Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

by Jose Castillo, May 2017

Being in exile in a foreign country tends to affect immigrants’ identities giving them international perspectives because it brings back memorable and hard memories as they imagine their futures. When people are in exile, meaning separated from their countries, leaving home involuntary, or by force of circumstances, it affects people’s perspectives. Many immigrants who are in exile in the United States also experience memories of their homelands, international perspectives, and legal or human rights abuses, since they are affected due to the political situations of poor countries. Abdul, a nineteen-year-old, my research partner from Jordan, describes how he was affected when he came to the United States by saying, “When I came to the Unites States, it changed my….my action, values slightly…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home, life changes.” It is common to see an immigrant being affected while he experiences some personal changes when arriving in the United States. It is clear that personal values can also change, but also comparing his new life with his life in his home country, his life has changed because of a political conflict. In his country he was struggling with his family to defend his land from military invaders. Abdul claims that he was armed to be brave as an adult, ready to defend his family and land. This is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and the immediate challenge he faces when dealing with his immigrant identity, as well as legal and human rights violations while he is in exile. The human rights abuses he faced in Palestine, which lead to his exile, forced Abdul to immigrate, and affected his personal identity. This made him feel like he had two conflicting identities here in the United States. This transition proves that Abdul’s memory has gone through certain changes while in exile and left him fragmented; However, Abdul’s memory has been through a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Abdul’s human rights were violated when he was unlawfully arrested, which left him traumatized while living in his native country. Today, many immigrants relate how oppressive their governments were while they were living in their home countries. Oppressive governments are those that have authoritarian law and oppressive system, which is the main reason people seek political asylum as refugees in distant nations. From my interviewee’s perspective, he relates how he was affected while living in Palestine when he says in a worried tone:

“Ah…I want to talk about as I mentioned before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air. They also entered our own house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupied my house and stayed there for three days. Can you imagine the military staying in the house for three days like you cannot do anything right?…and it…it is just really super abusive and affects emotionally…its my land, and I was just fighting back for my land…”

Frankly, this statement explains a difficult situation, because it narrates an oppressive situation that affects people’s lives while they are detained inside of their own homes by a suppressive military that does not want people to protest for their human rights.

In addition, Abdul’s human rights were violated when the military invaded his homeland. When foreign militaries invade an outside territory, they take land and scare people. In many countries where there are conflicting military conflicts, military invader governments do not care about territory, whether it is independent, or has a limitation of sovereignty.  Likewise, Peter Orner, a professor and writer at San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Program, worked with Voice of Witness to collect and edit the personal undocumented stories of immigrants in the United States. He shares the story of Diana. Through her story, Diana exposes violations to her human rights such as an arrest and harassment by ICE agents when they were asking persistent questions to her, and she was in arbitrary detention for not having right the documents. In her words, Diana explains the illegal actions against her:

“The agents put the fingerprints into a machine and asked me where I was from. I felt calm, more and less, I said, ‘No, I need my lawyer, I have a right to a lawyer. I have the right to make a phone call.’ They told me I’d get a lawyer and my phone call later and   asked me again where I was from. But I refuse to tell them. ‘Cooperate with us,’ they said. ‘Why are you making this so hard?’ But I insisted on the rights I knew I had’.”

Obviously, there was not a reason to answer these types of questions, since Diana knew that she did not have the appropriate documents.  If she had the right documents given by the U.S. Immigration Department while she was in exile, she would gladly have given her recognition before the arresting agent. Otherwise, human rights violations against immigrants and my interviewee make no sense. When we see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of this declaration states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind of race, (…) Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of territory” (UDHR).  This article clearly shows the right of freedom people deserve without the political oppression of an outsider military government, who wants to oppress an independent community. It is true that it is something unusual, because it makes people leave and go into exile instead of risking their lives in a dangerously militarized land. This transition proves that certain aspects while in exile left Abdul fragmented; therefore, Abdul’s memory has been though a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Learning English has been difficult for Abdul because he has become an adult and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile in the United States.  Learning the English language is a way to communicate important issues because it is the way people or society give and exchange information and ideas with each other.  Immigrants in exile notice the difficulty of learning the English language because in order to learn the language, they need to have a little backup, or a little information in order to know more about it. Abdul says in his own words, “Ah…It was very hard the English language…the first language…when I was young was very good, I had a little back up of the English language.”  This means that some immigrants experience difficulty when they do not know the language, but also not all have difficulty if they have a little knowledge of the English language. The effects can be reduced if they have a little important information that might help them when learning at a later time, or when they go into exile. According to Becky H Huang, a Harvard professor, and Ah Jun, a university linguist, in “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of Second Language Prosody,” in which they emphasize how an exploratory analysis of the age of arrival effects the production of a second language and affects Mandarin immigrants:

“Owing to its theoretical implications for the mechanism of second language (L2) acquisition and practical implications for L2 education, the age-related decline in ultimate second language (L2) attainment is one of the most controversial topics in the L2 acquisition field. Among the various L2 linguistic domains, phonological production is arguably the least controversial candidate for an age of learning effect.  In fact, Scovel (1988) argued that the age effect exists only for phonology because the ability to master the sound patterns of an L2 is susceptible to neurological development.” (388)

For the same reason, this statement proves the variables in which my interviewee’s perspective is affected by his learning of the English language while he is in exile. Also, many immigrants are affected in other areas like: writing, speaking, and reading, when they are told to interact in these areas just like native students do, who are less affected. For this reason, learning English has been a difficult process for Abdul because he has become an adult, and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile.

Experiencing a different type of lifestyle, or assimilation, is another challenge for my interviewee’s perspective and affects him because it takes time for him to assimilate while he is in exile in the United States. While Abdul continues his life in America, he experiences a new culture inhabited by diverse people from other cultures, which America requires him to integrate with. The difference with his culture and his homeland is that his school and values are drastically connected to his culture. Abdul, in his own words, says, “When I came here into the United States, I feel like I was at home” (4). This statement means that despite coming to America, Abdul as an immigrant still feels attached to his culture and homeland rather than feeling as an American, or telling anyone he feels as an American resident. Also, he might feel half assimilated to the American culture just like when he was in his country, or not at all. In “The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris,“ by Abdelhady and Dallas, they say, “I could not explain this dilemma to the receptionist. I could not tell her that I had never felt American, despite the various indictors of my successful assimilation” (1). Obviously, it is hard for an immigrant to feel that he or she has become part of the American culture, because his or her roots are still attached to their culture. Of course, it will take time for them to assimilate into the new lifestyle of the American culture when they are submitted into the assimilation process like Abdul.

Abdul has become culturally integrated by participating in a new society while he lives in exile.  When people are integrated into a new culture like Abdul, they have to identify themselves with the new people, which is one of the new challenging situations that has affected Abdul’s identity while he lives in exile in the United States.  Exile means to be separated from one’s country or home involuntarily or by force of circumstances, which affects people’s perspective while they live differently in other countries. For instance, Abdul, my interviewee from Daly City, has to experience some changes as a result of exile, which affects his entire identity.  When I asked him the question “How does exile affected your identity?”, he replied with a kind of worried tone.  On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at 5: 23, he responded regarding the effects on his identity, and states as follows:

“Ah…so…basically…ah…when the first time I came here, I just certainly… When I came to the United States, it changed my action, values slightly…ah…I am just feeling the life out…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.  Identity is one of the challenges that affects immigrants because it changes the way they act, their values, and they feel that their life also tends to change to a certain degree.”

Practically speaking, it is obvious to see these changes that people have to go through when they integrate and move to another region. They go through changes in values and are often surprised by the new amazing changes they go through, because it is not easy to make changes immediately. Once immigrants arrive and integrate in the new region, the process of change takes place in their identity. This means that immigrants or groups of people who immigrate to another nation due to any oppressive circumstances, have to face the causes, effects, and circumstances, which shape their new identities while they are in exile. For example, in modern times, many Jewish people are separated from their ethnic community, and have suffered a horrible persecution, which also affects their identity while they are in exile for a long time. In the section “Jews,” in Funk &Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, it says, “Modern Jews are members of a separated ethnic community or fellowship rather than of a race, a community that, in the face of incessant and terrible persecution, has maintained its identity for almost 19 centuries, from the final dissolution of the Roman province of Juda in AD 135 to the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948” (Funk &Wagnalls). As has been noted, people from different backgrounds and religious cultures also face some challenges of oppression, and no one disputes the fact that it affects their identities while they are in exile just as it is with my interviewee. At the same time, Abdul’s integration into the new culture has made him participate in the society and feel whole.

Another challenge that Abdul has faced is how he deals with his reminiscences about his past while he lives in exile in the United States. Many immigrants tend to have memories of what their past lives at home was like, or their schools before they went into exile. Being at home means being in one’s native country, thinking of what kind or school or university people would like to go to study before exile takes place. For example, Abdul has experienced some memories when he was in his country, and remembers where he wanted to study before his exile, which affects his identity. When I asked him the question, “How do you envision home?,” it logically made him remember his school life from his native land, and where he wanted to go to study. He replied enthusiastically by remembering his fresh memories of these thoughts during the interview. He states, “Ah…so when I began my school I was thinking like…where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or home, or so I was thinking in the United States, because when you graduate you have a good jobs you know, a source of jobs any time.” Thinking is a way to remember, to consider when there is an opportunity to choose a better place to go to study, since memories affect immigrants who are in exile. The use of memory has fostered a healing process and helped Abdul to feel whole.

In the same way, Abdul as an immigrant is affected because he uses his imagination to interpret his memories about his family while he is in exile in a distant homeland. Many immigrants tend to have imaginations about critical moments with their families when they were in their homelands. For instance, Abdul used to have imaginations about difficult moments with his family in Palestine when he was invaded at home by the military. In his own words, “…They were offending me by shooting in the air, and they also entered our house and arrested me and my family.” Immigrants like Abdul almost always tend to have imaginations about some hard moments together with his family in Palestine, a place where he grew up to adulthood. In “Child of Two Words,” the author, Andrew Lam, has on imaginative interpretation of his memories of his mother’s words during his childhood back in his native homeland, Vietnam. He recalls her saying, “’Your umbilical cord is also buried in an earthen jar in our garden,’ she said. The incident and the knowledge of my own earthly ties made a strong impression on me; our ways were sacred and very old” (1). It is obvious to think that a part of oneself is buried in a place where we lived before, and is not forgotten, because there is always a strong imagination of what happened in the past, but also there is the effect of his memories while he is in exile in the United States.

Being in exile is not an easy challenge because it affects people’s identities, since most immigrants who are in exile in the United States experience hardships. These challenges include: effects on their identities, human rights violations, and effects on learning the English language, since they are affected by their personality’s perspectives while they are in exile. Some may say that immigrants are affected when they go into exile, and face issues like identity fragmentation, education, and challenges of human right abuses, since they do not expect them while living abroad. The United Declaration of Human Rights declares that people should be protected anywhere living in their homeland or abroad, or regardless of identity. Regardless of the UDHR, there will people who don’t agree that immigrants should be protected when they travel abroad. What was described is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and who has faced challenges when dealing with his immigrant identity.  As we can see, there are certain aspects that have affected his personal identity while he was in exile, and caused him a challenge issues in the United States. Immigrants like IAbdul have to pass through a process of challenging effects in order to begin healing as a whole human being.

Works Cited

Abdelhady, Dalia, The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris, NY: NYU Press. 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 1 May. 2017.

Green, Penny, and Amelia Smith. “Evicting Palestine” State Crime Journal.  5.1. (2016). 81.Vocational Studies.  Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Hasler, Beatrice. S, et. al.  “Virtual Peacemakers: Mimicry Increases Empathy In SimulatedContact With Virtual Outgroup Members.” Cyber Psychology, Behavior, And Social Networking 17.12 (2014): 766-771. MEDLINE.   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Huang, Becky H., and Sun-Ah Jun. “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of SecondLanguage Prosody.” Language & Speech 54.3 (2011): 387-414. Academic Search Complete. Fri.5 May. 2017

Lam, Andrew.  “Child of Two Worlds.” “Perfume Dreams.” Jun. 1998.

Orner, Peter. Editor. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.  McSWeeney’sBooks.   2008.

“Jews.”Funk&Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia(2006). 1p. 1. Funk &Wagnalls New WorldEncyclopediaAcademic Search Complete. Web. 1May. 2017.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  60th Anniversary Special Edition, 1948-2008. [New York]. United Nations Publications, 2007. eBook Academic CollectionEBSCOhost)   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Sample Oral History Transcripts

Jose Castillo: Hello, today we are makig an interview. Today is Tuesday. Its 5:23 PM in the afternoom, March 14 of the year 2017. We are makig an interview with Hashem’s friend, and his name is Adbul. He replied:

Jose Castillo: What is your name?

Abdul: Abdul.

Jose Castillo: Ok, nice to meet you Abdul. Ah..How do you feel today?

Abdul: I’m feel very good.

Jose Castillo: Oh that’s fantiastic that’s great.

Jose Castillo: What is your age?   He replied, I am nineteen years old.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic.

Jose Castillo: Where are you from?

Abdul Ihsun: I am from Jordan.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic, That country is so beutiful. That’s wonderful.

Jose Castillo: Lets see and let me asking you some few question during the interview. How does it feel to be in the middle of a war?

Abdul: Ah does it feel unsafe…I mean…like your life is under threat under any time, and you doesn’t feel any safe right?..

Jose Castillo: Ok..and the…

Abdul: Do you want to be find again…like…?

Jose Castillo: Oh right!      Yeah, I know that people have that kind of feeling about to be in the middle of a war.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..the next question is…What make you to come to the United States?

Abdul: I came for the main reason to study for a bachellor degree, and civil engineering study, I am curretly enrolled at City College , and I am taking basic to tranfer to San Francisco University State, and also working a part time job for a secure restaurant.

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see you can management your time to work.

Jose Castillo: The next question is: How does exile have affected your identity?

Abdul: Ah…so…basically..aahh…when the first time I came here, I just certainly    When I came to the United States, It change my..my action, values slily…ah…I am just feeling the life out..your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.

Jose Castillo: Ok..that’s fantastic. Because at the same time for surely you can fell the emotional way when you were back home you can  feel the safety here in the United States, and is a great opportunity where you can developed a more a…, a more emotional time for your can develop your personality, your idetity, and the same way you can see how the cultura here in the United States is about you know…you can learn or even assimilate your own cultura where there is another opportunity where you can see both sides of the point of views in the cultures in the country, because we live in a country where there are  so many diverse cultures comming from around the world. But at the same time, I see that your immagination of your identity has been affected…your security here away from a situation of a war where there is situation that put life in danger, but here you have an apportunity where you can have a life to study of your wonderful profession, and to apply with your own identity, and  I think that that is very interesting.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..as we continue our interested interview, and my nex question is: How does this interview envision home?

Abdul: Ahm…can you expaling more?…

Jose Castillo: Lets see in a specific story. What was your specific story if you were in your country at home, and then comming here to the United States? Can you explain?

Abdul: Ah…so when I began my high school I was thinking like …where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or in home, or so I was thinking in the Unites States, because when you gradurate you have a good jobs you kow, a source of jobs any time, ah…to emigrate to the United States, and to have besically…ah…I apply for a lotery and immigrate to the United States..ah..and I just won the visa lotery from the United States. I came here and went to City College and to tranfer to San Francisco State as I mention before to complete my bachellor degree. That’s it.

Jose Castillo: Whao…that’s amazing you envision your story at home, and the way you won the visa lotery. You’re so lucky you won the lotery, since there are many students who envision the same opportunity, but you were selected to come to the United States with the dream to come true. Congratulations to you. As we continue our interesting interview…how does this brochure of perspective of your international has affected you regarding of law of human rights?

Abdul: Ah…I want to talk about as I mention before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air, they also entered our house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupaid my house and stayed there for three days.  Can you immagine the military staying in the household for three days like you cannot do anything right?….and it…it is just really supper abusive and affects emotional…its my land, and I just fighting back for my land..

Jose Castillo: Ok…yeah..I can see. You were passing through with your friend and family, and the military violating your rights , and your friends and  your family seeing the military standing there so long…is imposible, because is a condition where people would feel frustrated, and feeling bad because is a severe violation of a human situation. People has the right to protest that even other people don’t like it, and I understand, I know a situation your went through yur family.

Adbul: Ahm…so bacically as I said before myself we were palestinian …ahm..as against human rights…against what the military do against the human rights…ahm..we were throwing rocks at them… and they shoot at us and and a cousing got shot …ahm..we actually went to the hospital…ahm…I mean… there in Palestine you can fight from freedom, which we can fight these country, which is the United States because of the free speech to protest..protest..ahm..you feel whatever you want is right to be yourself, but there  ….    you can not express by yourserlf…ahm..the way you want… because people there are abusing you, because they want to take your land and more and more land and that we wold not except.

Jose Castillo: I see…your frustration is kind of….the opression forcé….I see the moments of desperation, the moments you experience…your friend getting shot…..I see the opposing forcé oppresing you, opressing your family, oppressing your people…they don’t have civil rights to be protected, I see the moments of exesperation because is a time of oppression…whao I can believe how hurful your freind was shot…it was a moment I can see your friend being bloody in a frustrating moments and taken to the hospital and seeking help …

Adbul says in the middle of my talking: they want to take the whole land….

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see is a very difficutl situation…ah..at that point I can see…ok..ah… the next question I would like to make …is how hard was for you when comming to the United States without speaking the English language?

Adbul : Ah..it was very hard the English language the first language…when I was Young was very good, I had a litlle back up of the English language. I came to the English schoo before I came here…ah…I learned a lot of skills, listening, writing, lots of skills that were able to speak to people in the community…you know…basically they do not have language can not speak with people because…ah..most people in the United States speak English . As I said before, the English school I was enrolled, I learned a lot of staff right there…ahm….I was able to speak….to speak

Jose Castillo: Oh…I see. That’s interesting to see you already spoke the English language…you know.        , which also is an opportunity…you here in the United States…you know…and find a career and education. That’s interesting, you are part              As far I can see, there is an area you know, a hardest part you strugle..you know…  Adbul say: (to communicate….)   one you communicate, you have the facility to communicate your though..you know…     Adbul : (Caugh…)       where you can find a nice career you know. I see…is something you know, is a hardest countering English language when comming to the United States.  That’s fabulous.

Jose Castillo: Let me see with the last question: how does this interview make you to feel after telling this story in this interview?

Adbul : I feel happy because I told you a really story…the real…ah…the real aspect of my…because when I was…ah…(he looked a Little nervous..)  when I was standing in front of you…ah…I just released the pain by bringing here…ah…also was fun to meet with you…you know…you know…ah… talked about me…ah…yeap.

Jose Castillo: Whao..that’s interesting, you feel a Little…you have come out with a nice talk, you have come out of a liberation..you know…because you were able to tell with confidence…you know…your personal history…you…   Adbul say: (be whatever you want…)  you…have at home..you know…a conflictive situation..and now you are at a place where you feel secure…

Jose Castillo: Congratulations….welcome to the United States, and thank you so much.

Adbul : You welcome.

Jose Castillo: This interview ended at 6: 05 PM in the afternoom of Tuesday, March 14 of the year 2017.

 

A Journey of a Man Who Has Never Found an Ideal Home

gwulo-a093-400dpi

A Journey of a Man Who Has Never Found an Ideal Home

by Pui Man Stephanie Ho, December 2016

“To leave, or not to leave home?” This question is the major consideration of most immigrants. Home refers to the place where a person is born, the place where a person lives with his/her family, and the place where a person feels that he/she belongs. While living between two worlds, immigrants need to re-conceptualize the idea of identity and home inside their minds as well as acknowledge cultural differences when they step outside into the bigger world. From the research presented in “Where do US immigrants come from, and why?”, which aims at providing historical background of global migration and main reasons for migration from 1971 to 1998, the authors indicate that the source countries Mexico and Canada “form 82.5 percent of all US immigration over the entire period” (Ximena et al. 14). From these statistics, we can see that there are approximately 20,000,000 immigrants migrating to the US within the 28-year-period, just like Jackson Ho. Jackson Ho, an 83-year-old Chinese man who emigrates from Hong Kong to the United States, uses his own ways to integrate two distinct cultures and overcome major obstacles he encounters throughout his journey of life. This oral history project addresses the difficulties Jackson faces during his transition from childhood into adulthood and analyses how they change his sense and definition of home during the transition period between the moment he decides to move and now.

My interviewee, Jackson Ho, is a Chinese immigrant born in 1933 in Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province, China. Jackson experiences his first involuntary migration when he is two years old, due to the fact that he is forced by his family to go to Hong Kong by ferry through Macau, not only to reunite with his extended family, but also to strive for a better future in this international hub. However, the second Sino-Japanese War, which begins in Hong Kong in 1937, ruins Jackson’s childhood and creates a lifelong nightmare for him, which implies that he is born into chaos and suffering. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, and after the transfer of sovereignty in 1947, Jackson already foresees the shortcomings of living in Hong Kong; hence, he starts planning his second migration voluntarily in 1980s. After he arrives in the U.S. in1991, he works as an architectural assistant for ten years, while taking care of his grandchildren in his spare time. Until now, he reunites with his sons and daughters in San Francisco and enjoys his retired life. All the way through Jackson’s stay in the United States, he faces discrimination when his employer pays him less than the average wage, isolation based on language fluency when he works in the architecture company, and cultural clashes when he encounters the majority/minority religious shift of Buddhism; While he persists through all of these challenges, he finds life in the U.S. enjoyable and claims the U.S. is a better home.

While home is a place where a person satisfies his/her physiological needs, like the needs for food, water, and rest, Jackson does not view Hong Kong as his home because he cannot gain access to an adequate amount of resources during the second Sino-Japanese War. The most traumatic and appalling abuse Jackson faces during war period is the infringement upon his right to life. According to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which lays out the rights of every child, regardless of his/her race, religion or abilities, “Every child has the inherent right to life” (Article 6.1); besides, it emphasizes that all children have the right to a life more than physical survival, including a chance of development. Yet the second Sino-Japanese War is intruding on a child’s basic rights by reducing his/her amount of food intake and limiting his/her future potential. Food and other daily necessities are considered luxuries during the second Sin-Japanese War, so the Japanese army implements a quota system to limit the resources available in society. Jackson recalls his plight when he is experiencing food shortages:

“[I] have a large family with many siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, so we had a very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that although we could be given a certain amount of food. They were usually rice and potatoes with little meat. So sometimes we needed to eat fruits and crops that grow in the field.”

This statement describes how Jackson is struggling in a dilemma between safeguarding his safety and upholding his right to life. If he wants to be safe, he needs to hide inside his family’s grocery store in the city center; if he wants to find extra food in the countryside, he needs to risk his life because he may be killed by the Japanese soldiers. During the second Sino-Japanese War, Jackson realizes his right to life is being violated and his physiological needs are not satisfied in Hong Kong due to the Japanese quota system, so he does not view Hong Kong as his home.

Home is a place where a person feels safe and secure; while Jackson experiences physical and psychological maltreatment under the Japanese army when he is living under continuous bombing in Hong Kong, he cannot consider Hong Kong as his home. During wartime, Jackson’s family needs to flee from their home in Central to their grocery store in Wan Chai so as to avoid attack from the Japanese soldiers. Jackson recalls, “No, I did not see the bombs, but the bombing happened near me. So we needed to find places to hide. I really heard bom, bom, bom!” In the daytime, Jackson and his relatives will sit on the staircases of concrete buildings to avoid being bombing targets; at nighttime, he and his grandmother will hug together and seek protection under the hard wooden bed frame to prevent debris from falling on them. One morning after a series of bombings throughout the night, Jackson wakes up and notices a young man who is covered with blood lying next to him. Although Jackson is not seriously hurt or injured physically, witnessing a human being dead next to him as a child will certainly leave a deep mark in his memory. In the article “Children and war: current understandings and future directions,” Dr. Helene Berman, Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario, examines the long-term physical and emotional disorders of children after witnessing death or murder incidents. She claims, “a small but growing number of investigators have documented the occurrence of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in refugee youth…one survey reported that almost 94% of their sample met the criteria for PTSD” (2). She states that children are easily exposed to PTSD because they have limited cognitive comprehension of the world and have fewer mental skills to cope with the trauma; hence, even teenagers should particularly not experience or witness violence, like torture or murder of relatives during wartime. Luckily, Jackson does not seem to suffer from PTSD after witnessing the death of an individual, but the incident definitely depresses him and leaves a profound imprint on him. Despite the fact that he suffers from sad memories of that time, he is able to say, “I was already used to it, and there was no use for us to fear.” Jackson feels hopeless because there is no way for a child to escape from the harsh conditions under the second Sino-Japanese War. Fear does not help solve any problem. So in order to keep alive, there is no time to fear. Jackson spends most of his childhood running for his life during the second Sino-Japanese War, which leaves him with both physical and mental scars, and does not feel secure living under these conditions; therefore, he thinks that Hong Kong, a place without stability, cannot be his home.

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, while the economy of Hong Kong is starting to surge with the influx of Chinese workers, corruption also plays a role in society throughout 1950s, which makes Jackson think that Hong Kong, without chances of prosperity and success, cannot be his home in his lifetime. In the 1950s, Hong Kong undergoes massive changes politically and socially: for instance, the change of the Superior Court judge, the amendment of The Laws of Hong Kong, and the influx of Chinese labor and the increase in Hong Kong population. The new governmental officials not only change their ways of dealing with social issues, but also abuse their power by giving and receiving bribes. It is obvious that the behavior and policy of the government organizations will directly affect the daily lives of citizens. Jackson recalls, “So if they affect our lives, it is dangerous for us to stay in Hong Kong.” He claims that if Hong Kong is ruled by corrupted officials, citizens will live in misery, and he thinks he is correct looking at the news about the polluted environment and the high cost of living in Hong Kong nowadays. He believes that in a corrupted system, he has not only a limited potential, but also a smaller chance in achieving personal success. Under corrupted government officials, Jackson feels hopeless about his future and believes that his hope cannot blossom and fulfill itself in his homeland; hence, he does not deem Hong Kong his home.

After all the sufferings Jackson faces in Hong Kong, China, he decides to migrate to the United States with his brother’s petition in order to strive for a better future in late 1980s. Jackson believes that he can gain equal access to food and safety, foster hopes of prosperity and success, and avoid human rights abuses in the US. After twelve hours of direct flight from Hong Kong, he feels the breeze of San Francisco, which seems to remind him of his arrival to the Land of Hope once he steps out of the airport. While Jackson starts his life and career in the US, he realizes that he is still suffering from human abuses and discrimination when he receives unequal salary from his coworkers, when he speaks Chinese-accented English with simple vocabularies and when he put his belief in a religion minority; yet in a less intense way compare with his experiences in Hong Kong.

Working as an assistant in an architecture company is the first job Jackson lands when he arrives in the U.S.; however, his manager just takes advantage of his strong work ethic and pays him less than other local workers. America, without the full respect of human rights, changes his sense of home. According to the UDHR, “Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work” (Article, 23.2). When Jackson is working as an assistant, he receives pay that is lower than that of other architect assistants in the same company. He recalls, “Others are receiving around $20 per hour, and I am just getting about $10 per hour. But we are all assistants and we all draw drafts.” He thinks that he earns an unreasonable wage from the company because the company discriminates against his identity as an immigrant. Although Jackson realizes that his right to equal pay is being intruded upon, he is desperate to make money in order to maintain his living and does not know any other methods of finding a better job. Hence, he keeps working for the architecture company for ten years until he retires. Obviously, most U.S. citizens will have some degree of discrimination against immigrants in general, so they tend to take advantage of them by paying a salary that is lower than the average wage, which is an intentional violation of their human rights. Although Jackson receives unequal pay, the salary he receives does not have a great impact on his living conditions because he can still afford his basic necessities like food and rent; thus, his situation actually improves a lot compares with his life in Hong Kongm, when he did not have enough food to eat. Yet he probably thinks that the US is not his ideal home without the total respect of basic human rights.

While Jackson is working for the architecture company, he encounters some degree of language barriers and isolation when he tries to communicate with his coworkers; hence, Jackson thinks that without full acceptance and harmonious relationships America is not his perfect home. In Hong Kong, Jackson has a college degree of architecture, but he is just equipped with a junior level of English, so he barely speaks English and understands English grammar; therefore, this language barrier becomes the first obstacle in his new life in the US. At the architecture company, Jackson can understand his colleagues on architecture-related topics in English without difficulties, but whenever his colleagues try to talk about their daily lives or leisure activities, he feels totally lost and cannot comprehend what they are talking about. Jackson remembers, “Sometimes I cannot fully express what I mean, so I dare not to speak up. Then less and less coworkers talk to me, and I am alone all the time”; this statement describes how Jackson is being alienated and feels depressed due to the fact that he does not know much English and speaks English with heavy Chinese accent, so no one can truly understand him and talk to him in the company as he is the only Chinese in his department. Jackson worries that he will be discriminated against not only by his coworkers, but also by other English-speaking people. Jackson is once full of confidence and a sense of achievement upon arriving to the US, but now this is replaced by feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. In the article “Stress-Associated Poor Health Among Adult Immigrants with a Language Barrier in the United States,” which attempts to examine the stress-associated health status of adult immigrants with a language barrier in the USA, Dr. Hongliu Ding, Commissioner’s Fellow at the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center, and Dr. Hargraves Lee, Research Associate Professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at UMass Medical School, claim, “immigrants with a language barrier were of low socioeconomic status and they reported a higher percentage of unhappiness (32.42% vs. 8.84%), depression (19.29% vs. 6.27%), and anxiety (12.29% vs. 4.04%)” (3). Even when immigration is a personal choice, the processes of immigration and assimilation are very stressful, especially at the beginning of people’s lives as immigrants, like facing difficulties in employment, financial problems, cultural conflicts and lifestyles changes. Obviously, Jackson experiences unhappiness, depression, and anxiety in his first few years of immigration, but luckily he overcomes these emotions and does not let them affect his life as he realizes that life must go on. He still needs to learn English despite the fact that he is in his sixties, so he applies for nighttime college courses determinedly. Even though Jackson can only understand a little English and uses short sentences after learning English for several years, he already believes that “English grants opportunities.” With his limited knowledge in English, he travels to the New York on his own, and this eye-opening experience grants Jackson inspirations for his future plans, which lead to personal success in later years. It is clear that Jackson has a greater chance of prosperity and intellectual growth in the US than in Hong Kong because he has more opportunities to broaden his horizons and learn new things. Although Jackson faces discrimination because of his English speaking-style and usage during the first few years in the US, he later gets the chance to improve his English, which enables him to travel and to look at the world from multiple perspectives; however, he thinks that if everyone can respect others by showing love and acceptance in all aspects, America will be a perfect home for him.

To Jackson, a perfect home should have equality between religious groups, no matter whether it is for major or minor religion. While Jackson is living in the US, he faces discrimination based on his religious belief in Buddhism when he tries to assimilate to society in the 1990s. He trusts that America, with its relatively high degree of freedom, should accept all minorities and treat each religious group equally. Jackson recalls, “Although people discriminated against me because of Buddhism, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Although not much people believe in Buddhism in the US, I will keep my faith in Buddha.” Jackson has a strong faith in Buddhism not only because he believes in the words spoken by Buddha, but also due to the fact that he comes from a traditional Chinese family, which has roots their faith in Buddhism. However, it is common that new immigrants will be persuaded to put their faith in Christ, rather than Buddha, in order to become more Americanized. Some Christian Americans will think that Christ is more powerful, so they may say something that insults the believers of Buddha. Jackson remembers, “When I was buying food at the market, people would laugh at me because a smell of incense was coming out from me”; this incident makes him feel depressed as he thinks that he can never fit in. Dr. Fenggang Yang, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine and Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, Professor of Sociology at the University of Houston, assert the idea that “religion continues to serve both ethnic reproduction and assimilation functions ” in the study entitled “Religion and Ethnicity Among New Immigrants: The Impact of Majority/Minority Sates in Home and Host Countries,” which aims to examine the changes of immigrants’ religious group throughout their adaptation to US society (2). It is evident that regular religious group meetings and strong religious belief can help new immigrants to assimilate successfully and expand their social circles by providing a social space for them to express opinions and meet new people. Buddhism is the religion of the majority of immigrants living in Hong Kong, but when Jackson moves to the US, it becomes a minority status. While shifts in majority/minority status of religious groups make up a part of the migration process, if immigrants can continue seeking strength in their religion, they can have a greater sense of belonging in the new country. Fortunately, Jackson can overcome the negative feelings of being discriminated against based on his religion and find his own way to assimilate into society, yet he thinks that if everyone can treat each religion equally, he will have a greater sense of belonging in America.

Jackson faces numerous difficulties and abuses to his human rights in Hong Kong, which include physical and psychological maltreatment during the second Sino-Japanese War and serious corruption that begins in the 1980s. Even though Jackson migrates to the US in his sixties in hopes of a better future, he still thinks that America is only a home with improved situations for his physical and psychological needs; the US is not an ideal home. After Jackson moves to the United States, he continues to suffer from discrimination at his workplace due to his language fluency and in society because of his religious belief. While Hong Kong can be considered Jackson’s natural home because he spends his childhood there, the traumatic incidents he experiences definitely leave profound impacts on him physically and psychologically, which do not let him consider Hong Kong as his home. An ideal home is where human rights are respected: sustenance is guaranteed, safety is safeguard, and intellectual growth is promoted. Actually, due to recent rapid development and globalization in the US, the misery of human rights abuses and discrimination based on identity and cultural background have been significantly reduced as people are educated to respect others’ rights. Jackson reflects, “I believe the decision I made back in 1980s was correct and I do not regret even after forty years.” Although he faces obstacles in the first few years of migration, he can see that America has been a great step forward in providing resources to new immigrants and transforming the US as their new ideal homes. So he does not regret his decision of migrating to the US, and he hopes one day the US can become his ideal home.

Works Cited

Berman, H. “Children And War: Current Understandings And Future Directions.” Public Health Nursing 18.4 (2001): 243-252. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Clark, Ximena, Timothy J. Hatton, and Jeffrey G. Williamson. Where do US immigrants come from, and why?. No. w8998. National bureau of economic research, 2002.

Ding, Hongliu, and Lee Hargraves. “Stress-associated poor health among adult immigrants with a language barrier in the United States.” Journal of immigrant and minority health 11.6 (2009): 446-452.

Ebaugh, Helen Rose. “Religion and the new immigrants.” Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (2003): 225-39.

The United Nations. “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Treaty Series 1577 (1989): 3. Print.UN General Assembly. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, 217 (III) A, 1948, Paris, art.

 

Sample Transcript

Pui Man Stephanie Ho: Where did you born?

Jackson Ho: Umm, I was born in Xinhui, which is a city district in the City of Jiangmen in the province of Guangdong in China. But actually I considered myself born in Hong Kong; however, I did not have a Hong Kong birth certificate, so I cannot claim that.

SH: So you do not have Hong Kong birth certificate, but you have China birth certificate?

JH: Yes. In the past, most of my family members moved to Hong Kong during the Japan-China War, but my mother and I stayed in Xinhui because she needed to take seniors at her home. My grandparents, father has moved to Hong Kong earlier. When I have the chance to go to Hong Kong, I was about two-year-old and being carried by my mother, arriving Hong Kong by ferry through Macau. This incident was so memorable because during the trip to Hong Kong, my mother told me to be silenced because we are afraid of the Indians who wore head accessories, called “mo luo cha” in Cantonese.

SH: So, it is your own decision to come to the US, but why do you want to come to the US?

JH: Umm, during that time, in the 1980s and I was born in 1933, I realized that Hong Kong needs to return to China in 1997. I grew up in a Hong-Kong-rooted family. At that time, my brother was preparing to immigrant to the US, so he was qualified to bring his siblings to the US. It is not a must for me to immigrant to the US, but based on my sophisticated friends’ and my judgments. I can foresee that the development of HK society will be affected by China because things have changed completely even after Japan’s surrender. From my memory, I can remember many things, even the establishment of The People of Republic in 1949. So with the chance of immigrating to the US, I definitely try to apply. So I already made up my mind to immigrant in 1980s. To exaggerate, I believed the decision I made back in 1980s was correct and not regret even after forty years. The things happened in the 21st century, were actually in my expectations. My family, which had three generations, already starts their lives in the US.

SH: So you start your life in the US in 1980s?

JH: No, I decided to come in 1980s, but arrive in the US in 1991.

SH: So when you arrived in the US, you were approximately sixty years old?

JH: That time, I was around fifty years old

SH: Did you bring any family members with you?

JH: Yes, I brought my daughter, Jessica, with me. Due to the fact that she was seventeen which was under eighteen or twenty-one, she can follow her parents to the US according to the immigration law. However, my other sons, Keith and Frank, cannot immigrate with me in 1990s. But I still apply for their immigration status after I have arrived in the US and have the qualifications to be the applicants. I hope that they can have a chance to come to the US immediately or anytime in their lives. So today, my dreams have come true.

SH: When you decided to come to the US, what would you expect from here?

JH: Personally…umm… You know the seniors in my family had moved to Hong Kong even before the Sino-Japanese War, but that time, Hong Kong did not have much development. I applied to the Hong Kong Technical College after I finished middle school and major in interior design and architecture. With this profession, I knew more people than are more sophisticated and educated than me. And they predicted, if I immigrate to the US, I will have a comfortable life than in HK. Throughout the past 10 years, I have participated in 9 out of 10 famous architecture projects as an architecture assistant. But you ask me why I come to the US and have what kind of plan in my mind, I can answer you. I have no plan in my mind when I come. I think the Chinese living in HK are comparable to the Chinese living in elsewhere, because in HK, we are already exposed to international culture, values and living styles. So when I arrived, I just have one relative in San Francisco. Besides, my relatives in HK has introduced me to a female Chinese designer, who is around 30 year-old and later introduced me to a Chinese architecture company with around twenty employees. And that’s suits me. But the architecture’s style is still different from HK, so I need to join some government subsided vocational courses in order to learn American’s style and the techniques of using computers. Later, some architecture companies seek new employees in our college, and then the principle has introduced some students for the positions, including me. I got the job in EQE which is in charge of preventing earthquake in architecture. Its head quarter is located at the downtown of San Francisco. I worked in EQE for 10 years. However, others are receiving around $20 per hour, and I am just getting about $10 per hour. I drew diagrams by hand and computers. As the job is easier than HK, I do not feel unsure or lost. I also do not think life styles or living in the US is an obstacle because as a HK people, we already exposed to similar situation in HK.

SH: So you did not feel scared or not comfortable?

JH: So I think I am a lucky person. No matter relatives in HK or the US, we both live comfortable lives. (12:33)

JH: I do not think there is a difference between what I expected before coming to the US and after I have arrived here. Everything is smooth. (13:15)

JH: I did not intentionally learn English after I arrived in the US because I already use English as medium when I was working in HK. I know almost all English technical terms about architecture, so it does not contribute to a barrier when I work. Besides, I can listen and speak simple English which is not a major obstacle in my daily life. Yet, sometimes I cannot fully express what I mean, so I dare not to speak up. Then less and less coworkers talk to me and I am alone all the time. But later after I learnt English, I can communicate with Westerners freely, although sometimes I still cannot fully express what I mean. I think westerners here are very friendly, so I am not afraid when I make mistakes in English. English is not a barrier to me. English grants opportunities. With understanding of English, I can travel to New York two times. I admit that my English grammar is poor, but with English vocabularies, I can live in the US without big problems. However, English only applies to my normal social circle, once I stepped outside my comfort zone, I cannot fit in and do not understand what other people are talking about.

(20:46)

SH: Do you think there is a difference between the life style in HK and the US, like eating habit?

JH: Yes. When I just arrived in the US, I am not very used to eating American food every meal. So I mainly just eat Chinese food. Actually in Hong Kong, I was exposed to different many kinds of cuisines, so I have a basic understanding about Western food. In the US, I also have simple American style lunch, like pasta, bagel, bacon, clam chowder and etc. But mostly I would prefer dinner in Chinese style because as a Chinese, I think it is important for us to have rice in our meals.

SH: Have you been influenced by the American culture?

JH: Yes. For example, I have been introduced to pot luck party, western style wedding, and buffet. However I do not understand American opera and drama due to my limitation in English. I can only understand American movies with Chinese subtitles.

(28:44)

(28:56)SH: Did you notice the cultural difference in the US? Like American usually eat slowly? Certain waiters/waitresses are responsible for certain tables? Tips are encouraged after dinning?

JH: I have answered this question before. I think as an immigrant from Hong Kong, I already exposed to western culture. Besides, I know that we need to adjust ourselves in order to fit into the new environment, we need to follow the US customs. For example, if you see a salesperson is talking to anther customers in grocery stores, you will wait in line due to politeness. For example, you will automatically give tips after meals because it is a custom in the US. In Hong Kong, we are used to give service fee at around 10%, but in the US, we need to pay about 10-20%.

(32:02)

SH: How about any differences in religion?

JH: There is of course a difference. At first when I came, people here put their faith in Christ rather than Buddha. This makes me sad because some people even look down on me. Although people discriminated against me because of Buddhism, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Although not much people believe in Buddhism in the US, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Of course in theses few years, the situation improved. But there is one incident I encountered in early years that I can still remember. When I was buying food at the market, people would laugh at me because a smell of incense was coming out from me.

 

(36:00)JH: I can tell how Hong Kong changes from good to bad because I experienced the transformation myself. I have participated in the project of demolishing the old HSBC building and constructing the new building. I am responsible for drawing part of the design. Um…um…The project was in-charged by a British architect. So the design was finished and edited in Britain, then passed to Hong Kong and implemented here. In Hong Kong, our company needed to revise a bit so as to fit the rules here. I took part in projects like the University of Science and Technology, horse racing valley in Shatin, Kowloon Park, and Ocean Park. So you know…uh… Hong Kong has so many main buildings that I have participated in. But suddenly 1997 reached, and many foreigners came to Hong Kong and disturbed our pattern of life. Also, the political structure, in my opinion, would change in the near future. Now, it proved that I have a correct prediction. Talking about the feelings when I returned back to Hong Kong nowadays. I realized that the buildings I took part in were still here, but the buildings that were built later were scattered all around the place without organization. The entrepreneurs know the law well, so they tried to construct buildings as much as they could without considering places for rest area and playground. So the difference is that there are no green leisure areas in Hong Kong anymore. Besides, the country side of Hong Kong is also being commercialized in order to cater the needs of citizens. At that time, I predict that Chinese would just walk from Luowu and Shenzhen to Hong Kong on foot. They have the right to cross the broader, so we could not stop them. But we need to consider the consequences ourselves.

(39:21)JH: The judge has changed, so their ways in dealing with the environment have changed also. I have seen that many people would abuse their power by giving and receiving bribe which contribute to corruption. The behavior and policy of the powerful people would directly affect the daily lives of citizens. So if they affect our lives, is it dangerous for us to stay in Hong Kong. The air maybe polluted, the environment maybe damaged, and the pregnant women needed to be careful when they go out and buy formula milk. But we do not need to face these situations in the past. Maybe we need to compete for water next week despite the fact that the water is polluted. In the near future, the price may increase due to monopoly. So educated people could think of the consequences in the future. So you have a feeling…wow…when you go back to Hong Kong, some people would carry a lot of luggage. They come and visit Hong Kong, so it is no right or wrong for the behavior of shopping. Sometimes they would hurt you with their luggage in crowded environment, but they would not say sorry, instead you need to say sorry to them. I know I am old, so my memory is limited. Although the one who is at the same age as me and also a Hong Konger, not many people can remember as much as I do.

(42:17)JH: In 1947 during the peaceful time after the Sino-Japanese War, you guess how many people are living in Hong Kong. I think at most around a few hundred thousand. Now with population increase to over 1,000,000people, the proportion of survivors of the war is very little. At that time, I was only eight or ten years old. Can you imagine how many people can speak freely and record interviews just like me.

(50:47)JH: Now let’s talk about the Second Sino-Japanese war. At that time, I have a big family with all my uncles and aunties. But my relatives were very smart because they separated our family into small groups then arranged places for us to hide from the Japanese. My grandmother cares me very much, so she hugged me and we both hide under the bed inside our store. Because that time, the bed frame is made from wood, so it is very hard. At the same time, my aunt accompanied me and my cousins and walked them to Lockhart Road in Central because there is no public transport during war time. They went to the concrete buildings and sat on the stairways in order to avoid bomb.

SH: So you see the bomb in person?

JH: No, I did not see the bomb, but the bombing happened near me. So we need to find places to hide. I really heard “bom, bom, bom”. Umm..umm.. ok…My grandmother hugged me and hide under the bed frame as usual. The Japanese soldiers will throw bombs from Kowloon side to Hong Kong side at night. “Weeeeeeee, bom”! But I am already used to it, and there is no use for us to fear. Then the next morning when we woke up, “wow”, we can see a young man. That time, the internal structure of our store is very simple as it was made of wood for most of the parts. The young man died and lay next to us, very near to my shoulder. He is dead and covered with blood. Then the British soldiers came to pick the bodies up at around 11am. OK. Talking about the general days during the war. My aunt brought us to Admiralty during the day and let us sit on the stairways in front of the concrete buildings. My aunt said did not sit on the first two or three steps because the Japanese soldiers could see us up in the sky, and do not sit on the last two or three steps because we would be trapped inside the house if it was bombed. Talking about my mother. The corner on Cochrane Street was surrounded by bricks walls so as to prevent bombing from the Japanese. Umm…one day, my mother walked passed that corner, and heard “bom” from bombing. Luckily she passed it quickly, so she was not hurt by the bomb. But the lady behind her was hurt because of the bomb. Also tell you this thing. My mother needs to go out to buy rice and necessities during war period with quotas. When she came back home, she told us that in Kennedy Town pier a Japanese soldier killed an old man ,who jumped the line for rice, with a gun and pushed the dead body into the sea. So when you are talking about the war. At time, my grandfather was buried in Waterfall Bay, South of Hong Kong Island. Many other people who passed away also buried in that cemetery, so many relatives would come and give a salute. For Chinese customs, we need to burn incents and money for dead people. However, if any Japanese soldiers saw any one who practices the traditional way, they would beat them up until half dead. So Japanese are very bad and I do not like them. Ai…ai… I am really mad at them. I just stood in front of my grandfather’s grave, and the Japanese soldier in suit would spy on you and keep an eye on you. He did not have any facial expressions. I was so sacred. But during Japanese invasion, he has the right to treat you in any way. So I am so lucky that I did not die. Talking about how lucky I am to be alive. (57:42) You know that the Central Police station is in Central and on the corner right opposite to it is a secondary school. I was studying in the primary school organized by the same organization. During summer holiday, no one wish to walk passes the Central Police Station because two Japanese soldiers will guard the door. So people tend to walk another way to reach their destination. If you walk pass them, you need to bow in order to show your respect. If you do not bow, they have the right to beat you up. During summer time with the invasion of Japan, my classroom which I used to learn in was bombed by the Japanese. You know bombs do not have eyes, so they will not care where they bomb. Luckily, I was not at school that time, so I can be safe. After I heard that my school was destroyed by a bomb, I quickly went back and take a look. But all I saw was just debris.

Referring back to the war. When the bombing stopped, my aunt needed to go back to Central. You know that there are railroads in Central. It was normal when I walked from Central to Wanchai before the bombing, but all I could saw were dead bodies lying on the railroad when I walked from Wanchai back to Central after bombing. The dead bodies were just covered by white cloth, and when I needed to walk across the street, I need to walk like I was dancing because the bodies are lying around irregularly. If you do not walk like you were dancing, you would be tripped by the bodies of citizens or soldiers. Some were dead, but some were just badly injured.

SH: So did you saw any people dead in front of you in person?

JH: It was so lucky for me because I have never seen any people died in front of me. But the experiences developed have contributed to a new self, including new personalities and new perspectives to the world.

SH: Is there anything you typically remember from the war?

JH: Ah…I think hunger. I have a large family with many siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that although we can be given a certain amount of food, they are usually rice and potatoes with little meat. So sometimes we need to eat fruits and crops that grow in the field. I do not like the feelings of hunger, but I do not have a choice.

SH: You experienced three years and eight months of the Japanese war?

JH: Such a good question you have asked. I just experienced two years and eight months of the second Sino-Japanese War. In the last year of the second Sino-Japanese war, my mother noticed that the prices of daily necessities, like rice, are rocketing. For example, rice cost $10 per 10 pound, but during that time the price increases every day. So my mother brought me and her two other children with her and travelled to her hometown in China. Her hometown was just a small village with farmlands. Then we came back to Hong Kong one year after the Japanese government surrender, which is 1946. You know that my mother needed to support the expenses of our family back in her hometown, so she needed to go to work from morning until midnight. So from that time onwards, I was responsible for preparing the dinner for my family, which includes my sister of age 2. Every night after dinner, we would wait for our mother in front of the bus stop with tears on our face. But it is useless for us to cry, so I became more independent and brave.

SH: So you do not fear about the future in the US because your experiences during war time have trained you in a certain way?

JH: Yes. Now I can even drive to Canada myself. But I admit that as I grew older, I have some health issue, like eye problem and sensitive skin. But these are common health problems faced by most senior. I say that as Hong Kong people, we have different degree of adaptation due to our living environment and standard.

 

 

 

War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

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

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

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

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

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

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

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

T: Just whenever

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

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

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

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

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

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yes

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

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: For your parents it was also easy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

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

A: Ummm 7 years.

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

A: Yes

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

A: I don’t understand your question

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

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

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

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

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

A: Probably middle school

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

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

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

T: Who were you mean to?

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

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

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

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

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

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

A: What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea, only when I had to.

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

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

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

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

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

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

A: No.

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

A: Never.

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

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

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

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

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

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

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

A: I guess because of her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Yea and she was going to school.

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

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

T: Why were you lucky?

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

T: What do you mean go through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What do you mean they were well off.

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

T: What kind of business was it?

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

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

A: I don’t know.

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

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

A: Because they were able to escape the war.

 

 

Home: Love, Acceptance and Commitment

cusco

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.

I Left My Heart in Syria

FullSizeRender

I Left My Heart in Syria

by Serena Mokatish, May 2015

The monarchic form of government that Syria uses relies on violence by police and military forces on protesters and innocent civilians to suppress demonstrations. Opposition militias began to from in 2011, and by 2012 the conflict had expanded into a full-fledged Civil War. Today, many Syrians fear being attacked by government forces and are forced to leave their homes. Since Syria is a heavily Islamic populated country, the remaining 8% of Christians in Syria also fear ISIS, which is a terrorist group. Like Steven, an eight-year-old boy who feared possible death in Syria, many other Syrians have escaped the war by migrating to other countries for liberty, life, and prosperity. Throughout the last few years of conflict, Steven and his family moved in and out of Syria multiple times. Steven’s family would stay in Syria when the Civil War conditions were calm, but when the war conditions were critical, his family would temporarily move to Lebanon. Finally, on August 13, 2014, Steven and his family decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents and move to the United States to live with them. Steven and his family landed on August 15, 2014, which was Steven’s birthday. During his first week in America, Steven began to feel homesick and felt like his culture was taken away from him. The sudden shift in culture, traumatic experiences, and his experiences as a refugee from the Syrian Civil War have made Steven experience trauma, which has disrupted his adaptation in America because he feels like he does not belong.

Being forced to a new country has been scary for Steven because he has not adapted to the American culture; therefore, Steven has felt isolated, forced, and discouraged, but despite his struggles, he has grown into a strong boy from his experiences. After the Syrian war, Steven and his family moved to America. Immigration was an obstacle that made Steven dislike the United Stated because he lost his friends, his home, and family members due to the Syrian war. Steven was forced to live in America. Steven felt fortunate he had escaped the tragedy of the war, but felt remorseful at the same time, as he states: “I felt really sad for the people in Syria. They killed half of Syria. It is all gone and half of Syria is dead.” The term “they” refers to the Syrian regime. The term “half of Syria” refers to the innocent Syrians that were killed by their own radical people. Steven holds a grudge against the extremists in Syria that killed the innocent half of his country. Steven and his family fled to America for protection and in the process lost their home, as Steven states: “I used to have more friends in Syria, more cousins; my house was bigger; I had two pools, four bathrooms, and two kitchens, and four bedrooms.” Currently, Steven lives in a small apartment and his family is barely making it. Their picture of the American Dream was not what they had hoped. In reality, they have been suffering in a country they did not want to be in and moved regretfully to America because they were trying to protect their lives from the Syrian government.

In addition, the war in Syria affected Steven emotionally because his feelings shift from feeling happy living in his homeland, to feeling threatened living in his homeland, to being scared and forcefully leaving his homeland in order to survive, thus causing confusion for the child. I asked Steven to describe three words on how he felt when he lived in Syria and Steven responded, “Happy, fun, and joy.” Then, I asked him to describe in three words of how he felt during the war and Steven responded, “Scared, sad, and worried.” Next, I asked him how he felt when his parents told him that they were moving to America and he would be living with his grandparents, and Steven replied, “Sad, excited, and scared.” Steven’s eighth birthday was a day he will never forget because it was the day he landed in America, and the moment he landed is when he felt estranged, confused, and shocked. The day before Steven’s eighth birthday, he left his home and traveled halfway across the world to escape from the destruction of the civil war in Syria. Upon his arrival, he met his grandma and grandpa at the airport, as he states: “I did not see them from when I was six. I ran to my grandma and grandpa and hugged them.” Steven was thrilled to reunite with his grandparents again, since he had not seen them in two years. The reunion between Steven’s grandparents and him brought joy and a sense of security because he felt like he had a part of his home back, which was his family. Although Steven was separated and reunited with his family again, the split and reconnection confused him and disrupted his normal childhood, thus causing severe trauma for him because Steven’s emotions changed simultaneously from being happy living in Syria, to feeling threatened living in Syria, to feeling sad after being forced to leave Syria.

Furthermore, as a refugee, even though Steven escaped the dangers of Syria and entered America, which was considered a safe land, instead of feeling a sense of belonging in the American culture, he has felt like a foreigner. After the death of his uncle, which occurred in America, Steven was furthermore traumatized and was confused about which country was a better place to live in. Steven faced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as Boris Drožđek, a researcher in psychology, connects: “They originate from the fields of systems theory, migrant mental health, and posttraumatic stress theory” (4). Frequent migration and traumatic experiences during one’s moving process can cause PTSD and effect one’s mental health. PTSD originated from the stress Steven faced in Syria, for he woke up every morning thanking God for being alive because he feared for his life. He developed migration PTSD because he was told that America would protect him and his family’s lives, but when his uncle came to America, he died in a car accident after landing from the airport. Steven felt betrayed by the country he supposedly trusted, thus causing confusing and psychological trauma for him.

Consequently, due to the extreme stress Steven faced in a short amount of time, he continues to remember bad memories, which in addition, makes him lose hope in the land that is supposed to protect the lives of refugees. Steven is facing cultural shock as Irina-Ana Drobot, a psychologist, illustrates: “He projects his fears on the surroundings. The description of nature is subjective, and it is the result of Rochester’s feelings of anxiety and of feeling overwhelmed by the foreign culture he finds himself in” (2). When one enters a country and experiences cultural differences in his/her surroundings, one starts to feel overwhelmed by the foreign culture and has a hard time adapting to his or her new environment, thus causing confusion and stress. This also makes Steven not want to live in America because he was forced to live here and has experienced the death of a family member. He also had a hard time adapting to a different culture because he does not have many family members in America to express his Syrian culture with; therefore, Steven feels restricted to the predominant American culture and does not like it. Family is what makes him feel like he belongs at home and since one family member was removed out of his life for good, he gave up on the hope that America once promised him, which was life over death.

Moreover, Steven faces cultural Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Cultural PTSD) due to cultural shock, experiencing the death of his uncle in America, and being a refugee, which disrupted his adaptation in America because he was overwhelmed by all traumatic experiences. Although being a refugee secured Steven’s life, it has also made him feel like an outsider and feel homesick, which has furthermore disrupted in his mental health because he went from feeling happy in Syria, to feeling threatened in Syria, to being sad when he forcefully left Syria from the unsafe government. Shifting cultures demandingly made it harder for him to have a sense of belonging and he had a hard time adapting to his new environment as Leah James, a psychologist and researcher in psychological treatments, states: “Children most commonly express frustration and anxiety associated with safety concerns or the whereabouts and well-being of missing family members” (2). When a children leave their home due to safety reasons, most project their fear and anger out onto the new place they are forced to stay in because they feel like they will never like their new home since they are forced to stay in it. Since Steven was forced to leave his home, friends, and family members, he has put all his anger on the country he was forced to stay in, though it has helped secure his life. He is eager to return back to his hometown as Steven shows: “I would ask my mom everyday saying mom when are we going back to Syria? Mom when are we going back to Syria?” He misses his old environment because that is where he belonged. Steven’s identity stayed back in Syria and since he was forced to escape to America, he left his old identity behind and struggls to find his new one because he is facing culture shock. Steven’s psychological trauma derives from being a refugee, experiencing the death of a loved one, and having a hard time adapting to the new American culture because he valued his Syrian culture excessively, and that was taken away from him.

In addition, Steven’s traumatic experiences of losing his loved ones, being a war refugee, and having a hard time adapting to the American culture dampened his hope for fitting into the American culture. Since Steven lost the majority of his family and friends, he relied on God as the last resort for comfort because he knows God will never leave him throughout his struggles. What kept Steven from missing his uncle, family, friends, and home in Syria was his faith, as Steven claims: “I thank God every day that I did not die in Syria and I ask God to help me make new friends and family so I can be happy again.” Steven’s faith helps him get through the tragic experiences of losing his family, friends, and home in Syria. He had to accept the fact that God had a different plan for him and it was by fate and for safety reasons that he had to move to America and leave his old life in Syria behind.  Though he accepts everything as fate, he never forgot about his cultural values. He learned to embrace his Syrian culture and only grasp on to the positive culture values from America. Steven’s family is very involved in church because they want Steven to be raised well and not pick up bad habits from the American culture, which also disrupts his adaptation in the American culture because he is forced to follow certain rules. His parents shelter him and protect him with the help of his new spiritual family. His spiritual family constantly lifts him up, welcomes him, and helps him get through his traumatic experiences because it severely affected his emotional health.

Similarly, while Steven is suffering from traumatic experiences and is having a hard time adapting to the American culture because his emotions are fluctuating between being happy, sad, and frustrated all at once, he is currently recovering with the help of loved ones. In order for Steven to adapt living in America and heal from the mental scarring he faced, he needs the support of friends and family. He finds comfort by trusting the people he loves the most and since he is only eight years old, he needs nurturing love in order to move on in life. For Steven to feel safe and secure, he needs the emotional support from his immediate family and his spiritual family. I asked Steven if he would miss the members of his church if he left back to Syria. He replied, “Yes, of course!” According to his response, if he left to return to Syria, he would be even more traumatized because he would be leaving more of his loved ones in America and gaining back the family members he lost in the past in Syria, which would cause more confusion for the child. Then, I asked Steven if he would dislike America even more if he did not have his grandma and grandpa with him and he replied, “Yeah.” Conferring to Steven’s response, family is what has helped him adjust to life in America after having his adaptation disrupted due to living among his family members in Syria, to forcefully leaving his family members in Syria, to meeting new friends in America and ending up loving his new spiritual family members in America.

Steven will most likely will never be able to adapt fully to America because he will always treasure the land that was forcefully taken away from him. He is not the type of boy that hides his identity; instead, he embraces and claims his identity as Syrian. Although his life was threatened in Syria, he still holds on to his Syrian identity. When Steven entered America, where his life is not threatened, again, he still holds on to his Syrian identity. He is very proud of his culture, but has a hard time embracing it in the United States because he does not have most of his family members to share it with. Steven cannot integrate his culture well with the American culture because there are too many differences. Steven also does not want to be so-called “Americanized” because he feels that some aspects of the American culture tend to be disrespectful, since respect is an important factor of the Syrian culture. I asked Steven, “What do you not like about the American culture?” Steven immediately replied, “I don’t like how the teenagers grow up to be. They think they can do whatever they want and then they get in so much trouble with their parents. If they do that they don’t respect their parents.” Steven bases his cultural value on the idea of respecting his parents. Syrian children honor their parents and grandparents so much that they would risk their own lives just to save them. Steven expresses his culture by showing respect to his parents. He wants to hold on to his Syrian culture because he does not want to grow up to be a typical American teenager and disrespect his parents, which is equivalent to disrespecting his culture.

Steven’s mental health transformed negatively and his adaptation was disturbed because his feelings have shifted from being happy living in his homeland, to feeling threatened living in his homeland, to being scared and forced leaving his homeland in order to survive, thus causing confusion for the child. Although being a war refugee saved his life, it also made him feel like he was forced to stay in a country where he felt like he did not belong due to cultural differences and to not having his cousins around him. Dangerous war conditions often force people to leave their homes for safety; when they escape for safety reasons, they often face cultural shock because they entered a country that they were forced to remain in. He had his culture taken away from him and has been forced to integrate it with a completely different culture, which also causes more bewilderment for him. Today, thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing from Syria to other countries to protect their lives. When refugee children like Steven are forced to leave their home, it disrupts their normal healthy childhood because they are confused from the sudden change of their environment.

Works Cited

Drožđek, Boris. “Challenges in Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Refugees: Towards Integration of Evidence-based Treatments with Contextual and Culture-sensitive Perspectives.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology 6 (n.d.): 1-8. ESCOB. Web. 5May 2015.

Drobot, Irina-Ana. “Relationships and Culture Shock in Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.” Scientific Journal of Humanistic Studies 6 (n.d.): 1-3.ESCOB. Web. 5 May 2015.

James, Leah. “The Mental Health of Syrian Refugee Children and Adolescents.” Forced Migration Review 47 (n.d.): 42-44. ESCOB.

Transcripts

First Meeting:

Serena: “How do you like living in the United states?”

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: “Why?”

Steven: “Because I used to have more friends in Syria, more cousins, and a bunch of other stuff. My house was bigger, I had two pools, four bathrooms, two kitchens, and four bedrooms.”

Serena: “How did you feel about the war?”

Steven: “Really sad.”

Serena: “Why did you feel sad?”

Steven: “Half of Syria is gone. They killed it! So now there is half of Syria and half of the other Syria is dead. That is why I am sad.”

Serena: “But none of your family died?”

Steven: “None.”

Serena: “Okay, that is good. Why did you come to the United States?”

Steven: “From the war.”

Serena: “So you do not have to be in the war?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “How do you feel about moving to the United States?”

Steven: “Sad.”

Serena: “Did you want to move to the United States?”

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: “So you were really sad when you left?”

Steven: “Yeah, until my mom told me that my grandma and grandpa were here. I became a bit happier.”

Serena: “So you see your grandpa and grandma a lot huh?”

Steven: “Yeah, I did not see them from when I was six. All the way to seven and when I had my eighth birthday year. On my eighth birthday year that’s when I came. For my birthday. And two weeks, so it was…Wait no, for two days…August 15th, that is when I came.”

Serena: “Mhm.”

Steven: “Do you have any more questions?”

Serena: “Where do you like going to school more, here or Syria?”

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Why?”

Steven: “I have more friends, I have two cousins….”

Serena: “And you learned more?”

Steven: “Yeah, I learned five languages.”

Serena: “Wow!”

Steven: “I know that is a lot.”

Serena: “And you have more friends there?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Wait, so you speak all those languages fluently?”

Steven: “Like, two of them I do not know a lot, but three of them…”

Serena: “Fluent.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Describe what you did in Syria with family.”

Steven: “We would have family dinners, go to the mall, walk around, and go visit my cousins. I would go swimming. I would play with my cousins.”

Serena: “What games did you play?

Steven: “We played tag, hide and seek, soccer, we swam in the pool. A lot of stuff.”

Serena: “Did you have a lot of friends at school?”

Steven: “Yeah I had so many friends.”

Serena: “Do your friends speak Arabic and English or just Arabic?”

Steven: “Some do, some don’t. But most of them speak both English and Arabic because that is what they teach us in school.”

Serena: “Oh, that’s good.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Would you go back to Syria?”

Steven: “When the war stops, yes.”

Serena: “Do you want to go back to Syria, after the war?”

Steven: “Yes, every day I beg my mom. I tell her “When is the war going to stop? I want to go to Syria. When is the war going to stop? I want to go to Syria!””

Serena: “Aw!”

Steven: “Every single day, every single second.”

Serena: “Wow. Where do you consider home, here or Syria?”

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Obviously, yeah. Describe the moving process, like describe how you moved from Syria to here.”

Steven: “Okay, so before the war in two days we were in Lebanon. We stayed there for a year and went we went back for two weeks and went back to Lebanon and stayed there. We got our stuff and went to the airplane. Two days from the airplane we went all the way to America. From Lebanon to America when you go it is two days.”

Serena: “Mhm.”

Steven: “I watched some movies on the airplane. I got ice cream.”

Serena: I know I got ice cream too when I traveled.”

Steven: “Let’s see, I met two of my friends.”

Serena: “On the plane?”

Steven: “Yeah. One was Kieran and one was Zach.”

Serena: “How did you feel when you first stepped in America? Your first step like when you came to the airport in America.”

Steven: “I was like, I got a bit scared, was a bit weird, out of place, and saw with my grandpa and grandma and friends. First, I ran to my grandma and grandpa. I hugged them. Then, I went to Kieran and Zach. We said hi, we shake hands, we hugged each other, we had lots of fun. That day we had a sleepover. They went to my house, or should I say my grandma’s house.”

Serena: “Oh wow! Do you love your grandma and grandpa a lot?”

Steven: “Yeah I love them a lot!”

Serena: “Aw!”

Steven: “Yeah, we had lots of fun! And we had a big feast.”

Serena: That’s good, that’s good!”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “So, if you went back to Syria, would you miss America?”

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: (laughs) “Okay.”

Steven: “But I would miss my friends and the people that I know.”

Serena: Church?

Steven: “Church!”

Serena: “Would you miss me?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Describe the last moment you had with your friend.”

Steven: “Okay. I told my friend not to eat chicken nuggets.”

Serena: “Why?”

Steven: “Because they are bad for you. My mom said so.”

Serena: “Yes, you are correct. They are bad for you. They crush baby chicks with the bones and guts inside and make chicken nuggets.”

Steven: “Yeah all the bones are in there. That is why I do not eat chicken nuggets. My friend did not believe me and thought I was crazy and weird.”

Serena: “Well, don’t worry, when he grows up and learns about it, he will remember you. You know my sister, Mira, loves chicken nuggets?”

Steven: Really?”

Serena: “Yeah. I hope she stops eating it.”

Steven: “Yeah they are bad for you. I will never eat them”

Serena: “Wait so is English your first or second language?”

Steven: “Second.”

Serena: “So you know how to read and write and speak Arabic?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Kol ishi (Means everything in Arabic)?”

Steven: “Kolshi (Means everything in Arabic).”

Serena: “You are so cute! I wish I get to have a son that turns out just like you.”

Steven: (Laughs).

Serena: “Oh by the way, I heard about you mom’s brother. I am so sorry for your loss. But he should be happy he is in heaven living with God now.”

Steven: “Thanks, I hope so too. I really miss my uncle. I thank God every day that I did not die in Syria and I ask God to help me make new friends and family so I can be happy again.”

Serena: “How old was he when he died?”

Steven “Twenty-four.”

Serena: “Wow, so young! How did it happen?”

Steven: “My Grandpa told him to escape from the war and to move. So when he did and got out of the airplane and went into car, he got into a car accident and died.”

Serena: “Oh, my gosh, that is so sad!”

Steven: “Yeah. He came to escape the war because he did not want to fight in it.”

Serena: “So he was a part of the Army?”

Steven: “Yeah. He left because he did not want to fight but when he came here he died anyways.”

Serena: “That means God wanted his child early. You will see your uncle again someday, don’t worry.”

Steven: “Yeah I know.” (Looking all sad).

Serena: “Give me a hug.”

(Serena and Steven hug)

Second Meeting:

Serena: “Do you have a lot of friends in your new school here?”

Steven: “Not as much as in Syria, but I’m starting to make new friends here.”

Serena: “How do you like living here so far?”

Steven: “I don’t like it that much. I miss my friends in Syria.”

Serena: “Would you hate America even more if you did not have your grandma and grandpa with you?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Do you like the kids in the church?”

Steven: “Yeah I like playing with them. Your little sister is so nice.”

Serena: “Yeah she is, but you should see her when she gets home. She acts crazy.”

Steven: “Really?”

Serena: “Yeah, and your little sister is so cute!”

Steven: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone says oh your sister is so cute.”

Serena: “If you were president of Syria, how would you fix the war?”

Steven: “Murder is bad. I would tell people that God said no to kill anyone and that we should all love each other.”

Serena: “I would do the same thing. If there was such thing as a time machine, would you go back in time to experience living in Syria?”

Steven: “Yeah I wish I could go back.”

Serena: “Do you know what the Syrian War is about?”

Steven: “Yeah. The Syrian War is both sides fighting each other.”

Serena: “Were you living on the good side of Syria or the bad side of Syria?”

Steven: “The good side, but some people around us were bad.”

Serena: “So your family moved to America just in case the bad people come to the good side where you lived?”

Steven: “Yeah. My mom wanted us to be safe.”

Serena: “Do you feel forced that you left your home.”

Steven: “Yeah I had no choice. Syria is dangerous now.”

Serena: “What kind of house do you have now?”

Steven: “It’s not that big. I miss my old house, but I live with my grandma and grandpa. We don’t have our own house.”

Serena: “Do you like living with your grandma and grandpa?”

Steven: “Yeah, but i wish we all lived together in Syria.”

Serena: “Do you find it hard to fit in?”

Steven: “Not really.”

Serena: If someone were to ask you which are you more, Syrian or American, what would you say?”

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “Are you proud to be Syrian?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “What you like the most about Syria.”

Steven: “My friends and family.”

Serena: “What school do you like better, the one here or in Syria?”

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Do you feel like your heart will always belong in Syria more?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Describe three words of how you felt when you lived in Syria before the war.”

Steven: “Happy, fun, good.”

Serena: “Now describe in three words how you felt during the war in Syria.”

Steven: “Sad, scared, and worried.”

Serena: “Now describe in three words how you felt when your parents told you that you were moving to America with your grandpa and grandma.”

Steven: “Sad, excited, and scared.”

Serena: “Since you have been in America for a while, in three words how would you describe your feelings now?”

Steven: “Better, miss my home and friends, and still sad.”

Serena: “How would you feel if you went back tomorrow to Syria and the war was magically over. Describe it in three words again.”

Steven: “Really happy, excited, joy.”

Serena: “Aw. Who do you miss more, your family or your friends.”

Steven: “My family. Especially my cousins because I love to play with them.”

Serena: “Of course. Nothing beats family.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “What makes you feel at home when you are in a different place?”

Steven: “When you have a lot of friends and family.”

Serena: “Describe how you feel when you leave your friends.”

Steven: “When I leave my friends I get sad a little bit, but then I get over it.”

Serena: “Describe how you feel when your parents leave the house.”

Steven: “When my mom leaves the house I get mad.”

Serena: “Why do you get mad?”

Steven: “Because I want my mom.”

Serena: “You’re a mommy’s boy.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Describe a normal day with you and your family.”

Steven: “First, I get up in the morning and go to school, then I come home and do homework, eat dinner with my family, then play with my sister, and then I take a shower and go to sleep.”

Serena: “Do you spend more time with your mom or your grandparents.”

Steven: “Both because we all live together.”

Serena: “Do you consider yourself Syrian or American?”

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “What makes you Syrian?”

Steven: “I grew up in Syria, my family is from Syria, I speak Arabic, and yeah.”

Serena: “Does your mom work?”

Steven: “No.”

Serena: “How about your dad?”

Steven: “Yeah my dad is a taxi driver.”

Serena: “Are you closer to your mom more than your dad?”

Steven: “Yeah, I think so.”

Serena: “Do you have dreams of the memories you had in Syria or dreams of you in America when you sleep?”

Steven: “I have dreams of me in Syria playing with my friends and family. With my friends I play with them at school and with family I play with them at home.”

Serena: “Describe the last dream you had when you were in Syria.”

Steven: “I dreamt that I was in Syria playing soccer with five of my friends. Then my mom called us into the house to have dinner, but we did not want to go into the house because we were having so much fun playing. Then my mom got mad we went back inside. We tried sneaking back out to play but all the doors were locked and we did not have the keys. Then I woke up.”

Serena: “Funny dream. Do you miss your school or friends in school more in Syria?”

Steven: “I miss my friends more.”

Serena: “What did you hear about America before you came here?”

Steven: “That America was the best country in the world and that it is pretty and nice and there is a lot of rich people.”

Serena: “After coming to the United States, do you think what you said was true?”

Steven: “It looks nice but it is boring.”

Serena: “What makes it boring?”

Steven: “There is no one in the streets, I don’t have a lot of family and friends here. I have a smaller house. My parents used to have more money and I bought more things in Syria.”

Serena: “Are there a lot of people in the streets in Syria.”

Steven: “Yeah there’s lots of people everywhere. It is like a shopping mall but everyone is outside. Everyone talks to each other in the streets. In America all you see outside are cars. It is like a dessert.”

Serena: “Do you think in Syria people talk more and are friendlier?”

Steven: “Yeah we all help each other.”

Serena: “Do you think the people in Syria are one big family?”

Steven: “Yeah they are all nice.”

Serena: “What don’t you like about the American culture?”

Steven: “I don’t like how the teenagers grow up to be. They think they can do whatever they want and then they get in so much trouble with their parents. If they do that they don’t respect their parents.”

Georgian-American or American-Georgian

tbilisi_sunset-6

Georgian-American or American-Georgian

by Michael Figlock, August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcribed Interview

Voice 003: 00:20 — 00:35: 15 sec

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

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

M: Cool.

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

…Voice 003: 0055 — 01:25: 45 sec

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

…Voice 003: 00:40 — 2:30: 2:35 min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M: Are you talking about in 1990?

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

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

M: Impression?

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

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

M: That’s cool.

L: It was alright.

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

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

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

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

…Voice006: 00:00 — 05:55: 14:15 min

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

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

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

…Voice007: 00:00 — 05:55: 20:10 min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader
by C.K. Ramsey, May 2014

Inspired by Voice of Witness–a San Francisco non-profit dedicated to the use of oral history to elucidate the personal accounts of human rights abuses suffered by undocumented immigrants living and working on the fringes of American society–this argumentative essay project endeavors to give voice to immigrants and their unique American experiences. Although our class project is inspired by Voice of Witness, we have chosen to expand our pool of witnesses to include not just those who have endured human rights abuses, but anyone with a contemporary immigration narrative they wish to share. Lujain Alobaide is a fellow classmate from Iraq, who has graciously agreed to share his story with me. Lujain is an intelligent young man with progressive views on a range of topics, most of which we touched on in our extensive interview. We discussed everything from his image of home and family in Iraq, his immigration experience, impression of America and its citizens, to politics and homosexuality, as well as religion and race.

Lujain’s romanticized image of life in Iraq is most likely rooted in the fact that he was a very young child when he lived there, unaware of the privileges his family may have enjoyed considering that they, and the country’s former leader–Saddam Hussein–are Sunnis and occupied the nexuses of power in the nation. I doubt that Shias and Kurds would share his view of Iraq during the era of Hussein. His view on LGBT rights is quite liberal–he supports equal rights for LGBT Americans–but his opinion of homosexuality is surely entrenched in Islamic philosophy that is emphatic in its connection to nurture rather than nature as the source of behavior. But it is his belief that discrimination based on skin color is non-existent among Muslims that was most surprising. He states emphatically that Islamic instruction has settled the issue of racism within the Muslim faith, but there is no escaping history’s impact on the present. All the major religions have histories of racism, and those histories of race and religion contribute to our current attitudes toward people of color, whether you are Christian or Muslim, Black or White. With these topics aside, I have chosen for the purpose of this essay to focus on how the experiences of his young life have changed his concept of home and family, concluding that his journey from Iraq to America has expanded said concept from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to one that includes a new reality of home and family in his new homeland, while he struggles to extricate himself from the grips of familial discord.

Born in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, before the American invasion in 2003, Lujain enjoyed a middle-class life of comfort and security with his mother and two brothers, in a house owned by his grandfather, along with two uncles, an aunt, and their children. His parents were divorced, and his father lived in the United Arab Emirates, where he worked as a civil engineer. Forced to flee Iraq to escape escalating sectarian and ethnic violence unleashed by the American invasion of 2003, he and his family found themselves living in the United Arab Emirates with the man he felt abandoned them. Lujain would be pressed to create a new definition of home in a new land, with a father he didn’t know.

A huge smile stretches across his face as the warmth of happy memories of close family ties and a carefree life flood the room when Lujain talks about growing up in Iraq. Although his parents are divorced and he has very little contact with his father, he still looks back on this time with fondness: “I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely, probably was the best time of my life…I know we had like a really big happy family…” He lived in a large multi-generational home built by his grandfather, with his mother, two brothers, and a host of cousins, aunts, and uncles that filled the space left vacant by his father’s absence. He speaks fondly about school, and a life without “concerns,” although his memory may be impacted by his age at the time. Tisha Ornstein and Lixia Yang, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Psychology at Ryerson University, suggest in their article “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults,” that “…the emotion-focused orientation instruction at free recall strengthened the emotional enhancement effect, particularly the positivity bias, in young adults,” meaning that, if we hear positive things about a particular time or place–even if we were too young to truly remember events ourselves–we will create positive associations with that time or place. I believe the necessity of positive memories is paramount to Lujain’s positive associations with national identity and concepts of home and family.

To focus on what he remembers as positive from his childhood assists him in contending with the painful absence of his father, a subject that surfaces immediately in our discussion: h states, “…even though there was a part of me, you know—I don’t have a dad, I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him—he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared,” suggesting to me that, even though this may have been a happy time in his life, the absence of his father impacts his memories of this time perhaps more than he realizes. He has to remember this time as happy so as not to deal with the vacuum his father’s absence created. According to Dennis Balcom in his article “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons,” appearing in The Journal of Men’s Studies, “Paradoxically, abandoned sons often have intense feelings related to their fathers…The son’s reaction leads him to reject the importance of his father,” which explains the dismissive tone in Lujain’s voice when talking about his dad. “Until the son acknowledges his unfulfilled needs and longing for his father, he can remain in turmoil about himself…” While I didn’t notice any indication of inner turmoil, this could be due to the role his uncles played in his life. Assuming the place left vacant by his father—“they are like my real fathers, more than my own”—their presence was no doubt valuable in his nurturing, and in the creation of a strong sense of self. Reminiscing about the place where family unity and a life without violence and ethnic unrest still existed inadvertently exposed a wound left untreated by the absence of a parent, an absence that, when juxtaposed against the presence of his uncles, feeds his concept of family in Iraq.

The smile is gone; the warm happy memories have turned into cold recriminations against the liberators who promised freedom, but instead deprived him of the home and family he had come to cherish and rely on. Life in Iraq after the American invasion had descended into violence and chaos: “It was really bad…one of the things that I remember…there was a, you know, they bombed a car…they put a bomb there, and it exploded…a lot of people get killed, and it was really nearby my house…it was really scary…” According to Lujain, the American invasion unleashed sectarian violence and threats of invasion from Iran, Iraq’s closest and most feared neighbor, which Saddam Hussein, through fear and intimidation, managed to keep at bay, a point confirmed by Savera Someshwar, Managing Editor of rediff.com, in her article “Iraqi society has been extremely polarized.” “What started as a US-led coalition invasion to topple Saddam Hussein turned into one of the most brutal sectarian conflicts the modern world has seen…a terrible communal bloodbath that is still continuing,” not to liberate and free the people from the clutches of a dictator, but instead to gain control of the country’s vast oil reserves, “more like colonialism stuff,” he said. He also believes, like many Iraqis, that it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to depose Saddam Hussein and liberate their own country. He railed against the devastation done to his country by the so-called liberators: “…you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?” Home for Lujain and his fellow Iraqis had become a minefield of terror and violence, ripping apart families, destabilizing the security and economy of the nation, pitting religious factions against one another, and destroying the home of his memories, thanks to the benevolence of their liberators, the U.S. government.

Life became so unbearable in Iraq that the family fled and was forced to turn to the father that had abandoned them for assistance. “He called my dad and talked to him, and my dad finally have some emotion I guess, and he said, ‘OK I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys.’” Lujain was visibly upset by the memory of having to ask the man he felt rejected him for help. If there was anyone else the family could have contacted for help, his face told me, they would have. So, against his better judgment, he and his family went to Jordan, and eventually moved to the United Arab Emirates with a man he didn’t even recognize when he saw him on the street: “I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like OK that’s him.” It had been years since the last time he’d seen his father; he was still a very young child – four or five years old – when his parents divorced and was now twelve years old, having not seen his father in all that time. “Preparing the abandoned son to engage the absent father begins with clarifying the son’s unspoken wishes. What did he always want to say…ask…share with his father?” (Balcom 6). There wasn’t time for any of this for Lujain or the family, and the reunion turned out to be disaster. “It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life…” A year into the reunion, his parents’ relationship began to go downhill, and, according to Lujain, it was his father’s inability to come to terms with abandoning his family, that most likely lead to his parents’ divorce in the first place. Whichever is the case, life in the United Arab Emirates was fraught with contention and Lujain found himself ensconced within the dynamics of a family that were as chaotic as the nation he was forced to flee. Could he create home under these conditions?

After an antagonistic five years together, the Alobaide family decided to immigrate to America, a decision precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008, which limited employment opportunities for the father. The immigration process proved humiliating for Lujain: “…it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time. She would like as you a question like; when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people?” With Saddam Hussein deposed, Shia and Kurdish communities that had suffered violent human rights abuses at the hands of Hussein’s Ba’athist government targeted Sunnis, whom they associated with Saddam. But Lujain points out that not all Sunnis liked or supported Saddam, nor was he a man motivated by faith: “Saddam was pretty much a secular guy, he never cared about Islam or any religion, if he had done so he wouldn’t have been the dictator he had became.” Unfortunately, the opportunity to discover that they shared a universal distaste for their former leader was lost, and differences were inflamed by an occupying nation’s desire to colonize the region and exploit its natural resources. The nation’s oil reserves were the targets of daily attacks by Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, whose sole purpose was to further destabilize the country and gain control of the nation’s economy, in competition with the occupying force. Law and order were non-existent; looting and kidnapping were on the rise, and the country responsible for unleashing this reign of terror on their homeland was now asking them if they would be a threat to this nation. In an interview with John Malkin of Voices For Creative Nonviolence, Iraqi national Walid Waleed talked about what he and his fellow Iraqis have experienced since the invasion in 2003: “On 9th March 2003 my cousin was injured…an American soldier shot her…” Waleed’s cousin was wearing an Arabic dishdasha–a long sleeved collarless garment–which was black, the same color Saddam Hussein’s fighters wore. The soldier couldn’t tell the difference because, according to Waleed, he “…he didn’t have the knowledge to see the fashion of women in an Arabic country.” Throughout the interview, Waleed goes on to describe the difficulty of living without the everyday conveniences most westerners take for granted: “security, electricity, fuel (gasoline, kerosene, cooking gas), jobs, education, medical care, and to get back our houses, which had been looted by Almahdy army, the correct spelling is al-Mahdi. Although Lujain and I had a good laugh about the ridiculous question asked by the immigration interviewer, it was obvious to us both that there was nothing funny about it considering what his country was enduring. The family was approved to immigrate to America, and Lujain would once again have to expand his concept of home and family to include a new homeland, and a new set of obstacles his family would face there.

A new beginning in America would include a new perception of the American people. “I had a lot of hatred towards Americans…I was like, those people who killed my people.” Understandably, Lujain’s view of American was negative considering what the American invasion did to his country. One of his relatives was jailed in Abu Ghraib prison, and witnessed many of the abuses suffered at the hands of American military personnel: “…they would be creative in the ways they tortured people,” he states. His bitterness rose to the surface when discussing the perceptions he believes Americans have of his people “terrorist,” “ignorant,” and “uneducated.” Susan Akram, writing for the Arab Studies Quarterly, suggests that “The demonization of Arabs and Muslims in America began well before the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001,” and has been used to justify America’s neo-colonialist Middle East foreign policy, the vilification of Palestinians to justify support of the Israeli governments theft of Palestinian homeland, and US military interest in securing the natural resources–oil–of Arab countries to be exact. Moving to America has changed Lujain’s opinion of the American people. He no longer believes that all Americans hold negative stereotypes about Iraqis and want to hurt them: “…it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason…you can have a discussion with them.” He says he now understands that people often rely on stereotypes rather than knowledge of different cultures before forming opinions about particular groups. His concept of home and family has expanded to include America and her people.

Like most Americans, Lujain’s view of his new government and its political system is still in the love-hate stage. “We…definitely…have democracy, at least if you compare it to…other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem.” He believes the American people don’t pay enough attention to what is going on in other countries, and don’t always consider the impact our policies have on people around the world. He may be partially correct—most Americans don’t know much about our nation’s foreign policy—but it’s a mistake on his part to believe that people from other countries know any more about their nation’s foreign policy. I’ve often found that immigrants from other countries that I have spoken with are misinformed about foreign policy decisions made by this nation and theirs. But our foreign policy isn’t the only thing he has an issue with; he doesn’t understand why the richest, most powerful nation in the world would have such a dismal educational system or homelessness: “…and the…shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care…” He pointed out that even in Iraq everyone had access to health care, guaranteed free education from elementary school to college, and there was no such thing as homelessness, until after the American invasion. It would have been great if I could have defended America on these issues, but I couldn’t. Lujain was carving out a home for himself in a country that afforded him the ability to speak his mind on any subject, rather than the fear of doing so in his former homeland.

While he has grown to accept and embrace his new homeland–flaws and all–his nuclear family is still at odds with one another. When I suggested that the transition to this country had been tough on his family, he agreed: “Oh, definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other.” He claims that both his parents want to play the “victim role,” most likely exacerbated by the fact that his father isn’t working: “…when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process,” a man, who can’t support his family, and doesn’t always feel like a man. His brother is struggling to find his niche; he’s worked in maintenance, in a hotel, driven a taxi. “Now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he’s actually created a lot of problems for the family as well.” We didn’t discuss his brother much, but perhaps he isn’t having as easy a time adjusting to life in America as Lujain. It would be interesting to hear his point of view on America, and how he feels about living here. What is clear is the almost non-existent relationship between Lujain and his father. They barely speak to one another except for the occasional “hi and sometimes goodnight.” Consequently, Lujain spends most of his time, as much as he can, away from home. “The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep,” he stated. “Marital conflict can cause adjustment issues, complicate conflict resolution styles and alter emotional security,” according to Melody Causewell, of livestrong.com. Life in America has provided Lujain with opportunities he did not have in Iraq, opened his mind to different people and cultures, and has impacted his concept of home both positively and negatively.

Lujain’s concept of home has expanded from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to include the reality of a new life in America with all the freedom and privileges citizenship affords him, while caught within parental discord. Unlike Iraq, America offers Lujain options that can allow him to change his family dynamic. He can encourage his parents, and his entire family to get counseling, or as a last result, he can convince his mother to divorce his father. Whichever decision they make, they are not alone, many American families experience conflict as a result of infidelity, economic instability, battles over how to raise the children, or for many other reasons. Fortunately for Lujain, his family can come through these difficult times and survive. He can never relive his memories of family life in Iraq, but he and his family can conceive and create a new American family to rival those memories.

Works Cited

“Lujain Alobaide.” Personal interview. 21 Mar. 2014.

Akram, Susan M. “The Aftermath of September 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and

Muslims in America.” Arab Studies Quarterly 24.2/3 (2002): 1-61. Ethnic NewsWatch. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/220916?&gt;.

Balcom, Dennis A. “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 6.N3 (1998): 1-25. Gale. Web. 25 Apr. 2014. <http://gale.com/marinacounselingcenter/&gt;.

Causewell, Melody. “The Psychological Effects of Marital Conflicts on Adolescents.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 18 June 2013. Web. 14 May 2014.

Malkin, John. “Life in Iraq: An Interview – February 2008.” Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Feb. 2008. Web. 16 May 2014.

Someshwar, Savera R. “Iraqi Society Has Been Extremely Polarized.” India Abroad 38.25 (2008): 1-2. ProQuest. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/362769734?&gt;.

Ornstein, Tisha J., and Lixia Yang. “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults.” EBSCO. Apr. 2011. Web. 20 May 2014.

Lujain’s Transcript

C.K. Ramsey: We know you were born in Iraq, What was your life like there?

Lujain Alobaide: First I can tell you my life before and after maybe the war if you would be interested in that.

CR: Which war, do you mean the American invasion?

LA: In 2003, yea so basically even before the war, I mean technically my parents were technically divorced. I was living with my aunt, my uncle I have two uncles, my aunt, and my grandpa they all have like their kids and my family. I have like two other brothers and my mom, we were all living in the same house it was a really big house. Like I don’t know eight rooms or something like eight bedrooms, yea it was really big, it was my grandfather’s house because, as I told you my parents were technically divorced, and my father was in the United Arab of Emirates. During that time I think they were divorced in somewhere in 1998, and I was really young I was somewhere like four years old. I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely probably was the best time of my like because you know I was a kid, and you know I know we had like a really big happy family you could say. Like you know with my uncles aunts and stuff I was technically really happy you know, go to school there were no concerns and stuff even though there was a part of me you know, I don’t have a dad I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him, he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared because he just came, like the second time I ever saw him after they divorced was after seven years, no it was actually even more, yea cause the second time I saw him was in 2006 and it was not in Iraq anyway, we’ll back, we’ll come back to that I guess, so he after they like, after they divorced they technically came, I mean he technically came once before he traveled you know, he just came and bring some candies, I remember and then after that I never seen him. He maybe he, I mean my brother, my oldest brother, he sometime call him like maybe and we talk like once in each six months over the phone and less than one minute so there is like a really big gap that still affects us until today

CR: Yea growing up without a dad is tough. So you say your brother talks to him every six months?

LA: Yea, I also like, I like probably when I grow up more when I was maybe 11 or 12 actually. I probably talk to him like really maybe 1 minute or so.

CR: What did your father do for a living?

LA: He’s civil engineer.

CR: Did your mom work?

LA: My mom during that time no.

CR: Your family in Iraq, you say you had a big house so would you say you lived a middle-class lifestyle?

LA: Uh you could say that, because it was actually my grandfather who built it, and my aunt, I mean you can see we were definitely dependent on my uncles, they are more like they are like they are really my fathers, they are like my real fathers more than my own you can say even though I living with my actual dad right now, which we can talk about later its really complicated.

CR: Do families in Iraq tend to live together in multi-generational households?

LA: They do that as long as you know it’s a big house and there’s no problems, you know sometimes when the kids they got married they go out they buy new house, but usually if you are talking about in terms of middle-class or working-class I mean like maybe it’s just my point of view, like maybe especially like before, maybe 90 percent of the people they had their own house, it was really to see a person who is renting or is homeless there is no such a thing.

CR: No such thing as homelessness?

LA: No not before the war that’s for sure.

CR: What was the environment like was it urban like San Francisco, or rural?

LA: It was definitely mixed but in terms of my life we lived in the capital, which was more like, you can’t really say like San Francisco, San Francisco is really much more modern than Bagdad. During that time I lived near by the airport which was good before the war, but during the war and after, it was really big problem because there was almost the major battles happened there, it was kind of just normal place there were no mall or fancy buildings no.

CR: What about school, were they like American schools or were they traditional religious schools?

LA: I wouldn’t say really religious, but the education system there is fundamentally different than here, that is definitely for sure, ah the school before the war it was good but it was kind of like, they really glorify the president of the country you know, that kind of dictatorship like in every page of the book like when you open the book there is a page that has the picture of Saddam Hussein who was the president of Iraq at the time, as you probably know, and perhaps some excerpts of things that he said some quotes and stuff.

CR: What did you think of Saddam Hussein?

LA: Well that’s a good question, but you really have to know that as a person, I mean he’s definitely a dictatorship you know there’s no argument about that, but if you compare the country in his era and afterwards it would definitely, even the people who hate him they would definitely tell you that when we were in his era there was life much better than now, at least we have some kind of security and stability, now we could anything could happen a bomb or something could kill a lot of people now there is a lot of blood.

CR: Although you may not have liked him, you felt safer when he was in power and there was a better standard of living?

LA: Definitely.

CR: Are you a Sunni, or?

LA: I am a Sunni.

CR: What are the different factions?

LA: Well there is the Sunni and there is the Shia and there is the Curds but the Curds are kind of centered in the north area.

CR: What’s the difference?

LA: Well its basically they’re all Muslims the Sunni and the Shia, it’s really an old you know a kind of stupid argument I would call it because there’s no actual arguments there’s just this has been created you know for when you want to have make a civil war or something they will play on this, the difference between them. When the prophet Mohammed, of the Muslims, when he died there has to be like a successor for him, and during that time there were like four men they called the righteous successors, ah there was their names are Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali ibu Abi Talib, they came after the prophet they succeeded him. The Shia believe that his son-in-law, Ali should be the first successor after him because they believe that the Caliph, you know the one that succeeded the prophet should be from the household of the prophet not anyone else, while the Sunni’s believe that the one who should succeed the prophet could be anyone but he had to meet the certain eligibilities, he doesn’t have to be within the household of the prophet, but again this really did not came into place until maybe 500 hundred or more years after the prophet had died so it’s kind of like even ridiculous how things are being now.

CR: So it’s kind of like Christianity in that when Jesus died we got Jews, Catholics, Baptist, and whatever, with everyone saying we’re the real ones, and someone else saying, no we’re the real ones, that kind of thing?

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Why did you come to America?

LA: Well we came to it’s kind of like we’re really jumping around cause I mean first of all before we came to America I have to tell you about it.

CR: OK, tell me.

LA: Well after the war you know it was really difficult because there was all kind of civil war all kind of you know people get killed there was a lot incidents that happen to me and my family and to my uncles.

CR: Are these things the Americans did, or because of the American invasion?

LA: It’s definitely because of the American invasion because when they invade the country there was no kind of sovereignty, there was not like one person, there was no specific group that is taking control. There was like Iran our neighbor, you know the country Iran, they was like controlling some areas, there was like Americans, there was like all kind of those players. It was really bad, I mean after 2006 there was a civil war which we had never had before as long as I remember, the first time I knew what Sunni and Shia mean was in 2006 when that happened, ah there was a lot of incidents. One of the things that I remember, we were building a new room in my grandfather’s house and there was a you know they bombed a car, you know they put a lot of bombs there and it exploded somehow, and I don’t know how they remote control maybe, somehow a lot of people get killed and it was really nearby my house, and so I was walking like, I was on a ladder and I was just climbing up and that happens. I almost fell down, it was really scary, and then they did some nasty things. One of the nasty things they did at that time, and people when you see people getting killed and stuff you do, you know what do you do, you call the ambulance and you get help and stuff, so people would be like really crowded right so they do really nasty thing they would put another bomb another car and they would also bomb it so when people was like you know get really packed and crowded they would bomb the second one.

CR: How did the Iraqi people view the Americans, did they see us as people coming to help, or did they see it as an invasion, people there to do more harm than good?

LA: Well you’re talking about just my opinion or the Iraqi people?

CR: Either one, your opinion or things you may have heard about how people felt about the Americans.

LA: Well I would say that the majority of the people know that the United States wanted to invade Iraq, not to free us definitely it was more like maybe oil purpose you know more like colonialism stuff you know, it was not about freeing people. I could really give you a rational answer for that, if you compare the status of the country before and after the invasion, you compare that and you will know definitely that the, I would call it the occupation or the invasion, it was not to free people definitely and a lot of people thought that too. On the other hand they also wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, so there was this and that. I think like there should have been a kind of like revolution to make that guy step down without you know a phony intervention.

CR: You felt it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to get him out and we should have just minded our business?

LA: Yea definitely, definitely, I mean definitely because I mean you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. I was happy, I was just living there and everything was, I hadn’t had any concerns before even though I had problems with my dad that wasn’t a big problem, it was OK you know, I’m not going to be homeless, I’m going to have food to eat you know, education was free even in the university it was all free I mean you just came in and you try to free me. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?

CR: When you came to America and you heard how people in this country talked about the invasion did you think we just didn’t get it, did you think the we didn’t know the truth that maybe our government didn’t tell us the truth about the reasons we went over there, or that we just didn’t care?

LA: Well to be honest, I felt like some people are really kind of really ignorant about the issue. Cause some people, they don’t even know where Iraq is located, their like oh really your from Iraq, and some others they really sympathized and apologized, and you know it was really nice you know, to see that at least some people they have sympathy, but in my opinion it was like a lot of people, as Americans they are really more concerned about, you know, their lives, their matters. Which is really understandable because they just want to make a living, and they don’t really have a lot of time to watch the news, which is already corrupted, they just want to get some food, get their child a good education. I didn’t feel like people had time to seek this kind of knowledge about wars and stuff, you have no idea. Remember the reason why they invaded, the actual reason they announced in the media. They say that Iraq had a massive amount of weapons of mass destruction, yea and it was never found, and they say Iraq was linked to al Qaeda, which they totally hate each other. I mean if you really think about it, how many people died in 9/11? Three thousand five thousand, ok, do you have any idea how many Iraqis or Pakistanis died in those wars? No let’s just talk about Iraq, maybe it’s like at least two-hundred thousand, that’s just those who died, and millions have been flown out of the country like refugee, and I just come here too as a refugee status.

CR: After experiencing that in Iraq, what was I like to come to this country, the country that invaded your country, and turned your life upside down?

LA: Well it’s a kind a like you don’t really have another choice, well if you stayed in Iraq you most likely will be killed there or something. Because my uncles, they went out of Iraq because they had someone threaten them, they left an envelope and they put one bullet in it, and they said that if you don’t pay us this amount of money we are going to kill you, or kidnap you know. They could do a lot of stuff, and there was a lot of thing actually happening during that time, so they are not lying to you, they would really do that. That’s why my uncles went, but the reason why I went, well before I came here I went to the United Arab Emirates, and how did that happen was, basically my older brother, he wanted to go out of Iraq because when he grow up as a teenager he didn’t feel comfortable in my grandfather’s house, because you know there, it’s kind of like my uncles kids, he have like two daughters, and it’s like another guy who’s also a teenager, and it’s not likable, I don’t know I thinks that’s the reason he wanted to go. In a teenage.

CR: Is this a custom thing, where men of a certain age, shouldn’t be around girls of a certain age?

LA: I think so, yea. I mean, I think my uncle didn’t like my brother being there at that time. I think so. I mean that’s what I get from what happened, like he never told him, you need to go, no never, and they were actually planning to give us a separate apartment, that was the plan, and then it changed. He called my dad, and talked to him, and my dad finally have, some emotion I guess, and he said ok I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys. And then we went there, we went there with my auntie, like my brothers sister, which I almost never knew before, and we went on a trip, by car, we drove to Jordon, and here’s the funny thing, we went to a place and we stayed with my father’s sister. Before he came my brother was going to the mall, and my brother was walking in that neighborhood, and then my father came, and my father, he shout at him and say hey, I don’t remember what he said I’m not sure, but like my brother didn’t recognize him, he was like who’s this guy, and he just went on.

CR: You hadn’t seen him in so long. Did you know who he was?

LA: I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like ok that’s him.

CR: It must have been tough growing up without a dad, huh?

LA: Yea definitely, but it was even tougher to live with him, I would say, because what is happening now, technically it’s not, well here’s the thing, when he comes and then after that my uncle’s family they all fled and they just went out of Iraq, and they all came to live in Jordan, my father got reunited with my mom, which in my point of view, that should never, ever had happened you know. If I were like maybe at this age, or two years, or maybe one years ago, I would never, I would never, allow this to happen. It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life, you know. We went to the United Arab Emirates with him and my mom, we stayed there for like five years before we came to the United States, well the reason why we left the United Arab Emirates is because after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a big change in the construction business, so you know the projects were really slowing down, and there was like a lot of financial problems in his job, so my uncle during that time, he decided he would apply to an organization called the international organization for immigration, so he applied, and he helped us and somehow, and we applied through him, I guess, and we had our first interview. We flew from the United Arab Emirates to Jordan, we had like several interviews, they like ask you about your life, they asked you if you give them the permission to, you know, look for every single detail about your life, and we give them that permission, you know, just by security purposes I guess, and there a funny thing that, during one of the interviews, they were like, there were three interviews, the first two you meet with like Jordanian’s, they are like, they are associated with the organization, but the third one, you have to like meet with the American representative or something, and this (he laughs), is really funny. She would ask, it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time, she would like ask you a question, like when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people? (I laugh) I’m serious, she would really ask you that, and you know, it was kind of ridiculous.

CR: Like if someone were going to do, you would really tell them, right?

LA: You know, I mean are you serious? Why are you even asking such a question?

CR: That’s crazy. So, when you first arrived in America, where did you go?

LA: Well, when I first arrived, my uncle came before us, so he set up an apartment, and we went to Daly City. We lived there like for one year almost, and then we went to Pacifica, which is where I reside now. There’s a lot of things going on also, like my parent’s, when we came here, we’ve been here like almost three years, or two, and maybe seven or eight months, out of this time, say maybe two or three months, they have not been talking to each other, they are almost like divorced, but we live in the same place, and they just communicate through me and my brother, which I find is really despicable, they just make our life, you know difficult.

CR: You’ve only been in America like eight months?

LA: No, like two years and eight months.

CR: Oh, two years and eight months. Your English is really great, I’m sure that’s something that people say all the time right? But it is. I know people born and raised here, who can’t speak English.

CR: When I first came, I didn’t really like speak any English, the only words I really knew was like, hi, how are you, good afternoon, you know, that’s it, but I went to high school in Daly City, Westmore, and I really study my ass, and I really like, I really wanted to learn, it was definitely a big shock, it kinda like you were in Mars, and you came to the Earth, like everything was different.

CR: Do you think the schools are better here, or better in Iraq?

LA: No, it’s better definitely here.

CR: Americans complain about the school system here.

LA: Well comparatively.

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: Spoiled?

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: What do you mean, in what sense?

CR: Do you think we don’t appreciate the educational system we have here?

LA: Well no, I don’t think you guys are spoiled, because there is a lot of bad things, I mean there is bad things, but on the other hand there is also some advantages, maybe like Americans complain, about maybe that, I don’t know. What do you guys complain about?

CR: Everything, Americans complain about everything, we’re a spoiled people, we’re used to having a lot?

LA: I think the problem is that, like with the American system it’s more kind of private, there is a lot of money issues going on, I think that as a county the United States should like, even at the University level, that should be free, you’re like almost the greatest nation on earth right now, so how come you have people who are homeless, or you have people who don’t have access to education, well compared to the poor underdeveloped, I don’t know, like the third world countries like mine.

CR: Yea, that’s the debate that some people are having right now. I think America should have free education for everyone, but I think there are reasons why we don’t. I mean America has a long history of colonialism and racism and discrimination on a lot of different levels, and just think that we simply don’t want to educate all of our people.

LA: I see, which is I think luckily in my country, I would say that actually, as far as like racial, or skin color is concerned, there was like almost no such a thing, like because I think Islam has like banished, or what is the word to say, like abolished that idea of racial…

CR: Do mean Saddam?

LA: No, I’m saying about Islam, yea the prophet like, when you know like one hundred four thousand years ago, like one his famous saying is that there is no difference between you know, like red, black, white, whatever color, or ethnicity that person has, it’s only about how righteous, how spiritual, or good you are to people.

CR: Do you have black people in Iraq?

LA: There is in the southern Iraq, there’s not a lot you know but it’s actually like this, in the southern area of Iraq, most of the people are darker skin, but in Basra, that province that I was talking to you about, they are very dark skinned, but like who cares. We didn’t have such a, you know, I’ve never thought about a difference between a person as a color of skin, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

CR: Do you have an American dream?

LA: Well definitely, I mean I have a big hopes about America, you know just like what we’re reading right now, everyone thinks that America, this the country of opportunities, a county where you can make money, a country of prosperity, you know all this stuff.

CR: Do you have a particular dream for yourself? Like, how old are you now?

LA: 20.

CR: 20? You’re a baby. (We both laugh), do you think, in thirty years, this is what I would like to be, this how I would like to be living?

LA: Well, I mean my dream is really like to have a really stable job, not like any job, I’m really interested in innovation and those kinds of things. I really wish that someday I could make my own discovery or something.

CR: So are you talking high tech innovation, or scientific innovation?

LA: Probably a little more with scientific innovation, rather than high tech innovations.

CR: You want to find a cure for cancer? (We laugh)

LA: Well not in biological stuff, I’m more like into physics maybe.

CR: Now that you’ve been here a while, do you still feel the same way about America, as when you first arrived?

LA: No definitely, when I was there (Iraq), I had a lot of hatred towards Americans because I was like those people, even though I came, I was like those people who killed my people, killed distant relatives, one of my relatives was like jailed in, I’m sure you heard about that Abu Ghraib scandal, and one of them was there, and he saw all kinds of torture, and they would do things you know, they would be creative in the ways how they tortured people, and America called my people terrorist, ignorant, uneducated, you know all those kind of stereotypes, so definitely, I didn’t like Americans before, but when I came here, I understand what really Americans mean. When you are there you understand that Americans are white, that’s really the perception over there, but when I came here, especially in California, no it’s not like that at all, you got all those kinds of people, from different backgrounds, there have different cultures, and they don’t even know where Iraq is, or they don’t really, they’re just trying to live their lives. They’re really nice people you know, it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason and, if you talk to them some people will understand, you can have a discussion with them, it’s not like, I think in terms of like western and eastern culture there’s definitely stereotypes going on, they kind of like flash back on each other, like Arabs would say Americas are corrupted, they see all the girls are naked, and then that’s kind of bullshit, and other’s would say your ignorant and you don’t respect your women, you know.

CR: Yea, there are misconceptions on both sides. It reminds me of this story of a group of American women I saw on a T.V. show somewhere, who thought they were supporting Arab women, complaining that Arab women shouldn’t be forced to wear the burka’s, and how Arab societies were oppressive toward women. Then a couple of Arab women in the audience stood up and asked what the women were talking about. We’re not forced to wear burka’s, it’s a part of our religion, and it’s what we choose to do. The point being, we don’t know each other, we only have stereotypes to rely on.

LA: Well since you brought that in, as you know, I’m a Muslim, but my mom, she doesn’t wear a hijab, but as a Muslim, I really wish that someday she will be convinced, and she will wear it, because I mean the idea behind that is really not that, as a Muslim we believe that women should be dressed modestly, and therefore should be she should be treated for her own personality and not for like her looks.

CR: But do you believe that it’s her choice?

LA: Definitely, I mean who knows, at the end God will judge her, it doesn’t mean, I would not say that this is good woman because she wearing modestly, and she’s half naked she’s a bad person, no definitely.

CR: Not even a stripper? (we laugh)

LA: Even a stripper you know, she might have some kind of experience in her life that forced her to be a stripper, you know maybe she lived in poverty, which is really, and that’s the peoples problem, I mean like, we are too judging on people without understanding their situation, or what caused them to do that.

CR: What do you think about our government?

LA: The American government?

CR: Yea, our government? It’s your government now also.

LA: Well, like in terms of parties you mean?

CR: It doesn’t have to be about the political parties, I think they’re both the same anyway?

LA: We have definitely like, we have democracy, at least if you compare it to like other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem, and there is a lot of problems inside, like you got the education system problems, I mean we just mentioned that some people don’t have access to education, you have homeless people, and the really shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care, I mean seriously, if someone doesn’t have money, he can just die or something because he doesn’t have money to pay.

CR: So were you surprised at the push-back against Obama-Care?

LA: Well technically, this push is really, there is a people, they are only concerned about money, they don’t care about people, they know they have enough money to pay insurance, so they don’t care about other people, if they will have the opportunity to purchase insurance or not, that’s the kind of thing I don’t like about Republicans in general, I mean I shouldn’t say Republicans, all of them no, but those ideas of, I think they are really being selfish, in terms of, they have money so they really don’t care about people, they are just pro-business, they just want to make a profit out of people agony, they take worker’s rights, there is a lot of things, the minimum wage, and all these kinds of issues.

CR: Do you like the idea that in America, if you don’t agree with a position, you can speak-out about it?

LA: I mean that’s definitely a really good thing, I mean if you were in Iraq in Saddam Hussein era, if you talk or said the wrong things about him they would definitely get you.

CR: Would they take you for a ride?

LA: Take you for a ride, yea, a long ride. Definitely freedom of speech is really important, but I think it’s also kind of limited in somehow. You can’t really say anything you want, and there is also some kind of implicit stereotypes, like when you want to apply for a job or something there is always some kind of racism, or some sort of discrimination going on.

CR: There’s the official America, then there’s the real America.

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Do you think you’ve suffered any discrimination in America? Particularly if people find out your Iraqi, because just looking at you, you look like the average white guy.

LA: I’m looking like the average white guy?

CR: Yea, when I saw you in class, I never thought you were middle-eastern, I thought like the suburbs. But when people find out your Iraqi, do you think you have discriminated against you?

LA: Well sometimes yes, sometimes no. I mean sometimes you, they, I don’t know why they have that idea you came from the desert, you are on a camel. Some people have those kinds of ideas, on the other hand there are people who really sympathize with me, they would apologize you know we are sorry. Then from that I really understand that those people they are really nice, they are not the same, there are some really good people, which is true for every race and every country.

CR: What do you think of us, the American people?

LA: It’s interesting that it’s kind of like multiple countries in one country. You got the White community, you got the Black community, you got the Latino community, then you got the Asian community. There’s all those kind of things, and each one has their own culture and stuff. I think like the Whites in general, they’re really afraid or something. There’s like something going on with them in terms of the changing demographic in the United States. They fear, I don’t know, I guess they fear change.

CR: They fear minority status.

LA: Yea I think so, definitely. I think that’s an on-going issue, that kind of racial thing. I don’t think it will ever end.

CR: Many people thought Obama’s election meant the end of racism. Shit, the tea party said hell no, and they just went after him with everything they had.

LA: There is a lot of things like, they will do everything just to disagree with him. Like even if they agree on something, they will disagree just because, you know.

CR: A lot of Obama’s policies were originally Republican policies. If you look at his policies, he’s not really a Democrat he’s really a liberal Republican.

LA: I don’t this idea of just two parties. I think there should be like an independent, or like a third party.

CR: We do have Independent’s, but most independents tend to vote along one party line or another, usually with the Democrats.

LA: Yea, well they don’t have a party, that’s what I’m saying.

CR: Let’s get back to this. Do you still have family and friends back in Iraq?

LA: I have some friends.

CR: Do you stay in touch with them?

LA: Yes I do. I mean in terms of family, I have like some on my father’s side, some uncles and aunties, but I don’t have any family relationship with them. We never spoke, we never talk. We’re kind of like strangers to each other, but in terms of my friends, I have some friends there that I went to elementary school with, and we try to keep in touch. One of them, I thought he was killed, but happily, and surprisingly, I found him, he actually found me on Facebook.

CR: What does he think about you being here?

LA: (rye laugh), well if you’re talking about him specifically, he’s kind of OK with that because he kind of understands why I came here, but if you’re talking about what people in general think about someone who is in America that’s a different story. They will, it’s kind of like those fallacies you know, like you’re living in the heaven, all the money, you got the big house on the beach. Their implication is they see a lot of movies, and they think that really is what America really is like, everyone is living a happy life, this tone of optimism. Yea, when they disagree with you on something it’s like, ah now your being an American ha. Like they tease you, oh now you’re an American now, they’ve spoiled you’re mind, now your corrupted.

CR: Would you like your friends back in Iraq to come to America?

LA: Well, I know like some of them they wanted to come because there are like all kinds of problems you can imagine, in Iraq, like for example, when I was there electricity is like one of them in terms of like utilities, the government is really; the only word I can think of is bad word, I want to say the government is fucked up.

CR: Oh, you can say that, it’s an American thing.

LA: Interestingly, I wouldn’t say that if I was speaking Arabic, I don’t know, I guess it’s the American part of me.

CR: You see we’ve corrupted you just like your friends said.

LA: It’s not true.

CR: Was it like that before the war – before the invasion – in terms of like, did you have the basic necessities in life, did you have electricity and all that stuff?

LA: Uh, in terms of electricity, it was much better than after the war. There was no water shortage, there was no like gas – which we have a lot of oil, and after the war people stand in line like for a day just to get gas.

CR: Is it still like that?

LA: No it’s better, but I think the worst time was like 2006 to 2008. It was terrible, it was like all kinds of problems. It was civil war, people killing each other, there were a lot of things going on.

CR: Do you work here?

LA: Now, no.

CR: Have you worked here?

LA: I worked like, really not a long time, maybe two month or three, with a self-employed, but he’s an Iraqi too so. I haven’t experience working for American supervisors. My brothers work, my father he doesn’t work because his, you know when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process.

CR: Yea I’ve heard about that, but your brothers work here?

LA: Yeah.

CR: What kind of work do they do?

LA: Well, one of them he’s currently working also with a guy, he mainly do like construction, not construction, maintenance in buildings, they like fix lights, they paint, I guess they do a lot of this. Its manual job you could say. The other one he used to work as a break-faster, like in a hotel.

CR: A break-faster?

LA: You know the guys who they serve breakfast.

CR: Oh he’s a cook?

LA: No he doesn’t cook.

CR: He’s a waiter?

LA: Kind of like a waiter, but you can’t really say a waiter. It’s like, I remember his position it’s something like a break-faster.

CR: Breakfast?

LA: It’s not breakfast, I know what is a breakfast, but.

CR: I don’t know what that is – I guess you have to be rich to stay in those kinds of fancy hotels. The hotels I stay in have buffets.

LA: Yea they do, but what he told me about the hotel he was in was really not a good one and he quit the job actually, and he’s now he works in cliff-car or something. It’s like he’s a taxi, but he not an official taxi car, and now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he actually created a lot of problems for the family as well, anyway.

CR: I guess the transition to this country has been tough on your family?

LA: Oh definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other. They both want to play the victim role I guess. I mean he always like talk about things, I think he’s really, he plays the role of like he’s always right, he’s the one who has the right principles and ethics, he’s right and we’re all wrong, so if you disagree with him then you’re kind of the bad guy. I think in his earlier life he was totally the opposite person, he was like, I don’t know how do you say that in a good way. He was like in his marriage he drank, he goes with girls and all those things, and now even though I don’t do the things he do, and he still try to be strict, which is disgusting, I mean seriously, you’re talking about me, and don’t you remember what you were doing when you were my age and even when you were married.

CR: With the pressure your under, with the family and stuff, what do you do to release, do you talk to somebody, or get away with friends?

LA: Well, I spend most of my time just not going home. The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep.

CR: What do you do?

LA: You know for example, like I am in school now, I would just like do my homework. Usually if I would just go to a library or something and finish my homework, or do anything that keeps me away not to go home. Maybe I go to my uncle house, or you know, just not go home. And on the same side, he would always like, and my dad he would say, especially like we would have a celebration or something, and me and my mom would go my uncles house, he would say see you are corrupted, you are bad, you always leave me alone, but on the same hand, what do you want me to do? I can’t stay with you, you always argue and it’s not like you’re talking like we are a family. We’re not a family, we say we are, but we’re not, we’re just people living together, that’s all.

CR: Do you have any friends here?

LA: You mean American friends?

CR: Any kind of friends, outside of your family, outside of your siblings?

LA: I don’t think so, no. You mean like a close friend? No, which is really kind of sad, cause I used to have a lot of friends in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and I used to hang out with a lot of people, and when you see me you see like fifteen people with me but now I’m alone.

CR: I’m sorry to hear that, you should make some friends, you’re a nice guy, and I think that everybody can use friends.

LA: I think that the structure of like here is they just really want you to work, they kind of like make the system work this way that you go to school, then you go to work, then you go home, then you do this, then you do that. You don’t real have, it’s an individualistic society. It’s definitely that. You have a lot of individualism involved, there’s not a lot of social life here.

CR: Do you identify as Iraqi, or American or both?

LA: I’d say both, cause America has changed some ideas in me, I’ve grown as a person. I think I’ve been more open minded to accept different cultures, and different people, and different thoughts. I mean maybe one of them is the gay issue maybe, if you think like in terms of, if you ask any middle-east person – by the way I hate this term because it’s so misleading term.

CR: Middle-eastern?

LA: Yea, because the term was technically made by Britain when she was like,

CR: invading everybody,

LA: exactly, the term is like Great Britain is the center of the world, and those other countries are the middle-eastern in comparison to where Britain was, in the center. It is definitely geographically wrong, and because if you’re talking about geographically, you would only be talking about Afghanistan and other countries and nothing to do with location. Middle-eastern means all of them are Muslims, which is wrong, and that all of them are Arabs, which is wrong too.

CR: Europe and America get a lot of shit wrong. Would you ever return to Iraq for a visit, or to stay?

LA: If you’re saying like, you know, in maybe the coming ten years or so, I don’t think so because there is a lot of instability, and really the 2006 civil war has bisected the community, there is like a huge, huge corruption in the government, people are just like, they don’t really have like, they are not the same as,

CR: It’s not the same as when you were growing up there.

LA: no, but if things got better, I would definitely like to visit. My uncle, he went to Iraq like two years ago, and he took some pictures of some, you know, the house we were living in, and I like cried man. It’s like really sad, the neighborhood is just all different, the people; he said that even the peoples personalities have been changed. I don’t know.

CR: I think that happens in war, when people have suffered trauma. I can imagine living in Iraq, having a somewhat peaceful life, even if I didn’t like the dictator. I mean I didn’t like Bush, I think he was a dictator too, and then all of a sudden there’s war, and people I know die, bombs are being dropped on me, I would probably never be the same after that.

LA: Definitely, I think a lot has changed, and as I was telling you, I think I’ve changed, and I kind of accept people more.

CR: Well I guess this concludes our interview, and I really appreciate you doing this for me.

LA: No problem (very American).

 

Memories of an Émigré

Memories of an Émigré
by Levan Tortladze, May, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

 Transcript

Levan T: What is your name?

Adriana: Adriana.

Levan T: What year were you born and where?

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

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

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

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

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

Adriana: I always dreamed about.

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

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

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

Levan T: What was her reaction?

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

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

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

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

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

Levan T: Have you heard about other immigrants?

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

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

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

Levan T: How long was the process?

Adriana: About 4 months

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

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

Levan T: How long have you been here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levan T: What good came of this hardships?

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

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

Levan T: Your greatest accomplishment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Lost Identity

The Lost Identity

by Brandon Moreno, December 2013

What is home? Asking someone what home is is like asking someone what love is. This is a very complex topic and everyone’s idea of home is going to be different. To some it may be where they live now or where they were born. To others it can be an entire country or state that they see as home. Katrina has no home. She lives in a nice two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath house with her parents in the Bay Area. Most people would see her as being very fortunate, but all she has is shelter, no home. After asking her which country she considers to be her home country, she says the Philippines only because she was born there. After asking Katrina what her concept of home is she said, “My concept of home is a place where you feel you belong and a place to make memories.” She see her home country as home not only because she was born there, but also because she feels more accepted there.

          But what if one does not identify any specific place as home?  This is a strange  but very real concept.  As natural disasters and war ravage regions around the world, home may be destroyed for some people.  This is what I will address in my paper.  After interviewing my subject, I realized that she does not identify with a specific home.  In this essay, I will outline her struggles to fit in and gain acceptance in a world in which she does not feel grounded to a specific place.

            In the Philippines, like other Asian countries, the culture is very collectivistic.  Elders are respected and honored as sources of wisdom and guidance.  Younger children are taught at a young age to respect their elders and contribute to the family.  It is not uncommon for a child as young as ten years old to get a job and begin providing for his or her family.  Also, in Asian cultures, one functions for the betterment of the family as opposed to the advancement of the individual.  This fosters a sense of camaraderie and strength within the family as they are all working together toward one goal, which is to survive and prosper.  Here in America, the opposite is in effect as we have a strongly individualistic culture.  When we are young, we are asked what we want to do when we grow up, what type of clothes we want to wear and what food we want to eat.  In many other cultures, there is not much choice given and what your family has is what you get.  The individualistic nature of this country’s culture can prove to be very challenging for someone of Asian descent due to the many cultural differences. 

            The first topic I will touch on is code switching and its significance from a cultural perspective. Like I previously mentioned, in Asian cultures each family member has a distinct and specific job that he or she has to accomplish. In American culture, one often does not have a distinct job related to the family. An American’s job is based on how that person wants to live his or her life. If she wants to become a doctor, her job is to study hard and get into medical school. This may be a hard line for an Asian American to straddle due to the fact that her family is telling her that she has to provide for the family, but her surroundings are telling her to be individualistic and make her dreams a reality. This idea of living one’s life within the family and living another with friends and at school can be very hard to comprehend for an Asian American. One has to balance her home life and social life and act differently in both roles, which can be very confusing and disheartening. 

            Due to the cultural difference between the Philippines and America, I can see why it is hard for Katrina to call a specific place home. Her interactions at home with her family are very different from the pressures society puts on her being an American citizen. At home, she treads with caution around her parents, as she is very respectful and compliant to any of their needs.  She is often responsible for helping her sister with homework and cooking meals when her family is busy with other things. When at home, her dress is very conservative due to her strict parents and her Christian upbringing. She also has a very long list of chores that she has to complete each week, ranging from cleaning her room to mopping the kitchen floor. Also, she is responsible for most of her bills, which include her phone, clothing and all of her credit cards.  Nothing is handed to her in her family. When Katrina is with her friends and away from her family, she takes on a very different persona. She is much more social and participates in many activities her parents would not want her to be doing. Her actions portray those of an average American woman who likes to go out dancing, drinking and shopping with her friends.  In contrast to how she dresses at home, the way she dresses with her friends is more provocative and individualistic, which goes along with the American culture. She has specific interests, which include badminton and volleyball, which she participates in, outside of the home. Her speech is also very different when she is out with friends as she adopts the slang of her American generation. With these tremendous differences between her home and social life, I can see why Katrina has not identified a specific home for herself. She is basically straddling two worlds, which are in great conflict with each other.

            Another reason why Katrina does not feel she has a home is due to her religious affiliation.  Back in the Philippines, her extended family is made up of  devout Catholics. They live and breathe by the Bible and do not support any other religion. Katrina and her nuclear family are Christian, which is an offshoot of Catholicism, but there are differences in their beliefs.  Her family in the Philippines frowns upon her nuclear family’s choice of religion and it has caused great tension between them in the past.  This has put a tremendous strain on her due to the fact that her relatives in the Philippines have disowned her immediate family. Although this may seem trivial, Katrina takes this very hard because it is always tense when she goes back to visit. She does not feel a connection with her relatives because they look down upon her, but she does not feel connected with American culture because she is of Asian descent. 

            Her relatives also look down on her for not being able to speak her native language fluently, which makes home feel like a fictional concept. Although she is competent enough to understand and speak minimally, it is frowned upon that she is not fluent. This causes a lot of discomfort for Katrina in that she does not feel connected with the closest place that she can call home. Her relatives constantly leave her out of conversations when they are together to teach her a stern lesson. Although this may seem unfair to some, it is very common in Asian cultures for one’s family to disown or look down upon a family member for something that is not directly his or her fault. 

            Another reason why Katrina does not feel like she has a specific home is that her relatives constantly criticize her family for moving to the United States. Her relatives make jokes about American culture and assume that her family is rich due to living in a different country. The majority of the communication between the two families is her relatives asking her family to send money. This is incredibly disheartening to Katrina and her family because, not only are they looked down upon for moving overseas, but they also feel used and almost obligated to send money to win back their relatives’ trust. This is a strange position and I cannot imagine how this changes her perspective on where she calls home. Although she identifies the Philippines as home, she is ostracized by her relatives due to her religion, speech and current living situation.    

            Another key factor in Katrina’s discovery of home is having a sense of community. I asked her, “How do you view life when you’re in the Philippines in comparison to when you’re in the United States?” She replied, “Life in the Philippines is slow but also more difficult. Everyone is more community-oriented and bases their decisions on how it will affect others around them. The US is very self-centered.” She mentions the word community and in order to feel accepted and at home she needs to have a sense of community. The U.S. does not live up to those standards, as it is very “self-centered,” as she claims. This balancing act of trying to feel at home in two countries she feels lost in continues to take a toll on her daily life. Community is a key factor in her culture in the Philippines and, if she doesn’t have community, she doesn’t have a home. She feels most at home in the Philippines because her family there is warm and welcoming.          

            The majority of Filipino-Americans have their extended families living with them in their homes, as that is a part of their culture. Barbara Posadas, author of the book The Filipino Americans, states, “in 1990, Filipino American households more typically included members other than spouses, children, and even parents and parents-in-law of the householder, than did American households in general.” She continues to add that the percentage of extended family members in Filipino homes is more than four times that of extended family members living in American homes. This idea of closeness within a family is ideal for Katrina because family is community and community is the closest thing to home in her mind. She identifies her self through home, so, without a home, her identity is essentially lost.

            She seems to struggle with the language of her home country and the lifestyle of the Philippines. I asked her about how it feels when she goes back to the Philippines and she explains that her family prepares a feast, welcomes her, and then they go out. Next, she says, “If that aspect weren’t there, if it didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines, then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed.” She continues on to explain the language barrier and how a lot of bargaining goes on in the villages of her home country. She is not a barterer and doesn’t like their way of communicating there. Her family also looks at her differently there because she is “Americanized” and doesn’t speak her root language very well. Since she can’t speak her native language very fluently, the idea of acceptance becomes an issue and she doesn’t feel like she belongs in the Philippines. It’s easy for her to get frustrated because negotiating is so third-world to her even though she sees this third world country as her home.

            The fact that Katrina is not a U.S. born Filipino-American makes it difficult for her to get along with Filipinos who were born in the United States because of communication issues. This too is also in part because of the language barrier. I asked her, “What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to 

be your home country?”  She replied “… and it’s kind of sad. Even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.” Her observation shows that she is at a loss with finding comfort and in where home is. Her identity is Filipino American: while she knows her roots and is culturally rooted, her sense of home involves a constant tug-of-war between the two countries and two cultures. Acceptance is a huge issue that continues to cause stress and emotional problems that erupt in her.

            Next, I asked her to elaborate on how Filipinos born in the U.S. treat her. She says:

“So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even if I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best, but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm, I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’m really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others Asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino.”

As she states this very detailed example of her mistreatment from her own group of people with the same roots as her, I observed that they are very different. Although many Filipinos may speak the same language and have the same color skin, they are not similar at all as in Katrina’s case. Her battle to feel accepted by the majority of white people, by Filipino people in the Philippines, and by her Filipino peers in the U.S. brings about a stronghold in her life.

          Katrina constantly faces the unbearable motion of depression due to feeling like she doesn’t belong to a true home. Pisares, the writer of the journal article “Social- Invisibility Narrative of Filipino-American Feature Films,” explains, “the crux of the Filipino-American social condition is a nagging sense that despite their status as the second largest Asian-American group, Filipino Americans are represented or recognized infrequently in multicultural, post-civil-rights U.S. culture: they are, in a word, invisible.” This is in fact to be understood as saying that people like that Katrina are facing depression through the lack of acceptance from society. Unfortunately, this is not a phenomenon as this is very common for many individuals who have immigrated to the United States from other countries. Uniquely enough, her ethnic group is the second largest of the Asian-American groups yet they are still ignored through the scope of the majority. 

            Lastly, the Filipino and American cultures are very different, causing great conflict in Katrina deciding which she prefers to be her own. As Eric Reyes, writer of “Fictions of Return in Filipino America,” adds, “In contrast to local and localizing art projects such as Images of America, the transnational art project is another form of intervention into the messy field of tension between Filipino America and America.” In Reyes’ observation, one thing is clearly revealed to us is that transnational art challenges the notion that one country’s influential art is based on culture, providing views of their idealistic concept of home.  How does this art and culture relate to Katrina’s concept of home? Transnationalism is the idea of being able to relate to or be involved with several nations. Katrina’s life relates to this art piece since she has transcended national borders. Her perspective of culture changes as she changes location and there is never a concrete conclusion to her unanswered question of who she is and where home truly is.

            In closing, there is no clear understanding of home in the eyes of many immigrants. The majority of them face depression due to having no true identity and because of the harsh realities of the world. As many continue to stay voiceless and passive, their own beliefs become lost and adjusting to another culture becomes the norm. Earlier, Katrina stated that community is a significant aspect in her life in referring to her concept of home. Transitioning from one culture to the next through a variety of outlets takes a toll on an individual. Although moving around a lot has challenged Katrina, being exposed to no real home, she has gained much knowledge and has built a foundation of who she is throughout this process. Identifying herself is a process, and through experiences, her ability to embrace trials and tribulations has lead her to be at peace with herself even if home isn’t really home.

Works Cited

Salangsang, Katrina. Personal interview. 29 October 2013.

Reyes, Eric. “Fictions of Return in Filipino America.” 107th ser. 29.2 (2011): 19+. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

Posadas, Barbara Mercedes. “Individual Aspirations, Family Claims, and the Filipino American Household.” The Filipino Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.             100-01. Print.

Pisares, E. H. “The Social-Invisibility Narrative in Filipino-            American Feature Films.” Positions: East Asia Cultures             Critique 19.2 (2011): 421-37. Print.

Transcribed Interview

How long it take for parents to decide to come to us?

I would say maybe about eight years because my dad was in Saudi Arabia while my mom was in the Philippines. They decided they wanted to build a Life together. In the U.S. because there were no jobs for them in the Philippines.

Tell me about the culture of your home country.

I would say it’s umm. It’s really vibrant. In a way that we’re very welcoming and neighbors really get to know each other. They’re practically related. And they share a lot of food. Everybody we meet we somehow give them food or you know, just give them a taste of what Filipino food is like.

What did your family expect America do be like before they arrived here?

Just really a great and full of opportunity and a lot easier life than it is in the Philippines.

Has the U.S. exceeded your expectations?

Not really umm, life here is actually a lot more difficult in terms of just keeping up with the pace of how this country is. The expectations we have for social status, just being able to pay taxes and you know like umm. We have expectations of our own culture and that of the U.S. So it makes it difficult. Especially when the U.S. culture does not accept us as openly as our own. And you know what, neither does our own accept us because we are seen as the, how do you say this, I guess the more umm privileged, but we do not feel privileged at all because we have to work so hard, so much harder than they do in the Philippines.

How has your view of the U.S. changed after moving here?

It’s changed because growing up (cough) I thought that the U.S. is the melting pot so everybody’s gonna get along no matter what ethnicity, religion or background, but that’s not what was proven to me  because growing up I was made fun of a lot (cough) especially when I still had an accent. That was back in Elementary school. And then even now I would consider my family and I to be middle class, you know we worked hard enough and we have the income to be considered middle class and we are educated people but people who are, who think that they are originally from this country feel like they can look down on us. They think they can make us feel inferior because of our skin color, because of where we come from and it’s really annoying because growing up I was told that America was the land of the great. You know everyone’s here to just live life together and just make everything better for each other. That’s not what it is.

Why do you stay in the U.S?

I have no choice. You know I’ve lived here since I was three years old and it would be difficult for me to even live back home because they have a different culture there. Even they would make fun of me for not knowing how to speak fluently in our native language.

Do you ever plan to move back to your home country?

Sometimes I think about it. Umm if I were to find a good enough opportunity and find a good source of income or a good place to live or if my parents do decide to move back home and they need me then I would move back.

Tell me about your families journey in immigrating to America.

It was really difficult for my parents. For the first ten years I could tell that they struggles a lot with the language barrier even though they spoke English really well it would still be difficult to understand body language, certain tone in the way people talk to you, attitudes. It would be hard to really understand what that person what trying to say. Like let’s say somebody was being condescending they would really pick up on that really easily so it was difficult for them to I guess like make friends with people who were not Filipino and also to communicate with co workers on a more personal level, but professionally it looked like they did well. It’s just the connection and more personal level that lacked.

What challenges do you face as an immigrant that you feel you wouldn’t face as an American?

I think the main challenge for me is I don’t know acceptance. I feel like to this day people still look at me and my family and they treat us differently. Just the other day my mother and I were at a department store and one of the workers at the department store was in the aisle that my mom was in and she said out loud “oh the security camera guy is here, he just installed the cameras.” And my mom looked up and nobody was there so basically that woman was trying to say if you’re trying to steal something you’re being watched or because you are not white we’re gonna assume that you’re trying to steal something.

How did that make you feel?

Angry

What are your favorite qualities of the United States?

I guess my favorite quality is that even though diversity has it’s negative points to it just like the racism, sexism it’s still really fun getting to know other peoples cultures and just I don’t know having community with people who are completely different from what your ancestors were.

What are your least favorite qualities of the United States?

The least favorite is of course still I guess I can call it White power. The White power feel of this country. You can see it on the media. I think it was Miss America. Just this past Miss America pageant I think she was Indian and there were comments about that. About people not liking that they chose an Indian American so that really pisses me off that it still happens.

How have you grown from your experience?

Honestly, I think I’ve grown to learn how to accept people more. Umm but it’s also helped me toughen up in terms of knowing how to protect myself and accepting that it’s gonna happen so in a way my acceptance is my protection because I’m prepared for whatever is gonna be said or whatever is gonna be done.

Tell me about the economics in the Philippines.

The Philippines is mostly a third world country. Obviously America’s first world so a lot of people there have to work overseas just to support family in the Philippines. Umm I  think my families pretty well off in the Philippines and we’re considered middle class here. Umm so I think does that answer your question?

Do you consider the Philippines or the U.S. to be your home? Explain.

I think I consider the Philippines to be my home only because I was born there.

What are some human rights abuses you might have faced?

Mostly discrimination against race, color, language, religion and I still don’t feel like  I’m entitled to live and breathe on this soil. Like no matter how educated I am, no matter what I do to try and improve myself which is BS because there is nothing for me to prove since I didn’t even choose to live here in the beginning. You know like what’s up with that. I’m just here because I had no choice. I’m just trying to live my life.

Do you have any regrets in coming to the U.S?

I mean not really. My life, I don’t know how my life would of turned out if we stayed in the Philippines because back then I know my grandpa was cheated of his inheritance so then my mom was growing up in poverty and my dad as an overseas worker didn’t make much and he grew up in poverty to begin with. I think I. Would of been poor also, but here even though it’s such a struggle to keep our lifestyle you know just keeping a roof over our head, some food in the fridge, just being able to go out wherever we want I think I would keep this life in this country.

What are some stereotypes about immigrants that you feel are false?

I guess just the stereotype of us taking over. You know everybody that’s in this country right now they were descendants of immigrants so nobody is completely entitled to saying that this is their country and that we should go back to our own. And also I guess the main stereotype of Filipinos is that we’re all gonna be nurses. Lucky me I’m not a nurse.

How does it feel when you go back to visit your home country?

Most of the time it is really good. It feels really good. I feel at home probably for about a week because everybody is welcoming. My aunts always prepare a feast for us and then my cousins take us out, but it seems like if that aspect weren’t there. It didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed. Like if I were to go to the mall  or the market by myself I feel like if I were to try to buy something people would cheat me because I don’t know how to barter, bargain or like ask for a lower price. That’s the thing in the Philippines. You are able to ask for lower prices for things. It doesn’t matter where you go. You can do that but I’m not good at negotiating and I’m not used to that so I guess that would be something that would make me miss the more structured way of paying  for things in the Unites States. I like the food there of course. Nothing beats like the food of your country of origin, especially if you really like it. And just the hospitality in general.

Do people immigrate to the Philippines and how are they treated?

Yes we have Koreans, Chinese, and even Americans. They come to live in the Philippines either for school, work or just to retire. From what I’ve seen they get treated well if not better than Filipinos in their own country. Like usually if you were to see or encounter and American or Korean person in the Philippines I feel like they treat them with more respect and give them better hospitality, better customer service. I guess because in our culture we just want to make people feel welcomed so that’s what we do.

What was the process like to become an American citizen when you moved here?

Honestly, I don’t really know the process. I just remember as a child when I was about maybe 5 or 6 going to San Francisco coming from the a East Bay going on BART just to get my picture taken. I would guess that it was from some immigration center. This is embarrassing that I don’t what what it’s called, but I know that that was probably when I established my residency here. I was naturalized.

What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to be your home country?

I guess just I don’t know like. I think for me it’s still the criticism, racism, sexism just personal things that I have to deal with and it’s kind of sad even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.

Tell me about that.

So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and. I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’M really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino

How does that make you feel?

I just brush it off because honestly I’m not gonna feed their insecurities. I feel like making fun of people is out of insecurity.

What are some racial slurs that you have been called?

I guess FLIP. F*ckin little island people. I think that goes back to like one of the world wars. And then other asians don’t like us because we’re part of Asia but we don’t look asian a lot of the times. Some of us look more Polynesian or Spanish and we have darker skin tone and they make fun of us for that.

What are you proud as an American?

Even though we go through a lot of racism, prejudice, I am glad that in America we are still able to have education. We can still live out our dreams, but for me with all the “isms” it’s not gonna make me feel like living it out. I feel like I’m almost trying to keep up with the norms

How would your life be different here in America if you didn’t face any racism or discrimination?

I feel like I. I don’t know. I would feel way more empowered. I think with that empowerment I would be able to put all that energy, the knowledge that I have from my education into use a lot better and not have to worry about which career would I be more I guess qualified and criticized in. Most likely I wouldn’t be more insecure. As a girl we’re already insecure but then to be different and to be treated that way in a country that is supposed to be your home and you’ve assimilated yourself here and you don’t even feel like your country of origin is your home. It would help to not have all of those “isms”.

Who is Katrina?

(Laughs) I am a child of God. I am a Filipino American. I would also say I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. Somewhat of an activist especially for women. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I definitely do support women’s rights and just any other thing that surrounds that. I am a bad mitten, volleyball player, singer, dancer and foodie.

How long did it take for your parents to decide to come to us?

I would say maybe about eight years because my dad was in Saudi Arabia while my mom was in the Philippines. They decided they wanted to build a Life together. In the U.S. because there were no jobs for them in the Philippines.

Tell me about the culture of your home country.

I would say it’s umm. It’s really vibrant. In a way that we’re very welcoming and neighbors really get to know each other. They’re practically related. And they share a lot of food. Everybody we meet we somehow give them food or you know, just give them a taste of what Filipino food is like.

What did your family expect America do be like before they arrived here?

Just really a great and full of opportunity and a lot easier life than it is in the Philippines.

Has the U.S. exceeded your expectations?

Not really umm, life here is actually a lot more difficult in terms of just keeping up with the pace of how this country is. The expectations we have for social status, just being able to pay taxes and you know like umm. We have expectations of our own culture and that of the U.S. So it makes it difficult. Especially when the U.S. culture does not accept us as openly as our own. And you know what, neither does our own accept us because we are seen as the, how do you say this, I guess the more umm privileged, but we do not feel privileged at all because we have to work so hard, so much harder than they do in the Philippines.

How has your view of the U.S. changed after moving here?

It’s changed because growing up (cough) I thought that the U.S. is the melting pot so everybody’s gonna get along no matter what ethnicity, religion or background, but that’s not what was proven to me  because growing up I was made fun of a lot (cough) especially when I still had an accent. That was back in Elementary school. And then even now I would consider my family and I to be middle class, you know we worked hard enough and we have the income to be considered middle class and we are educated people but people who are, who think that they are originally from this country feel like they can look down on us. They think they can make us feel inferior because of our skin color, because of where we come from and it’s really annoying because growing up I was told that America was the land of the great. You know everyone’s here to just live life together and just make everything better for each other. That’s not what it is.

Why do you stay in the U.S?

I have no choice. You know I’ve lived here since I was three years old and it would be difficult for me to even live back home because they have a different culture there. Even they would make fun of me for not knowing how to speak fluently in our native language.

Do you ever plan to move back to your home country?

Sometimes I think about it. Umm if I were to find a good enough opportunity and find a good source of income or a good place to live or if my parents do decide to move back home and they need me then I would move back.

Tell me about your families journey in immigrating to America.

It was really difficult for my parents. For the first ten years I could tell that they struggles a lot with the language barrier even though they spoke English really well it would still be difficult to understand body language, certain tone in the way people talk to you, attitudes. It would be hard to really understand what that person what trying to say. Like let’s say somebody was being condescending they would really pick up on that really easily so it was difficult for them to I guess like make friends with people who were not Filipino and also to communicate with co workers on a more personal level, but professionally it looked like they did well. It’s just the connection and more personal level that lacked.

What challenges do you face as an immigrant that you feel you wouldn’t face as an American?

I think the main challenge for me is I don’t know acceptance. I feel like to this day people still look at me and my family and they treat us differently. Just the other day my mother and I were at a department store and one of the workers at the department store was in the aisle that my mom was in and she said out loud “oh the security camera guy is here, he just installed the cameras.” And my mom looked up and nobody was there so basically that woman was trying to say if you’re trying to steal something you’re being watched or because you are not white we’re gonna assume that you’re trying to steal something.

How did that make you feel?

Angry

What are your favorite qualities of the United States?

I guess my favorite quality is that even though diversity has it’s negative points to it just like the racism, sexism it’s still really fun getting to know other peoples cultures and just I don’t know having community with people who are completely different from what your ancestors were.

What are your least favorite qualities of the United States?

The least favorite is of course still I guess I can call it White power. The White power feel of this country. You can see it on the media. I think it was Miss America. Just this past Miss America pageant I think she was Indian and there were comments about that. About people not liking that they chose an Indian American so that really pisses me off that it still happens.

How have you grown from your experience?

Honestly, I think I’ve grown to learn how to accept people more. Umm but it’s also helped me toughen up in terms of knowing how to protect myself and accepting that it’s gonna happen so in a way my acceptance is my protection because I’m prepared for whatever is gonna be said or whatever is gonna be done.

Tell me about the economics in the Philippines.

The Philippines is mostly a third world country. Obviously America’s first world so a lot of people there have to work overseas just to support family in the Philippines. Umm I  think my families pretty well off in the Philippines and we’re considered middle class here. Umm so I think does that answer your question?

Do you consider the Philippines or the U.S. to be your home? Explain.

I think I consider the Philippines to be my home only because I was born there.

What are some human rights abuses you might have faced?

Mostly discrimination against race, color, language, religion and I still don’t feel like  I’m entitled to live and breathe on this soil. Like no matter how educated I am, no matter what I do to try and improve myself which is BS because there is nothing for me to prove since I didn’t even choose to live here in the beginning. You know like what’s up with that. I’m just here because I had no choice. I’m just trying to live my life.

Do you have any regrets in coming to the U.S?

I mean not really. My life, I don’t know how my life would of turned out if we stayed in the Philippines because back then I know my grandpa was cheated of his inheritance so then my mom was growing up in poverty and my dad as an overseas worker didn’t make much and he grew up in poverty to begin with. I think I. Would of been poor also, but here even though it’s such a struggle to keep our lifestyle you know just keeping a roof over our head, some food in the fridge, just being able to go out wherever we want I think I would keep this life in this country.

What are some stereotypes about immigrants that you feel are false?

I guess just the stereotype of us taking over. You know everybody that’s in this country right now they were descendants of immigrants so nobody is completely entitled to saying that this is their country and that we should go back to our own. And also I guess the main stereotype of Filipinos is that we’re all gonna be nurses. Lucky me I’m not a nurse.

How does it feel when you go back to visit your home country?

Most of the time it is really good. It feels really good. I feel at home probably for about a week because everybody is welcoming. My aunts always prepare a feast for us and then my cousins take us out, but it seems like if that aspect weren’t there. It didn’t happen every time I came back to the Philippines then I would just feel like an outsider. I wouldn’t feel so welcomed. Like if I were to go to the mall  or the market by myself I feel like if I were to try to buy something people would cheat me because I don’t know how to barter, bargain or like ask for a lower price. That’s the thing in the Philippines. You are able to ask for lower prices for things. It doesn’t matter where you go. You can do that but I’m not good at negotiating and I’m not used to that so I guess that would be something that would make me miss the more structured way of paying  for things in the Unites States. I like the food there of course. Nothing beats like the food of your country of origin, especially if you really like it. And just the hospitality in general.

Do people immigrate to the Philippines and how are they treated?

Yes we have Koreans, Chinese, and even Americans. They come to live in the Philippines either for school, work or just to retire. From what I’ve seen they get treated well if not better than Filipinos in their own country. Like usually if you were to see or encounter and American or Korean person in the Philippines I feel like they treat them with more respect and give them better hospitality, better customer service. I guess because in our culture we just want to make people feel welcomed so that’s what we do.

What was the process like to become an American citizen when you moved here?

Honestly, I don’t really know the process. I just remember as a child when I was about maybe 5 or 6 going to San Francisco coming from the a East Bay going on BART just to get my picture taken. I would guess that it was from some immigration center. This is embarrassing that I don’t what what it’s called, but I know that that was probably when I established my residency here. I was naturalized.

What is the most difficult thing about living in a country that you don’t consider to be your home country?

I guess just I don’t know like. I think for me it’s still the criticism, racism, sexism just personal things that I have to deal with and it’s kind of sad even Filipinos who were born here treat Filipinos from the Philippines who are immigrants almost the same way as Americans treat us.

Tell me about that.

So they make fun of us. Like for example I guess you can say I speak more properly. I use a wider range of vocabulary even I don’t sound like it right now. I just came from work and. I’m really tired so I’m not gonna be at my best but I don’t speak in Ebonics like most Filipino Americans do. Umm I’m not into the same things that they are so they make fun of me and say that I’M really white and I don’t have a lot of Filipino American friends. Like all my friends are different. I’m friends with Latinos, blacks, and whites and others asians but not so much Filipinos because if this particular reason. They make fun of me for not acting Filipino

How does that make you feel?

I just brush it off because honestly I’m not gonna feed their insecurities. I feel like making fun of people is out of insecurity.

What are some racial slurs that you have been called?

I guess FLIP. F*ckin little island people. I think that goes back to like one of the world wars. And then other asians don’t like us because we’re part of Asia but we don’t look asian a lot of the times. Some of us look more Polynesian or Spanish and we have darker skin tone and they make fun of us for that.

What are you proud as an American?

Even though we go through a lot of racism, prejudice, I am glad that in America we are still able to have education. We can still live out our dreams, but for me with all the “isms” it’s not gonna make me feel like living it out. I feel like I’m almost trying to keep up with the norms

How would your life be different here in America if you didn’t face any racism or discrimination?

I feel like I. I don’t know. I would feel way more empowered. I think with that empowerment I would be able to put all that energy, the knowledge that I have from my education into use a lot better and not have to worry about which career would I be more I guess qualified and criticized in. Most likely I wouldn’t be more insecure. As a girl we’re already insecure but then to be different and to be treated that way in a country that is supposed to be your home and you’ve assimilated yourself here and you don’t even feel like your country of origin is your home. It would help to not have all of those “isms”.

Who is Katrina?

(Laughs) I am a child of God. I am a Filipino American. I would also say I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. Somewhat of an activist especially for women. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I definitely do support women’s rights and just any other thing that surrounds that. I am a bad mitten, volleyball player, singer, dancer and foodie.

Home is Acceptance

Home is Acceptance

by Yagmur Akay, December, 2013

What is Shaema’s idea of home and how has coming to San Francisco changed her? When

it comes to the concept of home, most people state things like the place where they grew

up, the place where their parents live or the place where they feel the most comfortable

with themselves; however, Shaema has a unique and different understanding of home. She

is from France, and when she turned eighteen, moved to San Francisco all by herself.

Shaema states, “I have been living here for two years and there are people that I care about

so deeply that I will carry in my heart forever. And it is like that everywhere and that is so

beautiful; you can travel to India or anywhere else  and find that you have strong

connections with people that don’t speak the same language, have a different a culture and

live across the world from you. So that’s what home is, making this place like…your

world” (Bendeks). Even though Shaema has been living in San Francisco for two years,

she has found people that she truly cares for. In addition, she claims that she is able to find

deep connections with people everywhere she goes. When it comes to Shaema’s concept of

home, it is a place where she feels accepted for who she is and receives love and

understanding from everyone around her. Shaema does not limit the number of her homes.

She can have ten or twenty homes as long as she receives the feeling of acceptance from

everyone around her. In sum, Shaema is at home when her home has the elements of

acceptance and understanding. Shaema does not like to be judged or discriminated against

for who she is. Even though she was born and raised in Paris, she does not consider France

to be her true home. She states that the people are too judgmental. Currently, she feels at

home in San Francisco and explains that, ever since she moved to San Francisco she has

changed for the better.             

     Shaema’s journey to San Francisco began with a 12-hour plane ride from Paris to San

Francisco. She states that during the twelve hours the only thing that she thought about is

how it would feel to arrive to her new destination. She states that she had a different

mixture of feelings such as anxiety and excitement at the same time. After the long

12-hour flight, she arrived in San Francisco to find a Chinese driver waiting to drop her off

to her host family. Shaema states, “So when he dropped me off in the Sunset it was like

this little yellow—no pink little pinky house in the corner and this little Chinese woman

was waiting for me. I just felt so like nothing was holding me back. I was freaked out at

first; I walked into the house and it was not that clean and I am kinda OCD and I was like

can I do this?!” (Bendeks).  Shaema describes her temporary San Franciscan home as

being pink and not very clean and states that her new host, the Chinese lady, was waiting

outside for her arrival, and continues that at first sight she asked herself if she could really

do this. Later, after her arrival, Shaema enters her new room. She gets good vibes and, out

of nowhere, really begins to hear in Bob Marley’s famous song “Every little thing is gonna

be all right” in her head; in addition, she states “the song sounds so simple and cheezy but

if a person is able to project that state of mind everything becomes okay” (Bendeks).

Shaema is able to accept her new temporary living situation and is able to (with the help of

Bob Marley’s song) focus on the positive elements of her situation.

            Coming to America has definitely changed Shaema in a positive way. She

emphasizes that, compared to Paris, she wanted be at a different environment to discover

who she really was. Shaema states, “I just wanted to have an experience. I wanted to have

something that would have an impact in my life. Now that I have been living here for two

years, I can definitely tell that I have changed and evolved so much and learned so much

by me, who I am and what I wanna do in life and how I am going to get there” (Bendeks).

Shaema explains she wanted a new situation that would affect her life. She has been living

in San Francisco for two years and the experience has allowed her to grow and learn more

about who she is as a person. Sheama also explains that she knows more about what she

wants to do in life and how to achieve her goals. By coming to San Francisco, Shaema has

been able to learn more about herself and discover her true passion in life, which is to

pursue music.

             When I asked Shaema if she had received any discrimination from anyone, she

states “it is San Francisco; it’s really hard to be discriminated against in this beautiful city;

there’s so much acceptance,” meaning that, with the great range of human diversity, it is

hard to be discriminated against in San Francisco. On the contrary, Shaema states that the

greatest discrimination or, a better way to put it would be, unsupportive approach she

received, was from her own father in Paris. Shaema explains that, when she first came to

San Francisco, her father told her that she could only stay for one year to experience a

different country and have fun. However, for Shaema it was more than having fun. As the

one-year time limit passed, Shaema came to the realization that she wanted to stay and

finish college at City College of San Francisco and later transfer to a four-year university.

Unfortunately, her father had different ideas for her and did not show support to her

decision. Shaema states:

“He was really just angry. Like, we just were fighting over it. He was like no; it was fun for a year but you belong to Paris. This is your home, this is where you grew up, and this is where you belong. That is where the concept of home came in and how we did not agree. Like our values were different and I told him no. It is not because I was born somewhere that I have to stay my whole life. Thank god it is not like that. I can go wherever I wanna go and right now I feel good right here in San Francisco” (Bendeks).

Shaema’s views are different from those of her father.  According to her father, the place

where Shaema was born and raised was her home and her father wanted her back in Paris.

However, Shaema wanted to stay in San Francisco because she felt accepted. Unlike her

father, Shaema has a universal approach to the concept of home. Shaema cannot imagine

herself staying in one place for the rest of her life, because she feels stuck. However, right

now San Francisco feels right as a home.

            Furthermore, when it comes to Shaema’s realationship with her father, things were

very bitter because with Shaema’s solid decision to stay in San Francisco her father cut

financial support. Shaema states:

“He thought not supporting me financially would be a big enough obstacle to for me to agree with him and come back home and live the life that he wanted me to live. But I did not agree. I fought for it and, umm, you know, it was struggle for a year because it was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but, umm, you know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time, ummm…He understood what it meant to me. That it was not just having fun and you know like drinking to bars every night just having the fun life San Francisco in America. I was really here because it meant something important to me. I think that after all the obstacles he put me through he understood that this was really what I wanted and nothing can keep me away from it” (Bendeks).

              Shaema’s father thought that by not caring for her daughter financially would

have caused Shaema to come back to Paris and live the life that he found right for his

daughter. However, Shaema, with the support of her grandmother and mother, was able to

survive the whole year without her father’s money. Shaema states that it was hard for her

to get by with the support of her mom and grandmother but she is proud that she was able

to fight through it.  By showing her father that living in San Francisco is more than “fun”

for her and living without his money, Shaema was able to prove to her father how

important the fact of living in San Francisco meant to her. Furthermore, her father, after

Shaema’s struggles, understood the importance of Shaema’s decision to stay in San

Francisco and finish school. Continuing, Shaema explains that her passion to stay in San

Francisco and to study music was difficult for her family to accept. However, she was able

to prove to her family and,  especially to her father, that this was the only thing that she

could see herself ever doing.

              Shaema states that, whenever she returns to Paris to visit, her parents’ friends give

her a hard time by asking her continuous questions about her life in San Francisco and her

studies in school. One event that Shaema cannot forget is at a dinner party: her parents had

and a friend of her father’s approached her with his wife and asked her questions about

what she studied in San Francisco. Shaema stated to them that she studies music and, when

her father’s friends heard her answer, they asked her, in a mocking way, what she intended

to do with her major. Shaema stated, “I wanna be a fucking painter!” what do you think?! I

want to be a musician. You know, and then they say,” that’s good…”.You always have to

fight to prove yourself. Just to be who you are and it should not be that way. Therefore, it

was hard for a while and I went through this struggle with some of my friends and some of

my family” (Brendeks).  Shaema felt that she always had to prove herself to her friends

and even to part of her family. While in Paris, she was also bothered by her father’s

friends’ restless questions. It is clear that Shaema is studying music to be a musician. In

addition, according to Shaema, musicians, in Paris, are considered as the broke and

starving people. Therefore, that is why her family and family friends couldn’t understand

Shaema’s point of studying music.

           Shaema truly belongs to San Francisco with her unique approach to life and

beautiful different views on the topic of home. She feels accepted in San Francisco and

calls it her current home. The power of acceptance is very significant in Shaema’s life. Not

receiving it from her father for a year and not being accepted in the French society pushed

her to discover a new place where she feels okay in her own skin and feels confident to go

after her dreams. In the academic journal The Exceptional Parent, author Paul J, Callen

writes about the power of acceptance. He states, “acceptance must be based on

unconditional love. Accepting and being accepted should be our starting point, not our last

resort, when faced with new challenges and relationships” (Callen). What Callen is saying

is that acceptance should come from the heart, where pure love exists. When there are

relationships that are challenging in life, acceptance should be the first approach.

Continuing, the power of acceptance can be very significant in a person’s life. When it

comes to Shaema’s journey, her father’s approach to her decision to stay in San Francisco

caused Shaema to struggle for a year; in addition, it damaged her relationship with her

father. However, if her father had accepted her decision to stay in San Francisco, Shaema

would have not struggled. Shaema states, “you know it was struggle for a year because it

was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones

supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but umm you

know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time ummm…He understood what it

meant to me” (Bendeks). Shaema explains that only her mother and grandmother

supported her for a year and points out that, because of her legal status she was unable to

work. However, she was able survive in San Francisco without her father’s help and

eventually her father understood how important it was to accept Shaema’s decision to stay

and finish her schooling in San Francisco.

        Shaema feels happy and accepted in San Francisco. She feels that people do not judge

her for who she is like they do in Paris. Another reason Shaema feels so accepted in San

Francisco is that she is a lesbian and, in Paris, this is not so easily accepted. When I asked

Shaema if she felt more discriminated against in Paris than in San Francisco, her answer

was yes. Shaema states:

“Hell yeah. And even sexuality wise…Being out of the closet in France is not easy at all. Especially when you are in high school, believe me. It sucks! It is not necessarily the big things. It is just little things. It’s not like you are gay I hate you and I am going to beat you up. It’s like, owww, you’re gay…okay, how is that working out for you? Just like…You know that they know you are gay. For me, whether you’re gay, straight or whatever it is that you are, it doesn’t change the way I am gonna talk to you and it’s like you never told me. But you can see if that there’s that thing you know or not. It’s weird” (Bendeks).

           Shaema explains that, at a young age, coming out of the closet was hard for her. The

way people spoke to her was discriminative. According to Shaema, it should not matter if

the person likes women or men; it is their personal choice and everyone should respect

that. She significantly points out that person’s choice of being gay or straight does not

affect the way she speaks with that person. But she points out that you can have an

intuitive feeling of the person but even this should not change the way you approach the

person. Furthermore, Shaema is able to find an understanding environment in San

Francisco where people are accepting of each other’s personal choices. Furthermore, her

father is not comfortable with Shaema being a lesbian. When I asked her if he knew that

she was a lesbian, she explained to me that he does not say anything about the topic, but

Shaema has a good feeling that he knows. This is also a barrier between her and her father.

I believe that, to have a healthy relationship, parents should communicate with their

children and approach them with love and acceptance.

          A story that is similar to Shaema’s is the story of Vica, a young, transgender,

undocumented immigrant. Vica’s story is a lot more tragic than Shaema’s but, when it

comes to acceptance and parental relationships, Shaema and Vica have things in common.

When it comes to Shaema, she at least has one supportive parent (her mother).  However,

in Vica’s case, she only had one existing parent and that was Olga, her mother. The

relationship between Olga and Vica was not your typical mother and daughter relationship.

Olga was a single parent and had busy work hours; however, she paid attention to her

children as best as she could. Olga truly cared about her children and moving from Mexico

to LA for her children shows how much she loves them. Nevertheless, caring is one thing

and accepting your child for who he or she is takes more courage and understanding. Olga

was eventually able to accept Vica for who she was but because Olga grew up with

conservative parents it took some time for her to accept Vica as a transvestite. Olga

explains, “It took me a long time to accept things. I come from a family that is very

reserved. My parents were born in Zacatecas. After they were married they moved to

Guadalajara. But they were always from the ranch, the kind of people who were always

worried about what people might think, what people might say” (Orner). Olga states that it

took her some time to accept her daughter and one reason is that her own parents were

from a small town in Mexico. In addition, Olga’s parents valued what other people thought

about them and were very conservative. Olga, raised with a conservative mindset, explains

that it was hard to accept Vica’s transgender identity. However, after a period she was able

to accept daughter for who she is.  When Vica receives the acceptance and love from her

mother, she is able to find trust and comfort at home. Even though her story does not end

well, because of the human right abuses she faces, she is able to find happiness and

acceptance at home. Furthermore, when it comes to Shaema, maybe this is what she needs

from her father. I cannot be certain if this will solve the whole problem of her not feeling

at home in Paris but it might help the relationship with her father.

            When I asked Shaema if she has changed since she moved to San Francisco, she

looked at me with a smile and asked me how much time I had. She explained to me that

she has changed a lot. Shaema states, “When I was back in France, I was a lot more

stressed out, nervous, nervous, and even violent sometimes” (Bendeks). Shaema explains

while she was in France she filled with stress, nervousness and anger. Furthermore, her

father caused her nervousness and anger. Shaema states:

“Well, the thing is, when I was in France, my dad has like anger management issues. He’s like, he can like…Some situations can blow out of proportion. Like I grew up in this like to me even though it’s crazy it sounds normal. You know, it sounds normal and I am like okay. But I realized that now that I have moved away. I am like do you realize? I am not even saying that for me but I am saying that for you. Do you realize that you put yourself in that state? I don’t even know; it’s like beyond my understanding. You know, growing up in that energy-filled thing made me angry.”

While growing up, Shaema was deeply affected by her father’s anger management issues.

She explains that his anger would be out of control sometimes. Living with a father who

was unbalanced caused Shaema to be nervous and stressed all the time. However, after

coming to San Francisco, she was able to connect with her true self, which is the way she

is now; relaxed and happy. Shaema explains that, moving away from her father helped her

to find inner peace. In sum, Shaema has changed for the better since living in San

Francisco.

           In conclusion, Shaema’s idea of home is anywhere she feels accepted and

understood. This is different from the dictionary term home but it works for Shaema.

According to Clara Cooper Marcus, the author of House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the

Deeper Meaning of Home, “A home fulfills many needs: a place of self-expression, a

vessel of memories, a refuge from the outside world, a cocoon where we can feel nurtured

and let down our guard.” Home is a place where the person can express his or her

personality and feelings; it is a place where a person can recall previous experiences and

feel safe to be let his or her guard down. When it comes to Shaema, she is able to find

these elements at places where she feels accepted and understood. Currently, she calls San

Francisco her home because she feels that she can let her guard down and be accepted for

her identity. The feeling of being accepted is an important element; however, it is not the

only factor that makes a person feel at home. For some people, the one is born is one’s

home but, when it comes to Shaema, the feeling of being accepted is her key answer to the

question of what her idea of home is. Furthermore, the right home has the power to

“protect, heal and restore us, express who we are now, and overtime help us become who

we meant to be” (Marcus). Person’s true home can give safety, can give the person

freedom of expression, which will eventually help the person to reach his or her goals.  A

true home can give a feeling of being accepted to most people. Ever since Shaema moved

to San Francisco, she has been able to heal her wounds from her relationship with her

father, feel more confident in her skin and has been able to go after her dreams, which is to

study music. In sum, Shaema’s idea home is in places where she receives the feeling of

acceptance for who she is and ever since she moved to San Francisco she has become a

happier person. Currently, Shaema feels right at home.

 

Works Cited:

Callen, Paul J. “The power of acceptance.” The Exceptional Parent. 39.4 (2009): 78. Print.

Marcus, Clare C. House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home. Berkeley:           Conari Press, 1995. Print

Orner, Peter. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeny’s, 2008. Print.

 

Interview with Shaema Bendeks:

YA: Where are you from?

SB: I am from France.

YA: How did you come here?

SB: I swam across the ocean… I took the plane (Laughter)

YA: What is your concept of home?

SB: hmm… My concept of home is place where I feel..amm.. where I can be myself and feel confortable with it.And be around people that I love.

YA: Describe your native country?

SB: My native country?

YA: Yeah, descbribe..

SB: I grew up in Paris which is a little bit different than the rest of France. So ummm… It’s a a beautiful, very beautiful place. Like an outside museum. Everything is just full of history and art and it’s amazing. The people are little bit too narrow minded and judgmental for me to actually be comfortable over there. Umm. It is like everything like has a norm and you have to fit in a box. And I do not fit in a box ahahhaha.. so.. umm, it’s just now moving away from France I feel like-I see it completely differently than used to so..umm. I think France like everything else you just have  to find something that you like about it and forget the rest and live in your that’s home. Home is what you make of it so whether you are in France or anywhere else umm it’s what you decide to make of it and what you decide to see umm.  And to take with you and your experience

YA: Okay.. So for you home can be anywhere as long as.

SB: Yeah. Yeah.

YA: So what elements like that are important in that.. What the are the factors that has be there? People you love, etc.

SB: Well, you find people you love along the way too umm I moved here by myself not knowing anyone and now I been living here for two years and there is people that I care about so deeply that I will carry in my heart forever. And it is like that everywhere and that is why so beautiful you can travel to (being from France) India or anywhere else and find that you have strong connection with people that don’t speak the same language, have a different culture and live across the world from you. So that’s what home is, making this place our like.. your world.

YA: So right now where would you consider home? Here of France?

SB: That’s a tricky question. It’s a really tricky question… In some way both you know. I say I am going to go back home for Christmas so to Paris. Than when I am in Paris for too long whenever I come back to SF, it is like coming back home. So you know.. it’s ..Actually friend of mine..

YA: Could you say that you have two homes?

SB: How many countries is there in the world? I have that many homes I think you know. So. There is that place where I grew up in which for people would be defined as home but it’s not to me. It is still part of my history, that’s where I was raised so it is one of the homes that I have. Umm but I don’t consider it like my ground my go to.

YA: Okay, what made you want to live in the US?

SB: I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to just see something else, something different you know. I was really close to my parents like you know. I felt like I was in a close, I lived in close circle like in a closed box. I would always be with the same friends, I was in the same high school for about 8 years.. Like we would hang out with same people and go to the same bars, same neighborhoods and seeing family,  the same people,  the same surroundings all the time. I was just sick of that. I wanted to see how it would be to be somewhere else and I wanted to know myself and about the world that I live in.

YA: Nice! So what did you expect to find and what did you find in the US? Did you have any expectations or did you just get on the plane with totally open heart with whatever, whatever.

SB: Pretty much… Pretty much that is what I find exciting about travelling is that you don’t know what’s gonna happen and its scarce most people not to know. People are scared of the unknown of what they don’t know and that’s what excites me. I don’t know what’s gonna happen so I can make it anything that I want to be and that’s what a new experience is like.

YA: What did you want it to be? Did you have anything in mind?

SB: I just wanted to have an experience. I wanted to have something that would have an impact in my life. Now that I have been living here for two years, I can definitely tell that I have changed and evolved so much and learned so much by me, who I am and what I wanna do in life and how I am going to get there. And it is not necessarily about America, it could have been Australia. It could have been any country and it would have been the same sort of experience because  it’s about me. 

YA: Would you say that you had to move away from home to find home?

SB: Pretty much,  I needed to go away from home to figure out  who I was. Ummm not depending on this circle of friends or this like family. It’s like you kind of have that print on you. Your friends, your family, your social status, your school aaa so.. I wanted to see what it was like if I was in a completely new setting without knowing anything, anyone and to see who I really was. Without anyone influencing me. So and aaa that worked out pretty well. But I didn’t really have any expectations you know, I just wanted to go. Not knowing what was gonna happen. I think that was the biggest excitement for me. So..

YA: What was the feeling when you first got off the plan in the US?

SB: I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the in the plane for 12 hours so I had time to think about it for 12 hours. Ummm you feel a little bit anxious because you don’t know what you are going to find out there but that anxiety was really exciting to me so like thrilled and I got there and there was this Chinese guy who was supposed to drive us to our respective homes/ houses where we would stay. And I stayed at this host family in the sunset. Never met them before. Umm so he dropped me off in the sunset and I didn’t think that SF looked like that at all. It was like, the sunset was the first place I ever got to. I was like okay… I didn’t realize by than that SF was so diverse. Depending on where you go in the city it looks completely different. There is different vibe, there is different architecture, everything is different you know… So when he dropped me off in the sunset it was like this little yellow no pink- little pinky house in the corner and this little Chinese woman was waiting for me. Umm and it just I just felt so like nothing was holding me back. I was freaked out at first, I walked in the house and it was not that clean and I am kinda OCD so I was like can I do this?! Ohh no! Three months with people I don’t even know and umm I walked in the room and I got good vibes and I felt like everything was gonna be okay. It was like you know, whenever you hear that Bob Marley song “Every little thing is gonna be alright” you realize that it sounds so simple and so cheesy and that’s what like everything is gonna be alright. IF you project yourself into that state of mind, that everything is  be alright eventually. It always does. It just that I felt so free and I walked around the block everywhere not even knowing where I was and took random pictures and I was listening to the “Hooks” that one song and singing my heart out and I could see the ocean two blocks away that was so much so free and ready to start the journey.

YA: Wow! Okay so , have ever experienced any negative approaches from other people for being an international student ?

SB: American people or French People?

YA: Anyone around you.

SB: Yeah, it has been a struggle. Yes, well in America not so much everybody thinks it is great that I am from France and that it is amazing that I am from Paris. Umm.. people from Paris though… My dad especially. I was just supposed to be here for one year like as a gap year to explore, have fun. At least that is what he (my dad) thought.  Like that it was a great opportunity for me to have fun and he wished that he had done that when he was young. He did not realize that it was more important for me than just having fun. Aaaa… and after that one year I liked it so much that decided to stay. And it was always and option but like he always hoped that I would go back and have this awesome experience. Because for him ummm so yeah, anyways I decided to stay  and he did not agree with it. He was really just angry. Like we just were fighting over it. He was like no, it was fun for a year but you belong to Paris. This is your home, this is where you grew up, this is where you belong. That is where the concept of home came in and how we did not agree. Like our values were different and I told him no. It is not because I was born somewhere that I have to stay my whole life. Thank god it is not like that. I can go wherever I wanna go and right now I feel good right here in San Francisco. That’s where I feel comfortable, that’s where I wanna live my life for now. Ummm so we did not talk for like a year at all. He refused to support me financially umm because he did not agree with my choice of staying here in San Francisco and my choice of studying music. So ummm he thought not supporting me financially would be a big enough obstacle to for me to agree with him  and come back home and live the life that he wanted me to live.But I did not agree. I fought for it and umm you know it was struggle for a year because it was financially really hard. Because my mom and my grandmother were the only ones supporting me. Because I cannot legally work in this country, it was hard but umm you know, I think the fact that I went through such a hard time ummm…He understood what it meant to me. That it was not just having fun and you know like drinking to bars every night just having the fun life San Francisco in America. I was really here because it meant something important to me. I think that after all the obstacles he put me through he understood that this was really what I wanted and nothing can keep me away from it.

YA: WOW!!

SB: Am I not the best choice for an interview?!

YA: [LAUGHTER]

YA: So umm…you are saying that your dad was the only one that had a negative approach.

SB: Well you know even my grandma who supports me financially is awesome. She was so sad that I left because we are so close and ummm  I realized that afterwards. Whenever I would go back to visit my family it would not be the same between us.I was like why she felt angry with me, we used to laugh all the time like talk for hours and one day I was like I feel like you are angry you are still angry with me and one day she was like yes. I am angry at you for leaving and she never told me so before. She was like I am angry at you for leaving me and leaving me behind. And umm and we went through this emotionally intense talk and I was like I love you but I can not stay here for you even though I love you so much! I have to be little selfish and think about myself. Because this is my life right now and I feel like I have to do this now. And aaa but she still supports me financially and is awesome with it. Even though she doesn’t think that music is the necessarily the most stable thing. So I have to, you know it’s kinda like you have to prove yourself everyday that what you are doing is worth it and that what you are doing is important for you. It’s not like a little selfish kid, you know this is what I breathe. This is, I have to do this. It is not just [with a higher voice] Yeahh music is fun! San Francisco is fun! I am just here…No!! This is something that like, that is so important to me. This is the only option. This is the only thing I could do and I see myself doing right now and ummm back home whenever I say I am a music major to adults or umm even people my age. The question that everybody asks me all the time, that is why I hate meeting my parents friend’s. “Ohh you live in San Francisco what do you do over there?” and I say that I study music and the question that always comes up is that “ What do you want to do with that?” [sarcastically] SB says that “I wanna be a fucking painter!” what do you think?! I want to be a musician. You know, and then they say,” that’s good…”.You always have to fight to prove yourself. Just to be who you are and is shouldn’t be that way. So it was hard for a while and I went through this struggle with some of my friends and some of my family. And umm you might wanna do this by yourself.

YA: So can you say that coming here was freedom for you?

SB: It was a way to I guess umm do the big jump and take responsibilities for myself and make my own choices.

YA: Would you have stayed if France had opportunities like this?

SB: No, I just you know, I just wanna see things and I am not done travelling. Whenever people ask me “do you see yourself living in SF or Paris?” and “What are you gonna do next year?” I am like “I don’t even know what I am going to do tomorrow”. I do not even know, I might be in San Francisco transferring next year or I might be in Spain doing stuff. I do not know I might be anywhere. And I don’t see myself living in SF forever and I don’t see myself living in Paris forever. I just see myself moving around. Culture and people are so fulfilling.

YA: Okay, that is great.

SB: I wanna find home everywhere in the world.

YA: Would you say that like, finding home everywhere in the world that means that finding a piece of yourself everywhere? Do you think that there is a place that where you gonna feel whole without like feeling that you’re…

SB: What I think is that… Okay so my dad used to talk to me. Whenever we talked about religion, I do not subscribe to any religion, my dad would. Cause I grew up- I was raised Jewish. But my dad was really into it but not like super super crazy religious. He would always say that, he would only do the things and believe in the things that ummm spoke like touched him. That made sensed to him which might not make sense to someone else but it would make sense to him. I think that’s what it is with traveling, with cultures is that in every culture, in everybody, every country, every city and every single person you are going to meet there is gonna be someone that you appropriate and learn you know. Umm so I think that I am not looking for that one place where I am gonna feel whole. I think all these places and experiences and all the people that I meet along the way are gonna make me feel whole. You know.

YA: So you think that there has to be a certain amount of time until you feel whole?

SB: Not necessarily. It’s not that I am lacking and that I am looking for something to like fill complete that I am not right now. It’s just that there’s always something more. Even in life there’s always something more to learn you know. When you are fifty years old, you still have something to learn. Maybe from a 10 year old and maybe from a 80 year old there’s something to add. So it’s a never ending process.

YA: You are saying that as you meet people and discover the world the place that you call home  doesn’t feel home anymore because you are growing out of it?

SB: No! It’s that every experience is a part of me, is a part of home, it’s another block to the house.

YA: So for you where ever you go is home for you because you are home?

SB:Yeah.

YA: Did you experience discrimination?

SB: In America? It is San Francisco! Therefore, it is hard. [Hahahah. ]

YA: Yeah I know, [hahaha]

SB: Ummm not as much as I did in Paris. Even though it’s not as bad, you know there’s always…Ummm the funny thing is that in America- San Francisco, everyone is really open and really diverse. Umm I feel like, there’s still some. .. It’s the way they view the world because of the things they have been taught and the way they perceived certain historical events. You know there’s like that whole stereotypical view on things umm especially like different races, different religions and stuff like that so ummm it’s like you know, people realize that my full name is not Shem but Shaema which is actually Arabic, they obviously assume that I am Muslim and like you know a lot of different things like that.  And umm it’s like they stigmatize a lot the way umm and it’s hard to tell because it’s San Francisco it’s not really that way at all but I feel that with some people they assume too fast.

YA: So you felt discriminated before by some people?

SB: No, I just feel like not in San Francisco. I just realized the way the academic system and the way they would just –it’s like communism is the worst word to ever use.In France communism is the worst word to use. When in France, you know, whenever we are in class umm we talk about communism. Its just like you know, it’s history and there’s still communist parties in France and stuff like that , here it’s like the biggest insult –they have really radical point of view on things. So you are a communist, your this and this…And they don’t even know what it really is. You know..So I feel like there’s a few things like that the whole Jewish thing, the whole Arabic family but yet French umm you know. When I am here I am French right because I am in America and my nationality is French. Though when I am in France and they ask me like who I am. I say that my ethnicity is actually Algerian because my grandparents were from Algeria. Like, Jewish Algerians. Umm so it’s just really weird because like people don’t see you differently as you say you know, when I sound French like people have this image of me. Ummm but they don’t necessarily know that I have this Arabic cultural background. Because I don’t really look like it. When I do they have a different view on things which is interesting. Not necessarily negative.

YA: Yeah exactly but they just assume things.

SB: Yeah!

YA: So you are saying that you have felt more discriminated in France than you have felt discriminated here (San Francisco)?

SB: Hell yeah. And even sexuality wise…Being out of the closet in France is not easy at all. Especially when you are in high school believe me. It sucks! It’s not necessarily the big things it’s just little things.It’s not like you are gay I hate you and I am going to beat you up. It’s like owww you gay okay, how is that working out for you? Just like… You know that they know you are gay. For me whether you’re gay, straight or whatever it is that you are it doesn’t change the way I am gonna talk to you and it’s like you never told me. But you can see if that there’s that thing you know or not. It’s weird.

YA: Where do you think you belong?

SB: I don’t know. Everywhere. I really don’t know. I feel like, I feel like there’s definitely a part of me that belongs here in SF. It’s definitely. I am probably going to spend, not necessarily now but near future. But some day I am going to be here for a while. I have travelled on vacation a lot actually, when I was younger. So I travelled I lot but there’s a lot to know and to discover. So..I don’t think I belong to one specific place. Cause there’s gonna be, you know more you travel the more you that’s like there’s a part of your soul everywhere. So..

YA: How have you changed since you moved here (to SF)?

SB: OHH MY GOD! How long do you have!?

YA: We still have time.

SB: Ohh my god. How have I changed? Ummm ummm, okay. I will just make it simple because otherwise it’s just going to take up a lot of time.

YA: No we have time so you can go head.

SB: Okay, ummm well… I will start with the most certain thing that comes to my mind first. When I was back in France, whenever I say that to people, they would be like really. I was a lot more stressed out, nervous and nervous and even violent sometimes. What really, you are like this bubbly and happy person all the time. Well the thing is when I was in France, my dad has like anger management issues. He’s like, he can like…Some situations can blow out of proportion. Like I grew up in this like to me even though it’s crazy it sounds normal. You know, it sounds normal and I am like okay. But I realized that now that I have moved away. I am like do you realize? I am not even saying that for me but I am saying that for you. Do you realize that you put yourself in that state? I don’t even know, it’s like beyond my understanding. You know, growing up in that energy filled thing made me really, cause I am really similar to my dad and in a way that I hate. Ummm and I think it’s also the influence he had on me. So when I moved away, I am a lot more relaxed and patient and you know not as angry all the time.

YA: Because you are away from him?

SB: Yeah. It’s hard to say but in some way yeah. Because you know what it’s always been what I really am. I am just that chill, peaceful and relaxed person. But because I was living around him I couldn’t find my inner self.