My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

           of America and his Own Identity               

by Max Bauer, July 2014

For over a century, since the first major wave of immigrants started coming to America in the 1880’s, the United States has captured the imagination of people all over the world looking for prosperity. My father was one of those people. He visited the United States for the first time in the early 1980’s, and eventually settled down in East Lansing, Michigan, as a professor at Michigan States University. Like immigrants of all national and ethnic backgrounds, my father was drawn to the allure of the American dream, as much as he was drawn in by American mythology. To my father, America represented a land of freedom and progression. It was the birthplace of the blues and the rock music that had caught his ear as a teenager. Every immigrant comes to America with his or her own preconceptions of how life in the United States will be, and, upon arrival, many of them find that trying to generalize the United States in such a way is a futile task, as the country is so vast and so diverse that trying to label it all as any one thing would almost certainly be a lie. For my father, above all, America represented hope, and a chance to break free from the antiquated European culture for a new and exciting adventure. In many ways, he found what he was looking for. His time spent in America has been both exciting and illuminating, having changed many of his preconceived notions about the United States, while simultaneously changing his personal identity and the way he now perceives his European identity as a whole.

My father was born in Austria in 1955, to parents who had just survived the horrors of World War II, and were now dealing with its fallout. His father had been an accountant and his mother was the most wonderful housewife. After the end of the war, his parents moved back to their hometown, Puchberg Am Schneeberg, a small but stunningly beautiful town surrounded by mountains on almost all sides, content to spend the rest of their lives away from the horrors they had been forced to endure. It was here that my father was born and raised. Having always been an ambitious child, my father set his sights far beyond the borders of Puchberg at a young age. Exceptionally smart, he focused on studies, and saw them as a gateway out of the rural lifestyle he had hoped to escape. When it was finally time to go to college, my father chose to study at the University of Vienna. Vienna is the intellectual and cultural center of Austria, as well as my birthplace, and is where my father took his first steps on the path that has lead him to become head of his department, Telecommunications and Economics, at Michigan State University. Like many of those who eventually migrate to the United States, he was drawn by the allure of the American dream, as well as its culture. He eventually was able to experience America first hand, getting the opportunity to study in the United States. After doing research for his dissertation in the United States, and meeting my mother, he moved back to Europe briefly, before finally being offered a job at Michigan State University. Both my parents still live in Michigan, where my father is a professor and my mother runs a film festival. I believe they are happy, though the stark contrast between American and European culture was at first difficult to reconcile.

The lure of American culture, both the promise of boundless opportunity for those willing to work hard enough, and the wonderful Rock and Roll music that had always captured my father’s ear, enticed him into studying in the United States. I asked him why he chose the United States, and what had drawn him to this country. He told me the story of an uncle of his, who was a prisoner of war during World War II, and how he had been stationed in a prisoner of war camp in Virginia. His uncle had always spoken very positively about the United States. His uncle felt they had treated him very well, and he was grateful to them for having rescued him from the German army, for which he was being forced to fight against his will, on penalty of death, as many Austrians had been. It’s hard to overestimate the importance the opinions of family can have on a child’s impressions, and I think his uncle’s opinions of America were the foundation of my father’s interest. The second reason my father was drawn to the United States was the opportunity for success. Even compared to an academic sphere as developed as that in Vienna, the United States was among the most exciting places to be, both in terms of academics and opportunity. According to my father, “America was seen as a place of big opportunities that were more flexible and more entrepreneurial than Austria at the time”. Like many immigrants before him, the possibility of financial success played a major role in his decision to come.

From the perspective of my father and many Europeans during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the United States seemed like some new species of exotic flower, blooming and bursting at the seams with social movements and entirely new genres of music, largely in part to the press coverage and cultural significance of the counterculture movement. During this time the United States was very much defined by the era of the hippies, and the psychedelic music associated with it. From an international perspective, it wasn’t hard to imagine the United States as a place where one could lose themselves in the counterculture entirely. Donald R. Wesson, whose study, “Psychedelic Drugs, Hippie Counterculture, Speed and Phenobarbital Treatment of Sedative-Hypnotic Dependence: A Journey to the Haight Ashbury in the Sixties,” of 1960’s San Francisco and the chemical dependence that for many originated during this time, summarized the general attitude of the 1960’s well: “the 1960’s were a time of social upheaval, wars, vibrant creativity, and missed opportunities” (Wesson 2). To a young Austrian growing up in a fairly isolated town, the United States must have seemed like a place where exciting new things were happening, and where the chance to express oneself and feel free existed on every corner. In some places, that reality existed. In most places, however, the counterculture scene developing in San Francisco was far from reality. Like many immigrants before him, my father made the mistake of associating what was happening in San Francisco, and the personal values inherent to many aspects of the hippie movement, such as social equality and freedom, with the entirety of the United States. As a result of my father’s misconception of the majority of Americans and their value, I believe he placed significantly less value on his European identity than he would have otherwise. Not to say that my father didn’t love being from Austria; he truly did. But, the stories of freedom of expression and the unbelievable music coming from the United States were dynamically opposed to many aspects of European culture, a culture my father described as “rigid yet steeped in history and art.” Eventually my father found his way to America, where he experienced the reality of American culture first hand.

After having spent some time in the United States, the preconceived notions my father held about American values, as well as his conception that America could be defined as a homogenous entity, changed. Before truly emigrating to the United States, the only time my father had spent in America was in the urban and progressive areas of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. In many ways, the people, who in those areas tended to believe in certain values, such as social equality and environmental conscientiousness, were more similar to his European peers than they were to the people in the Midwest, where he would eventually raise a family. The true culture shock for my father occurred when he finally accepted his job at Michigan State University, and moved to the Midwest. Before that point, he hadn’t realized just how different various parts of the United States could be. He commented on its variance during our interview, “I remember when we arrived in Michigan, I was shocked to see just how different everything was. It seemed like we had landed in the wrong place. It was then I realized just how vast, and how diverse, the United States was.” As our family started to settle in, both my parents had a hard time at first adapting to life in the Midwest, and with relating to the people. Even my mother, who was an American citizen, having grown up in San Francisco, was taken aback by the difference in values. In the Midwest, relative to the places my parents had lived, life moved slowly. The people focused on community, raising children in a safe environment, and enjoying their relationships with other people. Compared to the often self-centered, individual success oriented life style prevalent in cities, the Midwest, at first, seemed dull. But soon, both of my parents started to truly enjoy their new life. They could enjoy the safety of the community while raising their children. They also started to form long lasting friendships, friendships that may not have been possible in an urban setting, due to the almost paradoxical isolation brought on by dense populations. Though my father had always wondered what would have happened if he had stayed in Europe, he never regretted moving the United States, both for personal and professional reasons.

Trying to define European identity in any absolute terms may not be valid, but if one were to ask people from Europe how they relate to their countries as a whole, I believe there would be several commonalities between the responses. Having spent a lot of time in Europe, both with my family and on my own, I feel fairly qualified to speak about the similarities across Europe, and the differences between European and American identity. The immediate difference between the two cultures is simply the length of time each has existed. In many ways, the United States is a nation that is still developing its national identity, having only existed for a handful of centuries. In Europe, on the other hand, there are thousands of years of intellectual and artistic history built into the cultural center of each nation. Art and history are such an integral part of European culture that I believe that all Europeans have a greater appreciation for the humanities than most Americans. The second major difference is the physical space that Europe occupies. Europe has about twice the population as the United States, though it occupies less than half the space. This astounding compression of cultures and languages has, in a very natural way, contributed to the international mindset of Europeans. They are constantly coming into contact with people that speak different languages and the importance of multilingualism can never be overstated, while in America it simply isn’t a priority. All of these characteristics are very present in my father, and though he may have once felt restrained by European culture, I believe that today he appreciates it more than ever.

The stark contrast between my father’s European identity and the staunchly American personalities he came across in the Midwest at first seemed like a barrier he would never cross. He was used to the progressive and exciting areas of New York and San Francisco, and trying to reconcile his Austrian values with the slow paced life in the Midwest was difficult. The most difficult part was trying to relate to the humor in the Michigan. The fast paced city life of Europe, with thousands of years of culture and history, clashed drastically with the wide open spaces and the often culturally lacking values of Michigan. Drinking Coors and watching baseball weren’t particularly engaging activities for my Father, and he soon longed for the culture he had left behind, even refusing to return to Europe in fear that the process of having to return to America would be too painful. His refuge was work and research, where he was no longer trying to artificially assimilate to a culture he didn’t belong in. “I think that my own personality is much more in tuned with European senses compared to culture here in the US. I never regretted it on a professional level, because there were so many more opportunities here in the US, but I always wondered what would have happened if I had stayed.” Fortunately, life in Academia proved very fulfilling for my father, but the sense that he had lost the connection to his roots was a traumatic experience. For any immigrant, the sense that they somehow abandoned their past is often present. European culture, that to my father once seemed rigid and stuck in place, now felt like an essential part of his identity. It took the shattering of his preconceptions of America to realize that his roots were not only there to be escaped from, they were a fundamental part of how he saw himself as a person.

Due in large part to the experiences my father has had teaching at Michigan State University, his connection to both European and American culture has significantly increased. By realizing that many of the idealistic notions of America he had were on many levels not true, my father has grown to understand that he initially gave less value to his Austrian heritage than it deserved. Having only recently become an American citizen, my father has adapted his identity to the winding road of his life. He truly is a man of both worlds, able to operate seamlessly in the culturally rich environment of Western Europe, and the fast-paced, success oriented American lifestyle. To put it in his own words, “I feel at home in either country. They’re both my home now”. Today, my father takes every opportunity to visit his home town that he can, having learned to embrace both the country he came from and the country that he has raised a family in. I see my father as a man who is constantly evolving, and always looking to take the first step on some new adventure. His identity is in many way elastic; he seems to be constantly growing. Over the years, the world view he has adopted has given him a heightened sense of patience and understanding, and has helped him overcome both his own tribulations and given him the insight to help other people overcome theirs.

Over the years, various experiences have changed the way my father perceives America and Americans, and as a whole have changed the way he relates to his European identity. By moving to America, my father’s preconceived notion of the United States as a homogenous entity in which the same value systems exist throughout the nation, changed, and as a result, he developed a greater appreciation of his European heritage, which he now enjoys for its culture and relation to history. Though at first he saw his European roots as antiquated, to the point that he felt being European was a disadvantage, he now appreciates the unique cultural sensitivities it has instilled in, and the diversity it adds to his identity, both in how own eyes and the eyes of others. He once believed that he could generalize Americans, but he ultimately realized he completely underestimated the complexity and the vastness of the nation. Many immigrants have the experience of expecting a nation to be a certain way and finding it to be much different. According to Marcella Ramelli, whose article “Being prepared for acculturation: On the importance of the first months after immigrants enter a new culture” appeared in International Journal of Psychology, the first few months in a new country are often shocking for an immigrant, as they find themselves needed to behave and even think in a different way than they had expected. She writes, “When immigrants arrive in a new country, they are repeatedly confronted by situations unknown to their cultural perspectives. As a result, immigrants often experience anxiety and a sense of uncertainty due to the invalidity of their old thinking-as-usual” (Ramelli 2). After spending time in the Midwest, which differs tremendously from the cultural hubs of San Francisco and New York, where he spent time doing research, my father realized the extent of the diversity of the United States. He had always envisioned the United States as brimming with an omnipresent excitement, and though that feeling does exist is some places, many parts of the United States have different values. Realizing the false assumptions he had made about America, he grew to appreciate the simplicity of his Austrian roots, and as a result embraced his heritage more than he ever would have otherwise.

Works Cited

“Weekend Interview with My Dad.” Personal interview. 9 July 2014.

Wesson, Donald R. “Psychedelic Drugs, Hippie Counterculture, Speed and Phenobarbital   Treatment Sedative-Hypnotic Dependence: A Journey to the Haight Ashbury in the Sixties.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 43.2 (2011): 153-164. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 July 2014

Ramelli, Marcella, et al. “Being Prepared For Acculturation: On the Importance of the First Months after Immigrants Enter a New Culture.” International Journal of   Psychology 48.3 (2013): 363-373. Business Source Premier. Web. 23 July 2014.

Sample Transcripts of Interview between Max Bauer and his Father, Johannes Bauer

M: First question is, why, uh hello? Why did you choose America, why was America your country of choice to migrate to?

J: That’s a very good question. I don’t think there’s one answer there’s multiple reasons for it. One was since I was a kid I was fascinated by America, umm, I was always curious about it. For one probably my uncle, I don’t know if you remember him, he was a prisoner of war. He actually was moved to a camp in the US, in Virginia I believe. And uh, but he always spoke very favorably about America, and so that left a very good impression. And you know my family grew up in war torn Austria, after WWII, Austria was divided into 4 zones. One was American, one was Russian, one was French, and one was English. And my parents wound up in the Russian area, and all they did was talk about the hardships they had sort of dealing with this so at the same uncle, just by luck, ended up in an American zone and so again he was very favorable towards America. So again that’s one reason, from very early on I have this sort of positive image of America. Secondly, when I was a teenager I really liked American rock music, like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers and the Doors and all those bands, I mean they were just with us all the time, I that got me interested in that sense. Lastly, you know I saw America as a place of big opportunities that were more entrepreneurial than Austria. And so then I had a chance, as a fellow student, to spend some time in the US, to write a dissertation that included some work in the US, and I found some grant money, and some financial support to come to the US for a while, so I moved to New York first for a little bit and then to San Francisco to UC Berkeley and in New York Columbia University, and I would explore the country in between. So I picked up a VW van in California, it was like a camper van, I went to the Southwest and the national parks and everything and I was quite fascinated by the country and then I went back to Europe and I decided, well first of all you know Susan and I, Mom and I, met in San Francisco when I was at Berkeley and the solidified the connection and eventually I became curious to work in the US, mostly because first of all when I left, I felt I hadn’t learned enough about the country. So I wanted to come back. The opportunities in Austria were not, and in Europe in general, were not as good at the time in my opinion. So I came here, and we stayed. That’s pretty much it in a nut shell. So fascination for one, personal ties for two, and work opportunities, much better than they were in Europe.

M: mmhmm. Ok so what age were you when you moved to the United States?

J: When we finally moved, I was 35.

M: Ok so you came to America first for school.

J: Yeah let me think about it. I was in my early thirties or late twenties. And you know there was a time when Susan lived in the United States, and I lived in Europe. And we had this long distance relationship where I lived in Vienna, and I started looking for job opportunities in the US. I started applying for jobs and had a few interviews. I mean I remember I was in Atlanta, at a big conference, and Michigan States offered a job, and invited me to an interview on campus and so I came here and talked to them and eventually it worked out and finally we all came back to the US.

M: Ok great. Dad I’m gonna make sure that this is recording and I’ll call you right back.

J: Alright, ok great.

M: Hey

J: Hello?

M: Hey so it worked. So umm next question is, when you first arrived in America, what expectations did you have?

J: (pauses) Hehe. I have to think back. You know I came over very very naively, I mean I thought I would just, well you have to keep in mind that when I came here I was doing work on my dissertation, and I was supposed to do research, and my dissertation was comparative research so it was comparing American economic policies to European policies. I thought I would be able to just talk to a few people in different organization and in private industry and then I would understand what was going on in the US. I was shocked at how complicated the country was. And so at the end of that first year, I realized that I knew nothing. I was actually quite disheartened. I was actually really quite discouraged because it was way more complicated than I ever had imagined, and the little bit of work that I could do in that one year seemed to totally be inadequate to the size of the country, and you know other things, such as it being energetic, and there being lots of music was great and big sky scrapers and the fascinating experiences in San Francisco and New York and all those things, I had read about it ahead of time, I had heard about it many times, so it was great to see it all live. But in terms of the work I did, I thought everything was much more simple than it turned out to be. It was much more complicated than I thought it was. And much bigger and much more complex.

M: Hmmm, well which of those expectations turned out to be true, and which turned out to be false. Well I guess you sort of covered that.

J: Maybe we should talk a bit about when I came back, when I was hired by Michigan State. Because at that point I hadn’t really emigrated yet. I hadn’t thought about living in the United States until I was hired. When I came back in 1990, I had very few expectations. To me it was all an adventure. I thought it was very exciting to get into professional life and develop a career here. You know I didn’t really know for exactly how long I was going to come and I didn’t really talk about it explicitly. We thought maybe for 3 years, maybe 2. And then go back to Europe or something. But uh when I came here I realized I was in a tenure position so there was a chance that I would get an unlimited contract, so I figured ok I’ll just and see if I can get tenure.

M: Well I’d say that seems to have worked out really well.

J: Yeah yeah sure. And then after 3 and a half years, they were willing to give me tenure early, usually it takes about 7 years. And now I thought, well I have tenure, if I have tenure why would I want to go back to Europe? And then you know you and Tatia had friends, and a social environment and you liked going to school here and we had a nice house and there didn’t seem to be much reason to take you back to Europe. You know, I expected things to be more dynamic, more entrepreneurial at the university because in the end a lot of it was very bureaucratic, although things have changed in the meantime, I did not anticipate that there would be so much material. But here everything was so vast and so big, I mean in the end, once I lived there, I realized how big the country is. How diverse it is and how complicated it is. You and I actually expected to make more money than I actually did. After taxes and everything that was taken out. In the beginning, eventually, we had enough for a house. But you know it was never easy for me, because I always regretted leaving Europe for some reason. At first I didn’t like living here. But also because we didn’t have enough money we had to sell the apartment in Vienna, so we could have some money for a house. Soo, we didn’t really go back to Vienna, because when we left, Europe opened up, and as a result real estate prices rose, and so by the time two years later when we thought about going back, everything was twice as expensive. So what happened had happened, and I always had second thoughts about what would have happened if I had stayed in Europe, especially on a professional level, because I think that my own personality is much in tuned with European senses compared to culture here in the US. I never regretted it on a professional level, because there were so many more opportunities here in the US, but I always wondered. So for the first 5 or 6 years I deliberately didn’t go back to Europe, because I thought it would be sad, and I wouldn’t want to leave the old world, because there was always this sort of sense that I had lost my roots. And you know it’s interesting to talk about your Mom because she came back to her own country, but she was used to California, and even though she was in her own country, she was in a totally different place. First of all, people were much more reserved, maybe, than they were on the coast, but after a while, after she got to know them, they became much more open and friendly, and so she was able to form very deep relationships. At first she was very disappointed coming back to her own country but after about two or three years she really started liking it. You a lot of things that would happen on the east coast, like hour long traffic jams, and the benefits of the Midwest like great public schools, and safe caring neighborhoods.

M: I was always glad that I grew up in the Midwest and not in a big city

J: Yeah I think the quality of life that you and Tatia would have had growing up in a city would have been, in many ways, much lower.


The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly


The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly

by Jiankun He, July 2014

Everyone is an editor who uses his or her whole life to edit his or her own story book named Life, whereas immigrants are not only the editors of their own story books, but also the subeditors of a history book about immigration. Lei, a 24-year-old Chinese woman who emigrated from China to the United States, gives people the impression of a positive, happy, and diligent person. The first part of her story happened in her hometown, Taishan, China, and while she had a great draft of her future story in China, the decision of immigrating to the US changed her story. Once she began to live in the USA, she had to drop her draft of her story about her future in China, and begin to edit her life story in the USA. During my oral history interview with her, I read a part of the chapter “The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly” of her life story, which is about her life beginning in the USA. While she had a comfortable life in China, and could have had a bright future, to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, she started a harder life in the USA; in this country, which has a better education system, she has overcome different obstacles in this different milieu and has achieved academic success by working hard and getting support from her family.

Lei immigrated to the United States with her parents, little sister, and little brother, four years ago. Before they came here, Lei’s parents had run their family business, which had had been passed down from her grandpa, with her uncles and aunts. She was a college student. Being supported by her family, Lei hadn’t faced any big problems in her life, and had planned to help her family operate the family business after she graduated from college. They had happy lives in China. In 2010, there was an opportunity that only comes once in a blue moon. Her family could immigrate to the US with the help of her mother’s sister. Lei hadn’t any special feeling about this news, but her parents wanted to move because they wanted to pursue a better future for the next generations. They were willing to sacrifice their own happiness in China and put their kids first, only for the American Dream for the children. Because of her parents’ American Dream, Lei and her siblings migrated to the US with them. She tries to get used to life here, continues education, and is becoming mature.

Home becomes a home, when it not only provides a place we can live, but also gives us the feeling that we belong to it. Taishan, Lei’s hometown, is a small town located in Guangdong province, China. Lei says, “I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town.” In this town, Lei describes, people are very nice and friendly, and it is a tourist city. She loves San Francisco, but calls Taishan home because she has many relatives and friends there, and many memories of Taishan. Lei recalls that there is a lovely of tourist attraction called Black Sand Beach in Taishan. Unlike the sands on other beaches, the sands there are all black. She has an unforgettably happy memory with her friends there. Her most precious memories relate to this town; her roots are planted here, and most her relatives and friends are there. She could have operated her small family business someday and had a happy life in the town. She had everything there; she belonged to this place, which she calls home.

Beyond the feeling of belongingness, Lei has found that home should be a place that has family to giving her the courage to face any obstacle. In June 2010, Lei left her home and landed in this country with her family. This country gives Lei the impression that “the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There’re a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like.” It is really different from her hometown, Taishan, with a different culture, different language and so the American different from what she familiar. She is just getting used to this country and its culture. In the report “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants,” Wendy Erisman and Shannon Looney analyze the situation of immigrants attaining higher education in the US; they say, “among this group of 18- to 24- year- olds, 98 percent thought that a college education was important, but many were worried about taking on debt and losing out on opportunities to earn needed income by working” (Shannon, Wendy 20). Lei also has to overcome these problems to continue her education and find a job here. Even though she is facing different challenges she had never met, Lei still gets support from her family: she doesn’t worry about the rent because her father works hard to afford to it and her mother takes good care of their daily lives. Under her parents’ support, Lei can try her best to pursue the success which belongs to her. Since Lei has been living here for four years, she has a new definition of home; she thinks that San Francisco is also her home, which she defines as her second home because she can make friends here, create memories here, and, most importantly, lives with her family here. As she says, “I followed my family. That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home. It’s very simple.” Because her family gives her support and a sense of belonging, no matter how the environment changes, wherever her family is, the place is her home.

The first and biggest challenge Lei had to overcome in the USA was the language barrier. She had been a college student before she migrated to the US. Even though she was working hard at school just for her majors, she did not pay much attention on English. As Lei recalls, “On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.” This means that she had to live in a nation where she knew nothing; everything she had learned became nothing to her here. No matter that she wanted to continue going to college or working, language barrier became her biggest obstacle. She chose to progress both ways at the same time: to be a fulltime student and find a part-time job. She thought that if she worked hard at learning English, she could do well in school and her life. Lei says that she had tried to take six classes in a day, starting at 8: 00 a.m. and ending up at 5: 00 p.m. or 6: 00 p.m. She tries her best to seek any opportunity to practice English: “to talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger [in English].” After school, she volunteers at different museums because she thinks she can get more opportunities to practice speaking English. “If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I see myself as a six or seven.” Lei says this proudly. To keep working hard is the only way Lei can overcome her obstacle of her language barrier.

Another challenge Lei had to overcome in the US was finding a job. To find a suitable job is an obstacle for many new immigrants. Lots of employers don’t want to hire newcomers who do not have any experience. If they do hire one, it will probably offer very low pay and long working hours. She says that, because her English was not so good and she did not have any work experience, it was hard for her to get hired. She recalls unbearably, “a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.” On that day, she left home very early in the morning and told her mom that they did not need to wait for her for lunch or dinner because she might be home late. She went home really late at night and she had no expectation that any company would hired her because she had poor language skills and lacked work experience. But she also had hope that she could get more interview experience, which could help her to get a job. Lei says that she kept finding jobs and accumulated interviews and work experiences; she tried working at Chinese restaurants as casher or a waitress. She got minimum wage, and these kind of jobs didn’t give her enough chance to practice English, but she thought all these were opportunities to make her become matured. When her English was getting better and better, Lei finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school after school. In her words, she can’t earn too much from these jobs, but the income is enough for her daily use, and she can learn a lot through her jobs. Never give up; she is growing up into maturity and approaching success by accumulating experiences of success and failure.

Beyond Lei’s hard work, the better education system in the US is another factor that helps her to achieve a better education. She was a student in a college like City College in China after she had graduated from high school. The Chinese education system is different from the American, and even she worked hard at school, but it was still hard for her to transfer to a good university in China. She says that Chinese education is exam-oriented education. Yang Zhifu, author of “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education,” explains, “What is involved here are questions relating to examinations, to the whole phenomenon of coping with examinations, and to the relationship between what we will call ‘exam-oriented education’” (Zhifu). It is a system that only lets students get good grades but ignores students’ knowledge absorption and limits students’ creativity. Lei gives an example: “When I was in China, my professors, they might just talk. They will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US.” She also explains that students don’t even understand the topic but will still say to professors that they all understand. She had been taught in this way until she migrated to the US. The first year she came to the San Francisco, she enrolled into non-credit English as Second Language classes in City College of San Francisco because she couldn’t afford the tuition of credited class in school. The first time she found she had aged classmates and it was the first time she learned the true sense of equity education: everyone can get education. After she enrolled in credited classes at CCSF, during these two years, she came to understand the meaning of better education: quality-oriented education. Lei gives an example of her understanding: “in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative if you don’t know. And like teacher, they will cooperate with students; they might assign you as groups to discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions.” From a student in exam-oriented education, she became a student in quality-oriented education. She says that she has understood “such more knowledge than ever before.” She keeps working hard in such a good educational mode to be a straight A student, and finally she can transfer to the world-class university University of California, Berkeley, to get further education. In similar level colleges, she achieves more than what she learns here because of the better educational mode; and her hard work and the better education system give her the chance to get further her education at a good academic university.

Facts show that the way which immigrants achieve success in a new country is hard. Lei is still on the way to attaining success in her life in the United States. In this country which has a better education system, being support by family and working hard, she has overcome obstacles which come to a new immigrant and gets the chance to a get better education. These are only achievements of her life; as a good woman she is, she is sure to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, which is to have better future.

Works Cited

Erisman, Wendy and Shannon Looney. “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants”. Lumina Foundation for Education. 2007. Web. 23 Jul.2014.

Lei, Lei. Personal interview. 6 Jul. 2014.

Zhifu, Yang. “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education”. Web. 23 Jul.2014.


Date: 6 July, 2014.   Place: Lei’s House.

Interviewer’s name: Jiankun He (H).

Interviewee’s name: Lei (B).

H: Hello, thanks for accepting the interview of oral histories. Hi, how are you!

B: I’m good. Haha.

H: what’s your name?

B: My name is Lei.

H: Where are you from? What’s the memory do you have about this place?

B: en. I am from Taishan. A very small town in Guangdong province, China. It locates in south, yeah, south China. So, it’s been years since I came here. Let’s see. [Er] I was here 2010, now it’s 2014. Yeah, 4 years. So, I know there are big changes, must be, right? In my hometown, which I heard from my grandma and some of my relatives. And, but I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town. And I’m sure you have been there, before. So! People there are very nice and friendly, and there some very good, yeah, I am sure! I am sure it’s famous. Yeah, tourist attractions and visitors coming from all other places to visit those places. Me! I! If you ask what’s my favorite site or place in my town. It’s! I know! I will tell you one place that I really like.

H: EnEn!

B: it’s the Black Sand beach. In~ I don’t know where it’s exactly the location. I remember something class activity that the whole class. The teachers organized the activity. And then they brought us to the beach. And, you know, it was amazing, and it was a very good memory to talk about that. Because, because there are all the sands they are black, you know, there are all black.

H: Oh, all black?

B: it’s not like the ocean beach, not like the long beach, or the beaches here. The sands are black. And it is so beautiful! You know. You can pick up the shells, and you can also see the seagulls, or the children they are running all the places. And you can image that there were nice weather, and you were with your classmates and your teachers. And just have a good time.

H: that sounds wonderful.

B: It was wonderful. Haha. I really like that place.

H: what family members do you have? What did they do before came here?

B: En, I have big family in China. You know. My mom, my dad, my younger sister, my younger brother and me, five people in my family. And before came here. [Er] we have our family business, that my grandpa passed on to other uncles and aunts and my father. So, we were running our own small business in town. And it’s hard to describe what it looks like, how it runs. My dad called it a construction Co., but I preferred to call it a decoration Co. Like we sold products about metals, steels, some of the, maybe furniture. But it did not really like a house store like home depot. It’s not like that.

H: I see.

B: it’s like if orders coming, my dad will go out to see and to ask the customers what they really want us to do. If they want the products, we just sell them. If they really need people to work on their home, and we will sent workers to work on their home. I was not part of the team, but I know how my dad and my mom ran the business. And sometime I help them do the numbers, like an accountant.

H: So that’s the reason you choose the major accounting?

B: [Er] I think that must be some reasons. It is part of like my dad and my mom they know how to run a business. So, I think we are the same blood, so I might have the gift to do business and good at numbers.

H: good.

B: that, it’s not bad. Haha.

H: how did you think the US before you came here? Why did you immigrate here? And when did you come here?

B: [Oh~] to be honest, I don’t, I didn’t think any about this country before I came here. I was still at school, yeah, exactly I was at my college in the second year. [Er] at that time, I was dealing with my exams. When my parents told me about this good news. Right?

H: yeah.

B: So, I~, I think I put all my attentions into the exams. During that summer, when I really told about this with my parents and my family, I was just feeling like em, em. It was just normal, [em] it was Ok to accept this news, this fact, I will go aboard, I will immigrate to other country beside my country. So~ so~ actually it was not bad, but I was not kind of excited, expected to go, right? And I know that, yeah, a month before I knew this news, my friend, one of my best friends, just moved out, you can say he migrated to, I think it is England. It’s not America, it’s England. And he told me that oh, this country it’s very nice!!! Beautiful!!! And you know that people are very friendly, but they all speak English!!!!!!! And, hehe, I was total into my exams. So I didn’t think anything before I go there, I moved, yeah, I moved to the US. So, I just talked to my friends and my parents, [Er] do I, [Er] I asked my friends, are we really going there? And they said: “yes, why not, let’s try something else, right? You have the opportunity to go out and see the world. Why not? Just try.” I just “ok, not bad, let’s try.” That’s why I am here. Hahahaha. And, so if you ask why I am here? I will say “I followed my family.” That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home, it’s very simple, right?

H: yes.

B: I know, [Em] like my parents, they have kind of like~ like American dream, and they wished all of us babies, part of our relatives, they could, we all could have the better life, [Er] better education. So, I am not saying that the education in China is not good, but, maybe the education system in the western countries is better, right?

H: yeah, agree.

B: maybe that’s why we migrated. I landed on this country in June, 2010. I remember. The month, but I really don’t remember exact day. if you asked me what day? I am sorry. I couldn’t remember the date. I am just getting use to this country, the culture. Accept the fact. So, [Em] kind of like accept. Yeah~ and I am, yeah~ kind of that.

H: So, How do you think of the US now according to what you have seen, heard and learned here?

B: I know the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like. They will fight for their right, right?

H: Oh, yes.

B: you usually hear from the news, said, some people are going to maybe vote, they are going out to the street to give protect, [Er] what they want to do, what you have to give me, something. I am not, not saying that. Right? But, they can have, like people here they can have more choices on their life styles. [Em] I would say it’s more colorful life, here. Yeah, you can like live on the street, if that’s what you like. You can live in a house, in a department, in the dorm, in, in some, I forget the word. It’s some like a department. But if you were in China, you can only live in your own house, with your family, your big extend family. Like with your aunts, your uncles, all live together. Here you can live like in a single house, maybe far from your aunt or your uncle. But that’s. You can choose, right?

B: yeah.

H: what I learned is people, everyone can go to school no matter how old you are what situation you at. When I first came here, I would say, I was very surprised to see people like some old people, [wow~] I am sure that some of them are seventy or eighty years old. And I would say I was totally shock. Wow, why were those old people still at school, at school, right? And I asked my teachers. And they said, “Everyone can go to school here, no matter how old you are.” I, I just, I was just, just. I don’t know how to describe. Like, you open your mouth, [O~~] like that.

B: HaHa.

H: It’s shock. Yeah, it’s pretty surprised. I told my mom, “Mom, you should go to school.” And she just said, “I am old, I am old.” And I said, “No, you are not old enough, we have people, they are seventy years old, they are still go to school, in my class. Yeah, and they are studying hard. You should try, mom.” And my mom still said she’s not part of the school. I think that’s the culture stuff. But, you know, you just keep talking to people, everyone at school, yeah, like older people, mid-age people. Right? And here the technologies are much advanced. You know, like iPhone. May just one year ago, you still had your iPhone 4. But, then, just few months later, iPhone 5 comes up, iPhone 5c comes up. It’s more advanced. And, if I could describe in one sentence, it is a country having the higher living standard, I think, like, better than the third world countries, right? So, I can tell, I can tell, I can see why my parents wanted to come here. I understand.

H: So you have been here about three years, four years.

B: Yes, four years.

H: Yes, so what do you think some challenges you have in the US?

B: Some challenges. [Em~~] let me think about that. Obviously, right? The biggest challenge for me or for other new immigrants is the language barrier. I didn’t concern anything before I came here. I told you, right? I was thinking it was OK for me, right? But, there’s when I was in China. When I came here, I realized I couldn’t understand what people were talking about. It just gave me a hard time to learn English. You know, So, I tell you [Er~ Er ~ Er~] my experience. So, I was like, I think, honor. Ok, let’s say, On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.

H: wow, that’s so low.

B: yeah, I know, I~ I was just overwhelmed when, when like the sound of English being seemingly like bombarded in my direction. Like, you, you were in the airport and people were just speaking English, blah~blah~blah~. Oh, my ears hurt. I couldn’t understand. I might know like “hello, how are you, good bye.” But if you talk more, then my both ears like, I couldn’t tell. So, since then, my command, like, yeah, command of English has changed a lot. Because I study, right? I go to school, I work. If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I will say, haha, I see myself as a six or seven. Yeah, haha. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I am still trying to improve English skill.

H: that’s good, really good.

B: So, I am still working on my English. Em, this is the biggest challenge for me even for most of immigrant people, right?

H: yeah.

B: And then the second biggest challenge for me was to find a job. It’s really hard, tough to find a job here. You know, living in this country, it’s a costly land. You have to have a job. And I remember I couldn’t be hired because my English was not so good, not good enough to compare to other people, right? And, a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.

H: in a day? Wow.

B: yep. I went out like very early in the morning, and I told my mom, “Mom, I got job interviews today, so don’t wait for me for lunch or dinner. I may be home late.” Yes, I was, I came home late, really late. So, I, I don’t know they might hire me or not, I was just hoping I could get more experiences in interview. And then I could get a job. But, you know, it turned out, that none of those companies would like hire me. I can tell why. May probably because my poor English or I didn’t have experience or I didn’t have high education level. Whatever, it’s hard to find a job in the city for many new comers. Like me.

H: How did you overcome the challenges?

B: En, haha. I wouldn’t say I have overcome my challenges. I am still working on it. I~ I think it takes time to develop [~em~ language]. Like English. For a lot of immigrants. What I have been doing is go to school every day. Study in class from the morning till to the late afternoon. I remember my first was start at 8:00 or 8: 30 at the morning. And then I have (counting, one, two…) more 6 classes in a day. And 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. when my dad picked me and my sister up. And I am just trying to speak as much as I can. I seek any opportunity to talk. To talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger. [~laugh~] yes, it nice if you think she or he is a nice person. Usually people are very nice to give small talk, right? [Em] So, other than that, I will do volunteering if there any chance for me. I am doing like. [Er] I am still a volunteer in some museums, like Randall Museum, or what’s that museum? Next to the city hall.

H: Asian…

B: Oh, yep, Asian Art Museum, right? Yep. Being the… I am not sure the name. How they call. Just answer visitors’ questions and give them directions. So, if you do those, it might give you more opportunity to practice your speaking, your English. And the last thing I would find jobs. The requires employees to speak in English. I have tried many jobs that require people like employees to speak both Chinese and English. But I realized if the company needs you to speak English. That will push you, like to push you to think, to talk. It likes, I don’t know. Just make you focus on English. You will think, you will do, what, it’s hard to explain it. it just likes total different from when you talk and speak in Chinese. It is very different. ~ I don’t know how to say it, forget it~ OK? It is just to grab everything like jobs talks in English. It’s good. So, this way, I can practice English every day. And I told you finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school. Even I earn not too much, but it’s enough for my daily use, and I can learn much through these jobs. [Haha]. I am still very happy about. Before that, I worked at Chinese restaurants as a casher or a waitress like many students, right? Doing part-time. Got the minimum paid and I couldn’t practice my English through these jobs. You know, you will think all of these opportunities, all of these provide me more chances to use what I have learned at school, which I am really thankful.

H: You said that you were a student before you came here. Do you think it is easier for you get education here?

B: [~ sigh ~] to get education. Yeah, before came here, I was a college student in China. Here~ if you ask some differences between education here and in China. I would say the education system here is better. Better than in China. I didn’t say it’s not good in China. I prefect the way how it works here. Because [~ Em ~] like. Chinese Education is the Exam-oriented Education, but the education mode here is like kind of Quality-oriented Education. I can give you a very simple example. When I was in China, my professors they might just talk, they will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US. So they will ask you “do you have any questions about this lecture or about any point?” And most the students they just say “no, we understand.” But really understand? I don’t think that’s true. So, even you don’t understand you might say “yes, I understand.” But here, because. I can say you might fear to ask questions. But here, in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative, being     if you don’t know. And like teachers, they will cooperate with students; they might sign you as groups, in small groups, sometimes in big groups. Discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions. This very inspired for me. Cause it’s experience. That’s different kind of education like the teaching ways. I will say, Oh, I like it. I really like it. I can learn so much during these two years, I have understood more knowledge than ever before. I like the US, [yeah] So, and right now, I am still a college student, you know. [ ~hahaha~] I am just transfer to, I am ready, I am gonna transfer to the university to finish my education.

H: which school?

B: [~Wow~ (delighted) ]I will transfer to UC Berkeley this fall.

H: congratulation.

B: Thank you.

H: So, have you ever image the live if you hadn’t come here?

B: [~ En~] Honestly, I haven’t thought about this question before. I think I might have ended up living in town with my grandma and grandpa and my aunt. Helping my aunt run our family business after graduated. And, I might not have had a chance to broaden my visions and experienced so much if I was still in China, yep, in my hometown. And. Yeah, no more thought about that. Just, just not a question I would think most of my time.

H: [En~ En], Do you ever regret coming here?

B: Nope, absolutely no. I don’t regret coming here. I am very happy living here to meet you guys, my friends, met a lot of good people, good friends. And my family is here. And China is my home, but, America is also my home. I love both countries, they are all my, yeah, my hometowns right now. And I would like to experience different life styles if I have the opportunities. I am sure I will take these chances. I can learn English, meet and make friends from all over the world, travel wherever I like, and all kinds of different stuff I can do, and I enjoy my life here. Really, enjoy. I should thank my parents bringing me here and making an optimistic me. Without them, I could barely think of living abroad or studying abroad. It is difficult for me to live along. So, no regret!

H: enjoy your life here. Thank you.


One Common Thread in the Blanket of Dreams

One Common Thread in the Blanket of Dreams

by Stephanie Muñoz, July 2014

The American dream is something that a lot of immigrants moving to America are trying to fulfill. Many people have different ideas of the American dream, but in the end are just looking for a better way of life. For one man in specific, he has faced quite a few challenges to try to achieve his own version of the American dream. This man’s name is Ramón and he moved from Ecuador to the United Stated to complete his American dream. Ramón had envisioned his American dream to be in a place of progressing. His early life was not the best because he lived in poverty. There was a lot of corruption where he lived and moving to America would be the stepping stone he needed to get his life together. As Ramón tried to grow in his life, he viewed the American dream as a better way to live, and was going to accomplish his American dream with his ambition and hard work.

Ramón’s life started out difficult. It was at the age of seven when he his best childhood memories came to a halt and he had to grow up more quickly. His dad was always leaving to America to try and make some money so that he could support the family. Ramón and his mother moved in with his grandmother. He is the oldest of four sisters and a brother. When he got older and left, he barely got to spend time with his younger siblings because he left at a pretty young age. He did not finish his education and eventually decided to join the Ecuadorian military. His father was always pushing him to do something with his life, but it was hard to do anything in Ecuador due to corruption. People in Ecuador would only help someone if they knew the person, or had money. Everyone else was a victim of low income. Some people in Ecuador have a different mentality. They are not ambitious, and do not try to do something else to make life better life for themselves. Ramón believed that in America, if he worked hard enough he could achieve whatever he wanted. America was a place where he wanted his dreams to come true and not be another victim in the corrupt environment of Ecuador. The first few years of his life were hard, but then he had the chance to move to America. His father paid for someone to cross him over the border into the US so that Ramón could start his new life. After looking for a while, a family friend told Ramón about a company that he could probably work for. Ramón got the job and immediately started saving money. He acquired his residency and from there everything seemed to come more easily. At first, Ramón wanted to go back to Ecuador, after a few years, because the money made in America is a lot of money when taken back to Ecuador, but then decided that he liked America better.

At first, thought, the American Dream can be easily defined as the chance to create an opportunity. It is when one begins to work at it that one discovers how multifaceted it actually is. It involves so many variables to define the American Dream. It depends on the person, the timing, the location, etc. The American Dream is a blanket made up of many different threads. It is unclear when the American Dream actually began. The Library of Congress has outlined the different time periods the American Dream could have begun from the authors of the Declaration of Independence to the homesteaders, or from when the immigrants who first arrived to when veterans would come back from fighting and wished for more (LOC). For each of those groups, each dream was different as well. One common thread in the blanket of dreams is money. It is universally acknowledged money that can help people reach many dreams. This is not limited to immigrants searching for better pay, but true for everyone. Money extends to the other threads that create the dream. It can lead to higher education and therefore a better paying job. A higher education opens more doors, creating a social status and security (Lazerson). It could be more simplistic like having enough money to feed a family or more materialistic and have enough to splurge. The message of the American Dream is to inspire the idea of the grass being green on the other side, that one day it will get better.  The dream can stay constant or can shift over time. Life finds a way of altering it. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to attain the American Dream, because of its ever-changing fluidity. In order to fulfill the dream, people go through all possible measures. Immigrants leave their counties, their homes, to sow what they hope will be enough to bring back. A person can take more than one job and sacrifice a lot to stay on track. The more effort put into the dream, the more desirable it is.

When Ramón was just a young man, he dreamed of accomplishing his American dream. He had pictured his own version of the dream, and described it: “I thought it was a country you can progress more easily than my own country. I think there are more opportunities to progress in this country than my country.” It was clear that Ramón thought that America was a country of opportunity, whereas Ecuador was not. He explains that there is a lot of corruption in Ecuador and that, if someone is working, there is no chance of ever getting promoted unless he or she knows someone or has the money. If someone works hard, he or she will not get anywhere, but in America, Ramón believed that if he worked hard enough he could progress. He believed that in America there were more opportunities for him to change jobs and make more money, while in Ecuador it seemed impossible. Usually, if someone quits one job, he or she would be lucky to find another job. People sometimes end up staying with the same job and only make a little bit of money. Even if someone works hard, it is hard to get anything. Then, on top of that, it was hard to get a job. Many people would move outside of the country. After he turned eighteen years old, that was the official moment when he decided that he wanted to move to America and make a better life for himself. When Ramón would see friends coming back to visit Ecuador, he noticed that they were living better lives in America. He would imagine himself getting paid for his hard work and his life would be better financially. Ramón wanted some of the average things in life, and says, “My dream is to have a house, a good job, a nice car, and to have money.” Although he wanted some of the basic necessities to live a happy life such as shelter, transportation along with a steady income, he wasn’t too sure of how he was going to complete his goals. He mentions, “I was not looking for a career, only for a better way of life.” He believed that he would achieve these items with hard work. Most importantly he believed in himself, that he could attain success. Ramón felt that he was capable of accomplishing his American dream.

Ramón’s early life is what led him to chase the American dream. Even if he worked hard in Ecuador, he would not get paid enough. He says that many companies will only hire someone for three months before they fire him, so they will not have to give the worker benefits. Ramón explains, “Life was very scary because I thought it was easy to make money, but I realized that living here was tough.” Unfortunately, Ramón only had one job throughout his twenty three years of living in Ecuador. When he got older, he did not go to college, and even dropped out of high school in his third year. He reflected, “School was boring and I was not a good student.” Ramón really did not like the idea of going to school. At the age of eighteen, he joined the Ecuadorian military. He thought that the military was better than going to school. The military in Ecuador used to take in anyone. They would find people that were uneducated and did not know how to read or write. Ramón’s first year in the military was the first year that they had educated students, meaning that they at least knew how to read and write. Therefore, he sincerely takes pride of when he joined the military in Ecuador because they were the first graduating class that was educated. Since they were the first educated graduating class, they only had to stay six months whereas all the other men had to stay at least one year. After he was done with the military, he chose not to stay because he didn’t like people telling him what to do all the time, like wake up early. There were too many rules for him. Their military, however, did not get any benefits either, but he stayed because he was not doing anything with his life. He explains, “I wanted to prove to my dad that I was good for something and I wanted to do something with my life, my dad was very strict and always pushing me to something.” His dad went to America a few times to try to make a living. Ramón would live with his grandma and they suffered a lot. His father would come back to Ecuador, and then leave again. When Ramón was nineteen, his father left Ecuador to go to the United States one last time, so when Ramón turned twenty three, his dad said, “This is your last chance to make something of your life.” It was hard to accomplish his desires in Ecuador and he was still without a job at twenty two, so that was the moment that Ramón made a change in his life and decided to just chase after the American dream.

After having a challenging early life, Ramón decided that it was time to make a change in his life. It was at the age of twenty-three that he realized that he did not want to just be stuck doing nothing with his life, so he stopped contemplating and started doing. With the help of his father, he finally took action and made his first step to make his American dream come true. Ramón’s father paid for the process to come to America because he did not have any money. At first, Ramón flew from Ecuador to Mexico City, with a visa. From Mexico City, he met up with someone to take him to Tijuana, Mexico. Ramón did not have the visa to travel from Mexico to the United States, so he had to meet up with another person to help him cross the border illegally, known as a coyote. Moving from Tijuana and over the border, he went to San Diego to meet his dad. Later, his dad brought him to Orange County. They went to Orange County because his dad was currently living with his brother-in-law. The whole process of coming to the US from only took about four to five days. The first thing that Ramón remembers about when he got to America was that his father took him to Pioneer Chicken, which is a takeout restaurant. At first, he didn’t like America, as he demonstrates, “I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have money, no family here I live with my uncle. In the beginning, it was hard. The beginning is too hard. I thought after 4 o5 years I would go back to my country.” It was not until he got his first paycheck that he changed his mind about America. His father left shortly after he got Ramón settled in America, but left his uncle’s place after one year; when he got a job, so he was on his own most of the time. He then says, “After I got my checks, I started liking the money and the country too.” Eventually, living the American dream did not seem impossible anymore. Becoming independent and being ambitious is what got him to the first step of accomplishing his American dream.

The next step of Ramón’s life in trying to attain the American dream, was getting a job. Before his dad left to go back home, he tried to help Ramón look for a job. A family friend told Ramón to go to this company and luckily they accepted him and he found work. It took him a year to find a job, and in that time he did not have a car or any transportation, so his dad bought him a bike. He used this bike to get to work, where he was a laborer at an electronic company. It was scary for him in the beginning and he remembers, “I use to work at night. One time, I was driving my bike at night and someone threw something at me. It was scary to go to work in the graveyard shift at night.” However, nothing stopped him from achieving his goals. Ramón struggled a lot, but eventually explains that, “My first check I got, I was so happy. It was the first time I had my own money, my own things.” He worked hard and achieved his first glimmer of hope that his life would have meaning. Ramón says that at the place where he worked, about ninety percent of the people were not legal citizens. This is the reason why he decided to apply for residency. After he moved out of his uncle’s house, he looked at the newspaper and found a place to rent. It was cheaper to rent rooms in a house than to rent an apartment. In the beginning, he would live in one room with three or four other people and even live in bad places for about six to seven months. He didn’t want all of his money to go into his living situation at the moment, but wanted to save money for a better place in the future. Sometimes, it would get up to five or six people living in the same room, which caused Ramón to move a lot and look for cheaper places to live. He summarizes, “One time when I was renting a room, I went to work at four o’clock in the morning and when I went back the house was empty. Immigration had come at six o’clock in the morning. If I was there they would have got me too.” He was extremely lucky, but it was a close call. Ramón eventually got laid off and had to start looking for another job with barely any work experience, but he managed. It took him a while to learn English because 90% of the people where he was spoke Spanish. To learn English, he would watch a lot of TV in English, and the sports channels were his favorite. Slowly but surely, Ramón was adapting to the American culture. It took him about ten years to finally get used to living here, but now he was on his way to completing his journey of accomplishing the American dream.

Finally knowing a little bit of what he wanted to do with his life and earning a steady job, it was time to make it official and become a legal resident. He started small at first with trying to obtain a driver’s license. Ramón’s uncle’s friend let him borrow his car so he can learn how to drive and receive his license. He learned how to drive within the first year of moving to America. Then made the next move and bought a car for six hundred dollars. During his early years, they did not give people a hard time for not having legal residency, so it was easier for Ramón to get his driver’s license. Ramón lived approximately fifteen years without documentation. Later, he went to school to try to acquire amnesty. He applied for amnesty so he could do legal work in the United States. At that time, the government approved immigrants to apply from other countries. Next, Ramón applied for his green card. Getting his green card was a little more difficult because he did not have any papers, only an ID. He ended up getting approved within a year, which was good because his job required him to have a green card work. In the year 2000, Ramón explains, “After I see my friends getting their citizenship I decided to apply. My friends did not even speak or understand English and they still got their citizenship.” With all his friends receiving citizenship, Ramón believed that he had a chance of finally becoming a legal citizen of the United States. He was forty when he got his citizenship. The company he worked for now would fire him if he did not have legal status. It was actually quite simple for him to receive US citizenship because he was truly a good man. He demonstrates, “I did not have problems with the government; I paid taxes, I have not been to jail I was a legal resident, and everything they needed, I had it.” He knew a little bit of English at the time so when it was time for his interview, they gave it to him in English. In the interview they asked him, “Who was the first president of the United States?” to which Ramón replied, “George Washington.” Then they asked him to write, “The rabbit is color purple.” After the interview he checked the answer, he said, “Ok, your paperwork will come in the mail.” Then, he waited to get sworn in and about five to six months later he got all his paperwork in the mail. He exclaimed, “I was very happy.” After all of Ramón’s hard work he had now made an American identity for himself. He has now made the final step to accomplishing his American dream, more smoothly.

Ramón’s life now is much better than it was before. He states, “Life now is much better and I’m about halfway to accomplishing the American dream.” He explains that he still wants to accomplish more, and is not completely satisfied just yet. Life now is better financially living in America than is Ecuador, but he still has a little bit of stress. He is much happier and says, “I love it here. I have my house, I have my work and I am learning more.” Ramón also has a beautiful wife and two daughters. He seems to have more in the United States, and says that he doesn’t want to go back to live in Ecuador again. He loves Ecuador, but he would only want to visit for vacation. Ramón has achieved a lot of to get to where he is today and has faced many challenges, but that did not stop him even a little bit because his desire was to strong.

Although Ramón is not yet completely done accomplishing his American dream, he has achieved a lot. It started with a dream and a strict father who pushed him to do something with his life. Then, he started to realize that his dad was right and that he needed to do something with his life. In an effort to impress his dad, he joined the military, but that was not enough. Finally, he decided that, to make a better life for himself, he was going to go to America, and leave his home country. He started with nothing but a place to stay at his uncle’s house, but came to the conclusion that he want to pursue more. After getting a job, which pushed him a little bit more to apply for amnesty, he finally got his green card and was able to obtain residency. In the end, he has faced many challenges in life and overcome a lot of them. He has accomplished half of his version of the American dream and did it with hard work and not giving up.

Works Cited

Lazerson, Marvin. Higher Education And The American Dream : Success And Its Discontents. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 22 July 2014.

Leon, Harmon. The American Dream : Walking In The Shoes Of Carnies, Arms Dealers,  Immigrant Dreamers, Pot Farmers, And Christian Believers. New York: Nation Books, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 22 July 2014.

“The American Dream:What Is The American Dream?” Students. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2014. <>



Stephanie: What is your name?

Ramón: My name is Ramón Chavez.

Stephanie: Where did you immigrate from?

Ramón: I came from South America Ecuador.

Stephanie: How was life like when you lived in Ecuador?

Ramón: My life was a little bit rough.

Stephanie: How was it rough?

Ramón: Cause when I was little my dad came to United States to live in New York. My mom didn’t have money to take care of my sister not enough money to take care of me and all my sisters. Then after she move to United States. They left us with my parent’s tor your uncle to take care of us. I grew up with no family sometimes with no clothes or no shoes. Later as a teenager I was thinking about coming to United States.

Stephanie: Did your parents come back?

Ramón: Later on they dad use to give may mom a hard time to my mom about money. Money money. That’s why I decided to come to the Unite states for a better life.
Stephanie: Did your parents Where your parents legal when they came to the United States?

Ramón: I believe my mom came legally. My father came 3 or 4 times illegally. Trips. So they are not us citizen. My father lost the papers, but he help me come here illegally.

Stephanie: So how was life before you decided to come to America?

Ramón: No too happy, I don’t have money have to depend on my mom and dad. No opportunity to make money

Stephanie: So how’s was your journey over here over her?

Ramón: I came through Mexicali, we had somebody to my dad paid for everything. My dad was living her in the US at the time,

Stephanie: How did you get to Mexico?

Ramón: I had a visa. They crossed with the coyote.

Stephanie: So what did you right when you crossed the border?

Ramón: My father came to pick to up. We went to live with my uncle. My dad bought me a bike.

Stephanie: Where did you work?

Ramón: In a electronic company. I was a laborer.

Stephanie: Do you have any experience when you work there?

Ramón: I use to work at night. One time I was driving at night and someone through something at me. It was scary to go to work in the graveyard shift at night.

Stephanie: So why did you decide to stay here?

Ramón: After I got my first check I was so happy. It was the first time I had my own money. If you work hard you can whatever you want. In my country you work hard you don’t get anything.

Stephanie: So what do you mean when you work hard you don’t get anything?

Ramón: If you work hard you don’t go higher and higher. You only stay at the same level. Here you can go higher higher, you can change job to get higher over there you don’t progress you don’t have opportunity over there that’s why people stay at the same job.

Stephanie: So were you still an immigrant undocumented when you were working at the factory?

Ramón: Yeah I did I was working for about 10 to 15 years with out legal papers. Later on when amnesty came I tried to apply for legal work status. That why I applied for green card I got it.

Stephanie: So how tell me the story of how you got it.

Ramón: It was a little hard the company say it you don’t have legal status you would get fired. That’s why I had to go to school to learn about how to get my legal resident. I had to go to school to learn about the amnesty. Tough

Stephanie: How long did it take you?

Ramón: I had my legal status to work only to work I don’t have my Later on I applied for citizenship. My citizenship was not a hard time because I pay my taxes, or never been to jail …. Later applied and 6 months later they call me to do an interview I qualified and I past the test. I was happy everyone wants to have a citizenship.

Stephanie: Were you happy? What kind of questions did they ask you in there interview?

Ramón: I was talking with him I know a little bit of English, he took me to a room, he ask me question He asked who was the first president of the United States. He check my papers, he asked me to write the rabbit is color purple. He check the paper and said everything is all right. He said the paperwork was all. Your paperwork will come in to get sworn in. Then he waited to get sworn in. to do the I don’t know.

Stephanie: Say it in Spanish,

Stephanie: Oh do the court thing

Ramón: Everything took about 5 or 6 month. Applica, and citing not like other people 1 to 3 years. That’s why have my citizenship now.

Stephanie: So when you were working why didn’t decide get your citizenship while you were working in the factory.

Ramón: Because all of the company has to be legal 90% of company was illegal they didn’t have the papers. Most of people were illegal without paper that’s why I did my resident first then my citizenship, that’s why I applied for citizenship.

Stephanie: So were you living there with your dad and your uncle?

Ramón: Yeah, then my dad left me and I stayed with my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for 1 year. After 1 year I left my uncle and 1 room 3 or 4 people in 1 room, I did that for 1 year some places were very bad.

Stephanie: So you didn’t know the people you were renting the room from.

Ramón: Cheaper place to One time I read the Spanish newspaper to rent the room when over there they gave me the price and. The lady said only me and other person in the room, but later people kept coming and coming and there were about 5 or 6 people in the room for 6 or 7 months I had to stay, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I went to look for another place rooms were cheaper the apartment were more expensive. I just rented rooms, it was cheaper.

Stephanie: So how long did it take to learn English?

Ramón: Most people in the company spoke Spanish. A long time. 90% of people speak Spanish. Someone told him was no good, you won’t learn English. The way Learn English is watching TV I used to watch sports, that how I learned how. I watch a lot of sports channels. My English is not perfect but that the way I learn I understand more but I don’t speak as well.

Stephanie: So what did you put on your resume for work experience.

Stephanie: How did you get your 1st job?

Ramón: Some family friend told me to go to this company to get a job. Later on, the company laid off and I had to look for another job. After

Stephanie: So, did you like it here at first when you came?

Ramón: Really No

Stephanie: Why not?

Ramón: I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have money, no family here I live with my uncle. In the beginning it was hard. I lived with my uncle for 1 year. At least I had food, family. After I got a job I left. But after I got my checks, I started liking the money and the country too. My country has too much corruption, the people, but only if you have money it was
Stephanie: Why did you chose American and not like Canada.

Ramón: My father and my mother came here already.

Stephanie: So why did you choose California?

Ramón: My dad came to California and I have a aunt. She had a house in Santa Ana. And my dad lived here so that why I came to live with my dad.
Stephanie: So what was your dreams to accomplish? When you came here?

Ramón: My dream is to have a house, a good job, a nice car, and to have money.

Follow-up Questions:

1. How did you view the “American Dream”? (Your view of America)

I thought it was a country you can progress more easily than my own country. I think there are more opportunities to progress in this country than my country.

2. When did you realize that you wanted to come to America?

After I turned 18 years old, I saw families and friends living better in America when they came back to visit us in our country.

3. What did you imagine yourself doing when you got here?

Working and getting paid for my hard work. It’s better economically.

4. What kind of career did hope to get when you came here?

I wasn’t looking for a career only for a better way of life.

5. How did you think you were going to accomplish the “American dream”?

With hard work.

6. How was your early life?

Very scary. Because I thought it was easy to make money, but I realized you have to work hard to get your goals.

7. What made you want to move?

I realized there weren’t any opportunities in my country to advance economically.

8. Did you try to accomplish any goals while you were in Ecuador?

Not really, because it was hard for me to accomplish my desires.

9. When was the exact moment when you completely decided you were going to try to accomplish your “American Dream”

When I was 22 year old and I didn’t have a job in my country.

10. When were you actually prepared to move/ were you prepared to move?

When I was 23 I didn’t want to be stuck doing nothing with my life.

11. When did you move?

At the age of 23.

12. What was the first step to your move?

My father helped me move.

13. What was the next step? (keep asking this question until he finally tells you how he got to America.)

My father paid for the process to come to this country. Because I didn’t have any money. My father was living in California. He paid for my flight from Ecuador to Mexico City. From Mexico City, my father paid someone to take me to Tijuana. From Tijuana I passed over the border to San Diego. They took me to Orange County where I met up with my father.

14. What was the first thing you did when you got to America?

My father took me to Pioneer Chicken.

15. When did you get a job?

After a year.

16. How did you get your residency?

I applied for amnesty because at that time the government approves immigrants to apply from other countries.

Where were you living before? (when you first got to America)

I was living with my aunt in Santa Ana, California.

17. Were you scared immigration would find you when you did apply for residency?

I was worried until I got my residency.

18. When did you get your green card?

After I applied for amnesty, but I had to wait to get approved.

19. How did you get your green card?

I just applied.

20. Was it easy?

Yes, I never had any problems with the law or government so I got approved within a year. Also, my job required me to have a green card to work.

21. When did you get your citizenship?

In 2000, after I see my friends getting their citizenship I decided to apply. My friends didn’t even speak or understand English and they still got their citizenship.

22. When did you get your driver’s license?

A year after I came to California.

23. How did you get it if you weren’t officially a U.S. citizen?

At that time it was not required to be a citizen.

24. How is life now for you?

Much better.

25. Would you say that you accomplished the “American Dream”?

Halfways. I still want to accomplish more.

26. Are you satisfied with how far you got with accomplishing the “American dream”?

Not completely satisfied.

27. Is it better or worse than what you wanted/expected?

It’s better financially living here than in my country. But with a little bit of stress.


Hopeful for Home: From Burma to Myanmar to San Francisco

Hopeful for Home: From Burma to Myanmar to San Francisco
by Darius Bright, May, 2014

Julia is an international student in the United States from Myanmar, a nation previously called Burma, and still called Burma by many people who stand in opposition to its history of military rule. During the interview and this writing, I will primarily refer to the nation as Burma. Burma is located directly south of India, north of Thailand, west of China, and east of the Bay of Bengal. Julia is majoring in business in the United States, and education is her primary purpose for obtaining a student visa to study in the United States, and because of the restrictions on business and trade in Burma, a result of political influence. Burma is a constantly changing nation with frequent internal conflict. However, she is fortunately part of the racial and ethnic majority. Julia remains indecisive about whether she considers staying in the United States or whether she will return to her home country, because Burma is progressing, but slowly, so her indecisiveness comes from her simple life experiences and her optimistic vision of a better Burma, politically, socially, and economically. During my interview with Julia, we discussed her views on Burmese politics, conflicts, and culture.

There have been many changes in Burma, and many political conflicts in a relatively short amount of time. There are expected to be more changes and this gives Julia her hope for a democratic nation and homeland. Since 1989, Burma has officially been recognized as Myanmar. However, the nation is still called Burma by those who oppose the military takeover of the government. The nation that seemingly has two names is called Burma by the people who view Myanmar’s government as illegitimate. In an email conversation after the interview, I asked Julia, “Which name do you prefer,” and she told me that she did “not have a preference.” She said that, because she was born into a recent generation, she isn’t deeply immersed in politics. However, she does think that people who call the nation Burma do so because it was the name chosen by the former communist government. Because of Burma’s location, it has many ethnic groups from its surrounding countries, such as India, Thailand, China, and so forth. The largest religious affiliation is Buddhist, but there is a considerable presence of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. The Burmese government was once overthrown from within in 1962, in an event known as a coup d’état, often shortened to coup, and defined by the Meriam Webster Dictionary as “a sudden exercise…especially the violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group.” Later, in 1974, there would be an organized government, which would only last until 1988, when a military coup gave the military power over the government, turning it into a military dictatorship. In that same year, anti-government riots broke out in protest for democracy. Troops from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which is the name given to the military regime in control, killed over 300 protestors. In the year following the riots, the nation was officially named Myanmar. In a span of twenty-seven years, Burma’s government has gone through three major changes and two significant riots. Because of these rapid changes, there is also hope for significant change in the future.

Concerning Julia’s question of whether or not to return to Burma, its answer appears to rest heavily on the potential future changes that could occur in Burma. Because politics affect everything there, Julia says she would go back “if things get better…They’re trying to get closer to democracy, because Aung\San Suu Ki.” Changes for the better are expected mostly from the success of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was formed in 1988, and is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s General Secretary, and the daughter of the father of communist Burma, Aung San. She is also Buddhist and uses non-violent protest to promote democracy and human rights. For that reason as well, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Julia is hopeful that the change towards democracy will come. It’s reported by Derek Tonkin, in Contemporary Southeast Asia, that the “NLD won 80% of the seats in the parliament and 59% of the national vote, during a multiparty election in 1990.” However, the SLORC would not accept her party’s victory, arrested her, and placed her under house arrest for fifteen years. According to Alison Koistinen, who wrote an article called “Peace Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi” in Peace Review, Aung San Su Kyi was arrested for “endangering the state,” though Julia believes that she can change Burma if given the chance. She says, “She makes many promises but progress moves slowly and people grow impatient.” She also states that if a significant change were to happen, it would be around 2015, but for now she is unsure. After Suu Kyi was released, she announced that she would run in the 2015 election. Julia told me, “She was actually under house arrest recently so like since she came out she is trying to change the policy in Burma. She is trying to put Burma into the part of democracy.” Suu Kyi won the first election and may win again. This tells me that Julia is full of hope for change and that change is dependent in Suu Kyi’s success. And it seems as if she has a tremendous amount of faith in her. When I asked Julia is she would go back to Burma, or if it would be worthwhile to stay here, she replied, “Yeah, because I need to get more experience, more experience here first, maybe I might, or if it goes well, then I will stay here.” Julia is majoring in business and is here because of the restrictions placed on owning a business in Burma. “There’s too much restriction for the business major, because, if you want some company, you need like…until 2015, we wouldn’t actually know how it goes.” She expects to acquire her experience and education here and use what she learns back home, but only if business restrictions are lifted. This is partly dependent on Suu Kyi’s success, because, if the country becomes more democratic, trade and business regulations will become more negotiable. For now, this is why Julia came to the United States and why she considers settling here.

Burma has some visible issues when one looks at the conflicts that arose over the span of twenty-seven years. Julia is fairly young and has no firsthand experience of the conflicts in Burma. She does, however, possess some knowledge about some of the conflicts that are present. One of the most important topics that Julia touched on was the topic of racism. She said that she only know a little bit about the history of racism in the United States. When talking about the United States in Burma, “the focus was mainly on politics.” She continued to say, “Actually, in Burma, we don’t have racism. Everything is equal. So, yeah, we don’t actually think much of it.” In a way, this is surprising because of the different racial and ethnic groups in Burma. Displaying a photo she took at school in Burma, students varied significantly in appearance. Revisiting that statement in an email for clarification, Julia retracted her statement: “It would be wrong to say that there is no racism going on. It’s probably the way and place I grew up. In that, we don’t have to deal with such matters.” While the racial ethnic conflict was virtually non-existent in her life, she does have some knowledge about it. “I guess you can check on ‘Rohingya’ in Burma and you might be able to find conflicts,” she suggested. In an article entitled “The Potential Role of Racial Segregation in Burma,” published in Forced Migration Review, Nathan Willis wrote: “Ethnic discrimination has long fueled violence and displacement within Myanmar [Burma], especially in relation to people of Rohingya ethnicity, who have been fleeing their home in the ‘tens of thousands’ in 2013 alone.” Though Rohingya is not a race, because race describes physical characteristics, ethnic groups under persecution tend to find themselves in the middle of a racial conflict if people of said group look similar. In the same article, Willis writes, “In recognition that no state is immune from racism, legislators need to take seriously the need to enshrine a legislative response.” Buddhist is still primarily Buddhist with around 80% of the people practicing Buddhism. While racism is certainly present in this conflict, because Julia was part if the middle class and the demographic majority, if is very possible that she never witnessed this conflict. When I asked her about a moment that she will never forget, she spoke of simple pleasures: “Well, there’s lots of things. Like, going on a field trip with friends from school, and there are lots of events that I, you know, like I get to go with my family for vacation, but there wasn’t anything particular.” Her response is not something one would expect from a person coming from hardship. Because if this, she doesn’t share the push factors of immigrants who risk their lives crossing the United States border. Most of her life was simple and peaceful.

The way Julia describes her traditions in Burma is very much like the way one would describe the traditional values of a typical American family a couple of decades ago. Even though some aspects of Julia’s experience with her culture seem analogous to those in much of the United States, her nostalgia for her culture serves as a powerful pull factor in her desire to return home. When asked about her traditions, one example she gave was: “Example, a girl have too many boyfriends, it’s not really good for the girl, I mean how the society views the girl. So, like, you know, like, they don’t think good of them. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter much right now. In the past, it really mattered. For mothers, they’re still under the tradition.” This example is very much like the traditional values that are still present in places around the United States. Many of her experiences with tradition were as simple as this example. She goes on to say, “Because, like, in Burma, it’s like the old age where boys and girls are treated differently, so, like, the girls, they have a lot of restrictions that girls can’t do.” Though the lines drawn by conventional gender roles have been blurred in most parts of the United States, these same traditions are still present and are still being challenged. These social and cultural expectations are analogous to those a couple of decades ago in the United States. Julia even admitted, “It doesn’t really matter now.” This suggests that times are changing and that these somewhat analogous cultural experiences would make adjusting to life in the United States manageable. The only real difference that I found in the cultural traditions of the two countries is that in Burma it would be considered strange to hug among friends. She explains, “No, they don’t hug; they just usually greet.” You know, put on the hand on the shoulder, but no hugs.” Hugging seems to be associated only with romantic relationships.

Julia’s only misgiving about what she has perceived in American culture and tradition is that families seem disconnected. Stronger family values and relationships are two of the main factors that she misses and would go back to Burma for. “I like the system where the family grows up. Since I got here, I sort of feel there are some problems for families here. For that, in Burma it’s really rare for those kinds of problems. Not really rare, but the majority of families are doing well.” The tighter family bonds in Asian families stands in contrast to the bonds in families in the US. This is most likely a result of the collective societies typical in Asia. Julia came to the United States because her career goals revolve around her business major and she says that she “wouldn’t go back to Burma for business.” Even though these restrictions on business and trade are the primary push factor pushing Julia out of her homeland, Julia would rather raise a family back home, which is a significant pull factor.

Burma’s government, economy, and society are in a transitional state. There are hopes that the country will eventually transition to a democratic system with open trade and human rights laws, though these same transitions are why she left in the first place. They affect her educational goals, her career, and those of the whole country. While she considers staying in the States if things do not improve, there is no doubt that she feels a sense of belonging in her homeland and that she will always identify herself as Burmese. Julia believes that a democratic Burma can alleviate many of the nation’s troubles and hoes that Aung San Suu Kyi can bring them there.

Works Cited

Koistinen, Alison. Peace Review. Sept. 2003, p. 349. Academic Search Premier.
Willis, Nathan. “The Potential Role of Racial Discrimination in Myanmar. Forced Migration Review. Feb. 2014. Issue 45, pp. 82-83. Academic Search Premier.

Tonkin, Derek. “The 1990 Elections in Myanmar: Broken Promises or a Failure in Communication.” Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs. Apr. 2007. 29.1. 33-54. Print. Academic Search Premier.

Sample Transcripts

Me: Julia you’re from Burma, correct?

Julia: Correct.

Me: Why did and your family move to the U.S.?

Julia: Actually, it’s just Me and my brother. We came as international students. So like umm, we just came for studying and the education.

Me: Just for the education.

Julia: Yes.

Me: But you would think about moving back?

Julia: Yeah, I guess I would, like after graduation maybe.

Me: Maybe.

Julia: Yeah, because I need to get more experience, more experience here first. Maybe I might or if it goes well then I’ll stay here.

Me: Ok, so um, is there anything here that uh, that you believe that’s worth while staying here for?

Julia: Yeah, probably the, probably, because of the law, because in Burma the (inaudible), yeah because the different… there’s too much restriction for the business major. Because, like, if you want some company you need like…until of 2015 we wouldn’t actually know how it goes; the politics and Burma goes so we’re not really sure. So…

Me: And that’s what your major is, business?

Julia: Yes, [my] major is business.

Me: Ok, what was uh, and you were there from what age?

Julia: I was there from like, before I turned 17. Around 17 years

Me: Is there something you’ll never forget as a child in Burma?

Julia: Well, there’re lots of things, like going on the field trip with friend in school, and there are lots of evens that I, you know, like I get to go with my family for vacation but there wasn’t anything particular. (inaudible)

Me: Ok, and uumm, so you friends, so like were there different groups there where you were treated differently like?

Julia: No.

Me: Because I was reading about the military takeover.

Julia: Oh, right. There is that, like, there like different groups like normal people and there are the military. Right now it’s going sort of well, but in the past there are only two kind of groups normal people and the military and the military gets you know, better how do you say, uh, they get lots of opportunities, chances, in terms of business and stuff while normal people have to try hard. And you know for military you can bribe and stuff. Like it’s easy to get rich for the military.

Me: I see. So they are like the upper class?

Julia: Yeah, sort of like that.

Me: Wow, so any one can be part of the military?

Julia: It depends, yeah, it sort of depends. It’s been for years so, well there is actually, well anyone can be military but it does not mean like, all, everyone in the military gets to be you know, upper class.

Me: Ok.

Julia: It’s for the higher ranked.

Me: And you’ve never had any harsh experiences while you were there or with any of these divisions or…

Julia: No.

Me: I imagined, like any other country, it’s different from the U.S., so is there any particular culture shock you had here?

Julia: Well, the first thing I was shocked, well it’s not actually culture, but ten, no I wasn’t really shocked but then it was something, wasn’t something I was comfortable with first, at first like when you see each other, you greet when you hug right? But in Burma, it wasn’t like that. It’s sort of like hard for me to respond like when people hug but I’m getting used to it.

Me: And these would be friends, right?

Julia: Yeah, these would be friends.

Me: So, even friends in Burma don’t usually hug?

Julia: No, they don’t hug—they just usually greet. You know, pat on the shoulder but no hugs. Except for like, couples.

Me: Is there any cultural reasons for why they don’t hug or…

Julia: Not really, because, uh, especially between you know different genders. Yeah, I mean, the opposite gender. Because like in Burma it’s like since the old age where girls and boys are like treated differently. So like girls, they have lots of restriction that girls can’t do.

Me: And so if they hug a male…

Julia: Because it’s like how society view them.

Me: How does society view them?

Julia: For example, [if] a girl has too many boyfriends, it’s not really good for the girl. I mean how the society view the girl. So like, you know like, they don’t think good of them. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter right now. In the past it really matters. For mothers, they’re still under the tradition.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about your closest friends in Burma and your closest friends here?

Julia: Actually, my closest friend here is also Burmese, so like, how do you want me to tell them?

Me: I was wondering if you would just, uh, compare the two like if you had any close friends you have in the US back to your friends back home.

Julia: How we communicate?

Me: How you communicate, um, your different beliefs, um, how you do you interact, values…

Julia: Even my friends from Burma, they, some of them, they actually go here. So different how we view things. Like, the Burmese way of tradition where things are like going out late at night is not really good, for girls. It’s not really good to go out late at night but for here you know, we can just go out. And like friends will come out at night. At first, it was hard for me to do it. And later I get used to it.

Me: How did you feel when you were called out late at night? Was it for like, parties or just to drink?

Julia: Yeah, just to go and drink, because they know I wouldn’t go if it was for party, so it’s just for drinks for now. Maybe for parties later, I guess. Because we don’t actually party in Burma, so.

Me: Do you think that if you decide to go back to Burma you will miss going out late whenever you want?

Julia: Well, sort of. Well, it’s not actually hard. It’s harder for not how society views it, more how our parents restrict us from going out.

Me: To you, what does it mean to be Burmese?

Julia: There are lots of restriction but I sort of like it. In a way, they draw a border for how much a girl can do. But I guess if a US person go to Burma and follow the tradition, I think they would be so restricted and so they wouldn’t be able to follow it because it’s too much restriction you couldn’t do this or that. There are lots of things you can’t do.

Me: What is TV like in Burma? Or, like, when you read a newspapers, the media, what is it like if you were to compare it to what you see here? For me, living in the US, when I turn on the TV, it’s always someone gets murdered, or some bad news, or lots of sex, and you know.

Julia: We have different channels. Well, we can either watch channels that are related yes but also there are local channels. But for local channels it’s mainly how the military’s doing good for the society. So surface, same with the newspaper. They don’t dare write bad things about the military. It’s like for here, they are more open for what’s going on. So Burma, if you write anything bad about the military the guy would get in trouble.

Me: I see, so, when you see any of this going on in the United States, where we talk about, you know, the senator getting in trouble, we point out things , just like basically everything you see. Were you surprised?

Julia: I was sort of expecting it.

Me: Oh, you were expecting it?

Julia: Just like how it’s restricted in Burma, there are also some philosophy how the U.S. can be saying this stuff if it is on the news and stuff so you can sort of imagine how it would go here.

Me: And did you have any feeling or a thought that like before you got here that you can do what you want?

Julia: Yes, sort of, a bit.

Me: Because, that seems to be something a lot of people think. Oh, you go to the U.S you do what you want.

Julia: Well, I guess there are some laws and restriction.

Me: So your country doesn’t have a set curfew for women?

Julia: You mean how we get back home?

Me: There is no law for the curfew?

Julia: No.

Me: Here, they tried to at one point to make a law. I come from Chicago, so I’m not from California. At one point, they tried to make a law there was a law that if anyone under age 17 that if they are out pass a certain time, the police can pick them up and take them to their parents’ house and give them a ticket.

Julia: That’s different.

Me: Yeah, I don’t know if they’re still doing that now but Chicago has really bad crime. A lot of a lot of the crime is done by young people.

Julia: I guess it didn’t go really well.

Me: I don’t think it did but, I left Chicago when it was going on.

Julia: Well, just parents do the curfew.

Me: Was it hard to be a transfer student?

Julia: I was expecting it to be hard but it wasn’t as hard as I think, because I thought maybe, you know, uh, I would have, you know, because this is a community college, so I was expecting since it’s college, I was expecting really, really high education and that I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t understand it. But, then, unexpectedly, I think I understood it well. I think it’s because there are lots of lots of classes that start from the basics, right? I was expecting not to start at the basic and just go to the high level.

Me: I think, what I’m trying to ask you is if it was physically hard to come to school here from Burma. Did you have a program or something to help you get over?

Julia: No. Umm, I think it’s mainly because my brother is here, so he is the one who handles all the stuff. So I just go.

Me: Is he a citizen here?

Julia: No, international student.

Me: So, right now your brother is probably the closest person you have. But is there anyone in your family you’re close to, like your mom or dad uncle aunt?

Julia: Yeah, I’m really close to my family but I don’t meet them.

Me: I mean, like, emotionally. For me, I was always close to my grandmother because she was always there, and she always supported me and made me feel good about myself and stuff like that.

Julia: I guess it would be my mother.

Me: And she pretty much supports what you do?

Julia: Yeah. If she doesn’t like it, she would say it but it’s up to me to decide on it.

Me: How did she feel about you coming here?

Julia: Actually, she support it.

Me: I was wondering if your mom was worried.

Julia: Oh yeah, she super worried but she worried too much she would always say like on Skype we communicate, like be careful and stuff and repeating the whole thing. And even my brother say she is like a recorder saying it over and over again. But then she also knows she can’t do anything so she can’t just come here and stop me. It’s actually hard to get a visa to come here.

Me: You brought up the military, that if you wrote something bad about the military you get in trouble. Do you go to jail?

Julia: Yeah, you either go to jail or sometimes the public does not know what happens.

Me: Oh, I see, like you go like missing, or they can’t find you.

Julia: Well, I think it’s mainly the jail, that person normally goes to jail for writing a small piece of news in the newspapers. I think they get sentenced to like around two digits a year like either 50 years or 30 years, I guess. Because I hear lots of news from the TV, like private news. Private means like the military are not aware of it but there is no locals listen to it. I think they are called like V.O.A.

Me: Wow, you said like 50 years?

Julia: From what I know, there are people, like, actually, there was a riot going on in 1988. I guess then those people that was against the military were put in jail and I guess they’ve been there for like 50 years.

Me: Because of that, do you know how your parents feel about the military or anything? They never talk about it, right?

Julia: Well, they do actually.

Me: So, they talk about how they feel about the military at home?

Julia: Yeah, sort of, they do. Actually, all the time.

Me: But it’s not good it.

Julia: Well, you can talk between families because they normally do. But then as long as long as you don’t do it by action, it don’t really matter.

Me: Oh, so you can say something outside.

Julia: Actually, 90 percent of people say their something outside.

Me: But as long as they don’t write it in the newspaper.

Julia: Newspaper, or like every, you know, everybody actually knows whether they write it in the newspaper or not. As long as they don’t act it out, take actions. Because, you know, like I can’t remember the time, but there was a year when there was a riot again. It was recent. I think in 2005 or 2003, where the military shot lots of people.

Me: The protesters for the riot, they weren’t breaking anything, were they?

Julia: No, they were just, you know, on the street rioting. They were just going against power.

Me: Kind of like here with signs and talking.

Julia: Yeah, it’s like going against power.

Me: You see that a lot here. There was something called the umm…
[baby is crying loudly]

Me: I’m just gonna wait.

Me: So we had something called the Occupy Movement, where people were gathering and protesting the fairness for all the money that rich people make and how poor people get more poor. Were you here during that time?

Julia: No, I just am here like 2012, I guess.

Me: Yeah, that was around this time, so you didn’t see it?

Julia: No, I don’t read that much of the news.

Me: Ok, I was wondering if that made you nervous.

Julia: Well, not really because I was expecting this kind of stuff to happen and government won’t do as much, take that much of action like in Burma.

Me: How do the Burmese in general see the United States in general?

Julia: Freedom of speech, I guess.

Me: That’s it?

Julia: There was a thing about how people be free. It was more how the whole world would describe as democracy.

Me: One thing that people think about the United States is freedom, this freedom that, but did anything about, like, did you guys know anything about the racism or the discrimination that goes on?

Julia: I sort of know it but for general reason most of the adults in there, they normally think more to the how there is freedom because of the different leadership. More politics than racism. They think more about politics in Burma. Actually, in Burma, we don’t have racism; everything is equal. You know, equally likely. So, yeah, we don’t really actually think much of it.

Me: Even here in San Francisco, it was very racist towards Asians or anyone of Asian descent, just basically anyone who is not white. Even during World War 2, where they took the Japanese and put them into internment camps. Back then everyone Asian looked Japanese. Sometimes they would put Chinese and you know everyone there. And that happened only like more than 50 years ago. I was wondering if anyone knows about the things that happened like that.

Julia: Ummm, no.

Me: I figured. So, how do you feel about the military takeover or the politics?

Julia: Well, actually right now the military takeover is over in Burma. They’re trying to get back to like, closer to democracy. Because Aung San Suu Kyi right? You know, the lady in Burma? Aung San Suu Kyi?

Me: Yeah.

Julia: She was actually under house arrest until recently so, like, since she came out, she is trying to change the policy in Burma. She is trying to put Burma into the part of democracy. However, some people, because of the promises she make, promises she make with some people about how she would change the policy and laws, but there are some people who are impatient. They want it really recent.

Me: Like right now.

Julia: Yeah, right now. So, in those cases, I actually really thought like those kind of people should stop the military from Burma. Some people are patient like they understand how long time, like how long it would to take for the actual things to happen. But for some people, they are impatient; they want it to happen right now. Me and my friend would normally say how they see the military better than how Aung San Suu Kyi is doing the things. We just feel like they aren’t understanding.

Questions Answered by Email [Post Interview]

Me: Hi. Thanks for the interview. I will like to ask a few more questions.

Why do you call your country Burma instead of Myanmar?

Do you practice Buddhism here? How do you?

Julia: Burma was the initial name of the country before it changed to Myanmar in 1989.

However, from my experience, most foreigners use ‘Burma’ more than ‘Myanmar’ to describe my country. I would normally get a response where they asked me where ‘Myanmar’ is and would only get it when I rephrase my words to Burma. Since the name was changed in 1989, during the time when I learned my language, it would be written in a way where it would be pronounced “Myanmar” but we still call people in our country “Burmese.” Because “Burma” is the name that was given to our country by the hero and savior of the country, “Aung San,” so some people continue to believe that it is the actual name for the country.

I am a Buddhist so I do practice Buddhism but I am not the orthodox type. I am not familiar with what is in San Francisco so I rarely visit and pay respect at the monastery here. However, I say my prayers every day as a way to respect both Buddha and my family at home. Although we normally have a Buddha statue at home, since I am temporary living in San Francisco, I don’t have that. I believe that what matters is that I pray from my heart and soul and that physical form is not required in order to practice Buddhism.
Hopes this help. If you have further questions, feel free to ask me.

Me: I was wondering if you have a preference for calling you’re county Burma or Myanmar, and if you do, then why?

Julia: I guess I missed answering the actual question. I, myself, do not have any preferences to how I call my country, maybe because I am part of a younger generation who has lesser interest in politics. However, there are still some people who choose to call Burma than Myanmar. The reason I could think of would probably the fact that Burma is given by Aung San (father of the country) and people want to honor the name he had given, especially when the government and the citizens were not on a really good term when the name was changed.

Me: Also, can you describe the place you grew up, like your neighborhood? And the people who live around you? Was it peaceful, lively?

Also, can you tell me more about the statement, “we don’t have racism in Burma”? or did you mean it another way, maybe or is it just for where you live?

Julia: I used to live in an apartment, the bottom floor. What is different from the apartment in Burma and the apartments here is that in Burma, apartments are cheaper and more affordable because of they are not as spacious as single housing. It is fun living in apartments in Burma because without making much effort, neighbors just surround us before we know it. There are also quite a lot of stores and food stands around that neighborhood. There are a lot of festivals in Burma and that is one of the ways that we become close to our neighbors.

However, my family later moved to a single housing neighborhood. Things are not as lively as before. People would only greet when we need face to face. Other than that, everyone is busy with his/her own chores and jobs. It is kind of lonely in that house and sometimes I miss my times in the apartment.

As for the question on racism, it would be wrong to say that there is no racism going on. It is probably the way and place I grew up in that I didn’t have to deal with such matters. In the apartment neighborhood I lived in, we have lots of people of color for our neighbors. And I don’t see any problems between our neighbors and they are also really great people. They would share the sweets they made on their religious festival to everyone in the neighborhood.

The case of racism was not really that bad that it would cause trouble in the past. However, there are hot topics on issues close to racism and discrimination in the past year. It is still going on. I guess you can check on “Rohingya” in Burma and you might be able to find the conflicts happening in Burma. This is the latest topic that would relate to racism in Burma.