From Eritrea to Sudan to Iraq to Egypt to America: Samira’s Perspective on War

From Eritrea to Sudan to Iraq to Egypt to America: Samira’s Perspective on War

by Thomas B., May, 2013

eritrea,landscape,photography-40a26675cb191c697015111be3e2ffcb_h

I interviewed an Eritrean woman named Samira. Samira had to flee Eritrea because of war. The experience of being forced to leave Eritrea and subsequent experiences affect Samira’s perspective on war. After exile from Eritrea, being a refugee in Sudan, and briefly living in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, Samira was “sick and tired of war.” Samira is skeptical of armed struggles and the insistence of authorities that they are necessary. Eritrea was plunged into thirty years of strife, and in fact it is still facing the threat of conflict. She is disappointed in the government that her country got when it gained independence. From her statements in our conversation, I believe Samira sees violence, even violence done in the name of a cause that appears just, as a never-ending cycle.

Eritrea is a country of six point two million people on the Eastern coast of Africa (Eritrea). To the East lies the Red Sea. Across the sea one will find Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Southern half of Eritrea is a relatively thin region of land that hugs the coast. In the West the country fans out to cover more inland areas. Eritrea has been subject to continuous strife as a victim of imperialism, regional rivals and an oppressive government. It is a poor country, where one million people face starvation (Masci) and the per capita income is just $680.

The roots of Eritrea’s Independence War go back almost 125 years, to 1890, when Eritrea became an Italian colony. Eritrea remained under Italian domination until Italy ended up on the losing side of the Second World War. In 1949 Eritrea became a United Nations trust territory administered by Britain. In the early 50s, the United Nations made the deadly mistake of turning control of Eritrea over to its larger neighbor to the South West, Ethiopia. This mistake led to decades of strife for Eritrea and Ethiopia.

That the roots of the conflict go back into history many generations is connected to Samira’s perspective that violence is a cycle that feeds on itself, not a confrontation between good and evil that resolves itself. She said of the current problems in Eritrea that “the cycle, the violence just continues.” The cycle of violence that began with Italy colonizing Africa has continued to the present day.

Eritreans waged a long struggle against Ethiopia for independence with Ethiopian forces who fought to hold on to the territory. From 1974 to 1987, Ethiopia was ruled by a Marxist-Leninist government called the Derg. The Soviet Union and Cuba became involved in the fighting, in support of the Derg. Eritrean guerillas persisted in the face of superior military technology and numbers, and for thirty years the Independence War brought strife to the region. The war took a heavy toll on Eritrea, Ethiopia, and neighbors. A famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1984-85 killed approximately one million people (Masci). Many fled to find safety elsewhere. In 1991 Eritrean independence fighters won a military victory against Ethiopia that led to a 1993 referendum in which the Eritrean people voted for independence from Ethiopia.

Samira and other Eritreans hoped that the Independence War would lead to a democratic, accountable government for Eritrea. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. In Samira’s words, “…right now, the people who were fighting to liberate [Eritrea], supposedly, are the one’s who are torturing the people. Right now, my story might be like nothing compared to the thousands and thousands fleeing the country.” As so often happens in the wake of a revolution, Eritrea has come to be ruled by a single man. Isaias Afewerki, who led a leftist guerrilla force called the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front during the Independence War, has held the presidency since independence was established. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front has been reincarnated as a political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Afewerki expressed support for a multi-party government before independence, but Afwerki’s People’s Front is the only political party allowed in Eritrea. The Country has no media sources independent of the People’s Front, so Afewerki wields total control of news coverage. Off the record, Samira and I joked how Afewerki was “maybe a president, maybe not a president.”

Plans to move Eritrea towards democracy have been indefinitely deferred. An election planned for 1998 and the implementation of a constitution approved by the voters in 1997 have been delayed indefinitely. In a 2009 interview with Reuters, Afewerki said, “I have never said that this a successful democracy.” Afewerki’s government denies that it has no desire to implement a constitutional multi-party government in Eritrea, maintaining that wars with countries like Yemen and the old rival Ethiopia make the country too unstable to risk a political reconfiguration. However, in Afewerki’s own words that he spoke before coming into power, “a one-party system will neither enhance national security or stability nor accelerate economic development. In fact a one party system could be a major threat to the very existence of our country” (President Isaias Afwerki’s Biography).

Samira’s father became involved in the independence movement as an intellectual when she was a small child. He had been a teacher before the conflict began. Samira told me, “my Dad didn’t go to fight, however he was helping recruit people to help with money or to recruit people to help with political things.” He was a member of a group in which each person was restricted to knowing just seven other members, so if a member was captured he or she would not be able to divulge the names of too many comrades.

The Ethiopian government, which of course controlled Eritrea at that time, caused Samira’s family great trouble to punish them for her father’s actions in support of the independence movement. Samira told me “He was imprisoned here and there. For example they would tell him “24 hours to get out of the city” so he’d just have to move, sometimes he’d just have to leave us somewhere and then later on we’d join him.” The government ordered Samira’s father to move around a lot. Their idea was to restrict Samira’s father to being in cities where he wouldn’t be effective for the rebels. He was imprisoned many times by the government and unfortunately he was tortured in prison several times: “they put them in cold water they put them upside down” said Samira.

I think that her father’s politics and the failure of the armed struggle to create an equitable Eritrean government influence Samira’s perspective on war. Maybe if her father had not been so involved in politics, Samira would not see her own experiences in terms of the larger events. But surely having a close family member who was so passionate that he would go in being involved after being tortured would guarantee that Samira would be political herself. The fact that armed struggle with Ethiopia led to a long, bloody war and a despotic government colors Samira’s skeptical perception of war.

Eventually, the fighting made living in Eritrea impossible. One day Samira was at school in the capital Asmara when planes began bombing the city intensely. Samira fled the capital with her brother as thousands of people fled the city. The two followed the flow right out of the city. She described that day: “people [were] fleeing anywhere they could. So we just followed the crowd… All the way out of town…because we didn’t know what we were doing.” Samira said that she doesn’t remember how many days she traveled, because they were moving day and night and it was difficult to think straight. They had no time to get their things or tell anyone they were leaving. It was total chaos.

Samira went to a neighboring city where they believed they would be safe, but soon that city was bombed as well, so they continued to flee. Samira said she would “never forget” how everywhere she went people told her to take off her red sweater, but she didn’t understand why until an older woman told her “[the plane] spots you in bright colors, it spots you right away.” Samira and her brother made their way North to Sudan. They walked half the way, then they got a ride from some Eritrean fighters on a truck they had to ride “like goods.” Samira not gone back to Eritrea since.

In Sudan, Samira had to contend with the threat of being kidnapped in the night by the Sudanese government, which sought to relocate the many Eritreans who fled to refugee camps in Sudan. The camps were located in harsh, remote locations where heat and thirst took many lives. Samira told me that her “neighbors, who were also cousins” suffered being brought to one of the refugee camps by the Sudanese government: “They would come early in the morning when you are asleep. You’re not even awake. You are sleeping. They took them. Two of the children died. It’s just sad. They couldn’t tolerate [conditions at the camp]. I was lucky, we were lucky.” In recent years, the Sudanese government, attempting to suppress a rebellion, committed an act of genocide against their own people in the Darfur region (Genocide in Darfur).

I can only imagine that being separated from most of her family and hiding from the maniacal Sudanese government must have been a difficult adolescence for Samira. She had already known a great deal of strife at that relatively young age. This is the age where most people start to think about politics and things like that, so her adult perspective on war must have been forming during this time. Clearly, Samira and her country were not benefiting from the conflict and the immediate view of it would not have yielded the kind of distance a person needs to have to romanticize a conflict. She must have been truly “sick of war” by this time.

Samira continued her education during this time with help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She completed high school on time, then went on to Cairo to study at a technical institute for secretarial work. She had wanted to study medicine, but that was not really possible because of her status as a refugee. She said “it would have been different” if the conflict had not happened. This is one more reason for Samira to be “sick of war.”

Eritreans weren’t allowed to work in Egypt, so she went on to Baghdad, but left because of the Iran-Iraq war and general dissatisfaction with being there. Even though that war did not directly affect people in Baghdad, she had had enough of being in war zones by that time. Samira came to the United States when she was 19. She lived in South Dakota for a while, then moved to San Francisco.

Samira was reunited with her family in the United States, as family members have left Eritrea over the years. Samira still has extended family in Eritrea, but no immediate family members remain in that country. It reminds me of how Edward Said said that his home Palestine became “a series of Israeli locales” (Said X) and how all of Said’s family and acquaintances were gone from Palestine. Samira was reunited with her father after being separated for about ten years: “I can’t even put a word on it. I’m so blessed.” Samira must have some trauma from the events of her childhood, but she has lived most of life in the United States in reasonable comfort and does not seem like an unhappy person.

In conclusion, Samira’s flight from Eritrea, her difficult time in Sudan and the despotic nature of Eritrea’s independent government made her dislike war as a political tool. Those who only experience war in movies and video games sometimes have romanticized notions of what war is like. They don’t imagine what a bombing raid does to an ordinary little girl and her brother. When people call for a bad government to be driven out by some freedom fighters, they don’t necessarily think about what happens when those freedom fighters become the next government. Now, as a reservation, I don’t believe that Samira feels that Eritrea should be a part of Ethiopia! What I am saying is that Samira stopped believing in the armed struggle. We talked a little after the recording stopped, and she said something that stuck with me: “peace for all the people is my mission.”  When we were talking about the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea is asked her if parts of Eritrea “are still occupied by Ethiopia.” Samira said, “I think it’s an excuse for just…an ego of the government. It’s not to do anything with the people. They could live safely and peacefully, actually.” Samira doesn’t believe in fighting or in those so-called “freedom fighters,” who are now dictators.

Works Cited

“Eritrea.” Cia.gov. Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, 3 May 2007. Web

“Eritrea: Selected Social Indicators.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Ed.               Gall, Timothy L. and Gall, Susan Bevan. Online ed. Detroit: Gale. Global Issues In Context. Web. 22 May 2013.
 
“Genocide in Darfur.” United Human Rights Council, 2013. Web.
Masci, David. “Famine in Africa: Are Affluent Nations Doing Enough to Avert Disaster?” CQ Researcher 12.39 (2002). Web.
 
“President Isaias Afwerki’s Biography.” Madote. 13 Nov. 2010. Web.
Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1999. Print.

Transcripts

Samira warns me that she speaks softly, then the recording starts. I am surprised by the sound of my voice. My additions to the conversation are written inside of [—] marks like [this]. My comments on what is happening in the conversation are written on the right side of two forward slashes like //this. Be aware that this is not intended as a word-for-word copy of the mp3 file. The goal is to capture the meaning of what was said rather than the exact words. What appears here should be considered my translation of the conversation from the language of conversation to the language of text.

Me: I’ll just put it [the recording device] closer to you.

Samira: [laughs] ah, ok.

Me: Ok Samira, I’m Thomas. So, tell me about where were you were born.

Samira: I was born in Eritrea; it’s a town called Abudat [SP?].

Me: Is that a small town?

Samira: It’s a city.

Me: In a valley?

Samira: No, actually it’s a low land. But I didn’t grow up there, I was just three months old when I left so I don’t know [the city].

Me: Why did you family leave?

Samira: Well, my dad was a teacher and also politically involved, so they [the government] were putting him from city to city [to impede his political activities].

Me: So, did you grow up in a particular town or did you move around with your dad?

Samira: I actually moved around. I didn’t grow up in a particular place.

Me: And you were going to school?

Samira: Yes.

Me: So, can you tell me about your father’s political involvement?

Samira: My father’s political involvement is a long story. You know about partition of Africa, right? So what happened was Europeans took all of Africa. Eritrea was taken by the Italians and was ruled by the Italians for about 50-60 years. And then in the second world war, Italy became allies with Germany the British kicked out [the Italians]. I’m making the story shorter!

Me: That’s fair.

Samira:.. kicked out..

Me: …the Italians…

Samira: … and they took over…

Me: …Eritrea…

Samira: They took over Eritrea for 17 years. And then what happened was, when all the other countries got independence, Eritrea did not. What happened was the British, or the Eritreans, couldn’t make up their minds.

Me: They couldn’t make up their mind if they wanted…?

Samira: There was a political thing; the US was also involved with that. They wanted to be part of Europea [Europe] and there were some Eritreans who wanted to be with Ethiopia. But when [Eritrea] was federated with Ethiopia without the people’s will, the Eritreans started movements. The teachers and students participated in demonstrations and stuff. My dad was a part of the movement.

Me: For independence?

Samira: First for the demonstrations and stuff. But then what happened was, when the brutality started [I don’t understand this part. It’s around 3:38.], Ethiopians took over, and people didn’t like that. They started grassroots movements called [the seven people?], everybody would know seven people so that way when someone got in trouble they…

Me: Oh, I see //this part isn’t clear to the listener: someone in the movement would know seven other people in the movement so that when somebody got caught by the government, they wouldn’t be able to divulge the names of more than seven comrades.

Samira: He was one of the people that started the movement, in 1961. He started to get watched; he was in prison, all these things. That’s how the trouble started. And after that, when more and more brutality more imprisonment and killing started, Eritreans stated an armed struggle in 1961. At that time what happened was that people went to fight. My Dad didn’t go to fight; however, he was helping recruit people to help with money or to recruit people to help with political things, so he was imprisoned here and there. For example, they would tell him “24 hours to get out of the city,” so he’d just have to move; sometimes, he’d just have to leave us somewhere and then later on we’d join him.

Me: Can you tell me a story about that happening?

Samira: Ok, so one story is this: [PORT] is part of Eritrea. However, it’s very far; it’s very hot. So they put him in 24 hours to go from the city to go to that place [the port]. So he left us there in the city because he could not get us to another city. He left by himself. There were others going there too.

Me: They were telling him to go to this port town?

Samira: To port town. For example, he cannot move from there. He cannot go anywhere. [Father’s birthplace] is his birthplace; they told him he cannot get there; he cannot go to that city. He can go to work, but he cannot move from that city.

Me: He was being kept in the port? He was arrested in the city? And you were with separated from him with your mother?

Samira: Yes, with my mother and two siblings; others were not born. So, after a year and a half or so we joined him in that port.

Me: how old were you when this was happening?

Samira: Hm, when this was happening, I was eight years old. So, we went to there; however, it’s like the climate is harsh so my mother was sick. So we, my mother and me and siblings, not my father, we moved to Ethiopia. It’s not far away [from the port]. Later on he could go to [Ethiopia] but that’s the only town he could go to.

Me: Yeah. So, you were right across the border, and you dad was in this port, and the government didn’t want him to leave this port.

Samira: Yeah, however, they allowed him to that city in Ethiopia because it was Ethiopia it was not Eritrea. Any Eritrean city he could not go in. So, when we would go to Eritrea, we were kind of smuggled. We would go see my grandparents.

Me: How exactly did they smuggle you?

Samira: Well, we would go from Ethiopia; nobody would know. However, when we got to [Asmara?] everybody knows everybody, so they would not say, “they are the kids of so and so,” because that’s how you were known, as “the kids of so and so.” There was curfew there. At six, we would go just right before the curfew and stay in my grandparent’s house and if we had to see another family we would go just before the curfew and not tell anyone that we were coming to stay there for a week or so.

Me: Where were you going?

Samira: To Eritrea. To see my grandparents and uncles and cousins. We would go there, go, go, go, and come back to the city where my parents were born.

Thomas: So then, uh, you must have grown up moving from place to place as your father was getting told where to go, I guess they wanted to restrict his political movements so they were telling him where to go?

Samira: Exactly.

Thomas: What about when you were a teenager?

Samira: Ok, so now…a teenager…I’m like 12, 13? So, when I’m 13…what happened was…when I was 13, the Ethiopian government was overthrown. It was the <<can’t make out, sounds like name of leader who took over>>… It was a communist country, Ethiopia. So, kind of like my dad’s restriction going to Eritrea, was kind of lightened; like he could go Eritrea! But not to his birthplace, but to Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea. So we went there, like he want[ed] to move, so we went there and there was war and stuff. It’s like one day me and my brother, we were like at school…my younger brother…and we couldn’t go back to our house.

T: Why?

S: So…what happened was like…there was bombing and stuff…so we just moved with the crowd, we just went with the crowd. We didn’t know where we were going; we didn’t know what we were doing; we just like…because we…in Ethiopia, when we were there, when the revolution was there, there was also war and stuff, but not bombing. So, we really didn’t know the exact what was going on. So, anyways, what happened was we went to a city by foot…I don’t know how many days we traveled. At first daytime, and then at night.

T: You were fleeing the capital because of the fighting there?

S: Because of the fighting…because of the bombing. The bombing was not only in the city, but the city that we were going to, it was bombed also. We didn’t know that. Nobody knew that, but it’s like the planes and stuff, you know, and people, I think were accustomed <<?>> There was this older woman.

One thing I’ll never forget: I had a red sweater on and like everybody shout[ed], “take the sweater off, take the sweater off,” and I didn’t know what was going on. So this woman came in and took out the sweater, because it’s bright color; it spot you right away…the plane.

Anyways, we got to another city called Keren and that happened to be my parents’ birthplace…

T: When you fled the city, was that immediately when you left school that day or was this more…

S: It was bombing, so it’s not like school was let out, but we have to go; we have to leave. So the thing is our house…and it’s like people are fleeing anywhere they could. So, we just followed the crowd.

T: So you just ran out of school and followed the crowd all the way out of town?

S: All the way out of town…because we didn’t know what we were doing. So, anyway, when we got to the city, it is like everybody is ok [with] what you guys [are] doing. It’s like people are so kind and stuff and they’ll ask you and we say we don’t know where our parent are; we were just at school. Kind of everybody ask[s] you whose daughter or whose son, it’s a small community. Everybody knows everybody. If you don’t know me, then somebody else will know me. So they asked someone and they knew; they came and they took us to their place. Still, they are scared because still the bombing is going on.

So anyways, so it kind of start[ed] in the morning and there was a lot of people who died in the bombing. Actually, somebody I know lost three daughters.

Then, after 15 days staying [in] that city, we decided we couldn’t go back to Asmara, to the capital, so what happened was…

T: So you left all your things in Asmara

S: Oh, yeah, nobody can get anything. So, we decided, somebody, that it’s not going to be safe, so they contacted our family; like, they contacted my mom, my mom.

T: They must have been worried about where you were?

S: Oh, yeah. They didn’t even know where we were, and there’s so many people died. At the same time that my dad was also in prison. That’s why they contacted my mom. So, my mom was like, whatever you could do, you could help them. We went to Sudan by foot…halfway. And then halfway the freedom fighters, they had this lorry that they take like so many…it…we were good

T: People had questions if you were good?

S: No, no, no. We were up, we were on this van, this lorry.

T: Oh, you were riding…a truck?

S: A truck, yes, like we were goods…everybody’s on like everybody there are so many of us.

T: Were you riding on top?

S: There were other people outside the truck. Some people were just holding outside on the truck. If you were lucky, if, you were inside the truck.

T: So, when you were walking from Asmara…and then you walked toward Sudan.

S: We stayed in that city, Keren, for 15 days first. And then we walked halfway to Sudan, and then halfway on that truck.

T: And were you still with other students?

S: We didn’t know. I don’t know if they were students but there were young people. Because we were new at the <<??>> we don’t know. Because we knew…when the bombing started everybody just fled in all directions.

T: So it was just you and your brother looking out for yourselves? The adults were nice?

S: They were nice, but we don’t know them actually. We really didn’t know them.

T: They gave you food and water?

S: Yeah. When we were from the other city, we didn’t have any food. When I say we didn’t have food it’s like, we had just like minimal things like you would get from the villagers. Everybody give you but you don’t even feel like eating. And most of the time, we are trying just to go. But in the city we had food and everything, and after that…so we couldn’t go back to Asmara, because the thing got worse; there was no bombing. But the chaos and the killing continued.

Now, the people who took us from that city, so people who we know…we didn’t know them but our family knew. So we’re going toward to Sudan. Halfway we walk, and then halfway we got the truck. We went to a refugee camp in Sudan.

We stayed in the refugee camp about…how long? Not quite a month. Then UN came…

T: Was there enough food?

S: Not to start. Not the ideal food. There was food. But not the type as here. You just don’t…we were not poor. We had food…

T: At home, but not in the refugee camp?

S: It was not enough; it was not appetizing.

T: So, I’m wondering, when you fled the city and were heading to Sudan, when you came to a village…what would happen when you came to a village…would everyone be fleeing and go on the road with you?

S: No…people in the village stayed there because the villages at the time were liberated and were not under Ethiopia, but under the rebels, the freedom fighters. They were always afraid of the bombing and stuff because everybody else would be hiding. Some of them might, but some of them not.

T: Why did you decide to go to Sudan and not stay in one of the villages?

S: Because, as I said, it’s not stable. You never know. The other thing also, is like…I don’t know. Everybody else was doing it. You’ll end up fighting too.

T: It was safer to go to another country?

S: It was safer.

T: So, you stayed in the United Nations refugee camp in Sudan for about a month, and then did you go back to your parents or did you go some place else?

S: No, our parents were still in Eritrea. What happened was the UN was opening a high school in Sudan, in Kassala, so they took us to Kassala…it’s a city in Sudan that borders Eritrea. There are many Eritreans there; they have been refugees for a long time…probably since the ‘60’s, since the war started, or the conflict started.

So, we came there and my brother went to middle school. I went to high school. They were giving us, usually they called it Unesco…it was not ruled by Unesco; it was run by the UNHCR.

T: When you were in Sudan, did you feel alienated from the native people in Sudan?

S: There were so many Eritreans refugees there; it’s bordering Eritrea. There’s always inter-marriage, you know, family here and there in both places. On the border you know how it is, many are relatives. Especially in that areas there are so many refugees for a long time, so, it’s like so many Eritreans were there already.

But, but, what was happening in the Sudanese government was always threatening the refugees. You cannot be in the city; you have to go to the refugee camp. It’s like always you’re on the run, always you’re in the hide. Even though we have papers for the UNHCR, still we are afraid that somebody will take us to a really, really bad places, very, very hot places, that has nothing, not even stable refugee camps.

T: The government tried to put the refugees in the most inhospitable places in Sudan, in the middle of the desert. No water.

S: Exactly. Yes. That is exactly what has happened to many unlucky people. I remember at one point, one year that we did that so many people died, especially…there was really high…

T: High temperatures, not enough food, not enough water?

S: Nothing, nothing at all. Very remote area.

T: It was not violence but the conditions.

S: Yeah, it was the conditions. We were lucky.

T: Did you experience this yourself?

S: No, I did not experience myself, but I knew about it. My neighbors who also happened to be my family…my second cousins…they took them to Abroham <??> a very remote area. They would come early in the morning when you are asleep. You’re not even awake. You are sleeping. They took them.

T: Kind of kidnapped.

S: Exactly, kidnapped. Two of the children died. It’s just sad. They couldn’t tolerate. I was lucky; we were lucky, didn’t get to that.

T: Did you complete high school there?

S: Yes.

T: When did you learn English?

S: In Eritrea or Ethiopia, you start taking English as a subject in 2nd grade. When you are in middle school all the subjects are in English. That’s how I started learning. In the UNHCR schools all subjects are in English. We had to sit for GEC, compatible to English school if you passed.

T: Were you working? And did you reconnect with your parents when you were in high school?

S: Yes, my last year in high school, my mom and my three siblings came to Sudan. They had to flee. My dad was in prison so they had to leave the country. They couldn’t go to school and my mom was tortured…they would come to the house and take stuff. She didn’t know where my dad was in prison so she had to leave the city. I saw her briefly there and then I had to go to another city to take the exam for the GEC, the General Education.

While I was there after we finished the exam, I just stayed in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. I stayed there about three months and UNHCR was also giving scholarships for Egypt and Kenya. They told they want us to apply to get scholarships. So we applied…they just give you a general English exam that you can pass. So I passed both for Kenya and Egypt but then Egypt was business secretary school and the one in Kenya was for nursing school. But then my friends were going to Egypt so I just go…I don’t have nobody to go with me to Kenya even though I want to do something medical field. I just went them to Egypt, to Cairo.

T: You went to Cairo and started university there?

S: It’s not university. It’s an institute for studying secretarial business.

T: It would have been tough to focus on school while you’re running from all the violence…yeah?

S: That’s very true. It’s been hard but the thing is doable. You also want to try because our father and mother wanted education so bad. They educated themselves, not universities and stuff, but still education was so valued…they value education. They instilled that in us. Even in the refugee camp, you just read. In Sudan, I’ll tell you, in Kassala, we have electricity, but you pay for electricity…but we have to say hi to my teacher.

<<interrupted by teacher in 33:40 — 32:30>>

T: Seems like you have a really good relationship with all your former teachers.

S: They are amazing. I mean, I love my teachers. Even from my childhood. My dad was a teacher.

T: He would have had to stop teaching with the political thing started, when he got involved in politics.

S: I mean, when he got out…he’s here now…yeah, I saw my dad after 11 years, 12 years…

T: I asked you, it must have been difficult to study because of the violence and then you started to talk about the electricity.

S: You pay for the electricity, no matter what. The problem is this: no electricity most of the time, we don’t get electricity…and it goes dark all of a sudden. We have to put kerosene and we have to study hard. Let me give you an example, for history: Compare the American Revolution to the French Revolution. It’s an essay, it’s not like ABC and whatever like you can give.

T: I’m not sure if I would pass that question.

S: (Laughs) I don’t know. No American will pass history. I’ll give you that. That’s what I tell my daughter. I’m being judgmental.

T: It’s sort of true. Even though I’m American, I’ve lived here my whole life, there’s just so many basic things that I don’t know about my own country. It’s embarrassing a little.

S: That’s OK. You know they give you a citizenship exam and I don’t know if any American would pass it. That’s what I tell my daughter. When I say American, I mean anyone who was born here and my daughter was born here.

T: I saw some studies where they asked Americans from the exam and it was abysmal scores.

S: So yeah, we have to study, like oil, it’s lights…we still pay for electricity.

T: So you went to Cairo and study at the institute for secretarial business…

S: It’s a language school, and international language institute but it’s a comprehensive school…it has language, secretarial, business college. Ours was a combined business, secretarial.

T: So you were not able to study medicine.

S: I was not able to do that over there.

T: Do you think it might have been different it you didn’t have to flee from Eritrea?

S: Yes. It would have been different.

T: You managed to avoid getting kidnapped.

S: Yes. It was sheer lucky. We were sleeping here next, and the next door people got taken out, they would go. It was always fear.

T: We had this book about illegal immigrants that has this quote about how the people are afraid of being picked up by the INS and ICE. You must be deal with all the time in your work with asylum seekers.

S: Yes, that’s true.

T: Did you finish the secretarial school?

S: Yes…some of my subjects were transferable here to City College.

T: Was your father still in prison when this was going on?

S: When I was in Egypt? Yes…

T: He had been in prison continuously?

S: Yes.

T: I don’t want to make you talk about things that are too painful, but you said your mother was abused and your father must have been abused in prison.

S: Oh, yes…torture. Torture…he talks about it now. They put them in cold water; they put them upside down.

T: And your mother, did she follow you to Egypt or stay in Sudan?

S: She stayed in Sudan.

T: And were any of your siblings with you in Egypt?

S: Yes, actually one of my brothers was there. He went there on his own from Sudan.

T: He was an older brother who had had already been there for a while…

S: No, not the one that went with me, but another brother. We’re six siblings…I have 1 sister and 4 brothers. One of my brothers went to Egypt on his own. This one was on his own, he flew there from Ethiopia. And then my sister came when I was there…I went to Sudan and brought her to Egypt.

T: When you finished at the institute you must have started looking for work.

S: Yes, but in Egypt you cannot work because you have to be an Egyptian citizen. They are very strict. However, because the UNHCR school had some kind of connection with like they were training us with different companies. The companies didn’t employ us; they take us as trainees they give us some pocket money. The UNHCR was giving us some money too for the education and to survive.

So, after we finish, we have to go somewhere, we cannot stay in Egypt because our student visa expires. Even though we were refugees still we couldn’t live there.

T: How old were you at this time?

S: I was 18, 19.

T: You had to leave Egypt because of the rules. Where did you go? Were you thinking about going back to Eritrea at this time? Was the fighting stopping?

S: No the fighting was still going on. The US and Canada were giving resettlement if you apply. I didn’t want to go far away. So, I went Baghdad to go to university. Stayed there a month or so. But it was not for me. So many things.

T: Everything was different. Language was probably different?

S: No, I knew Arabic. I speak Arabic. It’s not the language, but the political thing. Iraq at that time was good, many Eritreans there…I don’t know…

T: The weather?

S: No, Iraq is beautiful; the weather is beautiful. Baghdad is very beautiful…

T: Something about the culture…

S: I can’t pinpoint exactly…

T: Because you didn’t have family there?

S: Probably. But the other thing there was the Iraq-Iran war. Baghdad was not affected that much but still you could feel the…I was sick and tired of war. So I came back to Egypt again…so, it’s like, where to go? Like nowhere. Did have a choice, so I applied for US resettlement. Got accepted and came here, and went to South Dakota.

(laughs)

The funniest thing is at the UNHCR office in Cairo, Americans like, “Where are you going?” “I’m going to South Dakota.” And the Americans…not anybody else…”South Dakota!?” As if I’m going to the moon or some place. This was 1985.

It’s different there now. At least you can see diversity there now, but when I went there…

T: You must have been the only African in town.

S: Yeah, well, I was not even in town. I was on the outskirts of Sioux Falls. I was not the only African; I was the only colored person there.

T: Was it kind of awkward? Were people really racist there? Or just confused?

S: There were some of the nicest people there. They would go out of their way to do stuff, but they were not racist. They were confused. That’s how I would put it. I would speak English and they would ask, “How do you learn American?”

T: How did you learn our obscure unknown language? (laughs)

S: Exactly! (laughs)

My favorite thing is this…I would be eating…and I’m a Muslim…I would say “Insha’Allah,” the name of god. That’s what you say when you start something. And they’d say, “Pardon” and I would say I’m just calling my god. Oh…she’s not even Christian and she knows about god.

T: So, it’s probably like everyone goes to the same church in this town.

S: Yes.

T: The people were nice but you decided to leave South Dakota pretty quick?

S: I decided to leave South Dakota pretty quick not because of the cultural but because of the weather.

T: It was freezing

S: It starts at the end of October, the first of November, the thing just changed, like over night like freezing. So by the 10th of November, I have to…I came here actually to visit a friend.

T: You came to SF to visit a friend?

S: Actually to LA, to Orange County. My cousin joined me [in] South Dakota. I stayed there about three months. She was there about 10 days. We came here to visit a friend but the weather was so good. I had a friend in SF and I told my cousin, “I’m going to visit.” We just made up our mind; we’re staying here; we’re coming back here. We went back (to South Dakota) and we came back here. When we came back here, I told my cousin, “I’m not crazy about Orange County for me. SF is the perfect place.” I found a place. My place is here.

T: Yeah, this is a great place. A lot of immigrants end up here. I’m one of the only people I know that’s born in San Francisco.

S: You were born in SF? I have a couple of people who were born in SF.

T: I probably have one of the most boring life stories.

S: No, San Francisco…you have a story. Trust me. Believe me.

T: You haven’t told me about any jobs. You were maybe 20 by now and looking for work.

S: I applied to this place and accepted in South Dakota. But I have to leave. So I came here in San Francisco; I got a job at childcare.

T: Did you have work in South Dakota?

S: Yes, childcare…but I was accepted at nursing school. But I moved here because of the weather. So I came here, worked in childcare. They told me to get PPD testing (TB)…a skin test for TB. I went to refugee clinic to get the PPD test and as I was talking to this lady. She’s a nurse, and she said, “your English is good, and we are looking for an interpreter and someone for our pre-natal program, the doctor wants an assistant.” I said, “I have no medical training but, yeah.” She said they train me. So I applied there and I worked there almost 10 years.

What I was doing at the refugee clinic…I was working at the pre-natal program doing vital signs. Refugees from different countries come, but I was responsible for Eritreans and people who spoke Arabic.

T: So you speak Arabic, but I don’t know what language you speak in Eritrea.

S: I speak Arabic, Tigre…in Eritrea we have 9 different languages. So I speak Tigrinya. I was taught Amharic in school. I speak Tigre, Harari, Arabic and English.

T: You speak five languages fluently?

S: Yes…well, if you think I’m fluent in English, then, yes.

T: I noticed you’re wearing a jacket. Do you find it cold here?

S: No, it’s not cold. I’ve been here 30 years, so I don’t when it’s hot. But my body is always cold. Not because…it was windy outside. I’m always cold.

After that I found a job at UCSF Aids project. I was doing HIV triage and counseling.

T: Was it people who just contracted the disease?

S: No.

T: Why was it triage?

S: We will get calls and prioritize this person, this needs. If somebody calls me and says “I’m HIV positive,” I tell them where to go. If somebody calls and says, “I want to get tested,” I tell them to go. I was coordinating. We have nine different sites, so coordinating that. I worked there about 10 years also. Then I got sick and surgery on my hand. I had nerve thing. It was painful, so they had to surgery. After that I had some health issues, so I didn’t go back to work. So I was laid off, also because of funding stuff. I had priority hiring but I couldn’t go back to work for a while.

T: That brings up to the present? You have family in the US?

S: Yes, I live with my daughter and my husband. My family were living in different places, some in Sudan. First, I brought my two brothers, and then my mom, and then my other two brothers. And my sister in Cairo. And the last person I brought to the US was my dad.

T: You told me your dad finally got out of prison after about 10 years. Were you about 30 then?

S: I don’t know…I’m not not good at the timing now. I don’t know if it was the whole ten years. In the time we lost contact. We heard about him from other people. He contacted us.

T: He was free for a little while and then managed to contact you again. And did he come to the US?

S: Yes, after a while. It was a process. They have a family reunification.

T: What was it like seeing your dad after so long a time?

S: I can’t even put a word on it. I’m so blessed.

T: And there’s been continued fighting in Eritrea and Sudan. Has that impacted you since you left Africa?

S: Yes. I don’t have immediate family there but I have cousins and uncles. I have friends. The things is this, Eritrea got independence in 1991 and was recognized as an independent state in 1993. However, right now, the people who were fighting to liberate it, supposedly, are the one’s who are torturing the people. Right now, my story might be like nothing compared now to the thousands and thousands fleeing the country. They were kidnapped from the refugee camps. They’re being sold to the Bedouin in Egypt. And they’re being sold to organ traffickers, their organs being sold. They are being asked to pay $50,000 to get out from the capturers. It just continues. The cycle, the violence just continues.

T: There are still some parts of Eritrea that are occupied by Ethiopia?

S: There’s a border in conflict about it. Whose is this town; whose is that town. I think it’s an excuse for just…an ego of the government. It’s not to do anything with the people. They could live safely and peacefully, actually.

T: Do you think Ethiopia wants to control Eritrea because of the Red Sea?

S: Ethiopia doesn’t have a port, and Eritrea has two ports. Yes, some Ethiopians really want the port of Assab. There are some who say openly that in the government right now. They say they don’t [need] Assab because they are using Djibouti. But it’s easier for them to use Assab. But right now, Assab is a ghost city, not even used by Eritrea. It’s so sad because that port was very alive and very…

T: That’s the place where you separated from father for a while…

T: Do you feel like an exile from Eritrea? Did you have to leave?

S: Of course. There was no choice. I was not given choice.

T: There was day the bombing…

The mp3 Ends here. We continued talking for a couple minutes. I remember she said “my mission is peace for all peoples.”

Advertisements

Finding Home

Finding Home

By Carolina Palacio, May 22nd, 2013

guanajuato-houses

Living life in fear, and trying to realize where home really is in the heart is hard to live with every day. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being like this, living in fear, not knowing where to call home anymore? Or not being able to go back home? It sounds hard and it should, because it is, especially for immigrants who have traveled far away from their homes to get to America with a dream in mind, to have a better life, when, really, in the inside, they are sad that they had left, and at times lonely, missing home and wishing to be home again with their families. But they do it as a sacrifice, for a good cause to support them so that they never have to suffer, so that they have food on their tables, so that they live better, even if it means not being happy themselves, or safe, just as long as their families are. But what does their suffering here amount to as they are being mistreated every day for they are “illegal,” while some people take advantage of this, not giving them decent jobs with good pay because they know that they are “illegal” and are afraid to speak up for themselves? But sometimes there are good people who do help and let them work because they understand them or feel sorry for them, and also because they see that they are hardworking people that do deserve a chance. The life of Teresa Palacio, a woman who has come to America with the hopes and dreams of building her own home and sending money to her mom, so that she will live comfortably, has changed, for she now has a son who is now twelve years old and who was born and raised here, and she can’t just leave for he has a life here and is being raised here. It makes it harder for her but she is very willing to live for her son even if it means never going back to where her home once was. Remembering the past in her home and what she lives for helps her to identify where home is. Having good memories, no regrets, no hatred, love, and hope helps to move forward in life and not feel sadness about where home once was.

Making the decision to come to America is a hard decision to make but, for family, one is willing to do anything. Teresa Palacio was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and came to San Francisco in 1990, when she was only 23 years old. She came here at first to take care of her newborn niece, me, but also to be able to have a job, to be able to send money to her mom and dad, and to make her own house there, where she lived so she can go back. She came here thinking that there would be a lot of jobs just like any other person coming here would think, because where she lived didn’t have many jobs. It was very poor but at the same time peaceful, and beautiful. When I asked her about her living here she responded, “Well, I feel sad because for 22 years I couldn’t see my mom and dad, and I always dreamed of seeing them again, and I don’t lose hope that someday I will see them, one day.” This shows the hope and the love that she has for her family, and that she will never give up on them for they are the strongest reason why she made it here and continues to work hard. She also said, “I have my heart in both places. My heart is there and my heart is here. And my thoughts are here many times go over there.” During this time, she started to cry. Thinking about having lived here for so long makes her miss her home, where her family is thinking of all the memories that she has there from her youth. She says while crying, “I would like to see my mother and father; I’d like to see them again alive not dead.” Imagine not getting to see your own mother for many years! Even if it is a talk on the phone, it isn’t the same as to have a physical touch from her.

People come here to live a better life, and to have better jobs so that they can earn money to send back home and to build the dream that they always wanted. People like Teresa Palacio come here with a dream in mind like any other American, to have a good life. She says, “I wanted to build a house I can live in over there.” She does live that dream. It has almost come true and, when I say almost, I mean, well, she did build her house but the problem is that she can’t go back home to enjoy it. All she has is pictures to prove that it is built, that all the money she has sent to build it has been put into it only for her to see pictures of it. When I asked her what she would do if she had a choice to live here or in Mexico, she answered, “Well, to live over there but to have a job.” When I asked her why, she again answered, “Because that’s why people come here to look for a job and to find a better place.” Things change when a new life begins, especially now that she has a son; her new goal in life staying here. She states, “To work and to help my family is what I wanted but, now that I have my son, I don’t want to leave. I want to stay and help him move ahead.” She felt a lot of emotion going out at once when talking about this and I asked her why it gives her so much emotion. She answered, “Because I remembered, when I came here, and I start thinking, and I can’t forget but to feel emotion that a lot of things has happened, bad, good, and happy so it gives me a lot of emotions. Sometimes I feel sad. I get like feeling that I don’t know. I feel desperate, and nervous.” Many immigrants who have come here are like her in this way, having a lot of emotion because leaving somewhere where you have lived all your life is hard to let go of. In an article called “Immigrants in America,” by Mary V. Alfred, which is about why immigrants come to America, and the majority of people that come here are Latinos, she says, “the basic reason why immigrants come to America is the gap between life aspirations and expectations and means to fulfill them in the sending countries.” This shows that many come here hoping to have a better life, not just because they want to bother anyone else.

When Teresa did try to get a visa to come here, it was hard for her to get. She states, “I don’t know. Usually, they give it to the elderly and for students, but not for regular young people.” When I ask her why she thinks so, she says “I think it’s because when old people come they just come to visit and young people would come and stay to live here.” It seems as if America is afraid to let anyone in here or is just being selfish to not letting someone who at least was trying to get here legally. They make it harder for them. She talks about why people would come here: “To find a better life because it’s hard to find a job and they think over here there is more but one does not know the language and you don’t know nothing else but to clean and other things like that. Then it’s the same. The people say you’re going to get more money and that sometimes isn’t true.” Because for her it was not, it was harder even if she did have family here, and, because of her legal status, finding a good job was hard. Growing up, Teresa loved school but couldn’t stay very long because her parents couldn’t afford it anymore. She states, “my parents didn’t have enough money to keep me in school and I had to go to a different city to go to school.” Here you have a person who loves school but can’t go and here you see many American students leaving school, not because of the money issues, but because they just don’t like it. It’s funny how, in life, people who want to go to school can’t, and others, who can, just won’t go or does not like the idea of it.

Most of the time, one hears things, mean things, rumors of how bad immigrants are making this country, that they are taking all our jobs. One hears that all immigrants are bad, that they should all go back home, but they don’t see that, for most of them, they don’t have a home, or it’s too dangerous to go home. Many immigrants come here to escape the dangers  back in their homes. What we don’t see is that most of these people face dangers. An article called “Contextualizing the Trauma: Experience of Women Immigrants from Central, South America, and Mexico” is about women from the countries being presented in the title, and the reasons they come to America. It says, “immigrants from these areas bring the emotional and physical legacy of their traumatic experiences with them to the United States and may also be at risk for additional types of trauma during the immigration process and in their adopted country.” Seeing this makes you think twice or at least have some sympathy towards them and not to quickly judge that they just come here to bother. Many see immigrants as criminals, and Teresa says, “I hope that Obama thinks of everyone who lives here that all we come for is to work. We didn’t come to do anything bad. There are bad people but not all of us are the same. A lot of us want to be great, to help our families and that’s all. We don’t want to do bad to no one.” When I asked her about changing people’s minds of how they view immigrants she said:

“Everyone is the same, we are human, we may have different color skin but our blood is the same color. There is no other color of blood. All of us are children of god; all of us are made by the same god. Religion is one thing or another. It may be different but we are the same. Even if one is more superior or on top, we in all are the same.”

With this being said, it really got to me and it is true like she said: we all have the same color blood, meaning we are no different from anybody, so why put one through a tough time just because they look different on the outside but on the inside we are all alike?

Asking someone a question can make a big difference on how the person came to be the way they are now. When getting to know someone for the first time, you learn who they are and get to know their personality, but getting to re-know the person we already knew for the longest time gets weird, and surprising because, despite all the things you thought you knew at first, it turns out that we know less than what we thought we knew already. I asked Teresa about her life in Mexico and this is what she told me:

“Well over there, I, I can’t really tell you the difference because before coming here. I never went anywhere else but Mexico. I dint know anywhere else, but I did go to other places but over there in Mexico. But here it feels different because you don’t feel free to do whatever you want. You feel covered because you don’t know the language in the first place. You feel scared. You feel like you don’t know how to speak simply because you don’t know the language. But little by little one gets used to it and it’s a little different here but the only thing is that, over there, there isn’t a lot of jobs, and that’s why we come here to have another life because, over there, they say that here that there is jobs and that’s why one comes here. And I more than anything to help my family. It just feels more different than over there.”

It’s interesting to know that life is different between another country and here. It is no wonder that, when people like her come here they feel different and out of place because the stuff that they did over there is different from what Americans do over here. She states, “Well, like I’m telling you, like you feel sometimes that you’re here and there at the same time like you start thinking away, your mind starts going from here to there at the same time, but also one gets used to working here and to have things, and you don’t work in the sun like we did over there in the fields, and it was much different than over here. We worked not in the sun like over there. That’s why.” It seems that she is a little out of place when saying all of this, thinking about two places at the same time, stressing about it because all she wants is an opportunity to go back again and re-live the life that she once had before coming here. In Mexico, you would have to grow up a little faster. She says, “Yes because we had more brothers, the oldest ones had to take care of the youngest, and help their mom to do chores, stuff like that…No, over here you guys don’t learn to do nothing. That’s true, and how old were you when you came here?” She mentions that, at ten, she first started working to help her mom with her brothers and sisters. Can you imagine working at ten to help your brothers and sisters? Writing this makes me appreciate living here that there are more opportunities, but sometimes we take them for granted. When she says, “Over here you guys don’t learn to do nothing,” it made me think that maybe we don’t, that we are spoiled because here a lot of kids disrespect their parents and take them for granted, but over there, parents are always respected and appreciated, especially that one would come over just to help them live better. Over one tries to get away from their parents and families but people like Teresa come to United States, not wanting to leave, but do it as a sacrifice to help their parents.

Sacrificing is difficult. Teresa has sacrificed a lot coming here and, now that she has her son, it is a new sacrifice worth making even if it means never going back to Mexico. Teresa wants to go back to Mexico one day but is afraid to, especially now that she has her son. She is doing the best she can to keep him happy and educated. She states:

“Since I have my son, I think of him more than anything and, I could take him but, when he’s older he could come back and I don’t want to take away his future because he is going to school here and I don’t want to take him away from here. He has everything here and he will grow and I will go one day. No one lives forever and I want him to be a good person and I am trying to make him do good, support him so he won’t suffer like we did. I want him to go to school and be somebody. And I never did anything wrong here or over there. All I want to do is help everyone, anyone who needs help.”

People like Teresa are hard to come by. She is a hard worker and shows it with the work she has done for her son, never complaining about it, not only because she is afraid, but because she needs to work to be able to help her family back home and her son more than anything. People like Teresa sacrifice a lot. They are afraid to speak up. The place she used to work would take advantage of her just because she was undocumented. She states, “The man that I have worked for, he was abusive. He would mistreat us, well, not everyone, but the ones he know that couldn’t defend themselves and make us work a lot and yell at us, and made us feel, well, embarrass us. And since I had my son very little, well, I had to stay. I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to work and that’s why I stayed. He did things that weren’t correct.” Sure, things like this, if they were to happen to us as Americans, we would do something about it, but people like her, who are not from here, are afraid to say anything due to their status, as much as they want to, can’t. They are afraid. In an article called, “Why Undocumented Immigrants are Afraid to Report Crimes,” Scott Keyes states, “As leaders in some localities, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona are trying to make undocumented immigrants’ lives as inhospitable and miserable as possible, the city of Dayton, Ohio is trying to aid those immigrants if they become victims of crime.” This shows that this city is doing something about the lives of immigrants. It shows that one place is doing something about it so that immigrants don’t feel afraid and other cities should do something about it as well. If one city can do it, then any other city can do it as well make a movement. Teresa would say that her boss favored certain people and would mistreat her and her undocumented employees. “Like the people that he favored, when they didn’t come to work, he would clock them in even if they weren’t working, so they still got paid for that day, and made us work their shifts, and we didn’t get played for it but they did even if they weren’t there. I didn’t think that was right. If one is working, then one is working; they deserve to get paid, but if they are not, then why would you pay them for not working?” Making her work someone else’s shift and not get paid for it? It sounds crazy and unfair, but it’s true: it has happened to her. Not only that, but she lost her job due to not having documents. It seems that, after that, you would think that she would be suffering right now; no, she is stronger than ever, never giving up. She is loved by many and offered cleaning jobs where she now resides, to support herself and her son. When asked if she had a chance to repot this crime, she says, “No, because I say God is the one who is going to be the judge of that. If I do it, for what he did he did already.”  Having faith has helped her to move on and not hold grudges. Letting karma do the talking, she puts in that, to react with no bad deed, or to not wish for the worst in that person, shows that she is a good person and not trying to harm this country or anybody in it, no matter how bad they are to her.

Overall, Teresa has always managed to have faith to help her get through life. When I asked her again if she is scared when she walks around the streets alone, that maybe she would get caught by immigration, she answered, “I was, but then I start thinking of god to help me. He is the one that takes care of everyone. And nothing has ever happened to me and the only thing that I am afraid of is that someone will rob me or hit me. And that’s how I feel afraid, so I look to God. And if someone tries to say something to me, I just leave. I don’t answer them because you don’t know how they are or what they are into.” Not saying that everyone should believe  the same way, it is just her way to keep going strong every day, and if this is the way for her to feel safe, then its good for her. Everyone should find a way to feel happy, whether it is finding faith or anything else that keeps them happy. She talks about the president and how he should step into her shoes.

“I would like to say that the president steps into our shoes, that the people that are not from here, that this country is not ours. But the world is free and the people can go wherever they want to. Imagine if you lived here and this place was the only place you want to stay? I mean the world is of immigrants the world is for everyone, like this one song says, the sun was born for everyone and that’s how it is its true. I would like it if one were, well, if we were free more than ever, when people get [life gets] more hard [harder], then [the] more worse it will be, because they will have more anger than anything, because they feel abandoned like they want to be whatever, and, if the people would stop mistreating them, then it would be different, but everyone thinks differently. But, yes, I would like for the president to see the people who are good, who don’t do anything wrong. I say to give them a chance to go see their family and be able to come back, and those who done bad well get what they deserve and not everyone is the same not all of us will the things they do. That’s what I think.”

People who judge immigrants don’t see this or just don’t want to see this at first, but should try to because they are people like us too. Everyone has a say. Everyone has a voice. She states:

“Like I said, a lot of times, at me, well, not all the time at me, I have heard a lot of negative conversations of one. They say that immigrants want to take their jobs, their food, that we come to take everything, but we work hard; we work with our hands; we finish up our bodies; we don’t take it away from their table. Even if were sick, we work too and sometimes we don’t eat because we have to work. If they say that we take their jobs, it would be like saying that we were to go to their houses and take their jobs like that, and take their stuff. But we work with all our might; we work with what they give us. I think that it’s not liking taking nothing. We also live here. We pay to eat; we pay where we live; we pay our taxes also; and, even if we don’t have documents, well it doesn’t matter for everything. We pay. They don’t just give it to us.”

She disproves the myth of immigrants not paying the taxes, which they do; she says so herself. People like her, more than anyone, suffer most because all they hear are criticisms of them not being good people. She states, “Well more than ever, to have a consciousness that not everyone is the same, because we can say that the Latinos, and sometimes they say the Mexicans, but not all of us are the same. We are different; there’s differences; there’s bad people and good people; there’s a lot of good people. But, also, there’s a lot of bad people, but sometimes one has to suffer for those who have sinned because what one does all has to pay.” Like she says, not everyone is the same; just because one does bad, everyone thinks they are all the same. But she still goes through life proving to others that she is not like everyone else, by being a hard worker with a smile on her face.

Finding home for Teresa Palacio is a hard question for her to answer because her home and her heart are in two places at once; one half is in Mexico, and the other is here. She has been here for 22 years. She came here when she was 23 years old and now is 46 years old. Fortunately, she has not suffered in a physically way but still has suffered emotionally, which is still as bad, and her story deserves to be heard, like anyone else, because she is still an immigrant and  many should be heard so that everyone can understand, and not quickly judge. She wants to be able to go to Mexico. That has been her dream for a very long time; she wants to be able to see her mom. Even though her mom is in good health, she fears that she’ll die before she can see her. But at the same time, her heart is here in San Francisco with her son, who is everything to her. She does not want to take away his privileges that he has here in his school as an honor student, for she is a single mother raising him herself, making it more difficult. But she is strong and hardworking; she is loved by many and is friendly to those who are not. She never criticizes anyone. She feels it is not her that should be judging anyone. She believes that all of us are the same as she says, “That everyone is the same; we are human; we may have different color skin but our blood is the same color. There is no other color of blood; all of us re children of god; all of us are made by the same god. Religion is one thing or another. It may be different but we are the same; even if one is more superior or on top, we in all are the same.” This gets one thinking, especially me, about how we do have the same blood color. We are different on the outside but on the inside we are all the same. We all have the same body functions as everyone else. If we were to open our bodies inside we would find something everyone has, which is a heart. Sometimes it hard to see it from the outside, because we don’t show it to everyone who needs it. People like Teresa need it. You don’t need just one home to reside in to call it your home. Her heart is in two places, here and Mexico, but she is strong when it comes to finding her home. She doesn’t need to look very far because home can be two places at once.

Work Cited

Alfred, Mary V. “Immigrants In America: Who Are They, And Why Do They Come?” Adult       Learning 12/13.4/1 (2001): 2-5. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 May 2013.

Keyes, Scott. “Why Undocumented Immigrants are Terrified to Report Crimes, and How one City is Fixing that” web. 15 Feb 2013.

Peter J. Guarnaccia, et al. “Contextualizing The Trauma Experience Of Women Immigrants  From Central America, South America, And Mexico.” Journal Of Traumatic Stress 24.6 (2011): 635-642. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 May 2013.

Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Ed. Peter Orner. Voice of   Witness. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2008.

Carolina Palacio

April 3, 2013

Interview Transcription

–    Hello what is your name?

My name is Maria Teresa Palacio

Where were you born?

I was born in Mexico

What part of Mexico?

Guanajuato, Sausillo Guanajuato

How long have you been living here?

22 years

Why did you move here?

Because I wanted to help my mom and dad, and all of my brothers and sisters, I wanted to build a house so I can live in over there.

How do you feel about living here?

Well I feel sad because for 22 years I couldn’t see my mom and dad, and I always dreamed of seeing them again, and I don’t lose hope that someday I will see them one day.

How old were you when you came here?

I was 23

Did you come alone?

Yes

Have you heard of the law that Obama made, how do you feel about it?

Yes I have heard of it and I feel hope that it will work to help me to be able to go back to Mexico and see my family over there, and even if I have my son here I have my heart in both places. My heart is there and my heart is here. And my thoughts are here many times I go over there and don’t.

It’s okay to cry, what is the reason for so? Is it because of your son or going back to see your family?

I would like to see my mother and father; I’d like to see them again alive not dead.

How old are you now?

I am 46 years old

If you had a choice to live here or over there what would you prefer?

Well, to live over there but to have a job

Over there?

Yes

Why?

Because that’s why people come here to look for a job and to find a better place.

What was your goal coming here?

To work and to help my family is what I wanted but now that I have my son I don’t want to leave I want to stay and help him move ahead.

Did you come here alone?

Yes

How did you come?

A guy and women brought us here, but I tried to get a visa before but I was denied it

Why?

I don’t know, they didn’t give me nothing they denied it to me I also wanted to come to take care of you.

When you came here where did you live?

Here with your mom and you.

Why did you have so much emotion?

Because I remembered when I came here, and I started thinking and I can’t forget but to feel emotion that a lot of things has happened, bad, good, and happy so it gives me a lot of emotions. Sometimes I feel sad, I get like feeling that I don’t know, I feel desperate, and nervous.

Again why did they deny you your visa?

I don’t know. Usually they give it to the elderly and for students but not for regular young people.

Why won’t they give it to young people?

I think it’s because when old people come they just come to visit and young people would come and stay to live here.

Why do you think people from over there come here?

To find a better life because it’s hard to find a job and they think over here there is more but one does not know the language and you don’t know nothing else but to clean and other things like that then it’s the same, the people say you’re going to get more money and that sometimes isn’t true.

Did you go to school?

Yes

What grade did you get to?

I finished up to middle school

Why didn’t you attempt to finish high school?

Because my parents didn’t have enough money to keep me in school and I had to go to a different city to go to school.

With that new law that Obama proposed, would you consider it?

Yes because I need to work, I haven’t done nothing wrong, I have a clean record, I pay my taxes and I need to take care of my son, I think that if Obama does something I’m willing to do something I don’t know how but I will.

Well that’s all I want to ask you, thank you

Your welcome and I hope that Obama thinks of everyone who lives here that all we come for is to work we didn’t come to do anything bad, there is bad people but not all of us are the same, a lot of us want to be great, to help our families and that’s all we don’t want to do bad to no one.

If you can change people’s minds what would you change?

That everyone is the same, we are human, we may have different color skin but our blood is the same color. There is no other color of blood, all of us re children of god; all of us are made by the same god. Religion is one thing or another it may be different but we are the same, even if one is more superior or on top we in all are the same.

Thank you and what is your name again?

My name is Maria Teresa Palacio

Thank you

You’re welcome

Hello Tia can you tell me your name again

  • My name is Maria Teresa Palacio

The other time we talked we talked about how you came here and how you feel about here and where you were born and things like that right?

  • Yes

Well I don’t know much about you and I would like to know more about you like how was your life in Mexico how is it different from here, how was it over there?

  • Well over there I, I can’t really tell you the difference because before coming here, I never went anywhere else but Mexico I dint know anywhere else, but I did go to other places but over there in Mexico but here it feels different because you don’t feel free to do whatever you want. You feel covered because you don’t know the language in the first place, you feel scared you feel like you don’t know how to speak simply because you don’t know the language. But little by little one gets used to it and it’s a little different here but the only thing is that over there isn’t a lot of jobs and that’s why we come here to have a mother life because over there they say that here that there is jobs and that’s why one comes here. And I more than anything to help my family. It just feels more different than over there.

But how different?

  • Well like I’m telling you like you feel sometimes that you’re here and there at the same time like you start thinking away, your mind starts going from here to there at the same time, but also one gets used to working here and to have things and you don’t work in the sun like we did over there in the fields, and it was much different then over here, we worked not in the sun like over there that’s why.

And how old were you when you started working over there?

  • About 10 years old

10 years old?!

  • Yes

Doing what?

  • Taking care of my siblings and helping my mom

Over there you had to grow up fast huh?

  • Yes because we had more brothers the oldest ones had to take care of the youngest, and help their mom to do chores stuff like that

And over here we don’t huh?

  • No over here you guys don’t learn to do nothing

That’s true, and how old where you when you came here

  • 24

And if it wasn’t for your son, if he wasn’t born would you have still stayed here? If he wasn’t born what would you have done?

  • Well maybe since my mom is old and if she where to get sick maybe I would have gone back. Since I have my son I think of him more than anything and I could take him but when he’s older he could come back and I don’t want to take away his future because he is going to school here and I don’t want to take that ways from here he has everything here and he will grow and I will go one day no one lives forever and I want him to be a good person and I am trying to make him do good support him so he won’t suffer like we did , I want him to go to school and be somebody. And I never did anything wrong here or over there, all I want to do is help everyone, anyone who needs help.

Have you ever tried going to school again?

  • Yes but since I have a lot of things to do I haven’t had time to do it I have to work , I have meetings for my son from his school and for me and I can’t concentrate in all but if I did I would have liked to.

And the time that you were here in all of the jobs that you had, have anyone of them treated you badly for not being born here?

  • Yes many times

Can you explain to me more?

  • The man that I have worked for he was abusive he would mistreat us well not everyone but the ones he know that couldn’t defend themselves and make us work a lot and yell at us, and made us feel , well embarrass us. And since I had my son very little well I had to stay I couldn’t do anything about it I had to work and that’s why I stated may things, he did things that weren’t correct

What did he do that weren’t correct?

  • Like the people that he favored when they didn’t come to work he would clock them in even if they weren’t working , so they still go played for that day and made us work there shift and we didn’t get played for it but they did even if they weren’t there. I didn’t think that was right if one is working than one is working they deserve to get played but if they are not than why would you pay them for not working?,

How would he mistreat you?

  • Well like I stayed he would make us work there shift

So he would make you work there shift and pay them instead of you?

  • Yes he would pay them even if they weren’t here they would give us the job

Why didn’t you tell somebody accuse him for doing that?

  • Because I was scared he would say something, I was scared that he would fire me, what is I going to do their am no other job out there so I stayed quiet and had to take in a lot of things.

If you had legal cite ship would you file a report on him?

  • No because I say god is the one who is going to be the judge of that if I do it for what he did he did already, a lot of people knew but they didn’t say anything because we were afraid to. One day I called in sick and came back he would give me a lot of work, he would be mad at me and yell at me saying “you don’t have the right to call in sick” and stuff like that and even if I was sick I still went and he didn’t care if I was, the man was very abusive. But I tell since I have my son, I had to pay a lady to take care of him, I had to pay the rent and stuff myself what can I do I had to work, and now with my work the people treat me better and there are some who treat me bad so I leave them because I thought it’s not fair that I stood so many years with this abuse and stand it anymore that’s it that’s enough.

You live here for 22 years why don’t you try to get a residency?

  • Because the layers said there’s no law that can approve it, I tried to ask organizations that said that could but there really isn’t one for us Mexicans is very difficult only if right now there only giving them to people who have suffered domestic valance and I have not suffered that and would not like to suffer that I don’t like getting into trouble and better I let them mess with me and I am scared to get into trouble I do it for my son I am afraid of the police I don’t want to get into problems.

When you walk when you go out what do think> are you afraid, do you think that someone will get you?

  • I was but then I start thinking of god to help me he is the one that takes care of everyone. And nothing has ever happened to me and the only thing that I am afraid of is that someone will rob me or hit me and that’s how I feel afraid so I look into to god. And if someone tries to say something to me I just leave I don’t answer them because you don’t know how they are or what they are into.

Thank you for telling me all this, is there anything else that you would like to say?

  • I would like to say is that the president steps into our shoes that the people that are not from here, that this country is not ours but the world is free and the people can go wherever they want to. Imagine if you lived here and are this place the only place you want to stay? I mean the world is of immigrants the world is for everyone, like this one song says the sun was born for everyone and that’s how it is its true. I would like it if one where, well if we were free more than ever, when people get more hard then more worse it will be because they will have more anger than anything because they feel abandoned like they want to be whatever and if the people would stop mistreating them then it would be different, but everyone thinks differently. But yes I would like for the president to see the people who are good who don’t do anything wrong I say to give them a chance to go see their family and be able to come back, and those who done bad well get what they deserve and not everyone is the same not all of us will the things they do. That’s what I think.

You know that there racist people that talk bad about us what do you think about that?

  • Like I said a lot of times at me well not all the time at me I have heard a lot of negative conversations of one, they say that immigrants wants to take their jobs, their food that we come to take everything, but we work hard, we work with our hands, we finish up our bodies, we don’t take it away from their table. Even if were sick we work too and sometimes we don’t eat because we have to work. If they say that we take their jobs it would be like saying that we were to go to their houses and take their jobs like that, and take their stuff. But we work with all our might, we work with what they give us. I think that it’s not liking taking nothing we also live here, we pay to eat, we pay where we live, we pay our taxes also, and even if we don’t have documents well it doesn’t matter for everything we pay they don’t just give it to us. But the people, I have heard a lot of horrible conversations that they say about us a lot of times and I feel like something is rising in my head but like I said since I don’t like getting into problems well I’m just better off staying quite but a lot of times I have heard them everywhere, in buses and wherever. It’s horrible.

Thank you for telling me all of this and I hope that the world will change one day and they see all of this

  • Well more than ever to have a conscious that not everyone is the same because we can say that the Latinos and sometimes they say the Mexicans but not all of us are the same we are different there’s differences, there’s bad people and good people, there’s a lot of good people. But also there’s a lot of bad people but sometimes one has to suffer for those who have sinned because what one does all has to pay.

Thank you Tia

  • Well your welcome maybe this will help you maybe but sometimes it can make your trout like you feel something really, really really, I don’t know how to explain it, it feels weird it feels like everything at the same time like it won’t let you express yourself or what your feeling. Because with many things that you have lived with and when you remember them it all comes to your mind at the same time, and when you don’t try not to remember them because can you imagine remembering the same things it can hurt one, one can’t live. You got to try to live and try to do the best that you can, because no one can stay with that the people won’t finish someone off with that. Because sometimes the people do those things to you that are why one has negative things in their heads, crazy, the only thing one has to do is to go to god and to give you strength.

What did you wanted to be when you were young? What did you wanted to do? What did you like to do?

  • What I liked to do, well I liked to play with my friends, play with my dolls and plates and I also loved to study I used to love going to school. But sometimes I had to take my brother since there was none who could take care of him I had to take him.

And what was your dream to be when you grow up?

  • Well I dint have a dream exactly , I just wanted to have a house to grow up in I wanted to build my own house and live alone I wanted to be alone because when your old no one cares about you no one love you.

Well ill still love you

  • When one grows old not even the kids will love one

Well I think your son will always love you he is a great kid and very smart and always shares not selfish.

  • Well I taught him the best that I could because he didn’t have any brothers or sister and I wanted him to learn how to share. When someone asks me for something and I don’t have money to give them I don’t feel right I tell them that when I could I will even if it is small it’s all I can afford I try my best to give him and my nephews the best that I can even if it’s small I don’t like saying no

-Well thank you again and I hope that everything goes in your favor soon.

  • Well thank you and hope so too!

“I Am Americanized”

“I Am Americanized”

By Luz A. May, 22nd, 2013

1306319297_67287707_4-FARM-217-Hectares-in-STA-MARIA-BULACAN-Real-Estate

I interviewed a student in my English 1A class at City College of San Francisco. She has decided to change her name to Kelly so I could present her story in class and share her story as part of our oral history project. She is very young; she is only twenty-one, but is very mature for her age. She is a Philippine-American girl. We sat in a room at the Rosenberg Library and talked for over an hour, a room which was booked by another classmate of ours. She is a very serious and quiet student. The humbleness of her attitude strikes you because she is very smart and artistic, but in a very subtle way. I thank her for opening up and sharing her story with me, which explores different topics, such as moving, identity, and religious outlooks.

Kelly’s parents are originally from the Philippines. According to her, her parents belonged to different socio-economic groups. As Kelly says herself, her mother came from a “struggling” family, and her father, on the other hand, belonged to a better-off family, which allowed him to obtain dual citizenship, Philippine-American citizenship. Once together, they decided to move to the United States to search for better opportunities and strive for a brighter future, which they felt they could not pursue in their homeland. Consequently, Kelly was born in San Francisco, California, on March 1992, but, when she was only a month old, her parents brought her and her older sister back to the Philippines to a small agricultural town named Santa Maria, Bulacan. Kelly calls it a “small village,” which explains how she remembers it; her memory of it is a bit fuzzy. In fact, according to the Provincial Information Technology Office of the Provincial government of Bulacan, Philippines, Santa Maria has transformed from a rural town to one of the richest municipalities in Bulacan, and is located northeast from Manila (Provincial Government of Bulacan). Kelly’s parents moved back to the United States a year after living in the Philippines to keep working to support them, while Kelly and her sister stayed in the Philippines to be raised by her maternal grandparents. Furthermore, she remembers living in a house that was not fully built, with her grandparents, her aunts, and a many cousins. Although they did not live in extreme poverty, it is obvious that they lived in very humble conditions, where money was scarce. Furthermore, the house in which she grew up was sort of like a farm. Her family had a lot of animals, trees, and water, which, in my research, I found to be the Santa MariaRiver.  Her perception of her first home is romantic, but also unclear. She has mystifying flashbacks in which she is sleeping with animals in a barn, and remembers wearing an old, worn dress. 

Kelly’s grandparents had a very important role in her life, and actually represent her role models, who set very high standard for her personal values and goals, and also inspired her to have a great sense of integrity. They were very strict and forced on her to stay on good academic tract and have religious fervor. On one hand, she remembers going to school Monday through Saturday, which led to very little opportunity for free time, and, on the other hand, her grandfather was a Christian pastor, so she had to attend church every Sunday religiously. Consequently, she has very fuzzy memories of her childhood; in fact, she has forgotten most of her years in the Philippines, but one of the things she told me about her memories back home was: “It is always happy; there is never a sad, dull moment.” Kelly grew up separated from her parents due to economic reasons, which can be hard for any child’s upbringing, but they were sacrificing to provide for her, and were still very involved in her life through phone calls, and often visits. Her grandparents also provided a lot of love and support for her and according to Kelly, “she has nothing but love and respect for them,” which speaks loudly about the great bond they shared. They were very in control of her, which suggests she did not have a lot of free time to develop her self-identity. 

Kelly moved back to the United States when she was ten years old. Moving here represented one of the biggest events in her life. We can strongly agree that Kelly’s assimilation into the American culture has changed her perspective of homeland and herself. Her life turned upside down once her parents brought her back to the United States. Indeed, she was exposed to a new language, a new culture, and racial diversity. But the fact that Kelly moved here at such a young age enabled here to assimilate into the American culture fully, with a very narrow margin of segmentation. She struggled at the beginning with language and her adaptation to the newness of the culture, but the advantages she encountered here and the much more comfortable living situation she experienced allowed her to compare her new reality with her first home, and she chose to accept America as her new home. Kelly argues that home to her is the place where she feels safe, and where she can be anything she wants. Speaking in a generalized way, she explained that in the Philippine children face very high expectations from parents and family, in addition to criticism, and gossip, which translates into social pressure when children do not live up to the standards. Unfortunately, there is not much room to grow. According to Kelly, there is a lot of double standards, and a status quo one must follow. Kelly also mentions that she did not see the opportunity to be different; the culture in general is very judgmental.

The death of her grandparents, along with the challenges to the adaptation to this country, allowed the discovery of her love of writing. While living in The United States, she experienced another hardship, which was the death of her grandparents. In the interview, Kelly expressed a lot of frustration for not being present at the moments of their deaths. She was in the United States when her grandparents died, was going to school, and, therefore, her parents did not think it was appropriate for Kelly to go the Philippines. At that moment, she shut everyone out of her life, and kept to herself and her writing. One of her middle school teachers acknowledge her talent and asked her to share one of her poems about her grandparent’s death, but Kelly was being humble of her talent did not think it was good enough to make it public. Deeply, she found comfort in writing, and from that moment realized it was something she wanted to keep doing as way to cope with happenings in her life. As famous author and professor Edward W. Said once wrote in his memoir, Out of Place, “Everyone lives life in a given language: everyone’s experience therefore had, absorbed, and recalled in that language.” This quote shows that language and writing are very important tools; indeed, they are tools that can help define one’s identity in the world. I believe this is true for Kelly’s story, because writing in English has helped her convey the meaning of life.

Kelly’s perception and memory of homeland have changed since moving to another country just like famous Chilean story writer Isabel Allende. Due to their imposed exiles, they are both very critical of their homelands and express disagreement towards the double standards their countries impose on women. Kelly argues that, in general, women at age twenty one, like her, are expected to be married with someone from their same economic class or higher, and to have kids at around that age as well. In contrast, her American reality is almost opposite. Her parents are first generation immigrants but are very “lenient” and supportive of Kelly’s own decisions. She still lives at home with them, while she helps take care of her two younger brothers, works part-time, and attends college. Kelly expresses that there is an inability to connect with her relatives in the Philippines. The environment and the freedom have eased her transition into her new home.

I explored different theories of assimilation among second generation immigrants such as Kelly. There is debate between fragmented assimilation and neoclassical assimilation. First of all, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary assimilation means: “to absorb into the culture or mores of a population or group.” Kelly just turned twenty one so she is not an adolescent anymore, but she still in the process of figuring out her self-identity, along with her cultural identity. She calls herself, “Kelly, an Americanized girl,” so, if she has adapted so well to the her host country, and the Americanized culture, I have come to wonder what kind of assimilation process she has experienced, and examine how her environment has enabled her to come to this conclusion. In a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor called “Time Use by Immigrant and native—born parents: ATUS results,” it argues about the different theories of assimilation processes among second generation immigrants, while it also compares them to “native” American children. This survey was conducted to analyze the way immigrants from different ethnic groups, both genders, female and male, spend their time, and how different factors influence the assimilation of the American culture.

“The literature presents two competing stories regarding the behaviors and life chances of immigrant youths. The dominant theory, called segmented assimilation, proposes that immigrant youths face a segmented path to assimilation, In contrast to segmented assimilation theory, classical and neoclassical assimilation theory highlights a more positive conclusion: that, for the most part, immigrant youths successfully assimilate to mainstream American society and experience upward mobility compared with their parents, despite different starting points among immigrant groups” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Although she considers herself “Americanized” now, some may argue that she has experienced a cultural transformation and a cultural shock since she first moved to the United States, which has changed her cultural identity, which, according to this study, would represent a segmented assimilation, which is true for most second generation immigrants nowadays.  In contrast to the common cases in the 21st century, Kelly has replaced her original culture with the American culture, and that is why she has forgotten her primary language, and a lot of the Philippine traditions. But I am arguing that Kelly has done this consciously in an effort to belong and feel at place, because although she claims she has forgotten her other self, in contrast she has kept many of the values and traditions she was taught by her grandparents, I think she is embracing the American culture and really holding on to it, and therefore she calls herself “Americanized” in an attempt to feel in the right place, as a sense of belonging.

Kelly has not face the struggles that most immigrants face as newcomers in the United States. She has benefited from the environment her parents provided to her as first generation immigrants who settled in the country before she did. The book Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives, which is edited by San Francisco writer Peter Orner, who has a law degree, is a fiction writer, and is on the faculty program of the writing program at San Francisco State University, is a compilation of stories about immigrants and the abuses they encountered to first come to the United States and consequently survive here. This book also suggests that the American society needs to understand the reasons why immigrants leave their countries there are other important causes other than political and religious persecution. Some people leave their countries, due to poverty, such as Kelly’s family, and although her sounds like a happy ending story and good case of acceptance into the American society, yet this is not true for others.

Being American means seizing the opportunity. There is a lot of argument about what really constitute the “American values” and the “American ways,” that is a complex question, but the truth is most people are here running away from something or someone, and striving as all humans do for an chance to grow, and or survival. We can conclude that Kelly’s assimilation of the American culture as a second generation immigrant has been positive because she has found a place in which poverty is no longer an obstacle to become whatever she so desires to be, and where she has the freedom and opportunity to be herself, while retaining a positive and happy image of her home country.

 

Works Cited

Allende, Isabel. My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.

“Assimilation Definition.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 May 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assimilation&gt;.

Koffman, Yelizavetta, and Suzanne M. Bianchi. “Time Use of Youths of Immigrant and Native-born Parents, 2003–2010 : The Editor’s Desk : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2012. Web. 20 May 2013. <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.ccsf.edu/ehost/detail?vid=3&sid=1815ee2c-4228-48ec-a5c8

Orner, Peter, and Luis Alberto` Urrea. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008. Print.

Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. 1st ed. New York: Vinatage Bookks, 2000. Print.

Transcripts

Luz: Ok so my name is Luz and we are doing an interview. I’m interviewing..

K: Kelly

 Luz: Okay, Kelly, nice to meet you.

Kelly: Nice to meet you.

Luz: Ok to start off. First question is going to be me. Or you know. Tell me about yourself. What city you were born in?

Kelly: So for me I was born in San Francisco, at… it’s at a hospital. I forgot the name. I think is…

Luz: General?

Kelly: General or something. Yeah, but that was March 12, 1992. I stayed here, like, for basically a month, and then I moved back to the Philippines, like right away. That’s where I spend most of my childhood, up until I was ten years old, when I moved back here to the United States. And yeah…It’s kinda hard, though, like from that age coming here.

Luz: Who did you move to back to the Philippines?

Kelly: I basically moved with, well, my parents went with me, cuz, I have an older sister. So my parents went with us, for basically like the first year, and then I basically kind of lived with my grandparents, from my mom’s side. It was basically kind of a, like a really small village, really like fields, like the house was kind of made of stone. It wasn’t really fully structured. It was still good, though. But I just remember like the weather was hot.

Luz: What’s the name of the village if I can ask you?

Kelly: The Village was actually in Santa Maria, Bulacan. 

Luz: ok

Kelly: that’s what the place was called. I forgot kind of the exact town, but it was that city.

Luz: Ok.

Kelly: Basically surrounded by trees, lakes, animals, like farm animals. That was like the pigs…I remember I slept with them for one night.

Luz: with the pigs? hahaha

Kelly: Yeah! It was hard though. Cuz I was just like in a dress, and like slippers, and I had two pigs here, and like it was a straw ground ..

Luz: So, you remember that?

Kelly: Yeah, I remember that. That is what I remember most. Mostly, just like being with animals and then swimming with my cousins. Because my mom’s side of the family. It was basically she had, all her sisters and then her sisters had children, so we would all play together, go to church together. We would all go to school together. Basically, we were all family oriented.

Luz: Did you live together, or just nearby? Did you live in the same house?

Kelly: yeah, I lived with my cousins, and two of my aunts. So, basically we were five children, like four parents, grandparents, and a dog, and then we all just kind of lived in that little place. So it was kind of I see them, it is nice, you know. It is always happy. There is never a sad, dull moment.

Luz: Awww..did you? Like all this time that you were back home, did you talk to your parents? They were here in the U. S right?

Kelly: Yeah, they were working here in the U. S. That’s why.

Luz: Did you talk to them constantly on the phone, or? How was your relationship with them?

Kelly: My parents were ok. Like, I talked to them. They went here kind of to work, you know. They always sent money back to us. They always talked to us. They wanted to make sure that were ok.

Luz: It is not like that forgot you or anything. They were still part of your life.

Kelly: No, no, no they were still part of our lives.

Luz: They were still supporting you.

Kelly: They would visit us, at least once every month. I saw them.

Luz: Once every month? That must have been expensive.

Kelly: Yeah, but my dad is like a manager at a parking garage. So then, my mom worked as a teacher, not a teacher, but she was a guidance counselor at a high school. But now she is an insurance agent at Allstate insurance with my uncle.

Luz: So they were doing good, like money wise.

Kelly: Yeah, they are pretty good.

Luz: So, your grandmother and your aunts raised you. Right? Do you still have a close relationship with them?

Kelly: yeah, I definitely still talk to my aunts, but not anymore, like I skyped with them, probably once every two months. . But of them my grandma died, probably on, both of them died probably a year ago. So, it is kind of hard, though.

Luz: how did that make you feel?

Kelly: It was sad. I couldn’t really. I couldn’t talk about that for a while. I just kept to myself. That’s when I kind of did like writing. I was kind of, I wasn’t depressed but I didn’t want to seem, I didn’t want to feel sad. Because everyone was sad already, so I didn’t want to add to that feeling. So I kept it to myself. I was quite. I just wrote, like you know, like stories.

Luz: Would you say that you were always quite, or that particular…both of your grandmother’s deaths made you that way? I mean, did that change you?

Kelly: I kind of always been quite, but when that happened I kind of shut everyone out. I didn’t really talk to anybody or talk to my sisters or my parents. They were worried, because I wasn’t really talking or eating. I was just writing or doing my homework. I didn’t want to live in that moment. I didn’t want to really remember. They always wanted me to talk to them, or talk to my cousins. But it is just too much. I can’t do that.

Luz: so maybe writing was your way of coping with what was going to you?

Kelly: Writing definitely helped me. Especially, because I wrote kind of a poem about how much I loved my grandma. I think I wrote that when I was fifteen or sixteen.  One of my teachers saw it, and she said you should enter this there. But I was like no it’s ok.

Luz: You didn’t want to share it.

Kelly: I didn’t really want to share it But she was said it’s good just try it, you never know.

Luz: Did you consider your grandma like your mom because she raise you, she raised until you, what age?

Kelly: until I was ten. She was great. She was always…she was never selfish. She would always work hard. You know, she would tell me all these stories about my parents. I remember my grandma from my dad’s side wanted me. My grandma from my dad’s side and my grandma from my mom side didn’t really like each other. My grandma from my dad’s side was kind of upper middle class, and she didn’t want us living in the village with animals, and then she was like I’m taking us, my sister and I. I remember I was crying I was clinging to my grandma. And I said, I don’t want to leave. I’m not leaving here at all. I ended up throwing a tantrum, crying. Basically, She was really good.

Luz: How was your reaction? Tell me about your experience moving here.

Kelly: Moving here was, wow. I remember moving here so much. It is weird I was ten years old. I didn’t look at all like any American. I was in a worn old dress, with like slippers, and a really big jacket. I looked kind of like an orphan. (Chuckles)I really looked like that. I remember like a picture, because it is like they still have it. And I’m like erase that or something. My first school, I think it was in El Sobrante, it was near Hayward and Richmond. That was like my first home. I remember it was definitely mostly like a white, mostly white students. There was one Asian girl, one black girl, and then me. It was not a very diverse school. Not really. I couldn’t really. I spoke Tagalog only. They couldn’t understand me so I just kept quiet. The funny thing was even though I spoke another language, I was still able to understand the homework and stuff.

Luz: Did you do your homework always?

Kelly: I knew that stuff I knew how to do it. And they were like you should talk more. But I was afraid. Because I didn’t want to seem like I was odd or different. That’s why I always was like. No I’m fine. So studying was mostly what I did.

Luz: Are you? Do you speak both, Tagalog and English?

Kelly: I can speak both. But then now, I think I’m kind of Americanized, like I barely speak Tagalog, but I can still understand like the words. If someone talks to me in Tagalog I can talk back in English, exactly what they mean. So it’s ok. I can still understand them.

Luz: Why do you think you don’t speak it anymore?

Kelly: I don’t know I think I just kind of drop that.This was kind of my new home. I made friends. You know, I am already here. I didn’t want to go back to the Philippines.

Luz: You didn’t want to go back?

Kelly: I didn’t really want to go back. I don’t know. It’s just hard.

Luz: Why didn’t you want to go back? I mean you have all these beautiful memories, so?

Kelly: I don’t know. It’s just hard. It is hard to connect with people again. Because most of my cousins there, they are already connected. They know each other well. They grew up next to each other, and then I am coming back. It is like it feels like we are really strangers again. It is hard. But you know it is still going to be ok. I am very shy, so I can’t do that.

Luz: Who do you think has changed the most? Do you think they have changed the most? Or do you think, since you are Americanized now, do they think you are the one?

Kelly: Thay are still the same. I think I have changed the most. Like I am just not the same adventurous little girl I was, not anymore. I am just more kept to myself, studying, reserved, American girl Kelly.

Luz: Do you feel like you like being quite, or is there times when you feel you would like to be more..?

Kelly: You know, I don’t mind talking to people. I Just get shy when I am meeting new people, because I don’t know how to approach them. But I can talk to you or anybody, I am like, hi how are you? How can I help you?

Luz? What is home to you? Since you were born here, and then move to the Philippines, and now you are here again?

Kelly: I think my home now is definitely America now. The Philippines would always be my home, because that is where I grew up. Half my life was there, so it is always going to be that, but living here this is like my whole new life. I can’t go back to the Philippines and try to live a life there. It is hard to strive or to be successful there. Here there are more opportunities, there is more time. But then , there at the age of 22, you should know what you want, you should be helping your family, because that is what my cousins have or do. The are already a teacher, they are already a nurse, they have a boyfriend or a family. And me I am 21, but I don’t know what to do yet. I am not like that.

Luz: Do your parents carry that with them, that cultural expectation? Do they show it to you in any ways?

Kelly: Before they used to, but now that they live in America. It is ok, ss long as you don’t get pregnant. Nothing bad happens to you. Then you can take as long as you want. They are very lenient. They are not as strict as other parents are.

Luz: you would say that home is the place that you connect to? Or what would you say home is? What does it mean to you?

Kelly: Home is where I feel safe, and I can be whatever I want. And that is America for me, because in the Philippines you feel very restricted. There isn’t any room for you to grow or be as a person, be different. They don’t say it, but you see there is this status quo you have to follow. Most of my cousins, like all of them, they are nurses, teachers, and then they are already married, and they have a kid. They are only like 23

Luz: What happens if they go out of the way?

Kelly: I f they don’t. like it. Like people talk, there is a lot of people who gossip about everything. Oh my Gosh. There is really a story. It was my grandpa from my dad’s side, because both of my grandparents from my mom’s side are dead. But both of my grandparents from my dad’s side are still alive. My grandpa has like three mistresses. Oh yeah, and he has like four other children. And then, you see people talking about that. It is annoying to see it. And then they want to come here. It is so annoying, because people there talk. And they are like, he has like so many mistresses and children?

Luz: Is his wife still alive? Does she know?

Kelly: She knows but she doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t say anything to my grandpa, but she says it to my dad, and her sons and her daughters.

Luz: So is that part of the culture? Where is ok for men to do that?

Kelly: Yeah, you see this whole double standard where men can do what they want because they have the money, but then women don’t really do much. You can’t really say anything to the men. For me, I don’t get that. That why is ask my grandpa, why did you do this?

Luz: So you are straightforward about it?

Kelly: Yeah, I was straightforward. I asked him, why do you have so many mistresses? Do you not care about? Your wife? Like hello? And he didn’t say anything. He is not a bad guy, but he likes to have fun and he doesn’t want to be told what to do. He wants to live his life. So I am just like whatever. As long as what you do, doesn’t touch me then I am ok.

Luz: tell me about your education.

Kelly: American education is very good. In the Philippines I remember as I child, if you messed up at a problem or if you say something wrong, then you get hit by a ruler. I was like five or six years old and I think I messed up in a problem or I think I was talking in class, something like that. I think I was disrupting the class. I was like five or six, and they called me, Triccia come up over here and I had to put my arms out. And they hit me with that ruler, I was like : OUCH.

Luz: you were so little.

Kelly: I couldn’t say anything because that is how the culture was. The teachers were strict. You had to be this good, and you can’t do that. High grades, not disrupting class. And here is just like you can talk and it is ok.

Luz:: In most cases, in most schools they won’t hit you, they won’t touch you.

What do you want to become? What is your major?

Kelly: right now. I kind of want to work in a magazine. Definitely, in a fashion magazine. Kind of like teen vogue magazine, or vogue, I want to work in those places. Definitely writing articles about the latest fashion. I entered a competition when I was in my last year of high school as designer for children’s clothes. Yeah, I did that and I won second in regional, but then state I didn’t place, but it is still good to have that experience. And right now, I am still writing and I kind of want to do both, maybe editing too. Just like making up my own magazines.

Luz: What would you say is positive and negative about living in different places?

Kelly: I think that a positive things about moving to different places is the new culture that you learn. I think that when you learn about different cultures, you definitely see things that you never saw before, because moving here I saw how good life was. How kind of bad, or not bad but you see people struggling in the Philippines. I thought I was ok, but here I felt like a princess for some reason. I had nice clothes I could be what I want, there is more choices. The bad thing was that I kind of forgot like the Philippines, I can’t really connect to people. I lost contact with half my relatives. You are always starting a new life, you are always adjusting. The more I spent time here, the more I forgot about the other place. I feel sad, but I can’t do anything about it. I am already here. This is my new life. I have to just move on. That is what I thought.

Luz: you have gone back, and you have seen the difference.

Kelly: I went back, probably, a year ago. After, nine years. Oh my Gosh. I had not seen my old place. It was not there anymore. Ever since my grandparents died, my aunts and cousins moved to another place, like a new house. It is not there anymore. I went back and I saw their graves, and I cry all over. It was the first time, because I was living here when I got the call that they died. So I wasn’t there to really mourn their death. First, it was my grandpa because he died of cancer in the throat, even though he didn’t smoke, probably form second-hand smoking, and then my grandma died because of pneumonia. My grandfather died was when I was eleven, and my grandmother probably like three years ago. It was hard. They were both great. I couldn’t be there to see them or to see the grave. Seeing that was hard.

Luz: Why didn’t you go back when it happen?

Kelly I don’t know. My mom went back but I had school. And they didn’t want me to skip school. She cried a lot, she barely smiled. She said we are going to be ok.

Luz: How do think it was for her, because both of your grandparents raised you for a good amount of time? She must have been really grateful.

Kelly: She has nothing but love and respect for them. Because my grandparents, they were great. My grandpa was a pastor, he did have good values. He never did anything bad, he always gave second chances. He was understanding. He was so different from my other grandpa, so different.

Luz: what religion was this?

Kelly: They were Christians.

Luz: did they make you follow Christian rules? Did you go to church?

Kelly: Yeah. I remember in the Philippines. I went to school, Monday through Saturday, and Sunday was rest day, that then was for church, until like 7 o clock. I barely really had time. It was ok though. Because,I liked going to church. I still do, I still go. It’s just a great spiritual thing for me.

Luz: That’s awesome that you kept that, because this culture it’s so open.

Kelly: Like it’s very open and wild, I don’t drink, I don’t do that stuff. I will wait until after marriage until I do. I think I have a promise ring, but I don’t like to wear it. I mean I misplaced it, but I have one. So that’s what I always kept for my parents or my grandparents.

Luz: What image do you have of the person you want to marriage?

Kelly: For me.

 

Enslaved: The Story of Lili Samad

Enslaved: The Story of Lili Samad

by Azraa Muhammad, May 22nd, 2013

lili-samad 4

This is the story of a human being who was made into a modern day slave.  Lili Samad is a native of Indonesia who came to the United States to work as a nanny, in order to support her family back home.  Through an interview with her, she told me about the human rights abuses that she had faced from her employer, who forced her to live in fear, be subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, be restricted from moving about the country, work tirelessly throughout the days and nights, and, worst of all, become a victim of modern day slavery.  These are all articles that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.N.D.O.H.R.), which is a series of articles stating the rights that every person in the world is entitled to, claims that every person should have.  The purpose of these articles is to help ensure peace throughout the nations of the world, by protecting their citizens from human rights abuses that would make them into modern day slaves, such as being tortured, not having freedom of speech, receiving unfair pay, etc. (U.N. General Assembly).  Anyone who is not allowed these rights is considered to have suffered a human rights abuse, and, in some cases, has been subjected to modern day slavery.  Lili didn’t receive these rights from her employer, and was taken advantage of, to the point that she became his slave.  Since Lili didn’t receive these rights, not only was she made into a modern day slave, but her form of slavery compares strongly to chattel slavery of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In fact, both Lili and the chattel slave follow the slave-like narrative arc, in a very similar way.  Both were forced to suffer inhuman treatment from their employers.  Both were forced to work tirelessly throughout the day and night.  Both were not allowed to leave.  And, most importantly, both lived in constant fear, as their lives were being controlled by their bosses as if they weren’t their lives to live.  Through facing human rights abuses from her employer, Lili Samad was forced to become a modern day slave, and go on a symbolic journey, that was similar to a chattel slaves’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Before I show how Lili was enslaved, it’s important to understand eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ slavery.  A slave, during this time period, would go through quite an odyssey becoming a slave, being a slave, and escaping from slavery.  After having to endure that horrible journey across the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to America, many slaves would often be stripped of everything that they had, such as their names, sold to different owners, and were, according to Columbia Encyclopedia, separated from their families (“Slavery”).  According to the Journal of African American Studies, “during enslavement… slaves were brutalized physically. These objects include iron shackles, fetters, whips, and special chisels designed to knock out the teeth of slaves who tried to starve themselves to death so they could be force-fed” (Brooms).    Because of all of the physical abuse and degrading treatment that they would have to endure, most slaves would run away.  Most slaves would escape using the Underground Railroad, which was, according to the International Congregational Journal:

“A loosely-knit network of free blacks and sympathetic whites who assisted enslaved Africans to escape from slavery in the South to freedom in the North. It was called ‘underground’ because of its clandestine nature. Operating secretly and outside the law and slave catchers made it ‘underground’; and because it consisted of a series of ‘stations’ that sheltered the fugitives on their journey north to freedom, it was called a ‘railroad'” (Hood).

Most slaves would hide in these “stations,” the attics of people’s houses, during the day and they would travel by night by following the North Star or by hiding under blankets of these free blacks and sympathetic white’s wagons to the next station.  They would continue on this path until they reached a state where slavery was abolished such as, California or Canada where they could finally be freed.  Today, many people are still going through slavery and they are still following this slavery story arc, but in a modern way. This form of slavery is mostly practiced through people like Lili; the victims of domestic worker abuse who come from different countries and can easily be taken advantage of.  This painful story that you’re about to read, is just one of thousands that happen every day all over America.

Lili began her slave-like journey, when she came to America to work for her employer. Lili’s story starts off a little differently than a slave’s journey would’ve started, because instead of going straight to America, where she would be treated like a slave, she worked for a nice family in Saudi Arabia first.  Also, instead of being forced to leave, she voluntarily left Indonesia and went to Saudi, Arabia in order to support her family.  She was, first, hired by an Ambassador of The Burkina Faso in Saudi Arabia, through a domestic workers’ agency of the Indonesian Consulate, in 1994 at age fifteen.  At age twenty-two, she was hired to work for a new employer, through the Egyptian domestic worker agency, and she went to the U.S. to work for her new employer, who was an Egyptian diplomat of commercial affairs.  Lili tells her story of how she ended up in America by saying:

” [When I was fifteen] my father’s business went bankrupt… So that’s why I went overseas, [to Saudi, Arabia] to help my family because we are a big family…  I liked working in Saudi, Arabia because my employer was an Ambassador.  And, I liked taking care of his daughter…  And, also, they paid me, and every year I had my vacation.  Even when I went to visit my family, they’d pay for my ticket.  And they were really nice people.  After that I went to live with my family for about six months, but I was planning to go overseas to work.  And then the Indonesian agency told me that the Egyptian agency had a diplomat [the Egyptian one] who was looking for a domestic worker, and since he was a diplomat, I thought he would be nice too.  So the agent took me to the U.S. to work for him” (Samad).

Lili had come to the United States thinking that she was entering a job with good pay, and was working for a family who would be as nice as her previous employers.  Little did she know that she had entered a life of slavery, and had begun her journey as a modern day slave in America.

As soon as Lili came to America, her employer started acting like her slave master, by hoarding everything that identified her as being legal in America, including her passport and visa.  Lili was able to come to the United States because the agent that matched her to her new employer was able to get her a visa by having Lili lie to the United States Embassy of Cairo about her salary.   The agent told her to tell the United States Embassy of Cairo that they would pay her $2000 a month in America so that she would be eligible for a visa.  However, her employer kept her passport and visa because he was afraid that she would try to run away.  He had decided that the only way for him to ensure himself of Lili’s servitude as his modern day slave, was to violate article four in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by holding Lili captive through hoarding her documents that she needed to move about the country, forcing her to become his slave (UN General Assembly).  Lili reflected on these events by saying:

“Before they brought me here [to the United States], they [the agent] took me to [the] Embassy of The United States in Cairo, and they told me [that] when I have an interview with them [members of the embassy], [and] they ask me about the salary, to tell them [the American Embassy] $2000 a month.  They told me to lie to the embassy because… in my contract, I was supposed to earn $200 a month…they had to make my visa [and] everything ready so [that] I could come here…  When I arrived with my employer, they [the employer and his family] [had] my passport and I never saw it.  And I don’t know if I had a worker visa, [or] a tourist visa. I don’t know because they [kept] it for me [and] I never saw it” (Samad).

Just like an eighteenth or nineteenth century slave was stripped of his name, Lili was stripped of her identity.  However, while a slave was stripped of his identity as a person, Lili was stripped of her identity as a legal resident of the U.S.  Without those papers, Lili couldn’t roam around the U.S. because those papers were like a slave’s freedom papers; without them, Lili could get into trouble with the law.  Since her employer violated article four of the U.N.D.O.H.R. by hoarding her identity papers that would give her freedom, Lili was forced to work for him.

Following the journey, which resembles that of a chattel slave, Lili was separated from her family.  Before coming to America, after leaving her previous employer, Lili moved back to Indonesia to be with her family.  She stayed with them for six months, and in those six months got married.  Then the Indonesian Consulate made an arrangement with the Egyptian Domestic Worker Agency and they matched her to the Egyptian diplomat, who would not allow her to speak to her family for another three years and eight months.  Her employer was afraid that her family would try to help her, so he violated article sixteen in the U.N.D.O.H.R., and cut off all communication from her family and husband (UN General Assembly).  Her husband did not know where she was and was very worried about her, as he said in an interview done by MSNBC, “She is my everything… she didn’t give me a phone number and it was really hard because I had no communication with her.”  Her family had no knowledge of her wellbeing, and she had no knowledge of their wellbeing.  Her employer decided to violate article sixteen in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by not allowing Lili to have her rights to help her family and to know of their wellbeing, in order to ensure that Lili would remain his slave.

Lili’s employer had stripped her of her identity, separated her from her family, and now officially became her slave master when he physically and verbally abused her, and controlled everything that she did.  As soon as Lili started working for them, the family controlled all of her daily activities, and would physically and verbally abuse her if she strayed from them or did them too slowly.  She describes what it was like to suffer abuse from their abuse, and be controlled, by saying:

“I didn’t have any freedom because…they [were] always watching me and controlling me… he would let me out only when the children want to go outside or to wash the car every morning…but if anybody said ‘hi’ to me or waved, I [wasn’t] allowed to talk to them…and they would talk any way they wanted [towards] me, and they would put their hands on me.  I felt like a slave, because I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have my passport and I didn’t have anybody, and I thought that if I ran away, maybe they would kill me” (Samad).

Lili was officially being treated like a chattel slave of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, because a slave around that time would be physically punished by their master for not performing his or her duties quickly and efficiently.  And, like a slave’s, her life was controlled by her master-like employer.  In the same way as a slave master of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Lili’s employer violated article five in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by treating Lili cruelly and controlling her life as if he owned her (UN General Assembly).  Just like the chattel slave, Lili was forced to put up with her employer’s physical abuse.  But this was only a few of the abuses that her employer would practice on her.

Just like a chattel slave, Lili was forced to work strenuous jobs all day and all night, with no pay from her employer. As mentioned earlier, Lili’s contract said that she was supposed to earn $200 a month.  However, her employer told the agents that he would only pay her $175 a month, and later ended up not paying her at all.  She worked twenty-four hours a day, was paid nothing, and was given hard jobs that she was not told, in advance, that she would be doing.  She explains that her working hours didn’t match her salary by saying:

“Before they hired me, when I was in Saudi, Arabia they told me to tell [the embassy that] they would pay me $2000 a month… [But] in my contract, I was supposed to earn $200 a month.  They (the agents) told [me] that they cannot pay me $200 a month, so they said that I would [instead] be paid $175 a month… but my employer, he never paid me.  In November of 2005, I asked him to send some money to my family, and he sent $1000, but I never saw the money.  [I worked] twenty-four hours a day.  I [was] supposed to work as a nanny, but I [did] everything.   I cleaned their car almost every day… they had two cars so [every] morning I cleaned their car; rain or shine.  And [I] cleaned the house every day.  [I did] cooking, errand running, laundry, [I] packed up the children, from upstairs to the car, and fixed lunch for the children every day.  Just everything” (Samad).

Lili was working all of these jobs, most of which she didn’t sign up for, and received almost nothing for it.  This human rights abuse that she suffered fits the exact definition of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ slavery and modern day slavery, which is to be forced to work for long hours with little to no pay.  Her employer already knew that Lili couldn’t escape, so he figured that there was no need to pay someone that was forced to work for him with or without pay.  By doing this, he had further abused Lili by stripping her of the right to equal pay for equal work, and not allowing her any vacation time, as the U.N.D.O.H.R. states that everyone has a right to both of these (UN General Assembly). Lili had now suffered all of the abuses that a slave in the eighteenth and nineteenth century suffered, as she continued on her slave-like journey.

After being forced to become a modern day slave to her employer, Lili decided to try to talk to a neighbor, Heidi Tawfik, out of hope that she could help her plan an escape from her employer, like a chattel slave plotting to escape his master.  Heidi would often see Lili whenever Lili would wash the car, but never had the chance to talk to her because her employer and his family were always watching her.  One day, when her employers weren’t home, Lili got the chance to talk to her.  It was the first time that she had spoken to another person, besides her employer, since she arrived in America.  After that, whenever she got the chance to talk to Heidi, she would.  Lili described how she would talk to Heidi by saying, “I didn’t speak English… but I spoke a little French.  I saw my neighbor almost every day [because] she always took walks, so when nobody was looking I tried to talk [to her]” (Samad).  This marks an important event in Lili’s life because, if she had never taken that leap of faith, and talked to someone, she might still be a slave today.  This resembles how a slave would have to seek out help, from abolitionists or Underground Railroad guides, in order to escape from their master’s.  Lili was coming to the end of her slave-like journey.  She would now only need the courage to escape.

After three years and eight months of facing human rights abuses from her employer, just like a slave escaping from his master, Lili ran away from her employer.  She was fed up with the way that her employer was treating her and finally decided that it was time that she regained her freedom.  One day, when her employer wasn’t home, she packed her things and ran to Heidi’s house.  Lili told me about her escape by saying, “I wanted to escape from them, [but] I didn’t have any money, my passport, or anything… So I talked to my neighbor…and I told her [everything and] I packed my things and I went to her house.  Then she brought me to the police” (Samad).  Just as a slave would’ve run away from his master, Lili finally ran away from her employer.  Although she had escaped from her employer’s house, her journey to freedom was not over.  Her employer had started searching for his modern day slave.

Lili had gone to the police for help, but trying to get her employer, a diplomat, arrested, would be like a racial slave trying to sue his master.  The police couldn’t arrest her employer because he was a diplomat and he had diplomatic immunity.  Diplomatic immunity, according to Farlex Legal Dictionary, is “a principle of International Law that provides foreign diplomats with protection from legal action in the country in which they work.  Diplomatic agents and their immediate families have the most protection and are immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits” (“Diplomatic Immunity”).  Since Lili couldn’t get help from the police, Heidi took Lili back to her house, and hid her.  Meanwhile, Lili’s employer had started looking for her, and, out of fear that Lili would  expose him to the public, he went to the Indonesian Consulate, and tried to make a deal with them.  In an interview by MSNBC, Heidi explains that she learned that Lili’s employer had said, “I will pay her what I owe her, on the condition that I see her ticket going back to Indonesia, and that she does not speak to anyone.”  Lili’s employer was trying to use his diplomatic immunity get Lili back into his control, and after he got her back, he would symbolically sell her away so that her story could never get out. Once again, her employer was violating article four in the U.N.D.H.O.R. by treating her like he owned her and had, symbolically put her up for sale, just how a slave master would put his slave up for sale as punishment for running away (UN General Assembly).  The difference is that, here, her employer wanted her taken away, out of fear that she would ruin his image.  Lili would have to be extra careful as she neared the end of her journey as a slave, because now, her employer was looking for her.

By hiding with Heidi, Lili was on her own symbolic journey on the Underground Railroad to freedom.  However, while a chattel slave took a physical journey, Lili’s journey was having to wait, patiently, for her freedom.  Lili was now hiding from her employer, in Heidi’s house, until they could figure out where she could go.  She was constantly living in fear because she was, unbeknownst to her employer, living right next door to him.  She was always afraid that he would see her so they would always have to be cautious; especially when they left the house.  An example of this, is when Heidi explains how she would take Lili out of the house:

“I was frightened that he would see her.  So what I used to do is, whenever we went from the kitchen to the garage, I would have a coat over myself and she would walk next to me and we would…slowly march to the garage.  She would get in the backseat [of the car] and I would put the coat over her and put some empty shopping bags on top.”

This resembles how a conductor (helper) of the Underground Railroad would hide a slave in the back of their wagon and put blankets on top so that nobody would see them as they traveled towards freedom.  With Heidi’s help, Lili was on her own symbolic Underground Railroad and was towards the end of her story arc as a slave.

After hiding with Heidi for two months, Lili finally completed her slave-like journey by finding a way to be free to roam the U.S..  Heidi took Lili to an Asian Woman Shelter (AWS), where they helped her to get the papers that she needed to roam freely in the U.S. and start a new life for herself.  Lili described this joyous occasion by saying:

“My neighbor found [an] Asian Woman Shelter.  AWS is for women [who were] trafficking victims…I stayed there for six months. I stayed there so that I wouldn’t have trauma and so that I can forget about what they [her employer and his family] did.  [Also] the AWS has connections with legal papers and since I had to escape [from my employer] I had to leave my passport [there] so I had nothing.  So I waited so that I could get my papers.  After I got my papers, I lived in Chinatown in housing for women who have low income… [and] I [got] a part time job as a nanny… for an Indonesian family and they were really nice.”

With the help of Heidi and the AWS, Lili was finally able to get her legal papers and start a new life for herself.  This resembles how a slave would sometimes receive freedom papers in order to escape slavery.  Lili no longer had to hide and like the freed racial slave; she had finished her journey and was able to start over.

       Through Lili’s story, we can see the tragedy of the hidden slavery that goes on in this country today.  Although  Lili escaped from her employer, there are thousands more just like her, and most of them will be enslaved by their employers their whole lives.  What’s truly astonishing is that there is almost no difference between Lili’s journey as a slave and a slave of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, journey as a slave.  It’s as if America never learned its lesson about how to treat people from the first time slavery came around.  America even set up the U.N.D.O.H.R. so that people would never again have to succumb to slavery, yet slavery is still practiced through people like Lili’s employer, who don’t follow these articles.  America certainly needs to change.  No human being deserves to be treated the way that Lili was treated, and how thousands of others are treated every day.  Nobody deserves to be enslaved.

Works Cited

Brooms, Derrick.  “Lest We Forget: Exhibiting (And Remembering) Slavery in African American Museums”.  Journal of African American Studies 15.4 (2011): 508-523. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

“Diplomatic Immunity: Legal Definition of Diplomatic Immunity. Diplomatic Immunity   synonyms by the Free Online Law Dictionary.” Legal Dictionary. Farlex,inc., n.d. Web.    14 May 2013.

Hood, Lottie Jones. “The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and The U.S. Underground Railroad.”  International Congregational Journal 9.1 (2010): 47-57. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 May 2013.

Samad, Lili. Personal Interview.  14 Apr. 2013.

“Slavery.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2013): 1. MasterFILE Premier.           Web. 1 May 2013.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Welcome to the United Nations: It’s Your World.    UN Publications, n.d. Web. 5 May 2013.

Trafficked: Slavery in America. Host. Natalie Morales. Perf. Bruce Carr, Lili Samad, Heidi Tawfik, Cindi Liou. MSNBC. 2011. T.V. Film.

U.N. General Assembly, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948.    Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Adopted and Proclaimed by General Assembly  Resolution. UIO: Faculty of Law, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Transcriptions

This interview was held in the backroom of our mosque after our service on Sunday April 14, 2013.  This is the first 30 minutes of the interview.

Azraa Muhammad: Alright it’s on… okay.  May you please state your name, and your birthday.

Lili Samad: My name is Lili Samad, and, umm I’m born in, uh, West Java, Indonesia.  And, umm, on August 17th, 1978.

AM: Okay…umm, where did you grow up?

LS: Uh, I grew up in Indonesia, but, umm, since I was 15, uh, 15 years old, I went, already, oversees to help my family.

AM: Umm… who did you live with, in your house?

LS: I lived with my, uh, siblings, my father, my mother, and we have… my mother had 9 children.

AM: Umm… what do you remember about living there?

LS: Umm, because we are farmers, so it’s umm, I missed umm… I remember when, umm, the time, like when the season come, like harvest, things like that I remember.  Also, I remember with my sisters, brothers their, because we are a big family.  Umm… you know, it’s really, uh, it’s, it’s (short pause).  I miss them cause we always joked, and played together.  And that’s what I remember.

AM: Umm… how was the neighborhood that you grew up in?

LS: The neighborhood is really nice, it’s really good there, because, I mean it’s not like here.  So everybody, you know like, helping each other, you know like…(stutter).  What they call it?  We help each other there.  So it’s really, uh, opposite the way I live here.

AM: Umm… did you have any friends, that you remember, growing up there?

LS: Yes. I have my best friend, but now since, I’m here for 12 years, so I don’t know about her.  And, also, because I don’t see my family for 12 years so… I don’t know.  But only, you know, I can talk to, uh, to them.  Or I can, uh, Skype with them.

AM: How often do you do that?

LS: Uh, it depends.  Sometimes once a week.  I mean, once a week.  Once a month, uh, it depends when my family’s available.

AM: Umm, where did you go to school?

LS: I went to school.  Do you mean here, or Indonesia?

AM: In Indonesia.

LS: In Indonesia I went to a Muslim school and English school.  So in the morning, I went to a English school, and afternoon I went to a Arabic school.  And, the school is uh, they were very close and like, uh, I can like walk 5 minutes… to the school.

AM: Umm, did you like going to those schools?

LS: Yes I loved that school, because, umm, it’s… it’s umm. We have uniforms and umm… I just love, I just like that school there. (laughs)

AM: What was it like, like were they umm… like were they nice, like the teachers?

LS: yes, the teacher there is very nice, and also the student, also is not. It’s compared here is really, umm, there it’s very disciplined and it’s uh, it’s disciplined, and they have very respect to each other.  With the students, with the teachers also, so it’s, it’s just umm, it’s different to umm, different to there and here (chuckles).

AM: Umm… Did you ever have a job while you were in Indonesia?

LS: No, I never worked because my father, he has his own business, like he has, uh- like ten employees- ten/fifteen employees.  And umm, but that uh, that time I was at school and… I’m still at school.  And my father business uh, bankrupt.  So that’s why after school, before age fifteen, I went to over, uh, I went to overseas to help my family because we are, we have big family… so.

AM: Um, what was this business that your father did?

LS: It’s umm, marketing.  It’s umm, because there is so many farmers, we have sell like fruits, vegetables.  So were uh, collecting uh, like fruit from any farmers and they give it to- they sell it to my fatherland my father delivers fruit or vegetables to every store.

AM: Umm… did you ever umm, like visit your father, like on the job? Or like see exactly what he did?

LS: Overseas?

AM: mm-hmm

LS: Yes when I was in Saudi, Arabia.  Since I went there from, uh, 1994 to 2001, but, every year, I’d visit my family.  Like once a year I visit my family for, 1 month, 1 ½ months.  So it’s like I work for, like 10, 10 months or 11 months in a year.  And I have my vacation one month.

AM: Mmm. Umm were your fathers working conditions good?

LS: Yes.  His working conditions good.

AM: Okay… what year did you, umm, come to the United States?

LS:  I came to the United State, uh, it was on the September 13th, 2002.  And…that is the first time I came to the United States.

AM:   And you said you were 15?

LS:  No, that is umm, that is… before I was in Saudi, Arabia from age of 15.  Then I, go back to Indonesia on 2001 and I stay there for 6 uh… less than a year.  Then I… came to United States because the umm… uh by agency.  So if anybody want to hire, umm, domestic worker.  So they have to call a agency because we have a agency for, for that.  So the, the employer, hire me and brought me here.

AM: You said that you lived in Saudi, Arabia before, you umm, came out here?

LS: Yes, before I came here.  .  So that’s why after school, before age fifteen, I went to over, uh, I went to overseas to help my family because we are, we have big family… so.

AM: Was it the same?  Like, umm, what was it like there compared to Indonesia?

LS: I liked working in Saudi, Arabia because they were, uh, the person that, uh, I was working with- my employer- was an ambassador.  And, I just like, uh, taking care of, uh, his daughter.  So, uh, I considered a nanny.  And, also, they pay me, and I had my vacation every month… I mean every year I have my vacation.  Even though I went to visit my family, they’d give me a ticket.  And also my salary- the money for the months that I’m there.  And they were really nice people.

AM: Do you remember, umm, what it was taking care of the daughter?

LS:  Yes.  It, she was very nice girl.  And yeah, I just really like children (laughs).

AM: Umm, why did you leave Saudi, Arabia?

LS: Because, I try to find a new experience, (laugh).

AM: (Laugh) Umm, where did you go after?

LS: After that, uh, I was in the… I was planning to go overseas to work.  And then, umm, my, the umm, the agency… there’s umm.  My employer, he’s uh, he’s a, he’s a diplomat also. He looking for somebody to take care of his children.  So, umm, the agent came to got me, to take me to that person and then that was, it was the middle east then the diplomat was going to have assignment for me in United States.  So, umm, when they hired me then they brought me to the United States as a nanny.

AM: Umm you.  How did your family feel about you going overseas?

LS: Uh, my family.  It was up to me so as long as I was safe.  So…

AM: Umm, how did you feel about coming overseas?

LS: I felt because I already had experience before, so I thought that the dip… especially the diplomat.  So I thought, umm, they are really nice.  You know also, like, the one that I already have experience.  So I feel, I feel, I wasn’t worried about it.

AM: Umm, how did you travel to the U.S.? Was it by plane or by boat?

LS: By plane.  Because the diplomat, the one, my employer brought me here.  As, uh, a domestic worker.

AM: What are your memories of the, uh, plane ride here?  Or of the journey here?

LS: The memory?

AM: Like do you remember what the flight was like?

LS: Uh the flight was… cause umm.  Uh it’s, it’s uh.  I don’t have any uh, freedom because the person that hired me, they’re really; they’re not nice.  So every time I have to uh… they always umm.  They always watching me, whatever umm.  It’s like they just controlling me or watching me.  I can’t, I can’t do nothing. So I don’t feel like, umm, like other people who, when they travel.  You know. I have no- how do you say it- you know, uh excitement or something.

AS: Uh, what did you think America was going to be like before you saw it?

LS: Oh, America was going to be like, because I heard that in Indonesia, in my country, that it’s the King of the world. So, you know, it’s going to be like a great place, with opportunities. Like 0 and just, just the king. Yeah.

AM: Was it anything like you expected it to be? When you got out here?

LS:  No.

AM: Was there anything that like…  What was the first thing that you found out about… like, like America not being everything that you thought it was going to be?

LS: uh, because I was with the employer who the, they don’t treat me nice.  So that’s,  I don’t know when I was outside because I always.  They always watching me so that I don’t know but they seem on the outside.  Like people, they can go out or go shopping or that because they’re always watching us all.  Oh I mean they’re always controlling me.  They’re always watching me. So I can’t, I can’t do anything.

AM: What city did you work in?  Like where did these people live?

LS: Uh, they lived, uh in… they lived in San Mateo.

AM: San Mateo.

LS: Mm Hmm

AM: And umm.  You said that he would, he would never let you out.

LS: He would let me out, but it’s only when, when umm, to.  When the children want to go to umm, because there is umm.  I mean to clean the car, or to clean umm, a driveway.  Only then I can go out.  But if anybody says hi to me or wave hands, I’m not allowed to umm say, say hi back to them.  Even, even when they wave hands.  So I shouldn’t, I just keep quiet.

AM: Umm, how were you umm, like what was your status when you came out here?  Like did they let you in with a Visa, or a umm, working Visa, or a travel Visa?

LS: Umm that I don’t know because I got, I got to there.  Uh when I arrived to my employer they asked my passport and after that I never see it again.  And I don’t know if it’s about the worker Visa, tourist visa; I don’t know because they got it for me.  But in umm, before I came here, before they brought me here, they, uh when, they took me to, uh, embassy of United States in Cairo, and they told me when the, when the umm, the people, the staff there, when I have an interview with them, when they asked me about the salary, I have to tell them, uh, $2000 a month.  I already, I already, umm, told them.  They told me to lie to the embassy.

AM: Did, What was your real salary?

LS: Before they hired me, when I was in Saudi, Arabia they told me they would pay me $2000 a month, but when, on route, when I’m on my way to uh, to fly, to uh, an airport, they told the agents that they cannot pay me $2000 a month.  So they said that they would pay me for $175 a month.

AM: And how umm, how many hours would you have to work?  Like I know you were a nanny, but like umm, like was their a certain time when they would give you a break or you could…

LS: It’s uh, I can say 24 hours a day.

AM: Oh!

LS: Yeah.

AM: And also umm, when you first got there, were they umm, would they let you out when you first got there or as soon as you got there they would…

LS: No, they never let me out, they never let me out.  Even when I was in their house, before I came here, because uh, they… I arrived in umm, Egypt.  And then they have to make my Visa, everything ready to get here and, umm if they have only one uh, one floor to exit and enter.  Only one floor because we live in third floor so I thought it was like a hotel; their house.  And when they go out they would lock the key, and they would bring the key.  So you cannot go out.  Even when they’re inside the house they would lock the key, I mean they would lock the door, and they would hide the key; even when they’re inside the house.

AM:  What exactly were all the jobs that you did for them when you were there?

LS: Umm, I supposed to uh, work as a nanny, but I work everything.  I say everything, everything umm, even when I’m here in the United States.  When they brought me here, I do umm, I clean there car almost every… they both have 2 cars so morning.  Rain or Shine, every morning do uh, the children bed and the parent bed, bedroom.  And clean the house every day.  Cooking, errand running, laundry, caring uh, pack up the children from upstairs to the car, and fix lunch for the children.  Just everything, everything- do gardening- everything.

AM:  When umm, you were assigned to this job would they, did they tell you that you would have to do all these things?

LS: No.

AM: You were only expected to take care of the children?

LS: Yes.

AM:  This house that you worked in, was it big?

LS:  Yeah we have umm, we have uh, like 2 or 3 floors and we have, they have, 4 bedrooms, and 2 living rooms, and it’s a really big house.  Big living room, 2 big living rooms and one big kitchen and one big uh, dining room.  So it’s really big and the backyard is really big.

AM: Were you the only one working for them, or did they have somebody else?

LS: I’m the only person working there.  They have a driver but the driver is only driving.  So every morning I had to clean the car before he dropped the children to the school and yeah.  They have 2 workers, but the driver is only driving.  So even the car I had to clean.

AM: Did some… how many children were there?

LS: 2. They’re twins.

AM: What were they like?

LS: They’re like, uh 6 or 7 but now I don’t know.

AM: Were they nice to you, or…

LS: No, they’re not nice.

AM:  They’re mom, was she living in the house?

LS: Yes. She’s always at home.  She doesn’t have, she doesn’t work.

AM: Was she umm, was she anything like the children?  Like was she like, ummm, mean to you?

LS: Yes, all of them.

AM: How would they umm… how were they mean?  Like what would they…

LS: They can talk anyway, like they talk bad, they, you know, they talk bad.  And they can, you know, umm, put their hands to me.  And the wife screamed, yell.  So it’s, it’s umm, way of.  It’s what I understand if a person working for them or the, those people it’s like, they own me.  So they can do whatever they want.

AM: That was their, that’s what they thought?

LS: Yes.

AM: So umm, where did… did you stay in the house, like even when you slept?

LS: Yes, I because there is extra rooms so umm, I slept in uh, a one bedroom but the bunk bed.  In the bedroom I have only folding bed, and so many stuff is their stuff.  So I don’t have, I don’t have stuff.  I mean all my stuff like clothes, things inside the, inside the bathroom under the sink.  So I can only have a folding bed in the uh, in my bedroom; but it’s not my bedroom.

AM:  Umm, did you ever umm, I know you weren’t allowed to talk to people , but like did you ever like umm, was there ever anybody in the house that you felt comfortable with?

LS: No.

AM: What about umm, did any neighbors ever notice?

LS: Yes.  After two years my neighbor umm, because I speak a little French so, I saw my, my neighbor was she always saw that I’d take a walk around and I saw them many times; like almost every day.  So when I, when nobody’s at home I was only by myself so I just tried to, uh, talk to them.

AM: You said that you were able to speak French?  Where did you learn?

LS: I learned from uh, Saudi Arabia because the family there, my employer, the people that I worked there only speak French, because they’re from West Africa.

AM:  Did they teach you or did you just pick it up?

LS: No, I just picked because umm, it’s all every day I heard, you know, French, so it’s like umm, automatically comes to myself.

AM: Umm did you know how to speak English when umm you started working for them?

LS: Just a little but I speak Arabic with them.

AM: Where did you learn?

LS: I learned Arabic because I went to a Arabic school and English school so I learned from there.

AM: So you were, you learned it, you learned when you were little?

LS: Yes.

AM: Umm, how long did you work for the people in the United States”

LS: Say it again?

AM: In the, in the U.S. like umm, how long did you work for them?

LS:  Umm 3 years and 8 months I worked for them.

AM:  And the whole time they never let you, like go.  Like they didn’t let you leave?

LS: Yeah umm, they never let me go.  I can go out, but I have to be with them and they’d make sure that I’m not, umm, run away or escape from them.  So that’s, they always watch me.  Even the children.

AM:  How did you end up, umm, leaving this job?

LS:  Umm, I was so tired with this.  Umm, with the job.  So, I talked to my neighbor, the one that speaks French, and umm, I just told her.  And I packed my, everything that I need.  And I went to her house.  Then she helped me, bring to the police, police department and legal things and (long Pause)… that neighbor, she helped me.

AM:  Did you umm, how long did it take you to plan this?  Like, to leave?

LS:  Since I moved, since I came here because I really cant because the thing is I have no.  I cannot do anything.  I  have to find.  I don’t know, I.  if I want to escape from them I don’t have money, I don’t have passport, I don’t have anybody.  So it’s, it’s like, no hope for me.  Yeah.

AM:  Do you still, umm, talk with the neighbor who helped you to leave?

LS: Yes, we, now, we are.  We are close friends.  It’s, she’s the one; my angel.(laughs)

AM: Did you ever know what happened to those people who you worked for?

LS: I don’t know.  I have no, I never hear anything.  But for sure, I mean, they already gone.  I mean, back to there country.

AM:  Did they ever get punished for what they, or did you ever turn them in to the police for…

LS:  Umm, the first day when my neighbor took me to the police department, and the police said that if its diplomat than they can’t do anything.  And at that time I speak very limited English so she was my translator.

AM: You said that these people that you worked for were diplomats, um, what country were they from?

LS: Um, from Egypt, so they were Egyptian Diplomats.

AM: Where did you go after, um ,you left this job?

LS: after I left this job and my neighbor finds Asian Woman Shelter, before that she find a catholic shelter but they preferred that I go to Asian Women’s Shelter.  AWS is for women trafficking victims and I stayed there for six months.  From March 3rd 2006 to October 16th 2006.

AM:  What was it like at this shelter?

LS: Its really good, it help, its because it’s helpful to me because that shelter is um, because I was a victim there, so it makes me forget about my past, my condition before, and they give us food, and they give us shelter, and it was really nice.  It’s a place for human trafficking victims, but it’s only for women, and I was in trauma so they had workers work with me to help me forget about my condition, to try to help me…  I also learn to speak English while I’m there, they put me through city college to learn English.  Umm it was just helpful they just really help me with everything.

AM: You said that you went to city college?

LS: Yes I went to city college to learn English.

AM: You stayed there for six moths.

LS: I stayed there so that I wouldn’t have trauma and so that I can forget about what they did and the AWS has connections with legal papers and since I had to escape I had to leave my passport so I have nothing.  AWS has connection to APIL or to get my papers so that I can stay here legally.

AM: Where did you go after you left the shelter?

LS: After I got my papers, I live in Richmond district for about six months, I’m sorry I live in Chinatown first because that housing is only for woman who have low income. From October 16th 2006 to October 1st 2008.

AM: Did you ever start working again.

LS: Yes, after that I have part time job. As a nanny.  They were Indonesian so they were really nice, but they moved to Singapore so I don’t work for them anymore, but they were really nice, the children were really nice.  They were 5 and 2. I worked for them for about two years. After that work on call taking care of elderly person until now.  Now I work in senior living, since July 2011.  I like this job very much because I like dealing with elderly people, especially older people that forget, they have Alzheimer’s disease they don’t now anything and I like working with them.  I get paid fairly with this job and the working conditions are good but I only work 3 hours a day and six days a week. I Currently live in Hays Valley

AM:  How did you join the nation?

LS:  I heard a tape of Minister Farrakhan that my friend had given me and I was shocked that a man can talk like this and my friend said that…

AM: Are you able to get benefits here?

LS: AT my job, yes

AM: Do you qualify for a lot of things like health insurance.

LS:  For health yes and also I live in low income housing.

LS:  What I see is that so many friends that came here they get lost because they try to follow the world here but me I still stay in my teachings from minister Farrakhan

AM: what would you tell everyone about America now?

LS: people will always want to come to America because there is opportunities that we can have, there is like so many treasures, that’s what people think that

LS:  This is my home, America is my home because my family is here, and my teaching is here, that’s the most important part.

AM:  Thank you so much for doing this.

LS: Oh, it’s no problem (Laughs).

I am Unique and So are You

I am Unique and So are You

by Michi Hosokawa, May 22nd, 2013

 argentina

When a guy moved in next door to my house last year, he started on building a deck in front of the door of his house. This guy, wearing a T-shirt and a cap, has been working hard on the project every weekend. This is Mario Morento, whose friendly smile makes wrinkles around his round eyes. When I was assigned an oral history project, I noticed that he spoke Spanish with a carpenter, which made me wonder if he was an immigrant. When I called up my courage and talked to him about my project, he pleasantly agreed to do an interview with me; he said, “It’s me. I will volunteer for it,” with his friendly wrinkled smile.

He was born in Argentina as the second child in his family, whose family tree has roots in Ecuador. His skin is dark due to his family roots, which make up a minority group in Argentina, whose people’s roots are mostly in Europe, and his mother tongue is Spanish. His parents were skilled leather artisans, but their life was in poverty due to economic crisis in Argentina in the 1960s. When Mario was eight years old, his father left Argentina, first for the U.S. to escape from poverty, and called for his family, his wife, his daughter, and Mario, three years later. While Mario hardly had opportunities to see new things and places in Argentina, he traveled through the nation and saw a lot of new things in the U.S. While he adapted himself more and more to the U.S., he gradually lost his physical and psychological connection to Argentina. Now, he feels that he is “home” in California, where he lives. On the other hand, he identifies himself as an Argentinean; he is proud of being an Argentinean. How has his identity and his concept of “home” developed in such way? Interestingly and uniquely, his nostalgia and experience have developed them. While Mario’s nostalgia for Argentina has allowed his sense of identity to become solid and fixed as an Argentinean, his different experiences in the U.S. have allowed his concept of “home” to have flexible content, wherever he is.

His nostalgia for Argentina, where he was born, survived with his family, and emigrating from Argentina has allowed him to strengthen his sense of identity as an Argentinian. In the article “The adaptation of migrant children,” which is about emigrant children’s assimilation to a new country and preserving their home country’s languages, values, and customs, Alejandro Portes, a sociologist and a scholar of Princeton University, and Alejandro Rivas write, “Place of birth and length of residence in the host society are powerful determinants of self-identity. The native-born second generation is significantly more likely to identify itself with the United States than are youths born abroad and brought to the United States in infancy.” This idea applies to Mario’s case, too. While he identifies his family members as Ecuadorian because his family is from Ecuador, he identifies himself as Argentinean because he was born and grew up in Argentina after his family left Ecuador for Argentina. Although he has lived in the U.S. for more than forty years since he left Argentina at the age of eleven, he still retains his sense of identity as an Argentinian. Where he was born and where he was a resident in his early life is the “determinant” of his identity.

Moreover, Mario’s experience with his intimate family has allowed his sense of identity as an Argentinean to strengthen. Even though the boy “Mario,” whose family is of Ecuadorean descent with a darker complexion, notices that people treat him differently from traditional European-Argentineans with fair complexions, he says, “I am proud to be an Argentinean in many ways, the culture, the food, and my memories.” His family lived in poverty due to price inflation in Argentina; however, his parents do their best to give their children, him and his ten-year elder sister, opportunities to have good education by paying for school shoes and uniforms on installment plan. They lived in a tenement house in Buenos Aires and slept in one bed all together. When he was eight years old, they had a family meeting about how they could leave their poverty. When they agreed that the only way was for his father to leave Argentina for the U.S., everybody in his family gave money for his father’s journey to the U.S. The boy, “Mario,” had to do his best to live up to his parents’ expectation and trust them to be a big part of his family’s responsibility. The gender roles at that time may have influenced him because he was going to be the only “man” in his family during his father’s absence. Being a part of his family meeting, understanding his family’s decision, giving money for his family’s future, and waiting for his father’s calls, was a huge responsibility for the eight-year-old boy; however, he completed all of them. His unforgettable accomplishment has allowed his pride and identity as an Argentinean to develop.

Finally, Mario’s experience of “leaving Argentina” has firmly established his identity. Mario recalls when he boarded an airplane to the U.S. at the age of eleven and says, “This is probably the happiest time of my life.” He may be relieved very much, not only from life in poverty, but also from his father’s absence for a quarter of Mario’s life. He may also notice that he will never go back to Argentina as a resident, so that he has to adapt himself to the new place, the U.S. While his new life excites him, it may sometimes evoke his nostalgia for Argentina, which emphasizes differences with Argentina, such as language and culture, of which he is proud. He may adapt himself to the U.S. very quickly in his adolescence; however, knowing that he has emigrated from Argentina and never gone back to “his” country highlights his sense of identity that he is from Argentina, his soil. From his birth, his identity has had a journey; however, it did not change but become more and more firm and solid because his nostalgia can become his psychological lens through which he may read the world to understand his identity: “I’m proud to be an Argentinean” (Morento). Although time and place can influence one’s self-identity, Mario’s nostalgia has developed and fixed his sense of identity as an Argentinean through his experiences since his identity was simply determined by his place of birth.

While Mario’s sense of self-identity has become firm and solid through his being in his birthplace and leaving there, his concept of “home” is quite flexible. Although the word ‘‘home’’ often carries strong sentimental connotations and refers to a past place, his concept of “home” is simply where he is because his new experiences have allowed him to update the concept through adapting himself to where he is.

Many people may think that the concept of “home” is a past place, which is strongly connected to nostalgia for “home”; for example, a synonym of the word “nostalgia” is “homesickness.” Both words of “nostalgia” and “homesickness” refer to emotional states of longing for home and sadness of one’s absence from there, and people believe that these emotional states are the main concept of “home.” Another example is in the article “Re-imagining home and belonging: feminism, nostalgia, and critical memory,” which is about how nostalgic longings for home create strong concept of “home.” The author, Samah Sabra, who is a Lebanese instructor of Carleton University in Canada, writes, “Home … refers to a past place from which one ‘comes’ and to which one desires to return.” She considers that nostalgic longing for home are a necessary aspect of the concept of “home;” however, the attitude can also recreate a romanticized, utopian concept of “home,” which is not actual place but a series of mental images. It is painful for people who left their countries, where they cannot return, to hold such illusory state. In the article “What Is Home?”, which is about different aspects of home, Natania Rosenfeld, who is a professor of English of Knox College, writes, “New York is a city of immigrants…; hardly anyone has deep roots, and that rootlessness, paradoxically, creates the sense of home.” Immigrants in New York represent immigrants in the whole country. They create a sense of “home” where they are residents because what they need is flexible, multiple concept of “home” rather than holding illusory images. Otherwise, they may have to live as “forever foreigners.” Thus, the concept of “home” can be a mental image of a past place where they lived; however, it can also be a present place where they currently live. In other words, the concept of “home” can be flexible and multiple. Since his birthplace determined his identity, Argentinean, his unforgettable experiences of surviving and leaving Argentina have allowed his self-identity to be reinforced.

Compared to Mario’s sense of identity, his concept of “home” is flexible and simple, which is quite interesting and unique. In her memoir The Invented Country, which is about her nostalgia for her homeland, Chile, which exists only in her mind, Isabel Allende, who is a journalist, playwright, children’s writer and novelist, writes about when she arrived in California after visiting her homeland, Chile, thirteen years after she had left: “On the return flight, when I saw San Francisco Bay from the air, I gave a sigh of exhaustion and, without thinking, said: Back home at last. It was the first time since I’d left Chile in 1975 that I felt I was ‘home’” (192). After her marriage to an American guy, Willie, and moving into California to live with him, she often feels she is out of place in the new place. The culture she carries, her clothes and attitudes, feel like oddities in California. She also does not write her works in English but in Spanish. However, she feels she is “home” when she arrives in California because, there, or her husband, Willie, is the place to which she belongs.

Mario’s time probably has passed like hers. He actually forged through the period of adapting because it was not easy but necessary for the boy “Mario.” When he arrived in New York, his first place in the U.S., he might not have felt that he was home because of his language, culture, and attitude; however, while he was adapting himself to different places in the U.S., New York, Boston, Texas, and California— he gradually began to feel at home in the U.S., finally much more than in Argentina. He says, “Home is where I live today, [the] San Francisco Bay Area, and, it must be a good reason [as it is] where I always come back since I have left.” He does not say that San Francisco is the only place for his “home,” but implies any place can be his “home.” He started his new life with his family in the Italian district in New York. Children in his neighborhood speak Italian and speak English at school while he speaks Spanish. His happiest moment when he boarded the airplane to the U.S., dreaming of new opportunities in the coolest place in the world, New York, may quickly turn into the hardest time for the boy “Mario.” After New York, a melting pot of races, cultures, and religions, he moves to Boston, Texas, and, finally, California. While growing up and becoming independent in different states, he may not have the chance to look back to his past place, Argentina, but may force himself to step forward and keep looking forward.

In addition, he very appreciates the opportunity to travel around the U.S. and to see many different things compared to when he could not have such experiences in Argentina. Mario says, “I see the U.S. as a heaven,” and he continues, “Our family’s economic reality in Argentina would have never provided the opportunities that we have enjoyed in the U.S., so in many ways, expectation were surpassed.” When he and his sister talked to each other by phone recently, they laughed at their dreams that they had before leaving Argentina for the U.S. because, although the dream was like an unreal image from American movies, their lives are more satisfying than those. They celebrate their life that they have in the U.S. His appreciation for the places he has lived and opportunities he has had in the U.S. reflects his concept of “home,” where he is. Thus, his experiences and his gratefulness to them have allowed him to have a flexible concept of his “home.”

Through the interview with Mario, I found that he has had three types of journey. First one is his actual journey, from Argentina to the U.S. and in the states of the U.S. The second one is the journey of his sense of self-identity. The third one is the journey of the concept of his “home.” My question, how Mario’s nostalgia for Argentina, where he was born, has affected his sense of identity, and how his experience has affected his concept of “home” through the passage of time, seemed like a riddle, and it interested me to read the riddle. Although some immigrant children flexibly combine their identities with American identity, Mario’s nostalgia for Argentina with his unforgettable experiences, has strengthened his self-identity as an Argentinian. On the other hand, he has flexibly updated his concept of “home” with appreciation for various opportunities, which he has had in the U.S. and would have never had in Argentina, although the word ‘‘home’’ often carries strong sentimental connotations and refers to a past place.

His three journeys are quite unique and interesting, but anybody can have an identity crisis and consideration of what home is. As Mario has done, these opportunities can be psychological journeys, which may be able to lead the person to a new awareness of his or her self-identity and his or her concept of “home.”

Work Cited

Allende, Isabel. My Invented Country. London: Harper Collins, 2003. Print.

Morento, Mario. Personal Interview. Apr. 2013

Portes, Alejandro, and Alejandro Rivas. “The adaptation of migrant children.” The Future of Children Spring 2011: 219+. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 May 2013.

Rosenfeld, Natania. “What Is Home?” Southwest Review 98.1 (2013): 45+. Academic OneFile. Web. 15 May 2013.

Sabra, Samah. “Re-imagining home and belonging: feminism, nostalgia, and critical memory.” Resources for Feminist Research 33.1-2 (2008): 79+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 May 2013.

An Interview Transcript

His name is Mario Moreno, Argentinean. He is in middle 50s and a hospital eligibility supervisor at a hospital in San Francisco. He lives next to my house last December.

·         Where are you from?

I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina (Yes, where the new pope is from and yes he is also named Mario) I’m sure just a coincidence …or is it??  What is actually interesting is that I am the only Argentinean in the entire family tree.  Reason being that my family travel from Ecuador, where everyone else is from, and once they settled in Argentina, I was born, so even my own sister is from another country, kinda funny.

·         When did you leave your home country?

I came to the US when I was 11 years old.

·         How many countries or states have you lived?

Just Argentina and U.S., but I have lived in New York, Boston, Texas and now Ca.

·         Why did you leave your country?

My mom and dad were self-employed designing and creating high end ladies leather handbags, snake, crocodile, cow, ostrich, etc.  My parents always sacrificed to give us the best they could.  They paid extra so we could go to catholic school and get a good education.  We all slept one bed in a small tenement in Buenos Aires.  Compared to many of my friends, we were considered poor; I was even embarrassed to invite my school friends over to our place.

When I was about 8, we had a family meeting and the decision was that US was the only way to open opportunities for us to get out of poverty.  Every penny we had was invested in my dad coming to the US.  My dad’s cousin brought my dad to Washington DC to test the waters and my dad was hired as a designer.  He was then hired by Coach, yes that one!!  He brought the rest of us over after 3 years of working and saving and we moved into our first apt. in New York.

·         What do you see differences between your homeland and the U.S.?

In terms of the country’s themselves, they could not be more different.  In Argentina, the economy has become awful in that what it costs to buy milk today would go up or double the following week as the “peso” would just devalue.  Mostly due to corrupt government that mismanaged (stole) the value.  As an example we were laughing with my sister the other day remembering that my parents would have to buy our shoes and school uniforms on credit! Crazy huh …  So being poor really becomes a lifelong sentence.  We hardly traveled in Argentina, so I did not know many places that I do now.

The one major thing, that I told my friends when I went to visit for the ’78 Soccer World cup, was that while I may have opportunities and things … they have a solid family unit.  Every Sunday, you can walk down the streets in the barrios of Buenos Aires and smell the delicious BBQs and families getting together.

In the capital, where I lived, there’s more of an upper society feeling for a good part of that area.  Much like US, once you get outside into the provinces, they don’t like the “spoiled” Buenos Aires residents, they are more cowboys like.

Since my mom passed some years ago, my dad went back to Ecuador and my sister lives in Dallas and Chicago and my grown son lives in Fremont, so “which is better ? ” is really a relative question.  But of course, here once can be much more in charge of their destiny as in Argentina.

·         Do you like your homeland? Why?

I am proud to be an Argentinean in many ways, the culture, the food, and my memories.  However, Argentinians are traditionally European decedents, including many Germans that escaped there during the war, but most have solid roots from Italy and you can see that flavor mostly in Buenos Aires.  Therefore, since I was descendent of Ecuadorans, a darker skin culture I found myself being treated differently than the typical euro-like Argentinean.  My friends from school saw me as one of their own.

·         Do you like the U.S.? Why?

US, like Argentina, has different regions that are night and day to each other so it’s hard to paint with a single brush.  As a whole, however, I see the US as a haven for many cultures and opportunities to those who are willing to risk and work hard with dedication.  I would never have had similar opportunities in Argentina, just not possible.  I have seen more of the country here than I would ever had while living in Buenos Aires

·         When was the happiest time in your life? Why?

While I treasure many childhood memories and the day I jumped on that plane when I was 11 years old; this is probably the happiest time of my life.  To have my own little place, making come out to what I want it to be and living in a cool little town close to the nicest city I’ve ever lived in.

·         When was the hardest time in your life? Why?

Besides my divorce when I distanced myself from my son, I could not compare too many other times.  But, I do recall being sad when we were waiting for my dad to call us to come to the US.  We were alone, I was not allowed to tell anyone that we were planning to leave the country and we felt that everything could fall apart any minute.  I learned about risk in a very real way !!

·         What do you think is your ethnic group?

I consider myself a Latino, don’t much care for the description of Hispanic, I don’t have any panic (lol)… Latino best describes me because I come from Latin America.  We are a proud ethnicity that oftentimes in extreme situations causes friction with other cultures.  At times, young Latinos will act out with violence to prove their identity, which in some ways embarrasses me.

·         Where do you consider your homeland?

Even though I am the only Argentinean in my whole family tree of Ecuadorians, I do consider myself Argentinean since it is all I know, I have only visited Ecuador a few times, and do not find much resemblance other than my skin.  Most Argentinians are European decent and I may have at times not fitted their view of an Argentinean

·         What is a concept of home for you?

Home is where I live today, San Francisco Bay Area, since I have left and always come back, must be a good reason for that.

·         Since moving, how has your perspective changed about your homeland?

Since I left Argentina when I was 11 years old and really no relatives left behind there and few friends; I don’t really miss it.  I do not follow politics or other news.  As a soccer enthusiast I do follow the sport to some extent, but that’s it, I have lost the connection

·         Since moving, how has your perspective changed about yourself?

I feel very independent and self-sufficient, which is very different than the common family units know to be prevalent in Argentina.  People don’t; must have around much there, due to the economic limitations, so families tend to live near each other and therefore enjoy the benefits of family’s’ support, very different than my situation.

·         While your voyage, what did you expect your life in the US?

I’m not sure I understand this question.  But if you’re asking how I viewed the US before coming here, it was just the images we saw in movies growing up, vast landscapes, warm, riches, etc.

·         How was your life different from your expectation?

While I am not be enjoying all the things I saw as other’s experiences living in the US from the movies, I see that my dreams as a child to be even at a reach of such beauty is now closer than I would ever be living in Argentina.  Our family’s economic reality in Argentina would have never provided the opportunities that we have enjoyed in the US.  As an example, my sister and bro -n-law own two huge homes in Texas and Illinois and live in each for 6 months at a time.  We laughed recently, that those thoughts were not even in our minds growing up as a wildest possibility.  So in many ways, expectations were surpassed

Another Point of View

Another Point of View

by Xu Chen, May 28th, 2013

chinatown 

Ben Li, a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States with his parents at the age of eight, and I became friends because, not only are we classmates in a Biology 9 course at the City College of San Francisco, but we also use a common language, Taishanese, a dialect of Cantonese. Later, we found out that we both came from Taishan, a city in Guangdong, China, and have the same major, psychology. Also, I found out that Ben seems to have a complex but homeostatic identity, because he manages well his America-Chinese identity even though he tends to consider himself an America more than a Chinese, except for his Chinese exterior and knowledge of the Chinese language. Ben’s situation is interesting to me, because it does not match a case that I have studied, which is that of Edward Said, a famous Palestinian literary theoretician, who had a complex and disharmonious identity because of being exiled from the Arab world to the America. Therefore, I interviewed Ben to try to find out what makes the difference between Ben and Said’s identities, which are affected by their exiles.

     According to Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French author, who won the 1993 Prix Goncourt, in his book In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, in which he discusses how the clash of Islamic and Western worlds affects people’s identities in general, “Identity can’t be compartmentalized. You can’t divide it up into halves or thirds or any other separate segments. I haven’t got several identities: I’ve got just one, made up of many components in a mixture that is unique to me, just as other people’s identity is unique to them as individuals” (2). In this statement, Maalouf clearly defines that a person’s identity is a complexity that can be combined by several segments but cannot be divided. Also, readers may realize that a person’s identity is a unique union united by his or her family context, surroundings, educational background, personal experience… Further, exile absolutely affects someone’s identity, because exile is a personal experience. Therefore, I believe that, even though Ben and Said both are exiles, which causes them depression due to managing their multicultural backgrounds, Ben has a different identity and perspective on the concept of home than Said’s, which is because they are different types of exiles and grew up in different social contexts.

     First, Said had a troublesome identity, which made him feel uncomfortable, because he grew up in a relatively conservative world. Said was an Arab growing in the Arab world, but, because of his American identity and Americanized name, Edward, he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable almost all his childhood. In Chapter V, in which he illustrates his unhappy experiences at the Cairo School for American Children, in his book Out of Place, in which he uses his personal experiences to record events in the Arab world, he states, “The overall sensation I had was of my troublesome identity as an American inside whom lurked another Arab identity from which I derived no strength, only embarrassment and discomfort” (90). In this statement, Said intelligibly explains that his complex identity, which is mixed up between American and Arab, making him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Also, readers may realize that Said’s “embarrassment and discomfort” come from the environment in which he grew up, Cairo, which was a multicultural but conservative society because of historical issues and colonization. Therefore, Said had a disharmonious identity caused by the conflict of his surroundings and nationality.

     Conversely, Ben has a more homeostatic identity than Said’s, maybe because he grew up in San Francisco, a multicultural and open society that allows Ben to expresses his complex identity, in which his Chinese and American parts are united. Ben is lucky, because he moved from China with his parents when he was eight years old to San Francisco, an American city that is considered one of the most tolerant cities in the world. When I asked him what pressure he had experienced because of his identity while he was growing up, Ben answered, “No, it’s pretty straightforward. My teachers are pretty straightforward about race and genders and everything like that.” In his answer, Ben clearly states that his growing up environment was very fair, without any discrimination, because his teachers were very straightforward and did not care about his race or gender. Reading Ben’s statement, readers may realize that, because of his fair surroundings growing up, his identity can be fully developed with two different sides, American and Chinese. Actually, when Ben introduces himself, he will call himself Chinese; therefore, I asked him why he considered himself as a Chinese but not an America, and he answered me:”In exterior, I physically I am a Chinese, I am very proud of my heritage have been Chinese. It is pretty special, and I am still a Chinese, my parents are Chinese. My still keep Chinese traditions, like Chinese New Year. I still consider myself a Chinese.” In this statement, Ben clearly narrates the reason he considers himself as Chinese is because of his race, family and culture context. Reading his statement, readers can understand that Ben’s definition of self-identity is dependent on his race, which makes him Chinese first over others. Also, readers can understand that Ben’s identity in Chinese part has fully developed because he is proud of his Chinese identity, which is imperceptibly rooted in his mind by his family context and cultural surroundings.

     However, Ben’s two parts of self-identity, the Chinese and the American, are not equal because his self-identity tend to the American side even though he considers he is a Chinese first. When Ben describes his schooling, he says, “It was very special… Well, I’m also learning in English and stay in America; I became more America than Chinese… I was turned to more America than Chinese. I get the feeling. You know that. I am turning more America.” In this statement, Ben plainly narrates that he is more American than Chinese right now because of his educational background, which is a full of English language environment. Reading Ben’s statement, readers can understand that Ben’s identity has been affected by his language education, because his English language is a force that makes him an America more than a Chinese. Also, Ben’s social surroundings, which are an English environment, is another factor that makes him an America, because he has to use English in his everyday life, which is caused by his exile. However, Ben’s Chinese and American parts of self-identity are homeostatic, because he seems to let his Chinese part melt into his American part. Therefore, even though, similarly to Said, Ben also is an exile who has a complex identity because of living in a multicultural society, he does not have a disharmonious identity, which is because Ben’s social surroundings are in an open society that allows him to fully develop his complex identity while Said’s, from Cairo to Lebanon, was in conservative societies that aggravated the conflict of his complex identity.

     Second, even though Said considered his true home was Palestine, where he was born, Ben considered his true home is the America, where he lives, but not China, where he was born, which is because Ben and Said are two different types of exile. Said grew up in a turbulous times when was the time of the WWII and wars in Arab world, so he was exiled from Palestine to Egypt and then to the America; as the result of this, he considered himself as an exile. Actually, in his article “Reflections on Exile,” in which he uses lots of examples to illustrate how people reflect on their exiles in literature, Said argues that exile has various forms, such as refugees, expatriates and émigrés:

“Although it is true that anyone prevented from returning home is an exile, some distinctions can be made exiles, refugees, expatriates and émigrés… Expatriates voluntarily live in an alien country, usually for personal or social reasons…Expatriates may share in the solitude and estrangement of exile, but they do not suffer under its rigid proscriptions” (144).

Reading this statement, readers can understand that a person who has any prevention that blocks him or her from returning to his or her homeland is an exile, and Said pretty much fit this definition because, for some reason, he could not go back to the Arab world, which was his homeland, for a number of years. The long term exile and proscription made Said feel be isolated almost all the time so he felt out of place almost everywhere. Therefore, in Chapter IX of Out of Place, in which he points out his first experience of returning to Palestine after his long term exile to the United States, Said describes his early memory of Egypt as “considerably chopped up, full of atmospherics that conveyed a sense of warmth and comfort by contrast with the harsh alienation I felt in my New York life” (217). In this statement, Said clearly describes that he feels very comfortable and warm in Egypt, where he grew up, but feels isolated in New York, where he spent most of his adulthood and had a wife and children, because he uses alienation to describe his statues in New York. Unlikely to Ben, Said had a strong scene of isolation in New York, where he had career and family, so he considered himself as an alien.

     Conversely, Ben feels isolated in China, where he was born, but feels he belongs in America, where he lives now. According to Said’s definition of an expatriate in “Reflections on Exile,” Ben is a perfectly-matched case of expatriate, because he came to the America with his parents, and enjoys his life here. However, when he goes back to China, he feels the solitude and estrangement because of the language barrier. Therefore, when I asked Ben to describe his experience of going back to China to visit, he answers:

“And, it was funny because when I talked, I always used my hands, and they thought it was very silly. And, they would like, tease me about that…. When I first time went go to China, I ate the food and my body did not handle it very well. I had diarrhea… I’m still not able to go back along without my cousins or my parents to help me to read the signs.”

In this statement, Ben distinctly illustrates that language and environment are two preventions of him going back to China, which causes his isolated feeling. Reading his statement, readers can understand that, because Ben’s Chinese was not good enough to communicate with his relatives, he had to a use sign language to communicate with them, which his relatives teased him about. This language was a barrier that isolated Ben, because he might feel isolated by his relatives for his “silly” language, which readers can imagine. Also, readers can understand that the Chinese environment is another prevention that isolates Ben in China. Because he could not read Chinese characters, Ben had to depend on his relatives to figure out the meanings of street signs, which isolated him from independence. Another Chinese environmental factor that physically isolated Ben was the Chinese food, which caused his diarrhea. Food is an important factor in the concept of home, but Ben, as a Chinese, could not physically get used to the Chinese food, which might be caused by his long term exile to the America; this is a physical prevention for Ben’s body. Therefore, readers may realize that Ben felt isolated in China because of his poor Chinese and the Chinese environment, which he could not get used to because of his long term exile. In addition, when I asked him where he considers  home, he answered that it is only one place, America, where he spends most of his time; then, when I asked him why did he not consider China his home, his homeland, he answered: “I am not familiar with China.” Reading this conversation, readers can understand that, maybe because of the experience of being isolated in China, Ben does not consider China his home even he was born there  and comes from there, whereas he considers that America is his true home, in which he implies no isolation. Also, in America, Ben cannot feel any isolation because of the free environment here. Therefore, when I asked him: “If you had a chance that can choose to come here or stay in China, what you would choose?”, he answered: “I would choose America because it is so diverse and interesting here. If I had stayed in China, I would never have gotten exposed to the world outside of China. Also, I think it is safer in America.” Therefore, readers can understand that Ben very enjoys his exile and feels no isolation in the America, which is totally opposite of Said.

     Moreover, because of the feelings of being isolated, which are caused by their exiles, Ben and Said have two opposite perspectives on the concept of true home; Ben considers that America is his home, where he has spent most of his time and feels safe, while Said considered nowhere was home except the Arab world, where he was born and grew up. In Chapter XI, in which he illustrates his first experience of visiting the America, of Out of Place, Said states, “I could have left them over at school but neurotically and categorically refused to go anywhere without all my belongs” (237). Reading this statement, readers can understand that, because of the feeling of being isolated, Said did not have a secure place outside the Arab world that he would consider as home to leave “them”—his belongs. Because he was an exile, Said felt out of place and insecure almost everywhere; therefore, in “Reflection on Exile,” Said states, “Exile is never the state of being satisfied, placid, or secure” (148), which perfectly explains his controversial perspective on isolation, which is opposite to Ben’s perspective.

     In contrast, Ben’s concept of home is more widely acceptable than Said’s, because he believes his true home is where he spends most of his time. When I asked him how he defines the concept of home after he said that the America is his one and only home, he answered, “Home has to be a place where I feel I belong, a place where I can feel safe. It is a place where I know I won’t be judged by what I do or how I feel. It is a place where I want to stay forever.” In this statement, Ben clearly defines that the main factors of his concept of home are belonging and safety. As an expatriate, Ben very much enjoys his life in the United States, because he does not feel any isolation but feels very safe; that is why he considers the United States is his true home and wants to stay there forever. Another factor that makes him feel safe and not isolated may be the language. Ben came to the United States when he was very young, so English became his primary language; therefore, in the United States, he can fluently communicate with various kinds of people without any language barrier. Unlike his isolated feeling in China, in the United States, he does not feel isolation caused by language barrier. To sum up, because Ben is an expatriate, a form of exile, and Said was an exile, they experienced isolation in different places; Ben experienced isolation in his homeland, China, while Said experienced isolation almost everywhere outside of his homeland, the Arab world. Therefore, they have two almost totally opposite perspectives on the concept of true home; Ben considers his true home is the United States, a foreign land of Ben, where he feels belonging and safety, while Said conversely claimed one’s true home should be the place where a person was born.

     Finally, even though Ben and Said are two different forms of exile, they both face the same depression from managing their multicultural backgrounds. Nowadays, because of the process of globalization, multicultural backgrounds seem to a benefit of a person, but, sometimes, it may cause someone’s depression, especially when the person needs to snub one culture to keep others. Said was an Arab-born American, who grew up in the Arab world but received education in English environments, so he had a strong background of Arab and American culture. However, during his exile to the United States, he felt depression over his fading Arab cultural background. Therefore, in Chapter XI of Out of Place, in which he illustrates his experience of studying in the United States Said writes, “My years in the United States were slowly weaning me away of form Cairo habits — of thought, behavior, speech and relationship” (273). In this statement, Said implies that he is depressed about his Arab culture fading away, because he uses the word wean, which is a synonym of prevent. Said’s exile allowed him to reach the American culture more, but, at the same time, his Arab culture was fading because he rarely reached it, which he loved; therefore, Said felt depression like Ben.

     Similarly, Ben feels depression about his losing his Chinese cultural context, which is caused by his poor Chinese, a result of his exile. Even though Ben can totally understand Cantonese, he cannot use Cantonese to precisely express his ideas, which causes hardship communicating with his parents. When I asked him what difficulty he has when he manages his bilingual background, he answered:

“When I talk to my parents, I have to speak in Chinese, it is getting more difficult, because as I living here as an America, I am here, emm….to let my Chinese, like slip away, because I haven’t used very much. And since I away speck in English, I have difficulty having words to talk to my parents. So it is been hard, I mean it is hard to me communicate to them. I want to talk them, but it is hard to me, because I can’t come with the words because I speak in English.”

In this statement, Ben distinctly illustrates that his bilingual background causes him trouble, because it is hard to communicate with his parents in Cantonese, who do not know English. Also, readers can understand that Ben’s ability of speaking Chinese is fading away because he does not frequently use Chinese in his daily life, which is a result of his exile. Another trouble that Ben faces over his bilingual background is the relationship with his parents, because his parents cannot speak English and Ben does not precisely express his ideas in Cantonese. Therefore, Ben’s bilingual background does not benefit him but causes him trouble. Similar to Said, who also felt depress about his multicultural backgrounds, Ben feels depressed about his bilingual background because he is losing his Chinese language, which causes his difficulty in communicating with his parents.

     In conclusion, even though, similarly to Said, Ben is an expatriate, a form of exile, and faces the depression of managing his multicultural backgrounds, Ben’s identity, which unites his Chinese and American parts, is homeostatic and he feels safe in his alien land, America, which he considers his one and only true home. However, even though Said had a disharmonious identity and only considered his true home the Arab world, where he was born, Ben has a homeostatic identity and believes that the true home of him is America, a foreign country for him, where he feels safe. In fact, exile is an influential experience, because it will change a person’s social context, which affects his identity, and will causes someone’s feeling of being isolated, which affects his concept of true home. Therefore, Ben and Said’s cases are two researchable cases that can be used to study how exile affects people.

Works Cited

Li, Ben. Presonal interview. 21 Mar. 2013.

Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. New York: Arcade, 2012. n.d. 2. PDF. Web. 20 May. 2013.

Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Vintage, 2000. 90-273. Print.

—. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002. n.d. 144. PDF. Web. 20 May. 2013

Transcript

Ben Li is one of my classmates in Biology 9 course. He and I also came from Taishan, Guandong, China, so he can understand me when I speak in Taishanese, which he showed to me at the first day me meet. Moreover, we are also in psychology major. We seem to have lots in common. To figure out how his exile affects his identity is the main point of this interview.

A= Xu Chen B = Ben Li

A: Could you introduce yourself?

B: My name is Ben…. I am a Chinese, and I came to American when I was 8 around 2000.

My habits are video games and building plastic model robots.

A: Do you still consider that you are a Chinese?

B: Yes, I am Chinese.

A: But, why? Because when you came here, you were very young, you probably did not know you were a Chinese or an America. I mean you didn’t know the differences, right?

B: Yes, well. When I first came here, I didn’t know the differences. Also, it’s surprise that there were lots people they aren’t Chinese, they did not look like me.

A: so, have you gone back to China?

B: Yes, I gone back twice.

A: How do you think about that?

B: It was ok. I mean…. it was very…. it was very good… feeling for me. because I get to see where I came from when I as an adult.

A: Tell me a little bit of your experience of back to China.

B: When I went back to China, I get to meet a lot of friends and family that I only saw when I was only 8 years old. And, it was funny because when I talked, I always used my hands, and they thought it was very silly. And, they would like, tease me about that. And, actually, it was funny. When I first time went go to China, I ate the food and my body did not handle it very well. I had diarrhea. After that, my body readjust it, I did not have diarrhea anymore. But the food in China is tastier than the one in America, may because they add more spicy and flavors to it. But in America, the food has more nutrition, that is why I am taller than all of my family in China. I am the tallest person in my family in China. It was just a very good experience just seen my family that I hasn’t talked to 10 years. It was a very moment in my life.

A: What do you think the difference between Chinese life and American life?

B: One thing was my cousin, he goes to school in China, and he lives in school and they need to wear uniforms. They were very very very boring. They were in one color, maybe two colors, but mostly blue or something. And they need to live inside the dorm. The dorm looks very boring too. Just…

A: Just male or female…

B: Just male or female, it looks very un-America.

A: How about the normal life?

B: The normal life, I guess would be the same thing. I know that they go to Karaoke a lot.

A: But not here, uh?

B: Yes, not here. They party harder than me do.

A: Do you have any memory of you early childhood? I mean before you came here.

B: eee…. Yes, a little bit.

A: Tell me about that.

B: Yes, I was always with my family. I was always with my cousin and all the other kids around my age here.

A:How do you feel that?

B: emmm…. I would…. feel…. I was happy I guess.

(We were laughing)

B: I was happy because I was a kid, so I didn’t have to worry.

A: It was great! Were there any difference between here and China?

B: It was hotter in China. I came here, it was pretty cold.

A: How about the live?

B: The live wasn’t much change. I was a kid. It was easy to me to learn English.

A: Did your parents ask you to change any life style when you came here?

B: Not really, I just needed to learn English. That was the biggest concern. They also wanted me to learn Chinese, but it did not go very well.

A: What language will you use when you talk to your parents?

B: Chinese.

A: Cantonese?

B: No, Taiwanese.

A: Taishan?

B: Oh, Taishanese!

A: Do your parents speak English?

B: My parents speak a little bit English, but not too much.

A: Do you parents force you to learn English very hard or just keep you in Chinese?

B: They did not force me to learn English. I’m kind of packing up because I went to school here. They wanted me to learn Chinese, but I did not pack it up very well.

A: As I know some Chinese immigrants’ kids are forced to go to Chinese (language) school as an after-school event, so have you taken it?

B: I used to take Chinese school on Sundays, every Sunday, but I did not continue taking it, because I wasn’t packing up very well.

A: So you don’t like it, right?

B: Yes, I don’t like it.

A: Well, why you do not like? I mean you are Chinese, you suppose need to know Chinese, right?

B: well, since I came to America, I try taking English. I mean when you try to learn one language, it is kind of harder to a different one while you are trying learn one. It is hard to learn two language at the same time.

A: Do you have any pressure when you are growing up? I mean about you identity.

B: No, it’s pretty straightforward. My teachers are pretty straightforward about race and genders and everything like that.

A: Tell me a little bit about your schooling.

B: It was very special. There were a lot of people different from me, you know, like black people, white people, and Philippine people, Mexico people. There were a lot of people. Well, I’m also learning in English and stay in America; I became more America than Chinese. We still celebrate the Chinese New Year, and pray to our gods. I was turned to more America than Chinese. I get the feeling. You know that. I am turning more America.

A: In your introduction, you introduce you as a Chinese, so you think you are a Chinese but not an America?

B: In exterior, I physically I am a Chinese, I am very proud of my heritage have been Chinese. It is pretty special, and I am still a Chinese, my parents are Chinese. My still keep Chinese traditions, like Chinese New Year. I still consider myself a Chinese.

A: But you said you tend to an America more than to Chinese, dose two identities have any conflict?

B: Not real. I tend to separate American form Chinese. When I go home, I basically a Chinese person, but when I go to school anywhere, when I outside, I speak English. And I don’t have a lot of Chinese friends. NO, all of my Chinese friend here, mostly them speak English, only a little bit speak Chinese, So I get to speak more English than Chinese.

A: Do you have any difficulty when you switch the identities?

B:At home?

A: At home or outside.

B: When I talk to my parents, I have to speak in Chinese, it is getting more difficult, because as I living here as an America, I am here, emm….to let my Chinese, like slip away, because I haven’t used very much. And since I away speck in English, I have difficulty having words to talk to my parents. So it is been hard, I mean it is hard to me communicate to them. I want to talk them, but it is hard to me, because I can’t come with the words because I speak in English.

A: Do you feel any guilty about that?

B: Yes, I do. Because when they told me to learn Chinese, I actually, I tried but I could not, so, I cannot talk to them now.

A: Where would you consider as home?

B: emmmmmm…. I would be… America, because I spend the most time here.

A: So, just one home? Just one place?

B: Yes. I am not familiar with China. I just went back twice. I’m still not able to go back along without my cousins or my parents to help me to read the signs.

A: So basically you don’t know how to read Chinese.

B: Yes, I can read some simple letters, but my place’s name and directions, I do not know.

A: What kind of music you learn mostly?

B: When I first came here, I tried to learn English music. It was ok, but eventually, I thought it was very boring, so I switched to Chinese music. Because English music is always about love and love, it got me boring. And Chinese music is more interesting, more interesting for me, because it is a language, I almost forget so I learn to it, I might some of it. And actually, it is very nice to learn to.

A: You still learn Chinese music?

B: Yes, but it is hard to look for them, because I don’t know how to read about Chinese.

A: Who is your favorite singer in Chinese?

B: Jay Chow.

A: Oh, Jay Chow. He is good. Do you like Kung fu and Kung fu movies?

B: Yes, I still watch them. My favorite actor is Stephen Chow. He makes Hollywood movies.

A: You like Chinese movies more or America movies?

B: I am kind of in between. I think I watch Hollywood movies more. Now, I tend to Hollywood movies. My favorite movie would be the pirates of the Caribbean, the series. I like those adventure movies more.

A: Thank you Ben.

Below are some follow-up questions that we discussed through emails.

A: Before you came to here, what did you know about the America?

B:I knew nothing about America. I did not even know I was in a different country until I learned about it in school. I was around 7 years old then, so I was not too aware of my surroundings.

A: How about after you arrived here, was the perspective different from yours?

B:It was. In China, I lived in a village where I could run around the neighborhood and everybody knew each other. I could just walk out of my house and play with any child I wanted to. In America, I am confined to my own house and barely get to play with other kids. That wasn’t a bad thing though.

A: Do you like here, at first?

B: I think I liked it here. It looked much fancier than my village in China. I got a better TV to watch cartoons. I wouldn’t say I disliked it here.

A: Why do you say your cousin’s life in China is boring? Is it because it looks very different from yours in here?

B: It was mostly because of his school’s lifestyle. He had to stay in school dormitories and had only Sunday as a holiday from school. It does look a lot different from America, but it is mostly due to the fact that we live in a poorer place.

A: Tell me in here, what make you feel funnier than in China?

B: There are fewer restrictions in America. For example, the internet isn’t censored in America. America is also more diverse. There are not just Chinese people walking around. I get to learn more things other than the Chinese culture.

A: Tell me your experience of learning Chinese; because you can fluently speak Cantonese. I mean how and where you learn it.

B: I learned Chinese before coming to America but I gradually lost most of the memory. My mother made me go to Chinese school on Sundays but that didn’t work too well. I took Mandarin in high school and it was ok. Now, I think my Cantonese is also gradually fading away because I don’t use it often.

A: You say that you consider the America as a home, how do you define the concept of HOME?

B: Home as to be a place where I feel I belong, a place where I can feel safe. It is a place where I know I won’t be judged by what I do or how I feel. It is a place where I want to stay forever.

A: If you had a chance that can choose to come here or stay in China, what would you choose?

B: I would choose America because it is so diverse and interesting here. If I had stayed in China, I would never have gotten exposed to the world outside of China. Also, I think it is safer in America.

From Guangzhou to San Francisco

From Guangzhou to San Francisco

by Yongshan Su, May 19th, 2013

 buudha

How have exile and immigration affected Jan’s identity?  The United States is an immigrant country. People have come here to build their new home from all over the world and enjoy the new life in the United States. As we all know, Chinese immigration to America began 200 hundred years ago, and Chinese immigration is the earliest Asian immigration to America. These Chinese immigrants were cheap labor for the United States. They came for the Gold Rush in California and helped build the first transcontinental railway. They also became an important part of plantation labor, mining and field work. So, they played great roles in the development of America and its economy. In China, many people have their “American Dream.” Because of the American Dream, everyone is eager for a better and happier life in the United States.

Jan is Chinese and also has an “American dream.” She is my uncle’s sister. She was born in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangzhou, and is almost seventy-three years old now. She has five children. She came to the United States in 1981, and has lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown for almost thirty-two years. As we all know, the United States is the richest country in the world, and the United States’ economy, education and technology are the best in the world. Therefore, it made Jan really want to come to America. She believed that everyone in America can get jobs and can also earn a lot of money. Moreover, as people know, in the early 1970s, China started to carry out the one-child policy by enforcing the ordinance that each couple must only have one child. Therefore, a woman who has another child, no matter what reasons she has, must be forced to have an abortion. This is not just a piece of news for Jan because it really happened in her family. Her husband’s family is a typical and traditional family that grew up in the countryside. They believe that only a son can inherit her husband’s property. If Jan’s husband doesn’t have a son, he will be laughed at by other countrymen. Therefore, even though Jan had three baby girls in her family, her husband was eager for a son. When Jan was pregnant again, in order to escape the fate having an abortion, she left her older daughters and her husband temporarily, and began to move from one place to another place until she gave birth to a son for her husband. Because of the cruel policy, Jan and her husband decided to leave their native country—China.

Before Jan’s family came to the United States, she thought that everything would be better in the United States. When they arrived, they imagined everything was perfect, but the reality was just the opposite. But, through Jan and her husband’s struggle for more than ten years in the United States, they earned a better life with their family in America. They have their own houses and cars. Even though she has lived in the United States for a long time, she still considers China her true home and her roots. She is a traditional and superstitious Chinese woman. Chinese culture has a great impact on her life, so her personality resembles the “dragon lady,” which means she always wants to control her family. Since she came to the United States, she has always had many challenges with the language, cultural differences, and racism in her life experience in the United States.

Language is the first problem to impact Jan’s life in the United States. She speaks Chinese as her native language. After she came to America, English became another important language in her life. For example, she worked in a gift store during the day time, which is located in Fishermen Wharf, which is very diverse, so she needed to use English to communicate with others. So, she spent her nights studying in non-credit English classes from the lowest level at City College of San Francisco’s Chinatown Campus. Nevertheless, Jan’s limited English caused problems. She said, “I feel bad. Even though I studied English in the college, I am only able to speak a little English. Therefore, I can’t get the job.” After that, Jan said: “it is not easy to survive in a foreign country as immigrants.” She found out that, without good English skills, her opportunities were limited. Studying a second language is difficult for her. It is a process in which she begins to accept a second language with less dependence on their native language. But she has to learn English, because it is more than a tool to help her fit into the life in America. “Mother Tongue,” written by Amy Tan, who is one of the most famous Chinese American writers, says: “my mother has long realized the limitations of her English as well. When I was fifteen, she used to have me call people on the phone to pretend I was her.”  In Tan’s mother’s case, she is a perfect example of someone whose limited English limited her life. However, Tan’s mother still can live here because she has a daughter who speaks perfect English to help her. Tan’s mother and Jan are in the same situation; they are changing, but also keeping their culture at the same time. It is not just about people speaking different languages, but also about relationships with parents, with our cultural background and heritage. Jan also mentions, “my native language is very important for me. It is our souls. Ignoring it is like killing our souls. I love my native language forever.”

Our native language plays an important role in our lives. It is not only because we use it in all of our lives, but it is also related to our own identities. People who give up their native countries’ nationalities and go to be other countries’ citizens just change their lifestyles. On the other hand, if they give up their native languages, they will throw their souls away. Though Jan understands that she has to study English hard, she acknowledges Chinese as her essential language. When she talks in Chinese to other people in front of English speakers, she never feels uncomfortable. She said, “I can express my ideas well through Chinese. I don’t want people to think that I pretend to speak English well. What I do is try my best to learn it.” When I asked her if she will stop speaking Chinese to live more comfortable in America, she answered me firmly: “I won’t stop speaking my native language because it is a part of my life.”

Cultural difference is another issue impacting Jan’s life in the United States. Jan is a very enthusiastic person. Whenever people ask Jan a question, she will answer their questions without reservation. People from China do not regard it as intruding into personal affairs when they ask others their name, ages, marital statuses, wages, personal life, belief and political opinions. Jan said: “In China, people don’t mind asking a person how old is he or she; how much he or she earns per month.” This is a sign of a friendly expression; it means she or he wants to be a true friends. When she asked people who are born in here, they will think she has violated their right to privacy and will think she is so strange! It is still difficult to change her habit of asking people private questions, because it’s not a big problem in China.

When she arrived in the United States, she felt so lonely! She didn’t know anybody—even the person who lived next to her room (she lived in the Chinatown neighborhood). All the renters closed their doors, and didn’t communicate with each other. It made Jan feel uncomfortable and strange, because it represents cultural conflict. In China, people know each other very well if they live around each other. When the neighbors make some good food, they will share it with other neighbors. Jan considers that different races of people have their various cultures, social patterns, values of survival, and even attitudes toward others. Therefore, besides the way of seeing ourselves, it is very important to probe into people’s attitudes toward others because every individual needs others to survive.

Moreover, Jan has lived in the United States for a long time, but she never wants to change her religious faith. Jan also has a nickname, which is “dragon lady.” It means a person who is powerful and wants to control her family. When Jan’s granddaughter dated a white man, she was vehemently against it. She told her granddaughter to break up with the white man. And her granddaughter felt so sad for a long time. But the relatives didn’t tell Jan that her granddaughter and her boyfriend were secretly dating. As another example, Jan’s younger son, Mark, has decided to marry a Chinese girl this summer: June or July. Because Mark thought that all our cousins would not be in school, they could have a good time celebrating at his wedding party. But, because of Jan, the plan was ruined. Jan asked the relative who live in China to see the fortuneteller to help Mark choose a good day for the wedding party. The fortuneteller told Jan that October is the good month for them to get married. We are so upset with this. Also, Jan is part of the old generation who always like to ask the fortunetellers for some predictions for the newborn babies according to their birth day. This way, they will know whether the babies will be rich, lucky, and successful or not. Unfortunately, Jan did the same thing when her grandchildren were born. Seriously, her grandson, Jason told me that it was predicted that he would have a hard future. He understands that this “prediction” is just a superstition. He doesn’t need to worry about that. However, it has already in his mind so that it has always made him feel unhappy for long time. We can see how deeply she is affected by Chinese culture.

Jan said: “people in my hometown are mostly disciples of Buddhism. They believe that the world is divided into three parts. The upper part is celestial and ruled by the immortal. Human beings who are in the middle, on the land, and the lower part is for ghosts. In my memory, nearly every family builds a set of “furniture” in their houses. It is a place for making offerings to their ancestors and the ghosts. They set two desks that are painted in red against the wall in a room. One is bigger because it is used to put the statue of a Kwan- yin, who is a goddess of mercy in the legend of Buddhism. The smaller desk is next to the big one, where people put their ancestors’ spirit tablets. Above two desks, there are two red papers stuck on the wall. On the red papers, they have several talismans. Two containers are put separately on the desks for incense. When the traditional festivals such as the Tomb Sweeping Festival and Moon Festival come, people usually offer some fruits, steamed stuffed breads, and a whole cooked chicken on the desks. At this moment, they light the incense. This is how she believes in Buddhism. However, sometimes we see some Christian missionaries on the streets, who will tell to people something about Christianity, and ask you to become a Christian. When Jan hears that, she always says that: “I believe in a god which is Buddhism.” We can see how deeply she is affected by Chinese culture. She said: “as a Chinese, I have the responsibility to carry forward the essence of Chinese culture whenever I am in the world.” She also believes Chinese culture will get more attention in the world. She really feels the power of her culture. She will never abandon her native country’s culture. In “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie shows the readers his cultural themes: literature, migration experience, policies, and his views of religion. He is an expatriate in Britain. However, he considers only India his homeland despite the fact that he has lived in England for a long time. In his memory, his  homeland is a fragmentation, which is a discontinuity. This partial memory plays an important role in his fiction. In his opinion, owning different cultures, languages, and histories is helpful for people in doing their work. Through Jan and Rushdie’s ideas, they believe that it is important for people to protect their own culture heritages.

One of the big problems in Jan’s life in the United States is racism. As we all know, America is an immigrant country. Lots of different kinds of people come here to find new opportunities. However, she has faced many racism problems in jobs during her life. Because of Jan’s poor English, she always gets fired from her jobs. Therefore, she cannot find a good job. People who speak perfect English don’t know the immigrants’ sorrow. A few years ago, Jan’s friend introduced a job to her which was taking care of elderly people in the hospital. Then, her friend asked her to make an appointment to get fingerprints. When she called the office in the San Francisco Unified District, the receptionist answered her with perfect English. At the beginning, the receptionist felt good because she knew that Jan wanted to make an appointment for fingerprints. But, after the receptionist asked Jan several questions, Jan felt confused and nervous because she didn’t understand what the receptionist had said. At that moment, the receptionist seemed impatient. After saying with Jan some words, the receptionist hung up the phone. Jan was so angry. She felt consumed by fire. Then, Jan called the receptionist again. Luckily, the receptionist asked her co-worker, whose name is Angel, to talk with Jan. Angel was also Chinese, so they could communicate very well. When Angel told Jan that the receptionist had said Jan didn’t know English, Jan felt like her whole world was shattered. It made her feel ashamed. In “Mother Tongue,” Tan states:

“I was ashamed of [my mother’s] English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect. And I had plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.”

When I read Tan’s article, I felt sad and angry about what her mother suffers, because Jan, Tan’s mother, and I have the same situation in our lives. Racial discrimination is another problem for Jan. After Jan got this job, she took care of an elderly white woman. When Jan said “hello” to the elderly white woman, she ignored her. Then Jan helped the elderly white woman change her clothes; the elderly woman pushed Jan really rudely, and said: “I don’t want an easterner to take care of me.” Jan also remembered that, when she came to the United States and worked in a restaurant, the boss told her that she had to use an English name because it is easy for the customers to remember her name.” However, because Jan needed the job, she changed to an English name for work. But she though she felt that she had lost her identity as Chinese. These were the terrible experiences for Jan, who said: “many Americans are treated unfairly by other people in a different manner because of their race or skin color, or the way they speak.” These are not the only examples in her life here, but whenever she experiences these problems, it is hard for Jan to recover. Jan mentioned: “promoting multiple cultures is good for people to combat with racism and make our society more accepting.” As we all know, racism can be a serious social problem if we can’t deal with it well. In the article “Whose Chicano History Did You Learn?” written by Elizabeth Sutherland Martínez, she states that: “the real solution, however, is to de-imagine the United States as a nation and then rei-magine it as a ‘world’: a community of communities relating on the basis of mutual respect and integrity.” We should think “honestly about the past which can shine the light of freedom on a new kind of future.” Jan and I are sure multiple cultures can bring us a new future.

To summarize, in the migration experience people lose their homelands, languages, and cultures. Jan never thought about the identity before her came to the U.S.; she meets the problem of cultural transplantation. But, Jan still tries to keep her own languages, identity and culture. Jan never forgets China is her roots. She is really proud of her native identity. She still insists that she is Chinese. She also mentions: “when I am dead, I want my body to be buried in my hometown.” As we can see, she really loves her own country which is China. Therefore, she never hesitates to say said: “I am Chinese, because I am an immigrant who grew up in China.” Hundreds of thousands of immigrants try theirs best to establish their identities and let others to consider their differences. It is not just a tool to protect their identities, but it is also their roots, which are closely connected, to the next generations. People have to respect others’ opinions because we cannot force others to choose the race and the identities we want them to be. However, each group has its own values, which encourage all of us to strengthen our spirits, so let’s try to respect and understand different races and identities.

Work Cited

Tan, Amy. Mother Tongue. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989. Print.

Salman, Rushdie. Imaginary Homelands. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.

Elizabeth, Sutherland Martínez. De Colores Means All of Us: Whose Chicano History 

Did You Learn? South End Press, 1998. 161. Print.

Interview Notes

04/28/13

Interviewee: Jan

Location of Interview: Jan’s Home

Country of Origin: China

Today, I am going to interview my uncle’s sister who English’s name calls Jan. She was born in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangzhou. She is almost seventy-three years old now. She has five children. She came to the United State since 1981. She has lived in San Francisco in Chinatown almost thirty-two years.

Stared Interview:

Q: Why do you move to the United State?

A: Everyone has their own “America Dream”. Many people said that: “the United States is a rich country, they don’t have  homeless, their economy and technology are the best in the world. Many people can get a job in the U.S. It can make a lot of money. People can have a better life in there. So, I have a “America Dream”. I really want my children to have a better life and education in the United State. In China, my husband and I had to work hard everyday. If our hands stop working, our mouths had to stop.  We went to work around 6am, then we came home, almost about 8pm. We worked for many hours, but we still could not support our children very well. In that time, life in China is really hard. Everyday after work, I needed to went to fields to picked up or planted the vegetables. When my children after school, they also had to help us to pick up the vegetables on the fields. Vegetable is the most important food in our meals. We only ate meat in Chinese New Year, because meat is really expensive. We could not affordable. Because of the poor family, when my children grew bodies, they didn’t have enough nutrition. I felt so sorry to them. In the old China, the government didn’t care about the education, therefore, my children could not get the good education. I want my children get more education, because education is the best way to improve the life of poverty. So, there is the reason I move to the United State.  And  that’s  the other big reason for me to leave China. As people know, China have enforced on the ordinance that each couple must only have one child. Therefore, the women who have another child, no matter what reasons they have, must be forced to do the abortion. This is not just a piece of news for me because it is a reality happened in my family. This ordinance began to be enforced. On the other hand, it was unfortunately in my family. My husband’s family is a typical and traditional family who grew up in the countryside. They believes that only son can inherit my husband. If my husband doesn’t have a son, he will be laughed at by other countrymen. Therefore, even though I had three baby girls in our family, he was eager for a son. When I was pregnant again, in order to escape the fate of being aborted, I left my three older daughters and my husband temporarily, and began to move from one place to another place until I gave birth to a “son” for my husband. We had to leave our native country.  So, we decided to emigrate to the United States.

Q: Do you miss you home country?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Do you usually visit to China?

A: I usually go back to China visit my relatives and friends. I used to hand out with them to travel other cities in China. But now, I am getting old, I could not flight a long time on the airplane.

Q: How do you consider your homeland?

A: I was born in a small, lovely, and beautiful town of Guangzhou, China. People who live there are friendly and simple. In addition, they are enthusiastic about helping with each other. Even though my hometown is small, my family is quite big because my great grand father has four sons and three daughters, and my grandpa has six children. Therefore, when I was young, I had many cousins who shared a happy childhood with me. Therefore, I consider only China is my homeland despite that he leaved here for a long time. China is my rooted.

Q: How do you think about learning English?

A: Oh~~, Speaking English is difficult for me. My speaking of English still not so good. It was hard for me to understand such a completely different language from Chinese. In 1981, I have been to the U.S. with my family. English becomes an important and challenge-able part in m y life.  But I have to learned English, because is just a tool to help me fit into the life in America, but my native language is very important for me. It is our souls. Ignoring it is like killing our souls. I love my native language- Chinese.

Q: Did you come into this country without speaking the English language but your native language? What are the problems? And how did you feel?

A: Yes, I had this experience. I feel bad. Even though I studied English in the college in the United State, I am only able to speak a little English. Therefore, I can’t get a good job. However, I depended on Chinese a lot.

Q: Did you ever feel uncomfortable speaking your native language in front of other English speakers? When you learned to speak English fluently, did you begin to stop speaking your native language?

A: “I never feel uncomfortable”. She described that in her life, she was not able to express her ideas with English. When this situation happened, she would try to talk with other people who knew Chinese for help. She didn’t think it was an impolite behavior. Moreover, it made her feel good to speak her native language no matter when she was in front of the English speakers or not. “I don’t want people to think that I pretend to speak English well. What I do is try my best to learn English. And I won’t stop speaking my native language because it is a part of my life”.

Q: Have  your life habits change a lot since you lived in the United State?

A: No, I haven’t. My personality is don’t like to have too much change. Therefore, I am still a traditional Chinese woman. All my grandchildren consider that I am a “dragon lady” and the “superstition lady”. Hahaha~~~

Q: Why do they call you “dragon lady” and “superstition lady?”

A: “Dragon lady”: my grandchild think that I am the person who really like to control others lives. When my older grandson had a girlfriend who is white, I really don’t like her. Because I can not accept have a grandson-in-law who is white. I told my grandson broken up with that girl. But he didn’t listen to me, so it really made me unhappy for long time. “Superstition lady”:As we all know that, in China, the old generations always like to ask the fortunetellers some predictions for the newborn babies according to their birth day. By this way, they can know whether the babies will be rich, lucky, and successful or not.  I also did the same thing as others when my grandchildren or grand grand children were born. They could not understand why I do that. Therefore, my grandchildren always said I am really a superstitious.

Q: What is your religion?

A: I believed in Buddhism.

Q: Why do you believe Buddhism?

A: When I was a girl, all my family  believe in Buddhism, so, it make me believe it too. I think many Chinese families, they all are believe in Buddhism. Different races of people have their various cultures, social patterns, values of survival, and even attitudes toward others.

Q: What language do you think that grandchildren should learn first, their parents’ native language or English?

A: I think that it has no order to learn which language first. The  grandchildren can absorb many skills at one time, and this is their advantage to learn more language. I think this is a process to learn different kinks of languages.

Q:  Do you have any stress about living in the Unite State?

A: Of course. I have a lot of stress about living here. I worked for sewing twelve for years. I didn’t have any good education and any professional skills, so I had to work for hard jobs, uhhh~~~such as washing dishes, sewing, taking the elderly person or taking care of the baby. I do three jobs in each day. I wanted to make more money to support my family. I also sent some money back to China to my parents and my husband’s family. So, it gave me a lot of stress, I was really tried in that time. But I have to insist, I wanted to have a better and nice life in the Unite State. Also, making U.S. Dollar better than making RMB.

Q: Do you want to move back in China?

A: Uhhh~~when I was young, I really wanted to go back to my native country, because I my relatives all in China, but now, I think I won’t, because all my children and grandchildren in here, I don’t want to separate with them. But when I die, I want my body went back to China, because that’s my root, my homeland.

Tan’s Oral History: Perspective

Tan’s Oral History: Perspective

by Ziyang Yu, May 20th, 2013

                                  TaiShan

History is important to us because people learn from history, and can avoid making the same mistakes again and again. Everyone has a unique personal history, which makes every person possess an interesting and special life. Personal oral history can let people know one deeply, which creates better relationships between people. After people share their personal narratives, they may feel happier because someone listens to them, and cares about them. My Interviewee, Jing’e Tan, who is my grandmother, is a Chinese immigrant. She came from Taishan City, Canton province, China, and has been in the United States since 1996. She was born in 1944 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which meant she was born into chaos. Her oldest son appealed for her to come here because they wanted a family reunion and a better life in America. After her arrival in the U.S., she has taken care of her grandchildren, and worked as a housekeeper. She did a great interview with me at my home. Before I interviewed her, I didn’t know a lot of her stories. When I was about six years old, my grandmother immigrated to the U.S., and I was living in China. Therefore, my grandmother didn’t exist in my childhood, and I felt strange about losing her. However, after I interviewed her, I have come to know her life much better. I started to interview her out of curiosity, and the interview ended up fostering a very deep feeling of understanding about her life.

Tan’s family felt depressed and worried about the Japanese all the time during the Second Sino-Japanese War. China was very weak from the end of the Qing dynasty through establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and China was labeled “The Sick Man of East Asia.” Therefore, a lot of countries invaded China, and wanted to segment China’s lands, antiques, and riches. Japan was the biggest enemy for China to fight at that time. Qinna Shen, who is a professor at Miami University, wrote a piece entitled “Revisiting the Wound of a Nation: The ‘Good Nazi’ John Rabe and the Nanking Massacre,” which is about how the “good Nazi” and the Japanese hurt China from 1931 to 1945, and how are people trying to heal this awful wound today. The author states, “over 300,000 Chinese were murdered by the Imperial Japanese Army…more than 200,000 Chinese were massacred and approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred in Nanking during the six weeks after the city fell.” This is a shocking number of the Chinese people who died from the ruthless Japanese murders. All Chinese civilians felt afraid of the Japanese and worried about their safety because of their cold-blooded actions. Tan says:

“My mom told me that she was so scared of the Japanese because someone told her           that a  villager killed a Japanese soldier and then the Japanese destroyed a town, which was near Taishan City. She heard that the Japanese killed everyone they saw, raped women, and burned down the houses. My mom felt depressed all the time during the war because she didn’t know when the Japanese would attack Taishan City.”

The whole country was in an unstable situation, and Tan’s family had anxiety during that period. Every day the family lived under this depression, and every moment the whole family needed to get ready to escape from the Japanese. Also, Tan felt sorry about what her mother had done to her brother; she says:

“When the Japanese arrived in Taishan, my mom was so afraid because my mom had four   kids and pregnancy at that time. My older brother was only a few months old, and he cried all the time. Therefore, my mom was worried that the whole family would be caught due to his load noise crying. She decided to discard of him to safe our family during the exile. She put down him on a thick growth of grass, and ran away. She cried as her ran, but after a few minutes, she ran back to pick up him.”

This event tells me that her family was very frightened about getting caught by the Japanese. All mothers want to stay with her children, and take care of them. However, Tan’s mother lived in this chaotic situation, so she had to save the whole family, which meant she had to abandon her newborn child. Her family seemed to live in the abyss of misery, which created her family’s hopeless perspective and search for safety.

Tan’s family experienced conflict and desired a stable source of food during the war. Most of the young people in China haven’t experienced a war, and cannot imagine how horrible a war is. People want a good life, in which they have good jobs, healthy bodies, and happy families. When people live through a war, they never experience what a pleasant life looks like, and the only thing concerning them is survival. The indispensable factor for survival is food. Food is very valuable, and even money can’t always buy a piece of food. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Tan’s family had some experience with the lack of food. Tan says:

“At that time, all people were starvelings in China because the country didn’t have  enough food for anyone. If you wanted food, you had to cultivate or you went to a mountain to forage for it. My family couldn’t go out ploughing and sowing because we were afraid of the Japanese. We just kept hiding in a mountain. There was no market selling food as today. Especially, my family has five siblings, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that we couldn’t eat rice every day; sometime we ate potato; sometime we ate wild fruit during the war.”

Food seems like luxury in a war. Even though people find some food, they punish themselves for eating the food because they want to store it for the future. Her family needed food for the children, but were afraid go out to do cultivation because they worried about getting caught by the Japanese, which made her family have a conflicted perspective. If they wanted safety, they needed to hide in the mountains, where they didn’t have the chance finding or cultivating food. On the other hand, if they went out cultivating, they might get killed by the Japanese. In their minds, they had conflicted perspectives between food and safety. Moreover, Nuha Al-Radi was an Iraqi diarist, ceramist and painter. She experienced the Gulf War in her homeland, which is Baghdad, Iraq. She wrote a book called Baghdad Diaries, which in basically about what she saw and what Iraqis did during the war. In the section, “Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso,” Al-Radi describes herself and Iraqi civilians looking for food and safer places to live. She says, “Only we would escape from a war carrying freezers full of goodies. Iraqis have been hoarders for centuries. It’s a national habit. Since one never knows when anything will be available on the market, one buys when one sees, and in great quantities” (14). Al-Radi is a lucky person during the war for she has food to eat. Iraqis usually store a lot food at home because they live in a precarious situation. She notes that storing food is “a national habit.” This habit accompanies her during her exile during the war, and she must store food all the time and carry it from one place to other place. Tan’s family and Al-Radi both lacked of food during the wars. Unlike Al-Radi, Tan’s family was first experiencing war, so they hadn’t store any food before the war. When the Japanese attacked in their city, they just ate what they had, and picked wild fruit to eat in the mountain. Tan’s family had more desperate perspective on food than Al-Radi.

Tan’s has had a disconnected perspective in the U.S., and her expectations haven’t come true. Most American immigrants have their expectations about what they will get in the U.S. People have a lot of reasons for migration. Some people want a higher education, so they become international students and study abroad. Some people pursue a better living; therefore, they immigrate to the developed countries. Tan wanted reunion, to stay with her family members, which was the significant reason for a woman in her sixties to come to America. She felt very happy that she could live with her oldest son’s family and took care of the grandchildren. During her first year living in the U.S., she felt bored, homesick, and disconnected from this country. She states:

“I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China. In the U.S., I just like a disabled person. I have legs, but I could not go to place I like because this country was brand new for me, also I have gotten lose for a few times. I have ears, but I could not understand what my grandchildren were talking to each other. I have eyes and month, but I could not communicate with Americans, and read my grandchildren’s homework. I felt very bad about this.”

Tan considered herself the disabled of the family, and her expectation didn’t come true. Her expectation was to have a better life with her family. She wanted to get into the U.S. She wanted to know what the grandchildren were talking about, and make a good connection with them. Also, she feels disconnected from the American community, which makes her create disconnected perspective in the U.S. Moreover, Out of Place is a memoir written by Edward W. Said, who was a Palestinian-American literary theorist. The memoir is about how Said was exiled from his own country, Palestine. After he left his country, he considered himself out of place at schools among his classmates and teachers, out of place in the culture, and out of place in terms of language. Therefore, he felt out of place all the time. Said says, “Because of Rule I we spoke more, rather than less, Arabic, as an act of defiance against what seemed then, and seems even more so now, an arbitrary, ludicrously gratuitous symbol of their power” (184). Said was bound by schools’ rules, but didn’t obey the language rules. He became a rebel by opposing these rules, and spoke more Arabic at the college. According to his exiled from the school’s language rules, he felt out of place in his native language. Tan’s felt a lost connection with her grandchildren and the American community, and Siad felt out of place in his native language at the school. They both have disconnected perspectives on their new places, which makes them feel lost all the time.

Tan’s perspective started changing from her comparisons between the U.S. and China. In the first few years of living in the U.S., she felt unhappy because what she expected didn’t match the reality here. However, after getting used to living here, she started changing her perspective. She compares the U.S. and China, and considers herself is a lucky person. She says:

“I receive better welfare in here than China, which can protect my health. American government offers different kinds of welfare to help low-income family. Even though my husband is not an American citizen, he still receives some benefit. I am receiving SSI and my husband is receiving food stamp. America is great in some ways because here no one die of hunger. If I had had stay in China, I wouldn’t have good live like today.”

She realized that, actually, she is living a great country, which provides her better health care than China, and the U.S. government offers her SSI. If she hadn’t move to the U.S., she believes that her quality of life would much worse than living in the U.S. Her comparison shows that her perspective has changed from “being the disabled” to having a good quality of life.

Tan considers that where her family is where her home is. “Home” is a very sensitive and emotional word. Everyone has different ideas and definitions about his or her home. Some people think the place where one comes from is a home, while some people think the place where one is living is considered a home. In Tan’s mind, wherever her family is where her home is. She says:

“Ten years ago, my home was China, but now I only consider United States is my home. To me, home must has family members, which include children, parents, and spouses, etc. My home in China is only an apartment for me, and it doesn’t worth anything. On the other hands, my five children, my seven grandchildren, and my husband all live in the United States, so my American home is much valuable for me.”

Ten years ago, her whole family was living in China, so China was her home. During her first few years living in the U.S, she felt homesick, and still considered China was her home. However, after all her family members moved to the U.S., she started to change her perspective of home. Family is very important for her, and Tan’s definition of home means being together with family members. Moreover, Isabelle Allende, who is a Chilean American, was forced to leave her country in 1973, and writes about it in a memoir called My Invented Country. The book is about her memories of Chile, written after she was exiled from her homeland because she was in a horrible situation under the Pinochet dictatorship. After she left Chile, she felt nostalgic about her homeland. Allende left Chile in 1975; her first time going back was in 1988. She thought Chile had undergone a big change and didn’t recognize her hometown, which was Santiago. After she visited Chile, on the return flight, when she saw the San Francisco Bay from air, she said, “Back home at last. It was the first time since I’d left Chile in 1975 that I felt I was ‘home’” (192). She considered, for the first time, San Francisco as her home. She is not clear about “home”; she always thinks the only home she has is Chile, but, after she revisited Chile, she developed a new idea about her home of Chile. She felt Chile had changed, and the buildings and the people there were all brand new for her. At first, Tan and Allende both thought that where they were born would always be their homes. However, after they got used to living in the U.S., their perspectives changed, and they started to consider the United States is their home. The places that they were born were not their homes anymore, and only exist in their memories. The United States is the only home in the real world of Tan and Allende’s lives.

In conclusion, the Second Sino-Japanese War gave Tan’s family the depressed perspective of survival, and Tan’s migration changed her perspective on home from being a homesick person to considering America her home. A lot of people consider where they are born their home. However, Tan thinks the place where she and her family are living together is her home. The home in China exists only in her memories of the past, and the home in the United States is her true home now, in which she can stay with her whole family. Everyone has a different perspective about his or her personal history, and everyone has a different perspective about home. Also, a person’s perspective may change someday, but personal history is unique and valuable.

Works Cited

Allende, Isabel, and Margaret Sayers. Peden. My Invented Country: A Memoir. New York: Perennial, 2004. Print.

Radi, Nuha. Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicle of War and Exile. New York: Vintage, 2003. Print.

Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Shen, Qinna. “Revisiting The Wound Of A Nation: The ‘Good Nazi’ John Rabe And The Nanking Massacre.” Seminar – A Journal Of Germanic Studies 47.5 (2011): 661-680. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 May 2013.

Transcript

30 April 2013

Interviewer: Ziyang Yu

Interviewee: Jin’e Tan (my grandmother)

1) Where are you from? I am from Taishan city, Canton province, China. How long have you been here? More than ten years. I haven’t counted exact years yet.  Did you migrate to different places in China before come to the U.S? No. I only stayed in Taishan, and I haven’t moved to other place beside Taishan. When were you born? I was born in 1944 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. I knew the Nanking Massacre, which the Japanese killed three hundred thousand Chinese in Nanking, but I haven’t known the Japanese attacked in Taishan. Did you remember anything during the war? Not really, the war was ended in 1945, and that year I only was one year old. However, my mom told me that she was so scared of the Japanese because someone told her that a villager killed a Japanese soldier and then the Japanese destroy a town where was near Taishan city. She heard that the Japanese killed everyone they see, raped women, and burn down the houses. My mom felt depressed all the time during the war because she didn’t know when the Japanese would attack in Taishan city. At that time, I just lived inside my mom’s abdomen. I hadn’t born yet. Did your mother tell you any terrible event that your family face during the war. Let’s me think. Yeah, my mom told me that when the Japanese arrived in Taishan, my mom was so afraid because my mom had four kids and pregnancy at that time. My older brother was only a few months old, and he cried all the time. Therefore, my mom was worried that the whole family would be caught due to his load noise crying. She decided to discard of him to safe our family during the exile. She put down him on a thick growth of grass, and ran away. She cried as her ran, but after a few minutes, she ran back to pick up him. We all escaped from the Japanese together, and no one left. She said we ran to the countryside of Taishan. We hid in a mountain until the Japanese left Taishan. We were so luck because we all survived, even though there was not enough food for us. And then we went back home. That’s what my mom told me about the Anti-Japanese War

2) How did you come here? By ship or airplane? Both. At first, my husband and I went to a pier by car, and it took about two hours. then we took a ship to go to Hong Kong pier. That took me so long. I still remember on that day has rough sea, and the ship couldn’t berth easily. The arrival time was three hours delay, and we spent about seven hours on the ship. I was worried about I might miss the airplane.  At that time, the public transportation was not as convenient as today. Also, I have seasickness, and I felt very bad on the ship. I felt embarrassing about the delay because my relatives were waiting in the pier for more than 4 hours. Finally, the ship was park, and they taught us to take a taxi from Hong Kong pier to Hong Kong International airport. Luckily, We got on the airplane on time, and I didn’t have airsickness. My oldest son and his wife picked us up from San Francisco International airport to his house.

3) Have you even moved to different parts in the U.S.? I have lived with my oldest son’s family in Chinatown Since I arrived in the U.S. What kind of job did you work in the U.S? I didn’t have time to work because needed to take care of my two young grandsons. One was eight months old, and another was two years old. I was very busy at that time. I needed sending and picking them up to school. At home, I did all kind of housework, such as cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. However, after the grandsons graduated from the elementary school, I had a little time to work. I worked part-time job to take care elder people, and did some house work for them. Have you experienced a special event in your work? I had an unforgettable event in the fist day of my work. At the first of working, my son drove my to work, but I needed to take a bus to go back home by myself. I got lost, and I couldn’t find the bus stop. I walked and walked for a half hour. I started felt nervous, and I was still seeking for the bus stop. I asked for help, and I said, “bus Chinatown” and “Chinatown bus.” I only knew these two words in English, which would help me back home. They replied me in English, and wave their hands. I guessed that they didn’t know what direction to take a bus to go to Chinatown either. It was getting dark and dark, and I felt more and more afraid. I kept walking, and I didn’t know my direction was correct or not. Suddenly, there were two huge dogs barked on me, my tear came out and I ran away. At that time, I felt very sad and helplessness. In my mind: “Is this what America look like?” So, how did you get home? Thank god. Finally, I found a Chinese high school student, and I asked him in Chinese. He said, “If you trust me, walk fallow me”. At that time I had to trust him because I didn’t have another choice.  We walked for a while, and we found the bus stop. He said to me that you waited for the number 1 bus right here to go to Chinatown, and he left. I appreciate this young guy helping my. Luckily, I got home about 9:30 p.m. My family was standing on a street waiting for me back home. They asked me, “You got off at 5 p.m. why do you come home so late?  Where did you go?” They asked me a lot of questions. I felt gaily and I said it softly “I got lost.” Did you continue working there after this experience? My family wanted me to quite working, but I found another job where is near my house. What was your second job? It is very near my house, and I only walked fifteen minutes to work. My family didn’t need to worry about I got lost again. My second job lasted for two years. After my second job, I haven’t worked any more. I have been taking care of my youngest daughter’s daughter.

4) Do you like to live in China or the United States? I think they both are same to me. I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China, but my oldest son’s wife said that your sons and daughters would come to America later. After years by years, all my five children arrived here, I got used to living in the U.S.  How do you feel living in the U.S. now? I receive better welfare in here than China, which can protect my health. American government offers different kinds of welfare to help low-income family. Even though my husband is not an American citizen, he still receives some benefit. I am receiving SSI and my husband is receiving food stamp. America is great in someway because here no one die of hunger. If I had had stay in China, I wouldn’t have good live like today.  Have you ever visit back to China? I didn’t have time and enough money. I needed to take care my grandchildren, and I work part-time job. So, you haven’t gone back to China? Only once, but I came back for my mother’s funeral. I stayed in Taishan for a month, but I was on the sorrowful mood during that time. I didn’t travel around Taishan, and mostly I just stayed at home to think back my mother. However, I met brother and some relatives, and I felt relieved that all my relatives were doing well in China. I never consider this retune was a vacation because of my mother. Which country do you consider as home for you? Ten years ago, my home was China, but now I only consider United States is my home. To me, Home must has family members, which include children, parents, and spouses, etc. My home in China is only an apartment for me, and it doesn’t worth any thing. On the other hands, my five children, my seven grandchildren, and my husband all live in the United States, so my American home is much valuable for me. Are you planning visit back to Taishan in someday? No, I only have one younger brother in China, and rests of my Family members are living in the U.S. Also, I am getting old, and I can’t take a thirteen hours fly to China, which can make me so sick. I will stay in the United States rest of my live with my family together.

Follow up questions:

1.Did you have enough food to eat during the war? At that time, all people were starvelings in China because the country didn’t have enough food for anyone. If you wanted food, you had to cultivate or you went to a mountain to forage for it. My family couldn’t go out ploughing and sowing because we were afraid of the Japanese. We just kept hiding in a mountain. There was no market selling food as today. Especially, my family has five siblings, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that we couldn’t eat rice every day; sometime we ate potato; sometime we ate wild fruit during the war.

2. How do you feel living in U.S. and are you feel happy living with your grandchildren? I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China. In the U.S., I just like a disabled person. I have legs, but I could not go to place I like because this country was brand new for me, also I have gotten lose for a few times. I have ears, but I could not understand what my grandchildren were talking to each other. I have eyes and month, but I could not communicate with Americans, and read my grandchildren’s homework. I felt very bad about this.