The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey


The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

by Anh Nguyen, December 201

There is a saying in Chinese that is roughly translated as “the fallen leaves find their ways to the root,” and which educates people to eventually stay true to their culture and origins. Charlene Yang, a Chinese immigrant in America, lives her life according to this saying. About twenty years ago, Yang moved to America with her parents, sister, and brother. Yang came from a poor province in Guangdong, where she vividly remembers the heat of summer. Like many people living in China at that time, Yang found it hard to acquire enough food and clothing. Yang was working while going to school with a salary of 80 cents a day. Her school not only allowed underage students to work, but also even provided work for students and permitted three days off a week to work in the fields. Seeing that her life could not get better if she had stayed in China, Yang decided to leave for America with her family when she was 23 years old. Her life was not easy when she first came here as she did not speak English, and everything was much more expensive than she had thought. Yang started to lean English by going to a night school while working in a clothing factory every day. When her family became more stable and more accustomed to the American life, she went to Macau to marry her husband, after which he also moved to America with her. Then, she became pregnant with her first daughter, and so their lives in the US began to be stable. Now Yang is blessed with a stable job in a hotel and a happy family with two daughters and a son.

Looking back at her decision to move to America, Yang thinks it was the best thing she could ever have done, to secure an easy and happy life for her children. Our interview takes place in Yang’s living room, which is full of Chinese ornaments and some small decorations with American flags. The background sound of her husband watching an American football game via Chinese telecast, and her children discussing things in both Chinese and English can still be heard through the recording. Yang speaks with a soft voice, and, sometimes, when the cheers of her family watching the game cuts her story off, she quietly stops talking to give a gentle and satisfied smile towards her family. When asked about her identity, Yang becomes confused because she thinks it has an obvious answer: she is Chinese. Although she cannot give any reason why, Yang insists that her family, which consists of three children who have never been to China, is a Chinese family through and through. After close examination, I realized that Yang is neither totally Chinese nor totally American, and is clinging to her Chinese origin as a coping mechanism in her American life. By blindly sticking to her Chinese culture, Yang is actually confused about her cultural identity as she tries to assimilate her origin, dream, and future to forcefully realize the American dream and make America her home, and it is only then that she realizes that she neither belongs to America nor China, which is actually a manifestation of the “underground” racism towards Asians in the United States.

Yang’s story is one of the few cases in which the American dream actually comes true, but she has not relied on sheer luck, but rather her enormous, effort to realize her dream. With a soft smile, Yang expresses how content she is with her life now. Yang is happy with her job with stable earnings and many employees’ benefits that she never had in China. Comparing her new life with her life in China, Yang is also happy when she thinks her children’s potential futures are much better than they would ever be if she had stayed in China. Yang came to American to seek a better life, and she found it. But Yang’s case is actually the odd happy case of realizing the American dreams among the poorer and unprepared immigrants in the US. Liso, an undocumented immigrant in the US, shared her view of the American dream through the book Underground America, which consists of many immigrants’ stories exposing the unthinkable hardship and abuses they have to face in America: “you find dollars lying in the grass, every leaf on the tree is a dollar” (80). However, when Liso moved to America, she realized that her life was worse off than it would had been, had she stayed in Africa, and that many Americans suffer great poverty, contrary to common belief in her country. Liso and Yang’s stories are so different that one might think they live in totally different countries or different times because Yang’s America is the land full of hopes and promises, while Liso’s is the complete opposite. Putting aside the fact that Liso was in a more complicated situation, both legally and mentally, one might think that Yang is genuinely lucky to have her life as it is now. Yang did not rely on luck, but rather her effort and attitude to make her dreams come true. When she first came to America, Yang had to adjust to the American culture, which was completely new and different to her. Because everything here was so expensive, Yang remembers she was so afraid of paying for anything that she spent two days walking nonstop to find a cheap place to stay. In addition, Yang left behind her friends to live in a country whose language she did not even speak. Therefore, Yang was also facing hardship when she moved to America. However, Yang did not let her dream slip away just because of those troubles. She tried her utmost to learn English and to save up money while keeping a positive attitude about her situation. Because she believed in herself and her accomplishments, she kept altering the hardship into challenges for her to change herself. Therefore, Yang realized her American dream by keeping a realistic view of the US and continuously challenges herself.

Yang identifies not only herself but also her children, who have never been to China, as Chinese, a behavior that is an example of one of four mainstream coping mechanisms of immigrants. Cultural identity of first and second-generation immigrants like Yang and her children is an interesting subject to study because they tend to be caught between two reasons to debate over their identity: adapting and deserting. In their study “Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand,” Mei Lin Eyou, Vivienne Adair, and Robyn Dixon classify second generation Chinese immigrants in New Zealand into four groups according to their attitudes towards China and New Zealand’s cultures. The study of over 400 adolescent Chinese immigrants shows that “162 (44.4%) of the participants were classified as integrated, 133 (36.4%) as separated, 20 (5.5%) as assimilated, and 50 (13.7%) as marginalized” (536). If, according to Yang’s first answer that she thinks of herself as Chinese, she falls in the 36.4% group of separated immigrants, who find themselves strongly connected to their original culture, although, after being questioned about her answer, she changes her answer to half American, half Chinese, which means she wants to appear more as an integrated immigrant, who mainly identifies herself with the mainstream cultural identity. Her lack of resolve suggests that Yang is probably confused about her cultural identity. Her confusion is the result of her struggle to live her American dream while holding onto her Chinese origin. As a result of her inner debate, she chooses to cling to her Chinese origin as a simple way to cope with her dream of living in America, the future of American life for her children, and her cultural origin.

 Although Yang tries the easy way out regarding her cultural identity, she is actually still in a much more complicated and lost situation as she tries to identify herself. Yang is actually neither integrated nor separated because her lifestyle is not similar to either the stereotypical American or Chinese. Consciously or not, Yang surrounds herself with Chinese people and avoids contact with Americans. In additions, she celebrates both American and Chinese holidays, which may make her seem like integrated immigrants who are equally affected by their original and new cultures. However, Yang acts according to the stereotypes of Americans more for the appearance of it than celebrating the actual reasons for the holidays. Thus, Yang is, indeed, trying to identify herself with both the Chinese and the American. In consequence, Yang is neither American nor Chinese, and the more she tries to act like either of these two, the more she does not belong to either of the two groups. Incidentally, Yang’s behavior clearly exemplifies the coping mechanism of a marginalized immigrant, who is alienated from both cultures. On the one hand, Yang acts like a Chinese person because she was educated to do so from childhood, so this lifestyle stays as a habit. On the other hand, Yang tries to be American because she is affected by the expectation of her family and friends about someone living in the US. Therefore, while trying to act according to different and contradicting expectations of her, Yang actually loses sight of who she is and who she wants to become. Thus, Yang’s final answer to the question about her cultural identity, which is simply “I don’t know,” greatly exemplifies her complex exile from both the cultures that she is trying to assimilate with.

Yang’s choice to stick with the Chinese culture is actually inevitable because it is a decision predetermined by American society. As explained earlier, as Yang is caught between the dilemma of blending in with the American lifestyle and retaining her Chinese upbringing, she has two choices of cultural identity, American and Chinese. However, in reality, Yang has no other choice but to stick to her Chinese roots, and to understand her forced choice, we have to understand the history of Chinese and Asian immigrants in the US. In The Wealth Inequality Reader, edited by Dollar & Sense United for a Fair Economy, Meizhu Lui assesses the racial wealth gap of American-born Asians and white Americans to find out that “American-born Asians have moved into professional positions, and the median income of Asians is now higher than that of whites. However, glass ceilings still persist…Asians are still defined by race and branded as perpetual foreigners” (50). This situation is true if we go back in history of Asian immigrants. Asians came to the United States at the same time as the Irish. However, when the early Naturalization Act of 1790 recognized the Irish as citizens, Asians were left behind in the race to be legally admitted. Then comes the Civil Rights Movement, and once again Asians are simply forgotten. Now, while there is less discrimination between the black and the white, at least by law, Asians are neither black nor white. In addition, laws were passed to alienate Asian immigrants like the Foreign Miners Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and Alien Land Act, so Asians have mostly existed quietly in secluded areas that Americans do not penetrate. In accordance, Yang represents just a small fraction of the Chinese society existing inside America, but as a dispensable external part. As a result, Yang has no other choice but to identify herself as Chinese and not American because it is the decision that society expects her to make due to her Asian race.

In other words, Yang’s choice to associate herself with Chinese people is the manifestation of the “implied racism” towards Asian Americans in the United States. Racism towards Asians is “implied” because it has never been historically and officially admitted. Asians were lucky to not be considered among the slave race, but were never among the rulers either. Even nowadays, many Asians in San Francisco solemnly live in Chinatown, Japan-town, or Korean-town. Society simply accepts the idea of naming some place Asian-town and Asian-market. Imagine saying black town! And even more confusing, if people are named because of their skin colors, shouldn’t they say yellow instead of Asians? Everything points out to the conclusion that racism towards Asians is “implied,” and it is so deeply rooted that it becomes natural and unquestioned. Living in a society that accepts and facilitates this kind of “implied racism,” Yang’ choice, once again, is the final outcome of most Asians living in the United States, and this will be the choice many more Asians immigrants will have to make if they want to live “harmoniously” here. The solution to this implied racism is even more complicated than racism towards black people because, while black-racism is openly recognized, Asian-racism is inexplicit. As a consequence, public movements are unlikely to solve Asian-racism. Educated Americans are proposing two ways to eliminate racism towards black people, which persist despite all the movements, that we either erase history or change the future. However, these methods will not provide any solution for racism towards Asians, as long as Asians themselves do not admit they are being discriminated against. So, the first step towards eliminating racism is recognizing it, but, again, this is the choice of Asians. Hopefully, Asian immigrants like Yang will no longer suffer from any kind of racism and have more control over their choices of identity.

Living in the culturally diverse United States, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese, despite living here for a longer portion of her life because she is confused by her dreams, expectation and origin, so she chooses to act Chinese out of sheer habit. However, Yang is neither Chinese nor American, so she is eventually exiled from both cultures and even loses sight of who she want to be. Yang’s situation shows the problem that many Asians immigrants, and immigrants in general, have to face. Immigrants are often caught in the dilemma of either changing their ideologies to adapt to the new culture or staying true to their former cultures. In any case, the decision will vary with the person’s personality, ability to adapt, and ability to understand him or herself. However, as an Asian immigrant in the United States, Yang has to suffer the implied racism that white immigrants do not have to face. And because Asian-racism is inexplicit, Yang is unconsciously, yet undoubtedly, influenced by it. Thus, the decision to cling to Chinese culture is not Yang’s choice but the result of the drives from society. In other words, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese is the usual behavior of a stereotyped Asian immigrant who society construct. Yang’s actual cultural identity is a wonderful mixture of the American free and exciting lifestyle and the reserved and refined Chinese doctrine. If only she could realize this, she would not be so lost and would be able to make peace with her dreams and her burden to carry on with the Chinese lifestyle.

Works Cited

Lui, Meizhu. The Wealth Inequality Reader. Dollar & Sense United for a Fair                       Economy. Oakland: Dollar & Sense, 2004. Print.

Eyou, Mei Lin, Adair Vivienne, and Dixon Robyn. Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. Auckland: Elsevier, 2000. Print.

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

Interview Transcript

Under the dimly light of Yang’s living room, we started our conversation. Far off to our right, Yan’s husband and children were watching an American soccer game in a Chinese news channel. The sound of the broadcast came out to be a chaos mixture of Cantonese and English; I was surprised to know how they could even make out what was going on. Yang offered me a glass of warm water with some lemon slice. We were sitting in the same sofa, so I moved to one far edge and urn to her, to give us some space, and mainly to look at her.

       Where were you born?

       I was born in China. I was 23 when I came here.

       Did you always want to come to the US?

       Yeah. I came here with my parents. They came here when I was 21. I was separated from them for 2 years.

Yang’s eyes seemed distanced as she thought of her parents. She turned from me to briefly look at her husband. As she fixed her eyes on the wooden coffer at the end of the room, which seemed to contain every little ornaments and mementos one could keep, I went on with my questions.

       Can you tell me about your first day in the US? Why did you decided to come here?

       I had always thought that everything was better here. Now China is better, but it is still better here. I heard that business is good now.

Yang turned to look at me directly when she said that, with sparkled eyes, and her hands trying to draw the cross line with China on the one side and American on the other.

       Can you tell me a little about your life in China?

       I lived in Guangdong. All I remember is that it was very hot there. We worked all day, and there was not enough food to eat.

Her eyes scrunched as she talked about her old life in China. It was as if she was trying to fresh some long forgotten memories.

       What did you do in China? What was your job?

       I mixed rice for one or two years. I was sixteen when I started working. It was when I was still studying. I worked 7 days a week. There was no holiday. It was so hot. I worked from 5am to 2pm every day. After working on the field, I went back to my house to take a shower, take a rest, and then went back to work again. I was paid 80 cents for one day. The work was not the same every day, and it was not hard work, only too long. Sometimes it took 10 hours a day, sometimes 12. Although we never stopped working, we were very poor.

Yang repeated the last sentences more than twice. She told her story in broken sentences. Sometimes she would stop and try to think of an English word for what she wanted to say. While struggling to express her at times. Yang was eager to tell her story. Yang could not remember the world “field,” so she drew it out in a piece of napkin for me. As we looked it up in the Internet, she commented on how Internet is “so good, so easy,” and how quick witted I was to think of using the online dictionary.

       How often do you contact with the people back in China?

       Not very often. My husband’s brother is in China. We talk on the phone sometimes, but not often. They say it is very good now. They make more money, and there is more food now. Everything has changed since I left, which was about 30 years ago.

       Can you tell me more about your school in China?

       I did not like school in China. If we did not do homework, they would punish us by hitting our hands. I was so scared of the teacher. The school’s system was not good in China then. The president’s policy was not good. We did not study at all. We did not go to school 4 days a week; students were supposed to work during those days. The school gave us work like cooking to feed the pigs.

We had to stopped and looked up the “pigs” word again. Yang apologized for her limited use of English, and made up for it by using body language and hand gestures. She held out one hand and hit it with the other when she told me about her being hit in school. Yang did not use the word “president,” she use a Chinese word for it. I didn’t know how the word looked like and how to put it in English character. But one thing for sure, I knew it meant “President” in Chinese because I had always heard my Chinese friends using that word. What a wonder that even my Chinese friends, who were influenced in English, still used the Chinese word when they talked about their Leader.

       Do you want to go back to China some day?

       No, I like it here. I only go back to China for vacation.

       Can you tell me a bit about your journey to the US?

       I spent 3 days coming here. I came here with my brother and younger sister. We walked for 2 days. We did not take the bus to save money. Everything was so expensive here. My parents, my brother, and I worked for a textile company. I worked there for about a while, and then I worked for an electronic company for 9 years. Now I am working for a hotel. The pay is good, and they offer employees’ benefits there, so I like my job now. My mom worked in a restaurant. The money was good, but it was hard job. We wanted to save money to buy a house. We Chinese like to have a house. We do not like moving or renting houses. If you borrow money to buy a house, after 20 years, you have that house. But if you rent your place, even after 20 years, 30 years, you still do not have any place.

It took Yang more than 20 minutes to talk about her life when she first came to the US. Yang puzzled when I asked where she first worked as she did not understand the word “company.” After a while, she muttered some Chinese word and began to catch the meaning of my questions and continued on.

       How did you meet your husband?

I pointed to her husband, who was sitting with her children 3 feet from us watching TV. They broke out some cry; maybe the game had reached its climax. The only light in the room was glittering above their head, where the TV stand was. Yang turned to her husband, and her face brightened.

       I had known him in China before I came here. He is a good man. One year after I came here, I went back to Macau to marry him, and then we came here. Now you cannot do that any longer.

       Why did you decide to come here?

       I was thinking for the future. Everything was better here. Now I have my family and my children here with me. We are very lucky to be living here.

       Do you miss China?

       A little bit. I only miss my friends. I do not like anything else in China. Now in China, the food is not good because there are lots of chemical in the food. It is not like that here. I do not have to worry about food here. The government here has policies to protect people. US’s government is better. The salary is better in China now. Government job’s pays about 5000 to 6000 thousands Chinese dollars. Although you can make more money in China, you cannot spend your money however you want to.

       How did you find life in the US?

       I did not speak English when I came here. I had to learn from A B C. I worked in the morning and went to school at night. Every day, I went to school from 6 to 8:30pm. It was very hard. After my husband came here, I had my daughter, so I stopped going to school. I learnt English by listening to the radio.

Then Yang told me again about her life in China: how she had worked all day long with below minimum pay, and how unfriendly the weather had been.

       Do you think of yourself as Chinese or American?

       I am Chinese, of course. I am still Chinese. I say “we Chinese” all the time.

Yang laughed out when I asked if she was Chinese or American, as if it had been some silly question with obvious answer. But when I turned the question around and asked what type of passport she used, to which the answer was American passport, she cached on my intention. Yang adverted her eyes and shaked her head, muttering to her self: “But I am Chinese.” As I pestered her what made she think so, Yang smiled gently.

       What about you then? Are you Vietnamese or American?

I was surprised that she asked me that, but nevertheless, I affirmed her.

       I am Vietnamese of course. I was born in Vietnam, raised in Vietnam, and I have a Vietnamese passport. I came to the US for less than a year. How can I be American?

       But what if you were me? What would you say?

       Then maybe half and half.

Her eyes glittered.

       Ok, half and half then. I am half American, half Chinese. But I am Chinese.

Realizing I could not get more than this answer, I changed the subject.

       What about your children? Do you raise them according to the Chinese tradition?

       They are Chinese.

       But they are born here, and they never lived in Chinese, they are still Chinese?

       They are Chinese. Their father, mother, grandparents are Chinese, and so they are Chinese. I tell them they are Chinese. Sometimes I think about China. I was born there, so I am Chinese. Although I like it here better, and I do not plan to go back to China ever, I am still Chinese.

       Do they speak Cantonese?

       I tried to teach my daughter. I even sent her to Chinese school, but she did not like it. She said “Mommy, I don’t want to learn Chinese. It is too hard.”

Yang laughed heartily looking at her daughter at the other end of the room. Her children were talking to each other in fluent English.

– What do you think of the one child policy in China?

– It must have been long time ago. Now, the government allows you to have a choice. If the first child is a girl, you can have another try to have a boy. But now everything is expensive, so people only want to have one child. So many people have abortion to have one boy only.

Then Yang went on to talk about how lucky she was to live in San Francisco. Our conversation died off as the clock stroked 10pm. Yang got up to prepare for her job the next day at the hotel before she went to bed.






Finally Found Home

Finally Found Home

by Ruben Guzman, October, 2013

For many people, “exile” is a word that is hard to define because each person interprets the meaning differently. For the last essay of the semester, I decided to interview Karina, a student at C.C.S.F., because she has lived in various countries; in addition, I feel that she has experienced the “exile” we have been closely examining in class. During Karina’s upbringing, exile meant constantly moving and being an outcast in every environment she has lived in, which caused her identity and concept of homeland to be stunted. Because of the way she looks, people automatically give her an identity, such as Russian, Ukrainian, American, or Canadian, but for Karina, it isn’t easy for her to define herself. Having lived in Kiev, Montreal, and San Francisco, and having experienced isolation, have caused Karina to have difficulty forming an identity and a concept of home.
After her parent’s separation, at the age of one, Karina and her mom moved from Norilsk, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine, where they stayed with relatives. Living in Ukraine would be the first time Karina would experience identity confusion. During the nineties, Ukraine was still part of the U.S.S.R, which was a union of Eastern European countries during the majority of the twentieth century. During Karina’s childhood, she witnessed the collapses of the Soviet Union. When Ukraine separated from the U.S.S.R, there was a change in government, from communism to capitalism, which created a chaotic environment in Kiev because there wasn’t any established order. This period in her life caused Karina to start challenging her identity because she was living in a time when Ukraine was forming a new national identity, and she didn’t know whether to identify with being Russian or Ukrainian. On one hand, Karina starting identifying with being Russian because that’s where she was born and her mom would reinforce this notion. On the other hand, Karina identified with being Ukrainian because she spent her early childhood there and hadn’t lived in Russia for a long time. In other words, at a young age, Karina struggled with identity because she was torn between her mom identifying her as Russian and living in Ukraine at an early age. This confusion of identity led her to be an outsider at school, where her schoolmates would identify her as Russian, while the Russian kids would identify her as Ukrainian.
Karina’s struggle with identity can be compared to an article written by the scholar Elena Dubinets, titled “Music In Exile: Russian Emigre Composers and The Search For National Identity.” In the article, Dubinets writes about three Russian composers who struggle with identity after fleeing Russia, after the 1917 Russian Revolution. What Karina and these composers share in common is that they were both in a country that was going through huge economic and cultural change. In one part of the article, Dubinets is explaining how these Russian melodists were labeled as “Russian composers” in their new homelands despite having spent the majority of their life abroad, instead of Russia, and at the same time, other Russian composers, from Russia, rejected their claim as Russian because they didn’t compose their music in Russia. Dubinets writes, “These émigré composer are still regarded, without exception, As ‘ Russian composers’, even though most have tried to become assimilated into musical and cultural life of their new countries.” In other words, what Dubinets is saying is no matter how hard these composers try to acclimatize in their new homelands, the people around them are still labeling them as Russian, simply because they are foreigners, while simultaneously being spurned by other Russians. Karina experienced a similar situation in Ukraine, where she had a hard time choosing to identify with what her mother wanted her to be, and trying to be Ukrainian at the same time. This article helps solidify the fact that Karina, along with these composers, dealt with the burden of trying to acculturate in their new homelands only to find that assimilating is a difficult task that carries heavy emotional wear.

Due to economic instability, and cultural change, Karina and her mom moved from Ukraine to Montreal, Canada, when she was twelve years old. At first, Karina was really excited for the opportunity to have a fresh start, because she didn’t feel like she fit in well in Ukraine. However, In Montreal, Karina experienced exile on another level.  Unlike in Ukraine, Karina wasn’t able to fit in as easily; as a matter of fact, it was more difficult for her to acculturate because of strong Russian facial features and accent. For the first couple of years, Karina loved Montreal for its natural beauty and diversity, but at the same time despised it because of substandard living conditions, along with feeling like an outcast in a new country and being detach from her family in Ukraine. At first, Karina had a difficult time making friends in Montreal because she barley knew how to speak French, along with the hostility towards her by other young women of her age, which made her create a false idea of “home” in Ukraine. The first year in Montreal made Karina miss Ukraine dearly, which caused her nostalgia to cover up the unpleasant memories of Ukraine and make them disappear. Moving to Montreal resulted in Karina facing loneliness because she was living in a new country and didn’t know anybody, which makes it hard for a pre-teen to cope with this form of exile.

Although Karina experienced identity crisis and exile in both Ukraine and Montreal, something positive came out of these situations: these hardships have enabled Karina to develop strong character traits, such as thick skin and a great outlook on life, which make her the ambitious woman she is today.  The scholar Anamaria Falaus argues that exile can be a positive experience. In her article titled  “Identity Metamorphoses In Codruscu’s Exilic Memoir,” Falaus argues that the Romanian-born American poet actually benefited from exile by channeling his energy into his art that made him famous. In her conclusion Falaus states, “Identity is not what never changes, but, on the contrary, it is what allows one to constantly change without giving up who one is.”  In other words, this quote is expressing that identity isn’t what constantly changes; rather, it’s the circumstances that change and not the individual. This applies to Karina in a manner that reveals her character as a strong individual who can thrive in any environment, no matter how difficult the challenge is.
Similar to Palestinian scholar Edward Said, Karina has to deal with the burden of having to explain her identity to people whenever the question arises. In the case of Said, he states, “I have retained this unsettled sense of many identities-mostly in conflict with each other-all my life, together with an acute memory of the despairing feeling that I wish we could have been all Arab, or all European, or all Orthodox Christian.” Karina said something similar along the lines of, “when you immigrate you lose your home… Because when I go to Russia or Ukraine people say, ‘Oh it’s that American girl.’  When I come here they’re all like, ‘Oh it’s the Russian Girl.’ When I go to Canada, it’s like, ‘Oh it’s the American girl who happens to be Russian.’” On a follow up interview, I ask Karina if it would had been simpler to just have one identity, and she responded, “Defiantly. If I had a choice, I would love to be all American, or all Russian. It just makes life simpler, but at the same time I don’t take any of my experiences back.” Said, like Karina, had to struggle with identifying a “home”; however, at the end of the interview, Karina has a better sense of what home means to her. For example, Karina states, “home…my personal home…it’s where ever I feel comfortable…so, its my house with my husband right now.”  What this means is that, throughout all her struggles, home is within her, and later when I asked her,” “So, would you consider The United States your home?” she quickly replied,” Absolutely, as of right now, my home is San Francisco.”

Having lived in different countries forced Karina, at an early age, to experience isolation, which delayed her ability to form a strong identity. Karina has always been categorized as an outsider everywhere she has gone, which has caused her to constantly challenge her identity. However, through those challenging moments, she eventually overcame those hard times and metamorphosed herself into the strong person that she is today. Although Karina frequently had to face isolation from the societies she had to live in, the process made her an independent person who has a strong sense of self. Like Said, she has come to terms that she will forever be an outsider, which she’s okay with. For a child, moving from one place to another can be difficult in that one always starts fresh. Isolation comes with moving to a new region, and without a great outlook the experience can seem like a nightmare.

Me: Where you born?
Karina: I was born in Russia, city called Norilsk…it’s a small town north and mmmm the majority of people that live there work in mines and is related to mines…yeah

Me: Having that said, were your father or any of your relatives were in the mining industry?

Karina: mmm my dad was actually going down to mines to mines to look for uuhhh nickkl?nickll? its… metal

me: nickle
Karina: Yeah exactly he was actually the mines and his mother, she worked in some type of management, and I’m not sure exactly what she was doing, but she wasn’t going into mines. She was just working for the company.

Me: Ok annnnd so you said you were born in Russia, when did you leave there?

Karina: Well, I lived there only for one year, my mom went there pregnant to give birth to me there… I don’t know the particular reason, she never really explained it to me and when I was about one year old she brought me back to Ukraine where she lived, and where she was born. My father is actually Ukrainian as well. but he had to move to Russia, to the.. Norilsk city umm because he had to look for work and it was really hard to find work during eighties and nineties.. so yea.. so that’s why he move to Russia.

Me: And what do you remember about the Ukraine? and what city was it in?

Karina: well, um I was living there in the capital city called Kiev…umm. I remember relatively a lot… I don’t know where to even start…umm. yeah when I was… When I left there I finish 6th grade there so still in middle school according to US…well elementary I wasn’t sure.. I don’t even know what to answer (thinking to herself) I remember a lot of things …. you know… What in Particular?

Me: MMMM like the environment.

Karina: The Environment was really chaotic because it was during the nineties and Russia, Ukraine and all the countries were still part of USSR where umm.. Really chaotic because I mean we had the communist and we had to transfer to another economic system.. a lot of rich people get richer and the poor people didn’t know what to do so we had a lot of criminals around that time and nineties would say is probably the hardest time know to people for the last hundred years.. its was really hard. Maybe world war one or world war two were a more challenging. to transfer from communism to capitalism.. so I remember the chaotic , the gangsters everywhere on the streets.. I remember that it’s not as organized as now. because now is like the government is responsible for the stores and stuff… where you can open the stores or not ,before it was the gangsters that took care of that, the mafia, and basically you had to pay high, really high taxes to do anything you wanted..

Me: And, Alright you said it was chaotic but when you where growing up did it seem normal?

Karina: It was still scary yes, it was normal when I was living there.. I realized that it’s not normal when I moved to Canada, but it was still scary cuz you knew who the bad guys where and you had to be more careful even when you do certain things for example when some people go to the market you had to be more careful than… I don’t know my mom would just be all like… would be saying you should be extra careful.. you know so you could still feel that it was chaotic because our parent knew times that were a little bit badder even though maybe you didn’t have as much food, as  much products and stuff like that but you still had more…It was safer exactly.

Me: And How long you live in the…. When did you immigrate from Ukraine to Canada?

Karina: Ukraine to Canada… In Ukraine I lived ten years I moved there when I was twelve, ummm I moved to Canada when I was twelve to Montreal directly it was illegal immigration that my mom was able to start in Ukraine with my stepdad and so we were well prepare to move to Canada, when we moved there we already had an apartment umm my mom spoke a little bit of French… just enough to buy bread and the basic necessities… My father struggled more…defiantly and yeah….
I moved there when I was twelve 2002.

Me: And the reason was economical?

Karina: mum My mom never fit well in Russia… She is a very strong woman… She is all about her career. And that does not work well in Russia anymore. During Soviet Union Actually had more equality between women and man then there is now. Now women depend on guys. If you want to do well in that country you need to marry somebody or you need to date somebody rich and my mom was never like that she always wanted to be independent sooo and she wanted the same for me she didn’t want me to depend on some other random person that I never knew. And that’s why she wanted to move to Canada.. Yeah it was really for the independence of women.

Me: So let me sum this up your mom moved because economically it was better in Canada and on top of that she didn’t like culturally where Ukraine was headed because it got to the point where it was kinda of becoming uhhhh a macho society

Karina: Yeah

Me: where the man was in charge and the woman was dependent and your mom didn’t want that for you.

Karina: Exactly! yeah cause she lived through it… she dated some guys, not purely for money, but she know how it feels… eeeee I don’t know I think that now she that she lives in Canada that she fits better there with her mentality than in Russia because even till this day In Russia woman are more oppressed than guys are… Guys have a lot more opportunities

Me:  And Do you remember the move from Ukraine to Canada?
Karina: Well yeah. ha. It actually took a while because ummmm.. My mom kept on saying we gonna move in two months and in two months and two months and it took around a year and I was telling all my friends ” oh yeah I’m moving to Canada and I was always making my date change…you know because of my mom, she kept telling me different dates I don’t know the reason in particular, and at some point my friends my friends didn’t believe that I was going to move to Canada and I finally did…It was…you know I didn’t realize that I was moving forever until maybe year that I lived in Canada, so after a year I lived in Canada I was like “oohhh this for real” haha but the move itself I wasn’t realizing at what point it’s going to be challenging probably.
Me: Were you angry, did you not wanna leave Kiev? Were you excited?

Karina: I was really really excited because when I was a Kid I didn’t fit in very well into my school so for me it was a new change, but I didn’t’ realize that this change would bring me other stuff. for example I didn’t have as a much close connection with my grandmother that raised me.. She actually was  the person that was raising me, so leaving her was actually really hard. It’s defiantly not an easy thing..immigration.. and probably the hardest thing was immigration…leaving everybody behind… It’s not even the things… the things can be replaced but the people, all the memories.. giving all that up was really hard.

Me: Ok so you were ambivalent, meaning you were two sided.. On one side your excited because you didn’t fit well and on the other you couldn’t replicate those replications that you had… With your grandmother, with your family..

Karina: Exactly. so it was fifty-fifty. I mean I was a child.. I was twelve years old I wasn’t realizing how serious it was to move to another country I was still too little to understand that.

Me: So I’m gonna backtrack a little bit to Ukraine… How is the freedom there? Do people even have it? or how was it…..

Karina: No, I would say no and ummmm I recently went to website…it was called Freedom house… It’s ummmm a US Organization that rates how other people live in different  countries and then they assess if the country is free or not. And they say that Ukraine is partially free while russia is not free and I disagree with that because I think Urkaine is more limited than Russia..ummmm we have orange revolution for one of the presidents it was around 2004 and that didn’t work It was basically a fight for a president that we wanted to elect…we had hope but what happened? we elected him and then he had no power so basically even when we express our..ummmm wants by votes it still doesn’t go through… the press is defiantly limited… there is defiantly… how can you call that? ummmm the government lets what it wants go through the press, you cannot say whatever you want it’s not basically free press

Me: So there’s no freedom of speech or freedom of press.

Karina: Well freedom of speech you know it’s different in the United States people don’t don’t understand the value of freedom of speech until someone decides to fight for it people try to fight for freedom of press which doesn’t exists and actually when I was still living there there was one journalist super famous, he tried to announce all the problems with the Ukraine but the problem was that he was killed like months after that. and just recently they found him, like who killed him? Ultimately they said it was some criminals but for reals it was the president…Everybody assumed it was the President during that time cause they were controlling the freedom of speech uuhhh freedom of press.

Me: Okay moving forward.. what was your first impression of Canada when you went there like… It was Montreal and take me through the experience: the surroundings, the sights, the schools, the culture.

Karina: Okay… So when I arrived there it was great, it was bad weather so that actually didn’t help… The architecture is a little bit different the buildings are painted sometimes brighter especially more expensive neighborhoods so when I arrived in Montreal it was bad weather and all the buildings were already the grey tones so I had an impression that he city was so sad and umm the first person that I saw in Montreal it was a Hasidic Jew, so he had special dreads, he had the hair especially made like waves uummm that’s when I realized it’s a different world… because I never seen hasidic Jew’s in my country and then I seen some African Americans and as a kid I was actually excited by those changes umm. so that was my first impression I thought the city was super great and depressive sad but I like that… The culture was a lot more diversified..  because as a child your more attracted that. like your interested… I don’t know.

Me: Okay so it sounded like you really embraced mov…. ummmmm arriving there because
Karine: I embraced some parts, some of it

me: okay
Karina: It was weird because it was a culture shock you know because it was completely different society so there’s some good things and there’s some bad things and ummmmmm one of my favorite things was…I don’t know if this will help you… Was the dollar-rama It’s like one dollar store and you would go buy anything you want and when your a kid your like “oh my god I’m rich” I can buy whatever I want… Small things like that made me happy but you know I was still sad by my move because I wasn’t able to see whatever I saw in the past ten years. The last ten years wasn’t there

Me: So Economically you guys lived a lot better in Canada than Ukraine?

Karina: Actually no it was the other way around ummmm so when we moved to Canada my mom decided to go back to school.. to the university.. and umm I was helping her, I was helping her clean apartments and the money we received sometimes she would give it to me, other times she would take everything then it depended on whatever on what our family needed because it was only me and my mom… I had to work for it too and it was actually a lot harder… we lived in a studio for seven years… me and my mom.. which I find super hard… when your sixteen you want to have some privacy and basically I had to give up all my privacy just to be in another country and I think that played a role in why I didn’t want to say in Montreal because I always associated Montreal with a studio apartment… And I always struggled financially with my mom because we were on welfare and she was studying it was hard time but I knew that there was a reason why she was doing it and I knew that one day it would be better for us… so I was willing to give up maybe 5, 7 years of my life for a better future….yeah but financially it was defiantly a better situation in Ukraine…It was only temporary

Me: So when you came to Canada at the age of twelve… that’s kinda a difficult age because your transitioning from a kid to an adult and for me middle school was really hard growing up because the kids were just…. I myself moved from one part of San Diego from another and economically it was different and I was around the same age so  having that said it must of been hard growing up and going to school as a pre-teen essentially

Karina:  Yeah defiantly when I was going to school in the Ukraine I went to a private which was an expensive school and I knew that my status better than majority of the people in my city you know but then in montreal it was… there was no middle school.. they only have elementary and high school and it was defiantly different  I can feel the difference ummmmm I didn’t have a good experience in high school because the first high school i was sent to it was aahhhh really ghetto that was there they sent the immigrants you know which is I understand perfectly because they have a special class it’s called… you know to help you learn french…

Me: Like ESL?

Karina: Yeah! ESL basically ESL classes in high school are only in ghetto where immigrants live… Usually they can’t afford to live in a good neighborhood so it was really funny because i was living in a good neighborhood in a small apartment but was going to ghetto school in my first school actually nobody accepted me and I was rejected and it was weird but then I change another school where they had….it was really mixed they had everybody and I think it was actually great because it was a lot more mixed and people were not like ” I’m black so I wont talk to you” or ” I’m white so I wont talk to you” so my other school was a lot better.

Me: Ok

Karina: Ummmm yeah, so my first school I struggled and the second school I think it was easier because I was able to find other people who were in the same situation and actually me best friend that I met there is actually from equator and she moved around the same time that I did and so we had something in common and we could understand each other you know and I think having her and other people like me it was easier to even adapt because we learn new stuff and were sharing with each other how to adapt better in that society.

Me: That must of been nice… Personally I can appreciate.. you know growing up meeting someone who was in a similar situation.

Karina: Yeah, I mean I actually thought that it brought me and my best friend closer because sometimes were misunderstood… I huh.. Its so hard trying to explain it… your still a little bit different you know your not… you have the accents in all and you lived in different countries and had different experiences you know  so ummmm having my best friend understanding me what I go through that actually helps bring us closer.

Me: So during the first school you went to… when you felt exiled… did you ever find yourself missing Ukraine? were you thinking like “Oh Man” “Why did we move here?” ” I wish I was back home”?

Karina: Oh yeah defiantly I did but ummmm as soon as I able to find friends in the other school those waves of thoughts changed it right alway, then I saws the light at the end of the tunnel, then I was like “okay there is a purpose why I was here” ” It’s going to be better and better” and it became, every year it became easier and better and better and then at some point it became better than living in the Ukraine, but the first year I was defiantly thinking ” Why am I here?” ” Why did I move here, I wanna go back to the old ways” because I gave up everything that was there and I didn’t have anything… Plus even though I went through illegal immigration to Canada I couldn’t go to Ukraine for four years… So that was kinda hard.

Me: Okay so Canada ended up being a great experience… When did you come to the United States?

Karina: The first time I came here I was sixteen years old I went here to visit my mom’s friend, my mom ACTUALLY forced me to come here, It was Los Angeles in particular ummmm I didn’t want to go there because I was well adapted at that time in Canada, I had my friends, I was doing well in school and I was just perfect, I didn’t want to go, I wanted to spend the summer with my friends, and my mom was like “NO! Were going to go see my best friend in LA” We went to Los Angeles and we went to Las Vegas as well, so we visited two cities right away when I arrived here, it was for business, and then I came back every year for the next three years between Montreal and Los Angeles because I met my husband Ivan there and I started dating him, so three years I was back and forth between LA and Montreal.

Me: So you came here when you were twenty correct?

Karina: Yeah, to leave I was in my early twenties late nineteen.

Me: And your twenty-three now?

Karina: yeah

Me: So that was three years ago.

Karina: Yeah around that time.

Me: So you left Canada because you were really into Ivan?

Karina: That too, but I do not know why but I think it was something subconsciously maybe because it was my immigration and I had some bad association with Canada and I associate Canada with something hard, because the first years of immigration where defiantly not easy and since I moved there…since the first day I told my mom that I will never live there and that i’ll move one day, I would tell her all the time and that’s what happened, one day I was like I’m done with Canada, I called Ivan and told him that if he wanted to move to San Francisco with me together… I cannot explain the exact reason why I left Canada… Really I can’t… It’s a beautiful city but  it wasn’t for me I guess.

Me: Okay it sounded to me that… you were over Canada, you had your fun.

Karina: Yeah!

Me: And It was time to grow.

Karina: Yeah probably, and United States… I don’t know why, since day one, I came here, I felt like I fit better here than Canada, I felt here that it was my home, I actually found this immigration a lot easier than Canada… even thought Canada is beautiful country, United States just felt better for me.

Me: Alright, when you were living in Ukraine, you knew about the United States obviously, because they’re know throughout the whole world… What was your impression of the US when you lived in Ukraine versus when you arrived here.

Karina: Okay so because I was only twelve I wasn’t interested in politics by that time… I imagined United States as Jeans everywhere, Michael Jackson where, American bikes everywhere, and New York… Imagined every city in the United States looking like New York and that was my imagination of the United States.

Me: How about our freedoms? Cause United States prides itself on the best human rights.

Karina: You know… we had a cold war… Russia…well USSR versus United States so those freedoms were not talked about in Russia, we had no idea that in the United States your life was easier and equal… that’s what they told us… but we didn’t…we didn’t have any of those details…so I had no idea about freedom of speech… Actually I only realized that when I came here… I realized… I learned more about it… You know about the culture of the Untied States… But in Russia we had the idea that America was Hollywood, White teeth, Michael Jackson and Jeans. That’s how they see it even to this day when I go there I don’t talk politics to my friends because that’s what they don’t about about the United States…what…..They associate different stuff…urrhhh how can I say that….hahaha I don’t know how to say that… Basically they don’t think about freedom of speech… when they think about United States they think buying culture, buying….

Me: Materialistic

Karina: Yeah! Materialistic there you go.

ME: Okay so you really didn’t ummmmm have too much of an exile coming from Canada to the United States because you were with Ivan….

Karina: I thought Ivan helped me a lot…yes because he had more experience living here… so having that person already living here for ten years or more…it’s really helpful because in Canada I didn’t have that… I didn’t have a person that knew everything, I had to discover everything for myself and here I wouldn’t say Ivan did everything for me. For example when it came to school I did everything myself… Like enroll myself into the community college and figure out all the college I wanted to attend and information like that… It was up to me to find it… But the basic stuff like the first immigration papers, he help with that… so it was a lot easier.. here you are not scared of government… that is basically it… There you see government as gangsters that have power that are even more scarier than mafia on the street… that’s how I see it… Our president… Our current President was actually in jail for robbery he was allegedly… suspected for rape of a woman… gang rape… and he was actually caught for two other cases but they were cancelled or something like that….. basically  a bunch of criminals… even that going to vote means nothing there… for me I would never go vote there… here I think it’s a lot of.. here you can know about politics you have the opportunity.. it’s so available… And you can get your opinion heard, if you want you can go and vote, you can actually do even more than that, you can get people signing……

Me: Petitions

Karina: Yeah! right petitions, and you can talk to people and say ” hey you know my cause is that…so do you wanna participate in that”. It’s so much more easier to make a change in United States than in Russia… It’s not as corrupted… there government is corrupted.

Me: A lot of people like to complain about our government, saying ” Oh our government is corrupt”, ” the government just wants to take” and….

Karina: I mean… There is still something wrong… don’t get me wrong…. I still think that sometimes the United States government is too big… you know sometimes we have too many offices… like departments and stuff like that and sometimes it takes too much of our taxes… but i’m saying that it shouldn’t be that way cause maybe it’s better that way…you know… but you know that at least money….some money.. will go to people… there you know if it goes to the government than you will never see it.
So yeah thats basically the biggest difference I don’t see that United States government… I don’t see it as corrupted… even though many Americans believe so.

Me: Having all that said.. Do you have a concept of home?

Karina: Like home…my personal home…. It’s where ever I feel comfortable… So its my house with my husband..right now.. But home as a country, I am struggling with that… Sometimes it makes me sad that I don’t have a home because I moved so much around….uummmmm. But at the same time I’m grateful because that’s what made me who I am because I had so much experiences in different countries but at same time it’s defiantly a struggle… If I was born in the United States I wouldn’t move haha… You know I wouldn’t not go through Immigration If I… If I didn’t have too… Because when you immigrate you lose your home… Because when I go to Russia or Ukraine people say ” Oh it’s that American girl”  when I come here they’re all like ” Oh it’s the Russian Girl” When I go to Canada it’s like ” Oh it’s the American girl who happens to be Russian”

Me: hahahaha

Karina: So it’s like no one takes me like I am the same thing as they are… You know I’m always an outsider where ever I go so..

Me: And you feel that made you the person who you are… Because your a pretty strong woman..

Karina: Ahhh thank you… um well I mean it defiantly helped me out… I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because I am still grateful and I think United States so far is more of my home than any other country out there even though I was born in Russia I feel that my home is in San Francisco more than any other country..uuhhh place..

Me: Thats cool….Finally having going through all your moves… How has these moves affected your perception on Ukraine?

Karina: Um I think that I see that country as it has less opportunities that I thought of… When I was a child I thought that I was still able to get a job there… I saw some future there… But now I think that It has less opportunities than I saw… In reality there was a lot less opportunities… and I think that this country is going to go through big change….maybe revolution really soon…Maybe next thirty years… than it will become better, at the moment… I don’t think it’s doing as well as Russia and it is more corrupted and my perspective became… I think that it is a lot harder to live there than I thought… It was..yeah.. Now that I live here I appreciate certain things for example service even when you go to hospital… they don’t treat you like piece of meat… if your old there, doctor will basically tell you just die …you know… And here they will take care of you, they will always be polite, nice… things like that make a difference.. Even if it’s small things it makes a difference.. you know I think that now my perception of Ukraine is not as good as it was, because I saw better, I saw that it can be better, I saw that Canada and United States have more opportunities.

Me: I think that’s all the question I have for you… Thank you Karina.
Karina: No problem!