Sandra Tabares: a journey of discovery

February 26, 2012 20:30 0 comments

She is Colombian and currently works as a coordinator of special TV and film projects at Tibor Jones & Associates, having managed to achieve her goals in a foreign country starting from scratch.


Javier Duque


Not that she didn’t have to make sacrifices and do work she knew wasn’t for her.

Sandra Tabares arrived on British soil in 2001 to study English for a year. Those 12 months got longer and she’s still here to this day. However, her situation has changed radically to what it once was.

When Tabares first arrived in London she was a qualified respiratory therapist, and found work as one whilst studying during her first three months in the city.

It would prove to be the last time she worked in this field, for, after trying out various casual jobs, the Colombian has ended up working in a field that she actually likes: film. In fact she is one of the executive producers of the Colombian film White tuna fishing

It was what she had always strived to achieve, and came about thanks to many years of hard grafting. There was a time she worked in the morning, went to class in the afternoon and then when she got back work on a film festival. How did she find the time? She says she was never much of a sleeper.

What did you do in Colombia before coming to London?

I was a respiratory therapist and worked as a university teacher. I was in charge of the respiratory therapy department at one of the Social Security clinics. I also studied Literature at the university.

It seems like you didn’t need to leave Colombia. Why did you decide to go?

There are two versions as to why I left: the official version and the actual version. But really I needed to get away and find myself and that’s what motivated me to make the decision.

Once you arrived, how did you find it at first?

I arrived with a student visa which allowed me to work 20 hours. After a while I managed to get a job related to my expertise: I went to treat South American patients in their homes. But of course, that meant I wasn’t practising English.

So what did you do?

A friend of mine was working at a cafeteria next to my English school and he told me that there was a vacancy there. The salary was much lower, but this way I got to practise the language all the time. It may not have been my doing, but that was what I had changed my life for.

You stayed at that cafeteria until the first anniversary of your arrival…

I renewed my visa because I realised that working there had been a very interesting experience. I missed the patients, but discovered that something had changed. So I decided to enrol at the university to study Hispanic and Latin American studies.

All the while you had gone from running a department at a clinic to running a team of waiters. A big change, don’t you think?

It was a shock. But you realise that, where ever you work, you remain the same as a person. Is this what an immigrant must do? Well yes, at least while the system obliges him or her to do it. The system puts obstacles in your way for a while. But then you realise that these circumstances are temporary. Apart from that though, I needed the money.

By this time did you know what you wanted to do?

Yes, I knew I wanted to work with film and in 2004 I found the Discovering Latin American Film Festival. I decided to join up with a group of volunteers, who were all wonderful people.

It seems like you began to find your place. You also changed jobs…

Yes. One of my customers at the cafeteria was working at a company in the City and he told me that they needed a receptionist. I was there for a few months and then I became a personal assistant and a trilingual translator.

Your timetable and salary improved…

Yes. I had a better timetable: I worked until 5pm, afterwards I would go to university and when I got back I would get to work on the film festival. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never slept much. But I just didn’t find it difficult because it was what I wanted to do and I had enough energy to do it.

And if that were not enough, you also began to collaborate with Colombiage…

Yes I did. In 2006, while I was working in the City, I got a phone call. I got called by someone I didn’t know at all, and the person I spoke to said she wanted to set up a Colombian art festival and had been told that I was the suitable person to work on the film side of things.

Finally some acknowledgement!

At that moment, in 2006, I felt that after all that work I had done for free and the effort I had put in that finally I was receiving some recognition – and in my chosen area.

Artistic director of the Latin American Film Festival, Film Programmer at Colombiage, working at a City company, attending university… how long did you juggle all of this?

In 2007 I graduated and I left my job in the City to go to Colombia for three months. They wanted me to carry on in the job but wouldn’t give me that much holiday. When I came back from Colombia in 2008 I began to work independently. And in 2009 I left the Latin American Film Festival.

Since 2008 you have moved on and have begun working in your preferred area. What are you doing now?

Now I spend most of my time on a project which is going to be exhibited at the cultural section of the Olympic Games. It is a production about a quadriplegic seafarer who circumnavigated around the UK.

Do immigrants fit in easily in this country?

There are immigrants and then there are immigrants. It really does depend on the motives for immigrating and on the surrounding factors. Do immigrants adapt easily? Well people from the US, for obvious reasons, integrate better.

And what about Latin Americans in particular?

The Latin Americans I have met have managed to integrate themselves into the system in that they have access to studies, or at least the language. They know that they are entitled to healthcare and, most of the time, with difficulty, can get hold of the doctor. And they understand how the transport system works.

But is it true that they find work - often as waiters or cleaners - and then shut themselves off in their own communities with their fellow countrymen?

They feel the need to live in groups because that way they have a system of support. We tend to look for spaces where we can relate to people who are similar to ourselves.

And is that a good thing?

Maybe that’s what helps you keep going. Because don’t forget that when immigrants leave their countries they are leaving many things behind, like their families and the places where they grew up.

And you need a period of time to adapt. If during that process you find a group in which you feel happy, then that’s completely understandable.

On the other hand, if it means narrowing your horizons, then of course I think it can limit you.

Could it be a question of mentality?

Yes, it could be. If you’re thinking about overcoming the obstacles that the system puts in your way, and if you treat that as a goal, then you can always aspire to do better and end up doing the work you want to do.

(Translated by: José Stovell)

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