Memories of an Émigré

Memories of an Émigré
by Levan Tortladze, May, 2014

The United States plays many roles in an émigré’s life: it is a roof, an umbrella for protection and safety over the heads of people who come from all over the world; it is an opportunity for financial success; for some, including but not limited to activists and people with marginalized social identities, coming to America is the only way to survive. But successfully immigrating into the United States and then maintaining a life here isn’t as easy as most immigrants like to believe. Adriana, a 34-year-old wife, mother, student, immigrant from Brazil, and a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area for thirteen years, with a pending U.S. citizenship, she shares in a two-part interview what living – struggling and eventually succeeding – in America was like after 4-month-long bureaucratic process of applying for a visa and leaving all she knew, her family, and her language, behind. “My perception before coming here was that this country was very developed in the sense that there was no homelessness, no poverty, and, most of all, the streets and environment were very clean. California has carried the myth of easy success and vast opportunity. For centuries, immigrants have followed this myth. However, when I moved here, I was shocked by the poverty. I believed that the American Dream was real and easy.” Minot State University’s Andy Bertsch states in his study “The Melting Pot vs. the Salad Bowl: A Call to Explore Regional Cross-Cultural Differences and Similarities within the U.S.A.,” that “each nation has a distinct prism through which it views the world” (Bertsch 132). Just as Adriana’s narrative illustrates, the belief that all would be immediately well once reaching American soil is common in most countries around the world. Adriana continues to explain in her interview that her time in the United States has been far from easy. Yet, now she considers her plight a success story and pays tribute to the years she struggled as a new immigrant for her current happiness, her community, her family, her education, and general sense of accomplishment. Though Adriana’s personal journey to this place, both physically and emotionally, was full of “challenging times, loneliness and disappointment,” it is the process that made her successful, and it is people like her that make this country a success. Adriana’s story challenges the myth that all who come here are successful and wealthy, and are treated fairly, otherwise known as the American Dream. It can be said that the hardships an émigré experiences in his/her process of achieving citizenship are what actually help us realize that dream and achieve success.

After obtaining a visa, the funds to travel and move, and the courage to leave all that is familiar behind, surviving in America is full of difficulties: anxiety, pressure, depression, fear and stress. It takes a lot of time and effort to land a job that can support one’s basic needs in the host country while also supporting family at home. And as if that weren’t enough, one of the biggest difficulties in assimilating to a new culture is attaining the knowledge of the language so that one can adapt to both professional and casual society. Moreover, not too many people are fortunate enough to come to this country with proper documents and those who are undocumented, the constant fear of deportation haunts them. Even when a person gets sick and needs medical attention, his or only option is to stay indoors and self-diagnose, medicate, and treat via non-traditional methods, because medical care is not consistently awarded to those without papers. Adriana tells of times she was taken advantage of by employers, looked down on by social peers, discriminated against at every turn, frustrated with the language, and paralyzed by the constant fear of authority and deportation. She describes this 8-year period in her life as “really exhausting and lonely, living on survivor mode.” “The culmination of stressors associated with constantly having to adapt to unfamiliar environments, work-related stress, and lack of social and emotional support may take a psychological and physical toll on many transmigrants” (Furman, et. al. 168). It is difficult to move from one’s natural habitat, one’s home, to an environment that is completely different, with a different language, different rules, different social expectations, and even different food. Adriana explains that the sheer differences in her culture and this new American way were almost the most anxiety-producing. “Thanksgiving celebrations or other holidays were hardest for me. During these events, I felt like an outsider, like it was obvious I didn’t belong, like I didn’t belong at the party or at the grocery store near the frozen turkeys. Maybe, because I didn’t quite understand the meaning of the celebration, I just couldn’t get as excited as everybody else around me. I didn’t get it, and I didn’t even know how to begin to get it without announcing that I was that girl who didn’t know what Labor Day is.” But Adriana would soon realize that most people were more than happy to explain the history of the holidays, once she got over feeling nervous about asking. “I realized I’d only get out what I put in. My point is, it’s so important to learn about the new culture one is immigrating to. I just needed to get over myself, to let go of my own culture in order to embrace this new one.”

Furthermore, isolation becomes a major side-effect of the émigré. Lost and alone, one struggles to adapt even beyond job searching and money earning when he or she doesn’t have a community on which to rely. The fact that one’s closest kin is many miles away is often enough to make that person give up, regardless of his or her sacrifices, and go back home. “This lack of social and emotional support may force transmigrants to rely solely on themselves” (Furman, et. al. 168), which is probably the biggest culture shock for many émigrés such as Adriana. She tells of a time in which all these differences converged in a single dinner filled with her good intentions: “Some years ago, I remember, me and my husband moved into a new house in a new neighborhood. Just as is the custom in both our cultures, we wanted to get to know our neighbors and so [we] invited our next-door neighbors over for dinner. I prepared everything. After good food and a lot of wine, both my husband and me were satisfied, even proud of our progress in adapting to this new society. We called it a night, still laughing together and toasting one another. In my husband’s culture [Georgian], after a good feast shared with new friends, the next day is followed by eating more to help get over last night’s fiesta.” Basically, as Adriana would further explain, it is customary in Georgian culture for the partiers to reunite the next morning, hung-over, and eat comfort food while they continue to bond and get to know each other. But what happened next truly solidified for Adriana and her husband, who had felt so proud of their assimilation, just how far from home they were and just how different they were. “When we invited the same people back over, we were alarmed when police officers arrived at our front door, with a statement from our neighbors accusing us of having some kind of agenda, an evil ulterior motive to be inviting them two days in a row,” says Adriana, with disappointment in her voice. Her attempt to share her own culture in this new and foreign place had backfired. She states, “It was then we were convinced that some things are meant to be left alone.” What she felt needed to be left alone, as she would clarify, is her need for community, for belonging. She came to learn that that is not so natural here in the United States, at least not as it is in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro. Not only did she already feel isolated from her family and her culture, but she now had bad blood between her and her new neighbors. But even in this sad situation, Adriana feels something positive came of it when she says, “I became more independent. I trusted people less. But I was better able to weed out the people who would be my greatest friends from everybody else. It was from moments like those that I now have this amazing, strong, solid community that my husband, son and I have now.” As Adriana elaborated about her community, she can now rely on them and speaks of them as if they are more family than friends. Truly, just as Adriana’s isolation and disappointment led to her current support system, an émigré’s hardships do shape the person and, thus, the country.
Furthermore, America is a more individualistic society, meaning that individuals generally focus on his/her own goals and successes before those of his/her community or country. People come from all over the world to achieve their goals and at the end it ties into discovering their sole identity. On the contrary, countries like Brazil, where Adriana is from, are more collectivistic, meaning that people have a sense of common wealth and togetherness. They feel that they are merely small pieces of a bigger picture. Adriana claims she is very family-orientated, whether those family members are immediate and extended. She knows what it means to be a part of a bigger picture in which people have solid support system anywhere there is family. At first she experienced a culture shock. Being raised in such a manner, she recalls working at a restaurant as a waiter, where it is known to have lots of undocumented immigrants working under the table.

“I was always picking up slack for other workers as well and helping them out, but once people started noticing my behavior, they started to take advantage of that situation. Whether it was my job responsibility or not, I was always the first person to be asked to stay longer hours. It started becoming a routine, which sometimes caused me to quit the job because I was overwhelmed with extra responsibilities. Slowly, as time went by and I acquired some experience and knowledge on how to deal with such situations, I became cold and immune to such demands. Once I started to notice that people were slacking due to their personal lack of will in completing the task that they had been hired to do, I was unwilling to pick up their slack. Me, coming from a nurturing environment, where it was not a question whether I was going to step up to the plate, but a mandatory obligation. Which is unusual in my culture, and made me feel guilty and ashamed. This could have been the beginning of my assimilating to this country and its culture.”

It was against Adriana’s nature to think only of herself, but she had to in order to succeed. She had to not feel and be selfish to self-preserve. “A ruthless individualism, expressed primarily through a market mentality, has invaded every sphere of our lives, undermining those institutions, such as the family or the university, that have traditionally functioned as foci of collective purposes, history, and culture. This lack of common purpose and concern for the common good bodes ill for a people claiming to be a democracy. Caught up in our private pursuits, we allow the workings of our major institutions—the economy and government—to go on “over our heads” (Andre Velasquez). Instead of feeling like she was a smaller piece in the larger picture, in America’s individualistic society, Adriana felt like she was more of a pawn in the game of people more important and successful than her. But even this she credits for her current happiness.

“I created a community and family that I really care about and that are closer to me than my own family at this point. After years of challenges and obstacles due to my illegal status, I finally got to work on my education and be a mom, wife and productive member of the society that I once resented. I would say that if I never got to legalize my situation in America, if I never overcame all those obstacles, I would always feel a lack of purpose or accomplishment. I think I would have always felt more disappointed in myself.”

America is filled with immigrants who hold the same mindset. These people, who come from all over, endure their struggles, and can and do end up successful. Sometimes one’s definition of success evolves over time, but America is made up of strong, dedicated immigrants, and that is why the American Dream is still alive in the minds of people everywhere.

It is true that immigrating to the United States is challenging as many émigrés are forced either by oppression, discrimination, financial struggles, or just the difficult search for a much-dreamed-about American identity. A country that is well known for standing up for its people and providing basic human rights tends to be inviting for many immigrants. Adriana tolerated being pushed around at jobs and her life was in the hands of her superiors, who didn’t care a bit for her well-being. After living in conditions that were barely tolerable and constantly being exploited, she still contributed so much to support her family back home. After all her hardships she still claims that those very hardships made her an even stronger person today.

Works Cited

Bertsch, Andy. “The Melting Pot vs. the Salad Bowl: A Call to Explore Regional Cross-Cultural Differences And Similarities Within The U.S.A.” Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict Volume 17 (2013): 131-148. Print.

Furman, Rich. “Social Work Practice with Latinos: Key Issues for Social Workers.” National Association of Social Workers Volume 54 (2009): 167-172. Print.

Andre, Claire and Manuel Valasquez. “American Society and Individualism.” American Society and Individualism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991. Web.

 Transcript

Levan T: What is your name?

Adriana: Adriana.

Levan T: What year were you born and where?

Adriana: I was born in 1979, in Rio de Janeiro.

Levan T: Could you describe a little about your household?

Adriana: I lived with my mom and grandmother, for a while I had my uncle and his family living with us.

Levan T: Can you tell me a little about your living situation in your country at that time?
Adriana: Growing up in Brazil was fun. Spend a lot of time in the beach and was blessed with lots of sunny days. However in my situation I always felt that there was something else for me to: “I always dreamed what it would be to live in a different country and because of American culture being very popular in Brazil through music”. I thought about America most.

Levan T: Has it ever crossed your mind that one day you would immigrate to U.S?

Adriana: I always dreamed about.

Levan T: How old were you when u came to U.S?Adriana: I was 21 years old

Levan T: Could you describe a little about how did you manage to get a visa or how was the traveling to this country?

Adriana: First I asked my mom, if she would be willing to not paying my college tuition for one semester and instead pay for my travels in California.

Levan T: What was her reaction?

Adriana: As a mother, it was only natural for her to be concerned about my postponement of education, but it was obvious to her that I’ve wanted to do this for a while.

Levan T: have you heard about the immigration in California?

Adriana: California has carried the myth of easy success and vast opportunity since nineteen century, when gold rush took place. For centuries immigrants follow this myth, as gold brought explorers form all over the world. California attracts immigrants looking opportunities to express their ideas more openly. California inspired many movements that iconize the hippies form Height Asbury, gay community of Castro Street and Sexy tan bodies from Los Angeles Beaches. Now Californians continue to witness a wave of immigrants who come to the golden State looking for freedom to express their minds, sexuality and politics views making California an exciting state, motivating ambitious young minds looking for freedom and success.

Levan T: what was your perception about U.S prior to coming here and after being here?

Adriana: My perception before coming here was that this country was very developed in the sense that there was no homelessness. No poverty and most of all street and environment were very clean. However after I moved to San Francisco, I was shocked by the poverty I witnessed among the Market area. But also fell in love with the beauty of this city and cultural diversity I found in the mission district.

Levan T: Have you heard about other immigrants?

Adriana: it is the big issue of conversation, here in California there are the huge amount of Illegal immigrants. The bed economy in Mexico motivates Mexicans to cross dark, cold and dangerous trails to cross the San Diego border. In Mexico it is extremely difficult to obtain an American Visa, and crossing the broad becomes the only chance to arrive in the USA and possibly build something better then what they left behind.

Levan T: what steps did you have to follow to apply for a visa?

Adriana: I had to pay some application fees, schedule an interview at an American embassy and prove financial status and reasons that would not keep you away from home.

Levan T: How long was the process?

Adriana: About 4 months

Levan T: What kind of visa and how long was the permit.

Adriana: I received a 10 year visa tourist visa, but I could only stay for 6 months legally.

Levan T: How long have you been here?

Adriana: Overall I’ve been living in California for 13 years.

Levan T: How has living in California impacted your identity?

Adriana: California reminds a bit of home because of its warm climate and more flexible and open minded community. But after all it is still an American culture and it was difficult to adapt to individualism way that is predominant. Therefore I felt that I was becoming a little bit selfish. On a positive note I learned and started to admire how the system worked if you were privileged to have legal status.
Levan T: what was u hoping for in California? Could you please be more specific?
Adriana: Many immigrants choose to come to the United States for better quality of life and more work opportunities. This was the dream country for lots of emigrants looking for opportunities to express their ideas more openly. When I got here we some help from government side, lot of agencies were working, and lots of people were also trained to help emigrants.

Levan T: Tell me about some moments where u felt isolated? Or when someone made u feel isolated.

Adriana: Thanksgiving celebrations or other holidays. During some of these events I felt being an outsider. Maybe because I didn’t quite understood the meaning of the celebration. Which brings me to the point of how important is to learn about the new culture one is immigrating to.

Levan T: Could you tell me of a time where u felt confusion at work?

Adriana: I was always picking up slack for other workers as well and helping them out, but once people started noticing my behavior, they started to take advantage of that situation. Whether it was my job responsibility or not, I was always the first person to be asked to stay longer hours. It started becoming a routine, which sometimes caused me to quit the job because I was overwhelmed with extra responsibilities.

Levan T: How did your struggles and fears, helped shape you?

Adriana: I think that all the challenges I had during my first years as a new immigrant helped me to appreciate what I have today. It made me an open – minded person to except other culture and their costume (even if I don’t like)

Levan T: What good came of this hardships?

Adriana: A great family, friends, education, quality life and a full life experience.

Levan T: how is your relationship with other Americans?
Adriana: It was quite difficult at first, but after sometimes I realized that in order to understand American’s, I had to assimilate into their culture. However I did have some challenging times due to our differences.

Levan T: Your greatest accomplishment?

Adriana: I became more independent. I trusted people less. But I was better able to weed out the people who would be my greatest friends from everybody else. It was from moments like those that I now have this amazing, strong, solid community that my husband, son and I have now.

Levan T: Did you believe that you would succeed in this country?Adriana: yes. I believed that American dream was real and easy.

Levan T: Did you feel any discrimination from people because of your legal status?

Adriana: yes. In the work environment and even in social scene.

Levan T: Do you think every immigrant who came to US find what they looking for?

Adriana: Not every immigrant will find what they looking for. Loneliness and disappointment take over excitement and high expectations.

Levan T: When moving to California does everyone become rich and successful?

Adriana: California continues to receive immigrants from all over the word in search of the dream to pursue wealth and happiness. Nothing will happen easily and to achieve success an immigrant need to apply hard work and discipline. The myth hides the reality of what California has to offer , which comes from the supple plea rues offered by nature, the progressive community than protects the state and set examples to the rest of the country, always looking for better and healthier ways to enjoy life. When moving to California, not everyone will become rich and succeed, but for sure everyone will experience the beauty and uniqueness of the state.

Levan T: do you consider yourself as a successful immigrant?

Adriana: I think I am. I created a community and family that I really care about and that are closer to me than my own family at this point. After years of challenges and obstacles due to my illegal status, I finally got to work on my education and be a mom, wife and productive member of the society. I would say that if I never got to legalize my situation in America, I would always feel an lack of purpose or accomplishment as my core goals , i.e.: education , family , career were out of site for me due to my status . I have to admit that moving to America and live here for 8 years without legality was one of the hardest thing I have done in my life. Been here alone and without rights, had me living on survivor mode for a while, which was really exhausting and lonely.
Levan T: what advice would you give to another person whose trying to immigrate here?
Adriana: If there anything I could tell another young individual that wish to adventure to America as I did. I would say, learn the language as fast as possible, be open mind to understand and act respectfully to the country’s costumes.

 

 

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Immigration, Academics, and Family

Immigration, Academics, and Family: The Success Story

of an “Open Minded Brazilian”

by Aaron Henderson, December 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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