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.