital. What was planned as a relaxing trip turned into a nightmare.
Her father spent a week in the hospital. He was discharged and they flew back to Stockton, their place of residence. A road trip was out of the question. And then, he had another stroke, and then another. Doctors were puzzled by the frequency. Further tests revealed that he had cancer that had originated in his liver and spread to his lungs.
Earlier, her father, Luis Emilio Botero, had asked his wife not to leave him in a hospital. He wanted to be with them, his family, at home. So, instead of seeking any desperate alternatives, they took him home where he passed away.
Luis Emilio Botero had been the leader, the support, the motivator, the driving force of the family dynamics, and for Claudia, he was and still is the inspiration of her life.
“Eres una ‘berraquita’,” she recalls her father’s words several times during the interview.
Claudia Botero is a renowned former journalist at Univisión, a recipient of numerous awards, the creator of numerous investigations that changed the lives of many people, and now an entrepreneur with the recent opening of her business, Claudia Botero Designs.
“My dad always used to tell me, ‘Be your own boss, don’t work for anyone.’ It took me some time, but I did it,” Claudia says.
In her words, you can hear her Colombian accent, the regionalism of her coffee-growing region, “I’m a paisa,” she introduces herself with that familiarity from the area, and her immense love for her father. “Mi Papi,” she said several times throughout the conversation.
Her appearance can deceive many. She’s a distinguished woman who commands respect, but behind her is a story like that of any immigrant who has come to the United States: one of struggle, scarcity, poverty, but also tremendous determination.
She had a very comfortable, privileged childhood. Her father was a successful businessman. Her memories place her in her childhood, spending weekends at the hotel pool or in ‘la finca’, the other family property.
“I loved to travel. I loved to dance; in Colombia, we’re big dancers. I danced salsa, merengue. I dreamt of becoming a model. My ‘mommy’ always dressed me well. She now says she always remembers how many little shoes she bought me. I always liked to pose in photos. We’re a very close-knit family, there was no drama, I never saw my parents fight,” Claudia recalls.
However, all of that changed in the 1980s.
Like in the rest of Latin America, an economic crisis hit the country, and the family was left in ruins. Her parents had to make the decision to emigrate. There was nothing left for them in Colombia. The ‘finca’, the hotel, the bakery all disappeared. So did the comforts.
“We migrated to California; we settled in Oakland as best we could. We lived in a very small studio, one room, bathroom, kitchen,” Claudia says.
However, the girl filled with shoes and dreams of becoming a model didn’t notice.
“I loved to travel, so when my parents told us we were leaving, I thought it was just a trip,” she says.
The family cohesion, the unity they had, the care from her parents, shielded her from the radical change in her life. From living in a house, having a ‘finca’ and a hotel with a pool at her disposal, suddenly she only had a very narrow place to live, with cockroaches and other bugs scurrying around.
Her father started working as a dishwasher, another significant change.
“I knew he was desperate; my mom and he talked about our situation. I wasn’t very aware of that, but they remained positive and said we had to be calm,” she adds.
Claudia also experienced a significant change.
After attending an exclusive girls’ school in Colombia, she now attended an elementary school in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Oakland.
She began experiencing something she had never encountered before: bullying.
“Some girls would wait for me and attack me. For no reason. I think the fair color of my skin and being new encouraged them. On another occasion, at the bus stop, a boy attacked me by kicking me, and if a car hadn’t stopped, I don’t know what would have happened,” she says.
The rest of the family wasn’t exempt from this new reality.
Her father was robbed, and another time her parents were chased by someone wanting to harm them.
All of this added pressure and desperation for her father.
“Once, a builder came to the restaurant where he worked, and my dad saw they were doing carpentry work. He went to the person in charge and asked for a job. ‘Do you know how to do this?’ the person, who was Argentinean, asked. My dad obviously assured him he could do it. He was put to the test, and the Argentinean said, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing,’ ” Claudia recalls, amused. “Of course, a businessman turned carpenter, well, no. But his determination convinced the Argentinean, and he gave him the job; he would learn, it brought more resources to the house.”
The family had to adapt.
“At Christmas, we had to go to events where they gave away toys; that was the way to get things in those times,” she says.
But Luis Emilio Botero wasn’t going to stay paralyzed.
With his business acumen, he realized he could sell tools at the flea markets. So, when he wasn’t at work, he would find tools and travel to different places to buy and resell. That improved the family’s finances.
“We’d take a station wagon, put the tools in, and the whole family would go. We’d get up at three in the morning to be ready and get a good spot at the flea market. I saw it as an adventure. We did it ‘all together’; that was my dad’s slogan,” she says.
All that effort paid off.
Her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and the need to find a safer place for the family to set down roots led him to founding Emilio’s Tools, first in Stockton and now located in Modesto.
Luis Emilio’s perseverance, even while undocumented, led him to buy his first house in Stockton.
“We always lived by these principles: love, respect, and unconditional support,” Claudia recalls.
In Stockton, she started Middle School and again experienced bullying. But her mother, Blanca Lilia, was always by her side.
“My dad never let her work. If we only had a liter bit of milk, we would all share it. But she needed to stay home to take care of her children’,” he would tell her.
When she entered High School, dreams knocked on Claudia’s door once again.
“I was Homecoming Queen,” she says, laughing.
Her mother played the accomplice.
“There were modeling classes in San Francisco. They cost a lot of money for us. We had some money, but we weren’t rich. My mom told me, “I’ve saved some money, I’ll pay for the classes.” And so, she and I went to San Francisco. They taught us how to walk in heels, on the runway and how to sit. I was very happy,” she adds.
“During Back to School, my mom took me shopping. I was so happy. She bought me my shoes from Payless, and I didn’t care; I felt like they were the best in the world. When I got home with my purchases, I’d gather the family in the living room, and I’d model what they bought me. It was a very happy time. My dad would come home with gifts, any little thing,” she adds.
At 16, she stopped helping her dad. “I was getting older, and men were looking at me. My dad noticed and told me it was time to focus on my work, on studying. And that’s what I did,” she says.
But she also became a cheerleader for the football team. And her first boyfriend came into the picture.
“Everyone respected me; my boyfriend was one of the star players on the team,” she says, laughing. “I never really dated. I was very shy, always have been. My boyfriend would see me in the living room, and if we went outside, my mom would turn the lights on and off, signaling that it was time to go.”
Claudia dreamed of emulating her father, who had traveled much of the world. She dreamed of traveling and wanted to study International Business. However, upon finishing High School and entering Junior College, she realized she wasn’t prepared.
“A teacher told me that I wrote like a ninth-grader; it saddened me but also challenged me. I started studying and studying, got tutors, and graduated with an ‘A.’ That’s how I got into Cal Poly, although I could have gone to any other universities that accepted me,” she says.
She had always been a dreamer to some extent, and this time would be no exception.
She realized that Cal Poly wasn’t for her and decided to look into the University of the Pacific to see if they would accept her. They did, and she began studying Organizational Communications.
This redirected her vocation towards journalism.
“I needed to do an internship, and one day while watching the Univisión affiliate station, I saw producer Xochilt Arellano on screen offering intern positions at the station. It was a small station; I called and they accepted me. That’s where I had my first experiences in television,” she says.
And in the last semester of her studies, another dream came true. She won a scholarship to spend a semester in Granada, Spain, studying Spanish and International Business. This gave her the opportunity to see a good part of Europe, “like a backpacker,” she says.
Upon returning, she contacted the television station, and they hired her as a reporter.
Among other ventures, she worked on a music video program, and one of her notable moments was an interview with the legendary Selena, when Claudia was just 19 years old.
Claudia could have tried to work at English-language television stations, but she chose the Spanish-language market. And while she has been asked many times, there is a significant reason for her choice.
“To help people. I lived through very difficult stories with my family; my dad legalized his residency through the Amnesty program after seeing the news on television. I believe that with my work, I could change other people’s lives. That’s what drives me,” she confesses.
Her parents were very proud, but her father, Luis Emilio, always grounded her. He advised her to be vigilant and to continue preparing herself.
Before long, she moved to Sacramento, where she became the main anchor for the weekend news, marking the beginning of a long and successful career at Univision. She was selected to support the team during the terrorist attacks in New York, which she describes as an incredible experience and learning opportunity. Without a doubt, this meant that she had transcended in her work and was ready for any challenge.
Upon her return to Sacramento, a producer told her, “You’ll never make it,” in a derogatory and challenging manner. But she received an offer to take a job in Los Angeles, the number one market for Univision. The same producer said to her, “They’ll eat you alive.” And she said, “We’ll see.”
“My first day in Los Angeles was a disaster. They received me very well, but I felt alone, I missed my family. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know anyone. So, I decided to go get my nails done. The woman at the salon started talking to me and asked how I was; I started crying uncontrollably,” she recalls, now smiling.
She experienced a golden era at Univision. She won countless awards, conducted numerous investigations, shared assignments with top-level journalists, and achieved what every journalist dreams of.
“I put people behind bars, abusers who took advantage of the community. People would come up to me and thank me; that was the work I wanted to do,” she says.
But then came May 7, 2021, when everything changed.
Luis Emilio Botero, her father, passed away.
That made her reconsider her life, her career.
She decided to leave Univision.
“Perhaps it was a hasty decision, but it was something I had to do. I had been the anchor of the weekend news for four years. I had been absent from my ten-year-old son’s life. I had missed some of my father’s birthdays, I had missed many things that were important to me. I couldn’t even go to my son’s soccer games. And I said to myself, ‘this is the moment’,” she reflects.
“I decided to leave a career that I love with all my heart, but my father was there, with those words echoing in my mind all the time, ‘my dear, you should be your own boss.’ So when I decided to leave Univision, I told my two brothers, and they repeated to me what my dad had always said, ‘all together, always together.’ I started collaborating with them. I don’t want to do television anymore,” she says.
And one day, her husband, who is Mexican, returned from a trip to Mexico and showed her some beautiful bags made by Mexican artisans.
“He said, ‘look how beautiful they are. They can make your own designs.’ He said to me, and I thought, ‘Papi, this is a sign from you.'”
“So, I decided to start my own business called Claudia Botero Designs. In honor of my father. I want it to be a tribute
to him. He’s my inspiration, my guide,” she says.
Her mom recommended other Colombian artisans with whom she will also work. She now wants to bring their work to life and spread it around the world.
“I want to showcase their work, tell their stories. It’s something I like to do, and what better way to do it than through this project,” she says.
On July 28 of this year, she announced the creation of her company on social media. It was a special date, her father’s birthday.
When she told her brother Israel the launch date, a hummingbird came and landed by her side.
“Now hummingbirds come all the time. I could be thinking what he said to me, ‘eres una berraquita,'” Claudi Botero concludes.