“Home Is Where My Family Is”

“Home Is Where My Family Is”

by Jazmine Ashley Diaz, December 2013

For my oral history project, I decided to interview my mother.  At first, I thought to interview her mother, my grandmother, thinking that, because she is old, she’d probably have more stories to tell and would have better experiences coming to America than my own mother did.  But after careful thought, and remembering the fact that my grandmother has dementia, I chose to interview my own mother instead.  My mother’s name is Rosalina Capili, Sally for short before she married my father and changed her last name to Diaz.  She was born and raised in Guadalupe, Makati, Philippines, which is located in the northern region of the Philippines, relatively close to Manila.  She is in her mid-fifties but has the spirit and heart of a thirty-year- old.  In between being a full-time business accountant, taking care of her family, and watching her Filipino soap operas, I finally found time in to ask her a few questions about her past. 

            My mother grew up with seven brothers and sister, her being the fifth out of eight children (See also: “The most beautiful one”).  Her parents, Nenita and Ruperto Sr., raised eight children—Reynaldo, Ricardo, Romy, Rosalina, Rosana, Ruperto Jr., Eddie, and Conrado—in a small house in a well to do neighborhood.  Growing up with Catholic parents, Rosalina and her siblings grew up in a strict household.  Especially after her father left the country, and Nenita was forced to raise eight children by herself, Rosalina spent her time either in school or at home with her brothers and sister.  She claims that her mother’s reason for keeping them at home was to make it easier to watch all eight of them.  “Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home.  When we were living in the Philippines, the way your Lola [grandma] takes care of us, she always keep us inside the house” (Diaz 3).  Around the age of ten, her father left the Philippines and moved to different countries to find better jobs to better support his wife and kids.  Before coming to America, Ruperto Sr. lived in Vietnam and worked as a firefighter.  After a couple of years there, he migrated to America in 1970.  Not only would he find better job opportunities in America, but also here Ruperto Sr. would be able to bring his family with him and take advantage of the immigration reform law that started in 1965.  “Concomitant to the law was the family reunification law that allowed families from Asia to come to the United States” (Garcia).  Here in the U.S., he worked as a tailor, much like how he had in the Philippines, where he had owned his own shop.  In the span of eight years, he finally petitioned his wife and eight kids to America.  During his time alone in America, he met a woman who later became his mistress and was yet again a father to one more daughter named Jocelyn.  Despite the drama between the women in his life, Ruperto Sr. still managed to support both families, and in the end went home to Nenita and eventually died by her side.  Her parents’ intention to move to America was to find better jobs and create a better living for their family.  “Your Lolo [grandpa] believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the jobs here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hardworking” (Diaz 2).  It is common knowledge to Rosalina’s parents that staying in the Philippines, regardless of how hard they worked, was not going to be enough to support a family of ten. 

When Rosalina migrated to America, she was only eighteen years old and, when I first asked what her expectations were coming here to America, she immediately answered with, “A better family.”  Then, I proceeded to rephrase my question and asked her the same thing but added, “For you as an individual.”  To this she replied with, “I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life” (2).  After two months of living here, she got her first job at Carl’s Jr., and soon after she was hired, she enrolled in Heald College; after nine months, she graduated with a Business Major in Accounting.  Rosalina only spent three months at Carl’s Jr. and quit because she couldn’t stand the laborious work.  Her next job was at Runaway Tours, a tour company that no longer exists, where she stayed for almost ten years.  If there’s one thing my mother takes pride in, it’s her work ethic.  For as long as I can recall, it has always been my mother who “brings home the bacon”—she pulls the majority of the weight in my family and always flaunts how in every job she’s ever held her bosses always tell her she’s a hard worker.  “I am!  My boss always told me, it’s true!” (3). 

Over time, a person’s perspective can change, which is why I asked Rosalina how she felt after having lived in America for a week, a month, a year, and now.  “My first week here was very hard, I was crying… It was [a] culture shock for me” (3).  To Rosalina, the first few weeks were frustrating for her because everyone spoke English and the culture in America alone was completely different than that of the Philippines.  What most people don’t know is that Filipinos are actually very good at speaking English; it could almost be their second language.  Most, if not all, Filipino TV shows are spoken in half Tagalog and half English.  The language barrier between English and Tagalog speakers is almost easy for any Filipino to overcome because there are a lot of words and phrases that are the same in Tagalog as it is in English.  However, because America is such a diverse country, especially during the seventies when Rosalina moved here, compared to the Philippines, which is for the most part a Catholic country, the new ideas about morality and ways of life came as a surprised to my mother.  Having been brought up a certain way and to soon learning that there are more than one different ways of thinking is overwhelming for anybody.  But even having lived in America for over twenty years now, Rosalina still honors her original beliefs.  “When I came over here, I still lived by the Filipino way. I still carry my culture.  I’m not too Westernized; I still keep my moral values as a Filipina” (4).  Although Rosalina still refers to the way she was brought up to raise my sister and I, there are definitely certain aspects and “Americanized” ideas that she has used in her parenting styles that her mother would’ve never even considered.  Rosalina is more lenient in the way she raises her children, but still punishes us with a firm tone. 

Migrating to a new country will always have its difficulties, and there is no getting around the fact that these migrants will face a good amount of discrimination or displacement.  I asked Rosalina about a time in her life when she felt like she didn’t belong in America and almost instantly she began telling me the story that I’ve already heard one too many times.  While the story has a scary and serious conflict, after hearing it over and over about a dozen times, it does get old.  The first time she told me this story, it broke my heart and I really felt scared for my mother, especially because what happened to her has happened to me just a few years before I started high school.  To make a long story short, when she was on her way to work one cold February morning, she decided to take a shortcut and walk through the Powell Bart station to get to work.  Suddenly, a man grabs Rosalina from behind and starts groping her.  Helpless and with no one around to help, she moves into the fetal position and eventually the man runs off.  Still traumatized about what happened, Rosalina picks up her things and continues on her way to work.  She arrives to work in tears and even after she tells her boss what has just happened to her he still tells her to calm down and just clock in.  My mother was baffled that her boss wasn’t sensitive enough to even ask if she wanted to just go home.  “That’s when I feel like, is this America?  Is this the place where I really wanted to live” (6)?  Clearly, Rosalina’s expectations of America don’t match her reality—she couldn’t understand why the country everyone seemed to place on a pedestal wasn’t as positive as everyone made it seem.  Nevertheless, Rosalina is still thankful to be living here.  The fact that she has a better opportunity to excel and make more money in America will always triumph over even the worst forms of discrimination.  To counter this question, I asked Rosalina to share with me a time when she felt like she was really an American.  For Rosalina, there wasn’t any real dramatic life event that made her feel like she was truly American—she felt like a true American the day she became an America citizen.  Coming to America, Rosalina was only a green card holder,  and then, a few years later, she applied for her citizenship and was approved.  “When I got my citizenship, [it was like] my kind of diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen” (4). 

With all these questions about times in her life when she felt American and about how her life was back home in the Philippines, it brought up an idea of self-identity.  I was curious to know whether she considered herself to be Filipino, American or Filipino-American, and to what degree she identifies with each nationality.  For Rosalina, she identifies herself as a Filipino-American.  Her Filipino roots will always be what she identifies with first and foremost because that is her blood that is how she was raised; it is her native language.  Being Filipino is what is most familiar to her.  And of course she also identifies herself as an American, as she has lived here for over twenty years and has adapted the American way of living.  She has a good job, can speak almost perfect English, and is very knowledgeable about the culture.  Whenever I make minor corrections to my mother’s English, she always says to me, “That’s why I send you to school—so you can learn and then teach me,” which slowly I am starting to realize makes a lot of sense.  In Maria Root’s book Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity, she writes about many different themes revolving around Filipino Americans and their identity, and about them migrating to the United States.  In Chapter Seven of her book, she reiterates an idea coined by the Filipino American National Historical Society Conference in 1994 called the “bridge” generation.  “Their children, the ‘bridge’ generation, attempted to bridge the traditional Filipino culture they learned at home with the American culture they learned at school” (Root 97).  I am a part of the “bridge” generation for Rosalina, and because of me she is able to keep her Filipino roots while still being able to learn about the American culture.  This idea has proven to be successful for both Rosalina and I because I am one of the few Filipinos that I know of that is born in America and can understand and speak both English and Tagalog.  Although I was born and raised in America, I was brought up in a traditional Filipino household, and growing up my family spoke to me in Tagalog a majority of the time. 

Many people have different responses to what they envision their homes to be.  Some would say home is where they were born and raised; others might respond with “home is where the heart is.”  Rosalina defines her home simply as wherever her family is, her family being me, my sister, her parents, and her brothers and sister.  If she moved back to the Philippines today, without any one of us there with her, the Philippines would no longer be considered her home.  Whether we live in America, the Philippines, or in some other foreign country to us, as long as we’re together Rosalina’s ideas of home is complete.  Despite the discrimination she’s faced, and will soon face because discrimination is still very much alive today, Rosalina’s reasons for staying in America overshadow any form of discrimination.  There are push and pull factors, especially for migrants who’ve just came to America.  A push facto is one’s reason for leaving one’s home country; situations like unemployment, poverty, and war are perfect examples.  Pull factors are positive reasons for coming to a new country like better job opportunities, a more attractive quality of life, or maybe it’s where most of your friends and family are.  In Rosalina’s case, there were definitely more pull factors than there were push factors.  She and her family knew that, if they continued living in the Philippines, they would always be struggling to make ends meet.  Of course this does not mean that we are not struggling today, but we are more comfortable and at least here in America there is help we can get if we really needed it, and much better opportunities to find a job that’ll better support all of us.

Her “Philippines” home differs from her “American” home in the sense that the Philippines is her natural home: it’s in her blood and it is intimate and well-known to her.  Her “American” home is her current home, where her family and heart resides.  It is also a place where she knows she can prosper and have unlimited opportunities to take care of my sister and I, as well as a place my sister and I can both be successful and have an even better life than she did.  Certain situations and timing are both reasonable factors as to why someone might migrate to another country.  Both were crucial enough factors for Nenita and Ruperto Sr., which is why they made he careful decision to bring their family to America.  Living in a completely new country, especially one like the United States, will change a person’s perspective and ideologies.  For Rosalina, it opened up her mind to new ways of living and a more improved way of bringing up her children.  In the end, Rosalina’s idea of home is wherever her family is and wherever her family goes she will follow.

Works Cited

Diaz, Rosalina. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2013.

Garcia, Arturo P. “A Brief History: Filipino Immigrants in the United States.” Pslweb.org.             Liberation News, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Root, Maria. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks: SAGE             Publications, 1997. EBSCOhost. EBook Collection. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

            Oral History Project Transcript

Jazmine Ashley Diaz: Where did you grow up?

Rosalina Diaz: Guadalupe Makati, Manila, Philippines.

JAD: When did you immigrate to America?

RD: I came here about December 1984? 

JAD: With whom did you immigrate with?

RD: With my family—my father came here first in 1970 and then he petition us to come over here.

JAD: Who’s “us”?

RD: My siblings—my six brothers and one sister and my mom.  But I was the last one who came over.

JAD: Why were you the last one?  So, you all didn’t come here together?  At the same time?

RD: No, my father could not afford to…

JAD: So, who came here first, after Lolo Papa?

RD: After your Lola Papa immigrated here in the 1970’s, three years later he petitioned my mom and my younger brother, Tito Rupert.  And then a few years later, uhh…  Tita Anna and Tito Boying came and then another year came your Tito Conrado, Tito Eddie Boy, and your Tito Romy came.  And then I was the last one to come over, after six months because my name was lost from the record.

JAD: What records?

RD: From the immigration records, so the lawyer, um, went back and, um, recorded my name.  What happened is because all our name started with an R: Ricardo, Romaldo, Reynaldo…  So I guess when the lawyer was writing it he got confused. So my name was forgotten, so my mom noticed it and the lawyer tried to fix it!  That’s why I came here six months later.

JAD: Why did you migrate to America?  What were your, or at least Lolo and Lola’s, intentions for coming here?

RD: Your Lolo believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the job here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hard working compared to the Philippines; you keep working, keep working you cannot, you know, earn money, enough money to pay for everything.

JAD: What jobs did Lola Papa have, and Lola Mommy have, in the Philippines?  Did Lola Mommy ever have a job because I know she’s never worked?

RD: Your Lola Mommy never worked.  She was a homemaker, or whatever, a housewife?

JAD: What did Lolo Papa do, wasn’t he a tailor?

RD: He owned a tailor shop until he decided to migrate to a different country, which is America.  He first migrated to Vietnam for a few years and then he came back over, and then that’s when he first started to migrate to America.

JAD: What did Lolo Papa do in Vietnam?

RD: He was a firefighter.

JAD: What were your expectations for moving to the United States?

RD: Uh, a better…  A better family, I guess? 

JAD: For you as an individual, because you knew you were going to grow up here?

RD: Oh, I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life.

JAD: How old were you when you immigrated?

RD: I think I was eighteen when I came over here?  And then eighteen years old I came over here in December, and I was not able to find a job ‘til February and then my very first job was working at Carl’s Jr.

JAD: The one downtown?

RD: Yes.

JAD: Next to the Payless?

RD: Which one next to Payless?

JAD: The one downtown where they play the chessan [to play chess]?

RD: No…  No, there’s a Carl’s Jr. across Four Seasons Hotel before there was a Wells Fargo, now they don’t have that anymore.  I worked there for maybe three months and then I stopped because it’s so hard to work:  I stand, I been like standing for eight hours all day, my feet hurt!  And then I told your Papa, I told my dad, that I want to go back to school.  So I went back to school; went to Heald College, I attended there for like nine months?  And then after I graduated I got my very first job at Runaway Tours, it’s a tours company.  And then I stayed there, I worked there for over, almost ten years?  Yeah, I worked there almost ten years.  I hold my job pretty good because I am a hard worker.

JAD: Okay, mom.

RD: I am!  My boss always told me, it’s true!

JAD: Did you face any Human Rights abuses?

RD: No/

JAD: How did you feel after having lived her for a week?  A month?  A year?  Today?

RD: My first week here was very hard, I was crying.  It was, uh, what do you call that?  It was culture shock for me.

JAD: Why?  How was it a culture shock?

RD: I don’t know, I guess for one, people here speak English.

JAD: Did you know how to speak English?

RD: I do, I do speak English, but not very much.  And I’m very shy person.  You know how when we’re in the Philippines my mom never let us go out to social, to what do you call that?

JAD: Like me?  Like how you treat me?

RD: Yeah.  They never let us, ‘cause there’s like eight of us and only your Lola Mommy that takes care of us while my dad is in other country working right.  I think my mom reasoning, for her keeping us inside the house and not play to other kids is it’s much easier for her to, uh, manage all eight of us.  Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home.  When we were living in the Philippines the way your Lola takes care of us, uh, she always keep us inside the house.  We of course sometimes go out and play but most of the time she prefer that most of the time we’re inside the house, since there’s eight of us my mom decided, oh you guys since there’s eight of you, you can play with each other instead of play with other people.  We don’t have friends, well we do have friends in only in school but we don’t so have so much friends outside of school because we’re not allowed to go out all the time.  Uh, after living here for a year… It’s okay.  My mom is very conservation—my parents are still conservative, she thinks that even if we’re like nineteen… Even at the age of nineteen we’re still not allowed to go out.  I work, I go home, and then in the morning I work, I go home.  That’s my life.

JAD: Like me!

RD: Hello, you go out every once in a while.  I can only go out with my brothers, but my brothers don’t like me going with them ‘cause they have their own thing.

JAD: Looking back at when you first moved here, how does how you felt then differ from how you feel about living in America now?

RD: I have a better job and I have my kids, my lovely kids (I roll my eyes).  But I’m still shy (laughs)!  Some younger generation, they’re like more outspoken, they’re like they think they’re more Americanized, but me, when I came over here I still lived by the Filipino way, I still carry my culture.  I’m not too Westernized, I still keep my moral values as a Filipina.

JAD: When and how did you know or feel like you were truly an American?

RD: Uh, I believe after I started my job.  The one at Runaway Tours, yeah…  After maybe, after few years, maybe three years.  ‘Cause I can vote…  Oh no!  I believe ‘cause after we immigrated here we were like green card holder, we’re not a citizen yet.  So I became a citizen after a few years, I applied for my citizenship.  When I got my citizenship, my kinda like a diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen.  I changed my passport to green to purple to blue, I felt like (touches hand to heart) I am an American citizen.  Yes!

JAD: Do you consider yourself to be Filipino-American?  If so, which nationality comes first to you?

RD: Of course the first one that comes to me is my Filipino, it’s my blood.  I came from that, I was born and raised in the Philippines; I can never say that I am an American.  Although I am thankful that I am here—I have a good life to where if I were living in the Philippines.  I am still Filipino and I am proud.

JAD: Why are you looking at me like that?

RD: Why, do you expect me to say I am an American?!

JAD: No, I’m just asking you like which one do you feel more strongly.  Like do you put Filipino first or do you put American first?

RD: I always still put Filipino first, but because I live in America I, you know, have to speak English, learn the language, uh, learn the culture because I live here.  Because I don’t agree living in one country, not learning their language, not learning the culture and then, um, people get upset because they’re not being helped by the government.  That I don’t agree.

JAD: What struggles did you face migrating to/living in America?  Did you face any discrimination?

RD: Yeah.  Discrimination is still exist no matter even if they said that it doesn’t, it does it still exist ‘cause me being Filipino, they consider me minority no matter how good I am at work they won’t promote they still prefer white people.

JAD: Which job was this?

RD: Uh, this is when I worked at Runaway Tours.

JAD: Would you consider the Philippines to still be your home? 

RD: Of course!

JAD: And you told me once that when you retire you want to go back?

RD: Of course!

JAD: And leave me here?

RD: That would be your choice, I’m not gonna ask you to go somewhere else.  But I’m not moving until I see that you’re okay:  That you’re married, you have your own life, you have your, you know, your job, your own house.

JAD: What is your definition or ideas of “home”?

RD: Uh…  Home as in “home”?  Well definition of home for me is being with my family.  You, Caitlyn, my brothers, and my sister—that’s home for me.

JAD: So, would you consider America your home or Philippines your home?

RD: Philippines is still my home.  Philippines is my homeland.  But you know if I lived in the Philippines I’m more comfortable, because um, I’m familiar with everything, I know the culture, I know how it works, I know the government and, um, if I have enough money I can afford to live like, I can afford a maid.  Whereas here, I’m the maid…  For my kids (laughs).  I am the maid for my own family…  How sad.  Especially that (points to my sister)!

JAD: Tell me an incident in your life where you felt like you didn’t belong in America.

RD: Oh my God!  This is when I just came here and I started at the Carl’s Jr. Working, uh, this was about a year later in February and someone grabbed me from behind!

JAD: Oh my God, is this the Bart one?

RD: Yeah!  That’s when I really feel like, that I can never ever forget that in my entire life ‘cause I lived in the Philippines and that never happened to me ever, ever, ever.

JAD: Okay, so tell me again what happened.

RD: Okay, I start at ten o’clock in the morning, work, I left my house at 285 Turk street, so I was walking there from Powell street and then I decided because it’s too cold, this is February because it was freezing cold, I decided to go Bart station underneath Powell to make sure I don’t get cold.  As I was turning from the very end of the Bart, someone grabbed me from behind.  I yelled, I screamed, no one was helping me so I decided to sit down, you know brace myself.  And the guy let go of me and he start running and I was left, on the floor, and I look around and still no one was there to help me.  So I pick up my things and then walk and then next thing you know I saw the guy on the escalator looking at me smiling and I froze.  And then I went up, guess what?

JAD: He was there waiting for you?

RD: No, there was a police car right outside the thing.

JAD: Did you tell them?

RD: There’s no police there, but there’s a police car.  I looked around but no one’s there so I just continued ‘cause what I’m thinking is my work, I’m gonna be late!  I came to work and I was shaking and I was crying and I was telling my boss what happened and he said, “Okay just calm down” and he didn’t even ask me, “Would you like to go home?”  He just says, “Okay, calm down just punch in and start working”.  That’s when I feel like, is this America?  Is this the place where I really wanted to live?  They have no concern for anything that happen to me, I was mad.

JAD: What causes you/are your reasons for staying here?

RD: Good living.  Actually, the reason why I stay here because I have a stable job, I earn money.  I can’t imagine me in the Philippines anymore, honestly.  I can’t imagine what will be my life.  Growing up and marrying someone in the Philippines, I cannot imagine!  I don’t think you’ll have a good life, anak [child].  I mean, not as good as I wanted to, I don’t think you’ll be…  You’ll probably still be a bum. 

JAD: Okay, but you still want to go back though to retire?

RD: Yeah, just to retire.  I’ll be living there comfortably.  The only reason why I want to retire to the Philippines is because when I get old here, when I get old and I’m not able to provide for myself I don’t think the money that the government is providing us, even the money that we’re putting aside that they take from our salary, what do they call that?  Our social security?  Um, they’re saying that by the time I retire there’s no more money for us, for the government to give us.  So, that’s why if I take that money, and go to the Philippines, will multiply times forty—I’ll be rich in the Philippines, I’ll be able to live comfortably.  Here, I’ll be probably lining up some place like Glide Memorial to get my free lunch.

Immigration, Academics, and Family

Immigration, Academics, and Family: The Success Story

of an “Open Minded Brazilian”

by Aaron Henderson, December 2013

While most of us go through good times and bad times with struggles and successes, it’s the overcoming of any obstacle itself that many would say best defines a person’s identity and character.  When you look at the world as a whole, it would be tough to say that any obstacle is harder than emigrating from one country to another.  When someone leaves a place that one has called one’s home (country) for any considerable amount of time, one is forced to adapt to his or her new home (country) and expected to do so quickly.  The process can be stressful and can leave a person searching for his or her new sense of self.  This can ultimately be positive or negative depending on the experiences each immigrant goes through.  While keeping that in mind, it can also be said that America is arguably the toughest country to migrate to as the U.S. has historically benefited from immigrants’ undocumented statuses, thus holding them down in society while reaping economic benefits.  The U.S. government does this by making it very difficult for most foreigners to gain citizenship here and without that documentation it is nearly impossible to obtain a decent paying job or receive any financial aid for school.  This means all odds are usually stacked up against most immigrants in America, making the fulfillment of their goal to live the “American dream” very difficult.  The story of Lohanna Pinheiro , an eighteen-year-old college student at the time of her migration from Brazil to America, has been a very positive, uplifting, and successful development and can give hope to other immigrants.  While immigrating to America from Brazil for academic reasons, Lohanna had to leave much of her family behind in order to experience America and all that this great country has to offer.  While interviewed about her journey, she spoke about many things, including expectations versus reality, academics, discrimination, and the American dream, and began to configure how all of this has shaped her identity and her sense of home.

                In Goiania, Brazil, Lohanna grew up in a family of three.  The Brazilian culture has taught her many great values including family, religion, and pride for her country.  While Lohanna was young, she was introduced to God as she regularly attended church with family.  Lohanna’s Christianity has humbled her as her faith in God has, in her words, “been my guidance all along and I know God has many great things in store for me.” At that time in her life, she also learned the family tradition of barbecuing after church with many of her cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and siblings, in order to keep the family’s bond strong and stay close to each other.  Their extended family would spend many days together throughout the week as they are all very close, but Sunday was the big family day.  Music, games, food, and much socializing was the norm for the family as they would “live it up” together, acting more like close friends.

          Lohanna’s family was not wealthy by any means so they tried to spend money wisely as many products are very expensive in Brazil.  “In Brazil, many people work a full month to earn as little as five hundred reais, what would be something like three hundred dollars in America.  That’s per month you know so they don’t have much to afford or buy a lot of exotic foods.”   As described in the article “Global Production Networks, Chronic Poverty and ‘Slave Labour’ in Brazil”, many Brazilians work with no guarantee of regular pay while working in undesirable working conditions: “Workers’ perceptions of being thus ‘tied in’ to a job, even where the conditions of work classify as ‘analogous to slavery’, illuminate how the payment of an advance or the withholding of wages are the key mechanisms used by employers and recruiters to discipline the labour force and exploit workers’ situations of chronic need.”  These unfortunate people are the byproducts a big issue in Brazil and that’s poverty. They work like everybody else but don’t get paid until the employers are ready to pay them despite needing to house, clothe and feed their families.  While the strong family bond, religion and food are some uplifting aspects of Brazilian culture, the negatives are the economic problems and the poverty in which many live in.   With that being said, Lohanna’s family would create a strong bond of togetherness as they spent many days and nights together doing recreational things and made their own fun.  Lohanna’s childhood was filled with love and joy, but unfortunately her father passed away when she was seven, thus leaving her behind, along with her sister and mother.  It was a very sad time for the family but this left an everlasting bond between the three girls as they have remained close ever since.

                Throughout Lohanna’s childhood, she developed a negative view on Americans as she thought all people in the U.S. were snobs that held biased opinions about their country, thinking Americans were better than those in the rest of the world.  She didn’t really care for America and focused her efforts on the country she stood on.

“But that was the reason I never learned English in Brazil, because I just hated it! You know, because I always thought it wasn’t fair for one country to try to dominate the world, and that’s how I viewed America.  Like America would try to go out of their way to work on other country’s businesses.  Like in Wars and stuff like that.  And so (giggling) I just hated the United States because of that.  I think that’s the way a lot of Brazilians view America”

This just goes to show how many others view the U.S. as it seems we have made a few enemies over the years.  Lohanna must have been expecting many ignorant people here and probably wasn’t looking forward to coinciding with them.  On the flipside, however, Lohanna was curious about the “American Dream” and what that stood for.  She had seen American movies, movies that had rich families with big houses and very little poverty.  She was excited to see if it was all that it was cracked up to be.

            As Lohanna and her family were planning a trip to Corte Madera, Ca to visit her Aunt and Uncle, they knew that they needed to obtain a Visa in order to travel to the U.S.   They went to see a consulate in Brasilia to get permission to travel and got it easily.  Now they could finally fulfill their curiosity and see for themselves what America was like.  As they arrived, the weather was very cold as it was December.  It was a shock to them as the weather back in Brazil never reached the low temperatures of forty degrees Fahrenheit.  When the Pinheiro’s arrived at their relative’s home, they were pleasantly surprised: “It was interesting because it was everything beautiful, like in a dream.  It felt like we were in a movie because the weather was different from Brazil and then we got to their house and their house was huge, just like in the movies.  And then we saw all the Christmas decorations, and then it was like…living in a dream.” Lohanna was extremely blessed to have relatives who have prospered here in America so she could see the good part of America first. “I went to the ballet at the City Hall and I had the experience of watching that and, you know—I had never done that before.  And it was magical. Then I went to Lake Tahoe and saw the snow for the first time.  So I did all that stuff I had wanted to do ever since I was a little kid you know.  And I went to Disneyland and I cried like a baby!”.  This is very rare for most immigrants who are usually very disappointed with their first impression.  However, Lohanna would keep experiencing more and more positive things that America has to offer.

Lohanna would also be shocked as to how cheap the food and clothing are as well as how safe the environment is compared to that of Brazil.

“Well the first night we went to Costco it was like…All those huge boxes!  You know for so cheap.  That was the first thing.  I was like ‘WOW’, food is really cheap here compared to Brazil.  I felt like it was awesome but at the same time it is kind of unfair because I know the reality of Brazil.”

This seemed bitter sweet for her and her family as they were happy to be in the position they were in but knew how much of a struggle it was and still is for millions of people back home.  Later in the interview, Lohanna had mentioned that another good thing about America is how much safer it is.  “You could walk down the street and we weren’t afraid of getting robbed”.  Back in Brazil the criminality rate has risen greatly over the past ten years so you can see why the simple fact of not having fear of getting robbed was a sigh of relief for Lohanna. After asked to sum up what was better about American life, she explained simply that it was a better quality of life.  Little did she know, however, that she was about to spend a lot more time here than she had expected.

          As the Pinheiros’ vacation in America was coming to an end, Lohanna’s aunt and uncle offered to help Lohanna by asking her to stay in the U.S and study abroad, thus taking college classes here instead of in Brazil.  Lohanna was very pleased by this and accepted without hesitation, stating that a degree in America had much more weight than a degree in Brazil.  “I’ll have a second language and I’ll have experienced a new culture and, for God sakes, it’s America, and everybody in Brazil thinks everything here is better.”  While taking college classes here in America had excited her greatly, she knew the first step wouldn’t be easy.  She now had to learn English, the language that she thought she never would have had to or would have wanted to learn.

          Lohanna quickly enrolled in an intensive English program, knowing she must learn it quickly in order to get into college.  She speedily progressed and within months could speak in sentences.  However, not knowing English too well at the time, Lohanna would start to encounter her first experiences of discrimination.

“I would go to the store and try to find something and because of my accent or because I didn’t speak English well, the white people would completely ignore me.  But I noticed the other workers, like the Latino workers and people with darker skin, they were nicer to me.  They would try to help me while the white people would just look down on me.”

I believe this kind of discrimination pushed Lohanna even harder to learn English.  She committed herself to learning the language completely and within nine months Lohanna was ready for the TOEFL test.  This test was for people that spoke English as their second language to determine whether or not they were in position to attend college.  Incredibly after only learning and practicing English for a small amount of time, Lohanna passed the test and was on her way to College of Marin.

            Arguably, the hardest part of assimilating to a new country is learning the language.  As Lohanna had completed that aspect of joining America, the next part was learning and understanding the culture.  Many people say that there is no true “American culture” as America is made up of so many different races and ethnicities that have different cultural expectations and traditions.  Combine all of this together and America is just one big melting pot of the world, one big melting pot of many different viewpoints on life and what life is supposed to be.  Meanwhile, all are living together in one democratic country.  Lohanna has other ideas, however.  When asked about American culture and what she viewed it as she replied with this:

“There are a lot of immigrants here in America, but I do think there is an American culture.  I don’t want to speak for everybody but I think American culture is about money.  You know, the American dream where you have to work and work and work to get what you have and you….You don’t have time to pay attention to the people around you.  You don’t have time for your family, you don’t have time for your kids.  Your kids are raised by nannies and babysitters and you don’t have time for anything. You know it’s just you working everyday, that’s all you pretty much do to achieve the American dream.  And it feels like nobody really gets there because even though I think the people got that, they still working like crazy.  So I think there is an American culture and it’s founded on money, unfortunately.  I mean, it’s not everybody.  I’ve seen people that like to have time for their families and kids but what I’ve seen…Most of it is money.  Money is everything.”

The term “American Dream” was once made up by historian James Trusslow Adams in 1931 in midst of the Great Depression.  His famous quote lies in the article “The Death of the American Dream,” in which he says, “It is not the dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”  This is what so many men and women chase here in America: finical stability, personal growth, recognition from one’s peers, and so on and so on.  Many Americans are chasing too many things while forgetting to take the time to enjoy life and the company we share in it.  Lohanna has seen this firsthand while working as a nanny in Marin County, CA.  She has worked for families that are made up of hard work., so much hard work that both mom and dad are working just about every single day.  This forces the parents to leave the kids to be with trusted strangers Monday through Friday.  This whole process is putting the nanny in the mother role as the nannies are watching the kids almost more than the mother.  It’s a far cry from the family structure back home in Brazil where families are only raised by mom and dad and when help is needed, the extended family is looked to for support.  Experiencing all of this first hand as a nanny in Marin County, Lohanna has realized how much she misses her home country.

            As Lohanna has been in the U.S. for four years, she can see now what America is like and how it differs from Brazil.  She expressed that she deeply misses her family as well as her native food.  She has a hard time eating many things that most Americans enjoy regularly and also misses seeing her relatives on a daily basis.  Even though they all stay connected through social media, phone calls and text messages, she explained that it is just not the same.  When asked if she had to pick one place to call home, Lohanna stated “Brazil” without any hesitation.  “Because that’s where I was raised.  That’s where I got my sense of self.  That’s where I learned to be myself and what I like and what I don’t like.  That’s where my family is.  You know, my first language”.  I then asked that even though she has experienced so much here in America including having a serious relationship with a boyfriend, if after college she would drop everything to return home with her degree as planned or possibly make this her permanent home.  She paused and thought about it for a few seconds then replied “um, that’s interesting.  I want the good things from Brazil and the good things from the United States all in one place but that’s not possible, so I don’t know.  It all depends when I graduate and if I get married.  Where it’s going to be better but I definitely want the freedom to go back and forth.”

            While Lohanna was thinking and talking about a very personal matters, I then asked her how this whole experience has affected her identity.  She said that it really hasn’t, as she knows who she is.  She is Brazilian—she knows that, is proud of that and she is not trying to be American.  She stated that she still eats like a Brazilian, acts like a Brazilian and values her culture very much.  I then challenged that, stating that one’s identity is shaped by not only the way one views oneself, but also the way others view that individual as well.  She had explained earlier in the interview that her view on America had changed since her arrival in the U.S.  Her viewpoint has changed as well as her identity as a whole:

“In Brazil, we are more open to other people.  We are very welcoming.  We are very receptive and we are very friendly people.  See in that way, I’m still the same person.  But they still view their country not as good as America and in that case, I think my view has changed because now I see there is no such thing as a perfect country.  You know, there’s a lot of good things in America, but there’s a lot of bad things too.  When you immigrate and assimilate to another country, you look back at your country and evaluate what is working back there and what doesn’t work.  Then you can compare and grow as a person because now you can accept more the differences there are in the world.  You’re not as judgmental and racist.  So I guess my identity would be an open minded Brazilian.  Or a um, self aware.”

All in all, it seems that Lohanna’s identity has changed. It has changed in a positive light as she holds her Brazilian values while learning American culture and she has taken the good from both while leaving what she deemed as the “bad” aspects out.

             While Lohanna still lives here in the U.S., she is still experiencing and learning new things all the time.  She is a Junior at San Francisco State University and hopes to graduate in 2014 with the goal of moving on to Grad school.  As she has experienced many things in the past four years that have shaped her current identity, Lohanna’s story can be seen as a success by many including any immigrant who hopes to study here in America.  While it would be beneficial for many of us to experience another country for personal growth, America should still be viewed as one of, if not the best, as the U.S. has much to offer students who are studying abroad.  Diversity, solid academics, and heavy competition are just a few of those qualities here in America.  Lohanna’s experiences in both Brazil and America seem to have had a lasting effect on her as she appears very open minded and can see the world with great intellect.  Lohanna is a great example of what an immigrant should be about as she is motivated towards success, humble, intellectual, and diverse.

Works Cited

Philips, Nicola and Leonardo Sakamoto. “Global Production Networks, Chronic Poverty and ‘Slave Labour’ in Brazil.” Studies in Comparative International Development Vol. 47 Issue 3, Sep2012: p287-315. Print

Wright, Luke S. H. “The Death of the American Dream.” Critics Notebook Vol. 85 Issue 4 2009: p196-199. Print

Lito’s American Dream

Lito’s American Dream

by Arlesia Williams, December 2013

Since its early years, the United States has been viewed as “the land of opportunity,” and has attracted millions of people from all over the world hoping to achieve the “American Dream,” especially Latin Americans, due to how close they are to the U.S.  For many Latin Americans, this means working hard, sending money back to their families, and saving enough money so they can buy a house in their homeland for the day they return.  Acquiring the proper documentation to live in the U.S. can be a long and costly process, which causes many people to find alternative, and often risky, ways of entering the country undocumented; others are granted exile.  The U.S. allows a certain number of people to apply for exile, as long as the applicant has no affiliations with terrorists, gangs, or opposing governments.  In the mid-1980s, the U.S. offered the people of El Salvador the opportunity to apply for exile, which included temporary work visas if they wanted to escape the war.  Lito, a forty-one-year-old UPS driver and restaurant manager in San Francisco, along with his two older siblings, were granted these temporary visas.  He hoped that they would return to their homeland once the war was over, but has made San Francisco his permanent home, and has no intention of ever returning to El Salvador.  Somewhere along the way, Lito’s idea of the “American Dream” shifted from saving money to return home, to the “American Dream” so often portrayed by the media as an achievable goal by all, the idea that, if a person works hard enough, he or she is able to accomplish any goal they set for themselves and can reach great success.

Between 1980 and 1992, life in El Salvador was very difficult and uncertain due to the Salvadoran Civil War.  According to Susan Coutin, author of “The Odyssey of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers,” a 2004 article for the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), the war claimed the lives of approximately seventy-five thousand Salvadorans, and displaced twenty-five percent of the population.  The conflict was between the Salvadoran military government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNLF), a coalition of five guerilla groups.  According to Cecilia Menjivar and Nestor Rodriguez, authors of When States Kill, “most massacres took place in the countryside” (101).  The military would invade small farm towns and torture or kill their community leaders.  The war was extremely violent and included the recruitment of child soldiers, the use of death squads, heavy military equipment, the deliberate terrorizing and targeting civilians, amongst many other human rights violations.  Although significantly opposed by the American public, the U.S. government contributed to the conflict by providing a large amount of military aid to the El Salvadoran government, and with the involvement of the CIA in torturing civilians and financing political campaigns.  According to the NACLA, “Because the U.S. was providing the Salvadoran government with military and economic aid, it was reluctant to recognize Salvadoran émigrés as victims of human rights abuses and as deserving of political asylum.”  Only three percent of Salvadorans were granted exile in the 1980s, and Lito was lucky to be one of them.

Lito was born in 1972 in the town of Son Sonate, El Salvador, and is the youngest of three siblings.  His father was a preacher and his mother was “the follower,” and they did what they could to provide their children with the basic necessities, and to protect them from getting involved in gangs or the military.  In the mid-1980s, two of Lito’s cousins and a few friends were forced to join the military, so his parents decided that they would do whatever it took to get him and his siblings out of El Salvador.  Their first thought was to hire a coyote to take them to the U.S., but, at three thousand dollars apiece, they simply could not afford it.  It was then that a relative told them about applying for a temporary visa to work in the U.S.  If granted, all they had to do was to pay for their plane tickets and their kids would be safe until the war was over.  Lito always dreamt of moving to the U.S., so this was his way out, a path to riches.  He explains, “I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.”  Lito’s oldest brother was the first to arrive in San Francisco in 1983, and quickly found a job and an apartment.  He sent all the money he had left after paying his bills back to his family so they could send the rest of his siblings to the U.S.; Lito was the last of the siblings to arrive in 1985.  They were not the only ones that his parents helped move to the U.S.  Lito had a friend who he considered to be a brother and had lived with his family since he was seven years old, and his parents made sure he made it to the U.S. as well.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.

            When he arrived in San Francisco, Lito moved in with his sister, whose goal was to enroll him in school while his older siblings worked to provide for their parents, but Lito had other plans.  His goal was to come to the U.S. and make money, not to go to school, so he started helping his sister cleaning offices and shortly after started working in a restaurant with her sister-in-law, where he was paid eight dollars a day and worked from eleven in the morning until ten at night.  Although he did not enroll in school full time, Lito attended ESL classes before going to work every morning.  According to Lito, not earning a lot of money, “it didn’t matter then because (he) wasn’t paying rent and (his) sister was helping (him) with food.”  At the time it seemed like a good deal, but, today, Lito understands that he should have been paid more but he is glad he was able to gain experience in the restaurant business, which led him to become a manager later on in his life.

            While initially carrying on traditions from his homeland was easy since Lito was staying with his sister, who was involved in the Salvadoran community, by 1995, he decided to make his own path and got into some trouble after the death of his best friend, who he considered his brother, by moving out of his sister’s house.  It was then that Lito decided to join a Salvadoran gang; he wanted to prove to his family and friends in El Salvador that he was still tough, a “real” man, and he also felt that he needed to act out his anger at the passing of his best friend.  Although he prefers not to give details about his gang life, he is proud of the fact that he was never personally involved with drugs or murder.  His involvement with the gang led him to jail a few times, but none over thirty-day sentences.  Lito admits that going through the justice system, in a way, made him more “American.”  In El Salvador, he explains, “If they find that you are guilty, they just kill you, but here they give you a chance.”  None of the arrests were gang related; they were all for drinking and driving.  He was starting to see the advantages of living in the U.S. and being protected by the law as opposed to life in El Salvador during the Civil War.  By 1998, Lito was determined to have a better life, so he left the gang and started working full-time at a local restaurant.  His best friend was his connection to home.  They dreamt of returning to El Salvador and showing off what they had become.  Without his best friend, Lito felt like his connection was diminishing and he was becoming more American each day.

            With the constant change in immigration policies in the U.S., Lito had to renew his work visa quite often.  The first visa he was granted was for three years, the second for six months, the third for one year and a half, and so on.  He was not granted a green card until 2005, his twentieth anniversary of living in the U.S.  Throughout the first ten years, his parents were not able to visit him here, and he was not allowed to leave the country.  Lito explains that “every Salvadoran, when they get to this country, they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.”  Once he got his citizenship, Lito’s brother was able to apply for a green card for his parents, who were granted the visa and stayed in the U.S. for a few months, but chose to continue living in El Salvador.  Life in San Francisco was too different from the life they had in El Salvador, and they were not willing to make the lifestyle adjustment.  Lito’s mother kept her green card and travels back and forth from El Salvador once or twice a year so she does not loose her status, but not his father. He did not like the U.S. and saw no point on keeping his green card.  Lito explains “My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.”  However, Lito and his siblings were able to save enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house for their parents, where they visit at least once a year.  In the past year, Lito’s father changed his mind and decided that now he is ready to live here, but was unable to get a visa.  Once a person is granted a green card, they have to commit to live in the U.S. for at least six months out of the year.  Since his father did not follow this rule, his visa was taken away, and once that happens, it can take up to a decade for a person to be able to apply for a new visa with little chance of them actually being granted one.

            In 1992, when the war ended, there was an overwhelming feeling of hope for the Salvadorian community, both in their homeland and afar.  While Lito’s parents believed their children would go back to El Salvador, the children were building a life in the U.S.  Lito’s siblings got married and started their own families, while Lito and his best friend were working hard and saving money, all while keeping a job and sending money to his parents.  Regardless of his extra-curricular activities, Lito kept his promise to his parents that he would always take care of them, in true Latino form.  In most Latino households, it is traditional for the children to take care of their parents once they start work; this is particularly true about male children.  As in most patriarchal societies, men are viewed as strong and able, while women are viewed as weak and should conform to household chores and taking care of the family.  Although Lito’s family was not as conventional as most considering that his sister took care of the home and worked, he still felt as if it was his responsibility to take care of them.  The only way he could take care of his parents was to stay in the U.S. and earn as much money as possible, and so he did.  However, this was also the time when Lito became more aware of his situation.  If he was to return to El Salvador, he would not be able to find a job that would pay him enough to take care of his responsibilities, and it would take decades of working here to save enough for him to be able to retire there.  “Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country…I don’t plan to move back.”  The war might have been over, but the problems that plagued the people of El Salvador were not far from it.

            During the Civil War, there was a love-hate relationship between Salvadorans and the U.S. due to how the U.S. was supporting the government that was killing the people.  According to Lito, this sentiment has not changed, but the reasons are different.  When asked if he thought that the U.S. was a part of the reason why El Salvador is still in bad shape, Lito explains: “To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.”  With the dollar came inflation, which was not helpful to a country that was already in financial trouble.  Aside from the financial issue, there is also the violence that has increased since the U.S. started massive amounts of deportation in the past few years.  A large number of gang members and criminals were sent back to El Salvador, creating a hostel environment for Salvadoran, who cannot count on the local police to help them, since most of them are corrupt and, unless you can pay them off, will not help you.  Moreover, some laws set by the U.S. government have been implemented in El Salvador in hopes of restoring some order after the war, but they have done more harm than good, since the police department is corrupt and take the laws into their own hands, sometimes threatening or even killing people to get their way.

            Lito’s prospective has significantly changed since he was a child growing up in

El Salvador.  When he was a child, he dreamt of coming to the U.S. and making a lot of money so he could return to his country as an “important person.”  While he was still close to his best friend from childhood, it was easy to remain connected to his roots, but after his death, Lito started to see the world in a whole different light.  Suddenly, moving back to El Salvador was no longer an option; he had become too accustomed to the “safe” lifestyle that the U.S. offered.  He became friends with people from different backgrounds, built a career and a life in San Francisco.  Throughout our interview, Lito spoke of El Salvador as “my country,” but when I asked him whether he had any intention on returning to his homeland he said, without hesitation: “I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here.”  Although he did not move to the U.S. until he was a teenager, as with many immigrants who move here at that age, Lito felt as if he did most of his growing up here because that is when he made the transition from childhood to adulthood.  In addition, that is also the time when he became aware of the corruption and violence that was going on in his country, from an outsider’s prospective.  His dream is no longer to return home, but to build a life here.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.  The American Dream he so imagined for most of his life has been replaced by the one that all U.S. citizens know well.  He wants a steady job with benefits so he can support his future family, his “American” family.  Although the idea of moving back to El Salvador seem unrealistic for Lito, he hopes that one day his people can find peace, but he will be at a safe distance when that happens.

Work Cited

Menjívar, Cecilia, and Néstor Rodriguez. When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror. Austin: University of Texas, 2005. Print.
Coutin, Susan.  “The Odyssey Of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers.”  NACLA Report On The Americas 57.6 (2004): 38.  Web. 6 December 2013.
Wright, Mathew.  “Diversity and the Imagined Community: Immigrant Diversity and Conceptions of National Identity.” Cambridge: Harvard University, 2005. Web.  6 December 2013.
Deaux, Kay.  “An Immigrant Frame for American Identity.” New York: New York University, 2011.  Print.

Interview

Me: When did you move to the U.S.?

Lito: Back in 1987

Me: Can you describe what your hometown was like when you were living in El Salvador? Was it like a big city a small town?

Lito: We grew in a small town and after that we moved to the big city. I lived there for a few years like 3 years and then I moved to California.

Me: Ok. Do you have a big family small family?

Lito: My family is like 9 total 7 kids and my dad and my mom

Me: Ok.  When you moved here to the U.S. did you move here with your family or by yourself?

Lito: All my brothers and my sisters moved away one by one.  I was the very last one in ‘87

Me: Oh ok and how old were you moved here?

Lito: I was between like 14, 13, 15

Me: So early, early teenage years umm now when you moved here were you legal did you move with papers?

Lito: No I just came as an immigrant through mexico

Me: Ok, how does that work? Like when you are trying to leave el Salvador. Which way did you take? Did you know somebody or did you know other people that had moved here first and they showed you the way?

Lito: No I did have all my brothers and sisters over here, my parents find someone to bring me down here

Me: Oh ok, did they have to like pay them?

Lito: Yes they did.

Me: Was it a lot for the time?

Lito: I’m not really sure how much it was but I believe back in the day it was more than $3000

Me: Oh wow, in the ‘80s that was pretty big amount of money.

Lito: Yeah nowadays it’s like $8000.

Me: $8000 to come to the country? How long did it take for you to get here, from the day you left El Salvador to when you got here?

Lito: I remember if I’m correct it was something like 15 20 days.

Me: Wow how did you transport did you fly? Did you take a bus a car how was the journey from?

Lito: We did a majority in the bus from el Salvador all the way down to Mexico and in Mexico city we took an airplane to fly over the desert all the way down to Tijuana.

Me: When you got here did you stay with your family?

Lito: Yeah, with my older sister.

Me: Were they in San Francisco or a different city?

Lito: She was in San Francisco

Me: Ok, so you always stayed in San Francisco?

Lito: Always

Me: Since you moved here you always been here?

Lito: Yes

Me: Now, before you moved here what did you expect? Like, why did you move here in the first place? Did you come to work or did you want to be with your family?

Lito: We were, me personally my parents were looking for a better life for me because el Salvador wasn’t getting any better.  The military was recruiting younger kids like 14 16, and the guerillas and the other side of the hand were recruiting they were recruiting either I mean they were recruiting too, so my parents they were scared to keep me down in el Salvador.

Me: Did you have any friends or family members that joined the military, did you know anybody that joined the military or were forced too?

Lito: My parents ….. to me a couple of his nephews they were in the military but they were me personally I met a couple of times but I never got to know them better.

Me: Ok, alright, how did you when you moved here did you go to school or did you start working, how did you live?

Lito: My sister tried to put me in school but at the same time I just wanted to work make my own money make my own life and that’s what I did.

Me: So you just hung out with friends?

Lito: Yeah I just hung out and worked and things like that.

Me: Where was the first place you worked when you got here?

Lito: I was helping my sister as a janitor cleaning office and after that I was working with this lady cleaning houses and a few years later I started working at restaurant business.

Me: Ok, how long did you work did you work in the restaurant business?

Lito: Like literally like when I was 17 until like now I am still on call at the restaurant job.

Me: What type of work did you do in the restaurant?

Lito: I started washing dishes back in the day took like a year or two to become a line cook a few years 3 years later ask me if I wanted to do something like else prepping having more responsibilities like doing orders and stuff like that bout 5 years later I started being assistant manager.

Me: Where do you work now? You said that you were still on call at the restaurant and where do you work other than the restaurant?

Lito: I work at UPS right now.

Me: Ok. And what do you do there?

Lito: I am UPS driver and I do some part time preloading.

Me: So when you first came here and you weren’t going to school were you did you get into any kind of trouble as far like with the law and kind of trouble then in your early years?

Lito: Not in my early years. That was after like 95 96 that I started getting in trouble.

Me: Up until then you just worked lived with your family still at some point you went off to live?

Lito: Yeah I moved out of my sisters house I think It was 94.

Me: Ok

Lito: Since then I have been living by myself.

Me: When did you get legal status? When did you get a green card?

Lito: It was in 2005

Me: 2005 are you a citizen now or you still have a green card?

Lito: I still have a green card.

Me: Before you got your green card did you ever travel back home to el Salvador?

Lito: Never did

Me: You never went back home before then?

Lito: No

Me: Are you parents still in el Salvador? Or are they here?

Lito: My daddy you to fly back and forth in the 90’s then for some reason he didn’t want to come back to the country, now my mom is the one flying back and forth.

Me: Ok so she comes to visit?

Lito: Right

Me: So she comes to you guys.  Ok. Now when you were working were you sending money home to the family?

Lito: Yeah always have.

Me: The rest of your siblings they were doing the same? Like sending home money?

Lito: Brothers and sisters yeah they were too

Me: So everyone was taking care of the family? Back then,

Lito: Right.

Me: Before you moved here what were your expectations of the united states, like what did you think was going to happen when you got here? Did you think you were going to make a lot of money? Did you think life was going to be harder than it was before?

Lito: It was I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.

Me: Now when you came here and started working was it what you expected was the US all that you thought it was?

Lito: Not really whatever the good stories I heard was not really what I expected, but it was better than where I was before.

Me: Now did you like here in San Francisco did you have a lot of people from your community, do you know a lot people from el Salvador is there a community that has events and things that carry on the traditions I suppose?

Lito: They do there a lot of el Salvadorian events especially for September 15 day independence day for el Salvador some other occasions for other events the bring some music band and artists from el Salvador just to collect money to help others down there, but yeah I go sometimes to those events. But I know a lot a lot of people from El Salvador just………..

Me: People that you are used to?

Lito: People I hang around with sometimes.

Me: Yeah now did you how different is your life here from what it was like in ES you know aside from its different its always different but like here do you feel more comfortable here than you would there.  Like if you had to go back there do you think have a good future as far as work and family or do you think that the US is better?

Lito: For work and make money it’s the US.  Do go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.

Me: Now when you moved here did you speak English?

Lito: Nah

Me: How did you learn? Since you didn’t go to school initially, how did you start to learn English?

Lito: Just my sister tried to put me in school, I didn’t like it at all I didn’t want to have any of the responsibilities homework and things like that, but at the same time I was having my job and going to school in the mornings you know like adult school just to learn English, computers or whatever.  I used to go here and there for like 6 months.   The majority of the English I just learned, like practicing talking to people you know trying to get a better job a different level when you learn more English.

Me: When you started working in restaurants because while you cleaning offices you were working with your sister, but when you started working in resturaunts did you feel discriminated against in any kind of way, did you feel they were paying you less or treating you differently because you weren’t from here.

Lito: Not really in the beginning because I was just helping out my sister, so my sister was just giving me some money because I was helping her. And then my sister in law had a restaurant and back in ’89 they were giving me $8 a day and it started from 11 to 10 and early in the morning I was going to school like I was saying like until 1030.   Then I would go work over there after school.

Me:  Did you start getting paid more after you got your green card, or did you demand more money because you had more experience?

Lito:  What I think is that it’s the experience that make more money. If you have more experience, automatically the money will fall on you. Uh, when I was washing dishes I was making like $3.75 back in the day.  So, when I was a cook and a prep and I was doing orders for this manager, I was making like $7.75 and, and, after a year I was making $8.50. After 8 years I started being a manager at Chevy’s, so I started making $42,000.00 a year.

Me:  That is really good money.

Lito:  Back in the day, yeah.

Me:  When you went through the process of getting your green card, huh, how did you apply for it? Were you living here illegally?

Lito:  No, because I was legally because every Salvadorian when they get to this country they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.

Me:  How long do you get to keep this permit?  For as long as you want or is there a limitation?

Lito:  It was a limitation like every…well, the first one I had was for three years. The second was for a year and a half.  I had to always renew it because there is always different laws because of the war.

Me:  Now, does this permit make it so you have to work in a specific field or you can work anywhere?

Lito:  It is for any type of work, the only thing is that the permit was for a person who applied in 85 to 87 were the only ones allowed to get this permit.

Me:  So, it was only for that period of time and it doesn’t happen anymore?

Lito:  No, for people coming in the 90s, it was a different law.  Because in the 80s in El Salvador it was the war going on and all that kind of stuff, like, Honduras people when they go to this country in the 90s because of the hurricane, a lot of people came to this country because they had the right to apply for a visa because they couldn’t survive over there.  So the U.S. gave them a permit to work only.

Me:  So how did you have to apply?

Lito:  When the visa expires, you go back to renew and tell them that you are afraid to go back to your country.  If you follow every single step for 10 years, then they tell you can apply to stay in this country.  And is up to them if you get the green card or not.

Me:  Oh, okay.  From the time you applied, how long did it take you to get the green card?

Lito:  With my first lawyer, we applied in 99 or 2000.  I got it about 5 to 6 years later.

Me:  When it came time for you to get the green card, did you have to go through an interview process or you just get the paper when they approve it?

Lito:  It is an interview that they do to you, it’s a step that they have to ask you why you were here in the first place and why you want to stay.  I said that I was a minor and I came here to get away from the military or the other side of people fighting and I was a student.  So, they basically ask you all those questions in the interview and if you follow every single step, they will keep in touch with you but they don’t give you the green card right away.  But you have to have a good reason why you want to stay.

Me:  How long did the war go on in El Salvador and is that still going on?  How is life in El Salvador now?

Lito:  Right now that I go down there and visit is…before we leave the country the war was going on and now I don’t feel that kind of safe because all the gang bangers that used to live in the U.S., back in the early 2000 they got deported, so now they are doing the same thing there.  Whatever they were doing over here, they are doing to our country.  And they are destroying the country.  All the garbage they didn’t want over here, they (the U.S.) send them back to their country, so now all the things they were doing in jail and on the streets over here, they are doing over there.

Me:  So there’s more gangs and more violence?

Lito:  It’s very dangerous.  Because over here everybody thinks twice before they kill somebody.  In our country, you just kill somebody and start running and they don’t find you.  The laws are not the same.

Me:  Now, you said you had a little trouble with the law in the 90s.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Lito:  I was back in 95, I had a brother, he wasn’t blood but he grew up with us.  When he was 7 he stayed in our house and my parents paid for him to get down here.  He is like my real brother and, uh, in 95 he passed away.  And (pause) I got a little bit depressed and missed work and started drinking a little bit more and started getting in a little more deep into the gang and stuff like that.  I think it was my way out to relieve my anger of loosing a brother. So, the police got me a couple of times and I got 2 DUIs, but it didn’t do anything.  I just got angrier and in deeper trouble.

Me:  Did you get arrested?

Lito:  Yeah, the longest I was ever in jail was like 30 days.  I still had my work visa, but because I didn’t have to go to an interview when I was renewing the visa it didn’t affect it.  I was a little worried when I went for my first interview for my green card.

Me:  So what happened in the interview?

Lito:  They were talking about my criminal record and they were saying that I had about 8 DUIs, which wasn’t true but I had to prove it that I had only two and they were not trying to help me at all but things got better and I still got my green card.

Me:  Now, did you have to get a lawyer?

Lito:  I did have a lawyer in my first interview but they didn’t want to talk to him.  They wanted me to talk about myself.  They denied me the first time.  The second time I went back with the police reports to prove that I only had 2 DUIs and they denied it that moment.  After that, later, like a year, my lawyer told me that they were looking for me because I was approved and nobody told me for a whole year.

Me:  Did you feel like you were being discriminated against during the process?

Lito:  Not the first interview, but the second time, the person was from the Philippines and he had the same situation as our country.  He was asking me things like what would I do if I got deported.

Me:  Was he threatening you a little bit?

Lito:  Pretty much.

Me:  Are you a U.S. citizen now?

Lito:  No, I just got a green card.

Me:  Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?

Lito:  Yes, as soon as I qualify.

Me:  How long does that take?

Lito:  I qualify now, I just kinda very busy and lazy to fill out the paperwork, but I know in the future is very important to have your citizenship.  That’s my next goal.

Me:  Do you have kids?

Lito:  No, but I plan to have some one day.

Me:  Are you happy that you are in the U.S. and you are able to provide a future family all the things in the U.S. as opposed to being in El Salvador?

Lito:  Yes, that’s one of the main reasons why most of the people come to this country.  If you have plans to have kids you don’t want your kids to go through all the things you went through.  Not without tv, not without toys that everybody wants.  You know now you have a job that you can make good money so you can provide your kids with somethings you never had when you were kids.

Me:  What did your parents do when you were growing up/

Lito:  They were a minister, my daddy was a pastor and my mom was a follower.

Me:  So they raised you very religious?

Lito:  Yes, 80% of the people in El Salvador are very religious.

Me:  Is there a lot of domestic violence in El Salvador?

Lito:  It used to be back in the day but today women I think woke up and prefer to be single and not with somebody beating them every day.

Me:  Is life in the U.S. what you expected?  Are you happy the way your life turned out?

Lito:  Of course not, nobody is happy about waking up at 2 to 3 in the morning to go to work everyday, working 16 hours a day, but, you know, like I said before, better offers to be here and not in our country because at least we have a job over here and can make money.  We make triple in one day what they make there in one week

Me:  Did your parents ever have any interest in moving here?

Lito:  My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.

Me:  How often do you get to visit them?

Lito:  Now I go once a year and stay about 3 weeks. My mom comes here every 6 months.

Me:  Does she have to apply for a visa every time she comes?

Lito:  No, my brother is a citizen so he applied for my parents to get a green card.  She flies back and forth every six months so she doesn’t loose her green card.  My father had a green card too but never applied to renew it because he like El Salvador better.  Now he regrets that because he wanted to come over here but it’s a little too late.  We would have to do the process again.

Me:  Is it expensive to do that?

Lito:  You have to have a secure job and you need to make more that $28,000 a year and a letter from your job to prove to them that you have a job and they pay you enough

Me:  When you first got here, did you think that you would ever go back to El Salvador?

Lito:  Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country

Me:  So, security became more important than showing off what you had?

Lito:  Right.  I don’t plan to move back there.

Me:  Is your plan to stay in San Francisco?  Do you ever think of living anywhere else in the U.S.?

Lito:  I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here

Me:  Do you feel like the situation in El Salvador could get better in the next 10 years?

Lito:  I don’t, I don’t see that coming.  It’s getting worse

Me:  Do you feel the U.S. is somewhat responsible for how the situation in El Salvador has changed in the past 30 years?

Lito:  To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.  Before you used to buy like 2 eggs for 1 colon, which is like 15 cents over here, now you buy 2 eggs with one dollar, which it was 8 colons over there.  Literally, you spend like 8 times on what you are spending or more than what you were spending like 10 years ago.

Me:  In your opinion, do you think the U.S. had something to do with the war that was going on in El Salvador?

Lito:  When I was little I didn’t realize is that, is that when I was growing up, and when I was 8-years-old I figured out that, yeah, the U.S. got a little responsibility for that. Like lately, new law that they introduced over there is the same.  What happens is, the criminal has more rights than the civilians over there.  Like, if someone comes and robs you in your own house and they point you with a gun and you shoot them first and they got killed in your house, because you killed him in your property, you get arrested for life.  Is either way.  Either you dead or they dead but the law over there is the same law over here, but they don’t look at it the same way. Ok, it’s self defense, sorry you killed him, and one year in jail and that’s it.  No, they don’t think that way.  They put you in jail like you are the criminal.

Me:  Is the law there pretty corrupt?

Lito:  Some of them because, I think, criminal have the same rights as the government, I think.  If you are a security guard in some place or if you are a police officer in that area, they will pay you to close your eyes.  Either you take the money or you are dead.

Me:  Is there a big drug problem, I mean, a big drug trafficking problem in El Salvador or is it more of the Civil war that is the problem?

Lito:  Is more of the Civil war going on between gangs and the people, because if you have a small business, literally selling like $10 a day, in your little liquor store or whatever you have, they will come and take those $10 and whatever you make on the day time, or you are dead.

Me:  Oh, wow.  When the situation got a lot more violent with the gangs, was it between gangs and the government, or gangs and the people, or was it everybody fighting for their lives?

Lito:  It started between gangs, you know, people knew each other on the street and they went over there and they started fighting each other.  And after that they got along and they started getting on the regular people.  You know, like, you coming from shopping or whatever they, they pull up a knife or a gun, they just take whatever you have.  And that’s their territory and whatever rule they were following over here or in jail, you know, like, you give up your booty or you give up your food, or whatever, and they are doing over there the same rules on the street.  And I don’t that’s fair.

Me:  Were they involving kids in this, like, recruiting kids?

Lito:  Oh yeah.  Like 10, 12-year-old kids.  Because basically the law over there it is the same as the law over here.  If you are a minor, they send you to the, uh, not the person can do to charge you because you are a minor.  Over there they a minor, if a minor kill somebody, they are gonna get only one or two years and they are gonna be out and it’s easy for them.  But when you are over 18 or over 20, if you kill somebody, they know they are gonna give you the 20 to 25 or whatever.

Me:  Do you know anyone that live in San Francisco that, that, had to go through any type of gangs like that?

Lito:  [hand signal suggesting he didn’t want to talk about that]

Me:  Are you forced to go into the military in El Salvador

Lito:  You used to before when it was the army, they take you like when you were strong enough.  It didn’t matter if you were 14 or 16 or, uh, they forced you to go.  Now they don’t have a military that, like one like the army.  They do now only have like regular police and you have to have to have a degree to get into it they are the most corrupted.  They will tell either my family go through or will be dead.  So police just walk around like they didn’t see anything and they just get there after they are dead and say somebody got killed.  It happens all over the world. You call 911 over here and they ask “are you bleeding?” so they go “oh, ok the police will be there in half an hour.”  In Latin America is even worse.

Me:  Overall, in your opinion, why do you think people move to the U.S. from your country?

Lito:  I would say that, my country, El Salvador, people move for a more secure, more safe. They just wanna come and make some money for the family over there.  And for the rest of the Central America, either they got two options: either they go down to El Salvador to sell something or to work over there for a dollar, an American dollar, and they go back to Honduras, Panama, or Nicaragua, it triples, eight times the money.  They bring some dollars to their country.  But for us, we do it for the money and for a better life for our family, or the security and status, that’s much better.  People come from the other countries to make country sometimes like they cross the Rio Grande.  They come to sell things and they can’t get caught because is against the law.  They have the choice to try to come to the U.S., or they take their chances in El Salvador.  You can build a fence, but we will find a tunnel.  Exactly like the U.S.

Me:  Well, thank you very much for your time.

Lito:  No problem.

The Lost Identity

The Lost Identity

by Brandon Moreno, December 2013

What is home? Asking someone what home is is like asking someone what love is. This is a very complex topic and everyone’s idea of home is going to be different. To some it may be where they live now or where they were born. To others it can be an entire country or state that they see as home. Katrina has no home. She lives in a nice two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath house with her parents in the Bay Area. Most people would see her as being very fortunate, but all she has is shelter, no home. After asking her which country she considers to be her home country, she says the Philippines only because she was born there. After asking Katrina what her concept of home is she said, “My concept of home is a place where you feel you belong and a place to make memories.” She see her home country as home not only because she was born there, but also because she feels more accepted there.

          But what if one does not identify any specific place as home?  This is a strange  but very real concept.  As natural disasters and war ravage regions around the world, home may be destroyed for some people.  This is what I will address in my paper.  After interviewing my subject, I realized that she does not identify with a specific home.  In this essay, I will outline her struggles to fit in and gain acceptance in a world in which she does not feel grounded to a specific place.

            In the Philippines, like other Asian countries, the culture is very collectivistic.  Elders are respected and honored as sources of wisdom and guidance.  Younger children are taught at a young age to respect their elders and contribute to the family.  It is not uncommon for a child as young as ten years old to get a job and begin providing for his or her family.  Also, in Asian cultures, one functions for the betterment of the family as opposed to the advancement of the individual.  This fosters a sense of camaraderie and strength within the family as they are all working together toward one goal, which is to survive and prosper.  Here in America, the opposite is in effect as we have a strongly individualistic culture.  When we are young, we are asked what we want to do when we grow up, what type of clothes we want to wear and what food we want to eat.  In many other cultures, there is not much choice given and what your family has is what you get.  The individualistic nature of this country’s culture can prove to be very challenging for someone of Asian descent due to the many cultural differences. 

            The first topic I will touch on is code switching and its significance from a cultural perspective. Like I previously mentioned, in Asian cultures each family member has a distinct and specific job that he or she has to accomplish. In American culture, one often does not have a distinct job related to the family. An American’s job is based on how that person wants to live his or her life. If she wants to become a doctor, her job is to study hard and get into medical school. This may be a hard line for an Asian American to straddle due to the fact that her family is telling her that she has to provide for the family, but her surroundings are telling her to be individualistic and make her dreams a reality. This idea of living one’s life within the family and living another with friends and at school can be very hard to comprehend for an Asian American. One has to balance her home life and social life and act differently in both roles, which can be very confusing and disheartening. 

            Due to the cultural difference between the Philippines and America, I can see why it is hard for Katrina to call a specific place home. Her interactions at home with her family are very different from the pressures society puts on her being an American citizen. At home, she treads with caution around her parents, as she is very respectful and compliant to any of their needs.  She is often responsible for helping her sister with homework and cooking meals when her family is busy with other things. When at home, her dress is very conservative due to her strict parents and her Christian upbringing. She also has a very long list of chores that she has to complete each week, ranging from cleaning her room to mopping the kitchen floor. Also, she is responsible for most of her bills, which include her phone, clothing and all of her credit cards.  Nothing is handed to her in her family. When Katrina is with her friends and away from her family, she takes on a very different persona. She is much more social and participates in many activities her parents would not want her to be doing. Her actions portray those of an average American woman who likes to go out dancing, drinking and shopping with her friends.  In contrast to how she dresses at home, the way she dresses with her friends is more provocative and individualistic, which goes along with the American culture. She has specific interests, which include badminton and volleyball, which she participates in, outside of the home. Her speech is also very different when she is out with friends as she adopts the slang of her American generation. With these tremendous differences between her home and social life, I can see why Katrina has not identified a specific home for herself. She is basically straddling two worlds, which are in great conflict with each other.

            Another reason why Katrina does not feel she has a home is due to her religious affiliation.  Back in the Philippines, her extended family is made up of  devout Catholics. They live and breathe by the Bible and do not support any other religion. Katrina and her nuclear family are Christian, which is an offshoot of Catholicism, but there are differences in their beliefs.  Her family in the Philippines frowns upon her nuclear family’s choice of religion and it has caused great tension between them in the past.  This has put a tremendous strain on her due to the fact that her relatives in the Philippines have disowned her immediate family. Although this may seem trivial, Katrina takes this very hard because it is always tense when she goes back to visit. She does not feel a connection with her relatives because they look down upon her, but she does not feel connected with American culture because she is of Asian descent. 

            Her relatives also look down on her for not being able to speak her native language fluently, which makes home feel like a fictional concept. Although she is competent enough to understand and speak minimally, it is frowned upon that she is not fluent. This causes a lot of discomfort for Katrina in that she does not feel connected with the closest place that she can call home. Her relatives constantly leave her out of conversations when they are together to teach her a stern lesson. Although this may seem unfair to some, it is very common in Asian cultures for one’s family to disown or look down upon a family member for something that is not directly his or her fault. 

            Another reason why Katrina does not feel like she has a specific home is that her relatives constantly criticize her family for moving to the United States. Her relatives make jokes about American culture and assume that her family is rich due to living in a different country. The majority of the communication between the two families is her relatives asking her family to send money. This is incredibly disheartening to Katrina and her family because, not only are they looked down upon for moving overseas, but they also feel used and almost obligated to send money to win back their relatives’ trust. This is a strange position and I cannot imagine how this changes her perspective on where she calls home. Although she identifies the Philippines as home, she is ostracized by her relatives due to her religion, speech and current living situation.    

            Another key factor in Katrina’s discovery of home is having a sense of community. I asked her, “How do you view life when you’re in the Philippines in comparison to when you’re in the United States?” She replied, “Life in the Philippines is slow but also more difficult. Everyone is more community-oriented and bases their decisions on how it will affect others around them. The US is very self-centered.” She mentions the word community and in order to feel accepted and at home she needs to have a sense of community. The U.S. does not live up to those standards, as it is very “self-centered,” as she claims. This balancing act of trying to feel at home in two countries she feels lost in continues to take a toll on her daily life. Community is a key factor in her culture in the Philippines and, if she doesn’t have community, she doesn’t have a home. She feels most at home in the Philippines because her family there is warm and welcoming.          

            The majority of Filipino-Americans have their extended families living with them in their homes, as that is a part of their culture. Barbara Posadas, author of the book The Filipino Americans, states, “in 1990, Filipino American households more typically included members other than spouses, children, and even parents and parents-in-law of the householder, than did American households in general.” She continues to add that the percentage of extended family members in Filipino homes is more than four times that of extended family members living in American homes. This idea of closeness within a family is ideal for Katrina because family is community and community is the closest thing to home in her mind. She identifies her self through home, so, without a home, her identity is essentially lost.

            She seems to struggle with the language of her home country and the lifestyle of the Philippines. I asked her about how it feels when she goes back to the Philippines and she explains that her family prepares a feast, welcomes her, and then they go out. Next, she says, “If that aspect weren’t there, if it didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines, then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed.” She continues on to explain the language barrier and how a lot of bargaining goes on in the villages of her home country. She is not a barterer and doesn’t like their way of communicating there. Her family also looks at her differently there because she is “Americanized” and doesn’t speak her root language very well. Since she can’t speak her native language very fluently, the idea of acceptance becomes an issue and she doesn’t feel like she belongs in the Philippines. It’s easy for her to get frustrated because negotiating is so third-world to her even though she sees this third world country as her home.

            The fact that Katrina is not a U.S. born Filipino-American makes it difficult for her to get along with Filipinos who were born in the United States because of communication issues. This too is also in part because of the language barrier. I asked her, “What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to 

be your home country?”  She replied “… and it’s kind of sad. Even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.” Her observation shows that she is at a loss with finding comfort and in where home is. Her identity is Filipino American: while she knows her roots and is culturally rooted, her sense of home involves a constant tug-of-war between the two countries and two cultures. Acceptance is a huge issue that continues to cause stress and emotional problems that erupt in her.

            Next, I asked her to elaborate on how Filipinos born in the U.S. treat her. She says:

“So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even if I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best, but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm, I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’m really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others Asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino.”

As she states this very detailed example of her mistreatment from her own group of people with the same roots as her, I observed that they are very different. Although many Filipinos may speak the same language and have the same color skin, they are not similar at all as in Katrina’s case. Her battle to feel accepted by the majority of white people, by Filipino people in the Philippines, and by her Filipino peers in the U.S. brings about a stronghold in her life.

          Katrina constantly faces the unbearable motion of depression due to feeling like she doesn’t belong to a true home. Pisares, the writer of the journal article “Social- Invisibility Narrative of Filipino-American Feature Films,” explains, “the crux of the Filipino-American social condition is a nagging sense that despite their status as the second largest Asian-American group, Filipino Americans are represented or recognized infrequently in multicultural, post-civil-rights U.S. culture: they are, in a word, invisible.” This is in fact to be understood as saying that people like that Katrina are facing depression through the lack of acceptance from society. Unfortunately, this is not a phenomenon as this is very common for many individuals who have immigrated to the United States from other countries. Uniquely enough, her ethnic group is the second largest of the Asian-American groups yet they are still ignored through the scope of the majority. 

            Lastly, the Filipino and American cultures are very different, causing great conflict in Katrina deciding which she prefers to be her own. As Eric Reyes, writer of “Fictions of Return in Filipino America,” adds, “In contrast to local and localizing art projects such as Images of America, the transnational art project is another form of intervention into the messy field of tension between Filipino America and America.” In Reyes’ observation, one thing is clearly revealed to us is that transnational art challenges the notion that one country’s influential art is based on culture, providing views of their idealistic concept of home.  How does this art and culture relate to Katrina’s concept of home? Transnationalism is the idea of being able to relate to or be involved with several nations. Katrina’s life relates to this art piece since she has transcended national borders. Her perspective of culture changes as she changes location and there is never a concrete conclusion to her unanswered question of who she is and where home truly is.

            In closing, there is no clear understanding of home in the eyes of many immigrants. The majority of them face depression due to having no true identity and because of the harsh realities of the world. As many continue to stay voiceless and passive, their own beliefs become lost and adjusting to another culture becomes the norm. Earlier, Katrina stated that community is a significant aspect in her life in referring to her concept of home. Transitioning from one culture to the next through a variety of outlets takes a toll on an individual. Although moving around a lot has challenged Katrina, being exposed to no real home, she has gained much knowledge and has built a foundation of who she is throughout this process. Identifying herself is a process, and through experiences, her ability to embrace trials and tribulations has lead her to be at peace with herself even if home isn’t really home.

Works Cited

Salangsang, Katrina. Personal interview. 29 October 2013.

Reyes, Eric. “Fictions of Return in Filipino America.” 107th ser. 29.2 (2011): 19+. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

Posadas, Barbara Mercedes. “Individual Aspirations, Family Claims, and the Filipino American Household.” The Filipino Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.             100-01. Print.

Pisares, E. H. “The Social-Invisibility Narrative in Filipino-            American Feature Films.” Positions: East Asia Cultures             Critique 19.2 (2011): 421-37. Print.

Transcribed Interview

How long it take for parents to decide to come to us?

I would say maybe about eight years because my dad was in Saudi Arabia while my mom was in the Philippines. They decided they wanted to build a Life together. In the U.S. because there were no jobs for them in the Philippines.

Tell me about the culture of your home country.

I would say it’s umm. It’s really vibrant. In a way that we’re very welcoming and neighbors really get to know each other. They’re practically related. And they share a lot of food. Everybody we meet we somehow give them food or you know, just give them a taste of what Filipino food is like.

What did your family expect America do be like before they arrived here?

Just really a great and full of opportunity and a lot easier life than it is in the Philippines.

Has the U.S. exceeded your expectations?

Not really umm, life here is actually a lot more difficult in terms of just keeping up with the pace of how this country is. The expectations we have for social status, just being able to pay taxes and you know like umm. We have expectations of our own culture and that of the U.S. So it makes it difficult. Especially when the U.S. culture does not accept us as openly as our own. And you know what, neither does our own accept us because we are seen as the, how do you say this, I guess the more umm privileged, but we do not feel privileged at all because we have to work so hard, so much harder than they do in the Philippines.

How has your view of the U.S. changed after moving here?

It’s changed because growing up (cough) I thought that the U.S. is the melting pot so everybody’s gonna get along no matter what ethnicity, religion or background, but that’s not what was proven to me  because growing up I was made fun of a lot (cough) especially when I still had an accent. That was back in Elementary school. And then even now I would consider my family and I to be middle class, you know we worked hard enough and we have the income to be considered middle class and we are educated people but people who are, who think that they are originally from this country feel like they can look down on us. They think they can make us feel inferior because of our skin color, because of where we come from and it’s really annoying because growing up I was told that America was the land of the great. You know everyone’s here to just live life together and just make everything better for each other. That’s not what it is.

Why do you stay in the U.S?

I have no choice. You know I’ve lived here since I was three years old and it would be difficult for me to even live back home because they have a different culture there. Even they would make fun of me for not knowing how to speak fluently in our native language.

Do you ever plan to move back to your home country?

Sometimes I think about it. Umm if I were to find a good enough opportunity and find a good source of income or a good place to live or if my parents do decide to move back home and they need me then I would move back.

Tell me about your families journey in immigrating to America.

It was really difficult for my parents. For the first ten years I could tell that they struggles a lot with the language barrier even though they spoke English really well it would still be difficult to understand body language, certain tone in the way people talk to you, attitudes. It would be hard to really understand what that person what trying to say. Like let’s say somebody was being condescending they would really pick up on that really easily so it was difficult for them to I guess like make friends with people who were not Filipino and also to communicate with co workers on a more personal level, but professionally it looked like they did well. It’s just the connection and more personal level that lacked.

What challenges do you face as an immigrant that you feel you wouldn’t face as an American?

I think the main challenge for me is I don’t know acceptance. I feel like to this day people still look at me and my family and they treat us differently. Just the other day my mother and I were at a department store and one of the workers at the department store was in the aisle that my mom was in and she said out loud “oh the security camera guy is here, he just installed the cameras.” And my mom looked up and nobody was there so basically that woman was trying to say if you’re trying to steal something you’re being watched or because you are not white we’re gonna assume that you’re trying to steal something.

How did that make you feel?

Angry

What are your favorite qualities of the United States?

I guess my favorite quality is that even though diversity has it’s negative points to it just like the racism, sexism it’s still really fun getting to know other peoples cultures and just I don’t know having community with people who are completely different from what your ancestors were.

What are your least favorite qualities of the United States?

The least favorite is of course still I guess I can call it White power. The White power feel of this country. You can see it on the media. I think it was Miss America. Just this past Miss America pageant I think she was Indian and there were comments about that. About people not liking that they chose an Indian American so that really pisses me off that it still happens.

How have you grown from your experience?

Honestly, I think I’ve grown to learn how to accept people more. Umm but it’s also helped me toughen up in terms of knowing how to protect myself and accepting that it’s gonna happen so in a way my acceptance is my protection because I’m prepared for whatever is gonna be said or whatever is gonna be done.

Tell me about the economics in the Philippines.

The Philippines is mostly a third world country. Obviously America’s first world so a lot of people there have to work overseas just to support family in the Philippines. Umm I  think my families pretty well off in the Philippines and we’re considered middle class here. Umm so I think does that answer your question?

Do you consider the Philippines or the U.S. to be your home? Explain.

I think I consider the Philippines to be my home only because I was born there.

What are some human rights abuses you might have faced?

Mostly discrimination against race, color, language, religion and I still don’t feel like  I’m entitled to live and breathe on this soil. Like no matter how educated I am, no matter what I do to try and improve myself which is BS because there is nothing for me to prove since I didn’t even choose to live here in the beginning. You know like what’s up with that. I’m just here because I had no choice. I’m just trying to live my life.

Do you have any regrets in coming to the U.S?

I mean not really. My life, I don’t know how my life would of turned out if we stayed in the Philippines because back then I know my grandpa was cheated of his inheritance so then my mom was growing up in poverty and my dad as an overseas worker didn’t make much and he grew up in poverty to begin with. I think I. Would of been poor also, but here even though it’s such a struggle to keep our lifestyle you know just keeping a roof over our head, some food in the fridge, just being able to go out wherever we want I think I would keep this life in this country.

What are some stereotypes about immigrants that you feel are false?

I guess just the stereotype of us taking over. You know everybody that’s in this country right now they were descendants of immigrants so nobody is completely entitled to saying that this is their country and that we should go back to our own. And also I guess the main stereotype of Filipinos is that we’re all gonna be nurses. Lucky me I’m not a nurse.

How does it feel when you go back to visit your home country?

Most of the time it is really good. It feels really good. I feel at home probably for about a week because everybody is welcoming. My aunts always prepare a feast for us and then my cousins take us out, but it seems like if that aspect weren’t there. It didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed. Like if I were to go to the mall  or the market by myself I feel like if I were to try to buy something people would cheat me because I don’t know how to barter, bargain or like ask for a lower price. That’s the thing in the Philippines. You are able to ask for lower prices for things. It doesn’t matter where you go. You can do that but I’m not good at negotiating and I’m not used to that so I guess that would be something that would make me miss the more structured way of paying  for things in the Unites States. I like the food there of course. Nothing beats like the food of your country of origin, especially if you really like it. And just the hospitality in general.

Do people immigrate to the Philippines and how are they treated?

Yes we have Koreans, Chinese, and even Americans. They come to live in the Philippines either for school, work or just to retire. From what I’ve seen they get treated well if not better than Filipinos in their own country. Like usually if you were to see or encounter and American or Korean person in the Philippines I feel like they treat them with more respect and give them better hospitality, better customer service. I guess because in our culture we just want to make people feel welcomed so that’s what we do.

What was the process like to become an American citizen when you moved here?

Honestly, I don’t really know the process. I just remember as a child when I was about maybe 5 or 6 going to San Francisco coming from the a East Bay going on BART just to get my picture taken. I would guess that it was from some immigration center. This is embarrassing that I don’t what what it’s called, but I know that that was probably when I established my residency here. I was naturalized.

What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to be your home country?

I guess just I don’t know like. I think for me it’s still the criticism, racism, sexism just personal things that I have to deal with and it’s kind of sad even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.

Tell me about that.

So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and. I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’M really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino

How does that make you feel?

I just brush it off because honestly I’m not gonna feed their insecurities. I feel like making fun of people is out of insecurity.

What are some racial slurs that you have been called?

I guess FLIP. F*ckin little island people. I think that goes back to like one of the world wars. And then other asians don’t like us because we’re part of Asia but we don’t look asian a lot of the times. Some of us look more Polynesian or Spanish and we have darker skin tone and they make fun of us for that.

What are you proud as an American?

Even though we go through a lot of racism, prejudice, I am glad that in America we are still able to have education. We can still live out our dreams, but for me with all the “isms” it’s not gonna make me feel like living it out. I feel like I’m almost trying to keep up with the norms

How would your life be different here in America if you didn’t face any racism or discrimination?

I feel like I. I don’t know. I would feel way more empowered. I think with that empowerment I would be able to put all that energy, the knowledge that I have from my education into use a lot better and not have to worry about which career would I be more I guess qualified and criticized in. Most likely I wouldn’t be more insecure. As a girl we’re already insecure but then to be different and to be treated that way in a country that is supposed to be your home and you’ve assimilated yourself here and you don’t even feel like your country of origin is your home. It would help to not have all of those “isms”.

Who is Katrina?

(Laughs) I am a child of God. I am a Filipino American. I would also say I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. Somewhat of an activist especially for women. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I definitely do support women’s rights and just any other thing that surrounds that. I am a bad mitten, volleyball player, singer, dancer and foodie.

How long did it take for your parents to decide to come to us?

I would say maybe about eight years because my dad was in Saudi Arabia while my mom was in the Philippines. They decided they wanted to build a Life together. In the U.S. because there were no jobs for them in the Philippines.

Tell me about the culture of your home country.

I would say it’s umm. It’s really vibrant. In a way that we’re very welcoming and neighbors really get to know each other. They’re practically related. And they share a lot of food. Everybody we meet we somehow give them food or you know, just give them a taste of what Filipino food is like.

What did your family expect America do be like before they arrived here?

Just really a great and full of opportunity and a lot easier life than it is in the Philippines.

Has the U.S. exceeded your expectations?

Not really umm, life here is actually a lot more difficult in terms of just keeping up with the pace of how this country is. The expectations we have for social status, just being able to pay taxes and you know like umm. We have expectations of our own culture and that of the U.S. So it makes it difficult. Especially when the U.S. culture does not accept us as openly as our own. And you know what, neither does our own accept us because we are seen as the, how do you say this, I guess the more umm privileged, but we do not feel privileged at all because we have to work so hard, so much harder than they do in the Philippines.

How has your view of the U.S. changed after moving here?

It’s changed because growing up (cough) I thought that the U.S. is the melting pot so everybody’s gonna get along no matter what ethnicity, religion or background, but that’s not what was proven to me  because growing up I was made fun of a lot (cough) especially when I still had an accent. That was back in Elementary school. And then even now I would consider my family and I to be middle class, you know we worked hard enough and we have the income to be considered middle class and we are educated people but people who are, who think that they are originally from this country feel like they can look down on us. They think they can make us feel inferior because of our skin color, because of where we come from and it’s really annoying because growing up I was told that America was the land of the great. You know everyone’s here to just live life together and just make everything better for each other. That’s not what it is.

Why do you stay in the U.S?

I have no choice. You know I’ve lived here since I was three years old and it would be difficult for me to even live back home because they have a different culture there. Even they would make fun of me for not knowing how to speak fluently in our native language.

Do you ever plan to move back to your home country?

Sometimes I think about it. Umm if I were to find a good enough opportunity and find a good source of income or a good place to live or if my parents do decide to move back home and they need me then I would move back.

Tell me about your families journey in immigrating to America.

It was really difficult for my parents. For the first ten years I could tell that they struggles a lot with the language barrier even though they spoke English really well it would still be difficult to understand body language, certain tone in the way people talk to you, attitudes. It would be hard to really understand what that person what trying to say. Like let’s say somebody was being condescending they would really pick up on that really easily so it was difficult for them to I guess like make friends with people who were not Filipino and also to communicate with co workers on a more personal level, but professionally it looked like they did well. It’s just the connection and more personal level that lacked.

What challenges do you face as an immigrant that you feel you wouldn’t face as an American?

I think the main challenge for me is I don’t know acceptance. I feel like to this day people still look at me and my family and they treat us differently. Just the other day my mother and I were at a department store and one of the workers at the department store was in the aisle that my mom was in and she said out loud “oh the security camera guy is here, he just installed the cameras.” And my mom looked up and nobody was there so basically that woman was trying to say if you’re trying to steal something you’re being watched or because you are not white we’re gonna assume that you’re trying to steal something.

How did that make you feel?

Angry

What are your favorite qualities of the United States?

I guess my favorite quality is that even though diversity has it’s negative points to it just like the racism, sexism it’s still really fun getting to know other peoples cultures and just I don’t know having community with people who are completely different from what your ancestors were.

What are your least favorite qualities of the United States?

The least favorite is of course still I guess I can call it White power. The White power feel of this country. You can see it on the media. I think it was Miss America. Just this past Miss America pageant I think she was Indian and there were comments about that. About people not liking that they chose an Indian American so that really pisses me off that it still happens.

How have you grown from your experience?

Honestly, I think I’ve grown to learn how to accept people more. Umm but it’s also helped me toughen up in terms of knowing how to protect myself and accepting that it’s gonna happen so in a way my acceptance is my protection because I’m prepared for whatever is gonna be said or whatever is gonna be done.

Tell me about the economics in the Philippines.

The Philippines is mostly a third world country. Obviously America’s first world so a lot of people there have to work overseas just to support family in the Philippines. Umm I  think my families pretty well off in the Philippines and we’re considered middle class here. Umm so I think does that answer your question?

Do you consider the Philippines or the U.S. to be your home? Explain.

I think I consider the Philippines to be my home only because I was born there.

What are some human rights abuses you might have faced?

Mostly discrimination against race, color, language, religion and I still don’t feel like  I’m entitled to live and breathe on this soil. Like no matter how educated I am, no matter what I do to try and improve myself which is BS because there is nothing for me to prove since I didn’t even choose to live here in the beginning. You know like what’s up with that. I’m just here because I had no choice. I’m just trying to live my life.

Do you have any regrets in coming to the U.S?

I mean not really. My life, I don’t know how my life would of turned out if we stayed in the Philippines because back then I know my grandpa was cheated of his inheritance so then my mom was growing up in poverty and my dad as an overseas worker didn’t make much and he grew up in poverty to begin with. I think I. Would of been poor also, but here even though it’s such a struggle to keep our lifestyle you know just keeping a roof over our head, some food in the fridge, just being able to go out wherever we want I think I would keep this life in this country.

What are some stereotypes about immigrants that you feel are false?

I guess just the stereotype of us taking over. You know everybody that’s in this country right now they were descendants of immigrants so nobody is completely entitled to saying that this is their country and that we should go back to our own. And also I guess the main stereotype of Filipinos is that we’re all gonna be nurses. Lucky me I’m not a nurse.

How does it feel when you go back to visit your home country?

Most of the time it is really good. It feels really good. I feel at home probably for about a week because everybody is welcoming. My aunts always prepare a feast for us and then my cousins take us out, but it seems like if that aspect weren’t there. It didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed. Like if I were to go to the mall  or the market by myself I feel like if I were to try to buy something people would cheat me because I don’t know how to barter, bargain or like ask for a lower price. That’s the thing in the Philippines. You are able to ask for lower prices for things. It doesn’t matter where you go. You can do that but I’m not good at negotiating and I’m not used to that so I guess that would be something that would make me miss the more structured way of paying  for things in the Unites States. I like the food there of course. Nothing beats like the food of your country of origin, especially if you really like it. And just the hospitality in general.

Do people immigrate to the Philippines and how are they treated?

Yes we have Koreans, Chinese, and even Americans. They come to live in the Philippines either for school, work or just to retire. From what I’ve seen they get treated well if not better than Filipinos in their own country. Like usually if you were to see or encounter and American or Korean person in the Philippines I feel like they treat them with more respect and give them better hospitality, better customer service. I guess because in our culture we just want to make people feel welcomed so that’s what we do.

What was the process like to become an American citizen when you moved here?

Honestly, I don’t really know the process. I just remember as a child when I was about maybe 5 or 6 going to San Francisco coming from the a East Bay going on BART just to get my picture taken. I would guess that it was from some immigration center. This is embarrassing that I don’t what what it’s called, but I know that that was probably when I established my residency here. I was naturalized.

What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to be your home country?

I guess just I don’t know like. I think for me it’s still the criticism, racism, sexism just personal things that I have to deal with and it’s kind of sad even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.

Tell me about that.

So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and. I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’M really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino

How does that make you feel?

I just brush it off because honestly I’m not gonna feed their insecurities. I feel like making fun of people is out of insecurity.

What are some racial slurs that you have been called?

I guess FLIP. F*ckin little island people. I think that goes back to like one of the world wars. And then other asians don’t like us because we’re part of Asia but we don’t look asian a lot of the times. Some of us look more Polynesian or Spanish and we have darker skin tone and they make fun of us for that.

What are you proud as an American?

Even though we go through a lot of racism, prejudice, I am glad that in America we are still able to have education. We can still live out our dreams, but for me with all the “isms” it’s not gonna make me feel like living it out. I feel like I’m almost trying to keep up with the norms

How would your life be different here in America if you didn’t face any racism or discrimination?

I feel like I. I don’t know. I would feel way more empowered. I think with that empowerment I would be able to put all that energy, the knowledge that I have from my education into use a lot better and not have to worry about which career would I be more I guess qualified and criticized in. Most likely I wouldn’t be more insecure. As a girl we’re already insecure but then to be different and to be treated that way in a country that is supposed to be your home and you’ve assimilated yourself here and you don’t even feel like your country of origin is your home. It would help to not have all of those “isms”.

Who is Katrina?

(Laughs) I am a child of God. I am a Filipino American. I would also say I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. Somewhat of an activist especially for women. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I definitely do support women’s rights and just any other thing that surrounds that. I am a bad mitten, volleyball player, singer, dancer and foodie.

Exile for Yedel

Exile for Yedel

by Ruth Alemu, December 2013

Has it ever boggled your mind why people want to leave their counties and struggle through different cultures just to start a whole new life? Or have you ever wondered why some people don’t just work hard in their own countries and better themselves? Well, people leave their families and countries to find better life, peace, freedom, money or love. A conducted interview with an immigrant named Yedel Sew, who currently resides in the Bay Area, explains why people are exiled to other countries. Yedel Sew is from Ethiopia and grew up in a good neighborhood in the historic city Bahir Dar. He was exiled to the United States to find freedom for himself because he was punished for criticizing the Ethiopian government about forbidding the freedom of speech and the choosing of one’s own political party. For a long time, he had refused to give in to anger or exile; instead, he resisted the government threats.The government accused him of being a terrorist when they found out that he was working with the opposition political parties to bring about a fair democratic government. Despite the fact that no accusation had evidence, many of his friends were imprisoned and killed. Yedel wanted to leave the country when he realized that most of his friends had been thrown in jail or killed. According to Yedel, the torture was extraordinary; for instance, the males were forced to carry and pull heavy weights tied on their genitals until they pointed out one of their political member. For this reason, Yedel left his country and exiled himself to the United States of America (USA), and suffered through lots of misery. He left his good job, family and fiancé behind. His exile to the US was more devastating for his fiancé and his mother, not only because he was their source of income but also they couldn’t flee with him. During his journey, he was hungry, slept in refugee camps, was imprisoned, and almost lost his life while he was traveling on a boat. Although arriving to the US seemed to promise a life with freedom, being an undocumented immigrant made it difficult to find jobs and start a new life all over again. Until he acquired legal papers that allow him to stay in the US, he worked under the table, which was difficult for him because employers often felt free to pay him low wages and ignore dangerous conditions since he had no legal way of complaining. Along with significant language and cultural barriers, exile left him with a lengthy bureaucratic procedure until he established his new legal status. People that are facing political problems in their counties, like Yedel, should exile themselves to other countries in order to gain freedom regardless of encountering multiple setbacks and struggle during the journey because it will help them live better lives.

Being a refugee from third world country was challenging due to the rising of anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized countries; the journey to the US was not as smooth as Yedel assumed. He started his journey from Ethiopia to Cuba with legal visa (a passport), but from there to the US, his passport was useless not only because he was travelling by car and boat but also because he was coming from a third world country, which didn’t guarantee him a pass or respect. He described how he left his passport in Ecuador: “I threw away my Ethiopian passport since it is no longer helping me to transfer, because I couldn’t get any visa with Ethiopian passport” (Yedel). Having an Ethiopian passport definitely prevented him from getting a visa because most of the people from third world countries are running from their homes scared of war and poverty, like him. His long travel includes the countries Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and lastly, the United States. Yedel and his two friends started the big journey together without any knowledge of where or how to go. Eventually, they contacted some smugglers to assist them through their journey. Besides the payment paid to the smugglers, they had to bribe the officers every time they got pulled over. He wrapped a stack of pesos with a U.S. dollar and handed to the police officer to make it look like a lot of U.S. dollars because he couldn’t afford to pay them in dollars every single time they pulled him over. Long drives, walking, staying in refugee camps and being thrown in jail without knowing for how long they would be kept, the journey was extremely distressing. There was a time when Yedel almost lost his life; he was trying to cross the border between Colombia and Nicaragua with a small boat made out of wood that carried around fifty people without any access to restrooms. He says, “The smugglers told us we will arrive in two days, but it took us eight days. We were lost in the middle of the journey and the boat run out of gas, so we put bed sheet to move the boat with the help of wind. The phone inside the boat stopped working; they said no battery. Also, we were moving without any compass and we didn’t eat anything else except one apple a day” (Yedel). It was a life and death situation for him to be in that boat because there was lack of basic survival necessities such as food, water and restrooms in addition to getting lost in the middle of nowhere. The boat was overcrowded, making it potentially dangerous, but they continued with the journey. The trip lasted days; the waves were high and they suffered more when the motor stopped and they began moving through the help of the wind. When they finally reached land, it was like liberation. Even though being from a third world country was a setback on his journey, he felt liberated when he reached the freedom land.

Although Yedel wanted to stay in Ethiopia, the government dictatorship made him run from his country due to the fact that there was no equality between ethnic groups and also political difference was not accepted. While he was in Ethiopia, freedom of speech was like a dream. The dictator leader wouldn’t let him live because he was against the system. He explained his experience in anger: “While I was in Ethiopia I had a very nice job with the field I graduated and I had a good life. But I have been jailed and beaten around three four times only because I was spoken the truth during community meetings. When you say I need freedom, they will look for trouble and beat you up” (Yedel).  The so-called “Democratic Party” controls the country. If a person talks about what is wrong and what is right, that person will end up in jail. That is why an independent and ambitious young man like Yedel could not live in Ethiopia because he believes in speaking out. He fought not only for himself but also for people who can’t fight for themselves as well. In reality, he doesn’t have security or the guarantee of his life because they can throw him in jail any time. Hence, Yedel left his country even though he wanted to stay and do something tangible to improve his country. Before he left, Yedel was becoming wealthy because of his hard work, but the ruling party was not happy with what he was getting and wanted to destroy him. In the 2005 election, Yedel and his friends participated in the opposition political party. The idea was to push the government to have a free and fair democratic election but the government was harassing the opposition parties and was using systematic political control, which made the election difficult. At that time, the majority of the people were supporting the opposition party, so, if the government didn’t want to have a fair election, they wanted them to give up power peacefully but when the government found out about their plan, they put his life in danger. Yedel fought until he couldn’t take it anymore; however, waiting for his death was not possible for him because some of his friends got imprisoned, tortured, were deprived of sleep and food and lastly killed. Given these actions, Yedel left his country in order to flee from extreme and almost humiliating politics.

Knowing his basic rights helped Yedel to gain his freedom, yet many times he was denied it. While crossing a border, there was moment when they put him in jail without letting him know how long he had to stay there. They were caught at the Nicaraguan border by the border police and imprisoned for forty-five days. During those forty-five days staying there caused a lot of suffering; the food was not etable, the hygiene was bad and they were sleeping on the floor. Because of the bad treatment they received, Yedel and his friends planned to do a hunger strike in order to fight for the basic human rights they were denied. The hunger strike went very well as he explained, “We didn’t eat for eight days while we were in the journey and again we did four days food strike, so some of the people got constipated and sick. Normally, they are not allowed to have under age prisoners in the facility but one of the guy that fainted was not even eighteen. They were scared of being sued so they begged us to eat and promised to let us go” (Yedel). This shows that they knew this strike would attract human right fighters’ attention, which in the end helped to free them. Besides, the guy who fainted was not even eighteen years old; thus, he was not supposed to be imprisoned with them. Fighting for their rights allowed them to continue their freedom journey. Then, Yedel and his friends left Nicaragua because the Nicaraguan government asked them to pay for every night they stayed at the camp. As they had planned already, they continued their journey to the United States and left Nicaragua. In the book Underground America, a collection of the narratives of undocumented immigrants compiled by Peter Orner, a storyteller, Abel, was abused by his employer but knowing his rights and fighting for it saved him from abuses. He said, “Some of us are more comfortable speaking up about our rights—we know what we are entitled to. We speak to Americans, people who do have papers, people who work at organizations, people who can do something for us. The bosses of the companies are afraid of these organizations because they support us” (Orner 132). Even though he didn’t have legal papers to stay in the country, knowing his rights helped Abel to fight for himself. Yedel did the same thing too; he stood up for his rights, looked for organizations to fight for his right. Therefore, knowing his basic human rights minimized the suffering during the exile.  

Although Yedel felt ambivalent when he discovered that his expectations about the United States were unrealistic, he was happy because he gained freedom, which was the center of his journey. Life in The United States started out great for him though it was not as he expected. Although the job market and the economy was not as good as he expected, he did not complain since his main reason of moving to the US was to gain freedom. He said, “The main reason I exile from my country is because of freedom so I am okay with any economical or personal disappointment like missing my family. I was not respected in my own country but I am living here freely. Nobody touches you” (Yedel). While he was in his country, he had a good job but in the United States, because of his legal status he wasn’t able to get a better job and he was a little bit disappointed by that; plus, by the time he arrived in the United States, the economy of the country was not in good condition. The other thing that makes him disappointed is missing his family; in fact, he can’t reach his family any time soon. Yedel has missed not only his family but also his longtime fiancé who he was about to get married to within a month before leaving the country, but he was waiting for her to graduate. He was preparing for their wedding but sadly he had to leave right away to avoid putting his life in danger. During his journey, he couldn’t communicate with her because he was not in good condition either. That created a big gap between them and it was too late to fix the problem because she got married and had kids. She couldn’t wait for him since he was not able to go back to the country. Yedel said, “It is hard to get that kind of love right now. I don’t have that kind of satisfaction and happiness right now.” He loved his fiancé too much and can’t bring the old time feeling and satisfaction with anybody else.

Things haven’t gone smoothly with his family either; the family business that he took care of is now out of service, and the cafeteria he owned was sold to cover his expense in the United States. His family is not at the same economic level; his brothers got fired from their jobs because they were working for a government office and, since they are connected with Yedel, the government took revenge on them. After four years, one of his brothers started working some low level jobs even though he is a graduate from the university and had been working for long time. Yedel was full of anger when he talked about the crises in his family. He couldn’t support and provide his family like before because in the United States the working situation is different. He doesn’t have motivation like before when he used to go to school while working long hours and taking care of his own business. He said that he was taking care of all that responsibility just to get rid of the stress he had in his country. More or less, he is happy in United States, though he is not in the position that he supposed to be. Altogether, Yedel lost three major things in his life: his family’s economic status, his job, and his fiancé.  But freedom has balanced all his losses.

Even though it’s hard to predict the future, Yedel believes change will come through time with the help of an endless effort. In the future, Yedel has some expectations for his life and has already planned to do lots of things in the coming New Year. He wants to go to school, work hard, start a family in the United States, and help his country to gain a free media because the ruling party controls most of the media. His passion for his country is still fresh. Surely, he wants to participate more in politics; so far, he writes articles and gives donations every month to private medias organizations because he believes the media plays a big role in politics. The Ethiopian government has banned almost all private media outlets for reporting facts about the government’s hidden actions. “The Anointed Leadership,” an article written by Makau wa Mutua, shows the current image of Ethiopian journalism: “Human rights groups estimated that over 60 journalist have either been imprisoned, detained, or are awaiting trial for being critical of the government” (Mutua 2). Government authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism charges only for speaking of the truth. Only government medias can talk about politics; around twenty non-governmental magazines have been closed but four private magazines are still open only because they allow the government to manipulate their messages. They will not report reality; they do not talk about the people who are lost in the dessert while trying to escape from the country. Even though he lives from paycheck to paycheck, he knows that, if he contributes something, it will help a lot. He said, “I support the media because I want to know what is going on in my country and the only means I can get that report is from the private media. I cannot forget about my country. I will not sleep until I see freedom in my own country like other countries” (Yedel). This shows the last ultimate vision of Yedel is to see the free flow of information and freedom of expression without the influence of political units. Ethiopia lives in a world where information is literally fabricated for the people as truth but nowadays bloggers play a big role in spreading information. Yedel helps these bloggers financially. One of the anonymous bloggers said in the articleThe Hazards Of Dissent,”“The blog carried reports and analysis of the trial of opposition leaders. In some cases, international human rights group like Amnesty International have followed through the leads in my blog and demanded the government stop its human right abuses. Under pressure, the government released some prisoners and closed torture chambers” (Zagol 62). Not only do the bloggers increase the flow of information but they also help justice to be served. Therefore, because people like Yedel supported the media, for example the blogger mentioned above, the increase of the flow of information has brought the government to reconsider their decision, which fulfills Yedel’s hope for change.

 In conclusion, although people like Yedel go through multiple setbacks and struggle when they flee from their countries due to political problems, finding freedom and living in a country where freedom of speech is respected brings feeling of accomplishment in life. Migrating would also allow others like him to continue helping their countries as he has with the support of media as mentioned in the above paragraphs. On the contrary, others may think that, instead of fleeing from one’s country, one should stay and face the problem in order to solve it. People like Yedel do not choose to flee from their countries to make money or to relax; instead, they are exiled to the US to spare their lives from ending up like his friends—imprisoned or killed.   

 

Work Cited

“The Hazards Of Dissent.” Index On Censorship 36.4 (2007): 59-63. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Mutua, Makau wa. “The Anointed Leadership.” Africa Report 39.6 (1994): 30. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Orner, Peter, and Tom Andes. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008. Print.

 

 

Home is Acceptance

Home is Acceptance

by Yagmur Akay, December, 2013

What is Shaema’s idea of home and how has coming to San Francisco changed her? When

it comes to the concept of home, most people state things like the place where they grew

up, the place where their parents live or the place where they feel the most comfortable

with themselves; however, Shaema has a unique and different understanding of home. She

is from France, and when she turned eighteen, moved to San Francisco all by herself.

Shaema states, “I have been living here for two years and there are people that I care about

so deeply that I will carry in my heart forever. And it is like that everywhere and that is so

beautiful; you can travel to India or anywhere else  and find that you have strong

connections with people that don’t speak the same language, have a different a culture and

live across the world from you. So that’s what home is, making this place like…your

world” (Bendeks). Even though Shaema has been living in San Francisco for two years,

she has found people that she truly cares for. In addition, she claims that she is able to find

deep connections with people everywhere she goes. When it comes to Shaema’s concept of

home, it is a place where she feels accepted for who she is and receives love and

understanding from everyone around her. Shaema does not limit the number of her homes.

She can have ten or twenty homes as long as she receives the feeling of acceptance from

everyone around her. In sum, Shaema is at home when her home has the elements of

acceptance and understanding. Shaema does not like to be judged or discriminated against

for who she is. Even though she was born and raised in Paris, she does not consider France

to be her true home. She states that the people are too judgmental. Currently, she feels at

home in San Francisco and explains that, ever since she moved to San Francisco she has

changed for the better.             

     Shaema’s journey to San Francisco began with a 12-hour plane ride from Paris to San

Francisco. She states that during the twelve hours the only thing that she thought about is

how it would feel to arrive to her new destination. She states that she had a different

mixture of feelings such as anxiety and excitement at the same time. After the long

12-hour flight, she arrived in San Francisco to find a Chinese driver waiting to drop her off

to her host family. Shaema states, “So when he dropped me off in the Sunset it was like

this little yellow—no pink little pinky house in the corner and this little Chinese woman

was waiting for me. I just felt so like nothing was holding me back. I was freaked out at

first; I walked into the house and it was not that clean and I am kinda OCD and I was like

can I do this?!” (Bendeks).  Shaema describes her temporary San Franciscan home as

being pink and not very clean and states that her new host, the Chinese lady, was waiting

outside for her arrival, and continues that at first sight she asked herself if she could really

do this. Later, after her arrival, Shaema enters her new room. She gets good vibes and, out

of nowhere, really begins to hear in Bob Marley’s famous song “Every little thing is gonna

be all right” in her head; in addition, she states “the song sounds so simple and cheezy but

if a person is able to project that state of mind everything becomes okay” (Bendeks).

Shaema is able to accept her new temporary living situation and is able to (with the help of

Bob Marley’s song) focus on the positive elements of her situation.

            Coming to America has definitely changed Shaema in a positive way. She

emphasizes that, compared to Paris, she wanted be at a different environment to discover

who she really was. Shaema states, “I just wanted to have an experience. I wanted to have

something that would have an impact in my life. Now that I have been living here for two

years, I can definitely tell that I have changed and evolved so much and learned so much

by me, who I am and what I wanna do in life and how I am going to get there” (Bendeks).

Shaema explains she wanted a new situation that would affect her life. She has been living

in San Francisco for two years and the experience has allowed her to grow and learn more

about who she is as a person. Sheama also explains that she knows more about what she

wants to do in life and how to achieve her goals. By coming to San Francisco, Shaema has

been able to learn more about herself and discover her true passion in life, which is to

pursue music.

             When I asked Shaema if she had received any discrimination from anyone, she

states “it is San Francisco; it’s really hard to be discriminated against in this beautiful city;

there’s so much acceptance,” meaning that, with the great range of human diversity, it is

hard to be discriminated against in San Francisco. On the contrary, Shaema states that the

greatest discrimination or, a better way to put it would be, unsupportive approach she

received, was from her own father in Paris. Shaema explains that, when she first came to

San Francisco, her father told her that she could only stay for one year to experience a

different country and have fun. However, for Shaema it was more than having fun. As the

one-year time limit passed, Shaema came to the realization that she wanted to stay and

finish college at City College of San Francisco and later transfer to a four-year university.

Unfortunately, her father had different ideas for her and did not show support to her

decision. Shaema states:

“He was really just angry. Like, we just were fighting over it. He was like no; it was fun for a year but you belong to Paris. This is your home, this is where you grew up, and this is where you belong. That is where the concept of home came in and how we did not agree. Like our values were different and I told him no. It is not because I was born somewhere that I have to stay my whole life. Thank god it is not like that. I can go wherever I wanna go and right now I feel good right here in San Francisco” (Bendeks).

Shaema’s views are different from those of her father.  According to her father, the place

where Shaema was born and raised was her home and her father wanted her back in Paris.

However, Shaema wanted to stay in San Francisco because she felt accepted. Unlike her

father, Shaema has a universal approach to the concept of home. Shaema cannot imagine

herself staying in one place for the rest of her life, because she feels stuck. However, right

now San Francisco feels right as a home.

            Furthermore, when it comes to Shaema’s realationship with her father, things were

very bitter because with Shaema’s solid decision to stay in San Francisco her father cut

financial support. Shaema states:

“He thought not supporting me financially would be a big enough obstacle to for me to agree with him and come back home and live the life that he wanted me to live. But I did not agree. I fought for it and, umm, you know, it was struggle for a year because it was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but, umm, you know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time, ummm…He understood what it meant to me. That it was not just having fun and you know like drinking to bars every night just having the fun life San Francisco in America. I was really here because it meant something important to me. I think that after all the obstacles he put me through he understood that this was really what I wanted and nothing can keep me away from it” (Bendeks).

              Shaema’s father thought that by not caring for her daughter financially would

have caused Shaema to come back to Paris and live the life that he found right for his

daughter. However, Shaema, with the support of her grandmother and mother, was able to

survive the whole year without her father’s money. Shaema states that it was hard for her

to get by with the support of her mom and grandmother but she is proud that she was able

to fight through it.  By showing her father that living in San Francisco is more than “fun”

for her and living without his money, Shaema was able to prove to her father how

important the fact of living in San Francisco meant to her. Furthermore, her father, after

Shaema’s struggles, understood the importance of Shaema’s decision to stay in San

Francisco and finish school. Continuing, Shaema explains that her passion to stay in San

Francisco and to study music was difficult for her family to accept. However, she was able

to prove to her family and,  especially to her father, that this was the only thing that she

could see herself ever doing.

              Shaema states that, whenever she returns to Paris to visit, her parents’ friends give

her a hard time by asking her continuous questions about her life in San Francisco and her

studies in school. One event that Shaema cannot forget is at a dinner party: her parents had

and a friend of her father’s approached her with his wife and asked her questions about

what she studied in San Francisco. Shaema stated to them that she studies music and, when

her father’s friends heard her answer, they asked her, in a mocking way, what she intended

to do with her major. Shaema stated, “I wanna be a fucking painter!” what do you think?! I

want to be a musician. You know, and then they say,” that’s good…”.You always have to

fight to prove yourself. Just to be who you are and it should not be that way. Therefore, it

was hard for a while and I went through this struggle with some of my friends and some of

my family” (Brendeks).  Shaema felt that she always had to prove herself to her friends

and even to part of her family. While in Paris, she was also bothered by her father’s

friends’ restless questions. It is clear that Shaema is studying music to be a musician. In

addition, according to Shaema, musicians, in Paris, are considered as the broke and

starving people. Therefore, that is why her family and family friends couldn’t understand

Shaema’s point of studying music.

           Shaema truly belongs to San Francisco with her unique approach to life and

beautiful different views on the topic of home. She feels accepted in San Francisco and

calls it her current home. The power of acceptance is very significant in Shaema’s life. Not

receiving it from her father for a year and not being accepted in the French society pushed

her to discover a new place where she feels okay in her own skin and feels confident to go

after her dreams. In the academic journal The Exceptional Parent, author Paul J, Callen

writes about the power of acceptance. He states, “acceptance must be based on

unconditional love. Accepting and being accepted should be our starting point, not our last

resort, when faced with new challenges and relationships” (Callen). What Callen is saying

is that acceptance should come from the heart, where pure love exists. When there are

relationships that are challenging in life, acceptance should be the first approach.

Continuing, the power of acceptance can be very significant in a person’s life. When it

comes to Shaema’s journey, her father’s approach to her decision to stay in San Francisco

caused Shaema to struggle for a year; in addition, it damaged her relationship with her

father. However, if her father had accepted her decision to stay in San Francisco, Shaema

would have not struggled. Shaema states, “you know it was struggle for a year because it

was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones

supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but umm you

know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time ummm…He understood what it

meant to me” (Bendeks). Shaema explains that only her mother and grandmother

supported her for a year and points out that, because of her legal status she was unable to

work. However, she was able survive in San Francisco without her father’s help and

eventually her father understood how important it was to accept Shaema’s decision to stay

and finish her schooling in San Francisco.

        Shaema feels happy and accepted in San Francisco. She feels that people do not judge

her for who she is like they do in Paris. Another reason Shaema feels so accepted in San

Francisco is that she is a lesbian and, in Paris, this is not so easily accepted. When I asked

Shaema if she felt more discriminated against in Paris than in San Francisco, her answer

was yes. Shaema states:

“Hell yeah. And even sexuality wise…Being out of the closet in France is not easy at all. Especially when you are in high school, believe me. It sucks! It is not necessarily the big things. It is just little things. It’s not like you are gay I hate you and I am going to beat you up. It’s like, owww, you’re gay…okay, how is that working out for you? Just like…You know that they know you are gay. For me, whether you’re gay, straight or whatever it is that you are, it doesn’t change the way I am gonna talk to you and it’s like you never told me. But you can see if that there’s that thing you know or not. It’s weird” (Bendeks).

           Shaema explains that, at a young age, coming out of the closet was hard for her. The

way people spoke to her was discriminative. According to Shaema, it should not matter if

the person likes women or men; it is their personal choice and everyone should respect

that. She significantly points out that person’s choice of being gay or straight does not

affect the way she speaks with that person. But she points out that you can have an

intuitive feeling of the person but even this should not change the way you approach the

person. Furthermore, Shaema is able to find an understanding environment in San

Francisco where people are accepting of each other’s personal choices. Furthermore, her

father is not comfortable with Shaema being a lesbian. When I asked her if he knew that

she was a lesbian, she explained to me that he does not say anything about the topic, but

Shaema has a good feeling that he knows. This is also a barrier between her and her father.

I believe that, to have a healthy relationship, parents should communicate with their

children and approach them with love and acceptance.

          A story that is similar to Shaema’s is the story of Vica, a young, transgender,

undocumented immigrant. Vica’s story is a lot more tragic than Shaema’s but, when it

comes to acceptance and parental relationships, Shaema and Vica have things in common.

When it comes to Shaema, she at least has one supportive parent (her mother).  However,

in Vica’s case, she only had one existing parent and that was Olga, her mother. The

relationship between Olga and Vica was not your typical mother and daughter relationship.

Olga was a single parent and had busy work hours; however, she paid attention to her

children as best as she could. Olga truly cared about her children and moving from Mexico

to LA for her children shows how much she loves them. Nevertheless, caring is one thing

and accepting your child for who he or she is takes more courage and understanding. Olga

was eventually able to accept Vica for who she was but because Olga grew up with

conservative parents it took some time for her to accept Vica as a transvestite. Olga

explains, “It took me a long time to accept things. I come from a family that is very

reserved. My parents were born in Zacatecas. After they were married they moved to

Guadalajara. But they were always from the ranch, the kind of people who were always

worried about what people might think, what people might say” (Orner). Olga states that it

took her some time to accept her daughter and one reason is that her own parents were

from a small town in Mexico. In addition, Olga’s parents valued what other people thought

about them and were very conservative. Olga, raised with a conservative mindset, explains

that it was hard to accept Vica’s transgender identity. However, after a period she was able

to accept daughter for who she is.  When Vica receives the acceptance and love from her

mother, she is able to find trust and comfort at home. Even though her story does not end

well, because of the human right abuses she faces, she is able to find happiness and

acceptance at home. Furthermore, when it comes to Shaema, maybe this is what she needs

from her father. I cannot be certain if this will solve the whole problem of her not feeling

at home in Paris but it might help the relationship with her father.

            When I asked Shaema if she has changed since she moved to San Francisco, she

looked at me with a smile and asked me how much time I had. She explained to me that

she has changed a lot. Shaema states, “When I was back in France, I was a lot more

stressed out, nervous, nervous, and even violent sometimes” (Bendeks). Shaema explains

while she was in France she filled with stress, nervousness and anger. Furthermore, her

father caused her nervousness and anger. Shaema states:

“Well, the thing is, when I was in France, my dad has like anger management issues. He’s like, he can like…Some situations can blow out of proportion. Like I grew up in this like to me even though it’s crazy it sounds normal. You know, it sounds normal and I am like okay. But I realized that now that I have moved away. I am like do you realize? I am not even saying that for me but I am saying that for you. Do you realize that you put yourself in that state? I don’t even know; it’s like beyond my understanding. You know, growing up in that energy-filled thing made me angry.”

While growing up, Shaema was deeply affected by her father’s anger management issues.

She explains that his anger would be out of control sometimes. Living with a father who

was unbalanced caused Shaema to be nervous and stressed all the time. However, after

coming to San Francisco, she was able to connect with her true self, which is the way she

is now; relaxed and happy. Shaema explains that, moving away from her father helped her

to find inner peace. In sum, Shaema has changed for the better since living in San

Francisco.

           In conclusion, Shaema’s idea of home is anywhere she feels accepted and

understood. This is different from the dictionary term home but it works for Shaema.

According to Clara Cooper Marcus, the author of House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the

Deeper Meaning of Home, “A home fulfills many needs: a place of self-expression, a

vessel of memories, a refuge from the outside world, a cocoon where we can feel nurtured

and let down our guard.” Home is a place where the person can express his or her

personality and feelings; it is a place where a person can recall previous experiences and

feel safe to be let his or her guard down. When it comes to Shaema, she is able to find

these elements at places where she feels accepted and understood. Currently, she calls San

Francisco her home because she feels that she can let her guard down and be accepted for

her identity. The feeling of being accepted is an important element; however, it is not the

only factor that makes a person feel at home. For some people, the one is born is one’s

home but, when it comes to Shaema, the feeling of being accepted is her key answer to the

question of what her idea of home is. Furthermore, the right home has the power to

“protect, heal and restore us, express who we are now, and overtime help us become who

we meant to be” (Marcus). Person’s true home can give safety, can give the person

freedom of expression, which will eventually help the person to reach his or her goals.  A

true home can give a feeling of being accepted to most people. Ever since Shaema moved

to San Francisco, she has been able to heal her wounds from her relationship with her

father, feel more confident in her skin and has been able to go after her dreams, which is to

study music. In sum, Shaema’s idea home is in places where she receives the feeling of

acceptance for who she is and ever since she moved to San Francisco she has become a

happier person. Currently, Shaema feels right at home.

 

Works Cited:

Callen, Paul J. “The power of acceptance.” The Exceptional Parent. 39.4 (2009): 78. Print.

Marcus, Clare C. House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home. Berkeley:           Conari Press, 1995. Print

Orner, Peter. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeny’s, 2008. Print.

 

Interview with Shaema Bendeks:

YA: Where are you from?

SB: I am from France.

YA: How did you come here?

SB: I swam across the ocean… I took the plane (Laughter)

YA: What is your concept of home?

SB: hmm… My concept of home is place where I feel..amm.. where I can be myself and feel confortable with it.And be around people that I love.

YA: Describe your native country?

SB: My native country?

YA: Yeah, descbribe..

SB: I grew up in Paris which is a little bit different than the rest of France. So ummm… It’s a a beautiful, very beautiful place. Like an outside museum. Everything is just full of history and art and it’s amazing. The people are little bit too narrow minded and judgmental for me to actually be comfortable over there. Umm. It is like everything like has a norm and you have to fit in a box. And I do not fit in a box ahahhaha.. so.. umm, it’s just now moving away from France I feel like-I see it completely differently than used to so..umm. I think France like everything else you just have  to find something that you like about it and forget the rest and live in your that’s home. Home is what you make of it so whether you are in France or anywhere else umm it’s what you decide to make of it and what you decide to see umm.  And to take with you and your experience

YA: Okay.. So for you home can be anywhere as long as.

SB: Yeah. Yeah.

YA: So what elements like that are important in that.. What the are the factors that has be there? People you love, etc.

SB: Well, you find people you love along the way too umm I moved here by myself not knowing anyone and now I been living here for two years and there is people that I care about so deeply that I will carry in my heart forever. And it is like that everywhere and that is why so beautiful you can travel to (being from France) India or anywhere else and find that you have strong connection with people that don’t speak the same language, have a different culture and live across the world from you. So that’s what home is, making this place our like.. your world.

YA: So right now where would you consider home? Here of France?

SB: That’s a tricky question. It’s a really tricky question… In some way both you know. I say I am going to go back home for Christmas so to Paris. Than when I am in Paris for too long whenever I come back to SF, it is like coming back home. So you know.. it’s ..Actually friend of mine..

YA: Could you say that you have two homes?

SB: How many countries is there in the world? I have that many homes I think you know. So. There is that place where I grew up in which for people would be defined as home but it’s not to me. It is still part of my history, that’s where I was raised so it is one of the homes that I have. Umm but I don’t consider it like my ground my go to.

YA: Okay, what made you want to live in the US?

SB: I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to just see something else, something different you know. I was really close to my parents like you know. I felt like I was in a close, I lived in close circle like in a closed box. I would always be with the same friends, I was in the same high school for about 8 years.. Like we would hang out with same people and go to the same bars, same neighborhoods and seeing family,  the same people,  the same surroundings all the time. I was just sick of that. I wanted to see how it would be to be somewhere else and I wanted to know myself and about the world that I live in.

YA: Nice! So what did you expect to find and what did you find in the US? Did you have any expectations or did you just get on the plane with totally open heart with whatever, whatever.

SB: Pretty much… Pretty much that is what I find exciting about travelling is that you don’t know what’s gonna happen and its scarce most people not to know. People are scared of the unknown of what they don’t know and that’s what excites me. I don’t know what’s gonna happen so I can make it anything that I want to be and that’s what a new experience is like.

YA: What did you want it to be? Did you have anything in mind?

SB: I just wanted to have an experience. I wanted to have something that would have an impact in my life. Now that I have been living here for two years, I can definitely tell that I have changed and evolved so much and learned so much by me, who I am and what I wanna do in life and how I am going to get there. And it is not necessarily about America, it could have been Australia. It could have been any country and it would have been the same sort of experience because  it’s about me. 

YA: Would you say that you had to move away from home to find home?

SB: Pretty much,  I needed to go away from home to figure out  who I was. Ummm not depending on this circle of friends or this like family. It’s like you kind of have that print on you. Your friends, your family, your social status, your school aaa so.. I wanted to see what it was like if I was in a completely new setting without knowing anything, anyone and to see who I really was. Without anyone influencing me. So and aaa that worked out pretty well. But I didn’t really have any expectations you know, I just wanted to go. Not knowing what was gonna happen. I think that was the biggest excitement for me. So..

YA: What was the feeling when you first got off the plan in the US?

SB: I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the in the plane for 12 hours so I had time to think about it for 12 hours. Ummm you feel a little bit anxious because you don’t know what you are going to find out there but that anxiety was really exciting to me so like thrilled and I got there and there was this Chinese guy who was supposed to drive us to our respective homes/ houses where we would stay. And I stayed at this host family in the sunset. Never met them before. Umm so he dropped me off in the sunset and I didn’t think that SF looked like that at all. It was like, the sunset was the first place I ever got to. I was like okay… I didn’t realize by than that SF was so diverse. Depending on where you go in the city it looks completely different. There is different vibe, there is different architecture, everything is different you know… So when he dropped me off in the sunset it was like this little yellow no pink- little pinky house in the corner and this little Chinese woman was waiting for me. Umm and it just I just felt so like nothing was holding me back. I was freaked out at first, I walked in the house and it was not that clean and I am kinda OCD so I was like can I do this?! Ohh no! Three months with people I don’t even know and umm I walked in the room and I got good vibes and I felt like everything was gonna be okay. It was like you know, whenever you hear that Bob Marley song “Every little thing is gonna be alright” you realize that it sounds so simple and so cheesy and that’s what like everything is gonna be alright. IF you project yourself into that state of mind, that everything is  be alright eventually. It always does. It just that I felt so free and I walked around the block everywhere not even knowing where I was and took random pictures and I was listening to the “Hooks” that one song and singing my heart out and I could see the ocean two blocks away that was so much so free and ready to start the journey.

YA: Wow! Okay so , have ever experienced any negative approaches from other people for being an international student ?

SB: American people or French People?

YA: Anyone around you.

SB: Yeah, it has been a struggle. Yes, well in America not so much everybody thinks it is great that I am from France and that it is amazing that I am from Paris. Umm.. people from Paris though… My dad especially. I was just supposed to be here for one year like as a gap year to explore, have fun. At least that is what he (my dad) thought.  Like that it was a great opportunity for me to have fun and he wished that he had done that when he was young. He did not realize that it was more important for me than just having fun. Aaaa… and after that one year I liked it so much that decided to stay. And it was always and option but like he always hoped that I would go back and have this awesome experience. Because for him ummm so yeah, anyways I decided to stay  and he did not agree with it. He was really just angry. Like we just were fighting over it. He was like no, it was fun for a year but you belong to Paris. This is your home, this is where you grew up, this is where you belong. That is where the concept of home came in and how we did not agree. Like our values were different and I told him no. It is not because I was born somewhere that I have to stay my whole life. Thank god it is not like that. I can go wherever I wanna go and right now I feel good right here in San Francisco. That’s where I feel comfortable, that’s where I wanna live my life for now. Ummm so we did not talk for like a year at all. He refused to support me financially umm because he did not agree with my choice of staying here in San Francisco and my choice of studying music. So ummm he thought not supporting me financially would be a big enough obstacle to for me to agree with him  and come back home and live the life that he wanted me to live.But I did not agree. I fought for it and umm you know it was struggle for a year because it was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but umm you know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time ummm…He understood what it meant to me. That it was not just having fun and you know like drinking to bars every night just having the fun life San Francisco in America. I was really here because it meant something important to me. I think that after all the obstacles he put me through he understood that this was really what I wanted and nothing can keep me away from it.

YA: WOW!!

SB: Am I not the best choice for an interview?!

YA: [LAUGHTER]

YA: So umm…you are saying that your dad was the only one that had a negative approach.

SB: Well you know even my grandma who supports me financially is awesome. She was so sad that I left because we are so close and ummm  I realized that afterwards. Whenever I would go back to visit my family it would not be the same between us.I was like why she felt angry with me, we used to laugh all the time like talk for hours and one day I was like I feel like you are angry you are still angry with me and one day she was like yes. I am angry at you for leaving and she never told me so before. She was like I am angry at you for leaving me and leaving me behind. And umm and we went through this emotionally intense talk and I was like I love you but I can not stay here for you even though I love you so much! I have to be little selfish and think about myself. Because this is my life right now and I feel like I have to do this now. And aaa but she still supports me financially and is awesome with it. Even though she doesn’t think that music is the necessarily the most stable thing. So I have to, you know it’s kinda like you have to prove yourself everyday that what you are doing is worth it and that what you are doing is important for you. It’s not like a little selfish kid, you know this is what I breathe. This is, I have to do this. It is not just [with a higher voice] Yeahh music is fun! San Francisco is fun! I am just here…No!! This is something that like, that is so important to me. This is the only option. This is the only thing I could do and I see myself doing right now and ummm back home whenever I say I am a music major to adults or umm even people my age. The question that everybody asks me all the time, that is why I hate meeting my parents friend’s. “Ohh you live in San Francisco what do you do over there?” and I say that I study music and the question that always comes up is that “ What do you want to do with that?” [sarcastically] SB says that “I wanna be a fucking painter!” what do you think?! I want to be a musician. You know, and then they say,” that’s good…”.You always have to fight to prove yourself. Just to be who you are and is shouldn’t be that way. So it was hard for a while and I went through this struggle with some of my friends and some of my family. And umm you might wanna do this by yourself.

YA: So can you say that coming here was freedom for you?

SB: It was a way to I guess umm do the big jump and take responsibilities for myself and make my own choices.

YA: Would you have stayed if France had opportunities like this?

SB: No, I just you know, I just wanna see things and I am not done travelling. Whenever people ask me “do you see yourself living in SF or Paris?” and “What are you gonna do next year?” I am like “I don’t even know what I am going to do tomorrow”. I do not even know, I might be in San Francisco transferring next year or I might be in Spain doing stuff. I do not know I might be anywhere. And I don’t see myself living in SF forever and I don’t see myself living in Paris forever. I just see myself moving around. Culture and people are so fulfilling.

YA: Okay, that is great.

SB: I wanna find home everywhere in the world.

YA: Would you say that like, finding home everywhere in the world that means that finding a piece of yourself everywhere? Do you think that there is a place that where you gonna feel whole without like feeling that you’re…

SB: What I think is that… Okay so my dad used to talk to me. Whenever we talked about religion, I do not subscribe to any religion, my dad would. Cause I grew up- I was raised Jewish. But my dad was really into it but not like super super crazy religious. He would always say that, he would only do the things and believe in the things that ummm spoke like touched him. That made sensed to him which might not make sense to someone else but it would make sense to him. I think that’s what it is with traveling, with cultures is that in every culture, in everybody, every country, every city and every single person you are going to meet there is gonna be someone that you appropriate and learn you know. Umm so I think that I am not looking for that one place where I am gonna feel whole. I think all these places and experiences and all the people that I meet along the way are gonna make me feel whole. You know.

YA: So you think that there has to be a certain amount of time until you feel whole?

SB: Not necessarily. It’s not that I am lacking and that I am looking for something to like fill complete that I am not right now. It’s just that there’s always something more. Even in life there’s always something more to learn you know. When you are fifty years old, you still have something to learn. Maybe from a 10 year old and maybe from a 80 year old there’s something to add. So it’s a never ending process.

YA: You are saying that as you meet people and discover the world the place that you call home  doesn’t feel home anymore because you are growing out of it?

SB: No! It’s that every experience is a part of me, is a part of home, it’s another block to the house.

YA: So for you where ever you go is home for you because you are home?

SB:Yeah.

YA: Did you experience discrimination?

SB: In America? It is San Francisco! Therefore, it is hard. [Hahahah. ]

YA: Yeah I know, [hahaha]

SB: Ummm not as much as I did in Paris. Even though it’s not as bad, you know there’s always…Ummm the funny thing is that in America- San Francisco, everyone is really open and really diverse. Umm I feel like, there’s still some. .. It’s the way they view the world because of the things they have been taught and the way they perceived certain historical events. You know there’s like that whole stereotypical view on things umm especially like different races, different religions and stuff like that so ummm it’s like you know, people realize that my full name is not Shem but Shaema which is actually Arabic, they obviously assume that I am Muslim and like you know a lot of different things like that.  And umm it’s like they stigmatize a lot the way umm and it’s hard to tell because it’s San Francisco it’s not really that way at all but I feel that with some people they assume too fast.

YA: So you felt discriminated before by some people?

SB: No, I just feel like not in San Francisco. I just realized the way the academic system and the way they would just –it’s like communism is the worst word to ever use.In France communism is the worst word to use. When in France, you know, whenever we are in class umm we talk about communism. Its just like you know, it’s history and there’s still communist parties in France and stuff like that , here it’s like the biggest insult –they have really radical point of view on things. So you are a communist, your this and this…And they don’t even know what it really is. You know..So I feel like there’s a few things like that the whole Jewish thing, the whole Arabic family but yet French umm you know. When I am here I am French right because I am in America and my nationality is French. Though when I am in France and they ask me like who I am. I say that my ethnicity is actually Algerian because my grandparents were from Algeria. Like, Jewish Algerians. Umm so it’s just really weird because like people don’t see you differently as you say you know, when I sound French like people have this image of me. Ummm but they don’t necessarily know that I have this Arabic cultural background. Because I don’t really look like it. When I do they have a different view on things which is interesting. Not necessarily negative.

YA: Yeah exactly but they just assume things.

SB: Yeah!

YA: So you are saying that you have felt more discriminated in France than you have felt discriminated here (San Francisco)?

SB: Hell yeah. And even sexuality wise…Being out of the closet in France is not easy at all. Especially when you are in high school believe me. It sucks! It’s not necessarily the big things it’s just little things.It’s not like you are gay I hate you and I am going to beat you up. It’s like owww you gay okay, how is that working out for you? Just like… You know that they know you are gay. For me whether you’re gay, straight or whatever it is that you are it doesn’t change the way I am gonna talk to you and it’s like you never told me. But you can see if that there’s that thing you know or not. It’s weird.

YA: Where do you think you belong?

SB: I don’t know. Everywhere. I really don’t know. I feel like, I feel like there’s definitely a part of me that belongs here in SF. It’s definitely. I am probably going to spend, not necessarily now but near future. But some day I am going to be here for a while. I have travelled on vacation a lot actually, when I was younger. So I travelled I lot but there’s a lot to know and to discover. So..I don’t think I belong to one specific place. Cause there’s gonna be, you know more you travel the more you that’s like there’s a part of your soul everywhere. So..

YA: How have you changed since you moved here (to SF)?

SB: OHH MY GOD! How long do you have!?

YA: We still have time.

SB: Ohh my god. How have I changed? Ummm ummm, okay. I will just make it simple because otherwise it’s just going to take up a lot of time.

YA: No we have time so you can go head.

SB: Okay, ummm well… I will start with the most certain thing that comes to my mind first. When I was back in France, whenever I say that to people, they would be like really. I was a lot more stressed out, nervous and nervous and even violent sometimes. What really, you are like this bubbly and happy person all the time. Well the thing is when I was in France, my dad has like anger management issues. He’s like, he can like…Some situations can blow out of proportion. Like I grew up in this like to me even though it’s crazy it sounds normal. You know, it sounds normal and I am like okay. But I realized that now that I have moved away. I am like do you realize? I am not even saying that for me but I am saying that for you. Do you realize that you put yourself in that state? I don’t even know, it’s like beyond my understanding. You know, growing up in that energy filled thing made me really, cause I am really similar to my dad and in a way that I hate. Ummm and I think it’s also the influence he had on me. So when I moved away, I am a lot more relaxed and patient and you know not as angry all the time.

YA: Because you are away from him?

SB: Yeah. It’s hard to say but in some way yeah. Because you know what it’s always been what I really am. I am just that chill, peaceful and relaxed person. But because I was living around him I couldn’t find my inner self.