Home and Horizon
by Siuzanna Arutiunova, January 2016
People immigrate in search of places with more opportunities and a better life. Kamila was ten when her mother left her and her brother in Uzbekistan with their relatives and came to the U.S. to start a new life and to bring her kids here when she settled down. Within almost a decade, Kamila and her brother came to the U.S. to live with their mother. After she immigrated, Kamila went through a lot of hardships, from the language barrier to creating a bond with her mother. Through various challenges and new experiences, Kamila has gained a comparative perspective on things around her that has changed her perception on the world and on herself, making her more independent and understanding of other people’s choices as well as her own.
Kamila and I have been friends for a long time. Our parents tell us that we were in the same grade in elementary school. Even though we don’t remember each other from then, we are good friends now. We, along with her best friend, Katie, met at the Rosenberg Library on the Ocean Campus of City College of San Francisco for the interview. She described to me how her mother, who was forced into marriage with her father, left Uzbekistan to find a better life for herself and her kids in the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old. During that time, Kamila lived with he grandparents and rarely got a chance to see her mother. After eight years of separation from their mother, Kamila and her brother came here and finally reunited with her. Because such a long time had been spent apart, Kamila and her mother had a hard time establishing a mother-daughter connection at first. Not having known English, Kamila had to overcome a language barrier when she first came here, which, as she admits, created various hardships at school and made her want to go back to Uzbekistan. Adapting to a new country and new norms was especially hard for her. For some time, she wanted to move back to her home country, but after all, she was able to adapt to her new life here. She constantly compares her home country, Uzbekistan, to her new home, the U.S.
Moving to the U.S. not only created various obstacles for Kamila, like learning English, but also caused her to miss her home country and reject her new home at first. It was hard for Kamila to adapt to the new country and system. She said that she rejected it at first: “I didn’t want to stay here; I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members.” When she came here, she had no one to communicate with but her mother and brother. She needed friends and new connections, which she was unable to make because of a few reasons. One of the things that was stopping Kamila from adapting was that she didn’t know English well enough to communicate with people. The language barrier was one of the hardest challenges she came across, and caused her to not be able to make new connections: “at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language; I couldn’t communicate with people.” Kamila is an extroverted person and for her to not be able to talk to people was hard. She couldn’t communicate and thus missed her friends and family back home. Studying the behaviors of Asian immigrant youth in the American society in her article “Xenophobia, ethnic community, and immigrant youths’ friendship network formation,” Jenny Hsin-Chun Tsai, an Associate Professor in Psychosocial & Community Health at the University of Washington, suggests:
“The label of ‘LEP’ and ‘ESL’ overtly signifies immigrant youths’ ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’ status and defines the social boundary between immigrant and American youth. Immigrant youth may choose to exclude Americans from their friendship networks for their own psychological well-being” (293).
The language barrier is one of the main reasons immigrants feel like they don’t belong to the new place. Difficulties in learning the new language hold immigrants back and make it hard for them to adapt to the new society and to feel accepted by the natives. Later, Kamila told me that she thought moving to a new country would be fun, but her expectations weren’t met: “I felt like I’m not belong here.” It is natural that when people immigrate, they feel out of place at first. Kamila wasn’t used to the system, language, and different norms and couldn’t adapt to the new lifestyle quickly. In their article “Racial Discrimination, Multiple Group Identities, And Civic Beliefs Among Immigrant Adolescents,” Writers Wing Yi Chan and Robert Latzman discuss how adolescent immigrants tend to assimilate into the new society after immigrating. They point out:
“Segmented assimilation suggests that many immigrant adolescents have limited access to resources because structural racial discrimination excludes them from participating in the mainstream society (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Civic contribution is a way for immigrant youth to break the cycle of exclusion” (531).
Racism from natives or citizens has a huge effect on immigrant youth and their adaptation to the new environment as it can prevent participation in the new society, which is one of the core ways to get used to a new home, develop an attachment to it, and feel a sense of belonging to the new society. Although it was hard in the beginning, as the time passed, Kamila started to adapt to the new place, and feel comfortable living in the U.S.
Her mother’s journey, including immigration, inspired Kamila to pursue her education and changed her perspective on marriage at early age, making her realize that in a lot of cases it is unfair to young women to be forced to marry before they have an opportunity to explore and find what they want to do with their lives. The story of Kamila’s mother is quite interesting: as Kamila told me, her mother was forced into marriage at a young age. Forced marriage is practiced quite a lot in Muslim countries. Australian scholar, theologian and human rights activist Mark Durie discusses the interpretations of roles of women in Islamic society according to the religion in his article “The Rising Sex Traffic In Forced Islamic Marriage”: “a forced marriage is an exercise of ‘therapeutic force’, which is considered to be good for the woman. Like setting a broken bone, a forced marriage at a father or grandfather’s behest ‘restores’ the woman to her rightful state” (8). Clearly, Durie, does not agree with such treatment towards women and argues against it. In his article, he shows that women are considered sinful and forced marriage is considered healthy for them. He also shows that women are in the constant possession of men, whether they are fathers, grandfathers, or, later, husbands. Even though women in such societies generally do not pursue education, Kamila’s mother was not as interested in marriage as in continuing her education: “My mom said she didn’t want to marry him [Kamila’s father] because she wanted to study; she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree.” Even though her mother got married, she never stopped wanting to study: she finished her bachelor’s degree while raising Kamila and her master’s while taking care of both Kamila and her little brother. It is considered unusual or even savage for a woman in that society to want to study instead of following the established path of getting married early and being tied to the family, but that path was definitely not for her mother. Against all odds and societal norms, she moved to the U.S. as soon as she secured a Green Card: “she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know.” It seems as though the chance to come to the U.S. saved her life: she could finally make her own decisions, be independent and free to accomplish her goals. Through her mother’s rebellious nature, Kamila discovered that there is not just the one option of getting married and starting the family. There is another scenario, in which a young woman can pursue higher education and become successful and independent, like her mother. “I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because…she had not opportunity…to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life.” Kamila thought that her destiny had already been decided of her: she thought she was supposed to get married at a young age and pursue married life. Her mother showed her that that that wasn’t Kamila’s only option for future, which Kamila recognizes and appreciates. The way her mother fought for her life and changed her destiny inspired Kamila to pursue her education and made her see that she has a chance to make her own decisions and view forced marriage as an inequitable action toward women.
Eight years of separation resulted in an undeveloped connection between mother and daughter, which made Kamila feel alone and misunderstood by people around her both in the U.S. and in Uzbekistan, when she needed someone she could share everything with. Her mother left for the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old, so the strong mother-daughter bond hadn’t formed yet. Besides, throughout the period of separation, they did not see much of each other, so they couldn’t become very close. Another struggle for Kamila was that she couldn’t connect to her grandmother because she felt that she would be misunderstood. She felt the need to talk to her mother. During her teenage years, Kamila need her mother the most: “I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does.” Even though a strong connection with her mother wasn’t established, Kamila couldn’t share her thoughts with her grandmother and needed her mother to be there for her. This separation did not only affect Kamila and her mother separately. Sahara Horton, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver studied this issue in her article “A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood.” She acknowledges that “transnational separations cannot be viewed solely as affecting mothers and children as isolated individuals but, rather, as impacting the intimately experienced bond between them.” We can see this happen between Kamila and her mother. While after the reunion Kamila wanted to finally be close to her mother more than anything else, it turned out to be a lot more difficult than she expected: “when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like ‘Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!’ And when I was doing it I felt like, ‘Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!’” Kamila was just a kid when her mother left to another country and while she was growing up, she didn’t have a chance to find out what kind of person her mother is. Her bond with her mother wasn’t strong enough. In her article “Those Easily Forgotten: The Impact Of Emigration On Those Left Behind,” a professor of human and community development, Maria Marchetti-Mercer, discusses and analyzes the psychological effects on the family members and friends left behind after the people that are close to them immigrated.
In particular, the increasing emigration of women has changed “the shape of the immigrant family” (Horton (2009, p. 23). Remittances can become a way of “mothering at a distance” (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997), but the absence of a mother figure may cause emotional problems for children who miss her nurture (Ukwatta, 2010). Children may experience feelings of loneliness and abandonment, despite the economic benefits associated with this type of emigration. Ultimately, the family unity is broken down because of insufficient communication between parents and children. In general, children seem to be deeply affected by the emigration of parental figures (Glick, 2010) (378).
The time spent apart causes the bonds to become less strong and people grow apart and none of the economic benefits of immigration can make up to that. This is an especially delicate issue when it comes to parent-child connection. When the separation between a child and a parent happens, the child feels left alone, misunderstood and lonely. Talking Kamila’s case into consideration, this is exactly how she felt all those years without her mother near her. After their reunion, Kamila didn’t know her own mother; she didn’t know what reactions to expect from her. She compares her relationship with her mother to meeting a new person and finding out about them. The distance from her mother made Kamila feel like she doesn’t belong to her new home, like she was alone and misunderstood for a while, but after Kamila’s immigration, they slowly strengthened a connection between each other.
The process of immigration and new society with the norms different from the ones she was used to were overwhelming for Kamila and finding a friend like Katie, who is now very close to her and has helped her through tough moments, makes Kamila feel understood and more comfortable in the school environment. When I asked Kamila if she would have been able to find her way through high school without her friend, I received a definite and absolute “no”: “I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it.” Friendship is especially important for Kamila: it was the very thing that saved her from getting completely disappointed with moving to America and leaving her family and her closest friends behind. Kamila needed a person who would understand her struggles. Her bond with Katie started during their high school years and has only become stronger with time. One of the reasons for that could be that they both speak Russian, which made a communication for Kamila a lot easier, since she wasn’t advanced in English. When Kamila mentioned that her best friend wanted to transfer to Sacramento State University, she spoke with tears in her eyes: “I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me… she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me.” From her responses, I realized that Kamila feels that she receives more support from her best friend than from her mother. Clearly, she has found support and understanding from her friend and received the help she needed so badly. As Kamila described, Katie guided her and was there for her when she needed help, which made her life easier and her high school experience more enjoyable. Because of her established friendship with Katie, Kamila enjoyed her high school years, got used to the system quickly, and felt understood and accepted.
Kamila’s perception of societal norms has changed since she moved to the U.S., and she has become more appreciative and open to the idea of independence and freedom of expression. As she described, norms in Uzbekistan are very strict. Essentially, after moving here, she started comparing social norms in her home country to those of her new home and noticed a lot of differences. “So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone, its like… its just nothing, its just simple.” She shared that it was odd for her to see such things as a couple kissing in the street and many other things, including the openness of homosexual couples, which seems no more than ordinary for us. It was all unusual for her because she had never seen those things while she was living in Uzbekistan. When she moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the norms that are socially accepted here, she started viewing the norms in Uzbekistan differently. “I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we [are] all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do.” She shared, she has far more freedom of choice and more opportunities here than she had in Uzbekistan. She admitted to having difficulties adapting to new norms at first, but later found that she prefers these norms to the ones in her home country: “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you.” Having lived here for a while, Kamila noticed that people in this society are more open-minded than in her home country, and started to become more open-minded herself. Now that she is able to compare the two counties’ norms, Kamila is more understanding and appreciative of freedom of choice and expression than she was before she moved to the U.S.
Kamila’s view of freedom changed after she moved here: as a young woman, she sees that she has far more freedom here as opposed to her home and recognizes that opportunities for women are generally limited in Uzbekistan. The society in Uzbekistan, in which women are very pressured and are limited in their rights, is known for being of a very conservative nature: “in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff.” So the society doesn’t expect much from women and shows that their core responsibilities are within a household. In her book Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan, writer Wendy Mee states:
“In general, women are associated with the inner, family domain. Such attitudes have implications for young women’s opportunities to pursue work and higher education, and also encourage the practice of early marriage for young women. Many Uzbek women believe that family concerns outweigh individual desires to pursue education or professional activity. One study conducted in Namangan and Tashkent provinces found that the majority of teenage girls believed they should put aside professional pursuits after marriage to concentrate on their roles of wife and mother” (28).
Women are not expected nor encouraged to pursue education and are forced into marriage in a lot of cases. The basic role of women in Uzbekistan is to be faithful wives and a mothers. As shown in the quote, the majority of teenage girls think of early marriage as of the right thing that they should focus on. Kamila herself thought that she would get married at a young age, because that is what that society dictates. Nevertheless, as she got a chance to experience other norms, she changed her mind: “when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like ‘Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals.’” Clearly, only by comparing the norms here with the ones in her home country, she has been able to see that the norms in Uzbekistan are unfair. Kamila is now at City College of San Francisco. Although she is still not sure about the field of study she wants to pursue, she is willing to put her efforts toward getting an education. When I asked her about marriage, she clearly was against marring at a young age. She now sees that young women do have a lot of goals and potential that get shut down by the society that pushes them to create a family very early in their lives. Observing norms in the U.S. changed Kamila’s perspective on women’s rights: now she believes that women deserve to be independent and make their own decisions as well as sees the injustice of forced marriage at a young age.
Moving and meeting new people changed Kamila’s perspective on the traditions and religion that she followed while living in Uzbekistan to the point when she started questioning them and considering them limiting. Born in a Muslim country and household, Kamila was following some Muslim traditions. After immigrating, she found herself in a more diverse environment and got a chance to find out more about other religions. Through her best friend, she quickly learned about Christianity and compared it with Islam. She pointed out that she started questioning her religion after being exposed to another religious believes. “When you get to know other traditions and cultures, you think: ‘oh, this is right. But why can’t I do this in my religion? I want to, but I can’t’”, she says. “I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life.” As she gained more freedom and became exposed to other traditions after immigrating from Uzbekistan, Kamila started to step away from her religion. According to an article in American Foreign Policy Interests: The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy:
“There is ‘something’ in the mainstream practice of Islam, not in its ideals, that is deeply opposed to women. The ‘madrassas’ (Koranic schools), for instance, spread two major messages about women. The first one is based on the pretense that women are ‘inferior’ to men. The second teaches that women should not be ‘trusted.’ These schools do not try to advance or elaborate on any justification of these assertions. In the same way in which they contend that Jews and Christians are conspiring against Islam, they contend that women cannot assume positions of leadership in any undertaking.”
Such unjust mainstream beliefs are unfair to women and thus limit their opportunities. Suggesting that a woman in less of a person than a man is completely unjustified and discriminative. This is why women are being treated as objects that cannot survive on their own and need men to belong to. Kamila must have felt that these religious beliefs were holding her back from achieving her goals and living an independent and full live. In the process of immigrating, Kamila discovered other religions, which, through comparisons with her own, made her think of Islam as a religion that limited her natural urge for experimentation and freedom of choice.
After she moved to the U.S. and observed and experienced the norms here, she gained a comparative perspective that allowed her to see how unfair and limiting the norms in Uzbekistan were. One doesn’t usually think about certain things like the norms of the society that one grows up in. They come as given, normal. And one doesn’t generally question them. When a person moves, he or she has something to compare his/her homeland to. When Kamila moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the socially accepted norms here, she started to compare the norms in Uzbekistan with the norms in the U.S., which caused her to view the norms in Uzbekistan differently. She started to see things differently and question the norms she had abided to not so long ago. She mentioned that homophobia is an issue in Uzbekistan: “our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this.” This hatred toward the members of the gay community is very common in Islamic counties. In an article about ties and understanding of homosexuality from religious perspectives, “Religious Affiliation And Attitudes Towards Gay Men: On The Mediating Role Of Masculinity Threat,” authors Gerhard Reese, a writer and psychologist, and Melanie Jones, analyze responses from representatives of different religions toward homosexuality. Through this research, they found that “With a sample of 155 male heterosexual university students (Muslims and Christians in Germany), we found that Muslims held more negative attitudes towards gay men than Christians did” and that “Previous research suggests that some subgroups of men from Muslim communities hold negative attitudes towards gay men” (340-341). It is pointed out, that Muslims tend to be very much against the gay community, more than representatives from other religions. One of the reasons for that is described by Doctor Achim Hildebrandt, professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. His article “Christianity, Islam And Modernity: Explaining Prohibitions On Homosexuality In UN Member States” analyses how Christianity and Islam respond to the homosexuality. Hildebrandt makes an interesting point, stating:
“According to this concept, same- sex acts are condemned ‘because they run counter to the antithetical harmony of the sexes; they violate the harmony of life; … they violate the very architectonics of the cosmos. … Sexual deviation is a revolt against God’ (Bouhdiba, 1985, p. 31). This disapproval refers to both male and female homosexuality” (855).
Many Muslims are against homosexuals because Islam presents it as a negative and unnatural behavior. Heterosexuality is shown to be the natural order of things and a lack of compliance with that order is considered an anomaly. Kamila confessed that she did discriminate against homosexuals at first: “I would discriminate them the I came here but right now… I’m okay with this.” Living in the U.S., seeing that some things that were prohibited in Uzbekistan are allowed here changed her perspective on a lot of things. “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or you’re wearing short skirt.” From what I understood, she prefers this society to the one she was living in in Uzbekistan because she finds people more open and easy-going. Although she disagrees with certain norms and traditions, Kamila still celebrates some of the Uzbek and Islamic holidays and follows certain rules. Exposure to new norms after immigrating to the U.S. allowed Kamila to compare and contrast society here and in Uzbekistan and come to the conclusion that the norms in her home country are limiting and discriminative.
By experiencing multiple cultures, Kamila has selected the norms that she found the most appealing for her from both cultures and incorporated them in her life, never completely rejecting the culture she grew up in. After all, she is a “child of two worlds.” A German philosopher and writer Hans-Georg Gadamer, introduces the concept of “fusion of horizons” in his book Truth or Method. This concept stresses out that no one can forget the way they grew up viewing the world and themselves and replace it with another way after they immigrate. Each way of seeing things is a “horizon.” “The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point… A person who has no horizon is a man who does not see far enough and hence overvalues what is nearest to him” (302). Horizon describes how one can see the situation: broadly or only form one angle. “Fusion of horizons,” according to Gadamer, means that after being exposed to another culture, one starts seeing things differently, incorporating the horizon they just acquired with the one they grew up with. This gives a person an opportunity to evaluate things from different perspectives and have a broader view of the world. As we can see, Kamila’s horizons have been broadened and she can now recognize a lot more things, like injustice than she could before. By comparing and observing norms in her new home, Kamila was able to identify how unjust some of the social norms are in her home country. Her experience with the american society significantly broadened her view of the world and allowed her to see situations from different perspectives.
The process of immigration with all its consequences has broadened Kamila’s horizons and allowed her to gain a comparative perspective on everything around her, which has caused her to start questioning the norms and traditions in her home country, and made her more aware of her own freedom, and freedom of others. Although some people might argue that she shouldn’t question her culture and traditions and abide the norms regardless, people should have a choice of whether or not they want to follow certain traditions. It is natural for immigrants to feel out of place in the new country as they face a lot of changes and challenges, that transform their lives, and make them view their own traditions in new ways. By going through all these changes, Kamila has gained a lot of experience in dealing with numerous challenges and now has finally restored her life back into balance.
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Siuzanna Arutiunova: So the first question would be: When did you move to the U.S.?
Kamila Halilova: I moved to the United states in October 1st 2013
SA: why did you move? was it your own decision or did you follow somebody here, like parents?
KH: So in my case it was kinda different because my mom moved here 8 months, no, 8 years ago and she won green card so after 8 years we just reunited with her. It was just the only thing I was following at that time
SA: Oh, so you spend 8 years apart from her?
SA: How was that for you? Was it a hard period? Who did you stay with?
KH: Um, I was staying with my grandparents, my mom’s parents. It was kinda difficult because when I was like 13-14 years, I needed like a person who I can trust and I needed a mom like … and … crap! I can’t say it… its like really deep. [In Russian:] ask me something else, I don’t want to talk about this
SA: Alright, so what was moving to the U.S. like? Did you have any expectations about it?
KH: Um, of course I did because I was watching like American movies and I thought high school its like college for me but it was kinda different. High school its like its another life – you go there, you spend time with your friends and its like your family, but another family. That was a really good experience for me – high school.
SA: Did you face any obstacles that you would point out especially?
KH: Of course I did. First of all was communication. I didn’t know any like word in English. I couldn’t speak anything like, you know. It was kinda hard because when people talk to you and you don’t understand and you just smile like an idiot (laughs) you don’t understand anything and you’re like: “Oh God, what do you want from me?”. That was like really struggle for me at first time.
SA: But did you overcome that obstacle?
KH: Not yet. But like still I can’t understand sometimes when people talk really fast, but as I get like I practice a lot and it gets better and better every time.
SA: How did you feel about leaving your home country, leaving your grandparents behind?
KH: So first like 3-4 months I missed all of my friends and my family members and I felt like I’m not belong here. You know, when you come to another country and you feel like “Oh, everything is gonna change”, and its not and you miss your country and your old life and it’s kinda sad because you felt you’re gonna do something new and its gonna be fun but its not.
SA: So it was more of the harder period that the fun one?
KH: Like at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language, I couldn’t communicate with people. One thing I could do was just like enjoy the new place and that’s it. I couldn’t talk to anybody, I couldn’t like, I don’t know, I couldn’t say or do anything that I wanted to do with my friends and stuff and other things.
SA: What would you say was the hardest thing you came across while you where immigrating?
KH: Um, I thing it’s more like adaptation. I mean, USA its like it’s a place where immigrants come from a lot of countries and they have their own traditions and you have yours. And in San Francisco its like more popular, so it was kinda hard for me to adapt with people that are different from me because their like thoughts are different than my thoughts, you know. And it was kinda struggle.
SA: Would you say that you had a cultural shock when you came here? Like a lot of different races all mixed together.
KH: The other thing is that everything was different from my country, from my traditions and in my religion we don’t have a lot of things that in America people do.
SA: Can you give me examples?
KH: So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone its like… its just nothing, its just simple. But in our country we can not do this because a lot of people would discriminate you. Its just religion, you can’t do this. So it was kinda shocking. Also, that when you see same sex couples walking, and hugging and kissing. It was kinda shocking because I’ve never seen such a thing in my life. We can’t do it in out country because our religion is against it and people just kinda… I don’t know just… and our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this, so… It was kinda hard for me to adapt for this life.
SA: Umm, would you say that… I mean, how long did it take you just to get used to it?
KH: Um, probably a year because I feel like the first 3 months I didn’t want to take things that this country gave to me because I didn’t want to stay here, I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members and all of other people, but after like maybe 6 months I started to like here because I felt like I belong here because I chose to be with people who was not going to discriminate you because you go work or you go to a date with somebody, you know, because in our country women don’t work usually. They just sit at home with their children and are just being a homemade wife. And that’s it.
SA: So, you mentioned that the standards and gender roles in Uzbekistan are different from those in the U.S. Which standards do you prefer. For now, which standards do you think are more right for you?
KH: I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do. And I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or short skirt or something else. I feel like I changed a lot when I came here and I started to adapt here and I started to following traditions that people doing here and not in my country. And I feel like in America there is a lot of benefits, especially for my study. In our country, you can’t study if you’re poor because nobody’s gonna look at you because of your brain. Its just money and that’s it.
SA: Did you notice all these limitations when you were there or did you start noticing that when you moved here and saw how it is here?
KH: Yeah, I just noticed it here because I didn’t really know… When I was in my country I didn’t pay attention to these things because in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff, and I didn’t notice until I can here, when you’re an independent person and you do whatever you want. You go study, you go work, do work, you go whatever you want to do. You do it if you want it. In our country you don’t have a right to do it. So, I just noticed it when I was here.
SA: You mentioned that your mother came here 8 years ago. And you also mentioned that women are very limited in their rights. Why did she move here?
KH: My mom wanted to mover here from her childhood because she felt there is no right, in our country there is no right for a woman in our country to do like work stuff and to be independent and she always wanted to move here because she knew in America you can be whatever you want and you can reach it if you do your best and you just want it. You can do it because you have a passion to do it. And in the United States you can do it because their doors are open even for poor people.
SA: More opportunities.
SA: Do you regret coming to the United States? And if you had a choice right now, would you rather stay here or go back to Uzbekistan?
KH: If you ask me this question like maybe a 1.5 ago, I would say that I would leave because I just missed it and at that time I couldn’t adapt to American lifestyle and it was struggle for me to know other people, other traditions and other culture. I would leave because I just felt that I don’t belong here, but right now I feel like America is like a really good place for me to be because I can reach whatever goals I have. I mean, I can do more things here than I can do in my country. Especially when you’re a girl and you just have a lot of goals in your life and you want to reach them but you can’t because you’re a girl. And I feel like in America I can do it than in my country.
SA: So you moved here for high school or college?
KH: I moved here when I was a junior in high school and I just had 2 years to graduate from high school and go to college. It was kinda fun but it’s a lot of work because you have to finish high school in 2 years, when other people does in 4. And I feel like my high school years was really great, because I met my best friend and she’s really supportive. She helped me from my first day. She was like a person, who I always wanted to be. Like she was smart and she also … she’s my friend…(cries) and I’m gonna miss her…
SA: Why? Are you going to be separated?
KH: (cries) Cause she’s gonna move to another college and I feel like when she’s gonna leave me, I’m gonna be like , you know, again alone. And she is like my sister. (to Katie) I wish you’d be my sister!
SA: (to Katie) When are you moving?
Katie: In 2 years.
KH: (cries) When we were in a senior class I remember she said she wanted to move to Sacramento State and I felt so bad because in my heart, in my deep heart, I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me. She is the only one person who tried to make me better, make my personality better than I was before. Like she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to, I don’t know, to struggle… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me. (to Katie) I really don’t want you to leave me. (to me) Its like… she’s like my angel.
SA: So she guided you though everything?
Y: We guided each other.
KH: Yes, she was my really best best person in my entire life.
SA: Do you think that you wouldn’t be able to handle all of this on your own?
KH: (cries) I would not. I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it. Cause she was helping me for like, I don’t know, two almost two years because we know already each other for two years. And, you know, I never felt … how do you say it…I never felt like … I need somebody in my life like her in my life and its kinda funny because she’s not calling me in the evening when she walks with her dog I feel like where is my phone, where is she, you know, … I don’t know, I feel like she’s the only one who did support me for my whole entire journey from the very beginning till the end. And she’s still helping me. I don’t know what would I do without her.
SA: Do you feel that kind of support from you parents or from your mother?
KH: Um, I would say no, because my mom wasn’t with me when I was in high school during my whole day and she didn’t know what kinds of struggles I had and she didn’t know like, you know, what I needed. She thought I’m okay because I didn’t tell her anything that happened in school or outside of school. And she though I’m okay, you know. And, I don’t know, I just think that your best friends only knows your weaknesses and your struggles and you’re trying to help her because best friends does it for each other.
SA: Do you have any siblings that moved with you?
KH: Yes, I have one brother, who’s 13.
SA: So, did he move the same time you did?
KH: Yes, we moved here the same time.
SA: How was it for him?
KH: Oh, for him it was really ease because he adapt like quick, from the first day. And he never thought to go back to our country because he felt like he belongs here and he felt like “oh, it’s a really good country to be in”. I feel like because he was in middle school, he had less struggle than me, you know. Because he has less um responsibility to do things and I feel like it was more easier for him than for me.
SA: Would you say that is because of the age? Because he wasn’t that attached?
KH: I would say that, because he was only twelve or eleven. I think he was eleven when he moved here.
SA: Ant you were?…
KH: I was sixteen. When you’re eleven and you move here you have new friends that are cool and you’re also a boy, you have like more like adaptation skills than sixteen years old girl. And he even said that he would not move to our country from the first day because he saw this city and he said“I would stay here cause I like it here”. And I don’t think he had any struggles with communication … with communication and other. Like he adapt really fast. He adapt really quickly than me.
SA: Umm, so what do you think was the hardest part for your mom when she was moving?
KH: For her I think it’s just new place. I think language was like the first thing she had to overcome, you know. And he other thing, she was alone, all by herself, where she doesn’t know anybody, she didn’t have a job, she didn’t have a place to leave. But she, she had her friend from the first grade. She was living with them and I remember she said if Angela would not help her, she would, she would leave because she couldn’t afford living in San Francisco and she still, you know, thankful to her because if Angel would not help to do it, she wouldn’t reach it to stay here, you know. And I think we have a same like… same situation because when she moved here, she had a friend to help her, and when I moved here, I met a friend that helping me still. I think this is part that we were like in the same situation.
SA: Was she happy when you moved back with her?
KH: She was really happy because, you know, 8 years without your children in new country… I mean, I think she had more difficulties than me because she was alone and she didn’t have anyone here and she also missed us, her children. And she like tried a lot of times to bring us here but she couldn’t until 2013. And I remember when we got out green cards and our visas, she was so happy and she almost cried because she did it, she finally did it and we were gonna to move in with her and live with her. I think it was a good part of our lives.
SA: Did you see each other throughout those 8 years?
KH: We did. She was coming like once a year, maybe, or twice in two-three years to see us. And sometimes she couldn’t, because you can’t leave your job when you go to another country. It usually takes a month to come in our country and come back. And a lot of jobs don’t give you that time that you need. And sometimes she was really sad because she couldn’t see us for a really long time.
SA: Do you feel like it was harder for you as a girl to be without your mom at that age. Because like you have questions and you’re growing us and you really need a role model to be there next to you. Did you feel like you missed here because of that?
KH: Definitely yes because I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does. And still, you know, when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like “Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!”. And when I was doing it I felt like “Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!” because when she was leaving, I was eleven, no, I was nine years old and we never talked about things that you talk with your mom when you’re growing. And I was 16 and I wanted to talk to my mom, like for first three months, I felt like “Oh my god, I don’t know this person.” I’ve never felt like I’m gonna to be so different from my mom and me like , you know. When you live with the person who you didn’t live with 8 years, and it is weird because you know its your mom and you can talk to her, but at the same time you’re feeling like “Oh my God, I can’t talk to her because I don’t know what’s gonna to happen”. It was a struggle a little bit in the beginning for me.
SA: Do you think she felt the same way to you?
KH: I think so, because haha in 3 months we spend each other, she was like “Oh, so you don’t this one, oh ”. It was like a new chapter when you get to know other person. Like, when you see, like…Let’s pretend you met a person and started to know about his life and his personality. This was the same thing with my mom because I didn’t know what kind of, what kind of umm personality she had. At the same time, she didn’t know anything about me, my feelings, my personality and other things.
SA: Do you feel reconnected now? Like, it’s been two years…
KH: Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t understand me the way I want to her like understand me. And sometimes when we talk I feel like “Oh, yeah, this is my mom”. She gives me good like advice and I fell like “Oh, yes, this is what I wanted”. But sometimes I feel like no, we’re still not connected the way I want. I think it is because of the age. Because I’m eighteen and I want move freedom and she feels like I’m still sixteen or fifteen. She treats me like a child.
KH: I know…
SA: Um, do you feel like you have more freedom right now than you would have had if you were back in Uzbekistan, even with your mom there?
KH: Actually, yes. I feel more freedom here than I would like feel in my country because I have ability to go to school, to go out with my friends, to make my life better here than I would do in my country because to look back from like where I’m now, I never went out with my friends if I wanted because girls not supposed to, they’re not supposed to go out with friends or just hang out with like people they know. They’re not supposed to do that. And I feel like I have freedom now because I can do it, I can go out with my friends. Not every day or every week, but still… sometimes. You know, I feel like here I have more freedom than I had in my country.
SA: Is there any kind of specific situation that you would like to talk about? Like, you know, something happened that absolutely changed your view on life throughout your immigration period.
KH: Actually, it was a lot of things that changed me when I came here. As I said, my friend and I… So my friend, she’s from Ukraine and she is Christian. I am Muslim. We have completely different traditions, we have completely different thoughts about life, actually we HAD, we HAD different thoughts about thoughts about life and traditions and stuff, but right now, I feel like we have same like same thoughts and same feelings about certain things and I think she is the reason I change my thoughts about life. When you’re growing in the Muslim country and in the Muslim family it’s really struggle because a lot of things that people do here, it’s against our religion. And when you get to know like other traditions and cultures, you feel like: “Oh, thin is right, you know. But why in my religion I can’t of this? I mean, I want to, but I can’t”. And I feel like for my entire journey, when I was like getting to know my friend, who was my friend those days, but now my best friend, um, when you get to know her and you listen to her and try to understand her culture and traditions and her thought about certain things, you feel like “Oh God, yes, that’s right!” or “no no no I’m never gonna do it because I’m not Christian, or I’m not Muslim, or other things” … But like, she changed me really really like a lot and right now I’m getting shock of myself because I wasn’t that kind of person what kind of person I’m am now. It is weird because if you ask me when I first moved here if I would do the kind of stuff I am doing now, I would say “Oh my God, NO!”, you know. And I feel like she changed me in a good way and because of her, I wanna stay here and be with her. And just to get to know a lot of other stuff that can happening. And be a good person here.
SA: So, you said that you’ve changed a lot. Can you give me one or two examples of things you would have never thought of doing that you are doing now?
KH: I would say that, … so I changed because when I came here, I discriminated umm… I mean, how do you say it…
SA: Discriminated against someone?
KH: Um, so, I discriminated people, who had like same sex connection and right now …
KH: Yeah, homosexuals. I would discriminate them the I came here but right now, I’m kinda, you know, don’t like it, but I’m okay with this. I mean, in my country, we really don’t like people who chose to be with the same sex with another person. And right now, I feel like, when I see somebody gay or lesbian, I feel the same way because they’re humans like me and I don’t discriminate them. I don’t know, I changed my view in their choice, in their live choice. I feel like this was the biggest part of my life that changed.
SA: Would you mind me asking about your religion?
KH: Yeah, I’m a Muslim.
SA: No, I mean were you very religious when you were there?
KH: Oh, so when I was there, I was like a religious girl. And not like really into religion. I would follow certain things that my religion is against and I would not follow some of the rules that it says. So, I’m not… Yeah , so in my religion, there are certain that you have to follow and certain things that you need to follow. So I was following that I should follow and I didn’t follow things that I needed to follow. Like as a Muslim, you have to pray every day five times, I didn’t do it. And as a Muslim, you have no right to talk with a guy that is a strange guy. And I didn’t follow this rule. And right now I feel like I’m not follow ing any rules that my religion says because I mean, it’s I mean, in my view, how do you explain that, … in my view, I feel like these rules are not for me because this are against my life, my life.
SA: Do you feel those boundaries?
KH: As a girl, I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life and my …
SA: So, do you feel like you stepped away from your religion when you moved here?
KH: I feel like it because my choice is different than my religion rules. And I fell like would do things that I want to do and not what my religion says. I can follow some of them, but not all of them.
SA: Would you say that was more of a society than the religion itself? Or was that the religion specifically?
KH: Um, I would say that was religion specifically, because our society follows like religious…
SA: So its based on religion?
SA: That’s interesting. Did you connect with anyone from your culture here?
KH: I did, actually, with a lot of people. But they’re kinda really old people and they like move here at the same time as I me and you know, old people, they don’t here adapt really fast. They still following their traditions and they don’t want be, like, they don’t wanna open to another. And I fell like when they come to our house for, I don’t know, for just tea or just talk to, and I feel like they discriminate me because I adapt here and I wanna adapt here and wight now I don’t wanna follow any ruled that I have followed and I feel they really discriminate me. They don’t say anything to me like personally, but I feel like in their thoughts they really discriminate me because I can see it when they talk to me or when they look at me. And I feel like, um, I don’t know, I cant do things like I want to do with people who still follows those rules that was In my country because i feel like they really discriminate me.
SA: Do you feel like your family does that as well or you they want more freedom for you, but again, limited kind of freedom?
KH: Definitely limited kind of freedom.
SA: Like just don’t go crazy but in the same time, don’t sit in the house.
KH: Yes, definitely, so the good thing is my mom’s boyfriend, or future husband, its like this way, I don’t know (laughs), he’s a Jewish and he was from Ukraine also. He moved here when he was, I believe, ten years old or seven years old. And he adapt really quick. and because of him, I feel I have more freedom than I would have had with my mom only because he supports like my feelings and he supports umm my decisions to do some kind of stuff. And Sometimes when me and my mom argue about something, he takes my place and my mom’s put, but the same time he tells my mom to like to give me a chance to do what I want to do because he says that I am pretty, I mean, I’m pretty adult enough to make my own decisions. And I feel like he was kinda like teacher for me when I was here at the first time. He is like the person who tries to help me and tries to help my mom and tries to help everybody, you know! (laughs)
SA: Would you mind me asking how did you take that when you came here and your mother was involved with someone else? How did you adapt to that?
KH: It was kinda funny (laughs). So, I knew my mom had a person who she’s in love with. And but I didn’t met him when I was in my country and I didn’t really know who the person was and what kind of persons he. But I did it against her with because my mom had a lot of struggles in her life. And I knew it because my parents were the worst. And when I looked at them, I knew they don’t like each other. They spent ten years of their life living with each other and just living, you know, without love, without like happiness. They were living together because they had to.
SA: Was that an arranged marriage?
KH: It was… I really don’t know what kind was it. According to what my mom, her mother forced her to marry my dad because it’s part of our religion, and traditions: your parents like your parents are finding you a husband that you will live with your whole entire life and you have NO RIGHT to choose your own husband, or to choose a guy who you’re gonna marry. And it was the kinda thing that my grandmother did: she just found the guy who she liked and she just forced my mom to marry him. And it was kinda this. And I feel, when my mom said she didn’t want to marry him because she wanted to study, she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree, you know, but my grandmother forced her to marry because in our culture girls should marry in early age, 18, 19 or 20. After that …
SA: You’re dead to the society (laughs)!!
KH: I know, right! (laughs) You’re dead to the society. And when I was in my country I always thought I’m gonna marry when I’m gonna be 18 or 19, you know because its like our culture and you don’t have a choice to like to do your things or your decisions. And I always thought that I’m gonna marry at young age. But when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like “Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals. What if your husband’s gonna leave? What are you going to do without a diploma or a degree or anything else?”. And this is the thing that changes really fast, when I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because she hasn’t… she had not have a chance to like…she had not opportunity do her like decisions, to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life. So I have a chance to change my like, to have a better life. Yeah, I think it was kinda this, so… My parents were forced to marry to each other.
SA: Did your mom get a degree?
KH: Actually, my mom did. She finished a university.
KH: No, no, no, in our country. She pushed herself to study and …
SA: While she was married?
KH: While she had me. She was pregnant and she was, she had um… no, she was I think freshman in university and she got married and when she was sophomore, she was pregnant with me, like. and after that, when she was getting her Master’s degree, she was pregnant with my brother (laugh). So for her it was kinda really big struggle for her because I was a baby and she had to pay attention to me because I’m a baby an I need to be feed and … At the same time, she had to do her homework and her study. When she was telling me about her life when I was like a baby, I noticed when I was a baby that she wants me to study right now and THEN get pregnant and THEN get married because when you’re pregnant and you’re studying, there is a lot of stress. And she was very stressful when she had those days. But right now she’s really happy. She has 2 children, she has her significant other that supports her and I think like she, she just…
SA: Has everything that she always wanted?
KH: yeah, yes, has everything that she always wanted
SA: So basically her lifelong dream came true
KH: When she moved here. She said it to me. When we were talking to each other, she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know. And when she came here, she felt the freedom, she started to making her decisions like and reach her goals. She said that was pretty awesome to be like, you know, mature or responsible for her life.
SA: Guess you both feel pretty good about doing here, don’t you?
KH: Hahah, I guess. I do. And she does too.
SA: Is there anything else in particular that you would like to share?
KH: I guess, one thing that I would share is that when you move to a new place and you don’t speak in their language, you don’t know about the culture and traditions, you just need to…you just need to, you know, relax and don’t stress and … [asked me in Russian how to say “go with the flow” in english] go with the flow and everything is going to be fine because when I came here, I had a lot of stress and it just pushed me back than forward. You just need to be like relaxed like my brother. He was like… he was like living life and that’s it. He didn’t have any stressful days in his life. I feel like he’s not gonna have any, but still, you know.
SA: Do you keep in contact with your family?
KH: Yeah, of course! My grandmother came here a year and a half ago. She comes and goes back to my country every year. She stays here for 4-5 months, she helps us and she goes back to our country. And even when she comes here, she feels the difference between America and our country because in America it’s so simple to do things you want if you follow rules that are… I mean…how do you say it…when you come here and you want to do certain things and you know that its not prohibited and you can do it. In our country everything is prohibited!everything!! And she feels the difference. And she says she would live here than in our country but she can’t.
SA: So she prefers more freedom?
KH: She is really strict. She is more into religious things. But when she came here, she changed her mind. Like completely changed her mind. Not completely completely, but …
SA: On a certain scale.
KH: Yes, and it’s kinda great because when I was young, she was like really strict with my mother and she didn’t allow me to do things that I wanted to do. And, you know, when you see a person who changed his mind to certain things, you’ll be like “Oh God, wow”, you now.
SA: What is your legal status right now? Are you a permanent resident?
KH: I’m a permanent resident. Currently my mom applied for citizenship, but I am not gonna get citizenship with her because I am 18 already. And government says I have to live here for five, four six years to get citizenship. But my brother does with her because he’s fourteen, he’s a minor, I don’t know. So he’s gonna to get citizenship with her and I’ll have to wait for mine.
SA: Well, I hope everything plays out just the was you want to.
KH: I hope so too.
SA: Thank you so much for doing this!
KH: No more questions?
SA: Nope! Thank you, thank you!