The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

Danbi Photo

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

By Danbi Kim, June, 2018

While immigrants flood into the United States with many fantasies, their expectations often conflict with the reality. Since I began working at City College of San Francisco, I have met a lot of friends who are immigrants to the United States. Kat, a Vietnamese who has recently arrived, is always busy working two part-time jobs as well as studying as a full-time student. Although she is always busy, she is optimistic and smiles all the time. Therefore, when I was assigned an oral history project, I wondered what her story was about how she ended up living in San Francisco. She was willing to share her story. In the article “Immigration and Integration in Post-Industrial Societies,” Naomi Carmon discusses changes in immigration flows and their impact on the receiving countries. Carmon notices that “the majority of immigrants to the United States are seeking ample opportunities, better jobs, economic advances, and upward mobility for themselves and their children when they decide to move to the United States” (13). As with other immigrants, Kat has dreamed of coming to the United States to achieve her American dream, receiving a great education at a renowned university, launching a professional career, and supporting her family financially. Although Kat came alone to the United States at a young age, full of excitement for the American Dream, her forced return to Vietnam due to her family’s financial difficulties lead her to have fear and uncertainty when she later immigrates back to America with her family; however, because she believes that living in the U.S. is the best opportunity for herself as well as her family, she has an even more optimistic on fulfilling her dreams than before.

Kat was born in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in 1997. With her uncle’s sponsorship, her family files for a family visa to the United States in 2003. When she is fifteen years old, Kat decides to study the 10th grade in the U.S. Kat studies at a private school as an international student for a year. She has a wonderful experience when she is at school. However, due to the costly tuition of a private school and family issues, she is forced to go back to Vietnam even though she does not want to. After she returns to Vietnam, she focuses on her life in Vietnam. In 2015, as the family visa is finally approved, her family decides to come to the United States and she has to follow her family to the U.S. in 2016. As she stays in America, she makes her future plans and currently looks forward to the future.

As Kat’s family files for a family visa to the United States in 2003 with her uncle’s sponsorship, they have a strong desire for the American dream in their minds. Many Vietnamese refugees have migrated to the United States escaping the Vietnam War and the fear of the communism since 1980. In the article “Vietnamese Americans,” Do Hien Duc explains the pattern of Vietnamese refugees arriving to the United States. Do mentions that a large number of Vietnamese refugees have come to the United States since 1975 to seek for asylum, and the U.S. government has enacted several policies that help refugees, such as a family reunification program. Because a lot of Vietnamese settle down in the United States, the majority of the Vietnamese who live in the home country, like Kat and her family, have fantasies of living in the U.S. Kat said, “If you ask any Vietnamese, they will say going to the United States of America is a wonderful choice. I mean, in the U.S. you have a better environment, work, and pay.” Like other Vietnamese people, her parents believe that immigrating to The United States is a better opportunity for Kat and Kat’s sister. As Kat has grown up, she has always dreamed of coming to America for better life. From when her family filed for the family-based immigrant visa to when she came, Kat prepared to come to the United States. For instance, she had a private English tutor and watched a lot of American dramas to learn about the U.S. culture. As she became familiar with English and the American culture, she felt excited that her dream was getting close. Like most Vietnamese, Kat and her family always kept their American dream deeply in their minds.

Although Kat’s American dream seems to be right on track, she is forced to go back to Vietnam due to her family issues, which breaks her American dream. Because her aunt convinces Kat’s mother to let Kat study in the U.S, Kat’s mother thinks it is a good opportunity for her future, so Kat decides to study for 10th grade at a private high school in Sacramento. Kat recalls her high school experience in Sacramento by saying that “there were no problems in my school. School was actually fine. Most of [the students there] are international students, so we were on the same page. It was easy to make friends, and I hung out with a lot of Vietnamese friends.” Because she has prepared for coming to the United States with her family visa, her English is not a problem in assimilating into a new culture. As she enjoys studying in the U.S., she feels that her American dream, getting a great education, starting a career, and supporting family, is getting closer. In the article “International students’ reported English fluency, social support satisfaction, and social connectedness as predictors of acculturative stress,” Christine J. Yeh studies what factors cause international students acculturative stress. Yeh mentions that “research investigations on international student populations have reported a variety of mental health and personal concerns including language barriers, financial difficulties, racial/ethnic discrimination, loss of social support, alienation, and homesickness” (16). After she hears that her parents no longer support her expensive tuition, ten thousand dollars a year, it causes her to suffer a tremendous stress level. She sorrowfully remembers this period as “a mental and emotional break time.” She cries every night at the kitchen because she doesn’t want to face the fact that she has to go back to Vietnam. She tries to find various ways to stay in the U.S., but the only way is to be an undocumented student. However, she is so scared of being an “illegal” immigrant and worries about having a dark future. Eventually, she is asked to come back to Vietnam due to her family’s financial difficulties as well as her relationship issues with her aunt, her guardian in the United States on the behalf of her parents. Before she came to the U.S, she had plans for her future, but now she needs to go back without accomplishing anything. The first experience of staying in the U.S. has shrunk her high expectations of the American dreams.

Although she worries about her return to Vietnam, her life regains a sense of normality, as she feels safe and comfortable with her family; as a result, her strong desire for the American dream fades away. Before she returns, she is very afraid of what other people think about her return. Kat says, “When I go to America, a lot of people know, right? It’s kind of embarrassing to go back. Like a lot of questions happened. ‘Why did you come back?’ So it was a very hard for me.” Once she is back to Vietnam, just like she had been concerned about, her friends wonder why she had to come back just after one year of staying in America. She feels uncomfortable and a lot of questions boost her stress level. Moreover, since she left for America right after she graduated middle school, she now not only has to take the high school entry exam, but also needs to study with friends who are one year younger than her. On the first day of school in Vietnam, she says, “Somehow people knew about the fact that I was back from the United States. I didn’t tell anyone.” For the first couple of months, a lot of attention is drawn to her; however, unlike her anxiety, the majority of them are so impressed that she stayed in the United States and no one is disrespectful to her. As time goes by, she is so busy focusing on her high school life in Vietnam that her American dream in her mind is gradually erased.

Her previous experience makes her hesitate to come to the United States a second time when her family visa is approved in 2015; while she needs to come with her family, it is with less eagerness than the first time. In the article “Homeostasis, stress, trauma, and adaptation: A neurodevelopmental view of childhood trauma,” Bruce D. Perry explains how traumatic childhood events influence the brain. Dr. Perry deduces that “use-dependent internalization of elements of the traumatic experience can result in the persistence of fear-related neurophysiologic patterns affecting emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social functioning” (33). Because her emotional breakdown experience shapes her memory, she feels worried as her bad memories overlap in her mind. Therefore, when she hears that her family visa is approved, she says, “If anybody asked me that question that do you want to go to the U.S., I would say I don’t want to go. That is 100% of my answer. I do not want to go.” She re-thinks the American Dream and she does not want to experience the solitary relationship problems with her cousin’s family, and a lot of financial difficulties. However, the whole family immigrates to the United States for the second time, so she feels less pressure and fear of doing it all by herself. Still, she is under a huge pressure, but at the same time, as she follows her parents, she has a little excitement that this time will be better than before and she will have a better future and a new life in front of her.

When Kat finally settles down in downtown San Francisco, she feels a little bit disappointed about the new circumstances; however, she is more eager to have a plan for her future again. Kat remembers her home in Vietnam: “We lived in spacious house. And when we come to America, like, we live in downtown San Francisco. It is like a very, very, tiny apartment. I share a bed with my sister in the closet. My parents and my uncle, all live in a small room.” Although different circumstances make her frustrated, they actually awaken her eagerness for the American dream. She clearly knows how much her parents sacrifice for her to come to the United States. Also, it is the starting point of her family’s American life; she believes that as long as she sticks her neck out, her American dream will be accomplished. She starts finding jobs to lessen her parents’ burdens, like paying rent, etc. She finds a job at City College of San Francisco as a student worker; this is helpful for her to manage her study and work at the same time. However, due to her financial aid, the hours that she is able to work at school are restricted. Therefore, she needs to find other jobs off campus. After she completes a lot of interview processes, she finally gets a job at UNIQLO for 16 hours per week. Although having two part-time jobs and maintaining good grades at school makes her overwhelmed, she is still positive because she believes that success is proportional to her efforts and pain.

As Kat’s passion and desire for the American dream is even stronger than before, she feels like she is getting closer to achieving her aspirations, becoming an ESL teacher. In the book They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration, Aviva Chomsky introduces 20 misconceptions about immigration. In the chapter “Today Immigrants are not learning English and Bilingual education just adds to the problems,” Chomsky points out that immigrants are eager to learn English by showing the reader the “jam-packed” ESL classes. Unlike the common misconception that immigrants don’t want to learn English, Kat’s parents enroll in an ESL course at City College of San Francisco and study every night in order to make an effort to assimilate into the U.S. culture. Because she knows that learning English is hard for their ages, she wants to help immigrants who are in the same situation as her and her parents. Kat currently volunteers at Project Shine, a service-learning program for immigrants and elderly students at City College of San Francisco. “I want to teach English for immigrants like my parents. So, they can adapt to American life because without English they can’t do much. I actually haven’t decided my major yet, but I am thinking about linguistics now” (Kat). As she volunteers, her hope gets bigger and firmer. “I have a mixed feeling that it is not like I don’t want to go back as much as I want to before.” No immigrant wants to go back to his of her hometown without accomplishing anything. Kat also may want to go back to Vietnam after she succeeds in her education and goals. This is the way that she can tell her friends and her remaining family members in Vietnam that she has fulfilled her dreams with much effort. So far, she has been living in America for two years. She is gradually approaching her future goal and moving forward with her stronger desire.

Although she came to the United States full of potential opportunities, the experience of her forced migration back to Vietnam due to her family’s problems made her less excited to have a second chance of the American Dream; she is overwhelmed by her workload and life in the U.S. but looks forward to seeing her bright future. Since many immigrants consider the United States as the land of freedom and opportunities, millions of people from all over the world are willing to seek their “American dream.”

Works Cited

Aviva Chomsky “They Take Our Jobs!”: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Beacon Press, 2007 – Social Science – 236 pages

“Interview with Kat.” Personal interview. 19 April 2018.

Carmon, Naomi, ed. 1996. Immigration and Integration in Post-Industrial Societies. New York:   St. Martin’s Press.

Do, Hien Duc. “Vietnamese Americans.” Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon Bronner, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1st edition, 2018. Credo Reference.

Perry, B. D., & Pollard, R. (1998). Homeostasis, stress, trauma, and adaptation: A neurodevelopmental view of childhood trauma. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 7(1), 33-51.

YEH, CHRISTINE J., INOSE, MAYUKO. “International students’ reported English fluency, social support satisfaction, and social connectedness as predictors of acculturative stress.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly. 2016, Vol. 29 Issue 3, p15-28. 14p. 2 Charts.

 

Sample Transcripts

Me : Introduce yourself?

Kat: My name is Kat. I’m 20 years old. I’m currently a student at City college of San Francisco. My major is an education. My family and I came to the USA on March 11 2017. I’ve been to the US for 13 months now. I came with my mom, dad and my uncle.

Me: How could you decide to come here?

Kat: Actually I didn’t decide to come. It was um…It just because my parents already get sponsorship with uncle. We filed the paperwork 12 years ago. When it finally came, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. So we just come here

Me: What do you think it is a good opportunity to come to USA?

Kat: If you ask any Vietnamese, they will say going to the USA is a wonderful choice. I mean in the U.S., you have a better environment, better work and better pay. And better education, too. So, one main reason my parents want to come here is for my education. Um.. They want me to have to study in the best environment. Out there. After that, I can get a good job and I can have a good life. So, it is more like my parents sacrifice for me. That way I think it is a good opportunity to come to the USA.

Me : do you think it is better choice to come here?

Kat: My impression of America wasn’t good before I came here. I came to the U.S when I was 15. I studied 10th grade as an international student in the U.S for a year. And that was a kind of dark time.

Me: Why it was a dark time?

Kat: At that time, it was my first time of America. And I was so excited. Because as a kid, I always tell everyone that I want to go to America to study. I was so excited, but then ..I mean when I came, I went to a private school, and the tuition was very expensive. When I first came, I went to a private school. So there was a lot of international students. The school is very small, it is only 60 students. And like ten students are international vietnamese students. So I hung out with a lot of my vietnamese people. There were other international students too. There are 40 international students, so we were basically on the same pages. So it was really easy to make friends and hang out with them. There was no problem at school, just I have a family issue.

Me: Where was the location? In California?

Kat: Yes. It was in Sacramento, California. The tuition is like 11 thousand dollars a year. My parents thought they could afford it. But then it terms out it kinds of bad. A lot of family issues happened. That’s why I had to go back to Vietnam. So during that time, it was a very emotional..dark time for me.

Me: did you come here alone at first time?

Kat: Actually, my parents came with me at that time. They were for traveling. For me, it was just for school. They stayed for 4 months with me. And they go back to Vietnam and I just stayed here. Actually, I stayed with my uncle family though. I wasn’t like that bad. I wasn’t alone. But still, I just remember that at nights I just went the kitchen and cried whole night. Because I felt very lonely. I had to face the reality of going back to Vietnam and staying in America.

Me: So at that time you don’t want to go back to Vietnam? Do you want to stay in America?

Kat: No. I don’t want to go back. Like the reason why I don’t want to go back is because when I go to America, a lot of people know right? It’s kind of embarrassing to go back. Like a lot of questions happened. Why did you come back? So it was a very hard for me. Then, I also have to face that what if I want to stay in America? Like if I stay in America, I don’t want to pay expensive tuition. I have to do it with illegal ways. I asked myself ‘Do I want to do that?’ But I was 15 years old. I was too scared like if I stay here, it is going to be illegal. I’m sure that I will have a really dark future. So that way I just have an emotional and mental break time at that time. So I decided to come back.

Me: language barriers?

Kat: My English was pretty good. I was able to study and communicate pretty well. Both me and my sister study English at very young age. Not only because we know that we will go to the U.S., but English is also an international language. So I actually study.. I actually have a private tutor who come to my house to teach English when I was like in 3rd grade. I had it until 5th grade. I also study English in middle and high school. But I didn’t learn a lot at school. But I actually learn a lot by listening to music and watching movies.

Me: Challenge living in the U.S?

Kat: In Vietnam, we lived in spacious house. And when we come to America, like we live in downtown San Francisco, it is like a very tiny apartment. I share a bed with my sister in the closet. My parents and my uncle, all live in a small room. I mean the life is definitely the opposite to life in Vietnam. But I mean I don’t really mind about it. If we live in a small space, that means we are gonna no such things of privacy but it’s kind of connecting family. That is how I try to make it positive. And in Vietnam, I didn’t have to work even though I was old enough to have a permit to work. But If I were in Vietnam, my parents would allow me to work anyway. In Vietnam, a lot of student do not have to work because their parents support them financially. Here in America, what amazed me is that everyone is really independent. They have to have part-time jobs and have to pay for rent and pay for their own things. So for me, right now I have two jobs, a student worker at office at CCSF and also worked at Uniqlo 24 hours a week as a part-time job to help paying for rent and for my own living expenses.

Me: Do you feel overwhelmed working 2 different part time jobs and studying as a full-time student?

Kat: When those days I work and when those week when I work is 22-34 hours, I definitely feel overwhelmed. Um.. I don’t have time to study and I always feel tired the whole time. But I want to cut down my hours so I can finish school. Because my parents always remind me that school is the most important things that I should focus on. And I always can make money later.

Me: feeling when you heard that your visa was processing that you were waiting for 15 years?

Kat: Right after I finish my high school, I know that my paperwork is almost done. So, I didn’t go to the University in Vietnam because I know that I am not going to study in Vietnam and I just have a whole gap in Vietnam. For the feelings, that was a mixed feeling. I kind of want to go but I don’t want to go because of my bad experience before. Actually, if anybody asked me that question that do you want to go to the U.S, I would say I don’t want to go. That is a 100% of my answer. I do not want to go.

Me: But this time, a whole of your family is moving to the U.S. But you still feel that way even though you don’t have to stay alone?

Kat: This time is better because whole family but actually my uncle he doesn’t want to go. This time my dad, mom, my uncle, and me came together. Four people. My sister came first. She came here as an international student in 2011. And then she got married. And she got a permanent resident in 2013. She was already here.

Me: any discriminations?

Kat: I actually have not experienced any racism and discrimination yet. A serious one yet. Because there are Vietnamese communities and a lot of Asian Americans in San Francisco. So I think my situation is alright, pretty good. And then like sometimes, I really feel like isolated and it’s kind of small in a group of non-Asian people. Like at school and work.. When I just walk down on the street, it is more myself that I kind of just feel less confident. Not necessary that people make me feel bad. It is just like me, it’s more likely me.

Me: things to miss the most in Vietnam?

Kat: the things that I miss the most is that my grandparents in Vietnam. My family there. Because my grandparents are old, so I want to go back and just spend the last year of their lives with them. Also, the food too. I don’t think the food here is as good as in Vietnam. Also, my friends. I cannot wait to go back and hang out with them.

Me: future goal? Your major?

Kat: I want to be a ESL teacher. Teach English for immigrants like my parents. So, they can adapt to American life because without English they can’t do much. There are education programs for children, but that is not what I want. For ESL teacher, you have to get a bachelor’s degree first. Any bachelor’s degree is fine. Then you need to get Master degree and get the teaching credential for ESL. For right now, I actually haven’t decided my major yet. It could be anything. I am thinking about linguistics now.

Me: Do you want to go back to Vietnam? Work in America?

Kat: That is what I have in mind too when I decide to my goal. Um.. If I am going to teach English, I can do it in both in America and Vietnam. But for me right now, I have a mixed feeling like It is not like I don’t want to go back as much as I want to before. But like if I go back, I don’t mind. If I live here, it is okay too.

Me: about your hometown?

Kat: I was grown up in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It is in south and it is the most modern and energetic city. It is a big city. My life was so good. I would say I had a very comfortable life in a spacious house. Like I have everything that I need there. I have money to go out with my friends over the weekend. I got a tutor for English class. It was a good life.

Me: How do your parents adapt to American culture. Unlike you they haven’t studied English at a young age. They were speaking fluently when they came to the USA?

Kat: Before coming to the USA, my dad actually took some English classes. He was a level 5. He was proud of himself. But because he learned it in Vietnam, he was taught by Vietnamese teachers, so they didn’t focus on speaking part a lot. His speaking skill wasn’t very good. I can barely understand what American people say now. When he came to the U.S., he couldn’t speak in English. Right now, my parents are taking ESL classes in city college. They are in level 2 now. They kind of have graphs about English now. They learn English every day.

Me: How was feeling when you land in SFO?

Kat: First thing was like air was so fresh. Back in Vietnam, air was polluted and so humid. Air was the best thing. I was kind of rough back memories for me because it is my second time I want to US. At the same time, I was so excited too. I’m going to have a whole new life here. My sister and my family came to greet us, so I was so emotional to me.

Me: Any hobbies?

Kat: I really like singing and playing piano. In Vietnam, I always sing and play piano but then now we are living in an apartment in San Francisco, it is so small that I can’t play anymore.

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My Dad’s American Dream

Nancy Mach Photo Montage

My Dad’s American Dream

by Nancy Mach, June 2018

The American Dream, what is it? Everyone has different ideas of it, but my dad has a very special one. To some people, as stated by scholar Ryan Kasser, “Pursuing material wealth is sometimes viewed as empty or shallow and as precluding investment in one’s family and friends, self-actualization and contributions to society.” Everyone’s idea of an American Dream is different. My dad has a very unique one that is not an American tradition. To the ordinary American, in general, “Financial success has long been a core component of the American Dream, and many of the values modeled and encouraged by modern society suggest that success and happiness depend on procuring monetary wealth” (Derber). As you read along, you will find the true purpose to life itself.

My dad’s story started out in Vietnam when his dream was simply safety and peace because it was dangerous there, giving him no choice but to leave. My dad is a big advocate for peace; he never stands up to anybody. My father’s home is America, which is more peaceful than Vietnam. My father, Donald Mach, was born in Vietnam and he is a remarkable man. He is a generous peacemaker. My dad is warm, thoughtful and devoted, the patriarch of the family. He very much takes good care of mom and me. In school, my dad loved to study math. He always got good grades. Vietnam, to him, was absolutely fascinating but there was a lot of turmoil. In Vietnam, there were a lot of robberies. People had to go to the army and never knew when they were going to die. Vietnam was going to be in war and was becoming communistic. There was a lot of anarchy. The United States of America was calm. America was much better than Vietnam in this way. The respect of human rights here is better. He recalls, “Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me.” My father’s identity is here in America. He’s already an American citizen. It’s fine here in the U.S., he says; even though his housing condition and lifestyle is in disarray, there are opportunities here in America that Vietnam does not have.

My dad’s first goal was to make it to the US and be free from Communism and war: that shaped his American Dream at that time. My father’s fantasy was to have a better life and come to the US for a better chance of landing a job and to send me to college. “I like it here better, because it’s easier to find a job here.” Almost every immigrant I’ve met would say that they came to America for a new life and a new beginning. America is a stepping-stone to start and to having a better chance for prosperity and success. “Americans have long been aware of our special circumstance. We think of America as a refuge for every human being who has ever dreamed of a better life and been willing to risk his or her own to come here and start over” (Rifkin 1). In the beginning, my dad wanted to search for the promise land, hoping that would get him to the American Dream, to get away from the tumult. He traveled to America by boat through the Pacific Ocean. There were no jobs available because of the Vietnam War. He was in the army while there was Communism. My dad stayed in the Philippines for half a year. It was really hard to survive in Vietnam. “It is better here in the US…more freedom.” He wanted me to do well in school, thrive, go to UC Berkeley, and live the better life that he couldn’t have in Vietnam. He was a refugee so he pressured me to achieve well in school. He doesn’t know much about American laws and traditions. Nor does he comprehend how to achieve the American Dream. All he knows is how to work hard and go to school. But later he finds that it’s what’s inside that counts because one can graduate from UC Berkeley but it doesn’t mean one’s life will automatically be prosperous and abundant. That’s how he sees his American Dream: to have an auspicious, safe and abundant life.

Even though my dad regrets choosing to live in the Tenderloin, which contains many drug addicts, homeless, filth, and poverty, and is the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco, his biggest goals were to find safety and harness his ability to survive with food and shelter, which has been accomplished! My parents’ current situation living in the Tenderloin has numerous problems but still he manages to find happiness. “I would much rather live in a house in the Monterey Heights than the Tenderloin but I know that wouldn’t solve all my problems.” My family lives in the Tenderloin, the most unfavorable part of the city in San Francisco. He has told me that he regrets not buying a house when he could have two decades ago. He regrets my mom’s decision to live in the Tenderloin. But even though he would like a house, he still thinks that even if he had one, what’s more important is having contentment and inner peace of heart and mind because he thinks that’s better than big thrills. Real estate prices have gone up more than 100%. He never harkened to my mother about buying our own home 20 years ago, when we could easily have afforded it. He was too scared to do it, and now it’s too late. There’s no way we can sustain a home a now. Everything has gotten worse in that neighborhood. It just keeps getting poorer, not better. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Every time I visit my parents at their apartment, there is feces, both dog and human, on the ground everywhere. There is broken glass, litter, and a foul odor. Drug addicts are lying on the ground. Their home is surrounded by homeless people. It’s so upsetting to me to walk back and forth and see tents and the homeless people can be so rude! They can toss out insults at me all the time. I feel bad, not just him, but for myself. It’s awful. There’s nothing I can do. It is terrible. I feels like it is hell walking through all those homeless people. To him, it is quite vulgar but there is nothing that can be done. He just wants to remain optimistic. “I don’t like it but there nothing to do.” The apartment I had to live in with them in is said to be haunted. The last resident there had warned us that there had been a woman that had passed there and that the house was haunted, but my mom cared not to listen. My dad wanted me to do well in school, which is any parents’ dream for their kids. He wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. That’s what my parents wanted for me, to be successful. I have so much bitterness towards my mother. I hate her. We don’t get along. I feel so angry with my mom. Why did she choose to live in the Tenderloin when there are so many other places like Cole Valley, Haight, Richmond, Sunset, etc.? Why, oh why, did they choose a frightful place like the Tenderloin? I cannot comprehend her decision at all, though one can still make the best of life in every given situation. For example, one can live in a mansion with demons or be a doorman in heaven. He still has achieved relative safety and peace.

While places like the Monterey Heights neighborhood with luxury cars, and materialism is a depiction of the American Dream for some people, that Dream is different from my dad’s. He realizes that this depiction shown in the photo montage may cause distress and huge anxiety to others. My dad thinks people with money seem to control and manipulate others by showing off their material possessions. I agree with him; people dress to impress and spend thousands on clothes, perfume, shoes, eyelash extensions, handbags, tanning, makeup, waxing, nails and even cosmetic surgery just to prove their point. “First, Emmons (1991) found that personal strivings for power (desires to control, impress, or manipulate others) were associated with more negative affect and more distress” (Kasser and Ryan 410). People will drive nearby City College with their nice cars just to show off what they have. In the journal article “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream: A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success,” by Carol NickersonNorbert SchwarzEd Diener, they deduce, “The American Dream of financial success has negative consequences for various aspects of psychological well-being.” Basically, as the family income increases, the happiness decreases because the more they want money, the less the family is happy.

My dad says when one sees money as a means of success, he or she will fail to achieve happiness. Despite the popular belief that wealth, fame, money and fortune can bring happiness, my dad envisions the American Dream, which he carried with him from Vietnam to America, to involve working towards one’s individual success through goals while maintaining a harmonic balance of one’s self through good morals and values. My dad sees the contrast between celebrities and the super-rich and the poor in the Tenderloin as misleading, and realizes that wealth is not the answer to life. Despite all these riches, they can’t bring happiness. My dad feels that it’s better to be rich inside than to sell one’s soul for fame and fortune. In America, there are people like Rihanna, Donald Trump, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande, the ultra-rich, and then there’s my dad and me, who are low income. There’s a big difference between the two. There are the super-rich, and the super-poor. When my dad walks downtown, he sees homeless people begging for money, the Tenderloin (a neighborhood filled with poverty and drugs), and Glide Memorial Church (a soup kitchen); he’s saddened by the fact that the contrast between the two is so unfair and treacherous. On one hand, the wealthy tourists are coming out of the Hilton Hotel in Union Square holding shopping bags, coming out of Louis Vuitton; then the other hand, a homeless person sits down asking for change. Stated by Deci et al., “Higher control orientations have been shown in past research to be associated with less self-actualization, more concern with what others think and less-emotion-behavior congruence.” People may care more about how they look and their material possessions than the human beings around them. There are men and women alike who love to shop, are obsessed with shallow and superficial things, and don’t care for things that truly matter like education, love, and family. There are young and rich people that get everything they want, go shopping all the time, don’t have to work, and live in nice houses, but in the end they turn out to be miserable. Some things are more important than cosmetics and clothes. Being rich and shopping all the time for beauty products can be nice but in the end, fashion fades. Education is forever. Nobody can take away one’s education. Education, love and family should be more valued because they are what truly matters. He sees people drive Downtown or by his workplace with their hot cars just to show off their possessions. Wealth cannot bring one happiness.

My dad thinks the process of going from rags to riches doesn’t mean automatic happiness, proving that famous people falter even having millions of dollars. To my dad, if he’s happy with making life goals and reaching them, that’s what is more important. What’s more important, what people think about each other and what car one drives, or their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing? To my father, how he feels inside is more important than where he lives and whether he takes the bus. He has told me before that one can have all the money in the world but be poor in every other way. If one has nothing in their life but money, that is not an abundant and prosperous life. That is more like death. He feels many people who are super rich and have everything commit suicide and become drug addicts. My dad thinks a good example is Lindsay Lohan. He feels that she had everything young girls could ever want. She had beauty, talent, intelligence, fame and fortune. There was nothing she lacked. She was the girl every guy wanted and the one that all the girls want to be. Well, look at her now. She did a 180 degree. She was beautiful and young and her life started to go into a downward spiral. She started to act out as a bad girl by partying and doing drugs like cocaine and crack. It started to show physically by her aging and becoming very homey. Now she lives in Dubai, where she is hiding out so that no paparazzi can take photos of her. She let the fame get to her and now she cannot turn back. Once she was young and had it all and the next thing she looks like she’s 69 years old when she’s only 31! So there it goes to show that money doesn’t bring happiness. My dad is right. “Is the content of goals and values differentially associated with the well-being of the individuals who hold them?” (Ryan and Kasser 280). Isn’t true that inside is what matters? The goals and values that one has should matter and what one individual’s wellbeing of mind, body, and spirit matters more than what makeup or outfit a woman is sporting. One may have $2000 in their pocket walking Downtown, yet one can feel like the most miserable person in the universe or another person can have only $100 and be the happiest person on earth. True story.

My dad thinks rags to riches is not what he values and I agree with him. I say look at the superstar female rapper Cardi B. She claims, “Everybody got different beliefs and different religions and were raised differently, yet you also supposed to be careful you don’t offend somebody. Everybody gets bothered about everything. Everybody got a fucking opinion about you. You always got to filter yourself.” She claims that she was happier before she got famous. I agree. She said she had more privacy. “Abraham Lincoln, our most legendary, charismatic president, embodied both myths of the American Dream: the rags to riches, materialist myth of individual success and the egalitarian moralistic myth of brotherhood” (Fisher 2). Focusing on goals and achievements like motivation, organization and preparation skills, and works hard every day to make the next day better is surely more valuable than just shopping and obsessing over shallow things. Fashion and beauty trends come and go because they are like sand on a beach that get washed up by the waves. One needs to build a life with stones and brick that will last through the storm.

Being in the present moment and enjoying life as it comes along is having peace and harmony, is what my dad values, and that’s a lot better than being a hamster in a windmill. It is like when one is going, going, and going but not making any progression. It is like running around in circles going nowhere. When all we are doing is chasing after what we desire for the future instead of living in the present hour losing inner peace. “If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and have self-worth. And making goals to make yourself better matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.” To my dad, life is like a rat race when one is trying madly to get that degree, get that luxury car, and get that job. He thinks it’s like a hamster in the windmill, running round and around and getting nowhere. He says that’s a lot like life to many people. Why, when all one needs is what one already has inside? My dad thinks values like abstinence or sobriety are more important than driving a beamer. “You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving them, and happy with your life, that’s what matters to me.” He says if one is happy with what they have now and not just what they are waiting for next week, that’s a sign that one has got to stop and smell the roses. It’s important to live in your body and not just in your mind. “The American Dream Nixon personifies [is] an image more in harmony with their present, predominate self-concept…” (Fisher 1). My dad feels that when you focus on the present moment and the concept of right now, life is easier to handle. Tim Kasser and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester writes in the journal article “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals,” “Only money (e.g., achieving financial success), family security (e.g., a stable home life), and global welfare (e.g., world peace) are of interest here, corresponding to financial success, affiliation, and community feeling domains, respectively.” If it’s who our friends are, what neighborhood we live in, and how much money one has that ultimately defines people, life is so depressing. So if one lived in the Tenderloin and was low-income and had unattractive friends, does that mean he or she is a loser? It must make those people feel lowlier than someone who lives in the Beverly Hills, is gorgeous and has beautiful friends. That sounds pretty shallow because it doesn’t mean the rich person is happier. One may drive a Toyota and be happier than somebody who drives a Jaguar.

My dad thinks that inner peace is better than being wealthy and living in grief and sadness. “The overall likelihood of attaining one’s aspirations was positively related to self-actualization and vitality” (Fisher 413). According to my dad, aspiring for the little, simple things are more important than fame and fortune. “And it is naturally opposed by those who place highest value on moral rather than material goods” (Fisher 161). It’s his own choice and declaration what he want to do with his life and make his own destiny. So his dreams can flourish and his goals can be achieved. He wants me to graduate from CCSF, get a certificate and land a career. He may not like it in the Tenderloin just as much as I do. He’s not happy about it but he wants to make the best of every situation. “You feel good inside, good enough, you know.” He’s wise in knowing that. “Self-acceptance assesses aspirations for individual psychological growth, self-esteem, and autonomy. Research on values has found the related domains of self-direction and maturity” (Schwartz & Bilsky). Exactly, being free, being a grown adult, growing psychologically, having confidence in onerself, and aspiring for one’s dreams: that’s the definition of my dad’s American Dream.

After all, my dad’s life has the basic foundation of happiness which is safety, food, housing, family, and a job which he is ever grateful for because he has exactly what he needs and needs nothing more. He never got to make the traditional American Dream (like everyone else) but just the fact that he’s here instead of in Vietnam is enough. “Communism … I like Capitalism better.” He never got to make millions of dollars. It’s either a life or death situation living in Vietnam. “I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important.” To my dad, America has been very helpful. It gave him a job, retirement, a wife, a daughter, and more importantly, abundance, peace, prosperity, and joy. He will be able to retire and can live life joyfully. He can be happy because he has wisdom and inner sense of peace and contentment.

My dad feels that inner peace, harmony, and good morals matter most. Abstaining from sex, purity, and waiting for the right person is always a good thing. Sex is like a lawnmower: if one doesn’t know how to work it, it may cause great damage. When a woman gives her most precious body to a man that does not respect and truly care for her, it is a waste and painful for the woman herself. Also, having a clean sobriety and not smoking and drinking is not only good for the physical health but also for the mental health as well. Drugs are very awful and can cause great harm to one’s life. It may ruin a person’s entire life permanently. It is like selling one’s soul; once it’s gone, it is gone forever. The true American Dream is not wealth and materialism. Having goals, values, good morals, and self-individual success, and striving for world peace is vital to living the American Dream. My dad thinks that money does get people a lot of things. Money gets people almost everything one can dream of. Money is seductive and if people have nice houses so cars, they thnk they are living well. Plus they have more financial freedom. My dad’s initial dream was to have peace in his homeland and to get away from the pandemonium. He needed a job to survive, a place to live and be safe. Since he has achieved those dreams, his new dreams are different as I have pointed out this whole time. He feels if he’s motivated, works hard, and has excellent preparation and organization skills, that will take him far in daily life, which will make one quite a success in itself. Although my dad asks, “Who doesn’t want money?” he wants money too, and feels money is universal. It makes everybody happy. Then again, if one is depressed and goes on shopping sprees, the happiness is only temporary. He says, “It is instant gratification but that doesn’t last long.” My dad thinks that attaining and improving one’s life every day is a good motivational tool for happiness and self-fulfillment. He feels that if ones’ life is full of abundance and prosperity even if it’s invisible, that’s what one should be striving for. Just because someone has money does not automatically mean their life is abundant. The American Dream is setting the right goals and values for oneself, living presently in harmony with others, having one’s own aspirations, one’s own concept of individual success, being morally good, behaving in a brotherly way, and striving for world peace. This is the true meaning to life and the dream of not just Americans but the whole world.

Works Cited

Charles S. CarverEryn Baird. “The American Dream Revisited: Is It What You Want or Why You Want It That Matters?”; First Published July 1, 1998;http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9280.00057

Nancy E. Hill and Kathryn Torres. “Negotiating the American Dream: The Paradox of Aspirations and Achievement among Latino Students and Engagement between their Families and Schools” First published: 09 March 2010;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2009.01635.x/full

Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 22, no. 3, 1996, pp. 280–287., doi:10.1177/0146167296223006.

Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 65, no. 2, 1993, pp. 410–422., doi:10.1037//0022-3514.65.2.410.

Mach, Donald. “The American Dream.” 1 May 2018. Oral History Project; English 1A; Dr.    Steven Mayers; CCSF; Nancy Mach

Carol NickersonNorbert SchwarzEd Diener. “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success”  First Published November 1, 2003;

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.0956-7976.2003.psci_1461.x

 

Sample Transcripts

Do you like living in your apartment in the Tenderloin? No, but I have no choice. I cannot afford a home in a nicer area right now.

Do you like flowers? Yes, I like looking at them. I would like to grow some if I could.

What are your wishes? A nicer home, a better happier, and lifestyle

What is your favorite neighborhood? Monterey Heights. It’s beautiful there. Safe, no litter, no homeless, quiet and serene.

What did you do when you were young? When I was young I loved to play Ping Pong.

Where do you wish to live? I would wish to have a happier life in the Monterey Heights

Do you like living in the in the Tenderloin. No I don’t. I am disgusted by the like the litter, smell, and the drug addicts.

What is your favorite food? I like to eat Vietnamese food.

Do you speak English well? I know a little only.

If you could go back to Vietnam would you? No, only to visit but not to live. It is better here in the U.S. …more freedom.

What do you like about USA? I like it here better. Because it’s easier to find a job here.

Is San Francisco cheap or expensive? San Francisco is a wonderful place but rent is very expensive. It’s hard to live here. I want to own a home.

What color would You paint your own house? I would love to paint the exterior of my house yellow

What do you think about the drug addicts and homeless around your area? I don’t like them but living here is closer to my job. I work in a hotel nearby Union Square.

Have you ever done drugs? No, I never have done drugs. And I’m glad I never had. They are bad for you.

How was Vietnam like? Vietnam is very pretty and very beautiful

To you what is the real reason you came to America?

I dream of making success I come and find a job and have a family. And have retirement plan. So I could go on vacations. I see the American dream would like to have a safe home to live. A happy home, auspicious. But if you cannot do that what really matter is that you are happy inner self happy. If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and self-worth. And you make goals to make yourself better that matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.

What are your wishes?

My wish is that you can be happy even though I did not give u born an American dream. I want you to be happy by inside. And how you feel about your own life. Happiness is not just from material stuff from your money is from your inside.

Are you happy? Are you okay? Why do you always frown? I am worried about you.

I am stuck there is nothing I can do. That’s life. But at least I can eat and sleep and I am not homeless. It could be worse. Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me. I just want you to do well you can move on to where a nice place you want to live and be independent. I want you to be happy and successful in your own life. You are free you are over 18. No longer dependent on me. I want a happier life. I want a better future and lifestyle but it’s hard right now. But I have a job and I have retirement plan that is okay with me.

How do you think the American dream is like?

It is a lie that American dream mean money you can have a lot of money but be miserable. Happiness come from in your heart and inside your soul. If you happy with every day happen that’s why you happy inside. You can be poor inside and rich with money. I want a nice house so I could enjoy but I cannot. In America it is always about car or house you own to show off. If your life is direction that good enough. You feel good inside good enough you know?

If you are depressed don’t you think you should take medication?

I’m fine. Medication will just make things worse. I had told your mom we want to live in Richmond or Sunset and she don’t listen. Too late now. I hate walking around here it is like hell. Dirty everywhere, bad people. But Vietnam worse a lot of robbery and danger. Communism … I like Capitalism better.

What is your idea of an American Dream?

I would like to have a pretty home in a safe area. I’m sorry I not give that for you. I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important. And provide for me and mom. Either way I proud of you what you become. You work hard and you are beautiful girl.

Where else would you want to live at?

Ideally I want my house in Ingleside or Sunset or Richmond somewhere safe. Living here is so stress and strife for me. I don’t like it but there nothing to do. I cannot afford.

What about me now?

I know you are grown and you are now 30 and you can choose your own life. You no need to depend on me and mom.

Sorry I did not fulfil your dream to go to UC Berkeley.

You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving and happy with your life that’s what matters to me. It doesn’t matter for you to have a car or driving, as long as inside you are know you do good. You are happy with inside yourself. If you happy then I happy too.

What would you have done different?

I regret not buying a house sooner. I am so regret. I hope things can change. Hopefully you do well in your life and things can get better if you work hard in school. Sorry I didn’t give you a good life with an American dream.

Are you happy?

Don’t worry for me. Worry for yourself. I can take care of myself. I am a big now. It’s okay you don’t need money to be happy. You are happy already. I don’t need to be rich to be happy. As long as I can have food on my table and roof over my head I am happy. When I in Vietnam cannot survive, die anytime.

If you had one wish what would it be?

I would love to have beautiful, big house in a beautiful neighbor and a lot a lot a lot money but the most important thing is happiness inside if you happy inside that you got it. You broke no money and happiest in the world. And you can be walking in Union Square $5000 in pocket and you most miserable. Life is what you make. You already learn from me. You know me. I tell you all the time. Yes there’s homeless outside so what inside is okay. Just don’t go out at night. Rent is cheap here. You go elsewhere rent too expensive.

What makes you happy?

I like play Ping Pong. And Chinese Chess and Listen to Chinese Music and watch Vietnamese movie or Hong Kong Movie. Happiness it comes from inside, a nice feeling in your soul. No materialistic thing. Wake up and drink a coffee. Having a roof, food and eating, have a family, have people that truly love you not false love care. Being safe. Have peace. Be peacemaker. No enemy. Everywhere mom go she has enemies. Don’t make enemy with no-one. Be peaceful.

Explain more.

Make goals and achieve them. Everyday things that you make to learn to grow. Every day is new day. A new present to open. Christmas present. People learn from their own mistake. You make mistake, you learn. You go through big suffer and you go stronger. Am I right? Life is fair. Do you know what I went through in Vietnam? Now look at my life now. You go through rotten thing and you get stronger. I always teach you these thing peace is the answer. No enemies.

So, what matters is how you feel inside and not if you’re rich and drive a Rolls Royce or Bentley?

Exactly. Rich people sometime kill themselves they not happy. You have all the money in the world and not happy. Life is grow and learn that it. If you enjoy your life you rich inside. Now if you rich inside that’s the secret. Simple. Just keep life simple. Me and mom never go out or vacation or buy house. We have food and shelter that what matter to us. No need for those extra things. Waste money.

 

A Window in the Dark

philip-wong-image-1

A Window in the Dark

by Steven Wong, December 2016

This is about my mother, the hardships she endured to support her family, and the sacrifices she has made for us. She was born in Fa dao, China. Back in her school years she was always a good student, earning almost all A’s in her classes until she graduated from high school. There was no college to attend so she went to the work recruitment office and signed up for work. Her first job was in the chemical department of a factory that manufactured ammonia. She dealt with coal remains from midnight until the morning, containing and disposing them when she was only sixteen years old. Her next job was at a clothing warehouse, where she quickly rose to the rank of supervisor and then to inspector because of her hard work. Her aunt then introduced her to a man who was from the U.S. and who eventually became my dad. There were already signs pointing out that he wasn’t who her aunt had said he was, but my mother accepted the marriage proposal anyway, not for her own happiness but for her mother’s; her mother never came to the U.S. and always wanted to come. Although my mother had never been here and did not know the language, she came along to the U.S. She studied wherever she could although she didn’t know English, so she would always have her translator with her. From one job to another, she kept finding ways to make more money so she could support her children. She chose to give up her teen years to work and relieve some financial stress on her parents, gave up being able to choose who to spend her life, and has endured physical and emotional abuse in order to be in her children’s lives.

In China, instead of going out to party like other teenager would do, she helped support her family after she finished high school, and immediately went to the work recruiting office to get a job at a factory working in the chemical department. Her job was to maintain the coal remains to make sure they weren’t going everywhere by spraying them down once in a while. Then she would dispose of the coal remains by shoveling them into a big cart and pushing it to be dumped. About the time when she was working there, she said, “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me.” My mother worked in a factory, which was a rough environment, and was doing what was considered a man’s job, not a job for a sixteen-year-old girl, but she did it in order to support her family. She also worked in a clothing factory, at which she quickly rose to the inspector supervisor position due to her hard work and dedication, to support her family. In the article “Where Are All the High School Grads Going?” which hypothesizes about why high school graduates choose to work over college, Alia Wong, a researcher, states, “They are also the ones who can land jobs that aren’t traditionally associated with higher-education degrees—blue-collar fields such as manufacturing, mining, and agriculture.” Because my mother didn’t have a college degree and needed to support the family, she chose to work in factories and warehouses instead of doing what any other teenager would.

My mother sacrificed the biggest parts of a person’s life and happiness in exchange for her mother’s happiness. My mother’s transition from China to the U.S., started with her marriage, which brought her over to the U.S. since my father was already an American citizen at the time. Recalling when she was about to get married, she said, “I wasn’t happy or sad about it I was just like whatever. I didn’t really care.” Although she didn’t like my father, she married him just because my grandma had never been to the U.S. before and she always wanted to go so my mother married my father to fulfill my grandma’s wish. She sacrificed one of the biggest parts of her life, marrying someone she didn’t even like, leaving everything in China to go to a new country she had no knowledge of: “When I got here, I didn’t know any English and was at Safeway. I didn’t even know how to say excuse me.” She allowed herself to come to America without knowing the language and having to learn to communicate. She said, “I was going to adult school and working at the warehouse across the block every day. I worked [whenever] there wasn’t school including Saturday and Sunday.” She worked hard and put herself into school so she could survive and afford to take care of my sister and I. She put herself through adult school and worked at the same time with no free time for herself. With this persistent dedication to adapt in order to provide for her children, she sacrificed her last chance at youth and happiness.

In the year 2008, my mother was extremely generous to my father even though he was cheating on her, but in order to keep the family together, she endured it for months. In August, my father came back from a trip to Vietnam. He had met up with a woman that he had been friends with. He called her his girlfriend. Every night around one in the morning he would call back to Vietnam to talk to her and my mother didn’t care about it too much until three weeks later. She asked him, “Are you serious? It has been almost a month and you’re still calling this late at night?” She gave him an ultimatum and told him he could call until the end of September. She wouldn’t care but if he called anymore after that she would divorce him so he could be with his girlfriend in Vietnam. I guess my father didn’t like the idea of my mother leaving him so he was trying to come up with any reason to make her feel as if she had done things to wrong him as well, although all those arguments were unreasonable and incomparable to him cheating. She said that “He yelled at me all night for about a week for any small reasons he could think of.” On those nights my father would yell at my mother. I sat there watching, making sure he didn’t cause any harm to her; I watched her look to the floor, not replying to him as he was yelling throughout the night. He stopped and it was almost two in the morning. Sarah Buel, a Colorado lawyer, said in “Fifty Obstacles of leaving,” her article about why domestic violence victims stay, “The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill her and the children if she attempts to leave” (Buel 19). She could have left during those nights but chose to stay with her children thinking my father would harm us if she left.

My father did not let my mother go to work during those times; his reason for not letting her go to work was that she “worked too much,” although he didn’t help support the family financially for years; she had to work. A couple of nights later, he brought her into their room and locked the door. The yelling was more violent that night. My younger brother and I were standing outside in the dark hallway listening as we were coming up with possible ways to get our mother out of that room. We decided to get pool sticks from the living room and we ran back to the door thinking of ways that we could approach this. The yelling got louder. As I stood there I thought that that was enough and we really needed to get her out. We hid the pool sticks around the corner. I opened the door and pushed it in, but the chain latch was still holding the door. I yelled to him as I was pounding on the door. “OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!” My father stopped yelling for a bit as he turned towards the door. This was it I thought, time to finally end all this yelling. He closed the door and unlatched the chain. He opened the door and yelled “FUCK ME? FUCK YOU!” As I saw my mother just standing there crying over his shoulder, I pushed him aside to go to my mother. I told her that we should go outside. My father grabbed me by the collar of my sweater. I yelled at him warning him that if he ripped my sweater I would hit him. With that being said, he ripped my collar, probably thinking that I wouldn’t do anything. I pushed him down to the side of the bed and he rolled on top of me so I punched him on his head but I held back my strength because he was old. He got off of me and I took my mother outside. He came out to the living room on the phone with his best friend telling him that I had hit him and he was bleeding. He said that his disobedient son hit him, and was making me seem like the bad guy since he didn’t tell his friend the whole story of why I had hit him. He yelled at me saying that I would get struck by lightning for hitting him, but I thought that at least he’s stopped yelling at my mother; things calmed down that night and my mother went to sleep with my sister at 10 pm. She could have left and run away but didn’t know what he would do to us children out of anger if she left. The following day he snapped, and was yelling, “Are you sure you want a divorce?” My mother replied with a yes. He swiftly and violently walked into the kitchen and I could see that he was searching for something in the drawers until the swinging door closed behind him. He grabbed a meat cleaver. Slamming the door open, he quickly walked towards my mother, towering over her with the cleaver over her head, threatening to kill my her; luckily, I was there watching as always so I grabbed his hand and pried the cleaver out of his hand as I shoved him away. After that afternoon, my mother felt that it was no longer safe for her to stay home so she called up her younger brother to pick her up since he was in town. My uncle was bigger than my father so he picked my mother up. My father didn’t stop her from leaving. In an article of an interview by Sonia Nazario, “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family,” she said:

“She followed Enrique north a few years later, leaving their daughter, Katerin Jasmín, behind. Enrique was determined that his daughter not endure the long separation he had faced, so when Jasmín was 4, he sent for her to come to Jacksonville, Fla., where the family had established a home.”

My mother left us knowing that I would be able to protect my siblings and that she would come back for us. The lady next door saw my mother and uncle leaving. She waved them over. She invited them inside and already had a gist of what was going on so she told my mother, “Ever since you guys moved next door I heard yelling frequently. Can you tell me what’s going on? Do you need help?” My mother replied that she shouldn’t say anything and that she was scared to say anything because she didn’t want to endanger her. My neighbor told her that it was okay, and she was more worried that something would happen if she didn’t step in. She asked my mother if she had gone to the police yet and if she had filed charges for domestic violence. My mother replied, “No, I didn’t know that kind of service existed.” My neighbor told her that she would call domestic violence services for her. Like my mother, many other immigrant women have no knowledge of public services that are available. In a survey asking 400 Vietnamese and Korean women participants how they feel about domestic violence, whether they feel if it is okay or okay to an extent, and if they had the knowledge of services that would be able to help them, by Mikyong Kim-Goh, a professor in the Master of Social Work Program at California State University, and Jon Baello, a researcher in the Department of Research and Evaluation at Paramount Unified School District, the results concluded: “First, the findings of the study suggest a need for active community education and outreach targeting less acculturated, more recent immigrant groups.” Kim-Goh says that there should be more knowledge of services throughout communities, especially in communities in which immigrants have recently migrated to the U.S. If my mother ha known of the services before, she probably would have left my father years before this incident. So after hearing about domestic violence services, she decided to give them a call. Domestic violence services told her that they would process her and find her a shelter, and in the meantime they offered to get her a hotel room.

My mother had to leave first to find a shelter that was in a livable condition so she could bring us after. My father still drove us to school like always after that but he didn’t bother us. After a couple of days went by, after school when my father came to pick my sister and I up, he was venting to us about how our mother took our little brother away. My sister and I were confused that we didn’t get picked up too. That night he went out scouring places where he thought my mother would be, and I felt abandoned thinking that our mother was supposed to pick us all up. My father was really mad because his youngest son was his favorite child, so I felt that my sister and I were going to be in danger. My sister slept in my room as I sat there with the chair against the door, making sure that I kept my sister safe. About a week went by, and I was sleeping in class when suddenly I was told to go to the vice principal’s office. I thought it was because I was sleeping in class. But I was met by a police officer and my sister in the vice principal’s office, and was told that we were going to be sent to a shelter where my mother and brother were already hiding. At that moment I found out that my mother hadn’t abandon my sister and I but she was leaving first to find a place, and she didn’t want to be alone so she took our little brother along: she had always planned to come back for us and she did. In an article about why some parents that are victims of domestic violence leave first and then send for their family after called “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants,” by Nancy Landale, a Professor of Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University, she says:

“One particularly troubling difficulty posed by migration is that it can separate child from their parents, either because one family member migrates first and later brings over other family members (stage migration) or because a parent is deported or deterred fro the dangerous border crossing.”

Immigrants parents first migrated without their family to make sure they have a stable living condition before they bring their family so that they are able to survive. Like my mother she left without us because she felt that even she had no idea where she was going and that she had to make sure she had a place to go before she sent for us.

I recently painted my mother when she worked in the factory as a girl, with dark colors and the smudges on her face representing how dirty it was, and the bright orange coal for the hot and dangerous environment. I portrayed her as a small girl pushing a cart of coal remains bigger than her. In the painting she struggles to push the cart signifying that this job is obviously not for a small sixteen-year-old girl, but she does it to help earn money to support the family. “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart, so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me,” she recalls. She worked after midnight so I drew a clock showing that it was after midnight. The smudges on her face show how dirty and rough it was in the warehouse and how she was willing to do almost anything to support her family. I used dark colors to portray how unpleasant the job was. I only painted one part of the factory because I wanted to focus on the department she worked in, the chemical department. I painted a bright orange in the coal to emphasize that it was still hot and inside the factory it was hot, to show that the job was a hazardous job.

I also pained a sunset framed by a round window of an airplane, against the dark inside of an airplane, to contrast the new world she was looking forward to, in contrast with with the dark old world, where she worked so hard. The light of the new world is glowing into the plane in hopes of changing her old world. I drew a sunset because it shows how beautiful San Francisco was while my mother wasn’t happy in the picture or sad, since she came here just to fulfill her mother’s dream of coming to the U.S.

She gave up the biggest parts of her life so that life for her family would be better. Although she could have made different choices, she put her family before her own wants and happiness, because all mothers want what’s best for their children and all children want to repay their parents by relieving them from work hard. She gave up her teen years to support her family, gave up being able to choose who she want to be with for the rest of her life, gave up her homeland, her friends and did it all for her family.

Works Cited

Landale, Nancy S. “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants.” EBSCO. Future of Children, Spring 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Kim-Goh, Mikyong. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence in Korean and Vietnamese Immigrant Communities: Implications for Human Services.” EBSCO. Ed. Jon Baello. Journal of Family Violence, 15 May 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Buel, Sarah M. “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, A.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.” EBSCO. Family Violence, Oct. 1999. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Nazario, Sonia. “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family.” Google Scholar. N.p., 14 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

Wong, Alia. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence.” The Atlantic, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

Vietnam photos by David Staniszewski, 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

Some people say that the 20th century was the deadliest time in the history of humanity; indeed, this is arguable. What is not arguable is the amount of death during the American intervention in Vietnam. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Vietnam was in a civil war between pro-communists in the north and nationalists in the south. Civil wars occur when a country faces an identity crisis. The Hua family, from Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, was brought into the chaotic environment of the war. Sang Hua, the youngest son, was enlisted and sent off to fight alongside the other South Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese captured Sang after which he endured forced exile and horror for seven years. Some of the Huas moved to Germany in fear of the war, with attempts to save themselves from the bloodshed.  After the war, the remaining Hua’s would move to the country of their invaders: the United States. The American involvement in Vietnam, though attempting to aid the south, made things worse for people in South Vietnam, and Sang Hua would have to learn to accept this as he moved his family to America. Because of the war, the Huas wanted to find refuge and redefine their family as Americans. Ai Le, Sang’s daughter, would be forced to construct a new American identity, and would do this by embracing her culture and past. Even though the core of the Hua family was destroyed, and the family was coercively fragmented, as Vietnam broke into multiple identities, the Huas became whole again. Fragmentation can lead to the destruction of any household’s identity, and the Hua family understands this aspect of war; however, not all families are capable of rebuilding their relations and identity. The Hua family was coercively fragmented during the war, and Sang remembers his family’s traditions and art to maintain his old identity, and create a new one; Ai Le, Sang’s daughter, would also embrace her family’s past traditions and art while attempting to establish her new American identity in the United States.

While Vietnam underwent its first civil war, when the internationally recognized name of the country changed from French-Indochina to North and South Vietnam, the Hua family’s identity would be assaulted by the policies aimed at marginalizing Buddhist Vietnamese; however, Sang would use tradition to rebuild his identity. The Hua family is from the Bien Hoa region of Vietnam, the South Central area on the Vietnamese peninsula. They have a Taiwanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese background. Sang Hua’s struggle for his identity would come at a very young age because the national policies would fragment his family. He would grow up in an increasingly violent society, and would bear witness to horrid atrocities. After the French had left the country, Prime Minister Diem would kill an estimated 12,000 people for having pro-communist tendencies; these incidents would ultimately lead to civil unrest. Civil unrest, then, is caused by families questioning the identity of the nation, of its policies, and of its leaders.  Prime Minister Diem would start instituting pro-Catholic doctrines to appease the West, which would eventually cause even more loss of support by the majority Buddhist Vietnamese because it marginalized them. The Huas, being Buddhist themselves, would naturally feel isolated by the regime. While reminiscing on her family’s traditional background and practice, Ai Le says, “Not extreme but not a little: we’re vegetarian on Buddha’s birthday but not in our entire life. Or when someone in the family dies we have to be vegetarian for three months.” By stating this fact, she emphasizes that Buddhism, for the Huas, is mainly about tradition, not a conservative religious following. So, seemingly for the Hua’s, Diem’s measures were aimed at their identity as people. Israeli scholar of Jewish and trauma of Jewish World War 2 victims Gustav Dreifuss conducted an analytical study named “The Analyst and the Damaged Victim of Nazi Persecution.” He recalls a story of persecution under the Nazi regime. The story is about a boy named Tadek, and how he had to pretend to be Catholic to escape Nazi persecution. Dreifuss states, “The time in the monastery was catastrophic for the patient [Tadek] as he needed to keep his Jewishness a secret, and participation in the monasteries’ activities seemed to him to be a constant lie” (166). What was occurring to Tadek, as Driefus analyzes, is that he had ultimately begun to live a lie because he feared embracing his identity. During times of cultural and religious persecution, this alienation happens to people. Tadek’s story is similar to the Huas’ during the Diem regime, because national policies marginalized both due to religion. Sang would attempt to create his family’s identity by marrying his wife, Chi. Sang and Chi would then begin to find themselves, and try to construct a new identity in a desolated world. By engineering a new family, Sang Hua was able to find happiness in a time of death and destruction. Culturally, for the Vietnamese, marriage is a sacred tradition that dates back thousands of years, so Sang and Chi’s marriage allowed them to reconnect to the traditions that the violent world was destroying.

The evolving level of confusion with Vietnam’s sovereign identity would eventually erupt into a second civil war, which would be a destructive blow to the Hua family by forcing them into exile, by making some of the family move the Europe. During the Cold War, Vietnam would have factions armed and funded by both US and Soviet interests. These two factions would be the Northern communist, armed by Russia, and the Southern nationalists, armed by the United States. The multiple foreign interests caused the destruction of the country and the Vietnamese people. What made the national identity of Vietnam, even more, lost was the history of the country. Before World War 2: Vietnam was conquered by the French, then occupied by Japan, then re-colonized by the French, and then told it was its people’s country and parceled on the 16th parallel. For the Vietnamese, this brings in an identity crisis due to all of this flipping of political power within a fifteen-year time. Proxy conflicts would erupt as a response to this destruction of the Vietnamese identity, which eventually escalated to American military involvement. However, most Vietnamese did not even know why the Americans were there, which added to the confusion because some saw the Americans as invaders. This perceived invasion by America would have adverse effects on the Vietnamese psyche and ultimately lead to one of the deadliest wars in the 20th century. The Hua family was sucked into this conflict by living in Bien Hoa, near one of the largest air bases for the American military in the conflict.  Some Vietnamese saw this intervention as an occupation of their homeland, so the northern war effort became more extreme. In an engagement and analysis of American intervention by North Vietnamese political and war analysts, conducted by Le Duan, he states, “We know the U.S sabotaged the Geneva Agreement and encroached on South Vietnam in order to achieve three objectives….At present we fight the US in order to defeat…them from turning the south into a new-type colony” (Porter 1). This quote shows the North viewed the United States as invaders, and saw the Vietnam War not as a civil war, but an invasion; subsequently, the North saw the Southerners as traitors. The two factions symbolize the complete destruction of the national identity of the country. Seemingly, it suggests that the Northern Vietnamese viewed people, like the Huas, as traitors and US-bribed puppets because they were living in the southern region of Vietnam. For the Huas, they would feel isolated in their own country because foreigners were leading them, and their fellow citizens hated them, which aided in the destruction of their core identity as Vietnamese. This destruction of their core identity as Vietnamese would ultimately be the reason why most of the family would move to Germany, in an attempt to escape the war. As Ai Le says, when referring to her grandmother’s refuge in Germany, “They were able to escape the war.” In a sense, most of the Huas were not only surviving the brutality of the conflict, but also avoiding the destruction of their homeland. The fleeing from laying witness to their desolated country symbolizes that they were escaping everything they knew of as Vietnamese, and were willing to embrace change and foreign culture to not only save their lives but to run from the destruction of their identity. Some of the family stayed during this time, Sang being one of them, but the fact that others had to flee means that the entire family was ruined, their homeland was destroyed, and their core identity was fragmented into multiple pieces.

While Sang questioned the country’s identity–traditional background and culture–it would act as a coercive force fragmenting his identity into multiple pieces; however, he would use art to rebuild it. Sang would be forced to go to war and he would be captured and sent to a P.O.W camp for seven years, completely isolated from the family of his past, and the new one he had created. During this time, Sang would grasp on to his creativity by painting pictures of Chi. Ai Le, Sang’s future daughter, says, “While he [Sang] was in jail [POW Camp] he painted pictures of my mom [Chi].” She further states, “It [painting his wife] was a way for him to escape reality.” Initially, Sang used art as a way to remember his wife, and it suggests that he is himself remembering being whole by envisioning the person that brought him happiness. By using art to paint portraits of his wife, from memory, Sang traveled down a pathway of acceptance, a pathway of unity and tranquility. In a study on trauma conducted by Birgitt Gurr, a cognitive psychologist, titled “Rebuilding Identity After Brain Injury: Standard cognitive and music-evoked autobiographical training,” she found that music and memory can help patients rebuild memories after receiving brain injury. This rebuilding of memories came from playing music from the patient’s childhood and would then stimulate happiness and evoke higher levels of recovery from trauma. She states, “The patient in this report recovered benefited greatly from the combined intervention in terms of orientation within his past therapy environment, recall of his past life, subsequent construction of identity and emotional well-being” (295). Although this study was conducted on people who suffered physical injuries to the brain, similar effects can be concluded for those who suffer from torture and emotional harm. The interesting connection between the Gurr study and Sang is that both cases used a memory of times when they felt whole, from an earlier part of life, with an attempt to construct identity in a therapeutic manner. Sang would escape captivity through his painting; in captivity, Sang felt isolated, exiled, and fragmented. He reverted to his creative side to attempt to remember who he was and to embrace the times when he felt whole.

War has a way of destroying a family’s perception of themselves and each member’s individual role in the family; Sang lost his role in the family and attempted to feel reconnected to his family by painting his wife, Chi. Violently robbing family members, having them go off to fight and die for a vague notion of political power, stems from the confusion of the country’s identity and can only be reaffirmed with the confusion of each family’s identity. When Sang Hua went to fight the North Vietnamese, he was attempting to establish a national identity, yet tragically war erased his identity. Doctor and professor of psychiatry Patricia Lester explored this topic in her article titled “How Wartime Military Service Affects Children and Their Families.” Here, Lester is attempting to correlate the effects of war on the troops’ families, and how it can lead to psychological problems. Surprisingly, Lester found that the long-term absence of the family member at war is not always the most challenging aspect, it is the return of the veteran. As Lester says, “having come home from war, [one] must be reintegrated into families whose internal rhythms have changed and where children have taken on new roles” (1). Lester suggests that war causes the psychological response of the family to become worse because of the fragmentation of the household. Initially, as a soldier goes to fight in a war, the family reasserts new roles and new responsibilities; the family must find new ways of functioning without the soldier. This re-alignment is a response to wartime fragmentation of the family’s identity. Also, it suggests that the soldier is re-establishing his identity because the soldier no longer has that family influence with him. Sang experienced exile when he was in the military and captured by the North Vietnamese. Sang would use art as a tool to reconstruct his broken identity, to achieve happiness. As his daughter Ai Le recalls the story, she says, “It was a way for him to escape reality.” She is saying that while he was imprisoned he painted, and that the painting helped him forget about the hardships he was enduring. More importantly, he was painting pictures of his wife, as he wanted to see beauty in a time of chaos. The fact that he was painting his wife, though, shows that Sang felt like his concept of identity was lost, his core family was destroyed, and he needed it back to make him whole again. By painting his wife, Sang was able to briefly see the beauty of his reconnected identity; for that brief time in his captivity, he found unity in a world of destruction.

Exile is a term used to define the forced exclusion of one from a country or region; the Huas were exiled by the new state of Vietnam and forced to construct a new identity by adopting various aspects of American culture. Identity is full of a variety of micro-categories such as culture, family, and others. However, there exists a notion of a nation’s core identity, its core culture; if core culture does not reflect its people, they will use art to construct alternative customs to those of the national identity. As Edward Said, Oxford professor and author of Orientalism, says:

“The official culture is that of priests, academics, and the state. It provides definitions of patriotism, loyalty, boundaries and what I’ve called belonging. It is this official culture that speaks in the name of the whole… there are dissenting or alternative, unorthodox, heterodox, strands that contain many antiauthoritarian themes in them that compete with the official culture” (578).

Seemingly, Said is saying that exile causes people to identify with alternative cultures and construct new cultures as a way to express themselves. In a sense, when one feels forced to follow a national culture or a national identity that he or she doesn’t particularly like; his or her feelings of exile surface by adapting new cultures and constructing new identities. When Sang and Chi felt this way, felt exiled, they knew that they needed to find a new place create a new life for Ai Le. After the fall of Saigon, the new Vietnamese government had gone through draconian measures that marginalized the Huas. The Huas, who had been through so much brutality, knew they could not allow Ai Le to grow up in this environment. They felt discriminated against for their position in the war, and that position was because of the region they are from. Sang thought it was better to move to America to build a new family identity and to pursue happiness. As Ai Le recalls her family’s feelings of discrimination she states, “I guess it was discrimination because my parents were doing well and they made my parents sell all the land for cheap.” The Vietnamese regime targeted the Huas’ property due to their participation in the war. This discrimination would ultimately force the family to question the “official culture” of the newly established Vietnamese state. This questioning of the government’s new culture made Sang move to the country of his invaders, which forced him to learn American culture to build a new identity for Ai Le.

The Huas looked for a healthy community that they could relate to while moving into the United States’ Vietnamese community; therefore, they moved to San Jose and this decision would help Ai Le begin to construct an American identity because she was able to maintain her Vietnamese culture. As Ai Le says, “The easy thing about it was that there was a lot of Vietnamese people in San Jose. So it would probably be more difficult to move to South Carolina or Tennessee, you know?” The ability of the family to identify with community and culture helped them in their construction what is a community when one has been fragmented. Community, in this sense, is a term meaning common language, expression, and food. By embracing old phonic expressions, language affects one’s concept of community through similar vocabulary and linguistic thinking. In a study called “Does Language Effect Personality Perceptions? A Fundamental Approach to Testing the Whorfian Hypothesis,” conducted by Sylvia Chen, a professor of applied social sciences, she shows that language affects the way each person thinks. As Chen states, “In other words, language influences thought and behavior by evoking a culturally congruent cognitive mindset (e.g., individualism vs. collectivism)” (2).  This study suggests that having a similar language group affects the way people see themselves and see the world, which is the basis of a communities’ identity. By being able to identify with a common language, the Huas were able to find a similarity with the Vietnamese Americans. The fact that they were able to find this similarity expedited the process of construction because it reminded them of their homeland. For the Huas, South Vietnam will always be their home, yet, as the national identity of Vietnam transformed, their new community in San Jose would help them embrace the changes that they sought by allowing them to maintain their Vietnamese identity.

The Huas relied on vigorous education while they labored to build their identity because the family knew that education could solidify Ai Le as a well-defined member in the new society; however, Ai Le felt like she was being forced into the new American culture and she resorted to art, like her father, to maintain her identity. As Ai Le recalls the emphasis her parents placed on education, she says, “Education gives people the chance and opportunities to become more productive members of society; they can advance in their goals and achieve their dreams.” Considering the focus of the Hua family was to establish their new identity, education would come as a necessity for this. Ai Le, while growing up, would be forced to attend school as much as possible to enable the possibility of achieving this dream. However, Ai Le felt like she was being forced into this system that did not reflect her background; she wanted to embrace her past and experience her Vietnamese side. She states, “Because I always had to study when I didn’t want to. I wanted to go out and have fun. My parents would always put me in summer school so I could learn more.” It did not reflect her aspirations because she wanted to learn her family’s traditions, not the American traditions. However, she continued to excel in the creative traditions of her family, and remembering this she says, “I was the creative one in my whole class. Everyone just knew me as someone who could draw, creative like making stuff. I guess I wasn’t one of the outsider kids.” Ai Le initially utilizes art as a way to maintain her Vietnamese identity. She asserts that she uses art as a way to identify beauty and pursue happiness, and to seek happiness one must be able to have a high concept of herself. This family tradition of art is shown while evaluating what art has meant for her and her father. Ai Le says, “It was his form of happiness, and he wants that for me as well.” She is suggesting that her father used art to find happiness, and when he found out that Ai Le possessed the same interests, he encouraged her to be artistic as well. In a world of turmoil and animosity, one must understand that happiness for everyone is different. The trend that becomes clear is that happiness is found when people find a definition or a reason for themselves to be who they are, to be happy with themselves: to have a whole identity. “My dad emphasized it [art] growing up, and all of my siblings are artistic, it shows people are smart and well rounded…for me, it is a way to communicate your feelings without judgment.” By allowing art to be her form of happiness, Ai Le finds joy as she identifies herself through drawing without outside judgment. In a study to see how art affects one’s self-esteem, author and expert on mental health Theo Stickley found some results that show how art helps patients with mental disabilities; his article “Artistic Activities’ Can Improve Patients’ Self-Esteem” emphasizes this. According to the research’s findings:

“Many of the participants said that they could relax as they were drawing and painting. Others said that using Guidelines to Art gave them self-confidence and a sense of achievement that related to their abilities rather than disabilities or illnesses” (2).

Stickley shows that art can help people who are struggling with issues resulting from negative self-esteem, and also apply to some who are struggling with issues of self-identity. Meaning, as one is lost for a core identity, their self-esteem is attacked by making it much harder to find acceptance, and this is true with Ai Le when she feels forced to accept the American identity. Initially, art helps Ai Le find herself in times that she feels exiled, just as it helped her father while he was fragmented and exiled during the war.

Art can help in times of disaster and destruction by relieving oneself from traumatic situations; for the Huas, for whom art is beauty and tradition, art would be a way for them to express themselves and make it easier to find who they are. Ai Le was unable to figure out who she was as a person, and says, “Asian American, never really American and never really Vietnamese.”  She did not know what culture to identify with, which traditions to adopt or how to maintain her family’s identity while she grew up. Sang, however, would show her that by using art she could retain some of her family’s culture. While reminiscing on the family’s foundation with art, Ai Le says:

“Because life would be boring without color, and music. My dad was a musician too; he would always put me through school for viola, piano, singing lessons. He even tried to teach me how to play guitar. I guess he thinks it will bring more happiness to the family. It makes the household livelier.”

She is suggesting that for the family to feel complete in the United States, they feel it necessary to revert to the old traditions that they emplaced in Vietnam. This tradition, for the Huas, is a way to feel whole again. She was raised to understand this ritual because her father found it as his only happiness in horrendous circumstances. Caelan Kuban, a doctor of psychiatry at UC Irvine and the author of multiple articles referring to trauma, suggests that art helps children of trauma express themselves which is therapeutic in nature. In her journal article titled “Healing Trauma Through Art,” Kuban says, “Art also provides youth with a medium to express and explore images of self that are strength-based and resilience-focused” (3). Initially, Kuban is suggesting that art acts as a tool for children who have experienced negativity by helping identify who they are as a medium of self-expression and exploration. Art acts as a healing process for people who have undergone hardship, such as war and forced relocation. Ai Le, who was forced out of Vietnam, was searching for herself in the United States; through the tradition of art, she was able to find herself. Sang was looking for his own identity during his captivity and used art to reconstruct it. Sang encouraged Ai Le to utilize art as a way to help her transition into the newly found American culture. Thus, Sang and Ai Le both use art as a family ritual to maintain part of their Vietnamese tradition, to remind them of where they are from, while they focus on establishing a new identity.

Ai Le was torn between two cultures and had to come up with ways to integrate both of her sides to define herself as whole, this shows that Ai Le was able to incorporate different aspects of herself as a way to establish herself. Ai Le states, “I speak Vietnamese at home but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Vietnamese, I integrated Vietnamese and English with my parents. The only thing that reminds me that I am Vietnamese is because my family held on to part of the culture.” Her family’s holding on to her Vietnamese side is a way of saying that they are maintaining their culture to express themselves, the tradition of her family. Similarly, Vietnamese author Andrew Lam was also exiled from Vietnam and had difficulty finding balance within a fragmented sense of identity. Lam would create multiple identities to try to find balance in the conflicting cultures. As Lam says:

“Speaking English, I had a markedly different personality than when speaking Vietnamese. In English, I was a sunny, upbeat, silly, and sometimes wickedly sharp-tongued kid… A wild river full of possibilities flowed effortlessly from my tongue, connecting me to the New World…enamored by the discovery of a newly invented self” (7).

Lam is suggesting that by integrating a new language, he created a new sense of himself. Initially, he created multiple identities, unlike Ai Le, to juggle the conflicting layers and cultures in his life. He does not feel like an American: he was born Vietnamese, but has lived in America for most of his life. Lam continues to question his identity, even after creating a new self. These feelings of being lost and fragmented run through the core of Ai Le as well; however, she uses her creativity to find ways to incorporate both aspects of her identity together. Ai Le was finding unity by embracing both identities, and Lam was finding confusion while attempting to embrace either part of his identity.

The violence caused the Hua family to fragment into multiple identities and forced Sang to question who he was as a person, but by maintaining his traditions and painting he was able to find himself; Ai Le would also use tradition and art to create her identity in the time of exile. Using culture and creative arts was a way for the Huas not only to hold on to their old identity, but also to help create a new one. One might argue that family traditions do not create anything new, that it is only a way to remember the past. This argument is futile because it does not take into account the fact that people must remember where they come from to understand who they are. The beauty of culture, art, and tradition is that it allows people to express themselves in their way and learn new ways. It can draw an emotional connection across the globe, and bring a new way for people to establish themselves, and their families. War, on the other hand, comes from people questioning their identity or others’ identities, which leads to murder, destruction, and fragmentation. Luckily, as with the Huas, some families can escape and build new traditions. Others are not so lucky, as millions have died in the name of political and national confusion. Identity plays an important role in violence, because its definition symbolizes opposition. During a war, a group will identify themselves in response to perceived aggression. The United States’ and its involvement in Vietnam pushed the Northern Vietnamese to struggle as an opposite of the United States. The U.S. identified the Vietcong as the enemy, so the Vietcong identified the U.S. and its allies, the Huas, as its enemy. Amin Maalouf, writer and scholar of work relating with identity, discusses the concept of identity and its role on violence in his book In The Name of Identity Violence and the Need to Belong. He states:

“The identity a person lays claim to is often based, in reverse, on that of his enemy… One could find dozes of… other examples to show how complex is the mechanism of identity: a complexity sometimes benign and sometimes tragic” (14).

Maalouf is making the claim that identities can cause conflict and violence because it necessarily results in opposition to other identities. For the Huas, war forced them to construct a new identity; it forced them to find a place to belong. Interestingly enough, their Vietnamese American identity is one of opposition to the American involvement in Vietnam, and similarly it acts as their savior. War is the destruction of life, but through diligence, perseverance, and open-mindedness, people can conquer the devastation of war, and by achieving this feat people invent themselves in a more experienced and wholesome light.

Works Cited

Chen, Sylvia. “Does Language Affect Personality Perception? A Functional Approach to                          Testing the Whorfian Hypothesis.” Journal of Personality 82.2 (2014): 130-43. Print.Dreifuss, Gustav. “The Analyst And The Damaged Victim Of Nazi Persecution.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 14.2 (1969): 163-76. Print.

Gurr, Birgit. “Rebuilding Identity After Brain Injury: Standard cognitive and music-evoked autobiographical memory training.” International Journal of Therapy & Rehabilitation 21 (2014): 289-95. Print.

Kuban, Caelan. “Healing Trauma Through Art.” Reclaiming Children & Youth 24.2 (2015): 18-20. Print.

Lam, Andrew. Perfume Dreams. N.p.: Heyday Books, 2005. Print.

Lester, Patricia, and Flake Eric. “How Wartime Military Service Affects Children and Families.” Future of Children 23 (2013): 121-41. Print.

Hua Ai Le. Personal Interview. 19. March. 2016

Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity Violence and the Need to Belong. N.p.: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Porter, Gareth. Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decision. Vol. 2. Standfordville: Earl M. Coleman, 1979. N. pag. Print.

Said, Edward. “The Clash of Definitions.” Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. 569-80. Print.

Stickley, Theo. “Artistic Activites Can Improve Patients’ Self-esteem.” Mental Health Practice 14 (2010): 30-32. Print.

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

Ai Le: I am doing good and nothing weird happened. I took a really long nap

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

A: First I wake up, get ready for work, walk to work, and then after work I go to the grocery store and buy food for the night, go home and heat up the food. I work on my career portfolio or I just surf around on the internet. Sometimes I go out with my friends. When my boyfriend isn’t busy with school we hang out.

T: When you go out what do you like to do?

A: you have to be more specific, by myself or with my friends?

T: Just whenever

A: I like to go out and explore new things, if there is an exhibition I will go there, if there is a sale I will go there, if there’s an event I will go there.

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

A: Art exhibition, fashion exhibition, history exhibition; if there’s a really cool science exhibition ill go there as well. But mostly art and fashion exhibitions are what intrigues me the most.

T: What intrigues you the most about art and fashion exhibitions.

A: I get to learn about new artists or new photographers. I just get to see new art. And in fashion exhibitions I get to see vintage pieces in real life, instead of art books and photographs because once it is tangible you get to see the details. In pictures its not always what it seems

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

A: Yea, since my dad is really creative he always promoted me to draw when I was young. That is why I like animation.

T: Would you say that you can express yourself through art?

A: Yea because you can draw whatever you wants its like how singers can sing whatever they want. For me drawing is an easier way to communicate what you want than writing an essay. If someone is eating a pizza you can just draw it instead of writing about it.

T: Why do you think your father promoted your artwork or creative side?

A: Because life would be boring without color, and music. My dad was a musician too, he would always put me through school for viola, piano, singing lessons. He even tried to teach me how to play guitar. I guess he thinks it will bring more happiness to the family. It makes the household livelier.

T: So would you say your dad enjoys expressing himself through his creative side?

A: Yes

T: Im going to go a little off topic here, but how old were you when your family moved here?

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

T: Growing up have you always thought of yourself as an American, or a Vietnamese national?

A: Asian American, never really American and never really Vietnamese

T: Would you say this categorization of yourself led to confusion?

A: Not really, most households are like this now a-days. I speak Vietnamese at home but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Vietnamese, I integrated Vietnamese and English with my parents. The only thing that reminds me that I am Vietnamese is because my family held on to part of the culture. Such as celebrating new year’s, practicing Buddhism and taking off the shoes when you enter the house.

T: So it was a relatively easy transition for you to adapt to American culture?

A: Yes, very easy because my parents are very open minded. They raised me to always keep my options open.

T: For your parents it was also easy?

A: Ummm, yes but I think what was hard for my parents was raising me and my siblings who were younger. They were used to Vietnamese parenting tactics and ways. At first they were really strict but over time they realized they can’t control everything, and once they realized that, everything became really easy for them. They did try to demand at first that we had to get good grades etc. you know the normal Asian stereotype. But I think that most of it was that they were more concerned of our future. We get good grades we get a good job. They also didn’t want to be embarrassed by their relatives having more successful children. So I guess from that aspect they were pretty strict. The easy thing about it was that there was a lot of Vietnamese people in San Jose. So it would probably be more difficult to move to South Carolina or Tennessee ya know?

T: So because your family had a strong community to support them, it made their transition easier?

A: Yea because if there wasn’t a big Vietnamese community it would be harder.

T: When you are feeling upset or sad do you use your creative side to express your feelings?

A: Uhhhhhhhh sometimes, I mostly eat if im stressed. If im sad I mope around the house I clean to distract myself and if I am mad I listen to music. If I am not happy or if I have to do it I would use my creative side to do it. Because I wouldn’t have any motivation too, id be too pissed off. If I was mad at my boyfriend I wouldn’t be like oh yea im going to start drawing.

T: Have you ever thought about drawing as a therapeutic way

A: Ummm yes and no. I feel like if I talk to another person is better. If I am not motivated to draw my picture will be crummy.

T: How did you express yourself while you were growing up and upset.

A: By stomping my feet, slamming the door, not talking to someone. Basically throwing a tantrum

T: Would you ever spend alone time working on your art when you felt lonely?

A: Yea.

T: What would you do when had no deadlines or work to do?

A: I would go out and explore, hang out with people. After a week of doing that I’d get bored I guess I would start drawing and sketching and I feel like I have to update my work

T: Do you think your father exhibits his creative side when he is attempting to express himself?

A: Yes I guess he does it to kill time as well, like when he was in jail he drew portraits of my mom.

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

T: Do you know how long he was in there?

A: Ummm 7 years.

T: So if he was painting pictures of your mom it seems like he was using it as a way to escape a horrible life experience, do you agree?

A: Yes

T: So do you think he learned that he could use this creative side to express his difficulties in life.

A: I don’t understand your question

T: Do you think that he learned that he could draw and do other things when he was in a bad situation and it would help him feel better

A: Yes, it was a way for him to escape reality.

T: Do you think that maybe he encouraged you to learn this creative way of expressing yourself as a way to escape bad situations like him?

A: He encouraged me when he found out I was creative and that I was interested in that area and he just pushed me in that area because I guess it was his form of happiness and he wants that for me as well.

T: When did you start realizing that you wanted to pursue a creative arts career?

A: Probably middle school

T: Can you explain how your life was while you were in middle school?

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

A: I was the creative one in my whole class. Everyone just knew me as someone who could draw and creative like making stuff. I guess I wasn’t one of the outsider kids. I had a really good time in middle school, but I regret being mean to some people.

T: Who were you mean to?

A: Ummm this really unpopular guy, a lot of people were mean to him. But I got caught making fun of him and I had to go to the principal’s office and write a letter as to why it was wrong making fun of people.

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

A: Because he had a turban and he was just really weird and unpopular. I feel really bad I don’t want to be known as a mean girl. It was middle school, it’s like peer pressure.

T: What would you say the ethnic diversity was at your school?

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

T: Were there a lot of middle eastern and western Asian people?

A: What do you mean?

T: Such as Pakastani, Iranian, Iraqi, or Indian etc.

A: I didn’t really pay attention to that, all I knew was a lot of people were Asian and Latino. A lot of the Indian people stopped wearing their turbans once they went to high school, which is really sad. The kids just wanted to be popular and I think it is really sad. They just wanted to fit in and be popular.

T: Did you ever wear any traditional Vietnamese attire to school or out in the community?

A: Never to school, but for Chinese new year’s I wore a Chinese dress to go to the temple. To take pictures with my family.

T: So you only dressed traditionally Vietnamese when you were with your family on special cultural occasions.

A: Yea, only when I had to.

T: How about for your older siblings? Did they ever wear traditional clothing while in school?

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

T: You know how Catholics might wear a rosary or cross, or how certain Muslim religions wear certain Turbans, or how maybe Jewish people wear yammacas on special occasions.

A: No not really, we mostly have statues at home. We have a little alter at the house and a little shrine.

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

T: Would you go to school in traditional dress during Chinese new year’?

A: No.

T: Did your mother and father ever express mixed feelings about you not wearing traditional clothing?

A: Never.

T: Do you think this shows that they were embracing the change into American culture?

A: Yea, they don’t dress up themselves. Unless they’re going to the temple and on Chinese new year’s, and my dad never wears it only my mom.

T: What do you think the hardest thing growing up was?

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

A: Because I always had to study when I didn’t want to. I wanted to go out and have fun. (Sighs) My parents would always put me in summer school so I could learn more.

T: If given the opportunity would you say your parents enjoy the united states or they would of rather not come.

A: I think they enjoy it because there’s more, I think after the adaption to the new culture they don’t want to go back. I mean in the beginning probably, but now no.

T: Do you think your parents focusing on your schooling so much represents the fact that maybe they did not have that opportunity back in Vietnam.

A: Yes, and my dad graduated from college here in the United States. However, my mom took English for 10 years and I did her homework for her so she wouldn’t learn anything. (Laughs)

T: Are there still non-religious cultural customs you and your family practice?

A: What do you mean?

T: Certain holidays, such as thanksgiving and fourth of July.

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

A: Not extreme but not a little, we’re vegetarian on Buddha’s birthday but not in our entire life. Or when someone in the family dies we have to be vegetarian for three months.

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

T: Would you say that that is because of her husband, or has she always been more devout.

A: I guess because of her husband.

T: How old was your sister when the family moved?

A: She was 12 because I was 3 and she is 9 years older than me.

T: Do you think she had a harder time then you transitioning.

A: Yea because she was a teenager and had to learn the language quick, for me I was still learning Vietnamese so it was easy. She was in the ESL programs, and during that time ESL wasn’t very cool so she had to deal with that.

T: Does your sister dress more traditional then the rest of your family?

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

T: Does your sister do any creative work such as art or poetry or music.

A: Yea she drew pictures a lot. She liked to scrapbook, and she likes photography and there was one point she would do photoshoots of me and my other sister.

T: How was your sister’s relationship with your parents compared to yours. Did she get into trouble a lot?

A: No she always tried to please them, once she started adapting to American culture she realized that her friends and everyone didn’t act the way that people acted in Vietnam. Once she adapted she changed my parents had to change. Now that they’ve all changed everything is all good. When they were adapting they weren’t adapting at the same pace so it was difficult for my parents and my sister and they would argue over things like being able to go out. My sister was the first to break down the barrier and when my brother was a teenager he broke it down more. When Thu and I became teenagers they weren’t able to control us and stopped trying.

T: Do you think age played in the different paces?

A: What do you mean?

T: Do you think that since your sister was so much younger than your parents she adapted quicker than your parents.

A: Yea and she was going to school.

T: So while you were in 8th grade, your parents had already experienced their children growing up with the American lifestyle and they were used to it

A: Yea they already understood the culture, so I was the lucky one.

T: Why were you lucky?

A: Because I didn’t have to go through the thing that she had to go through.

T: What do you mean go through?

A: First boyfriend, college, adapting to a new lifestyle. When I was a teenager my parents were already Americanized so it was much easier for me to go out with my friends have boyfriends stuff like that.

T: How old were your parents when the family moved here?

A: Ummm I don’t even know. Early 40’s maybe.

T: Did your parents feel like they were forced to move here due to what was going on in Vietnam

A: Yes and also because they had an opportunity to fly here. My parents were sponsored by the United States.

T: Did they see it as an opportunity to amass wealth and have access to more economic resources?

A: My parents were well off in Vietnam, I guess it is more of an education for us.

T: What do you mean they were well off.

A: My dad had a business and some houses. So my dad took over the family business. It wasn’t like we were poor or we were billionaires, we had money.

T: What kind of business was it?

A: A super-marketish store. Family owned business, a market. My grandma left him houses, but since Vietnam became communist they had to sell it. The government came to my parents place a week before we left and asked when they were leaving and my dad lied to them about the time. People told my parents later that the government came with a police force to stop my family from leaving. It was a good thing we had already left. They were trying to find a reason to stop us from going

T: How did the government treat your family considering your father’s prior role in the war?

A: I don’t know.

T: You don’t know if there was any discrimination?

A: My parents don’t talk about it. I guess it was discrimination because my parents were doing well and they made my parents sell all the land for cheap.

T: So it could be said that other factors besides your schooling drove your parents to move.

A: Yea.

T: Why did your parents choose USA instead of Germany like most of your family.

A: Because the USA sponsored my family to come, to get citizenship. You don’t get that very often.

T: Would your parents have chosen Germany or the United states.

aA: I don’t know, it’s hard to say because I have relatives in both countries.

T: Why did your grandma and aunt and uncle move to Germany?

A: Because they were able to escape the war.

 

 

“Home Is Where My Family Is”

“Home Is Where My Family Is”

by Jazmine Ashley Diaz, December 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

            Oral History Project Transcript

Jazmine Ashley Diaz: Where did you grow up?

Rosalina Diaz: Guadalupe Makati, Manila, Philippines.

JAD: When did you immigrate to America?

RD: I came here about December 1984? 

JAD: With whom did you immigrate with?

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

JAD: Who’s “us”?

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

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

RD: No, my father could not afford to…

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

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

JAD: What records?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAD: What did Lolo Papa do in Vietnam?

RD: He was a firefighter.

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

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

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

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

JAD: How old were you when you immigrated?

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

JAD: The one downtown?

RD: Yes.

JAD: Next to the Payless?

RD: Which one next to Payless?

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

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

JAD: Okay, mom.

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

JAD: Did you face any Human Rights abuses?

RD: No/

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

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

JAD: Why?  How was it a culture shock?

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

JAD: Did you know how to speak English?

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

JAD: Like me?  Like how you treat me?

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

JAD: Like me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAD: Why are you looking at me like that?

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

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

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

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

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

JAD: Which job was this?

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

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

RD: Of course!

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

RD: Of course!

JAD: And leave me here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAD: Okay, so tell me again what happened.

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

JAD: He was there waiting for you?

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

JAD: Did you tell them?

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

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

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

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

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