Georgian-American or American-Georgian


Georgian-American or American-Georgian

by Michael Figlock, August 2014

I met with Levan at the Japantown Mall due to its close proximity to where he works as a bartender. He told me that afternoon that he was short on sleep, having just worked after playing an extended, cut-throat game of Poker with his friends the night before. The two of us met such that I could write a paper for my English 1A class, a class that he had taken previously. Something that resonated with him from the class was an essay in which Andrew Lam, a Vietnamese-American writer, said he was old enough to still remember his country and still young enough to still adapt to this one. Levan described this condition as being one that applied to him and his relationship with Georgia, the country from which he emigrated. Levan’s description of his country of origin was a complex one, fitting for a country that has been in the hotbed of Eastern European political affairs for the last three decades. Levan described his time in Georgia as being largely positive, despite genocide occurring “three blocks away from [his] house” while he was there. Russian tanks came through Georgia and literally drove over protesters. Levan said that he considers himself “Georgian-American or American-Georgian.” He considers Georgia to be his home, though since living in the United States, this has changed. Now, Levan’s sense of home has come to include both Georgia and the United States.

Levan is 28 years old and is working hard to improve his livelihood as a member of both countries. While speaking to him I got the impression that, throughout the rest of his life, he will continue to travel between both Georgia and the United States.  He is working on getting his certification to become a paramedic so that he can do good works in both countries. He is currently certified as an EMT, a steppingstone to becoming a paramedic. As a paramedic, he wishes to retrofit vans into ambulances such that Georgia can have a modern ambulance system. According to my impression of him, he is someone who very much believes in pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.  He has already bought cars in America at auctions to send back to Georgia. He is “taking all of the classes, as much as [he] can,” in order to go to SF State, where he hopes to study history and perhaps get involved with the Red Cross. As he already knows “four or five languages,” he thinks that this kind of move with his life is very possible. Levan says that languages come pretty easily to him and that, as a result, he enjoys learning them. Even though he doesn’t speak Spanish or German particularly fluently—he speaks English, Russian, and Georgian fluently—he thinks he could pick them up pretty quickly if he were to spend some time in a country that speaks them.

The sense of community is what Levan misses most from Georgia. He says that it is a very “community-based country,” and that what he feels he has lost the most since leaving is “the sense of family.” His times there were peaceful “from ’91 to 1999.” In Georgia, one stays with the same classmates all the way through school, with teachers coming to the classroom rather than the other way around. As a result, your classmates become very close to you, some of them becoming like brothers, and another, even, possibly, becoming a wife. Much of his life there was devoted to soccer and friends. Some of the times that Levan reflected on the most fondly were when he was living with his grandparents, away from his home city. There, his brother’s friends showed him around and, because of the fact that his grandfather was a famous Georgian boxer from many years ago, many older people wanted to show Levan around as well. Yet the reasons for Levan’s time spent with his grandparents were not happy. Someone in Levan’s close family needed serious medical attention as his father’s car had been sabotaged and exploded.

When Levan was living in Georgia, he witnessed an armed conflict there. Georgia has always been “in-between struggles, even since the Ottoman Empire.” Early in Georgia’s history, the area was a battleground for wars between Islam and Christianity, the two factions warring over where Georgia would fall in this conflict concerning eternal damnation. More recently, Russia has been the aggressor in the struggles that Georgia has been a part of. Levan’s opinion of Russia is that the country is a “bully” and he “can’t stand bullies.” There was genocide during the years that Levan was there; which happened in 1991, when Levan was about five years old. Some of his family’s relatives came into his house with AKs and stuff to help him flee from the capital city. Levan was pretty casual when discussing the genocide and he didn’t spend much time talking about it. Now that he’s older and has a greater awareness of the world, he says that his understanding of what happened back there has grown. He wishes that, when he was in Georgia, he had taken more time to learn about the country’s complex past. I wondered if that was what compelled him to look into studying history at SF State, but I didn’t ask.

When first making the United States his home, Levan’s biggest struggle was the linguistic barriers associated with the cultural transition. His brother got a job at Charles Schwab in America after coming here with political immunity due to the war in Georgia. It was Levan’s opinion of his brother that he’s doing “very well” for himself. Levan came here after his brother and went straight to high school in San Francisco. Some of the other struggles he faced have included the “depression and the sadness that [he] miss[ed] people, nostalgic feeling of being around home.” What got him kicked out of high school briefly was a fight over a mistranslation. Levan, when he was in Georgia, had a certain amount of education in English. According to him, not everyone “jokes, for example, the same type of jokes.” I think that this statement highlights that there are many cultural nuances that are present in communication, particularly with respect to joking. The mistranslation that Levan was involved in, though casually dropped frequently between Americans, was one that he thought was insulting his mother in some pretty drastic ways.

Something that stuck out to me in Levan describing his former self prior to coming to America as being a bit more consumed by “ego-type of ways.” The impression I got was that he was also doing a certain amount of fighting in Georgia as well. Levan said that something that has been a struggle in his life for some time now has been not feeling as though he was older than or even superior to his peers.  Since coming to America, he was exposed to people from places that he “wouldn’t even think about—from Philippines to China to Arabian countries

to–of course Russian people.” Because there are so many Russian people living in the Richmond, the district where Levan originally moved in San Francisco, he fit in decently well because Russian is one of the five languages that he speaks. His perspective became one that takes humanity in general into account rather than one just focused primarily on Gerogia. He used to think that “being a Georgian was the best thing,” but after his time in America, he contrasted his previous viewpoint with saying that “it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”  He now describes himself as “out forward, outgoing, and [he] won’t do anything to piss people off.” He said that he notices at jobs at whatnot that people recognize him as someone who is easy to deal with.

Something that particularly indicates in my mind the bicultural nature of Levan’s post-American-living identity is his desire to eventually raise children as both Georgian and American. His goals are to “raise a family here, just to take them there, let them grow as my children, as understanding both.” This is one way in which Levan would seem to cement his identity as both a Georgian and American. Levan believes that what makes America so great of a country is its capacity to integrate the ideals of people from many different countries. It is my opinion that Levan has internalized this perspective into himself in that he views himself as being greater for integrating the ideals of people from many different countries. His brother’s wife is Brazilian and he joked with her about Brazil’s recent trouncing in the World Cup.

Now that Levan has expanded the scope of his previous perspective of the world, it is impossible for him to go back to viewing the world in the way he once did.  In his own words, he said something to the effect of “he kinda’ cannot go back to his natural habitat,” meaning that his worldview with respect to his home and how he sees the world has been forever expanded.  Levan’s mother tried to come to America but was less pleased with her transition between the two countries.  She made the trip when she was much older than how old Levan was when he made the trip.  It was Levan’s opinion that it must be harder for someone to come to America, or leave their country at all for that matter, when so much of their life has been established in another country.  Recently, when Levan left San Francisco for “somewhere, even [his] country—[he] went there a few times—[he] miss[es] it here so much, [he] can’t even explain.  [He] went to the East coast for two weeks [and he] couldn’t wait to get back.”  His opinions of living in Gerogia now is that living only there would leave him feeling “cornered,” with the only good news he hears from people living there being that they had a kid.  Practically everything else that he hears coming from the country is that someone has died or some other negative news.  I think that Levan would feel tied down of that’s what he was doing right now. Politically, he is not fond of the way in which Georgia has sacked its powerful leader for being too despotic.  Though a particular powerful politician there was able to arrest numerous politicians, he became criticized for gaining too much power.  Now, it is his opinion, that the country is governed by politicians who are far too young and inexperienced (Levan).

Edward Said in his essay, “Reflections on exile” paints the departure of one home country as nearly almost always a contributor to great sadness in the life of the exile. Where there are people who are exulted as having experienced great, humanistic, transnational experiences on account of immigration, there are always far more people who have been dislocated on account of conflict whose story of immigration is very sad. Levan’s story of immigration is hard to categorize as either fully working toward a positive end in his life or something that was conflict-induced, his story, I think, exemplifying Edward Said’s description of immigration stories. Levan’s brother, a decently large player in Levan’s immigrant experience, at least, came to America on account of political asylum he received due to a conflict. Levan’s life however, much to the merit of his resolution, seems to be very much moving in the direction that he’d like it to, that being toward his role as a medical professional. Simply, Levan’s life is comprised of both growing experiences that recognize a broader understanding of the human character as well as experiences that were put into motion on account of conflict.          Edward Said also would seem to make the claim that existing between nationalities is necessarily a painful experience. Levan, who sees himself as Georgian-American yet is not completeky satisfied with everything that is Georgian or everything that is American, is perhaps better off not being restricted to having a single nationality. This way, he can assimilate the best parts of what he can derive from both countries–say, the family-sense of Georgia and the life opportunities of America–and make a wholly new identity for himself, outside of any one nationality. This way, he can pursue the American medical field while also being a contributor to the communities that brought him up in Georgia (Said). In “Happiness and ‘economic migration’: A comparison of Eastern European migrants and stayers,” David Bertram shows that, at least in the case of Eastern European emigrants moving into various Western European countries, the happiness level of immigrants varies from country to country. This peer-reviewed research would support the idea that Edward Said’s classification of emigrants into two categories of those who are pleased with the humanistic experience of their immigration and those who are displeased with it on account of having to do so due to conflict is too simplistic. The reality of the situation is that the experiences of immigrants leaving eastern Europe may contain too many specificities and unique qualities for general assertions to be about all of them (Bartram).          Whereas some may say that an immigrant’s story must be either entirely devoted to humanistic transnationalism or the product of conflict’s strife, I think that Levan’s story has shown otherwise. Now, Levan’s sense of home has come to include both Georgia and the United States. His goals in life of working to become a paramedic in order to establish a modern ambulance system in Georgia and his goals of raising his future children in both countries will further establish him as being a member of both countries. The specificities of Levan’s story of moving from Georgia to America further establish the diverse nature of what it means to be an immigrant.

Transcribed Interview

Voice 003: 00:20 — 00:35: 15 sec

L: I’m taking all of the classes, as much as I can, until I can go to State, so I don’t have to pay as much over there, ya’ know?

M: Are you trying to go to SF State? L: Yeah.

M: Cool.

L: I’m actually going to apply wherever, ya know, a lot of places, but State–I like to be close to the City.

…Voice 003: 0055 — 01:25: 45 sec

L: I’m certified as an EMT. I’m going to try and be a paramedic, but I need six months of experience and six months more of education to be a certified paramedic. It makes a big deal pay-wise, but work wise, it’s pretty much the same. There are six or seven medical procedures we cannot do without our medical control, but it’s good. And bar-tending on the side.

…Voice 003: 00:40 — 2:30: 2:35 min

L: At City College so far it’s light health, but at State I want to change to something with history so I could, like, probably go to Europe–Red Cross maybe. Have some medical education, know, like, four or five languages–

M: You know four or five languages? L: Yeah. M: What languages do you speak?

L: English was my third language, Russian was my second, Georgian was my first, German, and I’m struggling with Spanish. I don’t know Spanish, but I’m picking it up with people I work with. I work with a lot of Latin people. So that’s about it, but if I take it, it should be good. But I know I need at least three months in Europe or being in Germany to speak fluently, because I’m kind of forgetting it. If you don’t use it, it’s like a muscle, ya’ know.

…Voice 004: 00:00 — 00:35: 3:05 min L: What route are you going to take? What’s your main idea? What’s your topic going to be?

M: I was sort of waiting to talk to you. I was going to be really true to what you say and go from there. L: Sounds good, man. You want some coffee?

…Voice 005: 00:00 — 02:00: 5:05 min M: What can you tell me about where you’re from.

L: I’m from the Republic of Georgia. It’s considered Eastern Europe. On the east and west sides we have seas. On the north side we have the Caucasian Mountains bordering us from Russia. And to the south we have Turkey and Azerbaijan and all Muslim countries, pretty much. My country has always been in-between struggles–Ottoman Empire since back in the day because Georgia comes from the fourth century. Back in they day, they’ve been trying to make us Muslim and we were wanting to do Christianity so we combined with Russia and we were working together but when we got our independence, they would wouldn’t give it to us. They wanted land–

M: Are you talking about in 1990?

L: The first time was in 1981. It was a big genocide. Russian people came over with tanks and we had protests and they ran people over with the tanks. I remember I was about 5 years old and in 1991, it occurred again–a big one–and I remember some of my family’s relatives came in our house with AKs and stuff and were like, “We have to take you out of here.” And I remember my whole family–we had to go away from the capital city. We had to hide out for at least three days until things calmed down. So it was pretty bad at that time. It was so bad, actually, people were just thinking about surviving and maintaining.

…Voice005: 02:10 – 05:25: 8:20 min L: But then I lived through some peaceful times, I guess. From ’91 to 1999, it was pretty peaceful. I remember those times as pretty pleasant. Hanging out with friends, going to school, playing soccer–stuff like that. But economy wise, it’s always been a struggle because I always saw my parents, ya’ know, go through it. There where days where we had to survive for certain days and there were days where we were all good. It was ups and downs, but overall, I had a very positive…

M: Impression?

L: I had a very positive impression about my country.

M: When did you come to America? L: I came to the United States in 2001. And the way I came here was that my brother actually got here first and because of that war, actually he got… immunity, I guess. Political immunity. So the United States gave him a visa, gave him a passport, and gave him all the opportunities he could have and he used every piece of it and he pretty much made it here. He started with computer engineering and now he’s at Charles Schwab. Just a manager. So he’s doing alright. He’s doing very well, actually. So after five years he brought me here so yeah. That was about me and him at first. After that I took a placement test and tested into ESL at first in high school and freshman year was a little bit tough, not knowing the language, cultural customs, seeing all these people from different backgrounds, so it was difficult, but then sophomore year, I was alright. I moved out of the ESL. Junior year I was doing even better and senior year I did so well in the previous years that I only had to take five classes, I remember. I was getting out of school about 1:30 when people had to stay ’till 3 so…

M: That’s cool.

L: It was alright.

M: Where did you go to high school? L: I went to George Washington High School. It’s in the Richmond district of San Francisco–close to the beach.

M: So you moved straight to San Francisco when you…

L: Mmm hmm–straight to San Francisco, straight to high school. I thought I was gonna’ have to take some classes at John Adams. That’s where people that I kinda’ knew that were from different countries as well but they were going to those schools just to gain English. But I had some background back in Georgia. I was going to an English teacher and so I actually took languages very seriously because it was coming easy to me so I enjoyed it.

M: What can you tell me more about your childhood in Georgia, the happy times, I guess, or whatever? L: I respect–not respect, I actually see more clearly right now because people tell me enjoy these years, it’s gonna’ be the best years of your life because…

…Voice006: 00:00 — 05:55: 14:15 min

L …all you have to worry about is getting home on time, eating, and going back out to play again, I guess. And it was good up until 1997, my father, his car was sabotaged or something and his car blew up so my mother, father, and older brother, before coming here, they had to go to Russia because the medical field is much more better over there so he had to get treatment there for three years and I basically grew up with my grandmother and grandfather and I had to switch the neighborhood because I couldn’t stay in that place no more, that neighborhood. So my brother’s friends–by the way, he’s six years older than me–so his friends took care of me, showed me to places and things. I kinda’ grew up feeling that I was older than I was actually, ya know? Just because I was exposed to certain things, I guess, made me feel that I was wiser or bigger than other kids in my peer–and I believe until four years ago, I still used to think that way. It was a setback on me, ya’ know? I should have… yeah. I’m realizing now and I’m just going through it, my process. What else can I tell you about Georgia? It’s a very community based country–every body knows everybody. And on top of that, my grandfather, actually, in 1952 and in 1954 was a Georgian boxing champion and he was pretty well-known so me mentioning my last name and knowing that I was his grandson, everything was easy for me. I could have went anywhere and everybody was showing me a lot of attention and everybody was taking me places. It was good times for me. I couldn’t really experience that–I was in that age where I didn’t take it serious, right? And it was bad times. Now that I look back and see some documentaries on what really took place–literally three blocks away from my house, that’s where the big clash happened–protestors and army. And to look at it right now… I get goosebumps. Literally they used tanks to just run-over people and it was a genocide, I believe, it was horrible. But I didn’t really feel it, ya’ know? Summers were hot, in my city. So we owned a cabin in the mountains which was four hours away. Every summer, my grandfather and grandmother would take me out to the cabin, leave me out there, go back into the city, do whatever. I had some real family living there, friends, and everything. So for literally three months every summer, I would spend away, and come back to the city. Good memories, pretty much. Good memories. Besides, I guess, adolescence and just fighting, now and again. Overall, it was great.

M: Cool. What’s the biggest struggle you’ve faced, after coming to America.

L: The biggest struggle was… The struggle was changing the environment. Because I did that previously, like I told you–I had to change the neighborhood–and it was difficult for me because I was not in that age where I could just travel anywhere by myself. Friends that I really had, close ones, I kinda’ left them in that old neighborhood, which I wouldn’t visit no more. And just that idea that I had to do it allover again, just to pickup, but on a bigger scale–I’m not just switching neighborhoods, I’m switching countries. I guess the biggest struggle was depression, sadness that you miss people, nostalgic feelings of being around home, appreciating home cooking, home cooked meals, the language barrier, people from different countries, trying to understand them. Not everyone jokes, for example, the same type of jokes. Everyone has different morals, I guess, standards, logic, so I had to kinda’ adapt to it, but overall I had a good time. Right away, I made friends from places that I wouldn’t even think about–from Philippines to China to Arabian countries to–of course Russian people are very–a lot of them are by the Richmond district and Russians–speaking a Russian language helped me out because I was basically mostly with them. And the struggle I had to go through was… basically, I fought a lot because I didn’t understand certain things and I felt people were just… looking down on me, making fun of me. Just simple getting lost in the translations. I don’t want to say, but to me, mother@%#$@#, when somebody said that, I don’t want to say it on here, but to me, it meant something horrible. It meant that you were insulting my mother, and just because of that, I actually got kicked out of high school, and had to go through dropout preventions, and all that stuff. But once I grew up, kinda’, I adapted, I learned. Now I have friends where we just joke about it and don’t take it seriously. But basically, the biggest struggle was trying to fit in, make friends…

…Voice007: 00:00 — 05:55: 20:10 min

L: …try to fit in, just those times where you want to go back home. But then again, I had an older brother who guided me through it. He told me, “You’ll understand later,” and “This and that…” But basically my main struggle was the language barrier, cultural differences–not much of religious differences, not at all–mostly just cultural and language. M: Where would you say your home is now? L: Where my home is? I’ve been thinking about that a lot… a lot… I believe… And also, I want to rephrase something. We learned something in his class. We were talking about this person that came from Vietnam and I don’t know if you guys read that pamphlet again, I don’t know. We had to write a summary about it and in it he mentions how he was “old enough to still remember his country and still young enough to still adapt to this one.” And it really touched–I felt like I was still in that place. I was old enough to still have memories and still feel Georgian, I guess, I have pride in it. And I was young still enough that I was adapting to it so right now I consider myself Georgian American because every time I go somewhere, even my country–I went there a few times–I miss it here so much, I can’t even explain. I went to the East coast for two weeks, I couldn’t wait to get back. This is where I consider my home now. And I’m probably going to be here, probably raise a family here just to take them there, let them grow as my children, as understanding both, and being more open-minded and [indistinguishable]. It took me awhile to get rid of some of the ego-type of ways that I had imprinted in Georgia. A certain type of way that people carry themselves. A certain way that people are. I believe that I consider myself Georgian-American or American-Georgian, whichever, even though I’ve still got an accent–I don’t know why. I hope this is helpful.

M: That was a pretty heavy answer. That was pretty heavy. I guess you’ve already really answered this, but how have you changed since coming here? L: How have I changed? M: Or not?

L: I have progressed in many ways and in some way I feel like I have regressed as well. Mostly I believe I’ve changed… I used to think that being a Georgian was the best thing. I was so thankful that I was born Georgian, but the way I think about it right now is that I have a total different respect for just humans, humankind–it doesn’t matter where you’re from. I show respect to everybody and I treat everybody the way I want to be treated. Being like that tends to get me ahead because people tend to notice me, even in jobs. I’m out forward, outgoing, and I won’t do anything to piss people off. I wasn’t used to be like that back then. You looked at me wrong, I had to say something, I had to do something. I had a lot of things that I thought I had to stand up for even though they were very [indistinguishable]. But I’ve made my mistakes, I’ve learned from them, I try not to do stupid stuff again. But overall I believe my character just grew. One of the things I think about it is once a person is exposed to a lot more, or a lot, he kinda’ cannot go back to his natural habitat. I went to Georgia and people that said goodbye to me five years ago, literally five years ago, were literally still in the same yard playing cards dominoes, and I couldn’t stand it no more. I couldn’t live that way. I felt like I was cornered. I had no prospects in life. I don’t want to just live at my parent’s house, get a wife, and let my parents [indistinguishable]. It gave me more strength, it gave me more passion towards growing, learning, to become something. Not only something that my family’s proud, something that I could do for my country. And the reason I took paramedic was I was hoping to go back to Georgia. I used to buy some cars in auction here and send them back home. So I was thinking that maybe with this education I could ship vans, turn them into ambulances, and have an American-standard ambulance system with a medical field. Over there, it’s different. If someone is sick and you take them to the hospital, you pay for the bed, you pay for how many days they stay, you pay for the medicine. There’s no healthcare. Everything comes out of a person’s pockets.

…Voice008: 00:00 — 03:15: 23:25 min L: So my main intention is to improve things over there. Everything that I went through here and everything that I went through back there make me, I guess, I can’t say fearless or nothing, just made more more confident to achieve what I want to achieve, be what I want to be, and not only for myself, I want to do good to others–make my country proud. M: When I asked you this question, you said you like you both progressed and regressed. What have you lost, I guess?

L: I believe what I’ve lost is the sense of the family because people that are my age–so the way it is in Georgia, the education system–once you get in first grade up to twelfth grade you’re with the same classmates, literally, same classmates. You don’t change classrooms when you go to classes, teachers come to you. So you pretty much grow up with these people, they become your friends, your brothers, one of them may be your wife, ya’ know? And everyone that was in my grade over there, they all have families, they all have kids. They just made their own families. So I guess I’m missing out on that because in America, I’ve been through relationships, some long, some short, and I’m kinda’ like sometimes I feel like that’s maybe what I need, ya’ know? Not only feel, I miss–I want it. So I guess the most thing I’ve missed is the family part. I bet you if I was in Georgia right now at the age of 20 I would’ve got married, I probably would’ve got kids. I know so many people there that are my age that have two kids, one is 8, one is 6.

M: How old are you? L: I’m 28 years old. So when I see them, it brings me happiness. Seeing a little guy that is identical to his father and I remember him when he looked like we went to school together, all these things. That’s about it, I guess, and also I miss… I could’ve learned more about Georgian history while I was there. I didn’t take time doing it out here because I’m busy, always busy. After high school, I guess, I haven’t stopped working or school. I just had to work, support some family there, friends. To be honest, besides I got married and I got a kid, I haven’t heard good news. Somebody got into a crash, somebody passed away, somebody lost his bet–all the time there’s somebody that calls you and kinda’ ask something of you. They kinda’ demand a lot from you. I don’t miss that part. Hahaha! I’m just rambling around. But basically I missed out on the family. …Voice008: 04:10 – 10:45: 30:00 min M: What are your thoughts on American culture in general?

L: Wow, I could say a lot about that. In my opinion, to this day, when I think about America, I think about people from all over the world. Besides, I guess, Native Indians. I believe they are true Americans. But besides that, I think America was created on many people’s different cultural ideals and melting it all together. That’s why they’re so powerful and strong to this day. They have ideas from all over. Just people from everywhere, pretty much. I consider America to be a very powerful country, they are very influential, but however they do sometimes, certain things, where they just stir something up and just step aside and see what happens. That’s what they did in 2008. Russia wanted some land in Georgia. Georgia… we had friendly relationships with Russia but then America kinda’ like took our side, said that they would protect [indistinguishable]. Our Georgian president back then who got all his education in America went home and since 2005 ’till 2012, he really changed the whole mentality of Georgia. He already arrested all of these people who were criminals, mafia. There’s no corruption at all and he built new things. He wanted Georgia to go into the United Nations, but during all this process, I guess, he did two terms, 8 years, he kinda’ became a dictator. So people started hating him so they actually kicked him out and now they think the president is not really a president, he’s a vice president, but they’re so young and so inexperienced. I feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. I mean it was a success to get the word out, win the votes, not just corruption. People achieved what they wanted, that was great, but on top of that, we needed somebody who knows what they’re doing. They have a bunch of inexperienced young people in politics and government and there may be some wrong mistakes but it’ll take time, I believe, I can’t lose hope. But besides that, I’m grateful, man. America gave me all these opportunities, man, helped me out a lot. So I can only say great things about it. M: I know you said you weren’t really into politics, but what do you think about Russia today? L: Bullies. I believe they are vey bullies. They are very ignorant and I guess in some ways they are good for them, they don’t want to change, they don’t want to improve things–okay, I understand it, but you don’t have to stir some stuff up. You don’t have to influence others. You don’t have to take lands when they say no. You’ve got to let them be. So I believe Russia is a very powerful country. Not as powerful as they believe, actually, in my opinion, but I guess they have a lot of countries that are close to them that would kind of support them, but in my personal opinion, Russia is a bully. I can’t stand bullies. I kinda’ like it that Georgia is away from [indistinguishable]. I like it, but then again, you’re so close to them, they’re so huge, you kinda’ have to be careful what you gotta’ say, because they could easily do this–wipe us off the map and we’ve been coming from the fourth century and some stories in history books I read of fighting Chingis Kahn and all this and one thing he said, I believe, that stuck to my head that the two things he couldn’t conquer, Chingis–you know him, right? M: Yeah, he started Mongolia.

L: Yeah. Yeah, and also Shak Habas, he was an Ottoman king of the Ottoman Empire, Shak Habas, he mentioned that the two things he couldn’t conquer were death and Georgians. And when I heard that I was like, “woooow.” M: Wait, who said that? Chingis Kahn said this? L: No, Shak Habas. Shak Habas of the Ottoman Empire. But Mongolians, yeah, they came, the conquered us for a bit, but then we fought them off, we always fought them off, but with this era, this day and the technology, man, I don’t think it’s possible. I just want everybody to still be happy. I don’t want little stupid things to make them mad and [indistinguishable]. …but we are fearful of Russia, in that sense. M: So you said your brother works at… L: Charles Schwab. M: Charles Schwab. What’s the rest of your immediate family doing?

L: My mother was here for a minute. She actually came here at the age of 42. She went to school, got some education, she got some certificates as child development and other things. Then she worked at the workers compensation for about 8 years and then she went back home. I guess, for her, it’s much more difficult than it was for me because at that age you have all of the family and friends there. Me, for example, I was still young. That’s about it. My brother is here, he has a wife. He married a Brazilian woman, she’s wonderful. I joke with her about, Brazil’s loss the other day, she hates me for it. M: Hahahahaha!

L: I have a three year old nephew. I just adore him. I like him. I believe without coming to America, this family that I’m looking at wouldn’t happen. I’m just grateful [indistinguishable].


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.


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.