I Left on My Birthday

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I Left on My Birthday

by Oscar Garcia, February 2016

Poverty is a factor that forces many people around the world to leave their countries of origin to better their families’ economic outcomes. Some people risk the lives of their siblings and other members of their families. Today, many Central American children are forced to leave their countries of origin to help their families. Some parents know that their children might not make the journey, but still choose to let their children make the unpredictable journey to the US, and some of the consequences can be as bad as losing their lives–rape, exploitation, and/or possible deportation from Mexico or the US. A song by Rumel Fuentes, translated to English, sings, “through my [mother] I’m [Guatemalan] by destiny I’m American…both countries are home…” Although Henry states that he decided to make the journey, he is one those children who was forced to leave his family, to become a man at an early age, and his concept of home is his family.

The Salvadoran Civil War forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate to different countries throughout Central America. Guatemala was one of those countries to which Salvadorans fled. Guatemala had its own civil war beginning in the early 1980s and lasting through the late 1990s; members of Henry’s family were among the many Salvadorans who migrated to Guatemala. Henry’s father passed away when he was two, leaving his mother to raise him and his two siblings. His mother earned a living by buying and reselling bread. At fourteen, Henry began to feel guilty and noticed that his mother was getting tired because she was caring for them alone after his father had passed away. Henry’s aunt had promised that she would help bring him to the US, but Henry would have had to make the trip without her or any other member of his family. Although Henry claims he chose to make the journey through Mexico and into the US, in truth he was forced to make the journey to the US. With his aunt’s help, he began the journey through Mexico to the US. Henry was afraid and nervous to make the journey, but he had no choice if he was to improve his family’s economic situation in Guatemala. Now twenty-two, Henry lives in San Francisco, CA, and attends San Francisco State University; he is studying to become a schoolteacher.

Poverty was the push factor that forced Henry to leave Guatemala. Henry, who lost his father at the age of two, was left fatherless and felt that he should be the man who provided for his mother and siblings because his mother could no longer care for her three children. As Henry was getting older, he began to see that his mother needed help, and Guatemala was not going to be the place where he would be able to provide for his mother and siblings. Moser quoted the PNUO that 80 to 90 percent live in poverty and 75 percent live in extreme poverty, unable to afford the basic foods in Guatemala (46). Guatemalans who live in this condition have no better option than to leave their country of origin and look for a better place to migrate, like the US. Paul R. Amato, in “The Impact of Family Change on the Cognitive, Social and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generations,” concluded that single parents put their children at risk because of economic hardships, which can cause stress for the children. Henry was one those children and began to feel the impact of the economic hardship that his family faced; he stated that he wanted to come to the US to help his family. “I wanted to help my mother because it was [difficult] for my mother to support my sister, my brother and I,” said Henry. Economic hardship within his family began to accumulate more after they started to get older and Henry felt that it was his obligation to provide for his family.

Henry left his family and Guatemala; the arrangement to travel through Mexico was prepared and improvised. Smugglers need to be a few steps ahead of checkpoint agents so that immigrants could get to their final destination because Mexico can deport non-Mexican immigrants. “I left on my birthday,” said Henry. Henry did not know what the journey would be like and staying in Chiapas, Mexico for a few weeks helped him to pass through the checkpoints (Las Casetas); the plan was for him to stay in Mexico for a few weeks to learn the way Mexicans speak. In a book entitled Enrique’s Journey, journalist Sonia Nazario explains how checkpoint agents trick those they believe are immigrants from Central American by asking them questions and awaiting their response. Guatemalans use words like voz (you), sincho (belt) or chumpa (jacket), words of automatic deportation from Mexico, if they do not have the money to bribe them. Henry was picking up a few Mexican words, but was still afraid to speak because this might have made him forget what he needed to say when questioned. After a few weeks in Mexico, Henry’s smugglers got him a fake birth certificate with a name he does not remember anymore. Henry said that his skin complexion and facial characteristics made him appear as a Mexican from Chiapas and he resembled the person with whom he was traveling; he was advised that if caught he would have to say that he was traveling alone and wass going to visit his father. Audrey Singer and Douglas S. Massey have concluded that migrants “…on initial trips, crossing with either a paid (coyote) or unpaid (a friend or relative) guide dramatically lowers the odds of arrest; but on subsequent trips the mode of crossing has no effect on the odds of apprehension, which are determined primarily by the migrant’s own general and migration-specific human capital… (561-592). The odds of Henry crossing through Mexico with a coyote are improved, but there are coming checkpoints. After leaving Guatemala, Henry’s risks increased; most of Henry’s fears were cantered on what would happen if he was caught.

At the last caseta [checkpoint], thirty minutes into Sonora, the checkpoint agent called him out as Henry was boarding the bus. “I was the only one left behind,” Henry said. As he was re-boarding the bus, the checkpoint point agent called him out and asked him, “Donde vas?” [Where are you going?]. His fear was always about how to respond when questioned by any Mexican checkpoint agent. “Every thing went blank,” Henry thought. His mind went blank because he was afraid that he would speak like a Guatemalan and would be deported, although he was told that, if caught, he should give money to the checkpoint agent and maybe the bribe would buy his way from getting deported to Guatemala. “I remember the series of ‘El Chavo del Ocho’ [a Mexican TV show that began during the early 60s and still is played in Mexico]. I remember how the Chilindrina (one of the teen female actors of El Chavo del Ocho) called her dad ‘mi apa’ [my father], and Henry answered “Voy a ver a mi apa en Tijuana.” “I was afraid that my answer was not going to be enough, but the agent let me go,” Henry concluded. “We arrived around 2 AM in Sonara.” Henry said with pride that he had made it through the last Mexican checkpoint.

While in Sonora, the coyote begins to get him ready for the long walk. The smuggler lets Henry know that he needs to pack more water than food, and to mix the water with oatmeal: “it was nasty…but I won’t die, so I would be fine,” Henry said. Henry did not know how long the walk was going to take. To avoid migrants fearing dying in the desert, most times smugglers do not let them know the risks of the trip, especially crossing the Sonora Desert in Arizona. The average rate of walking depending on the terrain and people varies between three and four and a half miles per hour.   Henry claims he was walking about twelve hours per night with ten-minute breaks at times. The average hours at night in June were about twelve hours. “We did not know we [were] going to leave that day; [we] ate as much as we [could],” Henry added. Henry continues by saying that the smugglers fit twenty people into a Dodge Ram van. The van was going to take them as close as it could to the US boarder, and the rest of the journey was going to be on foot. They started to walk at nights through the desert. Some people argue that the reason the wall of the US boarder ends in part of the desert of Arizona is to deter migrants from crossing while others argue that only the strongest migrants might be able to make the journey “because of the utterly dangerous nature of trekking across the Sonoran Desert, especially in the summer months. Many of these unfortunate migrants succumb to the effects of heat-related illness and perish along the journey. The combined effects of a dry, hot environment and the remoteness of some of the trekking corridors can quickly render a deceased person unidentifiable by visual means,” Anderson concluded. Coyotes are known to let people die in the desert if they fall behind or lose their way. As soon their water runs out, so will their lives. Henry had this fear of dying in the desert and was the youngest in the group.

Henry says “my country” throughout the interview, but means his country of origin. His concept of home is not limited to Guatemala nor the US, though the US is giving him many opportunities for his upward mobility and here he has greater chances of improving than in Guatemala. He claims his home is his family. Henry left Guatemala because he was looking to better his home and to become a father, a father he did not have. Henry claims he might not go back to Guatemala and/or live in Guatemala even if he has the opportunity because his family is living in San Francisco with him. I can relate to Henry. We are both of us are from same trajectories; we left when we were fourteen years old. WWII veteran Irving Grover said, “It does not matter how old a man is, while dying (the wooden soldiers who were brought into the ship where he was a radioman) they called for their mothers.” A man’s mother is important no matter how old he is or what era they are living in. Henry makes that clear; even though at this time does not want to go back to Guatemala, he might change his point of view in the future. This happened to me because I felt anger towards Guatemala and its people. I went back a few times to Guatemala with my mother, but it does not feel like home anymore. Both Henry’s and my concept of home is our families, the identity where we live and how happy we are where we reside. If Henry or I, like any other migrants, would have the opportunities not to struggle with life basic needs in our country of origin and to able to live happily with our families, most of us would not have migrated to the US. My mother reminds me that she buried my umbilical cord in the corner of our home in Guatemala, but more than half of my life I have not lived in that house. At the same time, I am the only one who has lived with my mother of our family members. And maybe for many of us the concept of home might be the womb where we came from; after all, many of us make sacrifices so that we can be happy with our families. Henry missed his mother and felt he missed his country of origin as well, but since his mother arrived to San Francisco, he no longer misses her by being distant or Guatemala.

Many Central American parents, especially single parents, find it impossible to feed and shelter their families and often have no option but to allow their children make a journey that could bring them into the US or leave them in the desert to die. Once in another country where they might have a better chance, they can help their families. Poverty is of one the main factors that force many parents to let their children make this unknown journey to the US. If the journey is successful, the rest of the family will follow. An unaccompanied child who journeys to the US might face possible death, sex slavery, and exploitation, which are risks people in this situation take.

Works Cited

Amato, Paul R. “The Impact Of Family Formation Change On The Cognitive, Social, And Emotional Well-Being Of The Next Generation.” Future Of Children 15.2 (2005): 75-96. ERIC. Web. 17 Dec. 2015

Anderson, S. E. “Identifying the dead: methods utilized by the Pima County (Arizona) office of the medical examiner for undocumented border crossers: 2001-2006.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: n. pag. NCIB. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18279232&gt;.

Grover, Irving. Personal interview. 9 June 2015. A World War II merchant Marine, formal radio operator who was let know how his life was during the war.

Nolastname, Henry. Personal interview. 1 Dec. 20015. An interview with an accompany minor migrant from Guatemala. Push factor of living his country of origin –poverty.

Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Random House, 2006.

Rogers, Ibram. “Deep Impact.” Diverse: Issues In Higher Education 27.8 (2010): 15-16. ERIC. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Home: Love, Acceptance and Commitment

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Home: Love, Acceptance and Commitment

by Emily Schattenburg, January 2016

Growing up in Peru and then immigrating to the United States has made Daisy a diverse and worldly woman. Her childhood experiences in Peru shaped her concept of family and how she sees herself. The lack of a solid parental role model, an unstable childhood, as well as the bullying and marital hardships she endured have pushed her to create a desire for a family of her own, and consider the U.S her home. The challenges she has faced have molded her to who she is today, a successful student, a team member, a friend, a wife, and a soon-to-be U.S citizen. When interviewing her, the thing that stood out most, over her vibrant personality, was her desire for love, acceptance, and commitment. Upon looking at Daisy, a 24-year-old, married college student living in San Francisco, one would never see the struggles of her past. Extremely confident, with a larger-than-life personality, she never fails to brighten up a room with her feisty comments and loud presence. Prior to the interview, there was no notice of the stutter that had caused her so much pain and suffering as a child. Daisy and her sister grew up in Cusco, Peru. As a young girl, Daisy’s mother battled alcoholism. Her parents separated when she was a child. The bullying that she endured from her peers, because of her speech impediment and her dark skin tone, fueled a desire for her to attend college in the U.S. While attending college in Los Angeles, California, she met and fell in love with Alfonso. Daisy and Alfonso were quickly married and an unexpected pregnancy turned tragedy ended their relationship. She then moved to San Francisco, where she met Rick; they became friends, quickly fell in love and were married.

The lack of a supportive parental role model in Daisy’s life is a push factor in the desire to create a family of her own. During the separation of her mother and father, her mother was arrested for missing a probation meeting from an accident in which she hit a pedestrian with her vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Her mother’s arrest caused suspicion towards her father. Daisy stated, “for some reason they said that my Dad paid for her to go to jail.” The charges in her mother’s arrest were said to be from her mother missing a probation meeting, regarding her accident, although Daisy and her mother protested, saying that she had gone to every probation meeting. Daisy’s suspicion towards her father, involving her mother’s arrest, caused her to distant herself from her father. Daisy missed out on quality time with her father, because of her distrust of him. She was also deprived of valuable time with her mother, because of her mother’s arrest.

Daisy’s father’s remarriage to her stepmother affected her relationship with her father. Daisy stated, “My stepmother found out that my dad was helping my mom financially, she said if you keep helping her, I’m gonna divorce you. So then my Dad stopped helping her. Since that day, I don’t think she is a good woman and I never got along with her.” This negative reaction that her stepmother was expressing towards her father helping the mother of his children hurt Daisy’s feelings. Mavis Hetherington, Martha Cox, and Roger Cox, the authors of the article “Long-Tern Effects of Divorce and Remarriage on the adjustment of Children,” elaborate on a six-year-long study involving the effects of divorce on children. The study showed that, “the effects of remarriage was more disruptive for girls” (Hetherington, Martha and Roger Cox112). Her negative relationship with her stepmother and the remarriage of her father negatively affected her childhood. “Children in divorced families encounter more negative life changes than children in non-divorced families” (Hetherington, Martha and Roger Cox 115). Daisy’s relationship with her farther has been a major part of her life, and its negative impact has influenced her concept of family. It is hard not to wonder if her childhood would have benefitted from a more stable parental role model. Daisy needed someone to be there for her and provide her with unconditional love. The absence of unconditional love caused her to go looking for it on her own.

The negative reactions Daisy received from her father while telling him she was pregnant caused a rift between them and prohibited her from returning to Peru. Daisy’s unplanned pregnancy with her first husband, Alfonso, caused a roller coaster of emotions. She was overcome with the joy at possibly creating her own family and heartbroken to find out that neither Alfonso nor her father fully supported her pregnancy. Daisy spoke of when she met Alfonso and of her father’s reactions towards her pregnancy: “I met this guy, Alfonso, the Mexican, I had been with him for like a year, and the next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I called my Dad and he stopped talking to me, because of that and then we didn’t talk for another 2 years.” The response she received from her father and Alfonso created a feeling of abandonment and fueled a desire for supportive companionship. Daisy’s pregnancy led to her marriage with Alfonso. Daisy spoke about her marriage to Alfonso. She said, “When I met him I never felt like oh I want to marry him because of citizenship, it was when I got pregnant, that I thought we should get married. I don’t want a baby that is like from a boyfriend.” Daisy got married to provide the best life for her unborn child. Marrying Alfonso meant she would be able to work in the U.S., pay for things the child would need, and provide a stable family unit for her baby. In an unpleasant interaction with Alfonso’s father, he told Daisy that “she should abort the baby.” Upset, stressed, and scared, Daisy decided to move to San Francisco, to live with her aunt. Shortly after, she found out some devastating news: she had miscarried. With the loss of her baby, her dream of a family had vanished. The loss of her child and the unsupportive behavior of Alfonso and her father gave her a sense of emptiness, emptiness that only a family could fill.

The feeling of belonging that Daisy once experienced attending school in the U.S. created a pull factor in her decision to reside in Unites States. Once attending school in the U.S, as a college student, she felt welcomed by her professors. Daisy spoke about the benefits of her attending school in the U.S. versus going to school in Peru: “It was very different; nobody would really look at me bad. You know when I started school, I started stuttering, still, like I do now, but I feel the instructors wouldn’t make fun of me. So I, you know, I felt like I was a little bit more welcomed, you know, to learn.” A sense of belonging while attending school in the United States was a contributing factor in the choice to making the U.S. her home. Feeling comfortable with her professors and peers in school has provided Daisy with a sense of belonging. Heike C. Alberts and Helen D. Hazen, authors of the article “There are always two voices: International Students Intentions to Stay in the United States or Return to their Home Countries,” published in International Migration, Vol. 43, describe some of the deciding factors of why international students choose to reside in their host countries. A study was done at the University of Minnesota in which twenty-one diverse international students were observed and analyzed, while discussing why they had decided to stay in the United States. Students agreed upon multiple factors of what drew them to reside in U.S., and the scholars broke them into three categories: Professional, Societal, and Personal. In discussing a societal factor that made them stay in the U.S, one of the students stated, “I felt welcomed as international student and felt comfortable in the international academic community” (Alberts & Hazen 137). Daisy moved to the U.S. to pursue a comfortable and safe learning environment, free of ridicule, and found it, just as the students from the University of Minnesota had. Personal factors drew her to decide to stay in the U.S. upon graduation from school.

Daisy’s love for Rick also compels her to call the United Stated her home. When Daisy met him, she was provided with a friend and someone to love. Daisy and Rick’s relationship started as a friendship but quickly developed into more. Daisy knew Rick was the one for her when Rick went to L.A. to impersonate a cop, to get Alfonso to sign divorce papers. Alfonso had been reluctant to sign the divorce papers when Daisy asked him to. It wasn’t until Rick scared him into it that he agreed to sign the divorce papers. Daisy stated while giggling, “Rick told Alfonso, I can fuck you up, fuck your record up, and since Alfonso didn’t know anything, he was just signing the papers.” Rick went out of his way and committed a felony to do something nice for Daisy. This was the just one of the things she admired in him. Rick comes from a strict Chinese family; he was taught to always obey his elders and has a very different relationship with his father than Daisy does. Rick’s relationship with his father has been something Daisy has had to overcome. While talking about Rick in the interview, Daisy stated, “He’s a really good person, but you know the problem is, that he is his culture, it is just so strong on him.” Rick’s strong connection with his family is something she may secretly admire about him. Daisy has told me, “I married Rick for love, not for citizenship.” When I asked Daisy if she had always planned to move to the U.S. and make it her home once she graduated from school, she said, “I moved here in 2010; when I came I always wanted to go back to Peru, when I was done with my classes, but then I got pregnant with Alfonso’s baby and we thought that I should to stay. I moved to San Francisco and met Rick and fell in love and now I’m here to stay.” In Daisy’s case, home is where the heart is. She has built her concept of home around where she feels the most loved.

One could argue that if Daisy had had a solid parental role model, she may have a different feeling towards the concept of family. Or if Daisy was not bullied as a child, because of her stutter, she may have never moved to the U.S. to seek a ridicule-free learning environment. Regardless of how or why Daisy was looking for a sense of belonging, it is something we all do as humans. The basic need for love and acceptance is something we all desire in life; it is universal. If this basic need is not met, one will go to extraordinary measures to achieve it. The lack of a solid parental role model, an unstable childhood, as well as the bullying and marital hardships she endured, have pushed her to create desire for a family of her own and in making the United States her home. Daisy is a great addition as a citizen to this country. One could only hope to be as caring, kind, and loving as Daisy is.

 

Work Cited

“Tell Me about Your Life.” Personal interview. Daniella Wong. 4 Nov. 2015.

Hetherington, E. Mavis, Martha Cox, and Roger Cox. “Long-Term Effects of Divorce and Remarriage on the Adjustment of Children.” Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 5 Sept. 1995. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Alberts, Heike C., and Helen D. Hazen. “”There Are Always Two Voices…” International Students’ Intentions to Stay in the United States or Return to Their Home Countries.” International Migration 43.3 (2005): 131-54. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

The Freedom to Dream

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The Freedom to Dream

by Anobel Khoushabeh, January 2016

As Max De la Costa began to approach adolescence, the Guatemalan Civil War was raging, resulting in a wide spread of fear, economic turmoil, forced drafting, persecution, and the killing of many people across the country. Without many opportunities left for the future, Max’s parents, Oscar and Lidia De la Costa, decided to leave the country and immigrate to the United States in order to provide a better life for themselves and their two children. During his time in the United States, Max has been exposed to a variety of different experiences that have enabled him to generate his own perspective on the meaning of home and self-identity as a Latino living in the United States.

Growing up in Guatemala, Max was very limited in the extent to which he could prosper as an individual. Even though neither of his parents received decent education, they both understood the fundamental importance of it. His father, Oscar, was a bartender at a community social club and a huge admirer of the American culture and lifestyle. Because Guatemala lacked the proper public school institutions, Max spent a lot of his time as a child playing with friends, and swimming in a variety of different rivers, lakes, creeks, and canals instead of being fully engaged in school. As Max grew older, and the Civil War continued to progress, his father feared that his only son would be drafted into the military and sent to fight a useless and unethical war. The severity of being drafted was a serious fear that lingered above everybody’s heads. When asked about the situation, Max explained that “people were afraid to go to dances, movies, or you could be walking outside in the market and they saw you, and they would just pick you up and put you in a truck and take you.” Fearing for his family, Max’s father left for the United States to help his family make the move, but in the process he was met with an unfortunate injury that left his kneecap broken, forcing him into six months of recovery. As his father was stranded in Guatemala, his mother made the tremendously hard decision to leave behind her son and daughter in order to work in the United States and raise enough money to bring her family north of the border to the States. After spending several years in the United States, Lidia was able to save enough dollars to bring her family over the border. Without much complication, Max and his family spent around two and half weeks crossing Mexico before finally arriving in Los Angeles, California in August of 1988, tucked in the back of a blue F-150 Ford. For Max, leaving home was never a problem because Guatemala never catered to Max, and Max never catered to Guatemala. Without much difficultly for Max, America was now his new home. Finally, after residing in Los Angeles for a while, Max and his family moved up north to the vibrantly diverse city of San Francisco, where he would grow up, assimilate, even greatly admire his new home and self developed identity.

In Guatemala, there are extreme barriers that prevent individuals from upward mobility and social status. Moreover, this lack of opportunities even deprives children of dreaming about a future they desire. Growing up in the United States, we always dreamed as children about whether to be an astronaut, a fireman, or even a super hero; we had the opportunity to dream because we were told that if we put our hearts and minds into something, it could become a reality. For Max, however, growing up in Guatemala could not have been further from this reality. When asked if he had any dreams as a child, Max replied, “As a kid I didn’t have that many dreams because we didn’t have that many aspects of dreams. For most of us, it was to just go to school and have fun, but there were no dreams.” Poverty, a lack of education, and a devastating Civil War growing by the day deprived Max of ever dreaming about a future in which he can see himself on a pedestal. Max never aspired to be anything because the road to his future was already paved without his consent. When reflecting on these social issues in Guatemala, and looking back at that time in his life, Max cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment with his home country. Guatemala was a home that deprived Max of a future, but more importantly, it took away his capability to dream as a child.

The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1960-1996, leaving behind decades of devastation and irreversible consequences. According to “Murder, Memory, and the Maya,” by Ashley Kistler, a professor of Latin American Anthropology at the University of Oregon, the Civil War began as a result of the CIA-backed coup that overthrew the democratic government of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 (Kistler). Arbenz helped overthrow the “repressive dictator,” Jorge Ubico, who had for years ruled through intimidation and force. In hopes of bringing freedom and equality to the masses, Arbenz implemented an “agrarian reform legislation” that confiscated over four hundred thousand acres of unused agricultural land from the American fruit corporation United Fruit Company. Because of this threat to American investments, the CIA created a coup to overthrow Arbenz, replacing him with General Efrain Rios Montt, who later became personally responsible for the genocide of the Mayan indigenous population that left over 86,000 dead and many more missing (Kistler). The Reagan administration played a critical role in the conflict by implementing a disastrous foreign policy that devastated several nations in Central America. According to “Ronal Reagan: War Criminal,” by Emilio Horner, a political science senior at the California Polytechnic State University, the CIA under the Reagan administration helped smuggle Cocaine to fund the rebel insurgencies that fought for their beneficiaries in Central America (Horner). Horner makes the argument that,

“Post World War II, the United States has subjected millions of people worldwide to a lower quality of life, all because of the devastating impacts of a foreign policy that prefers corporate profit over human dignity. The nation’s ideological pretense of human rights further masks the fact that the United States sponsors state terrorism and a neo-colonial system ruled by fear, while serving the interest of business elites.”

Ironically, the Republicans, who are notorious for their devastating foreign policies that destroy the lives of millions of people around the world, are the loudest opponents of immigration into the United States.

Assimilation and exposure to diversity have allowed Max to see a variety of different cultures and ideas that have helped him shape his own perspective on culture. After his arrival to Newcomer High School in San Francisco in the year of 1991, Max for the first time was exposed to people from all different racial and cultural backgrounds. In Guatemala, Max states, “I never thought that I even had a culture, “ and when describing his experience in the United States he said, “it was just really cool that other cultures existed, and other languages, and people, and faces, features, body, skin color.” For Max, “American culture” means acceptance of other cultures: a unique collaboration of different beliefs that are fabricated together to form a unique belief. American diversity, for many immigrants, is shocking and hard to understand. In this case, however, Max embraced the diversity he witnessed at his new school and through it he has developed an appreciation for diversity and acceptance. By exposing himself to different cultures Max views himself beyond just being a Latino living in America, he is an American of Latino decent with a cultural interpretation that is unique to him.

Cultural differences between American-born and newcomers, immigrants from Central America, for example, are so severe that in many instances they formulate into prejudice, and blunt discrimination. Discrimination has always been a reality for immigrants in the United States; however, it hasn’t always been between from whites onto other ethnicities and races. This is something that many Latino immigrants do not expect or understand when they first arrive in the United States. Because of these repercussions, many will alienate themselves from their own community and culture. For Max, his relationship with the white community has been full of positive experiences; however, his relationship among Latinos has been much more complicated. I asked Max if he was ever exposed to any racial discrimination when he first arrived in the United States, and without surprise his answer was yes. For Max, the discrimination did not come from whites but instead from other Latinos. Without realizing this I asked Max what his perception was on whites, and he responded:

“white people which I didn’t have a problem with, actually I don’t ever remember being discriminated by them. But Latinos were discriminating between Latinos who were born or raised here. Uh, for me because I had a heavy accent, more than now, um, there was this guy who used to call me a wetback, mojito. A Latino himself, he would put his fingers on his tongue, lick them, and then hit his back. That was him letting me know that I’m a wetback.”

This tension between Latinos was very shocking to Max, and because of it his negative perception of his homeland and culture intensified. After witnessing this act of prejudice from his own community, Max eventually pulled himself away from the Latino community and motivated himself to improve his English to assimilate with other races and cultures more thoroughly.

Discrimination within the Latino community is extremely problematic and based on immigration status, language, and social class. According to the Los Angeles Times article by Michael Quintanillna “The Great Divide: They’ve Fled Poverty Even Wars in Their Homelands. Now, Immigrant Children Face Ridicule and Exclusion by Many of Their U.S.-born Latino Classmates,” many newcomer Latinos are subjected to harsh criticism and prejudice by American born Latinos who view themselves as “superior” because they have had the privilege of being born in the United States. The prejudice is at many times focused on indigenous Latinos who have different physical complexions in comparison with whiter toned Latinos. However, the tension also arises from “language barrier coupled with an unfamiliar teen culture (Quintanillna). Ironically, many immigrant children are ridiculed because of their shyness, clothing style, respectfulness to their parents and teachers, and as well as their dedication to academic achievement (Quintanillna). In many schools across the greater Los Angeles area and parts of San Jose California where Latinos are by far the majority, there is serious division between multiple groups such as “the recent lower-income Mexican immigrant; the middle-class Mexican immigrant; the acculturated Chicano kids and the cholo kids, lower-income Mexican Americans” (Quintanillna). This cycle of discrimination within the Latino community is the exact reason why Max felt alienated and eventually separated himself from his culture. Those who were unwilling to accept him as an American only motivated him even more to assimilate and adapt a new sense of identity.

Roman philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus once said, “home is where the heart it.” The definition of home isn’t one’s birth location; it is where one feels content and safe. For Max, Guatemala might have been where he was born; however, it never felt like home. Many opponents of immigration make the bold argument that newcomers will always feel a sense of attachment to their native country, which prohibits them from ever truly becoming, or feeling American. When hearing Max’s story, this argument is without doubt invalidated. An uncountable number of immigrants feel that the United States is their home, and have a sense of loyalty and patriotism that a native-born might even lack. Especially after witnessing the quality of life in the United States, and being rejected by his own Latino community, Max became hostile towards his own country and in many ways rejected it. After five years of residing in the United States, Max and his family applied for citizenship. During the naturalization interview, Max was asked the critical question: if the United States of America were to ever engage in a military conflict with Guatemala, would Max fight for Guatemala or the United States? His response was dramatic, but completely resonated his feelings at the time towards his home country. Max replied, “In my perspective, you can throw an atom bomb and make a parking out of it. I was uh, very disappointed from where I came from.” It was clear that Max had no intention of ever calling Guatemala home because for him the United States was the home that provided him with the content, security, and opportunities he desired. His heart defined his sense of home, and therefore Max was finally at home.

If home shackles you to confinement, takes away your opportunities and rights, it’s no longer in essence called home. For Max, the United States was a door to many opportunities that he would have never had access to back in Guatemala. From a young age, Max always had a fascination with mechanics and automobiles; however, he never aspired to pursuit this passion because he simply couldn’t. During his time at Newcomer High School, Max enrolled in a trade program that taught him hands on mechanics. From this point on, he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and with this passion at hand he landed himself a job at a mechanic shop on Ocean in San Francisco. Max married, had a child, divorced, and even joined the Marines in 2001. His determination to continue to progress has never ended, and at this moment Max is currently enrolled at City College of San Francisco with his son Alberto to continue taking advantages of the opportunities given to. As the years went by his hostility towards Guatemala gradually decreased as he began to see the world in a much broader perspective, however, for Max Guatemala is still a place of memory, not a place he can call home. I asked him what his feeling was towards his birth country, and he responded back,

“I went back like almost ten years after, um yah, ten years I went back, things had changed. Um, but you know, as they say the more they change the more stay the same. That’s how it is now. There is more Democracy now, the Civil War has ended, but now there is more gang violence, uh more than the Civil War was. There is more Capitalism, freedom. It’s a good place to live in certain places, but uh, it is not some place that I would go die at. Yah, it was home, but it’s not home now.”

The United States had given Max what Guatemala had taken away: it had given him the opportunity to progress himself, to provide himself with a life that was not possible back in his birth county.

The meaning of home and identity are significantly difficult to understand for they vary among every individual. Through his immigration experience, Max has realized that home and culture aren’t confined within boundaries but are elastic and prone to change. Home is where one feels content and safe, and identity is what an individual defines it to be. Being an American Latino is beyond the literal phrase, it is a collaboration of experiences that create a unique identity. Those who spew anti-immigration rhetoric to defend the American identity are mistaken. To be an American is to be you, to be free beyond the borders of race, ethnicity, culture, or religion. This is the fundamental idea that brings millions to our shores. It is this very idea that Max cherishes and implements in his life. For Max, home is where there is opportunity to grow, safety for his family, and the comfort to be oneself regardless of what others label you. Like home, the identity we relate with is one that makes us feel content. If we can learn anything from Max is that people grow, learn, experience, and collaborate ideas to form their own way of life. We all come from different backgrounds, but in the end we are all humans seeking a life of fulfillment and purpose. 

Work Cited

Kistler, S. Ashley. “Murder, memory, and the Maya.” Latin American Research Review. 49.1   (2014): 251+. Academic OneFile. Tue. 15 Dec. 2015.

“Ronald Reagan: War Criminal.” UWIRE Text 27 Oct. 2015: 1. Academic OneFile. Tue. 15    Dec. 2015.

Quintanila, Michael. “The Great Divide: They’ve Fled Poverty Even Wars in Their Homelands. Now, Immigrant Children Face Ridicule and Exclusion by Many of Their U.S.-born Latino Classmates.” Los Angeles Times. 1995. Web. Tue. 15 Dec. 2015.

“De la Costa, Max.” (2015, November 9) Personal Interview.

Home and Horizon

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Home and Horizon

by Siuzanna Arutiunova, January 2016

People immigrate in search of places with more opportunities and a better life. Kamila was ten when her mother left her and her brother in Uzbekistan with their relatives and came to the U.S. to start a new life and to bring her kids here when she settled down. Within almost a decade, Kamila and her brother came to the U.S. to live with their mother. After she immigrated, Kamila went through a lot of hardships, from the language barrier to creating a bond with her mother. Through various challenges and new experiences, Kamila has gained a comparative perspective on things around her that has changed her perception on the world and on herself, making her more independent and understanding of other people’s choices as well as her own.

Kamila and I have been friends for a long time. Our parents tell us that we were in the same grade in elementary school. Even though we don’t remember each other from then, we are good friends now. We, along with her best friend, Katie, met at the Rosenberg Library on the Ocean Campus of City College of San Francisco for the interview. She described to me how her mother, who was forced into marriage with her father, left Uzbekistan to find a better life for herself and her kids in the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old. During that time, Kamila lived with he grandparents and rarely got a chance to see her mother. After eight years of separation from their mother, Kamila and her brother came here and finally reunited with her. Because such a long time had been spent apart, Kamila and her mother had a hard time establishing a mother-daughter connection at first. Not having known English, Kamila had to overcome a language barrier when she first came here, which, as she admits, created various hardships at school and made her want to go back to Uzbekistan. Adapting to a new country and new norms was especially hard for her. For some time, she wanted to move back to her home country, but after all, she was able to adapt to her new life here. She constantly compares her home country, Uzbekistan, to her new home, the U.S.

Moving to the U.S. not only created various obstacles for Kamila, like learning English, but also caused her to miss her home country and reject her new home at first. It was hard for Kamila to adapt to the new country and system. She said that she rejected it at first: “I didn’t want to stay here; I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members.” When she came here, she had no one to communicate with but her mother and brother. She needed friends and new connections, which she was unable to make because of a few reasons. One of the things that was stopping Kamila from adapting was that she didn’t know English well enough to communicate with people. The language barrier was one of the hardest challenges she came across, and caused her to not be able to make new connections: “at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language; I couldn’t communicate with people.” Kamila is an extroverted person and for her to not be able to talk to people was hard. She couldn’t communicate and thus missed her friends and family back home. Studying the behaviors of Asian immigrant youth in the American society in her article “Xenophobia, ethnic community, and immigrant youths’ friendship network formation,” Jenny Hsin-Chun Tsai, an Associate Professor in Psychosocial & Community Health at the University of Washington, suggests:

“The label of ‘LEP’ and ‘ESL’ overtly signifies immigrant youths’ ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’ status and defines the social boundary between immigrant and American youth. Immigrant youth may choose to exclude Americans from their friendship networks for their own psychological well-being” (293).

The language barrier is one of the main reasons immigrants feel like they don’t belong to the new place. Difficulties in learning the new language hold immigrants back and make it hard for them to adapt to the new society and to feel accepted by the natives. Later, Kamila told me that she thought moving to a new country would be fun, but her expectations weren’t met: “I felt like I’m not belong here.” It is natural that when people immigrate, they feel out of place at first. Kamila wasn’t used to the system, language, and different norms and couldn’t adapt to the new lifestyle quickly. In their article “Racial Discrimination, Multiple Group Identities, And Civic Beliefs Among Immigrant Adolescents,” Writers Wing Yi Chan and Robert Latzman discuss how adolescent immigrants tend to assimilate into the new society after immigrating. They point out:

“Segmented assimilation suggests that many immigrant adolescents have limited access to resources because structural racial discrimination excludes them from participating in the mainstream society (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Civic contribution is a way for immigrant youth to break the cycle of exclusion” (531).

Racism from natives or citizens has a huge effect on immigrant youth and their adaptation to the new environment as it can prevent participation in the new society, which is one of the core ways to get used to a new home, develop an attachment to it, and feel a sense of belonging to the new society. Although it was hard in the beginning, as the time passed, Kamila started to adapt to the new place, and feel comfortable living in the U.S.

Her mother’s journey, including immigration, inspired Kamila to pursue her education and changed her perspective on marriage at early age, making her realize that in a lot of cases it is unfair to young women to be forced to marry before they have an opportunity to explore and find what they want to do with their lives. The story of Kamila’s mother is quite interesting: as Kamila told me, her mother was forced into marriage at a young age. Forced marriage is practiced quite a lot in Muslim countries. Australian scholar, theologian and human rights activist Mark Durie discusses the interpretations of roles of women in Islamic society according to the religion in his article “The Rising Sex Traffic In Forced Islamic Marriage”: “a forced marriage is an exercise of ‘therapeutic force’, which is considered to be good for the woman. Like setting a broken bone, a forced marriage at a father or grandfather’s behest ‘restores’ the woman to her rightful state” (8). Clearly, Durie, does not agree with such treatment towards women and argues against it. In his article, he shows that women are considered sinful and forced marriage is considered healthy for them. He also shows that women are in the constant possession of men, whether they are fathers, grandfathers, or, later, husbands. Even though women in such societies generally do not pursue education, Kamila’s mother was not as interested in marriage as in continuing her education: “My mom said she didn’t want to marry him [Kamila’s father] because she wanted to study; she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree.” Even though her mother got married, she never stopped wanting to study: she finished her bachelor’s degree while raising Kamila and her master’s while taking care of both Kamila and her little brother. It is considered unusual or even savage for a woman in that society to want to study instead of following the established path of getting married early and being tied to the family, but that path was definitely not for her mother. Against all odds and societal norms, she moved to the U.S. as soon as she secured a Green Card: “she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know.” It seems as though the chance to come to the U.S. saved her life: she could finally make her own decisions, be independent and free to accomplish her goals. Through her mother’s rebellious nature, Kamila discovered that there is not just the one option of getting married and starting the family. There is another scenario, in which a young woman can pursue higher education and become successful and independent, like her mother. “I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because…she had not opportunity…to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life.” Kamila thought that her destiny had already been decided of her: she thought she was supposed to get married at a young age and pursue married life. Her mother showed her that that that wasn’t Kamila’s only option for future, which Kamila recognizes and appreciates. The way her mother fought for her life and changed her destiny inspired Kamila to pursue her education and made her see that she has a chance to make her own decisions and view forced marriage as an inequitable action toward women.

Eight years of separation resulted in an undeveloped connection between mother and daughter, which made Kamila feel alone and misunderstood by people around her both in the U.S. and in Uzbekistan, when she needed someone she could share everything with. Her mother left for the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old, so the strong mother-daughter bond hadn’t formed yet. Besides, throughout the period of separation, they did not see much of each other, so they couldn’t become very close. Another struggle for Kamila was that she couldn’t connect to her grandmother because she felt that she would be misunderstood. She felt the need to talk to her mother. During her teenage years, Kamila need her mother the most: “I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does.” Even though a strong connection with her mother wasn’t established, Kamila couldn’t share her thoughts with her grandmother and needed her mother to be there for her. This separation did not only affect Kamila and her mother separately. Sahara Horton, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver studied this issue in her article “A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood.” She acknowledges that “transnational separations cannot be viewed solely as affecting mothers and children as isolated individuals but, rather, as impacting the intimately experienced bond between them.” We can see this happen between Kamila and her mother. While after the reunion Kamila wanted to finally be close to her mother more than anything else, it turned out to be a lot more difficult than she expected: “when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like ‘Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!’ And when I was doing it I felt like, ‘Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!’” Kamila was just a kid when her mother left to another country and while she was growing up, she didn’t have a chance to find out what kind of person her mother is. Her bond with her mother wasn’t strong enough. In her article “Those Easily Forgotten: The Impact Of Emigration On Those Left Behind,” a professor of human and community development, Maria Marchetti-Mercer, discusses and analyzes the psychological effects on the family members and friends left behind after the people that are close to them immigrated.

In particular, the increasing emigration of women has changed “the shape of the immigrant family” (Horton (2009, p. 23). Remittances can become a way of “mothering at a distance” (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997), but the absence of a mother figure may cause emotional problems for children who miss her nurture (Ukwatta, 2010). Children may experience feelings of loneliness and abandonment, despite the economic benefits associated with this type of emigration. Ultimately, the family unity is broken down because of insufficient communication between parents and children. In general, children seem to be deeply affected by the emigration of parental figures (Glick, 2010) (378).

The time spent apart causes the bonds to become less strong and people grow apart and none of the economic benefits of immigration can make up to that. This is an especially delicate issue when it comes to parent-child connection. When the separation between a child and a parent happens, the child feels left alone, misunderstood and lonely. Talking Kamila’s case into consideration, this is exactly how she felt all those years without her mother near her. After their reunion, Kamila didn’t know her own mother; she didn’t know what reactions to expect from her. She compares her relationship with her mother to meeting a new person and finding out about them. The distance from her mother made Kamila feel like she doesn’t belong to her new home, like she was alone and misunderstood for a while, but after Kamila’s immigration, they slowly strengthened a connection between each other.

The process of immigration and new society with the norms different from the ones she was used to were overwhelming for Kamila and finding a friend like Katie, who is now very close to her and has helped her through tough moments, makes Kamila feel understood and more comfortable in the school environment. When I asked Kamila if she would have been able to find her way through high school without her friend, I received a definite and absolute “no”: “I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it.” Friendship is especially important for Kamila: it was the very thing that saved her from getting completely disappointed with moving to America and leaving her family and her closest friends behind. Kamila needed a person who would understand her struggles. Her bond with Katie started during their high school years and has only become stronger with time. One of the reasons for that could be that they both speak Russian, which made a communication for Kamila a lot easier, since she wasn’t advanced in English. When Kamila mentioned that her best friend wanted to transfer to Sacramento State University, she spoke with tears in her eyes: “I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me… she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me.” From her responses, I realized that Kamila feels that she receives more support from her best friend than from her mother. Clearly, she has found support and understanding from her friend and received the help she needed so badly. As Kamila described, Katie guided her and was there for her when she needed help, which made her life easier and her high school experience more enjoyable. Because of her established friendship with Katie, Kamila enjoyed her high school years, got used to the system quickly, and felt understood and accepted.

Kamila’s perception of societal norms has changed since she moved to the U.S., and she has become more appreciative and open to the idea of independence and freedom of expression. As she described, norms in Uzbekistan are very strict. Essentially, after moving here, she started comparing social norms in her home country to those of her new home and noticed a lot of differences. “So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone, its like… its just nothing, its just simple.” She shared that it was odd for her to see such things as a couple kissing in the street and many other things, including the openness of homosexual couples, which seems no more than ordinary for us. It was all unusual for her because she had never seen those things while she was living in Uzbekistan. When she moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the norms that are socially accepted here, she started viewing the norms in Uzbekistan differently. “I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we [are] all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do.” She shared, she has far more freedom of choice and more opportunities here than she had in Uzbekistan. She admitted to having difficulties adapting to new norms at first, but later found that she prefers these norms to the ones in her home country: “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you.” Having lived here for a while, Kamila noticed that people in this society are more open-minded than in her home country, and started to become more open-minded herself. Now that she is able to compare the two counties’ norms, Kamila is more understanding and appreciative of freedom of choice and expression than she was before she moved to the U.S.

Kamila’s view of freedom changed after she moved here: as a young woman, she sees that she has far more freedom here as opposed to her home and recognizes that opportunities for women are generally limited in Uzbekistan. The society in Uzbekistan, in which women are very pressured and are limited in their rights, is known for being of a very conservative nature: “in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff.” So the society doesn’t expect much from women and shows that their core responsibilities are within a household. In her book Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan, writer Wendy Mee states:

“In general, women are associated with the inner, family domain. Such attitudes have implications for young women’s opportunities to pursue work and higher education, and also encourage the practice of early marriage for young women. Many Uzbek women believe that family concerns outweigh individual desires to pursue education or professional activity. One study conducted in Namangan and Tashkent provinces found that the majority of teenage girls believed they should put aside professional pursuits after marriage to concentrate on their roles of wife and mother” (28).

Women are not expected nor encouraged to pursue education and are forced into marriage in a lot of cases. The basic role of women in Uzbekistan is to be faithful wives and a mothers. As shown in the quote, the majority of teenage girls think of early marriage as of the right thing that they should focus on. Kamila herself thought that she would get married at a young age, because that is what that society dictates. Nevertheless, as she got a chance to experience other norms, she changed her mind: “when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like ‘Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals.’” Clearly, only by comparing the norms here with the ones in her home country, she has been able to see that the norms in Uzbekistan are unfair. Kamila is now at City College of San Francisco. Although she is still not sure about the field of study she wants to pursue, she is willing to put her efforts toward getting an education. When I asked her about marriage, she clearly was against marring at a young age. She now sees that young women do have a lot of goals and potential that get shut down by the society that pushes them to create a family very early in their lives. Observing norms in the U.S. changed Kamila’s perspective on women’s rights: now she believes that women deserve to be independent and make their own decisions as well as sees the injustice of forced marriage at a young age.

Moving and meeting new people changed Kamila’s perspective on the traditions and religion that she followed while living in Uzbekistan to the point when she started questioning them and considering them limiting. Born in a Muslim country and household, Kamila was following some Muslim traditions. After immigrating, she found herself in a more diverse environment and got a chance to find out more about other religions. Through her best friend, she quickly learned about Christianity and compared it with Islam. She pointed out that she started questioning her religion after being exposed to another religious believes. “When you get to know other traditions and cultures, you think: ‘oh, this is right. But why can’t I do this in my religion? I want to, but I can’t’”, she says. “I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life.” As she gained more freedom and became exposed to other traditions after immigrating from Uzbekistan, Kamila started to step away from her religion. According to an article in American Foreign Policy Interests: The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy:

“There is ‘something’ in the mainstream practice of Islam, not in its ideals, that is deeply opposed to women. The ‘madrassas’ (Koranic schools), for instance, spread two major messages about women. The first one is based on the pretense that women are ‘inferior’ to men. The second teaches that women should not be ‘trusted.’ These schools do not try to advance or elaborate on any justification of these assertions. In the same way in which they contend that Jews and Christians are conspiring against Islam, they contend that women cannot assume positions of leadership in any undertaking.”

Such unjust mainstream beliefs are unfair to women and thus limit their opportunities. Suggesting that a woman in less of a person than a man is completely unjustified and discriminative. This is why women are being treated as objects that cannot survive on their own and need men to belong to. Kamila must have felt that these religious beliefs were holding her back from achieving her goals and living an independent and full live. In the process of immigrating, Kamila discovered other religions, which, through comparisons with her own, made her think of Islam as a religion that limited her natural urge for experimentation and freedom of choice.

After she moved to the U.S. and observed and experienced the norms here, she gained a comparative perspective that allowed her to see how unfair and limiting the norms in Uzbekistan were. One doesn’t usually think about certain things like the norms of the society that one grows up in. They come as given, normal. And one doesn’t generally question them. When a person moves, he or she has something to compare his/her homeland to. When Kamila moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the socially accepted norms here, she started to compare the norms in Uzbekistan with the norms in the U.S., which caused her to view the norms in Uzbekistan differently. She started to see things differently and question the norms she had abided to not so long ago. She mentioned that homophobia is an issue in Uzbekistan: “our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this.” This hatred toward the members of the gay community is very common in Islamic counties. In an article about ties and understanding of homosexuality from religious perspectives, “Religious Affiliation And Attitudes Towards Gay Men: On The Mediating Role Of Masculinity Threat,” authors Gerhard Reese, a writer and psychologist, and Melanie Jones, analyze responses from representatives of different religions toward homosexuality. Through this research, they found that “With a sample of 155 male heterosexual university students (Muslims and Christians in Germany), we found that Muslims held more negative attitudes towards gay men than Christians did” and that “Previous research suggests that some subgroups of men from Muslim communities hold negative attitudes towards gay men” (340-341). It is pointed out, that Muslims tend to be very much against the gay community, more than representatives from other religions. One of the reasons for that is described by Doctor Achim Hildebrandt, professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. His article “Christianity, Islam And Modernity: Explaining Prohibitions On Homosexuality In UN Member States” analyses how Christianity and Islam respond to the homosexuality. Hildebrandt makes an interesting point, stating:

“According to this concept, same- sex acts are condemned ‘because they run counter to the antithetical harmony of the sexes; they violate the harmony of life; … they violate the very architectonics of the cosmos. … Sexual deviation is a revolt against God’ (Bouhdiba, 1985, p. 31). This disapproval refers to both male and female homosexuality” (855).

Many Muslims are against homosexuals because Islam presents it as a negative and unnatural behavior. Heterosexuality is shown to be the natural order of things and  a lack of compliance with that order is considered an anomaly. Kamila confessed that she did discriminate against homosexuals at first: “I would discriminate them the I came here but right now… I’m okay with this.” Living in the U.S., seeing that some things that were prohibited in Uzbekistan are allowed here changed her perspective on a lot of things. “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or you’re wearing short skirt.” From what I understood, she prefers this society to the one she was living in in Uzbekistan because she finds people more open and easy-going. Although she disagrees with certain norms and traditions, Kamila still celebrates some of the Uzbek and Islamic holidays and follows certain rules. Exposure to new norms after immigrating to the U.S. allowed Kamila to compare and contrast society here and in Uzbekistan and come to the conclusion that the norms in her home country are limiting and discriminative.

By experiencing multiple cultures, Kamila has selected the norms that she found the most appealing for her from both cultures and incorporated them in her life, never completely rejecting the culture she grew up in. After all, she is a “child of two worlds.” A German philosopher and writer Hans-Georg Gadamer, introduces the concept of “fusion of horizons” in his book Truth or Method. This concept stresses out that no one can forget the way they grew up viewing the world and themselves and replace it with another way after they immigrate. Each way of seeing things is a “horizon.” “The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point… A person who has no horizon is a man who does not see far enough and hence overvalues what is nearest to him” (302). Horizon describes how one can see the situation: broadly or only form one angle. “Fusion of horizons,” according to Gadamer, means that after being exposed to another culture, one starts seeing things differently, incorporating the horizon they just acquired with the one they grew up with. This gives a person an opportunity to evaluate things from different perspectives and have a broader view of the world. As we can see, Kamila’s horizons have been broadened and she can now recognize a lot more things, like injustice than she could before. By comparing and observing norms in her new home, Kamila was able to identify how unjust some of the social norms are in her home country. Her experience with the american society significantly broadened her view of the world and allowed her to see situations from different perspectives.

The process of immigration with all its consequences has broadened Kamila’s horizons and allowed her to gain a comparative perspective on everything around her, which has caused her to start questioning the norms and traditions in her home country, and made her more aware of her own freedom, and freedom of others. Although some people might argue that she shouldn’t question her culture and traditions and abide the norms regardless, people should have a choice of whether or not they want to follow certain traditions. It is natural for immigrants to feel out of place in the new country as they face a lot of changes and challenges, that transform their lives, and make them view their own traditions in new ways. By going through all these changes, Kamila has gained a lot of experience in dealing with numerous challenges and now has finally restored her life back into balance.

Works Cited

Chan, Wing Yi, and Robert D. Latzman. “Racial Discrimination, Multiple Group Identities, And Civic Beliefs Among Immigrant Adolescents.” Cultural Diversity And Ethnic Minority Psychology 21.4 (2015): 527-532. PsycARTICLES. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Democratic Reform And The Role Of Women In The Muslim World.” American Foreign Policy Interests 33.5 (2011): 241-255. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

DURIE, MARK. “The Rising Sex Traffic In Forced Islamic Marriage.” Quadrant Magazine 58.3 (2014): 7-11. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Gadamer, Hans. Truth and Method. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum Group, 2006. Print.

Hildebrandt, Achim. “Christianity, Islam And Modernity: Explaining Prohibitions On Homosexuality In UN Member States.” Political Studies 63.4 (2015): 852-869. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Horton, Sarah. “A Mother’s Heart Is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood.” Cult Med Psychiatry Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (2008): 21-40. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Marchetti-Mercer, Maria C. “Those Easily Forgotten: The Impact Of Emigration On Those Left Behind.” Family Process 51.3 (2012): 376-390. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Mee, Wendy. “Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan.” 1 Feb. 2001. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.

Reese, Gerhard Steffens, Melanie C.Jonas, Kai J. “Religious Affiliation And Attitudes Towards Gay Men: On The Mediating Role Of Masculinity Threat.” Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology 24.4 (2014): 340-355. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Safayeva, Kamila. Personal interview. 1 Oct. 2015.

Tsai, JH. “Xenophobia, Ethnic Community, And Immigrant Youths’ Friendship Network Formation.” Adolescence 41.162 (2006): 285-298 14p. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Interview Transcription

 Siuzanna Arutiunova: So the first question would be: When did you move to the U.S.?

Kamila Halilova: I moved to the United states in October 1st 2013

SA: why did you move? was it your own decision or did you follow somebody here, like parents?

KH: So in my case it was kinda different because my mom moved here 8 months, no, 8 years ago and she won green card so after 8 years we just reunited with her. It was just the only thing I was following at that time

SA: Oh, so you spend 8 years apart from her?

KH: Yes

SA: How was that for you? Was it a hard period? Who did you stay with?

KH: Um, I was staying with my grandparents, my mom’s parents. It was kinda difficult because when I was like 13-14 years, I needed like a person who I can trust and I needed a mom like … and … crap! I can’t say it… its like really deep. [In Russian:] ask me something else, I don’t want to talk about this

SA: Alright, so what was moving to the U.S. like? Did you have any expectations about it?

KH: Um, of course I did because I was watching like American movies and I thought high school its like college for me but it was kinda different. High school its like its another life – you go there, you spend time with your friends and its like your family, but another family. That was a really good experience for me – high school.

SA: Did you face any obstacles that you would point out especially?

KH: Of course I did. First of all was communication. I didn’t know any like word in English. I couldn’t speak anything like, you know. It was kinda hard because when people talk to you and you don’t understand and you just smile like an idiot (laughs) you don’t understand anything and you’re like: “Oh God, what do you want from me?”. That was like really struggle for me at first time.

SA: But did you overcome that obstacle?

KH: Not yet. But like still I can’t understand sometimes when people talk really fast, but as I get like I practice a lot and it gets better and better every time.

SA: How did you feel about leaving your home country, leaving your grandparents behind?

KH: So first like 3-4 months I missed all of my friends and my family members and I felt like I’m not belong here. You know, when you come to another country and you feel like “Oh, everything is gonna change”, and its not and you miss your country and your old life and it’s kinda sad because you felt you’re gonna do something new and its gonna be fun but its not.

SA: So it was more of the harder period that the fun one?

KH: Like at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language, I couldn’t communicate with people. One thing I could do was just like enjoy the new place and that’s it. I couldn’t talk to anybody, I couldn’t like, I don’t know, I couldn’t say or do anything that I wanted to do with my friends and stuff and other things.

SA: What would you say was the hardest thing you came across while you where immigrating?

KH: Um, I thing it’s more like adaptation. I mean, USA its like it’s a place where immigrants come from a lot of countries and they have their own traditions and you have yours. And in San Francisco its like more popular, so it was kinda hard for me to adapt with people that are different from me because their like thoughts are different than my thoughts, you know. And it was kinda struggle.

SA: Would you say that you had a cultural shock when you came here? Like a lot of different races all mixed together.

KH: The other thing is that everything was different from my country, from my traditions and in my religion we don’t have a lot of things that in America people do.

SA: Can you give me examples?

KH: So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone its like… its just nothing, its just simple. But in our country we can not do this because a lot of people would discriminate you. Its just religion, you can’t do this. So it was kinda shocking. Also, that when you see same sex couples walking, and hugging and kissing. It was kinda shocking because I’ve never seen such a thing in my life. We can’t do it in out country because our religion is against it and people just kinda… I don’t know just… and our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this, so… It was kinda hard for me to adapt for this life.

SA: Umm, would you say that… I mean, how long did it take you just to get used to it?

KH: Um, probably a year because I feel like the first 3 months I didn’t want to take things that this country gave to me because I didn’t want to stay here, I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members and all of other people, but after like maybe 6 months I started to like here because I felt like I belong here because I chose to be with people who was not going to discriminate you because you go work or you go to a date with somebody, you know, because in our country women don’t work usually. They just sit at home with their children and are just being a homemade wife. And that’s it.

SA: So, you mentioned that the standards and gender roles in Uzbekistan are different from those in the U.S. Which standards do you prefer. For now, which standards do you think are more right for you?

KH: I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do. And I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or short skirt or something else. I feel like I changed a lot when I came here and I started to adapt here and I started to following traditions that people doing here and not in my country. And I feel like in America there is a lot of benefits, especially for my study. In our country, you can’t study if you’re poor because nobody’s gonna look at you because of your brain. Its just money and that’s it.

SA: Did you notice all these limitations when you were there or did you start noticing that when you moved here and saw how it is here?

KH: Yeah, I just noticed it here because I didn’t really know… When I was in my country I didn’t pay attention to these things because in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff, and I didn’t notice until I can here, when you’re an independent person and you do whatever you want. You go study, you go work, do work, you go whatever you want to do. You do it if you want it. In our country you don’t have a right to do it. So, I just noticed it when I was here.

SA: You mentioned that your mother came here 8 years ago. And you also mentioned that women are very limited in their rights. Why did she move here?

KH: My mom wanted to mover here from her childhood because she felt there is no right, in our country there is no right for a woman in our country to do like work stuff and to be independent and she always wanted to move here because she knew in America you can be whatever you want and you can reach it if you do your best and you just want it. You can do it because you have a passion to do it. And in the United States you can do it because their doors are open even for poor people.

SA: More opportunities.

KH: Uhu

SA: Do you regret coming to the United States? And if you had a choice right now, would you rather stay here or go back to Uzbekistan?

KH: If you ask me this question like maybe a 1.5 ago, I would say that I would leave because I just missed it and at that time I couldn’t adapt to American lifestyle and it was struggle for me to know other people, other traditions and other culture. I would leave because I just felt that I don’t belong here, but right now I feel like America is like a really good place for me to be because I can reach whatever goals I have. I mean, I can do more things here than I can do in my country. Especially when you’re a girl and you just have a lot of goals in your life and you want to reach them but you can’t because you’re a girl. And I feel like in America I can do it than in my country.

SA: So you moved here for high school or college?

KH: I moved here when I was a junior in high school and I just had 2 years to graduate from high school and go to college. It was kinda fun but it’s a lot of work because you have to finish high school in 2 years, when other people does in 4. And I feel like my high school years was really great, because I met my best friend and she’s really supportive. She helped me from my first day. She was like a person, who I always wanted to be. Like she was smart and she also … she’s my friend…(cries) and I’m gonna miss her…

SA: Why? Are you going to be separated?

KH: (cries) Cause she’s gonna move to another college and I feel like when she’s gonna leave me, I’m gonna be like , you know, again alone. And she is like my sister. (to Katie) I wish you’d be my sister!

SA: (to Katie) When are you moving?

Katie: In 2 years.

KH: (cries) When we were in a senior class I remember she said she wanted to move to Sacramento State and I felt so bad because in my heart, in my deep heart, I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me. She is the only one person who tried to make me better, make my personality better than I was before. Like she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to, I don’t know, to struggle… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me. (to Katie) I really don’t want you to leave me. (to me) Its like… she’s like my angel.

SA: So she guided you though everything?

Y: We guided each other.

KH: Yes, she was my really best best person in my entire life.

SA: Do you think that you wouldn’t be able to handle all of this on your own?

KH: (cries) I would not. I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it. Cause she was helping me for like, I don’t know, two almost two years because we know already each other for two years. And, you know, I never felt … how do you say it…I never felt like … I need somebody in my life like her in my life and its kinda funny because she’s not calling me in the evening when she walks with her dog I feel like where is my phone, where is she, you know, … I don’t know, I feel like she’s the only one who did support me for my whole entire journey from the very beginning till the end. And she’s still helping me. I don’t know what would I do without her.

SA: Do you feel that kind of support from you parents or from your mother?

KH: Um, I would say no, because my mom wasn’t with me when I was in high school during my whole day and she didn’t know what kinds of struggles I had and she didn’t know like, you know, what I needed. She thought I’m okay because I didn’t tell her anything that happened in school or outside of school. And she though I’m okay, you know. And, I don’t know, I just think that your best friends only knows your weaknesses and your struggles and you’re trying to help her because best friends does it for each other.

SA: Do you have any siblings that moved with you?

KH: Yes, I have one brother, who’s 13.

SA: So, did he move the same time you did?

KH: Yes, we moved here the same time.

SA: How was it for him?

KH: Oh, for him it was really ease because he adapt like quick, from the first day. And he never thought to go back to our country because he felt like he belongs here and he felt like “oh, it’s a really good country to be in”. I feel like because he was in middle school, he had less struggle than me, you know. Because he has less um responsibility to do things and I feel like it was more easier for him than for me.

SA: Would you say that is because of the age? Because he wasn’t that attached?

KH: I would say that, because he was only twelve or eleven. I think he was eleven when he moved here.

SA: Ant you were?…

KH: I was sixteen. When you’re eleven and you move here you have new friends that are cool and you’re also a boy, you have like more like adaptation skills than sixteen years old girl. And he even said that he would not move to our country from the first day because he saw this city and he said“I would stay here cause I like it here”. And I don’t think he had any struggles with communication … with communication and other. Like he adapt really fast. He adapt really quickly than me.

SA: Umm, so what do you think was the hardest part for your mom when she was moving?

KH: For her I think it’s just new place. I think language was like the first thing she had to overcome, you know. And he other thing, she was alone, all by herself, where she doesn’t know anybody, she didn’t have a job, she didn’t have a place to leave. But she, she had her friend from the first grade. She was living with them and I remember she said if Angela would not help her, she would, she would leave because she couldn’t afford living in San Francisco and she still, you know, thankful to her because if Angel would not help to do it, she wouldn’t reach it to stay here, you know. And I think we have a same like… same situation because when she moved here, she had a friend to help her, and when I moved here, I met a friend that helping me still. I think this is part that we were like in the same situation.

SA: Was she happy when you moved back with her?

KH: She was really happy because, you know, 8 years without your children in new country… I mean, I think she had more difficulties than me because she was alone and she didn’t have anyone here and she also missed us, her children. And she like tried a lot of times to bring us here but she couldn’t until 2013. And I remember when we got out green cards and our visas, she was so happy and she almost cried because she did it, she finally did it and we were gonna to move in with her and live with her. I think it was a good part of our lives.

SA: Did you see each other throughout those 8 years?

KH: We did. She was coming like once a year, maybe, or twice in two-three years to see us. And sometimes she couldn’t, because you can’t leave your job when you go to another country. It usually takes a month to come in our country and come back. And a lot of jobs don’t give you that time that you need. And sometimes she was really sad because she couldn’t see us for a really long time.

SA: Do you feel like it was harder for you as a girl to be without your mom at that age. Because like you have questions and you’re growing us and you really need a role model to be there next to you. Did you feel like you missed here because of that?

KH: Definitely yes because I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does. And still, you know, when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like “Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!”. And when I was doing it I felt like “Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!” because when she was leaving, I was eleven, no, I was nine years old and we never talked about things that you talk with your mom when you’re growing. And I was 16 and I wanted to talk to my mom, like for first three months, I felt like “Oh my god, I don’t know this person.” I’ve never felt like I’m gonna to be so different from my mom and me like , you know. When you live with the person who you didn’t live with 8 years, and it is weird because you know its your mom and you can talk to her, but at the same time you’re feeling like “Oh my God, I can’t talk to her because I don’t know what’s gonna to happen”. It was a struggle a little bit in the beginning for me.

SA: Do you think she felt the same way to you?

KH: I think so, because haha in 3 months we spend each other, she was like “Oh, so you don’t this one, oh ”. It was like a new chapter when you get to know other person. Like, when you see, like…Let’s pretend you met a person and started to know about his life and his personality. This was the same thing with my mom because I didn’t know what kind of, what kind of umm personality she had. At the same time, she didn’t know anything about me, my feelings, my personality and other things.

SA: Do you feel reconnected now? Like, it’s been two years…

KH: Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t understand me the way I want to her like understand me. And sometimes when we talk I feel like “Oh, yeah, this is my mom”. She gives me good like advice and I fell like “Oh, yes, this is what I wanted”. But sometimes I feel like no, we’re still not connected the way I want. I think it is because of the age. Because I’m eighteen and I want move freedom and she feels like I’m still sixteen or fifteen. She treats me like a child.

SA: Parents!

KH: I know…

SA: Um, do you feel like you have more freedom right now than you would have had if you were back in Uzbekistan, even with your mom there?

KH: Actually, yes. I feel more freedom here than I would like feel in my country because I have ability to go to school, to go out with my friends, to make my life better here than I would do in my country because to look back from like where I’m now, I never went out with my friends if I wanted because girls not supposed to, they’re not supposed to go out with friends or just hang out with like people they know. They’re not supposed to do that. And I feel like I have freedom now because I can do it, I can go out with my friends. Not every day or every week, but still… sometimes. You know, I feel like here I have more freedom than I had in my country.

SA: Is there any kind of specific situation that you would like to talk about? Like, you know, something happened that absolutely changed your view on life throughout your immigration period.

KH: Actually, it was a lot of things that changed me when I came here. As I said, my friend and I… So my friend, she’s from Ukraine and she is Christian. I am Muslim. We have completely different traditions, we have completely different thoughts about life, actually we HAD, we HAD different thoughts about thoughts about life and traditions and stuff, but right now, I feel like we have same like same thoughts and same feelings about certain things and I think she is the reason I change my thoughts about life. When you’re growing in the Muslim country and in the Muslim family it’s really struggle because a lot of things that people do here, it’s against our religion. And when you get to know like other traditions and cultures, you feel like: “Oh, thin is right, you know. But why in my religion I can’t of this? I mean, I want to, but I can’t”. And I feel like for my entire journey, when I was like getting to know my friend, who was my friend those days, but now my best friend, um, when you get to know her and you listen to her and try to understand her culture and traditions and her thought about certain things, you feel like “Oh God, yes, that’s right!” or “no no no I’m never gonna do it because I’m not Christian, or I’m not Muslim, or other things” … But like, she changed me really really like a lot and right now I’m getting shock of myself because I wasn’t that kind of person what kind of person I’m am now. It is weird because if you ask me when I first moved here if I would do the kind of stuff I am doing now, I would say “Oh my God, NO!”, you know. And I feel like she changed me in a good way and because of her, I wanna stay here and be with her. And just to get to know a lot of other stuff that can happening. And be a good person here.

SA: So, you said that you’ve changed a lot. Can you give me one or two examples of things you would have never thought of doing that you are doing now?

KH: I would say that, … so I changed because when I came here, I discriminated umm… I mean, how do you say it…

SA: Discriminated against someone?

KH: Um, so, I discriminated people, who had like same sex connection and right now …

SA: Homosexual

KH: Yeah, homosexuals. I would discriminate them the I came here but right now, I’m kinda, you know, don’t like it, but I’m okay with this. I mean, in my country, we really don’t like people who chose to be with the same sex with another person. And right now, I feel like, when I see somebody gay or lesbian, I feel the same way because they’re humans like me and I don’t discriminate them. I don’t know, I changed my view in their choice, in their live choice. I feel like this was the biggest part of my life that changed.

SA: Would you mind me asking about your religion?

KH: Yeah, I’m a Muslim.

SA: No, I mean were you very religious when you were there?

KH: Oh, so when I was there, I was like a religious girl. And not like really into religion. I would follow certain things that my religion is against and I would not follow some of the rules that it says. So, I’m not… Yeah , so in my religion, there are certain that you have to follow and certain things that you need to follow. So I was following that I should follow and I didn’t follow things that I needed to follow. Like as a Muslim, you have to pray every day five times, I didn’t do it. And as a Muslim, you have no right to talk with a guy that is a strange guy. And I didn’t follow this rule. And right now I feel like I’m not follow ing any rules that my religion says because I mean, it’s I mean, in my view, how do you explain that, … in my view, I feel like these rules are not for me because this are against my life, my life.

SA: Do you feel those boundaries?

KH: As a girl, I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life and my …

SA: So, do you feel like you stepped away from your religion when you moved here?

KH: I feel like it because my choice is different than my religion rules. And I fell like would do things that I want to do and not what my religion says. I can follow some of them, but not all of them.

SA: Would you say that was more of a society than the religion itself? Or was that the religion specifically?

KH: Um, I would say that was religion specifically, because our society follows like religious…

SA: So its based on religion?

KH: Yes.

SA: That’s interesting. Did you connect with anyone from your culture here?

KH: I did, actually, with a lot of people. But they’re kinda really old people and they like move here at the same time as I me and you know, old people, they don’t here adapt really fast. They still following their traditions and they don’t want be, like, they don’t wanna open to another. And I fell like when they come to our house for, I don’t know, for just tea or just talk to, and I feel like they discriminate me because I adapt here and I wanna adapt here and wight now I don’t wanna follow any ruled that I have followed and I feel they really discriminate me. They don’t say anything to me like personally, but I feel like in their thoughts they really discriminate me because I can see it when they talk to me or when they look at me. And I feel like, um, I don’t know, I cant do things like I want to do with people who still follows those rules that was In my country because i feel like they really discriminate me.

SA: Do you feel like your family does that as well or you they want more freedom for you, but again, limited kind of freedom?

KH: Definitely limited kind of freedom.

SA: Like just don’t go crazy but in the same time, don’t sit in the house.

KH: Yes, definitely, so the good thing is my mom’s boyfriend, or future husband, its like this way, I don’t know (laughs), he’s a Jewish and he was from Ukraine also. He moved here when he was, I believe, ten years old or seven years old. And he adapt really quick. and because of him, I feel I have more freedom than I would have had with my mom only because he supports like my feelings and he supports umm my decisions to do some kind of stuff. And Sometimes when me and my mom argue about something, he takes my place and my mom’s put, but the same time he tells my mom to like to give me a chance to do what I want to do because he says that I am pretty, I mean, I’m pretty adult enough to make my own decisions. And I feel like he was kinda like teacher for me when I was here at the first time. He is like the person who tries to help me and tries to help my mom and tries to help everybody, you know! (laughs)

SA: Would you mind me asking how did you take that when you came here and your mother was involved with someone else? How did you adapt to that?

KH: It was kinda funny (laughs). So, I knew my mom had a person who she’s in love with. And but I didn’t met him when I was in my country and I didn’t really know who the person was and what kind of persons he. But I did it against her with because my mom had a lot of struggles in her life. And I knew it because my parents were the worst. And when I looked at them, I knew they don’t like each other. They spent ten years of their life living with each other and just living, you know, without love, without like happiness. They were living together because they had to.

SA: Was that an arranged marriage?

KH: It was… I really don’t know what kind was it. According to what my mom, her mother forced her to marry my dad because it’s part of our religion, and traditions: your parents like your parents are finding you a husband that you will live with your whole entire life and you have NO RIGHT to choose your own husband, or to choose a guy who you’re gonna marry. And it was the kinda thing that my grandmother did: she just found the guy who she liked and she just forced my mom to marry him. And it was kinda this. And I feel, when my mom said she didn’t want to marry him because she wanted to study, she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree, you know, but my grandmother forced her to marry because in our culture girls should marry in early age, 18, 19 or 20. After that …

SA: You’re dead to the society (laughs)!!

KH: I know, right! (laughs) You’re dead to the society. And when I was in my country I always thought I’m gonna marry when I’m gonna be 18 or 19, you know because its like our culture and you don’t have a choice to like to do your things or your decisions. And I always thought that I’m gonna marry at young age. But when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like “Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals. What if your husband’s gonna leave? What are you going to do without a diploma or a degree or anything else?”. And this is the thing that changes really fast, when I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because she hasn’t… she had not have a chance to like…she had not opportunity do her like decisions, to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life. So I have a chance to change my like, to have a better life. Yeah, I think it was kinda this, so… My parents were forced to marry to each other.

SA: Did your mom get a degree?

KH: Actually, my mom did. She finished a university.

SA: Here?

KH: No, no, no, in our country. She pushed herself to study and …

SA: While she was married?

KH: While she had me. She was pregnant and she was, she had um… no, she was I think freshman in university and she got married and when she was sophomore, she was pregnant with me, like. and after that, when she was getting her Master’s degree, she was pregnant with my brother (laugh). So for her it was kinda really big struggle for her because I was a baby and she had to pay attention to me because I’m a baby an I need to be feed and … At the same time, she had to do her homework and her study. When she was telling me about her life when I was like a baby, I noticed when I was a baby that she wants me to study right now and THEN get pregnant and THEN get married because when you’re pregnant and you’re studying, there is a lot of stress. And she was very stressful when she had those days. But right now she’s really happy. She has 2 children, she has her significant other that supports her and I think like she, she just…

SA: Has everything that she always wanted?

KH: yeah, yes, has everything that she always wanted

SA: So basically her lifelong dream came true

KH: When she moved here. She said it to me. When we were talking to each other, she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know. And when she came here, she felt the freedom, she started to making her decisions like and reach her goals. She said that was pretty awesome to be like, you know, mature or responsible for her life.

SA: Guess you both feel pretty good about doing here, don’t you?

KH: Hahah, I guess. I do. And she does too.

SA: Is there anything else in particular that you would like to share?

KH: I guess, one thing that I would share is that when you move to a new place and you don’t speak in their language, you don’t know about the culture and traditions, you just need to…you just need to, you know, relax and don’t stress and … [asked me in Russian how to say “go with the flow” in english] go with the flow and everything is going to be fine because when I came here, I had a lot of stress and it just pushed me back than forward. You just need to be like relaxed like my brother. He was like… he was like living life and that’s it. He didn’t have any stressful days in his life. I feel like he’s not gonna have any, but still, you know.

SA: Do you keep in contact with your family?

KH: Yeah, of course! My grandmother came here a year and a half ago. She comes and goes back to my country every year. She stays here for 4-5 months, she helps us and she goes back to our country. And even when she comes here, she feels the difference between America and our country because in America it’s so simple to do things you want if you follow rules that are… I mean…how do you say it…when you come here and you want to do certain things and you know that its not prohibited and you can do it. In our country everything is prohibited!everything!! And she feels the difference. And she says she would live here than in our country but she can’t.

SA: So she prefers more freedom?

KH: She is really strict. She is more into religious things. But when she came here, she changed her mind. Like completely changed her mind. Not completely completely, but …

SA: On a certain scale.

KH: Yes, and it’s kinda great because when I was young, she was like really strict with my mother and she didn’t allow me to do things that I wanted to do. And, you know, when you see a person who changed his mind to certain things, you’ll be like “Oh God, wow”, you now.

SA: What is your legal status right now? Are you a permanent resident?

KH: I’m a permanent resident. Currently my mom applied for citizenship, but I am not gonna get citizenship with her because I am 18 already. And government says I have to live here for five, four six years to get citizenship. But my brother does with her because he’s fourteen, he’s a minor, I don’t know. So he’s gonna to get citizenship with her and I’ll have to wait for mine.

SA: Well, I hope everything plays out just the was you want to.

KH: I hope so too.

SA: Thank you so much for doing this!

KH: No more questions?

SA: Nope! Thank you, thank you!

 

Twas Africa

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Twas Africa

by Tiffany Brown, January 2016

       A continent known for its most outstanding scenery and land that is “richly endowed with natural resources,” according to Michael M. Ogbeidi, an Associate Professor in the department of History and Strategic Studies at the University of Lagos, Africa, has experienced what Michael describes as a “phenomenon of corruption.” Ogbeidi captures the fact that the fundamental geological features that would benefit a continent so rich in soil as Africa should give it the opportunity to thrive. The cause of this economic plummet, which he describes as a “phenomenon of corruption,” concludes that the permanent effect of corruption has demised and depleted the country’s value and worth in the world economic race and in political prominence. On the soil of Africa is where a timeline of bloodshed and colonization has taken place. Like many continents, there will be rises and falls, but one like Africa often catches onlookers and outsiders’ attention. In an interview with Donald Yawube, an immigrant of Lagos, Nigeria, he conceptualizes his personal views of his home country and the regimen of colonization that changed Africa, and his views of America, where he now resides. One of the main themes that arose constantly in this interview was the world corruption and pollution that exists in society, school systems and politics. Not only is this a global epidemic, but also the root problem and illness that infects Africa’s success is also a key factor through which some countries thrive. Donald understands from his migration from Africa to America that there is much more corruption that has been dispersed throughout other countries, beginning in Africa. His knowledge from being a native inhabitant and scholar leads him to his point that Africa has been lead to be distorted and reframed. However, though Africa has become a “third world” continent, the values and beliefs of the African culture still thrive through its people. Donald’s beliefs, ethics and values have given him a prominent view when looking at society and its downfalls. In an arrangement of three poems, I have conceptualized and intertwined the themes and clear points that Donald made throughout our interview. His driven purpose for coming to the United States was to succeed and venture through the diversified communities we have to offer, which he was already accustomed to in Africa. When first settling in the Bay Area, Donald faced inhumane scenes that disappointed him and forms of racism that stemmed from corruption in the history of Africa. Now settled in San Francisco, he foresees the world corruption that exists and has formed and affected not only his continent, Africa, but the United States as well. The poems that I have created incorporate the feelings and emotions that the people of Africa, American society and Donald posses; speaking for the voices that are unheard and would stand out if only they were spoken.

Africa has been history’s most prominent example for a continent experiencing such social, cultural, and political strain. It is through Donald’s interview that I truly understood the political corruption and cultural disvalue that would eventually collaborate in the title, “phenomenon of corruption,” which Ogbeidi was talking about. Africa has gone through many hardships because of colonial powers rising up and capitalizing on the land. This period is what The National Academies Press describes as a time when “colonialism had destroyed indigenous democratic values and institutions.” In Africa to this present day, its past values have become sacred and a way of living. Donald felt that this was a time “to root out the corruption that was seriously seeping into society.” Moreover, the corruption did set into society and made its way into politics. Donald says, “the culture of the past history that polluted after the independence of my country and things that led to the civil war led to so many um, ‘racism.’” Colonialism in Africa not only hurt the traditions that Africa thrived on, but also divided its people by color, culture and language. There are a series of situations that polluted Africa’s existence and future, socially and economically. Breaking values and former ways driven by native people of Africa, “colonialism had disrupted these traditional African practices” (The National Academies Press). Some of the values in African society are “based on equality, freedom, and unity, was overshadowed by authoritarian and centralized nature of colonialism” (The National Academies Press). Donald explains that Africa continues to acknowledge the traditional values that were under attack by external factors saying, “We [are] humble with the way we are, yes.” He went on to say that Africa embraced its true way and being. Donald activated this value, to stay humble, from his home country upon arriving to the Bay Area, when confronted by trials and errors that America had. For instance, when Donald began seeking employment and ventured into the retail and customer service fields, he saw that he was depicted by employers because of his accent and place of origin. “Unfortunately, where I came from has a history of financial crime,” Donald explains; “it was kind of hard. It was difficult to try to make people see I am not one of those people.” Employers were taken back by people from Africa because of their history and showed less interest in immigrants from there. “I went to interviews and they say, ‘oh I hear an accent, where are you from?’ And I tell them ‘I’m African or Nigerian,’ and there is always this…this split second look, little twist…or twinkle in the eye like, ‘oooh nooo.’” Donald stated. It was in America that Donald saw how corruption in Africa, which seeped into the societies of his native people, developed a form of racism, signaling him out as he tried to achieve career goals here in America.

They did not want the “modernized world” to interfere their indigenous ways, though later they would be pinned as a “third world” country. This term Donald did not take lightly. “If it is based on history, Africa should be placed as number one! First world, let’s put it this way, Africa had the first civilization before the rest of the world had it.”

America gives an illusory image of its opportunities before immigrants arrive and actually experience the true venture living in America. This too was a situation that Donald encountered after first arriving to America. Although he felt that the United States was a perfect place for him to adapt and transition in, he sought out the well-known “American Dream” and all of its riches that came with it. After asking Donald what would he tell his family and friends in order to encourage them to move to America, he replied, “You can have your dreams come true.” He was also aware that with hard work and dedication, you can make more goals possible to achieve. In a Washington Post article by Senate Representative of Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren, she gives transparency to where the “American Dream” stemmed from: “Across generations, Americans shared the belief that hard work would bring opportunity and a better life.” Even though this statement excluded a number of ethnic groups including African Americans in the beginning stages of its development, it is now evident that in the 21st century, people are globally inclusive for the opportunity to live the “American Dream.” Many immigrants have this perception that all will be fine once arriving and that they will be able to financially support their families. But America is able to convey an image that can be deceiving. Upon arriving to America Donald did catch surprising and shocking scenery, which was unexpected almost to a point of disbelief; instead, he was truly disappointed. This was distasteful, to say the least, for him to witness. Donald believed America would be “all living in one unity,” as he had experienced in Africa. There was more about the San Francisco Bay Area to experience than he perceived prior to his arrival. Donald was amazed by how many homeless people were in the end of city.  One of the trials Donald faced assimilating into American culture was “the ability of physical humanities, from water to good health to the road.” This was his own personal issue, which was important to him, but alongside of this he was introduced to the epidemic of homelessness rates the United States faces. After arriving to Oakland, Donald was quite disappointed explaining that he “saw beggars…homeless people on the street.” One would be amazed that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found in its 2013 Annual Report of Homelessness that in California there were 113,952 people that fell in that population. “That was what threw me off,” he added. One might ask that if Donald did not take in positively what America offered, why would he not leave and go home? But when asked about his driven purpose for traveling to live in America, Donald replied, “I’ve heard so much about America.”  It is again the illusory image that media is guilty of. Donald went on to explain how he loved the late Californian rap artist Tupac Shakur’s song “California Love.” “I used to be a big fan of Tupac,” he said as a large grin spread across his face. Donald was not new to the hip hop culture that ventured throughout the West and East coast of the United States, through radios and televisions. Besides, though the culture was nature to him, there was more to be experienced upon arriving to America.  It is evident that throughout history the United States has been the nation-state that holds opportunity indescribably in close proximity, which also is stapled the “American Dream,” a place where one can move from an outside country and choose his or her own destiny: actually achieve the possibilities that their countries do not offer because of political boundaries. Donald, too, was another.

Politics have become the gateway for countries to enter the global race of independence and modernization. It has been Africa’s undeniable history of corruption that has caused disadvantage for them in striving in this competitive trial to successes. The article “The movement Toward Democracy in Africa,” by the National Academies Press, explains that many African leaders and authoritative figures are bitter from the “corruption, repression human rights abuses, and gross economic mismanagement under one-party rule.” During the Cold War, Africa underwent a lot of authoritarian rule over its people and tribes. This in result began the era of neo-colonization, which began the change in cultural, social and economic structure of Africa’s future. “During the cold war, some countries capitalized on superpower competition, seeking military and development assistance” (The National Academies Press) Ogbeidi agrees. The existing world corruption that is identified in school and politics represents one’s country in many territories. It is transparent in politics, which has the largest influence on a country’s stability, how one is able to strive. In response to my question “What are some trials you faced assimilating into American culture?” Donald expresses some of the products from these trials, “like the ability of physical humanities, from water to good health to good roads.”

This is Africa on its way to new heights the world has never seen; after all this is the land of untold richness. Since the days of corruption began in Africa, its people of intelligence strive to take the rightful place it truly deserves in this competitive global race. My poem titled “What is Third World?” conceptualizes this argument of what Africa was, is and will be in the world race of economic and social strength. “If it is based on history, Africa should be placed as number one! First world, let’s put it this way, Africa had the first civilization before the rest of the world had it,” Donald stated in our recent interview. It was because of his strong statement that I developed the foundation of my poem, which truly commemorates Africa’s uprising and rich soil that brought the beginning of life to be.

“Twas it us

Africa

where civilization began

where the treetops glanced

over God’s graceful land?”

In this stanza I have brought a rhetorical question to assess the history that Africa holds. Its presence now in today’s society does not hold the same prominence it once did thousands of years ago, before civilization in America even began. Even though it has lost its place of virtue and substance in the national race, it is still the epicenter of life today: known as “The Mother Land.” Through memoir I have brought readers to understand the bloodshed and sorrow the land of Africa has gone through. It has been tormented by external factors only to be capitalized and colonized.

“was thousands of years ago where man came forth?

Then thrown into plight

After birthing new life”

Donald’s interview contributed to this creative poem and the following stanza. “From the culture of the past history that polluted after the independence of my country,” he stated, Africa was the leading example of rich soils and life, but as Donald stated, it went through a catastrophe of situations that did pollute its soil, only to tear away the pride and ownership of the rich land it once was. The corruption set in Africa separated its value from its own people.

“Twas Africa

The first leading land

Now known as a third world

For it has not

Modernized

Enough since then

Since the time of colonization

Which was counterpart

To deprivation

Racism”

Critiquing the history of Africa was quite difficult and simplistic all at once. The driving forces that flooded Africa and interceded their traditions and values, led them to be disrupted by corruption and hate for one another. Apartheid is just one of the most violent and tragic results due to colonial forces interfering—when Africans were separated amongst each other by segregating one another by complexion and language. In the poem I conclude that the “plight” was in fact apartheid. It is the corruption that polluted Africa’s well-known name, value and worth. Because of numerous colonies Africa was thrown in a whirlwind that is present today, but finally moving forward still catching up to its own strength.

In conclusion, Donald anticipated America to be the way most imagine—a world of dreams, success, and diversity with respect to each individual’s life. He did understand that there were pros and cons to each country, but the disposition that he was put in upon his arrival made him dissatisfied and disappointed. One would argue that Donald should have never come if he was not ready for the unexpected. But to each his own. Everyone is able to venture under their own risk. Donald has handled his disappointments quite well. In fact, he is the excellent example of a resilient successor that puts forth the diligent hard work to achieve his limitless opportunities. It was not that Africa pushed Donald out like many immigrants are facing at this moment, but that he took a chance to venture and see a whole new world. “I came; I saw; I conquered,” Donald stated during the interview. This he did do even after facing trials of racism and a taste of humanity gone wrong. Each immigrant holds experiences and past relations that help and mold their own perspective. Donald is one that originated from a great place that was torn down by corruption that exists amongst all nations today; he was able to use his country’s values and well-taught lessons that would help him embody and counsel the way to his dreams. When you see an immigrant, please understand that there is a story deep down and there are morals that follow too. We do not all come from the same place, but we are in the same space. What would it take the world to make it a better place? What would the world look like without corruption?

Works Cited

“Political Corruption: Before and After Apartheid.” Jonathan Hyslop. Academia. Web Article. December 2005.

“The Movement Toward Democracy in Africa.” National Research Council. Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1992. Doi:10.17226/2041

“Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria Since 1960: A Socio-economic Analysis.” Michael M. Ogbeidi. Journal of Nigeria Studies. Vol. 1, Number 2, Fall 2012.

“Third World.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2015): 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

“How to revive the American Dream.” The Washington Post. Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio. May 6.

Donald Yawube. Interviewee

            Sample Transcripts

 

T: Okay, What is your name?

S: My name is Steven America___ or Donald Yawube

T: How long, let’s see…how old are you?

S: I’m 38

T: Okay and where are you from?

S:I am from Nigeria. West coast Afr–, of Africa

T: Okay, ow long have you been in the United States?

S: I’ve been in the United States nine years now.

T: And how old were you?

S:I was like twenty-nine when I got here.

T: What are some trials you faced assimilating into American culture?

S: Wow, trials…hm…like the ability of physical humanities, from water to good health to good roads. Uh, from the culture of the past history that polluted after the independence of my country and things that lead to the civil war led to so many quote unquote uhm, “racism”. There’s so many factors.

T: Alright. Uhm, would you feel that you faced many of these trials early on when you first arrived.

S: Uh, no. No, I did experience a bit of a difficulty in terms of uhm, ev-ev-even though there is the fact I am coming from Africa, I had one experience…no, two experiences where I observed some form of racism. I know said given the fact uhm, the nature of where I am coming there was a look of this thing that was cut across eyes when not another African as well or not another immigrant so yea.

T: Okay, I want to go back onto your experiences, but let’s go to your childhood memories.

Uhm, what would be your favorite place in your home country?

S: So I grew up in Lagos, which is which was then the capitol but where I am originally from. It’s a village, I love going to the farm with my grandparents and my cousins. I love going hunting. Those were to childhood memories I hold very dear to my heart.

T: So, a lot of farming hunting

S: You could say a lot more of farming.

T: Okay, So back to your childhood, Is there any place in America that reminds you of home?

S: Yes, uh

T: Or where?

S: Huah, San Francisco, that’s why I chose San Francisco, because before I got here I wanted to choose a place where there is so much diversity that reminded me of home. And San Francisco just kind of crossed as that. California actually kind of cross as that. It’s funny really cause there is so much diversity coming out of California SF or the bay area, there is no, I call it the melting pot of the whole world.

T: Yes, it definitely is. So when you say a lot of diversity, in what aspect, would it be culture, would it be music, fashion?

S: All of the above.

T: All of the above?

S: All of the above. There has been an intricate connection between all of that. You know there is Asians, there’s uhm you know there is Persians, there is Africans as well. you know there is African Americans and Caucasians. And they are all these different…they all living in one unity. They are all living in oneness. disregard the skin color, personalities, or background in terms of ethnicity. you know San Francisco is for me or really bay area is more who are you and what are you bringing to make this, you know state or make this place a better place. so yea, uh, that’s the reason why i, i really love San Fancisco or the bay area.

T: Okay, so in…speaking in general…what was your sole driven purpose to coming to America? think back 9 years ago, what was it about America that made you think I have to go there?

S: Well, you, I, uh…I’ve heard so much about America.

T: I have heard so much about Africa!

(both laugh)

S: I’ve heard so much about America, of course, I’ve heard bad things about America, but I believe there is always a good thing about some place. uh, and i wanted to go, you know for me it was more…more of a journey. For me, it was more of an accomplishment. I wanted to say “I’ve been there” and wanted to see what it was all about. I use to be a big fan of Tupac and I remember, I use to jump up to the song “California Love”.

T: (sings) California love.

S: (giggles) yeah, I use to sing it everyday. Everyday. In fact, me and my friends would try to imitate Dr. Dre and Tupac. For me it was being at home and that’s what coming out here was for me. Home.

T: Okay, so it sounds like assimilation was not a hard thing for you to do. Sounds like the least of your-

S: No..

T: worries I would say?

S: No, it wasn’t. There weren’t any worries at all because, uh, it was…I would say there hasn’t been trials or setbacks, no…there will always be a setback, there will always be some set…well I wouldn’t say setback I’d say a drawback, yes. uhm..

T: uhm, so, how did your family feel or how did they feel about you assimilating into American culture?

S: ahahaha…haha…uhh, my fam-…well…they happy for me. They happy I am here. Though they do wish I would come back home, but uhm..as long as I’m happy and they trust my ability and my sense of judgment. They’re content, they know I am happy, they want me to be here. they’d love for me to be there, you know, I tell them it would be nice for me to expand the family name. come out here, you know and make,,,and put our family flag, like okay…i was here. “I came, I saw, I conquered”…so to speak.

T: Let’s see I want you to kind of go a little deeper into that if that’s okay. So what do you mean exactly when you say “I came, I saw, I conquered”? What is your objective of that- well no… What would you tell your family to encourage them to get here, the land that you love so much, what would they be able to look forward to in America other than what is in Africa?

S: You can have your dreams come true.

T: Okay…

S: With hard work, dedication in this country you definitely could have your dreams come true. It’s against the…you know it’s against the bad job in my country where if you do not have someone in a higher place; and I’m speaking about corruption, in highest level as far as from as high as the top to as well as the bottom, yes. But here your hard work will definitely pay out. Your hard work, your dedication, your faith yeah your dream will definitely come true.

T: So do you feel like in Africa your very limited based on your socio-economic status?

S: yes. yeah, yes, your very…uh..there is a very huge limitation in Africa. you know if you’re rich you’re rich and if you’re poor you’re poor.

T: That also seems to be the case here in America, “if you’re rich you’re rich, if you’re poor you’re poor”. So how does one even move up or try to put faith in being in a higher class?

S: You know somebody once said, “if you’re not born into a rich family then you can never be rich”.

T: mhm…do you know who said that?

S: uh…I can’t remember who exactly, uhm…but..uhm..in other countries or unless you want to play unless you don’t want to play. In a sense where you have to do the things they do to move up or you don’t. You know, the choice is yours. So it’s…it’s two ways, either you were born into a rich family or you were made rich. you can make yourself rich. you know, you can either do the things that those other people are doing in order to be rich or, you know that’s if you are born into a rich family or a rich status.

T: right, so what would you say would improve the conditions at home, in your home country?

S: you know, i do believe it will take time, but only if there- only if there’s seriousness based on everybody who’s very, very much determined to want to make a change. But um…corruption has to be rooted out. even for the men…even for the men-mentality of…of everybody. because it is so imbedded into everybody’s mind and it’s the right thing, it’s okay to be corrupt and it’s not…it is not okay to be corrupt because…because then you’re not looking in the longevity of the upcoming future which is kids and what are we planning for them. And I seen it time and time again where government officials, when their in office, yeah everything is peachy and everything is nice and good for him and the family and them and the family or the family members but soon as they step out of office; the next person who comes in who wants, you know, a better life for their family. but that’s not what it’s supposed to be it’s about, you know, serving your country. I believe uhm…uhm John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what a country can do for you but what you can do for a country”. that, so…that person that man has always been, for me, an inspiration like, okay.

T: (Asks to speak last few sentences a little louder)

S: He’s a..he…John F. Kennedy has been you know, about what he said has always stuck with me…about what he said a country can do for you. that for me, as you know…there is no good to honor when you’re doing right for your country. so what can i do for my country you know in fact corruption is at its highest level. you know say if you want to start something, you start from the very top you don’t start from the bottom. uh, proper election, free and fair election…uhh proper education on the highest level. even if their raised, yah people want to go to school, but free and fair election and electing those with the right mentality. about what can take the country far and beyond.

T: you know speaking about corruption, uuhm, that Africa goes thru what about the corruption in America, we see it in politics, we see it in school. Our school systems. We see the majority, well this is my opinion, and from what history has shown, that we are facing as Americans and Africans, that we face a…a diversion between races, power and wealth. uhm, so how do you feel about that? its. did that…from history in America which stemmed from corruption how do you feel about that. and the comparison with the corruption in Africa to here?

D: now, in comparison…uhm in Africa…let’s start with Africa for instance, so you go to school you graduate with flying color, honors and all. and because of the fact that maybe you’re from a certain race you won’t get a very competitive job. Or say you want to join the army after a certain rank you can not get promoted. okay, when I first got here. When I first got to United States, all I had absorbed, yes I did absorb that there was a difference, but one way to really fight, the one way to really fight corruption is education. education, one way to….educated enough to know what right is and fight for a rights legitimately because it’s right there in the constitution. there is no way you can not say the constitution is put in place to deny certain people, some people try to you know, no some people try to twist the constitution was aligned for so it’s for you so if you know what your right is and you know your right…its that you educated yourself. Go to school ask questions. Education is the fundamentals of defeating what other may come your way. They say that “education is light” It is light. Corruption is only darkness. The only way to gravel with that darkness is with education. Time and time again, and I’ll use an example for instance, Obama is president he is an educated man, he went to school, he went…he lead…he went by the book. He became a lawyer…what more can one ask for? He became a lawyer…he became an argumentative lawyer because, you know……where other people are a lawyer…………………he embedded himself into the system. The proper way and fought the system. on the outside. You know they say in my country, amongst my people, they say that um it s the bug that eats the leaf. It lives inside the leaf. And it say the enemy within, it is that kind of mentality. And the good, one of my greatest idols…he used education to fight the British…he used education to fight the British to stand still to give India their liberty, education you know…they ask him, ya know, “why can’t we go over there and fight”. But their bloodshed would lead to more bloodshed. But the way, the truth and the light is education. Uhh,

T: Alright, I believe that…so, what if you were to put. basically…what we generally do in America….or what we all do to fight most the corruption in society and in politics, would you be able to do those things in Africa?

D: yes.

T: to what extent? are there any limitations? are there any consequences?

D: officials would come forth by the uh…

T:for educating yourself and advocating…

D: the limitation…would probably be, first and foremost capital….where the fund is necessary to pursue such goal given the limitation of employment for that obvious reason, yes capital would probably number one. Two, uhm, once one has a capitalist and support in general…to fight it all the way then yes its possible. to fight it all the way to the very top, you know all the way up to the presidency then it is possible…and all the way up to the supreme court in order to change the whole general government mentality as to what corruption is…the evil of what corruption is.

T: would you be faith based? are you faith based?

D: yes.

T:one of my friends from Nigeria says that you can’t speak up as much as you can in America, that there are consequences …would you say that as bias, or would you agree or is there a certain class order that has the given rights or opportunities to do so?

D: you can speak up! you can definitely speak up in Africa, you can definitely speak up in Nigeria, you know there is towards the government you definitely can…it’s about are you saying the right things that need to be said? …that’s not bias, because a lot of the time people come up and that’s the problem with Africa. In 19…uhm…prior to…some of the incidents that led to the civil war was corruption. Corruption that…you know corruption that they wanted to root out for once and for all that was led into being…into being a tribal thing. being a racist thing. but that was not the context of what it was supposed to be…it was to root out the corruption that was seriously seeping into society. yes, you can speak up, just have to say…it has to be an unbiased like you want to say. speak your mind, say the truth. not no…regardless of whatever is going on or…or maybe…even if it’s your brother. see that’s the funny thing people have family in politics and don’t want to speak up. because either or they’re benefiting some way some how. it is in africa, it’s also it’s everywhere in the whole world. but yes, you know…when you see a spade, call a spade a spade. yes you definitely can speak up, people don’t want to speak up against their own brother. would rather speak against somebody else. it’s gone from what’s right, what we do. what’s right, okay i should speak up the truth okay what should we do, okay i don’t want to speak up because that’s my brother in office. or that’s my cousin, that’s a friend of mine we both have gone to school together so i don’t want to….NO…you can speak up, speak up and say what is the truth. do not contest with tribalism or waste or a certain section. when you speak up and speak up as one in general in actuality….as Nigeria, as one then yes, it can be done. I do not think….

T: okay, i think you should run for mayor (both laugh) perfect candidate. So, I want to hear more about your mindset before America and your mindset after. are there any thoughts or perceptions of America that changed when you got here?

D: I was, i would say i was a bit disappointed when i got here. Yes, a little bit I was disappointed…a little bit. Simply because the fact I was, uhmm…I was totally taken aback when I found out, I saw beggars, homeless people on the street. that was what threw me off completely, yes I was totally….

T: And what was the first state or city that you arrived to?

D: uhm…San Francisco…oh…Oakland.

T: Oakland? okay, so you saw this in Oakland?

D: i saw that in sf , and I was surprised at first, then my surprisement turned into disappointment.

T: yea

D: i remember…i remember one day and i saw forgive me for using this word…I saw some streetwalkers it was on the international boulevard in Oakland…

T: that is what they are, they are prostitutes…

D: and I was…I was shocked…I was very shocked.

T: that they were…was it the fact that they were so boisterous or just out there? what was it?

D: that it was so obvious. that’s why i was kind of…it wasn’t the promiscuity…it was just that it was so obvious. it was and country to believe…what everybody believes back home…i know things are not as the way it always is. but i was not expecting that. i was not expecting to be hit that much. so yes

T: in America…there are a series of thing. people take pride in a lot of things here, but was this perception of America given from media in Africa ?….

D: yes…

T: is that what it was?

D: yes! uhh, you know the media portrays Africa as third world and I always…I find that whether..

T: and can you define that?…

D: I would see…see I’m currently trying to find out what third world is, and in my book how can you define the word third world….are you basing it on socialism or on capitalism? if it is based on history, Africa should be placed as number one! first world, let’s put it this way, Africa had the first civilization before the rest of the world had it. so you say third world, if it’s a country like United States that is less than 200 years old. every country in Africa is more than a thousand years old. more than ten thousand years old, more than twenty thousand years old! There are just set in their ways, other countries are modernized, that is “modernized world”….yes. but we love walking, we humble with the way we are, yes. we dress for the climate, I’m not going to wear pants and jacket you know in 120 degrees. no! if i want to walk around in my loin…hahaaahaa

T: say that again, what was it?

D: if I want to walk around in my loincloth ,ahaha, and go hunting then…

T: what’s another word…so to speak an American word for loincloth…

D: uhhm…walking around naked, so to speak. but, you know the truth is uhh…

T: so, okay, so i got off track…there is so much, running in my mind about things…now we are in this phase that you’re here in your early years…

D: yes…

T: age 29…right?…were you caught by America’s culture? Were you brought in to the…cuz what do you…let’s se…how about this…what do you see that was America’s culture when you first got here? For your generation or trends?

D: you know for my generation…uhm..for my generation i’d say it’s much easier as compared to those that are compared to the generations before me. One is..i guess it wasn’t hard for me to blend in you know, because of my open mindedness, uhm…because my father use to say that, “when you’re in Rome behave like the romans.” So for that mentality or that mindset already there I…when I…as soon as I got on the plane I said okay whatever is the culture is in America I will try to i will do my best to pick out the best of the good ones…and learn from the bad ones. take a few lessons so i would not get caught up in the bad ones and get better with the good ones and get better with the good ones. Go to the best of the best. So it wasn’t very hard for me, you know, to try and blend in…let’s use that word…now for some people …I’ve had friend who came to the United States prior and all ran back two years in the world…some were disappointed…they were all uhh…shocked. I guess because, you know, they were not open minded about the situation in which they found themselves in so it was more a culture shock.

T: So since you came here with such an open mind….was there anything besides the…the…the women, the prostitution…

D: the homelessness…

T: the homelessness…was there any situations that you were put in for the American culture that you saw yourself…that changed your aspect of Africa or what you did in Africa that you kept? Did I say that right? Maybe I should rephrase it.

D: Rephrase it.

T: Were there ways, values…and beliefs that you left behind to assimilate into American culture? Once you got here…and what would those be?

D: Okay…uh..some cultures that have laid behind…Id say…cultural oneness. culture of family.

T: Can you give me…can you give me a story or a situation that you went through or that happened prior to coming to America or one that changed? Like how was oneness was so effective in Africa…whereas in America it is…maybe divided…

D: The mentality, the people…when I say oneness uh…if…if we grew up in the same neighborhood or we grew up…we don’t need to necessarily grow up in the same neighborhood for me to treat you like my own brother…In Africa, I don’t need to know you to give you my last meal. Or i don’t need to know you to give you the shirt off of my back, but that was something that was totally different here…very different.

T: People tend to be very selfish.

D: Selfish…self centered…you know, uhm…inconsiderate. It all towards another person…towards the less fortunate. You know, you see someone on the street, you know this person is hungry…why not take out all that you have in your wallet. why not give him your twenty bucks, yeah. And or take out ten and say, “hey take this, go buy some food, and here you go.” What about a shirt that you’re not wearing anymore, or you know, some stuff that you don’t make use of anymore… give to the person and say, “here it is yours.” Why give America– why give and you say your giving and at the end of the year you claim your taxes and claim as though as tax deductible…you know that means you’re not giving freely. you know, I grew up in a culture where for me it was, i can go to a total stranger and ask you if you have not eaten anything and i could…or would even give you my food…give you food to eat as compared to you just come to steal it from me. No, stealing is forbidden. Here i know it is, you know, the reason why people steal is because nobody will give them…nobody is willing to share with them. Nobody is going to ask somebody, “have you eaten?”. Nobody is willing to look at their fellow human being and say, “that this is a human being”

T: would you say that humanity is losing…uhm..

D: humanity is losing face.

T: in America or in the world as a whole?

D: from Africa to America i will say, yes. In America, it is losing its face. they are no longer being our brother’s keeper. that is against to what is supposed to be. Yes, we are diversified, yes we are uh uh culturized…but still even amongst people here…it’s…it’s different. you know you can really tell there’s a big difference and that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

T: i agree….I believe that America is very prideful everything is for “me, me, me”…for the better, for my pride in how i do things…and i am an American although i do have ways that are faith based…and related that drive me to be uh an outsider of American society so would you say that, you have been..are…would you say that you’re on the outside looking in? so would you say you have fully assimilated to the American culture, the ways…the beliefs?

D: no…

T: trends, food…

D: no i will say…i wont say i have assimilated with it, i’d say i have taken the best of it…i’ve taken the best of it…that i’m taken the best of it uhm…i speak up against it…i can try…i can try to speak up against it. and hope for the best that people would listen and maybe just try to be you know, be oneness..be you know be what they ought be…not what they think they should because who am i? i am nothing if you have been poor.

T: okay so we talked about that, let’s talk a little bit about your work…how much time do you have?

D: about five minutes…

T: okay let’s talk about your area of work, your career field…so when uhm…what do you do now?

D: okay uh, everything…even right now i’m actually seeing if i can get a job as a security guard. see if I like it..a nonlethal security guard. i have a job interview set up Friday i think…if it comes…well i consider myself a um…an entrepreneur.

T: are there any uhm…anything that you run other than looking for a security job? or was there a particular field that you went into when you first arrived to America?

D: retail.

T: retail.

D: and i loved it.

T: did you face any challenges?

D: uh yes…yes i did…unfortunately where i came from has a history of financial crimes so it was…you know they have a negative history of financial crimes. so, it was …it was kind of hard. it was difficult…try to make people see I am not one of those people…I’m not one of those perpetrators of that kind of crime, I’m a different person…

T: so you see that this was an appearance that society…or businesses saw Africans…

D: yeah…society, went to interviews and they say oh i hear an accent, where are you from? and I’ll tell them I’m African or Nigerian, and there is always this ..this split second look, little twist…or twinkle in the eye…like ooh no

T: so you portray those thoughts to be related to financial issues that Africa has

D: no, it’s not financial issues, in the past my country had some..some uh some people felt it was okay to be involved in financial crime and it really made a very, a not very pleasant look or perspective of my country or my fellow countrymen who were perceived as financial criminals….so it was kind of difficult. but i was lucky enough to get a job in retail…customer service. and it was something i always liked, and what i do…i do act as a consultant for businesses or startup. consultant/research analyst to help them research and help them find…you know they have an idea but they don’t know how to go up on it…or look and see what they have to say about what they want and what they think their goals are and i try to be frontal as to what is achievable because it is one to know one’s achievements but another to know what to achieve.

 

 

 

Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant

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Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant

by Fiona Fong, January 2016

Home is one’s birthplace, formalized by memory. Home to billions of people is China. The Chinese civilization is the world’s oldest and today its largest. China is home to more than fifty distinct ethnics groups and a wide range of traditional lifestyles, often in close partnership with nature. China is home to the world’s largest mountains, vast deserts ranging from the searing hot to the mind-numbing cold. China is known not only for its beauty but also for its immense social and environmental problems. China has an unfair distribution of wealth that has caused poverty, social outcasts, and civil unrest. People move to other countries for many reasons, but for undocumented migrants it is usually because they need to escape from poverty, natural disasters, violence, armed conflict or persecution. My grandfather, Moon Fong, is one of the many people who have immigrated from China to America, where it is more accommodating to his standard of living. Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech, which the Chinese government enforced, and the opportunity for economic security, which he now feels was worth leaving his family for.

Moon, an immigrant from Taishan, was exiled from his home on the year of 1951 at the age of twenty-nine. He was forced to leave his family and move to America because he had bad-mouthed the government during a meeting. Moon illegally immigrated to America by filing documents with his auntie’s friend as his fake father. Moon obtained valid documentation to come to America but wasn’t immediately released until the Angel Island Detention Center permitted him to be. In America, he worked as a janitor at a hotel and as a produce transporter for Safeway; he made just enough money to send to his family in China and saved a little to spend on himself. When Moon was separated from his family, he met a Caucasian man named John Smith in the U.S. who forever impacted his life on the night of Thanksgiving. Through John’s help, after around fifteen years of living in America, Moon was able to learn English and bring his family over to America through The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families. After Moon’s ninety-three years of living in America, he has finally been able to share his story of coming to America with his granddaughter, Fiona.

I, Fiona Fong, have had the honor of interviewing my grandpa through my English 96-1A class at City College of San Francisco, facilitated by Professor Mayers. If I had not taken this class, I might have never fully gotten to know my grandpa’s story. Throughout the semester, we analyzed excerpts of oral histories published by Voice of Witness, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to make the unheard voices of individuals heard. In our class, we read insightful books that show different viewpoints about immigration. They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration, by Aviva Chomsky, covers how immigration plays a part in the economy, the law, race and government policies. Underground America, the third book in the Voice of Witness series, presents individual oral histories of men and women struggling to sculpt lives for themselves in the U.S. For our last project of the semester, each student will interview one person who has experienced moving from one place to another. The significance of our fourth and last project is to introduce a more intimate and realistic perspective of immigration by asking questions and evaluating our interviewee across a table, face to face, with only a recorder between us.

Moon’s choice of words caused his exile from Taishan, China; he believes that illegally coming to America was worth carrying out because he has found his freedom of expression even if he had missed the occasion of seeing his family for fifteen years. Freedom of expression was a political factor that drew Moon to America for the benefit of himself and his family. During a meeting, he pondered on a thought and shared it with the group. Moon said, “There has been a huge increase in population.” “Should we immigrate to America?” In this statement, Moon realizes that China’s system of government cannot comprehend the increase of population effectively. His family and village were starving. He was indicating that America was more capable than China in handling the issues of overpopulation. China is increasingly responsive to special interests and not to the public interest. The government eventually found out what Moon had shared. The next day, government officials came to Moon’s house with intentions of arresting him and forcing him to take back what he said about the government. “In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.” Moon had to filter what his true feelings were for the sake of the government. He was threatened the moment he expressed his true feelings. He felt he couldn’t benefit from the government’s views, which enhanced his longing to go to America—the land of the free.

Moon’s aunt was able to convince her American friend to acknowledge Moon as his son so Moon could come to America. Moon and his imitation father underwent a trial with a jury. Throughout the trial, the judge asked Moon’s fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What is your son’s favorite food?” To Moon, the judge asked what was in front of his father’s house. “What kind of tree is outside of your house? “What is in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of them did not answer correctly, Moon would have never been able to stay in America. During the interview, he said, “The reason why I came to America was because America protects the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.” America was the place for Moon where he knew he didn’t have to refrain from voicing his true feelings. Moon was attracted to America more than China because America protected his rights as a human that China oppressed.

After successfully obtaining the proper documents to come to America, Moon left his family in China for fifteen years and worked two jobs, a sacrifice he now feels was worth regaining his family. Angel Island was an immigration station where immigrants entering the United States were detained and interrogated. “By the time I arrived in San Francisco, California, I was not immediately released from the custody of the Angel Island Immigration Detention Center.” The detention center did not permit any immigrant to leave the island until they had gone through proper the procedures of being “decontaminated.” The only two jobs Moon ever worked in America was as a janitor at a hotel and a produce transporter for Safeway. He made just enough money to send money back to his family in China and pay his own bills in America. Until his day, he has been working and sending money back to China. “During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family was all in China. My wife, my son that was 13 years old and my 14-year-old daughter were in Hong Kong. Because of the fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children, Anton and Helen, at the time. ” Coming to America came with consequences, Moon came to earn more money in America and gave up his time with his family in exchange. Family was the reason why he moved to America but his support from his family wasn’t reachable. He had Newton, his third child at the age of 50. His fifteen years of separation from his family caused a 30-year gap between Helen and Newton. “ I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I noticed signs of aging on her features. These fifteen years without my family was very hard to bear.” This shows that his opportunity of coming America came with a price. To earn more money and human rights, Moon left everything in China. Moon felt that obtaining proper documents to come to America and working two jobs was a sacrifice that was worth enduring for his family.

The article “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges,” by Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez, was published in the Annual Review of Sociology in 2005. The contributing authors are professors at Harvard University’s Department of Sociology. The research article focuses primarily on how immigrant assimilation is changing. Waters and Jiménez examine the change in immigrant assimilation through quantitative studies using four indicators of assimilation: “socioeconomic status, language assimilation, geography of immigrant settlement to measure immigrant assimilation.” The many experiences of European Immigrants during the Great Depression and the restrictive laws of the 1920s created historical geological movement as an independent variable predicting the degree of assimilation. Waters was able to analyze immigration through political and economic lenses. Through political and economic forces, Waters and Jiménez were able to measure migration and support Moon’s actions of moving to America to become economically stable. Through this article Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez dissected immigration looking at immigrants’ socioeconomic status, language assimilation and the geography of settlement to measure immigrant assimilation, which also shows that Moon’s decision to come into America mirrors those of many.

On the night of Thanksgiving, Moon was expecting to spend the evening alone, for his family was in China, but he spent it with John Smith, the man who finally gave my grandfather the ability to bring his wife and two children to America, to learn English as his second language and to believe that migrating to America was worth it. Living in Chinatown helped him endure his sense of loneliness. Chinatown was a little taste of home he found in America. “Well, living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present: fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.” Moon’s description of his sense of smelling and seeing showed that the Chinese culture and customs in San Francisco’s Chinatown weren’t that different from China’s. Even though he was away from home, San Francisco Chinatown gave him a piece of home he longed for. The year he came to America he expected to spend Thanksgiving alone. On the night of Thanksgiving, my grandpa was sitting in his dimly lit apartment alone with tears dripping down his face. He heard a knock on the door; he quickly wiped his tears and opened the door. Standing outside was his friend, John Smith. “Would you like to come and live upstairs with me?” John asked. From that day on, Moon promised himself to never isolate himself to the verge of tears. John provided the sense of family that Moon had longed for in America. John saw the ethic of hard work in my grandpa. John never asked my grandpa to pay for the monthly rent for the apartment they shared together. One night, John noticed that if Moon was able to speak English, it would help alleviate an anxiety that Moon experienced in America. John said, “You don’t know English. I will teach you English.” By helping Moon diminish the language barrier, John was able to give him a sense of belonging in America. After mastering English, Moon as able to apply for citizenship for himself and his family. From the night of that one Thanksgiving, John was able to help Moon feel it was worth it to come to America by helping my grandpa overcome his language barrier, his habitual living conditions and his longing for his family and become a citizen of the U.S.

Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech that the Chinese government enforced. Although he missed being a part of his children’s childhood, he believes immigrating to America was worth it because he has found his freedom of expression; moreover, it was here he met the man he feels forever indebted to for helping him learn English as his second language, reunite with his family in America, and achieve economic security.

Works Cited

Foner, Nancy. “The Immigrant Family: Cultural Legacies and Cultural Changes”. International Migration Review 31.4 (1997): 961–974. Web.

Waters, Mary C., and Tomás R. Jiménez. “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges”. Annual Review of Sociology 31 (2005): 105–125. Web.

 

Sample Transcripts

Fiona: What is your name?

Sarah: I will be translating for Mr.Fong. My name is Sarah.

Fiona: How old are you?

Moon: I am 93 years old.

Fiona: What country did you immigrate from to America?

Moon: I immigrated from Taishan, China.

Fiona:Do you currently live in The U.S?

Moon: I currently live in San Francisco , California.

Fiona: Did you immigrate during a historic event?

Moon:Yes, I did immigrate during a historic event. There wasn’t any food to eat.

Fiona: Why did you leave Taishan?

Moon: I was forced to leave because I had spoken against the government. In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.

Fiona: What did you say that caused the government to exile you from Taishan?

Moon:When I outspokenly said. “There are too many people the population. Do you think we should immigrate?” And the people began to think I was rebelling against the government.

Fiona: How did they force you to leave?

Moon: The government said they were going to catch me and imprison me if I didn’t take back what I had said.

Fiona: Is there a reason why you chose America as your asylum?

Moon:Yes, the reason why I came to America was because America believe in the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.

Fiona: Did you come to America illegally?

Moon: Yes, there was no choice.

Fiona: How did you come to America?

Moon: My father’s sister knew someone from America who was willing to sign papers as my father so that I can come to America. We began to recognize each other as father and son only on the paperwork.

Fiona: Was it a long process to get into America?

Moon: Yes, I couldn’t have immediately gone to America after the paperworks were processed. When I came to America I was imprisoned on Angel Island. They kept us immigrants on Angel Island because they believed that we were contaminated with germs and diseases. The Imprisoners disrespected and invaded my privacy.

Fiona: May you please specify on what happened during your process of coming over to America?

Moon: In order for me to come to America I had to go through a trial before a judge. The trial involved the judge, my father and I. But the judge individually interviewed me and then my father. Throughout the trial the judge asked my fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What was my favorite food? And as for me, judged asked what was in front of the house. “What kind of tree was outside your house?”” What was in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of us did not answer correctly then I wouldn’t have been able to come over to America. That’s what before we went to see the jury we prepared ahead of time for the questions he was going to ask. And our objective was to answer the questions or I couldn’t have come to America.

Fiona: Did you pass the first trial?

Moon: Yes I did pass.

Fiona: In America, what struggles did you go through that the citizens wouldn’t have?

Moon: During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family were all in China. My wife, son that was 13 years old and my 14 year old daughter were in Hong Kong. The fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children at the time.

Fiona: What jobs did you work in America?

Moon: I had to work two jobs so I can send money back to China and pay off the rent in America. I was working at Safeway as service clerk and a janitor at a hotel. If I didn’t work both jobs I wouldn’t have been able to support my family and myself.

Fiona: Did you family eventually come over to America? If yes()ask how long

Moon: It took 20 years to bring my wife and two children to the U.S. When I left China my children were still around 10 years old. By the time they came to America, my children were already 30.

Fiona: What complications had the missing time period of 20 years with your family affect you in what ways?

Moon: I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I had noticed signs of aging on her features. These 20 years without my family was very hard to bear and heartbreaking. Because I couldn’t see my lover. But without these experiences I wouldn’t have met the man I am greatly in debt to.

Fiona: Did this man help you cope with the feelings of immigration and loneliness?

Moon: This caucasian man is older than by 20 years. The man knew that My whole family was in Hong Kong. Thanksgiving was the hardest night for me to go through. Thanksgiving is the time to gather with family members and have a meal. On the night of Thanksgiving I was all alone in my room crying and missing my family. The caucasian man came down to invite upstairs to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. I will never forgive those words he said that made me forever in debt to him. He said to me, ”You don’t know English. I will teach you English. “He shared the comfort of his home to me. He never asked me to pay for rent. He also helped me send money over to my family. He is the biggest contributor to all my success in life. Now every Thanksgiving after the one the caucasian man invited me to, I do not eat alone anymore. I have someone to spend it with now.

Fiona: So that answers the questions: What struggle did you face that a citizen wouldn’t have? As in he wasn’t able to see his family and the other question, which was How did you assimilate to the customs and culture of America? So because of that man, grandpa was able to learn english and able to mediate some of the stress he had.

Moon: Thinking back to those experiences it’s really hard to think of without feeling sad.

Fiona: What did you experience in China that you did not experience in America?

Moon: The Statue of Liberty is a symbol I would represents America the place of freedom where you wouldn’t be under arrested for bad mouthing the government or political figures.

Fiona: How did you bring your wife over?

Moon: After twenty years of waiting, I was able to bring her to America because of the Democratic party. The president during that time signed a bill that granted immigrants citizenship if they admitted to being undocumented.

Fiona: How did the political experience affect you?

Moon: Through this experience, I will be forever rooting for the democrats. If it wasn’t for democrats, I would have never seen my family again.

Fiona: Are you or were you limited to health care?

Moon: I am currently with CCHP because I do not qualify for a white card. Because I am considered middle class I, a 93-year old man have to paying around $300 dollars for simple medications such as eye drops, ear drops, vitamins and cough syrup. Whereas a person with a white card doesn’t have to pay a penny.

Fiona: Did you move to other countries?

Moon: No, I really like America?

Fiona: If you could sum up one reason why you like America what would that be?

Moon: The freedom of speech that is exhibited throughout America.

Fiona: What perspective of immigration have changed or remained the same?

Moon: Back then, if you were a real citizen, you can document your family as citizens within half a year. Now, the process is even more extensive. Another perspective of immigration that has changed is that back then you can become a citizen if your sibling was but now the reforms have changed.

Fiona: Why do you think Immigration in America changed?

Moon: Immigration in America changed because of the increased levels of poverty and immigrants.

Fiona: What kind of culture and traditions that still stuck to you from China?

Moon: Well living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present; fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.

How much did you pay for rent?

who was john smith

in a way did you pay him back?

Fiona: Thank Moon for sharing your story.

Moon: You are welcome.

The First Japanese Immigrants to America

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The First Japanese Immigrants to America: A Story of the Lost Samurais in California

by Sean Yoshikawa, January 2016

The early history of Japanese immigrants in the United States is above all, a history of a racial minority struggling to survive in a hostile land prevailed with white supremacy concept.  (Ichioka 1) However, the account of the first official Japanese immigration to the U.S. is quite unique compared to the standard immigration patterns from Europe or from any other parts of Asia, which were dominated by common people (Daniel 12). In fact, those first Japanese immigrants to America were ex-Samurai warriors who were equivalent to the knights of medieval Europe (Reischaur 129). In 1869, they came to the American mainland and established a short-lived agricultural colony in California (Daniels 250). Considering their short stay compared to the massive amount of Chinese mining laborers in the same area, their existence and its details have been unrecognized and hidden in the shadow of American immigration history today.  By tracing some of the valuable information preserved in both English and Japanese texts, this research paper explores and discusses the details of this first immigration event in Japanese and American immigration histories. Additionally, this essay shares a story of a young Japanese woman named Ito, Okei , who came along with this historical immigration, eventually became the first Japanese individual to die and to be buried in this foreign land (See appendix).

The main motive for their emigration starts and goes back to 1853 when an American Navy Commodore, Mathew Calbraith Perry and his fleets of steam-warships came to Japan, forced the Japanese government to open up its ports to Western nations, and demanded to enter into trade agreements called the “Treaty of Kanagawa” in the following year. This unexpected sudden event marked the end of the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate, and resulted in the emergence of the Meiji Restoration that allowed a Japanese emperor to regain absolute power. (Reischauer 228-230)  At the same time, this political transition caused sporadic civil war between the ruling emperor and the various samurai lords along with the uncountable numbers of samurai warriors all over Japan. Consequently, samurai warriors and their families of Aizu Wakamatsu who devotedly served the Lord of Aizu were forced to leave their homeland and became political refugees. In the middle of turmoil, there was John Henry Schnell of Dutch extraction and German arm-dealer who supplied fire arms and also was a military advisor to the Lord of Aizu during the revolution: Japanese name; Buhyoue Hiramatsu (O’Brien & Fujita 10).

After Aizu’s defeat, Schnell came up with a plan for relocation of those refugees to the New World called America. His initial plan was first to bring three disgruntled samurais and their families, along with himself, a doctor, his Japanese wife, their two daughters, and a nursemaid, which made up a total of twenty one people. Afterwards, he planned to bring forty families, and lastly eighty families. This would total four hundred colonial members, who would produce high quality silk products and tea. Schnell named the place “Wakamatu Tea and Silk Farm Colony,” and what is nowadays called Gold Hill, California (Herman 2) (Japan-US Encounters Website 1) (Takaki 43)

Gold Hill where they established their colony is located at an elevation of 1621 feet, in El Dorado County, California. From San Francisco, it is about on hundred fifty miles away and takes about three hours to get there by car today. Gold Hill is historically well-famous for the site of the first discoveries of quartz gold by James Marshal in 1848 that led to the Gold Rush. By March 1851, there were one hundred fifty buildings in the area, including hotels, saloons, stores, and even the first school.  However, it “pinched out” by 1864 and mines were closed, thousands of people had moved to Grass Valley and neighboring area, and only farmers and a small Chinese settlement remained in the area. (El Dorado 8-9)

On the 30th of April, 1869, the first batch of Japanese immigrants left Yokohama, Japan for the New World by an American Oceanic mail steamer called “China.”  After twenty-two days at sea, they arrived in San Francisco on the 20th of May. Following a search within the central Sierra Nevada foothills by placing an advertisement on the newspaper Daily Alta California, they purchased the one hundred sixty acre of vineyard for five thousand dollars, which included orchard trees, more than thirty thousand grape vines, vast grain field, brick houses with furniture, barns, wine cellars, agricultural equipment, horse-drawn buggies, cattle such as horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. They settled in. (Herman 2) After all, they spent over two weeks in San Francisco before moving into the farm. By encountering diversity of ethnicity and the Western culture shocks, their temporal stay in San Francisco must have been the most exciting moments with full of prospective and hopes then. (Daily Alta California)

Their arrival in California was sensational. Daily Alta California had newspaper coverage for the arrival of a new industry as a brand-new business opportunity from the Far East, which attracted American businessmen who were eager to invest in a pioneering industry.  According to the article from the newspaper, their arrival was, in a way, considered to be more a “delegation” than an “immigration.” Obviously, the details of their arrival and intention suggest that Schell was interviewed by journalists and Schell fairly represented their project well. The newspaper correspondent wrote: “They were not slaves but are free-men, and are sophisticated people. They shall respect and accept our laws and regulations. Therefore, we shall not treat them as Chinese.”  As a matter of fact, there already were more than 100,000 Chinese on American soil at that time which caused racial hysteria all over California. However, most importantly, unlike Chinese immigrants, Schell and his entourage came with their families, brought their fund to make investment, and had definitive purpose and plan to establish their self-sustainable community. These facts made a distinctive difference from Chinese sojourners and immigrants. Moreover, after their arrival, the newspaper Daily Alta California continued scooping their progress for their articles, which still provides us the details of Wakamatsu colony today (Daily Alta California).

As soon as they settled in Gold Hill, they wasted no time in establishing their colony. They brought with them thousands of tea plants, mulberry trees, silk worms and other traditional crops to start a tea and silk operation. The Wakamatsu colonists successfully displayed silk cocoons, tea and oil plants at the 1869 California State Agricultural Fair in Sacrament and at the 1870 Horticultural Fair in San Francisco. For their future expansion, Schnell also purchased an additional farm in the town of Auburn for one thousand and eight hundred dollars (El Dorado 7).

However, one and a half years later, in the summer of 1870, they suffered from a drought problem, and to make it worse, their misjudgment led them to use irrigation water containing iron and sulfurs from the old gold mines critically damaging most of their plants and crops. It was devastating. In the beginning they experienced much success but this drought, irrigation problems, and disinvestment led to the colony’s collapse.  Consequently, the Wakamatsu colony was not economically viable, mainly because the samurai lacked the necessary skills as well as social skills to work the foreign land. Crucially, due to “the prohibition orders of embarkation” for samurai refugees by the imperial government in Japan, the initial planned colonial members who were supposed to chain-migrate did not come to reinforce them. The final blow came when their Lord Matsudaira in Japan was released from captivity by the Japanese government, under the terms that he gives up his wealth and power, which meant the termination of further financial support from Japan. As a result, the colony miserably bankrupted.  Two articles from two newspapers report the details of their predicaments and their final phase of this historical event. (Daily Alta California 1) (Pacific Rural Press 1). 

After two short years of settlement, the colony had disbanded. One by one, colonial members started to leave the colony in search of better pay elsewhere in California.  Evidently, at least three of them found agricultural job opportunities and remained in the area. One of them was Masumizu Kuninosuke; “Kuni” who spoke five languages moved to Coloma and became a farmer and miner. In 1877, He married Carrie Wilson, a woman of African and Native American descent and moved to Sacramento to raise a family. Kuni died at the age of sixty-six in 1915 and was buried in the Colusa cemetery. Notably, his children were interrogated by American officials after the Pearl Harbor incident in 1941. Matsunosuke Sakurai and Keiko Ito were employed by a neighboring farmer of German descent named the Veerkamp family. Matsunosuke’s tomb stone can be found near the Veerkamp family cemetery plot in the pioneer cemetery of Coloma and Okei’s tomb stone still sits within the property of the Wakamatsu colony.  The rest of colonial members went back to Japan and one of them became very successful in the dried fruits business there, which was totally brand new venture business then. Later, the Japanese government ironically sponsored this individual to come back to California to learn further industrial techniques and advanced knowledge of the dried fruits business. Moreover, this person also operated a restaurant business in San Francisco that made him a fortune.  As a consequence, he sent his daughter to the University in California and she became the first female doctor in the Wild West. However, due to gender and racial discriminations, she never found opportunities for her medical practice in America.

Finally, John Henry Schnell with his wife and their daughters were the last people to leave the colony in the summer of 1871. They claimed to return to Japan with the intention of securing funds. But nobody ever heard from them again. As a matter of fact, there are no evidences for their return to Japan at all and no one really knows where they left for. Schnell completely disappeared without further trace, which still remains as the biggest mystery of the Wakamatsu colony even today (Guglieri, Wendy Personal interview. 28 Nov. 2015).

What is left now?  In 1969, as a focal event in the celebration of the centennial year of Japanese immigration to America, Japanese Consul General Seiichi Shima and then Governor Ronald Reagan dedicated a commemorative plaque and memorial garden as the National Register of Historic Landmark No. 815 at the site of the former Wakamatsu Colony, where Gold Trail Union Elementary School is currently located. This school has maintained a 27year sister school friendship with Higashiyama Elementary School in Aizu Wakamatsu. In 2010, the American River Conservancy purchased the land in order to protect the Colony’s extensive natural and cultural history. Today, they lead “Wakamatsu Farm Restoration” that also offers “Volunteer Opportunity for Restoration” and monthly public tours. For more information: www.arconservancy.org (A.R.C.10)

Last but not least, the story of the first Japanese immigration to America was a story of broken hearts and faded dreams. However, the most remarkable facts are that they were well assimilated to American culture by speaking English, wearing Western clothes instead of Kimonos, and adopting local culture and traditions, which made a clear distinction from other Asian immigrants at that time, the Chinese. As a result, they were respectably accepted by local community. Extraordinarily, some Wakamatsu colonists utilized their severe American immigration experience to create the dried fruits industry in Japan, which has proved the resilience and diligence of Japanese immigrants for ever after.

Appendix

A Story of Okei  Ito:

No Wakamatsu-related story, perhaps, captures the imagination and spirit of the immigrant dream than that of Okei, who embarked from her home country at age 17 and became a nursemaid to Mrs. Schnell and the two Schnell children, Frances and Mary.  She died in 1871 at the age of 19, and is believed to be the first Japanese to die on American soil.  Although very little is known about what eventually happened to the Japanese colonists, Okei-san’s grave site with the marker – “In Memory of Okei, Died 1871, Age 19 Years, a Japanese Girl” – still sits on top of Gold Hill. It is rumored that Okei-san would often go to this area to watch the setting sun and look towards her homeland.   Although Okei-san’s story had long been lost until after World War I, details have slowly emerged about her life. During this time, the grave of Okei-san was quietly maintained by the Veerkamp family and Veerkamp elders told their grandchildren about a “Japanese princess” who had died on the ranch. We now know she was a part of a group of 22 colonists who made the long journey from their home in Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan in the late 1860s to become the first Japanese colonists to settle in America ( Aoyagi-Stom, Caroline 6).

               Photo1             

                           Picture of Okei            

Photo2      

The National Register of Historic Landmark No. 815              

Appendix

The Hallmarks of Japanese Immigrants:

  • Men and women are equally educated at the higher levels compared to other immigrants. This contributed to keep their higher standard of living even under the harsh condition and environment.
  • Especially good at mathematics: which allowed them wisely manage their financial / economic aspects and succeed them in investment. (O’Brien and Fugita 19)
  • They were individually well-disciplined and well organized as a group, which benefitted to manage mutual aid systems.
  • The Japanese Government encouraged them assimilation by speaking English, wearing western attire instead of traditional Kimono, and acculturation by acquiring American education for their new born generation in America.
  • Traditionally, Japanese people were well skilled in agriculture, fishery, and carpentries with long history of development, which are well planned and managed. For example, Japanese farmers carefully chose what kind of crops to grow and sell among other ethnic groups who were already in America. They chose specific varieties of crops that would not compete with others. As a result, it contributed to reduce not only the competition but racial antagonism as well.
  • Social niche: agricultural industry in California; During the rapid expansion of industrial capitalism after the Civil War, non-English speaking immigrants from eastern and southern-European origin, filled the ranks of the unskilled labor force required by American industry and society. (Ichioka2) As a result, what is left is a “social niche,” which implied an opportunity for Japanese immigrants.  In case of western states, it meant the urban service trades, railroad, mining, lumber, and most of all, agriculture and fishing industries.    
  • Technological aspect: irrigation system. Invention of new agricultural tools for efficient productions. As a result, Japanese immigrants advanced the whole agricultural technology in America, and they eventually dominated the agriculture market in California.
  • Intelligence, resilience, and diligence; all of these factors contributed Japanese immigrants to achieve relatively rapid success in America.

Appendix

Daily Alta California

Photo3

Sacramento Daily Union

Photo4  

Pacific Rural Press

Photo5

Image credit: © Courtesy of CDNC, hosted in the University of California Riverside.

Work Cited

American River Conservancy (a.k.a A.R.C) The Wakamatsu Tea & Silk Colony Farm-

America’s First Issei: The Original Japanese Settlers” Coloma, CA American River Conservancy 2014 Print.

Aoyagi-Stom, Caroline “Wakamatsu Colony centennial: 100 years of Japanese in America, 1869-1969” Sacrament, CA Japanese American Citizens’ League. 1969 Print.

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number

6988 ARRIVAL OF JAPANESE IMMIGRANTS 27 May.1869: 1. Web 4 Dec. 2015

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number

7087 Editorial Notes 15 August 1869: 1 Web 4 Dec 2015

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 23, Number

78100 THE CENSUS OF JAPAN 10 Aug. 1871: 1 Web 4 Dec

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number

7028 THE JAPANESE SETTLEMENT 16 June 1869:1. Web 4 Dec 2015

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number

7045 THE JAPANESE COLONY AND TEA CULTURE 3 July 1869:1. Web 4 Dec 2015

Daily Alta California: California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number

7071 THE JAPANESE COLONY 30 July 1869:1 Web 4 Dec 2015

Daily Alta California: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 21, Number 7156 THE

JAPANESE COLONY 24 Oct. 1869: 1 Web 4 Dec 20015

Daniels, Roger “Coming to America” New York, NY. Harper Perennial Press 2002 Print.

El Dorado County Visitors Authority “El Dorado: Farm Trails and Visitors Guide”

Mountain Democrat Sacramento, CA 2010 Print.

Guglieri, Wendy  / Wakamatu Docent Personal interview, 28 Nov. 2015

Herman, Masako “The Japanese in America 1843- 1973” Dobbs Ferry, NY. Oceana 

  Publications, Inc. 1974 Print.

Japan-US Encounters Website History of Japan-US Relations in the period of late 1700s

and 1900s Sept. 2008: 4 Web Dec 2015

Nichi-BeiTimes Where It All Began 26 April, 2007: 4 Web 4 Dec 2015      

O’Brien, David J and Fugita, Stephen S.  “The Japanese American Experience”

Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana University Press 1991 Print.

Pacific Rural Press: Digital Newspaper Collection Volume 1, Number 20 Fact About

Irrigation 20 May 1871: 1 Web 4 Dec 2015

Sacramento Daily Union: Digital Newspaper Collection Number 5765 LETTER FROM

PLACERVILLE 18 Sep. 1869:2 Web 4 Dec 2015

Takaki, Ronald “Strangers from A Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans.”

Boston, MA. Little, Brown and Company 1989 Print.

Reischauer, Edwin O “The Japanese” Cambridge, MA. Belkinap Press of Harvard

University Press. 1981 Print.

          

Home Is Where the Family Is

 

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Home Is Where the Family Is

By Yunxian Tan, December 2015

“To be a Chinese or to be an American?” This question has puzzled most Chinese immigrants in America. It is not a simple question, for behind it is a chain of other questions—how to understand the new meaning of “home” after immigration, how to reidentify oneself, and how to recognize and accept different nations and cultures. For an essay about an immigration story, the final assignment of my English 961A class, I decided to interview a Chinese immigrant, May Tan, who uses her own ways to combine the two different cultures together from the two different worlds, which are the world inside her home in America, where Chinese culture is one hundred percent kept alive, and the other world outside her home in America, where the American culture is wholly presented. As a Chinese woman, May is of medium height and is well-featured. With bright piercing eyes and a clearly cut bob haircut, she shows herself as capable, confident, optimistic and straightforward. May immigrated to the United States in her thirties with her other four brothers and sisters. Unlike other Chinese immigrants who immigrate to the U.S. for a better life, she immigrated to the U.S. to reunite with her family and to broaden her horizons. Compared with other Chinese immigrants’ long and hard immigration procedures, May’s immigration road has been, in her own words, “lucky and smooth.” From the application process to the interview with an immigration officer, May smoothly goes through all the formalities, and this gives her quite a good first impression of America. However, in her past twenty years’ life in the U.S., May has experienced a lot: hope and confusion, freedom and discrimination, and the collision of the American and Chinese cultures. May has persisted through all of these challenges and her persistence rewards her with a happy family reunion and much broader horizons; furthermore, she has also reidentified herself in the U.S. and has refreshed her idea of home: Home is where the family is. Now, May has totally merged with the America public society while staying in her own private Chinese circle, which is a very old and strict system that cannot be broken easily by any force from the outside. She lives to her own goals happily and confidently and has her own lifestyle in the U.S. How has immigration changed her views of what a home is? Having lived here for over two decades, how has she negotiated between the Chinese and American cultures? With these questions, we started our interview in a jolly tone at May’s home with the topic of the purpose and the way of immigration.

Unlike most of the Chinese immigrants, who have difficulties in finding ways to assimilate into western culture and who have limited choices in the matter of immigration, May has luxury of choosing to decide whether and how to immigrate to America. May was born in the city of Guangzhou (Canton), China. As the capital city of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou has long been regarded as the south gate of China, for it is located in the center of the Delta of the Pearl River, nears Hong Kong and Macao, and serves the role as the most important economic and cultural center and the hub of communications in the South of China. Before immigrating, May had spent all her life living, studying and working there. Growing up under the nurture of Chinese traditional culture, May immersed herself in Chinese Martial Arts, studying and practicing Tai Chi (a kind of traditional Chinese shadow boxing) from her early twenties. As the champion of Guangzhou Tai Chi Competition, May had a decent job and a happy life with lots of friends and Tai Chi students in Guangzhou. However, May had been taught since she was a child that, in traditional Chinese culture, a real home is where all the family members live under the same roof to support each other, so when her mother and her elder brother asked her and her other brothers and sisters to come to the U.S. to reunite with them, she readily agreed. In the interview, May mentions that in the immigration rush from the 1970s to the 1980s’ from China to the U.S., for example, in Guangzhou and other cities in the Delta of the Pearl River, most of the Chinese with overseas’ connections all tried their best to go abroad. The United States, especially San Francisco, a place that used to be called “Old Gold Mountain” in China, is described as “a place full of gold, full of opportunities and full of freedom.” Therefore, it has become the top choice immigration destination for Chinese immigrants who really wanted to have a rich and happy life. When I ask May whether she had the thought in mind to have a better life in the U.S. before the immigration, she says:

“For me, immigrating to America and having chance to see the outside world is good, but I don’t have much interest on that. I don’t count on it, or maybe you can say that. I just want to see what the outside world looks like, to open my eyes, to expand my knowledge and fulfill my life experience, that’s it.”

As a traditional Chinese woman who used to be taught to put family as the first priority, and who has had a comfortable life in China, May’s purpose of immigration is quite different from other Chinese immigrants in America.

May says that her main purpose for immigrating to America is to reunite with her family and to broaden her horizon, but she believes that people immigrate to America with many other purposes, for example, to pursue better lives, better education, and freedom. To those people who come from developing countries, America is like a heaven, full of freedom, full of chances, and full of treasure. That’s why people from all over the world are willing to pay whatever it costs to try to find a way to immigrate to America. Then, May tells us a story about her friend and schoolmate Sharan. In order to immigrate into America, Sharan was willing to sacrifice her lifetime happiness for a fake marriage with an American just to give her whole family a chance to immigrate to America and have better lives. May also mentions that, in other cases, people immigrate to America to pursue freedom. As everybody knows, in some developing countries, people are still living with no rights to speak out. Even though they have their own opinions, the governments will not allow them to express themselves, especially in public. For those people who live in countries without liberty of speech, America, as the symbol of freedom, is no doubt their first choice to seek freedom. With regard to the ways of immigration, especially the way of immigrating via fake marriages, May says she is not for it, and not against it, for everyone has the right to choose the way for his or her future life.

Our interview moves on, and I ask May how she immigrated to America. While there are many ways for people to immigrate to America, what May chooses is the most common and general one, family-based immigration. According to data from the American Immigration Council (AIC)’s official website, generally, there are five basic immigration types: family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, refugees and asylees, the diversity visa program, and other forms of humanitarian relief. Besides, the AIC also finds that “Immigration to the United States is based upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.” That is why people who want to immigrate to America try their best to find a way out. For those who have family members in the U.S., what they need to do is to follow the family-based immigration process, and wait patiently, as May did. May stated in the interview:

“My application of immigration belongs to the second priority according to America’s immigration law, so that, the process was not as difficult as it is at present. That’s why I just waited two years before I got the visa.”

But not all the people have the luck May has. For those who have no family relations in the U.S., they have to seek other ways, such as paying large amounts of money to intermediate agencies to apply for an employment-based immigration; or paying a large amount of money to people who can arrange them to get married with America citizens or residents in order to apply for family-based immigration, as the case of Sharan; in addition, asking for political protection is also another way to fulfill people’s immigration dreams. If people can prove they have been abused by the government in their counties for political reasons, they may have chance to ask for protection from America, for America is the country that always puts human rights as the first importance. Moreover, crossing the border to come into America without documents is also a way to immigrate to America, even though that is illegal.

Our next topic is May’s difficulties in her early days in America. After arriving in San Francisco, May found her first job at a local Chinese restaurant with the help of her relatives. At the restaurant, May could communicate with her Chinese colleagues very well; however, when she was with the staff from other countries who spoke English or Spanish, she felt totally lost and had no idea what they were talking about. After a few weeks of 24/7 hard work at the restaurant, the original feeling of novelty, smoothness and happiness faded away. In China, May only had a middle school education and could not speak English; therefore, the language problem became the first obstacle in her new life in America. May was worried about her communication with others for she was over thirty and really had much difficulty in learning English. Besides that, as Chinese, she was also worried about being discriminated by others, such as her coworkers from other countries, native English-speaking customers, and even passers-by on the street. The once full confidence and pride in her was by then replaced by worries and confusions. May even began to blur the line between the outside world, “the real America” and the inside world, “the home in America” with Chinese culture standing stably. The pressure on May was so intense that one day when she saw the stars and stripes on the flag, she could not help crying out: “America, would you accept me?” Though facing so many questions and difficulties, May at last found the answer: she would rather actively go and face the new world than passively wait to be accepted by others.

In order to find out the difference between Chinese and American cultures, May makes the brave decision to move out of her home in San Francisco to live alone in Oregon. For May and most Chinese immigrants in America, no matter how long they have lived here, there is a common perplexing question: should Chinese immigrants adapt to the America society and assimilate into the America culture, should they keep staying in their own Chinese circle and maintain the traditional Chinese culture as they used do in China, or both? In May’s opinion, in traditional Chinese culture is a unique system, which has more than a five-thousand-year history in the human world. When one cultural system can be testified by thousands of years and still exists in present day, it must have its shining points and eminent elements. Like May saying in the interview:

“Chinese culture is broad and profound. Nowadays, people or you may say experts from all over the world are showing more and more interested in China’s traditional culture, such as Chinese culture in eating and drinking, traditional Chinese medicine theory, Chinese martial arts, and Chinese painting and calligraphy, etc.”

But at the same time, May also realizes that when one decides to spend a long time or even his/her lifetime in another country, he/she should accept and try to know about the culture, customs, and habits of this country, and try to merge him/herself into the society. As the proverb goes, “Survival of the fittest.” Everyone should find his/her way, try his/her best to be a part of the community where he/she lives. That’s why May decides to move away from her family in Chinatown of San Francisco to go to Oregon alone. What she wants to experience in Oregon is living inside the American circle, so she tries to understand what the American life looks like, and what the true American culture is.

When May starts her life in Oregon, there is no one she can rely on but herself; she lives with an American family, eats American foods, and speaks English all day long, forcing herself to completely dive into the American culture. She rents a room from an American family, and shares the kitchen, dining room and living room with them on the second floor. As she tells me in the interview, her landlord, Mathew, and his family are very kind and nice to her. But the different lifestyles and habits of different cultures make her feel a little bit unaccustomed. Answering my question further of what exactly the difference is, she explains:

“Well, first, the living style is different. I don’t like people to interrupt me during my lunch or dinner time, but they like to talk much and loudly while they are sitting at the table. Then, they like to put a key under the carpet in front of the door in case they forgot to bring the key with them; however, it makes me feel very uncomfortable and unsafely.”

As a cautious person, May is quite uncomfortable in the lax American attitude on safety. Raised on safety in the Chinese traditional education, May will never put a key outside the door; on the contrary, she always double checks whether the door has been well locked before she leaves the house.

“Secondly, the habits of eating and drinking are different. You know, Chinese people like cooking. So, when I cook, I have different ways to make the dishes, such as frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, stewing, simmering, baking, and scalding, etc. But, what they like is raw foods, such as, raw vegetables, even raw meat, which makes me feel a little bit nauseated.”

May says Mathew and his family like her cooking skills and enormously enjoy the foods she shares with them, so, as a reward, they also share their foods with her. May says that at first she did not like American food, but she forces herself to eat it for no matter how the food tastes, it is the true American taste. After living with them for months, she accepts American food and begins to like to cook and enjoy it. That means May’s lifestyle has changed. While putting her legs out of the Chinese circle, she steps into the America society. According to Alberto Grandi in his article “Pizza, rice and kebabs: migration and restaurants,” “Along with language, food is one of the strongest elements of identity binding migrant groups.” Grandi believes that food plays a major role in communication and connection in a migrant community. Just as May mentions, lots of Chinese immigrants here do not accept the western food and are not willing to step into the America society. They tie themselves closely in the Chinese circle, speaking in Chinese, eating in Chinese restaurants, and keeping all the customs that their ancients did to show their loyalty to the Chinese tradition. May says that it is not easy for her to make such a change, to walk out the Chinese circle and step into the America society.

It is hard to mix two different worlds together in one’s life, but May does it and does it well by absorbing the American culture and habits from the public outside world, and meanwhile reserving the traditional Chinese culture and habits for her private inside world. While May is talking about two different worlds, it reminds me of the article “Child of Two Worlds” in Andrew Lam’s book Perfume Dreams. Lam presents his mother’s view of the outside and inside world: “One cannot be both this and that. She sees herself simply as a Vietnamese living in exile” (8). Lam’s mother believes that one cannot have two different worlds at the same time. The question of whether to keep oneself in the inside world in the outside world, if put into May’s story, is whether May should keep herself in the Chinese circle and act as a Chinese, or keep herself in the outside world, adapt to the American circle and society, and act as an American. From her original confusion to her peaceful mentality between the two different cultures, May has spent more than twenty years in America, and has effectively negotiated between the Chinese and America cultures. Since she insists on living in the American circle, May accepts the American culture, follows the rules in America, and communicates with her coworkers in their way; therefore, all the ideas of the western world are not problems to her anymore. In the outside world, she is definitely an American. However, when May goes back to her home in America, and gets together with her family, she can also exercise the traditional Chinese culture pretty well, such as preparing and cooking the Reunion Dinner for the whole family on the eve of the Chinese New Year, visiting her elder brothers and sisters with traditional Chinese gifts at major Chinese festivals, like the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Spring Festival, and the Dragon Boat Festival. This means that her thoughts and actions are still totally Chinese when she goes back to her home and stays with her family. So when she noticed her mom was unhappy because she went to Oregon alone, she decided to go back home to accompany her and to stay with the whole family. From her childhood, May was taught that the most important thing in a family is family members staying together. Though it is not easy for May to mix these two different worlds together and to shift these two entirely different cultures form one to another in her daily life, she does it successfully.

May has been through the transition from one world to another, from one culture to another during her 20-odd years living in the United States. She witnesses that in America, a renowned multi-cultural country and a “melting- pot,” nothing is impossible. From rice, noodles and porridge to hamburgers, hotdogs and fried chips; from shirts, pans, and high-heels to jeans, baseball caps and boots; from the traditional Chinese ways of celebrating the Spring Festival to the purely western ways of celebrating Christmas, May has finally found the balance between the two different worlds. She also believes that, in such a “melting-pot,” lifestyles can be merged, eating and drinking habits can be merged, and different cultures can also be combined. As a Chinese immigrant, May experiences all this merging and combining, and it gives her a more clear view that Chinese immigrants should go outside the Chinese circle and step into the America society, accept the new concept from the outside world, while reserving the traditional Chinese culture for the inside world. In May’s thoughts, facing life bravely, accepting life’s challenges, and trying to be a part of the society can help people achieve their goals in the new living environment easily and successfully. Just as the well-known author Isabel Allende writes in her memoir My Invented Country: a person living in a new environment is similar to a relocated tree:

“The image of those trees from the home of my ancestors often comes to mind when I think of my destiny as an expatriate. It is my fate to wander from place to place, and to adapt to new soils. I believe I will be able to do that because handfuls of Chilean soil are caught in my roots; I carry them with me always” (Allende 30).

Although it seems impossible to live in two different worlds and to shift from one to another so smoothly, May uses her own ways to illustrate that cultures can be combined, worlds can be merged. Being an American Chinese, after all the experience of moving from one country to another, from living with the family to living alone, and then to living with the family together again, it becomes more and more clear to May that no matter where one goes, no matter how long one stays in one place, home is just where the family is.

Works Cited

American Immigration Council. “How the United States Immigration System Works: A Fact Sheet.” immigrationpolicy.org. 16 Oct. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Lam, Andrew. “Child of Two Worlds.” Perfume Dreams. Berkeley: Heyday, 2005. Print.

Allende, Isabel. A memoir My Invented Country. New York: Perennial, 2003. Print.

Grandi, Alberto. “Pizza, rice and kebabs: migration and restaurants.” World History Bulletin Spring 2014: 27+. Academic OneFile. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

Tan, May. Personal interview. 25 Oct. 2015.

Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:         May’s Immigration Story

Interviewee:                May Tan

Interviewer:                 Anny Yunxian Tan

Interview Date:           October 25, 2015

Interview Location:     May’s Home

 

Anny: Hi, this is Anny. Today, I’m going to interview May Tan. Thank you very much, May, to be my interviewee.

May:   You’re welcome.

Anny:  What we are going to talk about is May’s immigration story. And the purpose of this interview is that I am going to write an essay for my English 961A class, which topic is “Home Is Where the Family Is”. I believe that everybody has his/her own life story. People come to the United States from different countries, and I think that everybody’s immigration experience is unique. So, let’s start from this question:

Anny:  May, can you tell me where are you come from?

May:   Yeah, I came from Guangzhou (Canton), China.

Anny:  Are you born in Guangzhou, or you move to Guangzhou afterward?

May:   I was born in Guangzhou, and lived there about 30 years before I come to America.

 

Anny:  Wow, 30 years is not a short time, right? So, why do you immigrate to America?

May:   Well, I immigrate to America because I wanted to reunite with my family. For my mom and my elder brother are in here, I don’t want the whole family be separated by the sea, and two parts of the family even don’t know how’s other member’s life in the other side. As a family, everybody should live together, right?

Anny:  Yeah, of course. So, you said you were born in Guangzhou, and also grew up in Guangzhou. Then, could you tell me what Guangzhou looked like in your eyes while you were living there.

May:   At that time, en, Guangzhou was in the process of, en, including technique, city construction, living environment, which were in the process of development. But, as the common people, people still lived in the general level, not very rich, but also not really bad. However, everyone in that time were happy, I can say that.

Anny:  Why? Why everybody were happy? They happy for what?

May:   Well, you know, even though people were not rich enough to have whatever they want in that time, en, but you know, the relationship of the family, neighbors, coworkers, or you can say the big environment in the community was good. You know, there were not too much pressures to people, and also, people had not demand too much in their living status, what they wanted was very simple: had a place to stay in during the night time, and had food to eat during the day time, haha~ you know what I mean, right?

Anny:  Yeah, totally got it. That’s just the basically demands for human being to live in the world, and family reunion is the most important thing for some people, let’s say, like you, willing to move no matter how far, or whatever country is to stay together. But in that time, did any friends, neighbors and coworkers around you have any other reasons, or did they have any purposes to move to another country for, en, such like a better life, a better future, and a good opportunity, etc.

May:   En, normally, I didn’t chat with my neighbors about this kind of question. You know, it’s quite complicated and personal, right? For me, the purposes to immigrate, one is for family reunion; another one is that I want to go outside to take a look of this world. Everybody says that the world is big, then, I really want to know how big it is. If I have chance to see what the outside world look likes, it’s good for me in my life, en, it’s a good experience, en… or I should say that, it would be a good turning point in my life. Or, from another view point, en, when you get into another country, when you start your new life in an unknown world, that’s really a kind of challenge. You think so?

Anny:  Yeah, It sure is! Now, I totally understand your purpose of immigration. But how about the people around you? What did they think about your decision to immigrate to America? En, I heard that, in the 1980s, there was an immigration wave in mainland China, especially in southern China. So, did any of your friends or relatives immigrated to another country for chasing the wave?

May:   Oh, yeah. There was really a huge immigration wave in that time. Lots of people wanted to immigrate to another country, you know, especially to America. For me, immigrate to America, have chance to see the outside world is good, but I don’t put much exceptive on that. En, I don’t count on it, or maybe you can say that. I just want to see what the outside world looks like, open my eyes, expand my knowledge and fulfill my life experience, that’s it.

Anny:  Sounds good!

May:   Yeah. But, you know what, lots of my friends, who wanted to immigrate to another country, have their own ideas and purposes. In their eyes, the moon in the outside world is much rounder and brighter than that in China; everything in the outside world is better than that in China. That’s common view for people who were chasing the immigration wave in that time.

Anny:  Really? Well, could you tell me more about that, or do you have any specific stories of your friends in this situation?

May:   Sure! I have a friend, whose name is Sharan. Actually she’s one of my schoolmates. She lived in a family who put all their hopes in the immigration. However, in that time, they don’t have any direct relationships for applying immigration to America, she just has an aunt (her father’s sister) living in New York. So, when she was in her 20th, Sharan’s mother try her best to ask her sister-in-law to find someone in NY to marry with Sharan, then, can bring her to America.

Anny:  What? Just find someone, no matter who he is, no matter how old he is? Even though they had never met before? Then get marry for just having a chance to immigrate to America?

May:   Yeap! Can’t believable, right?

Anny:  absolutely! Can’t imagine!

May:   But, that’s the truth.

Anny:  Then, what’s reaction of Sharan, did she agree with her mother’s arrangement for her future life?

May:   Uh, at the very beginning, she was quite disagree with that. But later, under the pressure of that she was the only one who can bring her whole family to the America, then, she accepted that.

Anny:  Wait, why do you say so? Well, I’m quit confuse of that? I mean, how could she bring her whole family to the United States?

May:   Well, it’s not as complicate as you imagine. Another word, it’s simple to see the route: first, she gets married with an America resident who has the legal identity in America, or it would be better if she can marry with an America citizen.

Anny:  Yes? And then?

May:   Then, she can apply for immigrating to the United States in a short time. I mean, en, what I say it’s a shot time is compared with other immigration types, such as the time that parents apply for their children, and brothers and sisters apply for their siblings, etc.

Anny:  I see… ok, if Sharan married with an America citizen, there’s no doubt that she can apply to immigrate to America for reunion with her husband, but how come her family can move with her?

May:   Nope. Of course her family can’t move with her at the same time. But, think about it. Since she gets a legal identity in America, let’s say, a green card, you know, then she has rights to apply her parents to come to America for family reunion in the coming future; And, if her parents can immigrant to America, let’s say, within five years, then, they can apply for Sharan’s brother to come too.

Anny:  Wow, it looks like an interlocking link.

May:   Yeah, isn’t it? One immigrate benefits a whole family. You know, that’s the way… that’s the way that a whole family can have chance to go outside in that age. You see? So, en, I want to say that people would do whatever they can to send the first one to move outside, then, later, one by one, until the whole family move out of the country.

Anny:  Oh, now I see what you mean. En, but as I know that you’re not in this line, right? You immigrate for family get together, and also for giving yourself more chances to see the world, to accept the challenges from the life, right?

May:   Yeah, of course. My purpose to immigrate is quite simple and clear.

Anny:  Well, do you remember the process of applying for immigration to America? Or I may ask more details, en, like, how long it takes from you apply for the immigration to you finally get the visa?

May:   Well, let me see. En, in that time, I think it was acceptable, as I remember… it just took me about two years.

Anny:  Just two years? Wow, that’s quite fast, I must say.

May:   Yeah, if you compare with nowadays, it is. For that age, it was still not so much people to have chance to apply for immigration. Well, even though, the immigration wave started at that time, but in my case, my mother apply me to immigrate America was belongs to the second priority according to the immigration law, so that, the process is not as difficult as it is in present. That’s why I just waited two years, then got the visa.

Anny:  How did you feel in this two waiting years? Everything went smoothly?

May:   Yeah, I’m quite lucky. In the process of the immigration was going quit smoothly.

Anny:  Do you still remember that the detail of the immigration process? Was it just go through like what it does in nowadays? I mean, starts from your mom summit the applying forms and data to the immigration department, then, you follow…

May:   Wow, it’s been a long time. You know, honestly, I don’t remember all the details right now. Uh, but generally, I think the process of immigration doesn’t change too much, or you can say, it is quiet similar with it in present. What I remember is that, I did not need to do too much paper work in that time, for that mostly were done in the America side, which means, uh, my mom asked for help to a Chinese community organization who are volunteer for helping Chinese people, their folks, to deal with such kind of immigration issues. They are very helpful and enthusiasm; they filled out all the forms for my mom, prepared and checked all the data what immigration department need for my mom. So, there were no more left for me to do in my side.

Anny:  They are so great! What a wonderful organization!

May:   Yeah, they really are! I am so appreciate for their help. You know, without them, I think, my process could not go through so smoothly. I remember that, I did nothing but just waiting for the notification of the immigration interview in Guangzhou US Consulate General in China, and then, took the physical exam and the notarization of no criminal record after we received the interview notification, that’s it.

Anny:  Sounds quite simple. Well, about the interview, that’s part I’m also interested in. Could you tell me more about your immigration interview? Is it hard to communicate with the consular officer? What language did the officer using to talk with you during the interview?

May:   Haha~ it was really interesting. You know what? As I remember, the consular officer was a white lady, and she talked to us with Mandarin, which surprised us quite a bit?

Anny:  Us? What do you mean? You took to interview with other people else?

May:   Oh, yes! I should tell you first. Xixi~ I forgot! My mom apply me and my other four siblings to immigrate to America in the same case.

Anny:  Wow, which means, five of you were in the same immigration case. So, when you got the notification of the immigration interview, five of you came together, to take the interview in the same time, right?

May:   Yes! You are right.

Anny:  Hey, that’s quite a big team, isn’t it? I’m just imagine what it looks like while 5 siblings standing together in an interview window, which designed for maybe just one or two people. It must fun and crowded, right?

May:   Haha~ it sure is. We really had fun during the interview. Especially when the officer saw five of us showed up in front of her, and told her how excited we were for having a chance to reunion with our mom and brother who living in America and we didn’t see for a long time, she was so happy for us.

Anny:  Really? Wow, she’s so nice!

May:   Yeah, she is a very nice officer, I must say that!

Anny:  So, you say that she was very happy for you all, what did she happy for? What questions did she ask you guys during the interview?

May:   Not too many questions she asked. But what I remember clearly is that, she said, “Good, it seems that you guys are the new blood for America society. You are all in the prime of life, so you guys are going to work after you arriving in the United States, right?”

Anny:  Good question! And your answer is?

May:   Well, I said, “Of course we will! We’re going to find a better work as soon as possible, and we also want to go to school to learn more knowledge too.” I also told her that we have confidence to make lives by our own. We will not be the burden to our mom and our brother, also to the society at all, and the fact is that we haven’t go back on our words.

Anny:  Excellent! I’m so proud of you all!

May:   Thank you!

Anny:  So, after the officer got your answer, what did she say?

May:   She was very happy for our answer, and said very loudly to us, “Very good! I hope you guys enjoy your new life in the United States.”

Anny:  Wow, everything was going smoothly, right?

May:   Yeah, you can say that. For the office was really happy that the main purpose that we want to immigrate to America is for family reunion. Before that, I had no idea of that American also put the family as the first place in their life. But in China, especially in the southern China, mostly people think that family is very important in their lives. So, they will do whatever they do to stay with the family. And if the family can stay together, no matter how hard the life is, they can go over it and feel happiness.

Anny:  I agree! That’s a part of Chinese tradition to have all the family members stay together, help each other, care each other, that’s the meaning of what a family is, right?

May:   absolutely! So, when the officer knew that a big family would be reunion in the United States, and all of us willing to work hard, study hard, and make no burden to the family and also to the society, she was really, really happy for that, and I am sure that we gave a good impression to her, as well as she did give a good impression to us and the America during this interview.

Anny:  I think so too! So, let’s go back to your story, when the officer said that words to you guys, was that means she approved your applications and gave you all the visa?

May:   Yeah! She did! After she said that, she sign her name on the form and asked us to pick up our visa in that afternoon.

Anny:  So fast? You can get your visa in the same day of the interview day?

May:   Yeah. It’s normal in that time to get your visa in the afternoon if you have an interview in the morning. But if your interview is in the afternoon, you also can get your visa in the next morning, I mean, if you can pass the interview.

Anny:  I see. Did you pick up your visa by yourselves, or sent by the consulate department?

May:   We picked up the visa by ourselves. For just waiting half day, you know. There’s no need to use snail mail, especially you don’t want to take the risk of losing the visa while in the way of mailing, right?

Anny:  That’s true! But, that’s quite different between this days. As I know, nowadays, people just can get a visa within a week by mail. They don’t have choice to pick up the visa by themselves as well as they don’t have way to chase the process of mailing. What you can do is just wait, wait, and wait; what you need is be patient!

May:   Hahaha~ time changed! You know…

Anny: Yeah, isn’t it? Haha~ so, since you got your visa at the same day of the interview, had there any limits on time to leave your county to move to America?

May:   I am not quite sure about that, for we just moved to America within a month after we got our visas. You know, when I thought about that my mom was lingering for seeing us in the other side of the ocean, I could not wait longer to fly to her. You understand it?

Anny:  Yeah, of course, that kind of feeling is hard to express by words, right?

May:   Exactly! That’s why when we got our visas, we got all the stuffs in Guangzhou done as soon as possible, and packed our packages as simple as we can, then, bought the ticket to fly to America through Hong Kong.

Anny:  Why you guys needed to fly to America through Hong Kong?

May:   Well, firstly, there is the only airport nearby Guangzhou, which has the direct flight to San Francisco, the city where my mom and my brother lived. Secondly, we do have some relatives living in Hong Kong, so we want to visit them before we leave China.

Anny:  How often you guys come to Hong Kong to visit your relatives in that time?

May:   Actually, we never did before that time. For we didn’t have visa to go outside the country in that age, so, normally, it was them who often came back to Guangzhou to visit us instead.

Anny:  What? Outside the country? Are you saying Hong Kong is the outside world, or another country?

May:   Well, you should know that, before 1997, Hong Kong was still the colony of England, people who lived in mainland China needed to apply for a visa if they wanted to go to Hong Kong.

Anny:  Got it. I just suddenly forgot that, xixi~

May:   It’s ok. People sometime forget, haha~

Anny:  Yeah, sometimes. So, was there a good experience to step on the ground of Hong Kong, the so called “outside world” of you guys? Was everything going smoothly in there?

May:   Oh, that experience! I must say that, it was a hard and difficult time for us during our visit in Hong Kong.

Anny:  Hard and difficult? How come?

May:   Well, you know, it was the first time for us to step out of the country, and walk into another world, which we called it the “outside world”. Everything in there was new for us, or I can say that everything in there was quite differents from our own country, which made us feeling uncomfortable.

Anny:  For example?

May:   For example, the traffic direction on the road is totally opposite. In Hong Kong, the traffic rules are following by England system, so, they use left side going up, right side going down, but in China, we have our own system, which use right side going up, and left side going down.

Anny:  Yeah, that’s really completely opposite. Anything else?

May:   Yeah, of course. There were so many sky malls in the city, which gave you a feeling like you were living in a stone forest; and the roads in the city were so narrow and tortuous, up and down, and sudden turn round, which made you totally dizzy if you were sitting in a bus or a car; moreover, the city was so crowded, and people who living there looked so busy, they walked liked they were running… uh, there were many, many things, which made us feel pressure and uncomfortable during the time we were there.

Anny:  Wow, it sounds that you were really had a hard time there. So, how long did you stayed in Hong Kong before you flied to America?

May:   In that time, people who took an international flight from Hong Kong international airport could stay there seven days, after that, you must left. That’s why we felt time was not enough for us in Hong Kong, for we had too much things want to do in there.

Anny:  Like what?

May:   Liked, we wanted to visit some of our relatives; we wanted to sacrifice our grandpa who buried in Hong Kong; we wanted to take a quick look of Hong Kong, etc. All in all, we just felt time was flying, and we still had many, many things want to do, but finally had no time to do. For we needed to step on the way to our destination, America.

Anny:  What you guys felt in that moment while you arrived at the San Francisco international airport? Excited?

May:   Well, kind of, if you ask. But honestly, my brain was suddenly empty at that moment. I just followed my siblings and went to the line for new immigrants, I mean, the custom counter. I knew we need to pass the custom, and signed some documents before we went outside the airport. Because, my mom told me about that through a long-distance phone call before we started our journey.

Anny:  That means you knew what you need to go through when you arrived at the airport, even though you didn’t know the whole thing, but at least, you knew the general process for new immigrant inside the terminal, right?

May:   Yeah, I generally understood what would happened, and what we needed to do before we met our families who were waiting outside the door in the terminal.

Anny:  By the way, when you went through the custom, did you understand what the officer said to you? How you guys communicated with the custom officer?

May:   That’s funny. Actually, we didn’t talked much in front of the custom desk, for we really didn’t know what he said. What we did was just keep smiling to him, and “yeah, yeah, oh, oh…” you know, we just guessed what he asked, and then, responded by facial and body language, haha~

Anny:  What? Was he ok with that?

May:   Yeah, as what I mentioned that I was lucky, I mean, we were lucky. The custom officer was also a nice old man, he knew what new immigrants look like, or maybe he had lots of experience to deal with such cases daily in his position, so after he checked all of our documents, he asked us to sign. For this part, my mom told me several times before head, and asked us to practice our signature months before.

Anny:  What did her said?

May:   She told us, “You guys are better to practice your signature seriously, you can sign in Chinese, and also can sign in Pinyin (Mandarin). But, since you sign your name in the forms in the airport custom, it will show in all of your later legally documents, you cannot change it until you are at the moment to become an America citizen. So, no matter what, just practice you signature as well as you can.”

Anny:  That was a very clearly guidance, and did you guys following by your mom’s direction?

May:   Yeah, of course we did. So, when the officer asked us to sign, we did have a good sign on the form, haha~ After all of us signed, the officer said, “Ok, you can go now, welcome to America.”

Anny:  Yeah! You did it!

May:   Yeah! But when we heard the officer said about that, we felt quite surprise, we looked at each other and thought, “What? That’s it? We are in the America right now?”

Anny:  Hahaha~ for you didn’t expect that would be so easy to pass from the custom, right? You must prepared lots of information for answering questions, which you thought the custom officer would ask you, right?

May:   How did you know that? Hahaha~ yes, that’s what we felt in that moment. You know what, the much funny thing was, when we got to the packages picking area, we saw our families were waving to us outside the glass wall.

Anny:  Wow, I think that must be the very exciting, and emotional moment, when you saw your families waving outside the glass wall, right?

May:   It sure was. All of us were cheering and waving back inside the window, I mean the glass wall. Laughing, just couldn’t stop, haha~ one of our relatives drove to pick us up, my mom, of course, was there, for she was the one who was longing to see us for a long time. For that relative who drove to pick us up also serial years no see, so we really had a good time to get together that night, and of course, to have a wonderful dinner together after we got to our home in here, San Francisco.

Anny: How did you feel your home here? I mean the first impression.

May:   Believe it or not, I didn’t put lots of attention to the “home”, but to my family members, such as, my brother who was the one first settled down in San Francisco, and applied my mom to immigrate to here. I was so happy to see him at that night, because we had not seen each other for more than ten years. So, when we saw each other at the dining room, we just kept chatting, even forgot to eat. Haha~

Anny:  So, it seems that you had a very good first impression to America at that time, right? From the very beginning to the end, all the processes of immigration were going smoothly; you had a happy experience of immigration interview; you met a nice immigration officer; furthermore, you had your mom, your brother, and several relatives in San Francisco who can take care of you since you arrived.

May:   Yeah, I must say that I am very lucky. Everything was so smoothly, which made me a little bit surprise. You see, from the interview, I noticed that all the staffs in the immigration department were so nice; even the officers of the custom in the airport were also very nice to us.

Anny:  Their attitude were good, right? Even though there would be some language battle between you guys and them, but, you could understand what he means, and also he could understand you, right?

May:   Exactly! So, we did have a very happy experience in the process of immigration. However, when I went over the flight sick and time jet a week later; when I looked at the Stars and the Stripes on the flag, I felt myself like in the dream, I also asked myself, “What? That’s it? I am in America now, am I in the dream?” then, I started to think.

Anny:  What did you think? Finally you got to America, finally you could get together with you mom and brother, a family reunion in here, what did you feel? Did you feel hope to your future life or a little bit lost for far from your hometown?

May:   En~~~ It’s hard to say. At that moment, I even didn’t think so deep, like you say, feeling hope to the future, or feeling lost for leaving my hometown. I just felt I had no idea where and how to start my life here. I gave up my life in my hometown, which was no bad and you know, China was on her way to development, everything were going well at that time. I gave up all of my life, my relationships in my hometown to America for family reunion and open my eyes, but I didn’t know how to start, at least, at that moment, a week after I reached here, I had no idea how, so when I saw the Stars and the Stripes, I even asked, “America, will you accept me?” (Emotional, like a lump in the throat). Sorry, I have a little bit emotive.

Anny:  It is ok, I know what you feel! So, any decision did you make after you took time to think about your future?

May:   Yeah, I did have a plan at that time, but not a completed one.

Anny:  What was it?

May:   I decided to find a job first, for I didn’t want to be a burden of my mom and my brother. I need to live on my own. Then, one of my relatives introduced me to work in a Chinese restaurant. More than ten hours per day, six days or even seven days a week working in the restaurant didn’t let me down, oppositely, I worked harder and harder without any complaint, for I had a clearly goal.

Anny:  Wow, more than 10 hours a day, seven days a week, that’s too much, I think. What’s your purpose?

May:   According to my plan, first step was to make money for living. When I got my salary two weeks a time, then, I could pay the rent by myself and had no problem in living. After that, I started to save extra money. I seldom spent money except that was necessary to used. So, several months later after I arrived San Francisco, I had enough money in my pocket, then, I started to travel around, from the western America, to the Eastern America, then, Canada.

Anny:  Wow, work hard, save money for travel, in just few month later. You really have difference thinking with other new immigrants.

May:   Yeah, lots of people, especially my relatives say so. They were so surprise that I spent all my saving money for travelling, some of them even thought I was crazy. You know, in their minds, as a new immigrant, I should work as hard as I could, saved money as much as I could for my better live in the future.

Anny:  Yeah, that’s a common sense. Now, I am quite interested in your motive of travelling America around in such a short time after immigrated to here.

May:   If you still remember one of my aim to immigrate to America is to go outside and see what the outside world likes like, right? So, since I had enough money, why shouldn’t I go around and take a look of this world? I wanted to open my eyes, and knew more about the local people’s life style and customers.

Anny:  You have an open mind, and really want to merge into this society. So, did you travel by yourself?

May:   Nope. I travel with my mom. You know, she had been America for more than ten years before we reunion here, but seldom had chance to go around, for my brother was busying for making more money to support the whole family. All my mom did in the days in America was so hard and boring, but she didn’t say a word, and didn’t ask for anything. (A little bit swallow, emotional) So, when I saved enough money; when I decided to travel around, I brought her to go with me. That’s one of my dream, to go around the world and see what it looks like, and broaden my horizons by travelling. And also, I think my mom deserved to enjoy the life and go outside to see the world too. I wanted to give her a good reward, because she did satisfy for the whole family so much for a long time.

Anny:  You mean, your mom didn’t go anywhere before you brought her out of the city, even though she had been here more than 10 years?

May:   That’s the truth. You know what, most of the senior Chinese here, just kept working every day, the daily routine is very simple: home-work place-home. That’s it, nothing more! Day after day, year after year, they just lived in Chinatown, speak in Taishanese, or Cantonese, until they turn old. That’s why some of this senior Chinese people recognize Oakland Bridge is Golden Gate Bridge.

Anny:  What?

May:   Surprise, ha~ But that’s the truth. For they even didn’t have chance to go closer to see and recognize them. Since they arrived here, most of them would spent 10-15 hours to work in the restaurants, laundries, and clothing factories. They worked very hard. Compared with them, I was quite soft, after few months, I just worked eight hours a day, and then, I spent four hours in study.

Anny:  What classes did you take at that time?

May:   I started from English 50A, the very basic and simple class for new immigrants. Started from ABC, very simple class, but it was not easy for me to learn for it was my first time to take English class formally. However, I told myself, no matter how hard it is, I must finish it, and I must learn as much as I can for I need it to find a better job in my future.

Anny:  So, did you find it? A better job latter.

May:   Yeah, after two years of full time work in the Chinese restaurant and part time study in the CCSF, I finally found my first job working for an English speaking company. And then, two years after that, I jumped into another America company, which is bigger than the former one. From then on, I stepped into the America society step by step, even though that was not the upper class society, ha-ha~

Anny:  Wow, That’s amazing! What a big progress! I am so proud of you!

May:   Thank you! I also proud of myself too, and I feel myself can merge into the America society very well. Ha-ha ~

Anny:  Do you accept the America culture?

May:   Eh~ at the very beginning, honestly, no! I didn’t accept that, and I always made troubles and misunderstood with people too. Thinking back right now, it was so funny. However, for I had learned how to say sorry, excuse me in the school, even though made a mistake or misunderstood, I still could fix it soon and pass that gap quickly.

Anny:  As I know, lots of Chinese immigrants in Chinatown of San Francisco are willing to stay around in the Chinese cycle, which they don’t need to speak English; which they can communicate with each other in their own way and without any misunderstanding, so, most of them will not and also cannot leave the Chinese cycle, and will not accept and even don’t want to know about the America culture, such as, the America life style, social behavior, and custom, etc. What do you think about this?

May:   I think, since someone decide to immigrate to a new country, and he/she is willing to stay there for a life time or a long time, he/she should try his/her best to find out and know their culture as much as he/she can, and try to merge into this society as soon as possible; be a part of them but not always isolate himself/herself from the society.

Anny:  But there’s some saying that Chinese people should not abandon their own traditional culture; even though they are living in other country, they should keep the traditional Chinese culture and expand it more to the outside world. You think so?

May:   I am not saying we should abandon our traditional culture. As the “descendants of the dragon”, I am proud of Chinese traditional culture, and willing to expand it widely as much as I can. That’s why I teach Tai Ji (a kind of traditional Chinese martial art) in here. But, what I want to say is that every countries have their own unique cultures, we should not so extremely in accepting one country’s culture then you must abandon another one. I mean, culture can be combined. We should learn from other’s strong points to offset one’s weakness, right?

Anny:  Totally agree! We should make the best of the both worlds. Yeah, nowadays, lots of foreigners are interested in Chinese traditional culture, such as Martial Arts, Yi Jing, Chinese Painting and   Calligraphy, etc. Many people around the world are learning Chinese too.

May:   Exactly. Chinese culture has thousand years history, it must have its shinning point, which worth to study. But, western culture, say, American Culture, it also has its own shinning point too, which worth Chinese people to learn and study as well. For example, following the setting rules, respecting to everyone but not just the nobles, having chance to speak out and express your idea, etc.

Anny:  You’re right! America is a multi-culture country, we can have chance to know and learn more other cultures in here.

Anny:  By the way, since you immigrated to America, are you just staying in San Francisco without any moving?

May:   At the first ten years, yes! I worked here, studied here, and also lived here with my whole family in San Francisco. But, after that, I made a big decision in my life.

Anny:  Really? What’s that?

May:   I decided to move to Oregon alone. The reason for me to move out from the family is that I want to take more challenge; I want to be more independent; I want to know more and experience the local American life. You know, living with the whole family is happiness.

Anny:  Yeah, always many people around you and give you their hands whatever you want, right?

May:   Yeah, in that time, being taken care by my mom and brothers and sisters, I need to worry about nothing. But, I know, there must be one day that I need to face the world by myself. So, I decided to take this challenge as early as I can, that’s why I made such a decision in that time. I really want to know, what the local American’s life looks like; what would my life turn to be if I leave the Chinese cycle, as well as I leave my whole family.

Anny:  That’s really a big decision, I must say. You’re so brave. Then, how’s your days in Oregon?

May:   Well, I have no idea about there’s a big gap between Chinese and American’s culture unless I rent a room and lived with an American family in Oregon.

Anny:  What’s the biggest difference between the two country’s cultures in your experience?

May:   Well, first, the living style is different. I don’t like people to interrupt me during my lunch or dinner time, but they like to talk much and loudly while they are sitting at the table; they like to put a key under the carpet in front of the door for in case they forgot to bring the key with them outside, which makes me feel very uncomfortable and unsafely. Secondly, the habits of eating and drinking is different. You know, Chinese people like cooking, so when I cook, I have different ways to make the dishes, such as, frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, stewing, simmering, baking, and scalding, etc. But what they like is raw foods, such as, raw vegetables, even raw meats, which makes me feel a little bit nauseated.

Anny:  Yeah, Chinese food is well known in cooking. Do your landlord like you cooking in their home?

May:   Yeah, they are no problem with that. Actually, they are very enjoy when I share my cooking Chinese foods with them. They said, “Yummy, yummy, Chinese food!” Ha-ha~

Anny:  Wow, seems you are a god chief, right?

May:   Ha-ha, not good enough la~. But I am very appreciate of myself, who made a smart decision to learn how to cook, and got a certificate of Chinese and western cooking, which gives me a good chance to work for any kinds of restaurants, not just limited in Chinese cuisine. You know what, when you command a skill that can make you live on, you don’t need to worry too much of your life.

Anny:  I do think so. So, you start your life in Oregon, everything is just depends on yourself, nobody can help you, and you are totally involve a new environment, and experience the American life, how do you feel the Oregon? Have you ever had any experiences of discrimination during your life time?

May:   In California, I must say, there is less race discrimination to Chinese people than in other White people living states. Maybe because there are so many Chinese people living in California. You know, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the biggest Chinatown in the world. And LA’s Chinatown also well known in the world. So, as a Chinese, you will seldom feel being discriminate in California. But in Oregon, I witness how those local American see the minority people as the second class residents. When they look at you, you can see the sardonic smile on their face. They look down Chinese, and think we are stupid, we are lazy, and we can do nothing big, etc.

Anny:  Why do they have such a thought in Chinese people?

May:   I don’t know. But as I know, Oregon is a state of forestry. There aren’t have so many immigrants living there. So, you may say there is a little bit reservation in there. Anyway, in my case, I would not let them to look me down. I can turn them around in the view of Chinese people, who is not as what they think, like, stupid, uncivilized, weakness, and lazy. I can prof myself as a Chinese, I can do whatever they can do, and even do it better than them, except speaking English. Ha-ha~

Anny:  That’s not a problem, right? For English is their native language, just like, your Chinese absolutely is better than anyone of them, right? As an ESL, you can communicate with the native English speaker without any problem in such a short time since you immigrate to here, you are so great!

May:   Oh~ thank you! You know what, what I am so proud of myself in those days living in Oregon is I am not just turn around what their view on Chinese people, I also bring Chinese traditional culture to them. Chinese culture is broad and profound. Nowadays, people or you may say experts from all over the world are showing more and more interested in China’s traditional culture, such as Chinese culture in eating and drinking, traditional Chinese medicine theory, Chinese martial arts, and Chinese painting and calligraphy, etc. They are so interested and feel amazing of Chinese traditional culture, especially the theory of Yin Yang, which we called it Yi Jing, they called it “the book of change”.

Anny:  Wow, amazing! So, since you far away from your family to Oregon, how long did you go back home during that time?

May:   I had worked and lived in Oregon alone in almost one year. During this time, I flied back to San Francisco frequently, say, like a month a time. Usually, I would take airbus to travel back and fore in the weekend, and the ticket was not so expensive in that time, at lease I could afford it.

Anny:  You enjoy to live there alone?

May:   Yeah, pretty comfortable and enjoy the life there, I must say.

Anny:  Then, why did you move back to San Francisco later? Any pressures there?

May:   Nope. I feel no pressure to live alone in Oregon. All the pressures are come from my family, especially from my mom. She always call me and say that she’s worrying about my safety, and my healthy. If I got sick, there’s nobody can take care of me, she feel so sad that I go so far away from her, which make me upset too. When I think of her, think back what she had done for me and my whole family, now, what she need is the family get together, how could I keep letting her down; how could I so selfish just care about my feeling, my own will? So, after a second thought, I decided to move back to San Francisco to accompany with my mom and reunion with the family again.

Anny:  And that also your purpose to immigrate to America too, right?

May:   Exactly! Through this experience, what I learn is no matter where you go, you can’t just go alone, because your family is always a link of you, which you can’t just put it down; which you will always miss them from your bottom of your heart. So, the conclusion of my experience is that I finally figure out that: home is where the family is!

Anny:  What a conclusion, which full of philosophy! Thank you very much for sharing your story to me! Wish you have a wonderful time with your family here!

May:   Thank you!

The Path to the United States

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The Path to the United States 

by Luz Hernandez, December 2015

 El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and violence, and therefore many families supporting their children are forced to immigrate to different countries in order to have a better future. A few students from the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Harvard Law School wrote a research report called No Place to Hide, which discusses gangs, the state and clandestine violence in El Salvador. According to the IHRC, in El Salvador:

“Fifteen years after the civil war in El Salvador came to an end, violence and insecurity continue to shape the daily lives of many Salvadorians. El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in Latin America. Its homicide rate in 2005 stood at 55.5 per 100,000 residents_more than twice the average rate for the region.”

Sebastian is a child of eight who immigrated with his mother to the U.S four months ago. Having the opportunity to learn from Sebastian about their reasons for moving and the experience that he had to overcome in order to get here can change people’s perspectives about immigrants. The main purpose of this oral history is to educate people about the obstacles that many immigrants face in order to get here. Choosing to interview him was a great opportunity for me and inspiration for others, showing that even a boy who wasn’t old enough to be a teenager and who faced many obstacles is still alive and ready to start a new future. The path to the U.S. wasn’t easy for Regina (Sebastian’s mother) and Sebastian; the experiences that they went through, including murder, getting sick, and running from immigration have caused them enormous trauma. Despite of the entire trauma that the trip caused for Sebastian and Regina, they feel and believe that immigrating to the U.S. was worth it because now he has a more stable, safe place to live, which has opened new opportunities for him.

Immigrating to a new country is not easy for anybody, especially for children. Because of the lack of opportunities, many people, including children, are forced to immigrate to the United States looking for a better future. In the past months, we have seen a lot of news talking about the massive circumstances that immigrants’ children have to suffer in order to get to their destiny. Sebastian is a child of only eight who was forced with his mother Regina to immigrate to the United States because of the poverty and gang violence in their native country, El Salvador. In order to get to their destiny, they had to face many obstacles, especially Sebastian. Leaving his friends and family wasn’t easy for Sebastian, but he needed to follow his mother, who made the decision for him to move to a different country. For a child of only eight, Sebastian experienced difficult impediments, such as running from Immigration, being close to dying, living with trauma. Sebastian and his mother were captured by a Mexican cartel, and where things got extremely difficult for them. Sebastian was forced to kill other people in order to save his mother’s life. The difficulties and the inhuman obstacles that Sebastian faced didn’t take away his hope to succeed in this country. Sebastian wants to be a teacher in the school that he is attending right now. Even though now he is safe and has been able to succeed, he also sends a message to all those kids who immigrate every day to this country: “Don’t come, because you never know what can happen to you on the path to here. I don’t want anybody to have my own experience.” Sebastian is one of the few that survived the trip to come to the United States, but unfortunately not all people have the same story. Despite all that Sebastian and his mother suffer, they believe is was worth it because now they have a safe place and more opportunities to succeed.

The fear of dying because of gang violence and poverty in El Salvador caused Sebastian and his mother to leave their native country. El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and gang activity and Sebastian and his mother were victims. Because of the lack of opportunities in their country, many families decide to immigrate to the United States, where they can have a stable place to sleep at the least. “We didn’t have a stable place to live.” With a sad expression on his face, Sebastian mentions how hard it was for he and his mother to find a place to sleep while living in El Salvador. Poverty was not the only obstacle that pushed Regina to immigrate to the United States. There was also the situation of the gangs that El Salvador is suffering nowadays. “There was a lot of violence, there were deaths every day; I was scared for the life of my son” (Regina). There are two kinds of gangs in El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. These two gangs are the main reason for the high crime rate in El Salvador, causing massive numbers of deaths, and causing children to lose their lives. For Regina, it was hard to live in this environment; therefore, they were often moving to different places to try to find a sanctuary. The fact that Sebastian didn’t have a stable home brought him difficulties going to school and making friends. “I have attended too many different schools. I lasted only ten days in each one.” When he finally got to know some friends he had to say goodbye to them because they moved every ten days to a different town. In other words, constant moving and violence, in addition to extreme poverty in El Salvador pushed Regina and Sebastian to immigrate to the United States.

The dangerous journey from El Salvador to Guatemala changed Sebastian’s life completely; he suffered from physical neglect and emotional trauma, which destroyed his childhood. Recently, radio and TV news shows have been covering how people suffer in order to get to the United States and some of these people don’t even make it. In order to cross the borders, people need to hire coyotes, who show them the route to get to the United States. There have been many cases in which coyotes take advantages of their authority by sexually abusing the people who are trying to get to the U.S. According to Sebastian, while he was on the way to the U.S., there were many women and a lot of children with them trying to immigrate. “There were around 26 people in the group.” In order to get to Guatemala, people need to cross a river and sometimes many people get stuck trying to cross it. According to Sebastian, “A child almost died trying to cross the river.” Sadly, Sebastian saw a child who almost died trying to cross that river and was agitated seeing his mother being forced by the coyotes to be naked in order to cross the river. He says, “My mom had to pay extra money because the coyotes wanted her to cross the river naked.” In the article called “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family Clinician” analyzes the challenges that many immigrants face in order to get to the U.S and the trauma and stress they suffer after the trip. According to the article:

“We are now hearing, for example, especially from the southwestern United States, narratives of women who are crossing the borders from Central to North America unaccompanied by partners or families. Engaging ‘coyotes’ (illegal travel brokers) for passage, some have been subjected to months-long sexual assaults and forced labor, as forms of ‘added payment.’ before reaching their destinations.”

Money is all that is important for the coyotes, and if the people who immigrate don’t carry money, they have slimmer probabilities of getting to the U.S. After crossing the river, Sebastian talked about how he needed to carry a heavy backpack all day with cans of food and water. Coyotes force even children to carry their own food. Sebastian mentioned that they ran out of food and water. If was hard for them to continue walking without eating; he didn’t have energy. During the night, they slept in the woods, but Sebastian said that he was only able to sleep for a few hours because they needed to be awake just in case immigration captured them. These obstacles that Sebastian faced in order to get to Guatemala were just the beginning of his hazardous journey to the United States.

In crossing from Guatemala into Mexico, Sebastian and Regina perceived that the coyotes were putting their lives at risk by lying to them about the safety of the journey. One of the hardest parts of getting to the United Sates is crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico. Sebastian was able to cross that line, but needed to pay a high price. Unfortunely, many people get lost in the desert and some people also die. For Sebastian and Regina, trusting the coyotes was the only means to get to the U.S. but what happened when the coyotes put in risk their lives staying in such a bad environment and running from immigration? Sebastian mentioned that they got lost many times: “I think the coyotes didn’t know the path.” Many coyotes, just for money, lie that they are experts in crossing people into the U.S. but there have been many cases like Sebastian’s in which they have left people behind or they haven’t even known how to get to the borders. Ruining from immigration in the middle of the woods is something that Sebastian remembers well. One night, they saw immigration approaching to them, so everybody separated and stared running. They were able to reunite with the coyotes after walking many miles alone. When they were able to cross into Mexico, the coyotes rented a Motel in Reynosa to stay there, but the conditions weren’t the best. Sebastian recalled, “The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip to the U.S.” They stayed a month in the hotel. They were not the only ones in the hotel. Sebastian said that there were many people there and that the way they lived there was poor. “I slept on the floor with the rest of the people and my mom and there were animals like rats.” While they were sleeping on the floor in such as conditions, the coyotes had their own room. For a child of only eight, this must be traumatic and it’s sad knowing that this happens every day. Many immigrants put in risk their own health and lives at risk by trusting the coyotes, who promise them a safety trip.

Being captured by a Mexican cartel in Reynosa, which put him in a really harmful environment, was the most traumatic experience that Sebastian went through. Because of the cartels in Mexico, the country has become one of the most dangerous; there is a lot of crime every day, which Sebastian and his mother experienced. The Mexican cartels are a powerful group of people that control some parts of Mexico by violence and extortion. They are known as the most dangerous people of the region. Both Sebastian and his mother experienced the terror of a Mexican cartel in Reynosa. According to Sebastian, “They got us, I saw the cartel hitting other people because they didn’t want to go with them.” “I cried and I was calling for my mom.” This is how the most horrible experience started for Sebastian. He doesn’t remember where the cartel brought them, he just remembers that it was a small room with many people. He remembers that the people there were skinny, that they may have been there for a long time. He also said that it was hard to breathe because it was small and the doors and windows were closed. Being in that situation was hard for Sebastian and the other people asking for help. “People were screaming for help but the coyotes punished them by hitting them in the face.” The only option for them was to be quiet and wait for what the cartel wanted from them. Because of these conditions, Sebastian got sick. They only gave them food to eat one time per day, and only tacos, bad food. Also, Sebastian mentioned that the cartel smoked a lot of marihuana and he got asthma from smelling all the smoke. Sebastian doesn’t remember how many days or months he was captured, but while there he had to do horrible things in order to survive. In other words, being in such a horrible environment could have caused Sebastian long term health problems.

Facing the dilemma of saving the life of his mother, Sebastian had to take others people lives, which has caused him life-long trauma: “One day the cartel brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they captured.” The cartel forced Sebastian to kill a person, telling him that if he didn’t want to do it, they would kill his mother. Sebastian was in the middle of a dilemma between knowing what was right and what was wrong but also had to think about saving his mother’s life. Can you imagine a child of eight years being forced to have a gun in his hand and kill a person instead of being in school and enjoying his childhood? For Sebastian, to say no to the cartel would have been hard because he loves his mother and basically he didn’t have another option than to kill that person. According to Sebastian, the cartel told him that the person that he was about to kill was a bad person but he didn’t know exactly if that was true or the cartel just told that to him so it was easy for him to kill him. “I was scared, and I didn’t want to do that, I felt bad.” After Sebastian was forced to commit this horribly inhumane cruelty, the cartel wanted him to be part of their group. They were training him to be a killer like them. The cartel contacted Regina’s boyfriend in the US, and asked him for money in order to free Sebastian and his mother. Fortunately, he paid the price and the cartel let them free. They went to Immigration and told them all what had happened. Even though Sebastian was rescued from the hands of the cartel, he has to carry the death of the person that he killed for the rest of his life, which has led him to a long life of emotional trauma.

In spite of all that Sebastian and his mother went through in order to get to the United States and the long-term trauma that Sebastian may be facing right now, Sebastian still feels and believes that it was worth it to come because now he has a safe and stable place to live and a better life. After facing inhumane abuses, Sebastian and his mother were able to get to the United States and start a new life, trying to overcome all that happened to them on the path to get to the U.S. Luckily, Sebastian and his mother now are in the U.S. trying to learn English and to be part of the U.S culture. Sebastian is a child with ambitions and dreams, and even though he is a child, he knows what he wants for the future. Sebastian states, “I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going to right now.” Sebastian is going to a school in Hayward at a school called Palmasia to learn English. He mentioned that he sometimes feels out of the place being in a classroom that doesn’t speak his language but he feels optimistic that he will learn the language quickly. “I feel a little uncomfortable when my friends speak English and I don’t know what they are saying, but I am going to an after school program to learn more English.” In spite of all that has happened to him, I see Sebastian as happy to be here. One of the questions that I asked him at the end was where home is for him, and he didn’t have a problem answering. He said that even though he misses his friends and his grandmother, he considers home here in the U.S. He says, “Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but we are together and I don’t want to come back to El Salvador and have the same life as we did before.” Having a secure place to live where he can grow up as a child is the reward for Sebastian of being in the U.S.

Despite all that Sebastian and his mother have faced I can see how happy they are and believe that all that they they went through in order to get here is paying off, because they are living in a more secure country and both of them have big opportunities to succeed in the U.S. Also, Sebastian and his mother are in the process of becoming legal residents of the U.S., which will open a lot of opportunities to them; for example, Regina will be able to work legally. One of the advantages of being in the U.S. is that there are a lot of resources that can help Sebastian to reach his goals. I’m pretty sure Sebastian will be that teacher that he wishes to be. People could argue, how could a mom put her own child in such danger to immigrate to the U.S. alone by themselves? Unfortunately, they didn’t have another option. She didn’t have much support in her country and her mother was too sick to take care of Sebastian. Also, she trusted the coyotes that they would bring them safely to the border. Regina is also aware that all that Sebastian has gone through, such as killing a person, can have left him with a trauma; therefore, she immediately placed him in therapy and is making sure he follows the directions for treating the consequences that the trip may have caused. Saying that, Sebastian and his mother are ready to start fresh in this country and create a new story in their lives.

The enormous sacrifice that Central American youth make to immigrate to the U.S., putting their lives at risk, shows their real need to escape from the life-threatening effects of poverty and violence in their countries. The journey to come to the United States was extremely difficult for Regina and Sebastian, especially for Sebastian, because at such a young age he was forced to kill a person in other to save his mother. Not only that, but also his life was in danger running from immigration and getting sick while they were with the coyotes in Mexico. All that Sebastian went through, especially killing a person, has left him with lifelong trauma. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an organization that provides assistance for refugees or any other kind of help for immigrants and tries to find solutions to the issues of immigration. The “2014 Annual Review of Mental Health” talks about the difficulties about health that immigrants are facing today. “There are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today. Despite the scale of this migration, the conditions in which migrants travel, live and work can carry great risks to their physical and mental health and well-being.” In spite of all that happened to Sebastian, he still believes that all the difficulties he went through immigrating to the U.S was worth it because now he has a safe and secure place and also the opportunity of being here has opened new opportunities for him.

                                                         Works Cited

“Annual Review 2014.” Migration Health Division. International Organization for Migration. Switzerland. 2015. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Barrios, Sebastian. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2015. No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador. Human Rights      

Program, Human Harvard Law School. February 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Perez, Rose Marie. “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family

Clinician.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. sjsu.edu. April 2001. Web. 8 Dec 2015.

Sample Transcripts

Luz: My name is Luz Hernandez, this is just for a project of school, is nothing bad.

Sebastian: My mom wanted to come without me because it was too dangerous [to take me on] the trip.

L: What was dangerous?

S: The people who brought us, the “Coyotes,” wanted to pass my mom naked through the river.

L: Were there many people coming with you guys? If yes, from what ages?

S: There were many minors, children. If they wanted to cross the river without getting out of their clothes, they had to gave extra money to the coyotes. My mom had to pay extra money to pass the river; we almost died crossing the river; it was too much water.

L: How did you feel in that moment?

S: I was scared and I was crying; my mom was crying too.

L: Before coming to the United States, where did you live before?

S: In El Salvador.

L: How was it living there? There were many people? Was it a small town?

S: There was a college and a park.

L: So it was a nice place?

S: Yes, my place was nice and I miss it so much.

L: What do you miss most?

S: I miss my friends and my grandmother. In the afternoon, we always played before going to bed, before get dark.

L: Did you want to come to the U.S. or it was not an option?

S: Yes, I wanted to come because we were poor and we didn’t have a stable place to live, so we moved a lot to different places and I was changing school all the time and I didn’t want that any more.

L: How many schools did you attend?

S: I went to many different schools. I lasted only 10 days in each place that I moved.

L: When you got out from El Salvador, where did you get first?

S: I don’t remember.

L: What was the most difficult, cruel and sad that you remember that happened to you while you were in the trip?

S: We were in a bus, after we walk and they left us in the middle of the dessert.

L: Who?

S: The coyotes. We walked a lot; the immigration passed close to us and we were scared that immigration could see us. When the passed close to us we needed to hide from them in the woods.

L: Did you walk a lot? Does someone help you?

S: I walked all night and one day, so two days without stop. Nobody helped me; there were many people but my mom was the only one who helped me. She helped to carry the water and the bag that I was carrying on my back.

L: What was in that bag?

S: There was a can of frijoles, and old food fruits. Everything was expired and heavy.

L: How many people where with you guy?

S: I was the only one who was small but there were other minors but I was the small one; my mom was the oldest one. There were 12 people.

L: Were you always with your mom or you were separate from her?

S: No they didn’t separate us, they wanted but my mom said no.

L: The experience form the river and all this was from the Salvador to Guatemala?

S: Yes.

L: So, what is your experience from Guatemala to Mexico?

S: When we passed to Mexico we rested in a small town, after we went to a hotel to sleep. The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip. We last a month in the hotel, there were animals there. I slept in the floor with the rest of the other people and my mom.

L: Everyone slept on the floor?

S: No everyone, the coyotes had their own room.

L: At the beginning you mentioned that the Cartel capture you, how that happened?

S: Yes, the cartel the people who manage all Mexico. In the hotel, there was not food so my mom and I went out to look for something to eat. We were in a bus, I was vomiting a lot, I got sick. So my mom and went back to the hotel and the people from the hotel called the cartel; it was in Reynosa. They got us; I saw how the cartel hit other people because they didn’t behavior good. One day, they brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they had captured in the other room.

L: This must be terrifying for you; how did you feel at that moment?

S: I was scared and I didn’t want to do that. They told me that the person who I was about to kill wasn’t a good person and that I must kill him. They told me that if I don’t kill the person, they will kill my mom.

L: Did you kill that person?

S: Yes, I did, but at that moment he didn’t die; they gave me a bat to hit him in the head. I hit him a lot so he can die fast.

L: How did you feel doing that at that early age?

S: I felt really bad, “sad face, and looking down.” They forced me to do it; if I didn’t do it, my mom probably would be died at this moment.

L: Where did you were when all this happened?

S: Everything happened in a small room. There were hundreds of people there.

L: What were the conditions of all those people?

S: Yes, all of them looked like they were there for long time; they were skinny. They couldn’t talk.

L: How long did you say you were there?

S: We were there for almost two months.

L: Did they give you food to eat?

S: Yes, they gave us tacos, but I didn’t like it because they put a lot of onions in them and I don’t like onions. I didn’t eat for the all day; they only gave us food once per day.

L: Did you get sick because you didn’t eat?

S: One day, I was about to die; I had cough and I had problems breathing. The person who gave me the gun was the main guy. Mom my mom was scared to ask for help because she taught he may kill her. The people from cartel smoked a lot of marijuana and coca and little white thing that you put in the noise, that is why it was hard for me to breath; the windows and the from door were close so it was hard to not small all that.

L: There was not way to asked for help?

S: One of the girl who was with us had a phone almost got kill because her phone ring and the people from the cartel noticed that she had a phone hiding. They put a gun in his head and they take away her phone. They told her if she didn’t to give her phone away, they will gave me the gun to me and I have to kill her.

L: How many people did you kill?

S: I had to kill three people, one guys and two girls. They were minor.

L: Why did you kill those two girls?

S: Because the cartel said that they had phones hiding without their permission. The girls forgot to turn off the phone.

L: Did you have a good relationship with the people from the cartel?

S: Yes, The people from the cartel started liking me because I did everything that they ordered me to do. They stared training me more in how to use a gun much better. They wanted me to be part of the cartel. They didn’t want me to go anywhere no more even if my dad pays the rescue. They dressed me like them with pistol around my jeans. They brought me to a place, to a park to practice, and they didn’t care that it was public. They are the ones who manage Mexico.

L: How did you feel in the moment?

S: I felt bad and sad.

L: Where was your dad at that moment?

S: He was in the U.S. and in order for us to be free my dad wanted to come to Reynosa where we were. He wanted to be there instead of us, but the coyotes didn’t want; my mom either.

L: How you and your mom were able to get out from there?

S: At the end my dad was able to pay the rescue and went for us to the frontera. But we were in immigration for a month before we got here, it was cold and also they didn’t treated us well, they only gave us to eat one time per day. Only a sandwich and a juice. It was dark, I didn’t know it was dark or light. everything was close, and they separated my mom from me. I was sick, and I cry and they brought her back with me.

L: Where all this happened?

S: In New York, I think.

L: What was the moment that you felt safe?

S: When I saw Alberto [my father] , I ran to hug him and I fell but I was happy when we were all together with him in the car.

L: How did you feel when you got to the U.S.?

S: I feel that I can’t never forget what happened in Mexico, when they gave me the pistol, we were in the bus when they got us. When they wanted to abused my mom, and made her cry.

I remember many things. When we cruised the river, when other kids were dying because it was dangerous.

L: When did you got to the U.S. where did you guys lived?

S: We got to the house of your friend, what is her name? Bertha? Yes. It was really small; we didn’t have money. I had a small bed, I couldn’t move, my mom and my dad slept in a bed the same size as mine.

L: What do you do now that you are here?

S: I go school, I’m studying good.

L: How do you feel being with other students that don’t speak the same language as you? You feel uncomfortable?

S: I feel a little bit uncomfortable because they speak Spanish, but I will learn English. I will be in a bilingual program after school.

L: What do you want to be when you grow up?

S: I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going right now, Palmasia that is the name of the school.

L: What means home for you? Here or in the Salvador?

S: Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but I don’t care because we are together, I don’t miss my country, I don’t want to come back.

L: You don’t miss your friends?

S: [Sad expression] Yes I do but I don’t want immigration to bring me back. I have all my family there, my grandparents, my aunts, but my life is here.

L: You are still scared that you might come back to your country?

S: Yes, I do, because my mom need to go to immigration; to court. And also she has a bracelet that she can’t drive but she does. She have too because she need to drop me off school but if the immigration got her she may be in trouble.

L: Do you have any message for all those kids that immigrated every day here?

S: For my friend’s even if there were my enemies I never wish them to come here because they might experience the same things that I did and that is not good because I suffer a lot.

 

Myth 13: Today’s Immigrants Are Not Learning English

Myth 13: Today’s Immigrants Are Not Learning English, and Bilingual Education Adds to the Problem

by Chris Plunkett

The notion that “If you live in America you need to speak English” is commonly raised by citizens upset by the influx of immigrants, undocumented and documented alike. With these mass migrations originating in countries the world over, numerous “English-only” initiatives seek to eliminate bilingual education programs for the claimed purpose that immigrants should speak only English in America. This informal movement creates obstacles blocking many immigrants who learn best through bilingual instruction from acquiring English skills. Yet these same Americans critical of bilingual instruction are skeptical as well of these foreigners’ motivation to attend English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or even attempt to learn English at all, revealing apparent anti-immigrant bias. Ignorance among some of the American public allows this xenophobic myth to persist, despite the demonstrated fact that most immigrants strongly desire to learn the English language, most effectively through bilingual instruction, though they are fully aware of the terrific challenges they confront in this learning task.

Although immigrants have long been perceived in stereotypical ways for generations, these new arrivals consistently contradict the common view that “immigrants don’t want to learn English.” The jam-packed ESL classes that foreign immigrants populate as well as long waiting lists to enter these classrooms belie the common belief that immigrants want to remain in their own cocooned ethnic communities. Aviva Chomsky, in her book “They Take Our Jobs!,” details that “92 percent of Hispanics, 87 percent of non-Hispanic whites, and 83 percent of non-Hispanic blacks believe that immigrants have to speak English to be a part of American society, and English should be taught to the children of immigrants” (114). Chomsky’s research shows that Hispanic immigrants are committed to the necessity of learning English even more than are white and black nonimmigrants. Perhaps the challenges of life as an immigrant make clear to these new residents the imperative to speak English in order to survive in America in ways that citizens do not commonly appreciate. Long-time Americans may believe that the new arrivals don’t wish to learn English, but this belief is incorrect.

While America is a melting pot comprised of multiple cultures and languages, approximately 80% of its residents are fluent English speakers, helping explain why immigrants wish to speak the language. Yet English-only language instruction hinders optimal progress towards full systematic assimilation. One highly effective approach to teaching English is bilingual classes since many immigrants learn best through reference to their native tongues. The National Association for Bilingual Education states that “a vast number of studies have shown that bilingual education is effective, with children in well-designed programs acquiring academic English at least as well and often better than children in all-English programs” (1). Just as English-speaking Americans are effectively taught foreign languages utilizing English instruction, foreign immigrants to our nation should be given opportunities to learn English in their native languages to maximize learning.

Immigrants who arrive in America at very young ages have much less difficulty picking up English than do their older relatives. Even young teens begin to have more trouble learning their new language. The British Council observed in teaching language to children that “When monolingual children reach puberty and become more self-conscious, their ability to pick up language diminishes” (1). Most first-generation immigrants to America, who are beyond early childhood, experience great difficulty in learning English, and it is typically the second generation born in this country that easily assimilates the language, mastering its subtleties as they grow up immersed in the culture.

However, these highly useful bilingual programs are at risk as critics have characterized them as “modern day segregation.” Although statistics demonstrate the positive results produced through bilingual education, many prominent figures call for the abolition of these programs. U.S. English, Inc., an organization promoting English as the national language, and politician Linda Chavez have both campaigned, along with numerous other groups, to eliminate bilingual classes from all American schools. The legitimacy of their claims are unsupported by research, though they do succeed in persuading many poorly informed Americans that English Only is the best course for our nation. By inundating Americans with “xenophobia and misinformation, the anti-bilingual-education movement has brought both conservatives and liberals into its English-only folds” (Chomsky 116). Proponents of bilingual education, stalwart in their conviction of its necessity in aiding immigrants’ assimilation into American society, continue to struggle against the onslaught of misinformation to convince Americans of these programs’ rightness.

Another basis for popular misconceptions about immigrants speaking foreign tongues has its roots in our nation’s historical migratory trends. Many Americans today mistakenly believe that their countrymen have been continually speaking English since the trip from mother England. This misapprehension ignores the countless waves of immigrants from all over the globe coming to America for freedom and better lives throughout the past two centuries. These new Americans have constantly strengthened their new homeland by contributing their varied perspectives interwoven into the nation’s diverse cultural fabric, also considered to be a robust “melting pot.” But naysayers have not always appreciated immigrants’ offerings to the nation. Chomsky explains why some have opposed society’s diversification through embracing foreign languages, writing “during World War One, anti-foreign propaganda and Americanization campaigns created further pressure for immigrants to abandon their native languages” (111). As a result of these campaigns, English as America’s sole language overcame multilingualism’s advantages to a diverse nation.

However, these campaigns failed to discourage American citizens from countries America conquered, such as Puerto Rico and Mexico, from maintaining their native tongues along with national pride. Due to America’s close proximity to these two countries, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans have felt even more desirous of speaking the mother tongue with relatives back home. Many Americans’ views are significantly shaped by the great numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants in the country. According to the Migration Policy Institute “in 2012, Mexican-born immigrants accounted for approximately 28 percent of the nearly 40.8 million foreign born in the United States, making them by far the largest immigrant group in the country” (1). But these perceptions are largely inaccurate. Many Spanish-speaking immigrants have learned English with exemplary accomplishment, picking up the language better than have other immigrants. Chomsky writes “while today’s Spanish-speaking immigrants are learning English just as quickly as the earlier generations of Europe did, they also seem to be retaining their native language at much higher levels than the Europeans” (113). If more Americans were aware of Hispanics’ perseverance in learning English while also speaking their native language, perhaps this myth of Spanish speakers refusing to learn English would finally cease.

In contradiction of the common stereotype that immigrants do not learn English in favor of exclusively speaking their native languages, most of these new arrivals in fact do succeed in learning English, often through bilingual education, in order to thrive in their new homeland. For over two centuries, innumerable immigrants have traveled to this land and declared it their home whether for refuge from persecution, to better their financial condition, or in pursuit of the myriad other advantages availed by American citizenship. Our country, in fact, was founded by immigrants escaping religious persecution, and to this day is widely viewed as a welcoming “melting pot” based on America’s history and culture inextricably connected to its immigrant roots. With its incredibly diverse immigrant population, America cannot possibly mandate a national language nor do the nation’s values permit such state-imposed homogeneity of expression. Some may argue for an English Only country pointing to immigrants who maintain insular existences within ethnically homogeneous communities, such as Chinatowns, never uttering a single word of English in their lifetimes. But this condition is irrefutably the exception, as Chomsky documents. America stands for the proposition that its residents enjoy free lives. We should allow, and even encourage, our newest members to assimilate into our country in optimal ways, including bilingual education for immigrants striving to master the English language.

Works Cited

“Bilingual Education.” NABE –. NABE, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.

Chomsky, Aviva. “They Take Our Jobs!”: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2007. Print.

“Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

“How Young Children Learn English as Another Language.” LearnEnglish KidsLearnEnglishKids, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.