The Maze

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The bottom block features mazes on all sides, while the top two feature Buddhist and Chinese animal symbolism.

The Maze

by Thea Zhang, May 2019

This is a story of a girl named Carey, who immigrated to the United States from China during childhood. In her adolescence, she decided to become an artist. Roberto Bolaño was a Chilean writer and poet, who represents “the most significant Latin American literary voice” in the last century and suggests that exiles is in a search for identity. According to his article “Exiles,” “To be exiled is not to disappear but to shrink, to slowly or quickly get smaller and smaller until we reach our real height, the true height of the self” (Bolaño 1). The author states exile as a process of narrowing down a vast world of possibilities, either slow or fast growth to discover the truth about oneself. In addition, Bolaño says, “Many of the exiled, freighted with more suffering than reasons to leave, would reject this statement” (1). In some but not all cases, while exile can be a journey of suffering for forced immigrants, that is not necessarily a route one has to go through. Instead, the woman in this story did not suffer from a harsh transition of immigration. Her family simply hoped for a better life. For Carey, exile involves defining one’s identity throughout the various stages, and all of these stages are associated with art. The shifts in culture with constant movements made Carey fragmented into different identities. Inside her soul, her world remains dedicated to the Chinese tradition with her family and childhood memories, whereas, outside, she integrates language and education with the new culture as an American. Art has been a medium of freedom and liberty through its creative form of self-expression and personal healing, allowing Carey to adapt herself to a new environment that comes with different languages and lifestyles, and to imagine herself as whole.

I met Carey on the first day of school in the fall of 2018. Through her introduction in class, I learned that she was born in southern China and grew up in different parts of China. Since her father was from Guangdong Province and her mother was from Sichuan Province, she moved back and forth between these two provinces for the first nine years of her life. She immigrated to the United States when she was nine. Since then, she has been living in San Francisco for almost fifteen years. During the continuation of my interview with her, she stated that life is like a maze. She was lost until she found art was a way to express herself, and to clarify her identity as a whole, so she could find a way out of a maze. Nevertheless, with time and patience, Carey has been able to start to overcome the challenges in her life.

Carey describes her young childhood as having constant movements because her parents come from different cities in China; the many uncertain situations she found herself in, each with many possibilities, became increasingly confusing in terms of identity. These small movements, the movements between a small village and a metropolis, lead not to unification but to fragmentation. Whereas Sichuan is a province in southwest China, Guangdong is a coastal province of southeast China. She states:

“I was born in Guangdong province. But I moved to Sichuan province for one year, and then moved back to Guangdong for better education. Moving to and fro between those two hometowns. In total, I stayed in Guangdong for around seven years. After that, I immigrated to the United States.”

For one year, when she was seven years old, she lived in a small village in Sichuan Province, a small community where all villagers knew each other as neighbors. She remembers growing up with her sibling and playmates in the village. One of her most vivid childhood memories is of a night when she was running in the playground and was carrying a colorful lantern during the mid-autumn festival, a traditional festival in China. Growing up in a small town is an experience unlike any other regarding childhood memories, even though she was raised by a strict mother, who often told her to come home early and did not allow sleepovers. It was enjoyable, full of love and laughters. Occasionally, she reminisces over her fond childhood memories. However, comparing these two cities, she says, “I like Guangdong more because it was more like a city. Sichuan was just like a small town that filled with mud and dirt, a rural place.” The transitions from a small village to a metropolis provided different viewpoints of the country for her. When she was nine, she started to draw mazes, whether she was in school or at home. Perhaps she was subconsciously trying to find a way home. The concept of home brought her uncertainty in the transitional period, causing small fragmentations that caused her to feel she had two roles within her childhood, and she had to act differently in different situations.

The education system and school life form a significant part of her identity; as a student, Carey transferred from another country and felt split into multiple selves in a sense due to cultural differences. Carey migrated from China to the United States in 2005, with her parents and her younger sister. She describes, “I did not know the reason that I immigrated to the United States because I was too young. My father and mother decided to come here, so I have no choice.” Although it was not her choice to make the life-changing decision, it symbolizes a turning point of her life. According to “Exiles,” Bolaño claims, “Exile, in most cases, is a voluntary decision” (3). In this case, her parents chose to leave their hometown to make a better life in a different country. During her first year in the United States, Carey struggled with her transition from China. The most significant movement in her life happened when she was nine, in the fourth grade in elementary school, which was only a year and a half from graduation. She transferred to a primary school in America. Sita Patel, a psychologist, in a study on newcomer immigrant adolescents that was published in School Psychology Quarterly, states: “Newcomer adolescent immigrants are a particularly vulnerable population…[a]s they face the simultaneous challenges of rapid developmental changes and acculturation-related stressors and adjustment” (1). Adolescent immigrants appear to be a vulnerable group. On top of the fact that they face a variety of difficulties in adjustment, the interactive role of family stressors on school outcomes brings out adverse psychological pressures. Initially, she created multiple identities, and did not feel like an American, even though she had lived in America for a long time. Following a different education system in America, Carey studied in middle school for three years, in high school for four years, and has studied in college for four years until now. The cultural environment within the education system and at home broke down into two directions; Inside her home life, her family became a pressure on her school life. Outside, in the world of her school, the different education system was also confusing. Carey had to code-switch and act differently in the two different environments.

The language differences act as a barrier between the two parts of her world; Carey grew up between two cultures and had to come up with ways to integrate both of her sides to redefine herself as a whole. In the new country, there were language barriers and cultural differences, which hindered her ability to adjust. Carey states, “I speak Chinese at home, but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Chinese, but I also integrated Chinese and English with my family. Sometimes, it also comes with Sichuanese and Cantonese.” Sichuanese and Cantonese are dialects of Chinese. Her family’s holding onto her traditional side is a way of maintaining traditional culture to express themselves more liberally. Sharon Thompson is a counselor who is working with the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Interpreter Training at Troy University. Her article provides an explanation of creative skills and techniques for counselors when working with children who function as language brokers, who have been utilized by their family to translate and interpret information within other cultures and environments. According to her article in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, “One of the most significant challenges for these individuals is communication within their new culture” (Thompson et al.). In this case, Carey is considered as the language broker in her family, which creates a significant challenge for her to communicate within American culture in English. Furthermore, intra-family relations also form foundations of her identity. Eileen McGann, an art therapist and an editorial board member who is working with Art Therapy Outreach Center, in the Journal of Emotional Abuse, presents with other scholars a pathway with different factors for the adolescent to achieve the consolidation of one’s identity. They state:

“[An] adolescent must experience and internalize validation from her immediate community and the culture at large. For young women of color, the effects of intra-family prejudice and societal racism can severely compromise their ability to embrace their ethnic identity” (McGann et al.).

The article shows that a confusing religious identity with a confusing sense of nationality can lead to more misunderstanding, which causes more fragmentations, especially for female adolescents of color. To maintain inner solidarity with a group’s ideals and identity is an essential stage in identity formation. In the process of identity formation, Carey is suggesting that retaining her Chinese culture with her family creates a sense of belonging and integrating a new language creates a new way to consolidate her identity.

The passport symbolizes the turning point in her identity transformation from Chinese to American; however, Carey sees home as a narrative construction across two countries with little differences and more similarities. While most immigrants would compare their hometowns to America in many different ways from their expectations that they had before the move, Carey does not notice many differences between San Francisco, Guangdong, and Sichuan as she considers these cities are all her home. There are very small differences between these two countries that she does not considers significant. She states, “The only difference between America and China that I could think of is the nightlife, whereas in the U.S. when it is getting dark, no one would hand out. In China, you can stay until midnight.” The society in America is more individualized, compared with the lifestyle she had in China, and lacks a sense of community. But she also reflects, “The same thing is life; you still have to live and work.” Apparently, she does not notice many differences between these two countries. Life remains the same wherever she is. Until now, she considers herself as an American due to the U.S. passport. She states, “I am a U.S. citizen now. Before I had a China passport, I would say that I was an immigrant. But now that I am not.” The Chinese passport carried a part of her previous identity, and the U.S. passport creates a new one. This change in form stands for a turning point that home is a narrative for Carey, instead of a place or a location. Hanoch Flum, a professor at Ben-Guion University of the Negev, suggests that identity development plays a significant role in the context of cultural transition. From a psychosocial and sociocultural perspective, the author investigates “self-continuity” and identity integration in light of “inherent discontinuity” among young immigrants. He claims, “Their negotiations of identity, with a focus on their narrative construction of past, present, and future across life domains (education, career, military service, family), are illustrated in a variety of developmental paths” (Flum). The identity of young immigrants is complex due to the narrative construction of their entire life. Seemingly, Carey copes well with her new identities, which mix both sides; her home plays an important role in a variety of developmental paths. Even after creating a new self, she continues to question her identity despite the certification of her physical identity; in fact, these feelings of being lost and fragmented run through Carey’s core.

The process of experiencing different types of art has challenged her perspective of her identity. While she is in exile in the United States, art allows her to incorporate any aspect of her identity freely. At the very beginning, Carey wanted to experience a variety of art classes in the school. Carey states, “I was not sure what kind of art I wanted to take at first. Therefore, I decided to take every kind of art classes; then I would know which kind I like.” By learning and assimilating the art world, she can shape her views of reality gradually. Besides, each kind of art presents a different aspect of herself. Along with a group of scholars, Rachel Ettun, who is affiliated with Rambam Medical Center, in an article on the study of the connections between art and healing and spirit, with the title of “Transforming Pain into Beauty,” states:

“From drawing to sculpture…the arts can have a major impact on patients’ spiritual well-being and health. The arts empower patients to fulfill the basic human drive to create and give patients a sense of possibility. Through creative expression, patients regain a feeling of wholeness, individually and as part of the larger world.” (Ettun et al.)

This quotation shows that the arts not only can fulfill the basic actuation of creativity but also provide a sense of possibility. Exploring in the art world, Carey can achieve wholeness and can be independent in the world. Through the exploration of different kinds of art, she finds out her favorite is sculpture, which allows her to build up her world through the project. However, she uses her creativity to find ways to incorporate cultural aspects of both her identities. Since then, Carey has discovered her interest in art and pursued the goals earnestly: earning a degree and becoming an artist. Ceramics was the beginning of her exploration of art, as a medium of freedom. Carey says:

“I studied ceramics for two years in high school includes beginning ceramic and intermediate ceramic. The ceramic classes in college were interesting too. Whereas I used my hand to make in high school, I learned how to use the machine to make in college. I have more options to create my work, more materials, more techniques for ceramic.”

She has studied ceramics for more than five years. By learning more materials and techniques, she can access more options to express herself. Initially, she did not know what culture to identify with, which traditions to embrace or how to maintain her family’s identity and the Chinese status while she grew up. But through art, she finds a way out of the maze created by these transitions.

The cultural diversity of San Francisco has helped help Carey begin to construct an American identity because she is able to maintain her Chinese culture in the meantime with more freedom. Carey can redefine herself and discover a sense of belonging through art while she spreads Chinese culture, which she is familiar with. Carey says, “As a Chinese American, I think I know Chinese style better than the others here. Therefore, I want to make more about it and let everyone know what Chinese style looks like.” The colorful lanterns in the Chinatown of San Francisco also light up a small part of Carey’s identity. The lamps, painted in the traditional Chinese colors of red, gold and green, make Grant Avenue one of the brightest streets in the city at night. Ellen Dissanayake, an American author and scholar that specifically focuses on the area of “the anthropological exploration of art and culture,” claims, “Art belongs to everyone and is a natural part of human behavior.” Also, she can be braver and stronger in the art world with more freedom. Carey states, “But art, you do not need to think of it. Even you made a mistake; it is still art.” From her perspective, art is made of creativity and freedom. When we make a mistake, we must correct it adequately as quickly as possible. According to a, American cartoonist and writer, Scott Adams, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Allowing people to make mistakes can be liberating for one’s creativity. In the world of pure art, Carey does not need to be afraid of making mistakes. Even though she makes mistakes in her artworks, she can afford the consequences. While allowing herself to make mistakes without fear of failure can be liberating for creativity, she can also use art as a medium of freedom to reconstruct her fragmented identity. Her aesthetic is that of freedom and imagination, mixing two such cultural elements with her identity, which mixes the Chinese and American. It shows that Carey wanted to incorporate different aspects to solidify a sense of self through the discovery of imagination.

Carey experienced exile when she was a child and did not have a choice. She sees art as a tool to reconstruct her fragmented identity with freedom and liberty by following herself to achieve happiness. Carey describes, “Art is freedom, happy and interesting to me. Art is like walking around and design.” Most of the time, instead of teamwork or collaborations with others, she enjoys working by herself. She likes to bring the artworks home and design them because it makes her feel comfortable working alone. When it comes to the question of whether art is healing, Carey answers firmly, “Absolutely. Art will not make me feel tired and frustrated. When I get started on a new piece of artwork, I would be one hundred percent focus on it.” For Carey, designing and creating are enjoyable processes. Caelan Kuban, a doctor of psychiatry at UC Irvine, suggests that art helps people to express themselves. In her journal article “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.” Art can be a trusted medium for self-expressing and imagination. Art can help in times of stress by relieving oneself from any situation; for Carey, art can be a way for her to express herself and make it clear to find her identity through imaginations.

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Through the processes of making artworks, she feels peaceful and comfortable by expressing her opinions and ideas. In the advanced sculpture class in spring, students need to use a hundred words to presents the meaning of their life in a sculpture. Carey states, “For the sculpture project, I made a tree. The meaning of tree is just like our life; the tree branch is the choices that leading us to different directions. It was a kind of lifestyle, which has good parts and bad parts, positive side and negative side. Through the tree, you can see my life.” The leaves are sparse, few and far between, which means her life experiences are not enough. She explains, “If my tree has a lot of leaves on it, that means I already have many experiences, my life will be complete.” The tree represents the meaning of her life with her different identities. One example of the use of a tree is by Everett Middle School in San Francisco, which lost a student to gun violence in 2001. Laurie Marshall as an art educator, sharing her philosophical context on how art can be used as peace building. She states, “Each year they devote a week to Peace Studies. In 2011, they created the Cypress Singing Tree of Peace, where students share the action, they plan to take into their community to create peace” (Marshall). The author claims that art can be healing for the individual and peace building through the creation of the tree. Following the material and the tools particular to an artwork also allows people to think and follow the thoughts of the material. Herbert Read, an English art historian and philosopher who is best known for numerous books on art, states in Modern Sculpture, “It is while carving stone that you discover the spirit of your material and the properties particular to it. Your hand thinks and follows the thoughts of the material.” During the art-making processes, the medium of arts often sustains efforts and struggles. In the meantime, people may paint an image, or cut the plaster and clay to reform a sculpture. Engaging with art materials is a sensory experience that often leads to a release of emotions. Carey often worried about her future. Making a piece of artwork to discover the spirit of its components can also be a way of relieving the daily stress of her life. The future is unknown, but with the use of art as a medium, she expresses all the feelings to complete her identity.

Her changing concept of home caused Carey to separate into multiple identities; by maintaining traditions and expressing herself through the creativity and imagination of art to find herself as a whole with freedom, she can redefine her identity through the discovery of art and the works of art in the time of exile. By combining Chinese and American styles together, she can unify her identities. Using culture and creativity is a way for Carey not only to hold on to her old identity but also to help create a new one for her own. One could argue that tradition does not create anything new, that it is only a way to remember the past. However, past, present and future form a narrative construction that spans across our lives. To confront the past and better face the future, the beauty of culture and art allows people to express themselves in their ways and learn new ways through creativity and imagination. It can draw an emotional connection across different cultures and bring a new way for people to establish themselves, and their families. For Carey, her immigration forced her to construct a new identity and to find a place to belong during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Exile can create the fragmentation of life, but through the healing process of creativity and imagination within art, people can conquer the difficulties in life. Although Carey struggled with her new responsibilities as an adult in the U.S., she will eventually manage to overcome her difficulties and worries, to embrace the world of freedom.

 

Works Cited

Arévalo, S. Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Presidential Task Force on Immigration. American Psychological Association.Washington, DC: 2012.

Bolaño, Roberto. Exiles. University of California Press, Apr. 2011.

Dissanayake, E. Self-taught art: The culture and aesthetics of American vernacular art. Very like art: Self-taught art from an ethological perspective. Outsider art in C.Russell, University Press of Mississippi, 2001, pp. 35–46.

Ettun, Rachel, et al. “Transforming Pain into Beauty: On Art, Healing, and Care for the Spirit.” Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ECAM), vol. 2014, Jan. 2014, pp. 1–7. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1155/2014/789852.

Frantz, Gilda. “Creativity and Healing.” Psychological Perspectives, vol. 59, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 242–251. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00332925.2016.1170567.

Flum, Hanoch, and Tamara Buzukashvili. “Identity Development and Future Orientation in Immigrant Adolescents and Young Adults: A Narrative View of Cultural Transitions from Ethiopia to Israel.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, no. 160, Jan. 2018, pp. 15–30. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1176356&site=eds-live.

Lin, Carey. Personal Interview. March 23, 2019.

Marshall, Laurie. “Art as Peace Building.” Art Education, vol. 67, no. 3, May 2014, pp. 37–43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1046775&site=eds-live.

Martin, F.David. “Sculpture and ‘Truth to Things.’” Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 13, no. 2, Apr. 1979, pp. 11–32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ215391&site=eds-live.

McGann, Eileen P. “Color Me Beautiful: Racism, Identity Formation, and Art Therapy.” Journal of Emotional Abuse, vol. 6, no. 2/3, June 2006, pp. 197–217. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1300/J135v06n02_12.

Patel, Sita G., et al. “Newcomer Immigrant Adolescents: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Family Stressors and School Outcomes.” School Psychology Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 163–180. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/spq0000140.

Read, Herbert. A Concise History of Modern Sculpture. New York: Praeger, 1964. Print.

Sickler-Voigt, Debrah C. “Carving for the Soul: Life Lessons from Self-Taught Artist O. L. Samuels.” Art Education, vol. 59, no. 3, May 2006, pp. 25–32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ740333&site=eds-live.

Thompson, Sharon R., et al. “Using Altered Art for Children Who Language Broker: Navigating Roles and Transitions.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling, vol. 40, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 302–315. EBSCOhost, doi:10.17744/mehc.40.4.03.

 

Sample Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic: Immigration, Art, Freedom

Interviewee: Carey Lin

Interviewer: Thea Zhang

Interview Date: March 23, 2019

 

Carey Lin: My name is Xia Lin, I am 24 years old and I am a student.

Thea Zhang: What are you doing lately? School and work?

CL: School, Work and to earn more money

TZ: Where did you grow up?

CL: I grew up in China and I came here for a better life. Okay, just tell the truth. I did not know the reason that I was immigrated to the United States because I was too young. My father and mother decided to come here, so I have no ideas

TZ: Where were you born? Where did you originally come from?

CL: I was born in Guangdong province. But then I moved to Sichuan for 1 year from sixth grade to seventh grade to have school over there, and then moved back to Guangdong, I stayed in

Guangdong around six or seven years. After that, I immigrated to the United States. I like Guangdong more, because it was more like a city. Sichuan was just like a small town that fulled of mud and dirty, a rural place.

TZ: Do you consider yourself as an immigrant?

CL: You can say that, but right now I am not. I am a U.S. citizen now. Before I had a China passport, I was said that I was an immigrant.

TZ: What are the differences or similarities between China and America?

CL: Compare to China, I like the weather here. Sometimes it is too hot and sometimes it is too cold. Cause I do not like to wear t-shirt, I like to wear hoodies stuff. But the food is good and then it is a safety place. The biggest different of these two countries; In the U.S., when it is getting dark, no one would hand out. But in China, you can do that, and you can stay until midnight. The same thing is the life, you still have to live and work. It depends on what kind of life you want.

Of course, I like Chinese food, because I am Chinese. Even though I am a American, I eat Chinese food at home. This is kind of habit things. But at here I do not hand out outside, so mostly it just like burgers, bagel, pizza. (These kinds of American foods.)

TZ: Do you consider move back to China?

CL: Who knows, maybe. I would say that if I graduate from college.

TZ: What details can you tell me about your family?

CL: There are four people in my family including me. Father, mother, my younger sister and me.

TZ: Can you describe your relationship with your sister?

CL: Pretty good, sometimes we fight and sometimes we hand out, that is called sister. The relationship between my parents and I is good too. Not fights, we usually hand out and talk so much so we don’t have secrets at all. Sometimes we will say it. Mostly with my mother, she is just like my friend. Dad is dad. Because he is a man. Less communication with more distance.

We were talk to each other only when we were at home or when I met him. But I would say the relationship between us is still good. Sometimes we will help and respect each other. We don’t fight a lot. Last time we fight was because of my sister, she and I fought each other. And my dad always says, ‘your sister is young, and you are the older one, you should let her’. That was long time ago, I was 12 years old by then when I was a teenager. We did not fight during this long period.

TZ: What is the biggest challenge you faced right now?

CL: Education. And then you have to work. I mean, after you graduate from college you have to find a job. Then buy a house and then you have to leave. And the thing is that I have to transfer, that is a challenge for me. The biggest challenge for me is future. Because you never know your future; I am still feeling confused.

I want to be a maze design. Because I like to draw maze. If I can find any job about maze, I will do whatever I can. It does not matter it that drawing or any others. Painter is just paint anything, but maze designer is only about maze. I was just thinking of this right now. In general, just be an artist.

TZ: How to balance work and study?

CL: The most important thing is to schedule your time. I have two part-time jobs right now. So, scheduling a good job hour. Four days for work and two days school.

TZ: How do you feels about college? Years?

CL: Stress and challenge. This is my fourth year in college. The classes are different and especially English. And math is difficult, I hate math. But biology is fine, because the teacher is good and helpful. When the teacher was caring and wanted to help, that make me felt more comfortable and less stressful.

In 2005, I was at the fourth grade in elementary school. I still did not graduate from China. And then I moved here and took fourth grade class for only half semester. So, I got one and half year elementary school in America, three years for middle school, four years for high school and then four years for college. From 2005 until now.

TZ: What are the differences between high school and college?

CL: I want to be a maze design. Because I like to draw maze. If I can find any job about maze, I will do whatever I can. It doesn’t matter I like high school. It was less stressful even for Math and English, because I don’t care. I don’t care about the grades, but I need to care about it for transfer right now, I don’t want to spend another year in college. Mostly I got good grades, but it depends on teachers. High school is youth to me; friends, hand out, no stress. I did not have a job by then (No pressure on life too). Basically, it was very simple: wake up, go to school, hand out with friends at lunchtime in cafeteria, then back to home. I did not feel any stress about English and Math, because it spent one year to take the course and now is just one semester. So, you can see how fast it is and I can take my time to learn math.

TZ: What was your favorite subject in school?

CL: I studied ceramic for two years in high school. Including Beginning ceramic and AP (college level) ceramic. Four and half a week for two years. The ceramic classes in college were interesting too. I learnt how to use the machine to make in college and I used my hand to make in high school. In college, I have more options to create my work, more materials, more techniques for ceramic. There’s no essay, test, quiz and homework. So that I like it.

TZ: What make you decided your major in Art?

CL: I decided my major in art because I like it, any kind of art. I was not sure what kind of art I wanted to take at first. So, I decided to take every kinds of art then I would know which kind I like. My favorite is sculpture, I like to build stuffs.

TZ: How to build a sculpture project?

CL: Like the wood project, the first semester of sculpture, I made the wood goldfish. I knew exactly what to do, and then I could enjoy it. But if I don’t know what to do, it just stuck in the first stage and feels stressful in the rest of that class.

The processes to build the goldfish: first, the teacher asked me to design an animal with movement. Second, I did not want to do it too complicated and I wanted to keep it simple. So, I thought of fish would be so much easier for me. The reason why I choose goldfish because my house has it and it is for Chinese style. Then, the teacher showed us how to do it: use three woods, use tools to shape it and design it then make it in 3D (use machine to make the fish skin cut the wood smaller). Think, draw, then make it real. I think I know Chinese style better than the others. So, I want to make more about it and let everyone know what Chinese style is looks like. I tend to be a worker; I don’t like to sit at the chair, and I liked to move. Even drawing, I can walk around, thinking about it and then drawing instead of sitting still all the time. That’s why I don’t like drawing that much, I just think in my mind.

 

TZ: Can you describe ‘Art’? What is it to you? How do you feel about it?

CL: Art is freedom, happy and interesting to me. Art is like walking around and design. Not like the other jobs, you need to sit in an office and type at computer. Most of the time, you can work alone. I don’t like teamwork. You just need to feel about yourself and focus on yourself. If someone watching me, I feel so weird. That’s why at Chinese brush painting class, I don’t usually at class doing my stuff, I liked to bring it home and draw because it feels more comfortable to working alone.

TZ: Do you feel art is healing?

CL: Yes, because it will make me feel not tired anymore and focus. If I feel that is not interesting, then it will make me want to sleep. But art make me feel not tired.

TZ: Do you have a favorite artist?

CL: Maya Lin.

TZ: Or any specific artwork that you like?

CL: No. Just any sculpture and wood, or about maze.

TZ: You are taking sculpture and Chinese brush painting right now. So, what do you do to prepare for a art work?

CL: I will be painting in my house and finish the sculpture at school, because of the materials and machines. For sculpture I made a tree. The meaning of tree is just like our life, the tree branch is like our choices that leading us to different directions. It was kind of like a lifestyle, which have good parts and bad parts, positive side and negative side. Through the tree, you can see my life. Cause that’s my project. I can describe myself as a baby tree and grew up to be strong. The leaves depend on the things that I had done in my time. The tree is done by now. But it still growing up and you never know what kind of tree it would be. The tree is implying the meaning of who you are. The leaves are sparse, few and far between, which means my life experiences is not that enough. If my tree has a lot of leaves on it, that’s means I already have many experiences, my life has been complete. The lack of experience is because I did not finish school and education.

TZ: Why are you choosing this tree?

CL: At first, the teacher asked me to think about a hundred words for people life like passion, sign and verbs like smell, taste. Then I was choosing the tree, I think the tree is contained those hundred words you are facing. Only tree can present the hundred words through the leaves and branches.

TZ: What kind of materiel you use for it?

CL: Using wires and tapes. I used wires to control the tree branches, to hold and tight and to cover it. Used tapes to make the rolling, little pieces and stick on the roll made it more like a tree. I draw it done first. When I am doing this project, I was thinking about it all the time even when I was sleeping. What should I do and making plan, I was focus on it.

TZ: Can you tell me the differences between a art work and an essay?

CL: (laughs) I felt giving up on essay. You have to think about it in mind, think about verbs and run-on sentences. But art, you don’t have to think of it. Even you make a mistake, it is still art. And I don’t like to communicate with people. I prefer work alone.

 

Meet Happiness

picture -Tina

Meet Happiness

by Tingting Xu, June 2018

The sea reaches out its longings, and eventually meets the sky on the horizon. If dream walks far enough, it would probably meet happiness in the end.—Angela Chang, from one of her  popular Chinese songs

America has often been viewed as the land of opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world come to the United States and try to seek their fortunes. How can they eventually climb the ladder of success or happiness? To them, time is like a piece of land. A dream is like a seed, waiting for someone to come plant it. Dalu was one of those people who came to America and tried to pursue his own dream here. His dream was simple, making more money and owning a fancy car, a Rolls-Royce, which he saw as a symbol of success. However, while the dream was beautiful, the reality was cruel. While he first arrived in the United States in 1986, he felt disappointed because he faced many challenges like being undocumented in the U.S., working for low wages in restaurants, and struggling with the language barrier. I first met him in September 2016, when I moved into a new house that was bigger than my previous one, in order to prepare for the birth of my child. Thus, he became my new neighbor. When I think back on him, I remember he always wore worn work clothes and a pair of sneakers stained with paint. He was a tall figure with slightly curved shoulder, who seemed to be full of stories. His face was covered with wrinkles, but I could still see that he had probably been a handsome man when he was young. Although Dalu always believed that success (for himself) meant owning a fancy car or having wealth that could be envied by others, he had an epiphany when he suffered from a brain disease that almost took his life; this made him see life as fragile, so he started to focus on the essence of life through reading the Bible and now hopes to create more long-term meaningful achievements by doing volunteer work at his church and spending his holidays traveling with his family.

Dalu was born 1963 in XianZu Town near Chongqing. He said, “My hometown was surrounded by mountains and had picturesque scenery. It was very beautiful, clean, and was surrounded by nature.” He had an elder sister and brother. He was the youngest child. Although Dalu’s family was not rich and his parents planted vegetables and fruit for survival, he had a happy childhood because he could stay with his parents when they were working in the mountains. Dalu said, “They [his parents] had little chance to receive education, so I knew knowledge was important because my mother always told me that you needed to study hard; otherwise you would end up like us [poor].” According to “Education And Poverty, Relationship and Concerns. A Case For Kenya,” a journal article by Maiyo K. Julius, who is a professor at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, “Education is widely accepted as the main exit route from poverty. It is the backbone of growth and development of individuals and the nation” (73). Although pockets of poverty also exist in developed countries, this poverty caused by lacking education is more common in developing countries, particularly in rural areas. Dalu didn’t want to repeat his parents’ lives, so he studied hard and eventually graduated with honors and was assigned to a famous factory in Chongqing province as a manager in 1982. He then worked at this factory for almost four years. One day, his director found him and asked him if he would like to go the United States to work because there was a job vacancy there. He immediately agreed because it was America, a dream country that was represented by his dream car (Rolls-Royce). One day in 1986, Dalu took an airplane, departed from Shenzhen, passed over Hong Kong and Japan, and finally landed at the San Francisco International Airport alone. However, while the dream was beautiful, reality was tough. His job was to install and repair generators for hospitals and other buildings. He faced the challenge of working on the night shift because these machines were usually off at night. This dangerous work (repairing generators) with a poor schedule caused Dalu to feel stressed and tired.

He felt stuck because he desired to move back home due to homesickness and his soon-to-be- expiring visa, but the news that his friends had been sent to jail during the special period of economic restructuring in China made him feel scared to return home. Instead, he decided to stay in the U.S. After the Cultural Revolution, a sociopolitical movement in China from 1966 until 1976 which was launched by Mao Zedong, public ownership dominated. All machines, technology, and factories were owned by the government. The government controlled everything. With the passage of time, public ownership was dismantled. Private ownership became dominant around 1990. Many workers were laid off and a lot of factories dissolved. The workers took some equipment and materials from the factories and sold it off, in an attempt to make up for the low government wages. Some leaders who had real power had taken away a large amount of equipment, technology, and skilled employees early, and set up their own companies. Some of these leaders were among the first generation that was able to become rich at that time. However, these people were very rare and extremely lucky. Most of the people who had power or took equipment were punished by the government and went to jail. During this period, the political situation was turbulent. The government began frantically suppressing intellectuals in order to maintain order and eliminating groups who might be a threat to the government’s interests. His friends were involved in these cases and were imprisoned in China. Back in the U.S., Dalu had been working in San Francisco for nearly a year. The factory that had sent him to America had disintegrated due to these events in China. Due to his homesickness, he was willing to return to home, but when he called his mother in China, his mother strongly advised him not to by saying, “Dalu, do not come back anytime soon; it’s too risky. Everything is crazy; Jie and Hong [Dalu’s friends] were captured [sent to jail]. So just stay there [in the U.S.] and come back later.” Dalu not only felt conflicted because he was scared to go back, but also felt nervous due to his visa expiring soon, which forced him to face the challenge of being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. However, he never regretted his choice to stay in the U.S. He said, “I was lucky because I stayed here [in the U.S.]. If I went back [to China] at that period, I would have been captured [got through in jail].”

Dalu felt disappointed and overwhelmed because of the fact that he could only find lower wage jobs in restaurants due to the language barrier and documentation issues in the U.S., which directly contradicted the belief that he had previously held that he could find a better job and salary here. He had left his previous workplace because he was worried that the immigration office would find him due to the expired visa. In order to survive, he went to a restaurant called Wang Ji, working as a handyman six days a week. The wage was $500 a month, $4.5 per hour. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, upholds the idea that equal rights apply to all people. The Declaration states, “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work” (Article 23.2). It is clear that $4.5 per hour paying is a violation of his human right to “equal pay for equal work,” given that the minimum wage was $8 per hour. His jobs were to carry things, clean the toilets, wipe glass, cut vegetables, and wash dishes. The restaurant’s working hours were from 9am to 10pm. He had no better option because there would be no income if he didn’t work, and he had to pay his rent. In fact, a large number of newcomers still work at jobs that didn’t utilize their full skill set mainly because of the language barrier. Bolei Liu is a Master’s student in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. His research interests lie in economic sociology, labor market, and immigration studies. In the article “Getting a Job in Flushing: A Qualitative Study on Chinese Immigrants’ Job-Finding and Job Transitions in an Ethnic Enclave,” Liu listed an example: “Such a guy who has no English proficiency, no legal status, no citizenship, you have no rights to choose your job. Somehow, it is the job that chooses [sic] you” (126). He also pointed out that for any worker, “education is the most significant human capital predictor of earnings and labor market success,” and “specific skills are an important indicator of high-paying jobs” (127). Some researchers also consider that “education to be of great importance for the success in the labor markets “ (127 qtd in Pérez and Muñoz). Therefore, wages are usually influenced by education, English language ability, and U.S. job experience. On the other hand, legal status does not have a much significant influence on the wages of low-income immigrants. Dalu also felt loneliness and helplessness because of his cruel reality. Although he saw plenty of opportunities in the U.S., there were still many uncertainties in his heart due to his documentation issue and the poor income. However, he had no better choice but choosing a way to work excessively to distract from his homesickness and unhappiness.

While he felt loneliness and lacked a sense of belonging in America, one of his coworkers at the restaurant helped him overcome this tough time by bringing him to a church where he could learn English, and it was there that he met his wife. One of his coworkers, Tim, realized his unhappiness. In order to reduce his loneliness and nostalgia, Tim brought him to church. Since then, Dalu felt that he had a new life. He went to church almost every week. He said, “I went to church because I wanted to learn English there.” His English level had some improvement after weeks of regular study. Moreover, through studying and understanding of the Bible, he became aware of the importance of God and gradually came to believe in God’s existence. He said, “I used to believe in Buddhism when I was in China. The idea of Buddhism does nothing, but free people from desire. On the other hand, what Christ advocates are to do good things, to give, to help and extend a hand to more people to enable them to escape from evil.” Therefore, he gradually changed his mind and became a convert to Christianity. In addition, he met his wife in church and they married in 1988. He was able to gain a green card quickly because his wife was a citizen. They had their first baby in 1990, and then another one in 1994. His life became more difficult because of his two sons. He also felt stressed and stuck because he wanted to learn more useful knowledge (English and other work-related skills), but he didn’t have enough time because he had to work to support his family due to their poor economic situation.

After starting a family, Dalu shouldered the responsibility of supporting their lives; he started work like a maniac. Although the manic work, which had exceptionally long hours, could improve the quality of his family’s lives, he ignored that what his children needed most was a warm, emotionally engaged and a supportive father, not just money. He chose to go to a construction company because he thought that his skills related to installing hydropower could come in handy there. Through a friend’s introduction, Dalu entered into a construction company and began to work in wall painting, “because I thought wall painting was the easiest to learn.” At that time, he could earn 40 dollars a day. Then he did woodworking, plumbing, and all kinds of construction work. One year later, when he had completely mastered all the decoration techniques, he left the decoration company and started his own business. In 1991, someone introduced him to a project. “My first business was to help people paint the exterior of their houses. I was both the boss and the worker. I got up early, took the bus, and went to the employer’s home. Every day I worked until dark, sometimes even midnight. It was hard to describe the tiredness I felt, but I also was very excited because in ten day’s work I could earn $1,200 which was several times what I made at the restaurant,” he said. In the article “Gendered Processes of Adaptation: Understanding Parent-Child Relations in Chinese Immigrant Families,” by Desirée B. Qin, who is an Associate Professor at Harvard University, she studies the mental health of high achieving Asian American students and the cultural differences in parenting including “tiger mothers.” Dr. Qin proved that work stress and adaptation difficulties had a “significant impact on the parents’ relationship with their children,” and “children were also likely to be directly influenced by the bad tempers of unhappy or stressed-out parents, particularly fathers” (467). So the physical and psychological absence of a father (Dalu) in his sons’ lives might have led to his sons’ unhappiness. These children needed Dalu’s guidance and support as they navigated their way in a completely new cultural environment. Moreover, in order to make more money, he usually worked until midnight for the next whole year. He learned English on the weekend because he planned to take the license. “I took the exam twice and finally got my license,” he said. He added, “those years were my most glorious period [he earned a lot of money and gained the license].” After a few years hard work, he bought a car (even though it was not his dream Rolls-Royce), and took out a loan to purchase a house. It seemed like his dream had become a reality. However, as a father, Dalu, should have accompanied his sons while they grow up happily and guide their development, but due to his absence in his sons’ lives, the relationship between him and his sons became weaker. Moreover, the high-intensity work and stress posed a danger to his health.

Dalu not only had to adjust to a new cultural, linguistic, social and economic system, but he also had to overcome some unexpected obstacles like health issues, which might have been caused by his previously stressful life experiences. His first major incident occurred at about 6 o’clock one morning in 1998. He still clearly remembers the sudden head pain, which triggered vomiting. His wife was extremely scared and unable to deal with this situation. His neighbor was exercising in the yard. The neighbor, seeing his poor condition, immediately called 911. Soon, Dalu was admitted to the hospital. After first-aid measures, he was out of danger. The doctor had detected that he had a congenital vascular malformation (in his forebrain) and must be operated immediately. “When I woke up after about 14-hour surgery, I saw a doctor smiling at me. I knew that I was saved,” he said. In the next ten days of hospitalization, he often stood by the bedside and watched out the window, the people walking around, the vehicles shuttling, the trees rustling. “I felt as if they did not have any relationship with me. It seemed that I stayed in another world,” Dalu recalled. In the journal article “Health Disparities Among Immigrant and Non-immigrant Elders: The Association of Acculturation and Education,” by Terry Y. Lum, a Professor at The University of Hong Kong, he investigated the association of immigrant status among older people with their physical and mental health outcomes, health services utilization, and health insurance coverage. Lum concludes that “As immigrants, they are likely to have experienced various levels of stress throughout their lives. An accumulation of stressful life experiences may lead to poor physical and mental health” (743). Immigrating was a stressful life event for Dalu; it began when he left his native country (China) to move to the United States. When Dalu arrived in the U.S., he had to face a lifetime of adjustment and acculturation and deal with the large amount of stress that came with it.

After Dalu’s illness, he began to focus on issues of the spirit; he finally realized that hard work could create more income, but could not guarantee the sense of well-being because all things (including a person’s life) are fragile and impermanent. After the surgery, he almost lost his ability to move. “I took a small step, and another small step, moving like a zombie,” he said as he stood up and imitated his old unnatural waking patterns. “It was too hard at that time. I couldn’t sleep at night because my wound wasn’t completely healed. I was just staring at the ceiling and felt extremely sad because of thinking about my children and wife,” he recalled. He thought that if he could not recover his lost mobility, it would mean that he would lose the ability to work. “Seeing two poor children (his sons), inspired me to force myself to walk every day. Walk slowly for one street today, then walk one more street the day after tomorrow,” he said. For his family’s future, he was motivated to continue to practice walking every day. Although the physical inconvenience would occasionally make him depressed and upset, he never gave up because of the responsibility as a father he shouldered. After two months, he finally gained the ability to move freely. He felt excited and seemed to be reborn because he knew that he had overcome the obstacle that the disease had brought him. When he stayed at home, he would read the Bible. He suddenly awakened when he saw this verse “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (Corinthians 4:18). Dalu started to understand that life and happiness were more important than wealth and success (for himself). Joele Kim writes in his article “Living in God’s Grace: 8 Weeks in Romans 12-15” that “Paul is urging believers not to imitate the patterns and priorities of their current [temporary] society, but to embrace the renewal and transformation of God’s eternal kingdom. As recipients of God’s mercy, they are to change how they live” (54). Kim also asks, “What steps can you take to reset your mind to focus on eternal things?” He answers this by listing: “First, Paul instructs his readers to pursue a love that’s sincere. The concept of love permeates all of Romans. God shows his love for us by sending his Son to die (5:5), and he promises that nothing can separate us from his love (8:35, 39)” (54). (Kim totally listened eight steps in his article; here I just chose the first step). Actually, after his illness, he changed the way he lived. He learned to love his sons like God loves us. He also realized that money was not the most important. He said, “At that time, I thought that if I died, I would have no chance to stay with my family. How could they (his wife and sons) survive if I died?” He started to give true love for his family, and spent more time being together with his sons, bringing them to church, traveling on holidays, picking them up and dropping them off at school. He also believed that God could give him the courage to face any challenge from life. Through his continuous prayers and efforts, his health condition became better and better. Now he lives happily with his family, and sees America as his home.

While Min Dalu originally tried to pursue wealth and a career, he realized that money and wealth were not the most important things after he experienced a deadly brain disease; the words of God made him start to focus on how to love others, such as helping people in need and spending more time with his family. Some would argue that success can provide people with enough material resources and improve their confidence. On the other hand, many people have epiphanies after they have suffered from major illness. These illnesses can help people realize that material and wealth can easily depart. The words of God further prove that only spirit and inner joy are eternal. Success is a goal that if not achieved means the absence of happiness; true happiness is an inner peace that cannot be taken away. Thank God, Dalu understands the truth and eventually meets happiness.

Works Cited

Julius, Maiyo K; Bawane, Jyoti. “Education And Poverty, Relationship and Concerns. A Case For Kenya.” Problems of Education in the 21st Century. 2011, Vol. 32, p72-85.14p. 9 Charts, 1 Graph.

Kim, Joele. “Living in God’ s Grace: 8 Weeks in Romans 12-15.” Bible Study Magazine. Sep/Oct2017, Vol. 9 Issue 6, p53-56. 4p.

Liu, Bolei. “Getting a Job in Flushing: A Qualitative Study on Chinese Immigrants’ Job-Finding and Job Transitions in an Ethnic Enclave.” Qualitative Sociology Review, Apr2017, Vol. 13, Issue 2, p122-145. 24p.

Lum, TY; Vanderaa, JP. “Health Disparities Among Immigrant and Non-immigrant Elders: The Association of Acculturation and Education.” Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, Oct2010; 12(5): 743-753. 11p.

Qin, Desirée. “Gendered Processes of Adaptation: Understanding Parent–Child Relations in Chinese Immigrant Families.” Sex Roles. Apr2009, Vol. 60 Issue 7-8, p467-481. 15p.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

 

Sample Transcript

Interviewer:Author myself (I)

Interviewee: My neighbor Dalu (D)

Interview Setting: March 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm

I: First, eh, Are you ready?

D: Just ask. Ai~

 

I: Can you tell me your name, your age, and where were you born?

D: Name? (laugh) I was born in 1963. My hometown was Dazu town, it was a mountain city near Chongqing.

I: What was it like?

D: It was very beautiful, clean, and nature. My hometown was surrounded by mountains and had picturesque scenery.

I: What is your unforgettable memory of your childhood, can you describe it?

D: Unforgettable memory, woo~ that’s so long ago. Let me think…Oh, there were quite a few air-raid shelters in the mountains near my home. I often played inside with my classmates after school. About 1940, the construction of air-raid shelters were built. They were formally completed in the mid-1950s. We called them “Maodong” (bomb shelters). At that time, I often ventured with a group of children. Everyone drilled into an abandoned cave. It also naturally brought us a sense of mystery, a feeling of adventure and a little bit of criminality. We were so excited when we run across these air-shelters. It was really dark, we felt that we explored in another world.

I: Can you tell something about your parents? And what were your parents like?

D: My parents? Ai~ They were not easy. My parents worked so hard for raising us, they had little chance to study (receive an education). My family was poor. My parents plant vegetables and fruit for sale and earn money. This was the only way to support my family. But I still felt happy. I had a lot of time to stay together with them (my parents) when they were working. When I grow up, I often helped them [work] in the field.

I: What were the happiest moments of your childhood?

D: It should be the “Spring Festival” (Chinese New Year). We were really poor in the past, we really looked forward to the “new year”. So we can eat a lot of food we couldn’t eat in normal times.

I: What are your best memories of your school?

D: School? The school was a just simple single-story house in the town. The playground was made of stone and clay. When we run on it, there was a lot of dust flying, very dirty. The clothes and shoes were full of dust.

I: Do you have any siblings?

D: I had~. I had an elder sister and brother, and I was the youngest one (child).

I: Can you tell me something about them?

D: They? Just ok. I have already not seen them for a long time. They were all in China now. I rarely go back China. You know, Em, it was not easy, go back (China), then return (to the U.S.). If I went back, just stayed for a month.

I: How long have you come to the U.S.?

D: It has been 33 years since I came to the United States. In 1986, I departed from Shenzhen, passed through Hong Kong and Japan, and finally reached San Francisco. A lot of people envied me at that time because they knew that people who came to the United States were very capable. People who could come to the U.S. was very rare. Finally, people who could stay in the United States were even less.

I: Why did you come to the United States?

D: This was a complex topic. Hard to say. This would be related to some political issues. You knew, Em, this process was not easy. I came to San Francisco in 1986. My job was to install generators for factories and hospitals. I did not use a computer, and there were few people who could use computers, at that time. But I knew the people who worked in the generator companies. “They had drawings [of the generators]” he said. So I tried to ask them to print out drawings for me. When I came across repairing problems, I would ask them for help and slowly I became familiar with them. After that, they printed out all the relevant drawings of the generator for me. I saw them very clearly and learned how to install them. I was happy to see each size of the screw and the specific location of the installation. I had worked in the factory for almost 1 year. I hoped to go back to home. But I am bad luck, or shouldn’t say bad luck. It was right after the Cultural Revolution (I came to the U.S, all machines, technology, and factories were controlled (owned) by the government. At this time public ownership was dismantled. Later, private ownership (become dominant around 1991. Many workers were laid off and a lot of factories closed. Some people took away the equipment, technology, and skilled people (employees) and set up their own companies. Those people were first group (very rare) who become rich at that time. These people were very lucky. When I prepared to return to the home. I called my mother. My mother told me, that “Da, do not come back recently, too risky. All (everything was) crazy, your friends [Jie and Hong] was captured [into jail]. So just stay there [in the U.S.] and back later. I am lucky because I stay here [in the U.S.]. If I go back [China] at that period, I must have been captured [sent to jail]”.

I: Can you talk about something about the church?

D: Church? I went to church [mainly] in order to learn English. My English was poor when I just arrived here (the U.S.). One of my friends brought him to church. Then when I had time I would go to church. I used to believe in Buddhism when I was in China. The idea of Buddhism is doing nothing, just let people free themselves (desire). Differently, what Christ advocates are to do good things, to give, to help more people escape from evil. So I started to accept Christianity.

I: I remembered you told me you have worked in restaurants, what did you do there?

D: first job was working as a handyman, six days a week. I did whatever I could do, from carrying things, cleaning the toilets, wiping the glass, cutting vegetables, or washing dishes. You know, I was no paper because my visa was expired. I was also scared to return to China, so I only could do this (very low wage job) in order to survive.

I: How much can you earn? And how many hours do you work?

D: I could earn about $500 a month, almost 5 dollars per hour. I worked from 9 am to 10 pm. The restaurant served lunch and dinner.

I: How did you meet your wife?

D: I met her in church, she was a Christian.

I: Was she a citizen or (had) a green card?

D: She was a citizen.

I: When did you married and had your first child?

D: Em, I married in 1989. I had my first baby in 1991, then another one in 1994. It was too difficult after having two young children. I wanted to learn more knowledge (English and skills), but I had no enough time because I had to work, otherwise, there would be no income.

I: Why did you choose to do decoration housework?

D: Because I was familiar with this aspect. I started to work on the wall painting because I think wall painting is the easiest to learn. At that time, I could earn 40 dollars a day. Then I learned to do woodworking, plumbing, and all construction work. I left the decoration company and did myself (made his own business). My first business is to help people paint the exterior of the house in 1991, I remembered. I was both a boss and a worker. I got up early, took the bus, and went to the employer’s home. I remembered that I always worked until dark, sometimes even midnight. It was hard to describe that tiredness, but I earned $1,200 which was several times of a restaurant paying. I still learned English on the weekend because I wanted to take the license, it was important to me. When I took the exam, I also hired an interpreter to help. I took the exam twice and finally got my license.

I: You said that you almost died. What happened to you?

D: It was about 6 o’clock, very early, I remembered that was (happened) in 1998. I clearly remembered that a sudden head pain occurred, then I began vomiting. My wife felt was scared and didn’t know what to do at that time. My neighbor exercised in the yard. He immediately called 911. Soon, I was admitted to the hospital. I was out of danger after first-aid measures. A doctor told me that I had a congenital vascular malformation (in my forebrain) and must be operated immediately. Otherwise, he I would have danger. After about 14 hours’ surgery, I waked up and saw a doctor smiled at me. I know [that] I was saved. When I was in hospitalization, I often stood by the bedside and watched out the window. I saw the people walking around, the vehicles shuttling, the trees rustling. I feel as if they do not have any relationship with me. It seems that I stay in another world.

I: What did you think when this happened to you? I mean did you scare or upset?

D: Scared! After the surgery, I almost lost the ability to move. I took a small step, a small step, moving like a zombie (as he stood up and walked to imitate the way unnaturally). It is too hard at that time. I can not sleep at night because the surgical wound of the brain wasn’t completely healed (painful). I am just staring at the ceiling and feel extremely sad because of thinking about my children and wife. I thought that if I could not recover or lost my mobility. It meant a disaster for me because it also meant that I would lose the ability to work. Seeing these poor children (his sons), so I force myself to walk every day. Walk slowly for one street today, then walk one more street the day after tomorrow. For his family’s future, he fulfilled with motivation and continued to practice walking every day. For two months, I basically could have moved freely. Like I saw a hope. Thank God, I was recovered.

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

Danbi Photo

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

By Danbi Kim, June, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcripts

Me : Introduce yourself?

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

Me: How could you decide to come here?

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Why it was a dark time?

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

Me: Where was the location? In California?

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

Me: did you come here alone at first time?

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

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

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

Me: language barriers?

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

Me: Challenge living in the U.S?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: any discriminations?

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

Me: things to miss the most in Vietnam?

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

Me: future goal? Your major?

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

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

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

Me: about your hometown?

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

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

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

Me: How was feeling when you land in SFO?

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

Me: Any hobbies?

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

Myth 13: Today’s Immigrants Are Not Learning English

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

by Chris Plunkett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

Shayla’s Journey

kuwaiti-women

Shayla’s Journey

by Karen Guinn, May 2015

Shayla is a woman of 29 years from the small yet wealthy country of Kuwait.  She grew up in a democratic country, yet there are restrictions and laws set forth by the government that citizens have to follow, just like any other country. Some of these restrictions, especially pertaining to women, seem a little oppressive.  Although Kuwaiti women are some of the most emancipated women in the Middle East, they have disadvantages such as, they are not permitted to vote, and the young local women’s dress codes are strict.  Even foreign women are expected to cover their hair when in public.  The desire for new experiences and change brought Shayla to three different countries before she arrived in the United States.  She has lived and studied in Great Britain, Scotland, and Egypt. During Shayla’s teenage years, her mother and father supported the family together, until her father’s passing seven years ago.  The responsibility of the family’s livelihood was then shifted to her mother.  Shayla’s mother has taken good care of her family since then.  Raising four children alone is a difficult task for any single mother.  She has been employed in the hotel/motel management field, and has done well.  As years pass, the relationship between Shayla and her mother grows strong.  Her mother has become more understanding of her desires.  She has given her permission to travel abroad to gain a higher education, when previously her father would not allow this.  While living in a country with strict regulations for women, it is especially difficult for a young girl trying to discover her potential.  Traveling and studying abroad in a modern, diverse world has proven to be a stimulating, and truly wonderful experience for Shayla.  Coming to the United States is helping her become the strong independent woman of her dreams; it has given Shayla freedom to express herself.  Her goal of obtaining a successful career is ultimately keeping her focused in the wake of her father’s death, as she maintains her dedication to her family.

Shayla’s journey abroad for higher education and the freedom to express herself has brought her to the United States from her home country of Kuwait.  Her ambition to develop a successful career is keeping her focused.  Upon completing high school in 2003, Shayla’s dream was to study in the States.  She illustrates, “Yeah, I was planning to come to the States since I was seventeen, actually, but I didn’t have a chance.  My father was totally against that.”  Like most fathers with daughters, Shayla’s Dad wanted to keep her close to home so he could protect her.  The man’s duty is to supervise his children and be aware of their activities.   A woman in Kuwait needs the permission of her parents to study abroad.  Sadly enough, Shayla’s father passed away when she was seventeen this tragic event resulted in her mother allowing her to take her studies abroad.  Shayla’s journey began as she ventured to countries like Great Britain, Scotland, Egypt, and now finally to The United States.  Her appetite for education and to create a solid career to support her mother is inspiring.  She explains, “My job is to get my degree and take care of her.”  Her plans are to settle somewhere close to Kuwait with a successful profession upon finishing her studies, and gaining at least a year of experience in her field.  Shayla stipulates, “At first I was like I don’t wanna major in something that in the future I can’t get a good job back home.”  Shayla’s goal to become a supportive daughter means everything to her, and the drive to succeed seems inbred.  In Kuwait, a broader opportunity for women to work became available in the 1960’s, but still today women are not allowed to work in the army, government sector, or police force.  Shayla’s dream is to help bring a new market to Kuwait, like pet care is also something she contemplates.  As of now her studies are majoring in hotel and restaurant management, like her mother.  Her mother built a successful career in this field which attracted Shayla’s attention.  After being exposed to new opportunities, she sees a chance to revise her profession selection, and admits she might look into animal care.

According to Shayla’s strong cultural beliefs, her main job in life is to make her mother happy, and provide her financial support.  Family and culture are very significant.  She values them greatly.  Shayla reveals that “Everything is about my mother, the only thing I’m sad about, if I’m here, and she’s there.”  Shayla reveals that since her father’s passing her mother has been amazing.  She has been taking care of the family providing unconditional love, and a stable home for her four children in a country where woman’s opportunities are limited.   Her mother understands Shayla’s need to become an independent, strong woman.  Shayla’s mother has allowed her to discover her identity as much as is allowed in Kuwait.  They have a healthy, solid relationship, and Shayla feels her mother deserves more than she could every supply or repay.  She affirms that, “Because she is spending money and taking care of me, and now it’s my job, that’s how it works.”  Shayla is very firm about her responsibilities and beliefs, these feeling are ingrained in her personality.  She states, “We have a belief, that if I take care of my mother, life will take care of me.”  It is important for her to do right by her mother.  She feels her American friends don’t share the same thoughts regarding their mothers, and doesn’t understand why.  Shayla’s culture in her own country has taught her to be very dedicated, with a sense of accountability for the well-being of her mother.

Even with her sentiment regarding her father’s passing, Shayla remains in search of independence and the ability to redefine her individuality, Shayla has also had the courage to venture out on her own, which has enabled her to blossom into a modern woman that is being created daily by her studies, and travel abroad.  She did not feel she could express her true heart in Kuwait under restrictions and somewhat oppression of women.  She explains that, I just cut my hair recently, and they started calling me Tomboy, I hate it!  The majority of people are very conservative, and judgmental in her country.  She says, “I’m kind of used to it here, people don’t get in your business.  There it’s like a cultural thing, people do get in your business.”   The scrutiny and intolerance of the Kuwaiti community play a big part in the sense of her belonging and acceptance.  Shayla’s determination to be an individual stands out, so she communicates that there they say something to you, because it’s a Muslim country.  People just blurt out what they think about the way you choose to dress or cut your hair, it’s acceptably in Kuwait.  In the United States we respect and even embrace other’s individuality.  Shayla loves her country and her culture, she just wishes it was a bit more modernized.  The Muslim religion in Kuwait is respected, and people do not encompass changes or even growth in that area very well.  There is a fear of losing the old ways and traditions, and it scares people.  Some of the younger Kuwaiti’s want to see change allowing more freedom in their country, and are hoping the respected community leaders will shift their perspectives.

Many female immigrants, who have lived in countries that have restrictions like Kuwait, find themselves desiring the chance to explore their uniqueness.  Women can be presumed to be bold and daring, and are a source of gossip for their communities.  A lot of Kuwait’s cultures and traditions remain the same as centuries ago, especially when it comes to religious customs pertaining to women, and how they should act or dress.  The religious police can actually stop a woman who appears in public that is dressed out of accordance to these customs.  Tight fitting, and revealing clothing is not only looked down on, but is restricted.  Marjorie Kelly, from the University of Kuwait, author of Clothes, culture, and context:  female dress in Kuwait, states that “Given the small size, great wealth, and conservative nature of Kuwaiti society, one dresses to impress in the knowledge that one will be scrutinized by one’s peers and any dress code violations will be widely noted.”  Society expects their women to dress appropriately to their rules in public.  The woman can wear outfits deemed unacceptable in the comfort of their homes, but are open to criticism if they proceed outdoors.  According to a survey of students about purchasing clothing abroad that parents would not allow them to wear, 60% would not.  The remaining 40% who said they bought clothing stated “that the garments were purchased and worn abroad but could not be worn back in Kuwait.”  They also added “people would talk or get the wrong idea about me. Hence, there seems to be a consensus that the clothes themselves are less of an issue than who is present to pass judgment on the person wearing them.  A young girl wanting to express herself through clothing would definitely be suppressed in this society.  The fact that people are concerned with what others are wearing is astonishing to me.  It is surprising when “you” realize how different countries, and cultures really are.  Here in the United States, we tend to take our civil rights for granted.

Shayla’s thirst for new experiences and education since the age of seventeen has finally resulted in her travels abroad, which has resulted in her reshaping and redefining herself constantly.  Her experiences in London, and Scotland helped her discovery that these countries were not for her.  Shayla has a sister who studies in Aberdeen, Scotland, and that is why she decided to go there for her studies.  She lived and studied for a bit in Egypt, but the revolution broke out, and she had to evacuate the country.  Shayla is currently studying in San Francisco at City College, she likes the diversity of America, and feels a sense of acceptance and belonging here.  In the article “Going and Staying! Abroad,” produced by Jessica Tomer, the Director of International Programs at Linfield College, regarding the benefits of studying in another country states, “Not only do students return with a better sense of the world’s cultures and their own, by comparison, but they gain more confidence, tolerance, flexibility, and understanding of different values and lifestyles.”  All the traveling, and experiences Shayla has gained contribute to the strong woman she is today. Her choice to study abroad has developed skills that are life changing and will stay with her the rest of her life.   Tomer also reveals that benefits from study abroad include visiting new places and meeting new people, “They’re also largely intangible-but often life changing.” Some of these acquired skills are:

  • Learn foundational skills like adaptability, problem solving, communications
  • Develop networking and career connections
  • Experience a global marketplace
  • Gain confidence and self-awareness
  • Expand comfort zone
  • Explore cultural/family background
  • Broaden perspective
  • Earn credit, particularly in foreign culture classes
  • Boost future resume

All of the benefits that expand a person’s perception and personality are listed here and they are what Shayla is searching for.  She has gained confidence and self-awareness while traveling through different countries, networking and experiencing a global market all the while continuing her studies.  Her experience with different cultures has made her appreciate her own family traditions and the culture in Kuwait

Shayla’s decision, along with her mother’s permission to study abroad, has given her the opportunity to travel to different countries expanding her knowledge, and perspective of the global world.  Many people dwell in one country, city, or village all their lives, never wanting to see what is beyond the borders.  The accumulation of knowledge and experience create a better future for all people.  A Professor of International Affairs, Mary Ann Tetreault, explains in her article, “Pattern of Culture and Democratization in Kuwait” written for Business Source Premier that, “Women constitute a small but relatively high quality reserve labor army in Kuwait.”  Shayla’s worldly experience and education would assist in her country’s advancement.  Her country appreciates woman of high achievement to supplement their work force.  Shayla’s freedom to decide whether or not she wants to become part of this remains to be seen.  She has the opportunity to work where she chooses and still be the supportive daughter she dreams of becoming.

While in the end, Shayla’s opportunity to experience education, and diversity has enabled her to become an intelligent, understanding, and unique woman.  Her ability to live and thrive in different countries has given her a different view of opportunities available.   Some people thirst for enlightenment, and need more complexity in their lives to build their spirit.  Although, Shayla’s father wanted to keep her close and protect her, she has grown tremendously, due to her travels to other countries, she has grown tremendously.  Shayla’s father might be proud of the woman she is becoming.  Living in another country close to Kuwait, will inevitably help her to create the self-supporting and independent woman she wants to be.  Immigrants balance original culture and family along with their new found freedoms on a daily basis.  Their thirst for enlightenment and more complexity in their live helps to build their spirits so that they may become unique individuals.  Living in the global community continues to develop Shayla’s charisma, style, and potential for a bright future.

Works Cited

Kelly, Marjorie. “Clothes, culture, and context: female dress in Kuwait.” Fashion Theory 14.2 (2010): 215+. Academic OneFile. Web. 24 Apr. 2015

Tomer, Jessica. “Going And Staying! Abroad.” Collegexpress Magazine (2013): 10. MasterFILE. Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2015

Tetreault, Mary Ann. “Patterns Of Culture And Decocratization In Kuwait.” Studies In Comparative International Development 30.2 (1995): Business Source Premier. Web. 4 May 2015.

Transcripts

Shayla:  My name is Shay I’ve been here for almost three years.

Karen Guinn:  How is it in your country?

Shayla:  It’s uh completely different.  Like we uh…the learning experience is completely     different.  It’s like over there um it’s kinda a little bit hard for us because they are so strict about everything.  They don’t give you a second chance.  You only have one chance.  Like for example let’s say if you did like really bad on your test.  That’s it.  No extra credit.  No help.  There are some professors that will give you a chance but it’s like rare.  It’s very rare.  Umm

Karen:  So you’re like allowed to go to school?  There’s no restrictions?

Shayla:  Yeah, I go to school.  I graduated from high school on 2003.  And then I went to study aboard uh I went to London, I went to Egypt for three years.  Uh I had to go back to my country because of the revolution.  The Egyptian revolution.  Yeah, I was planning to come to the states since I was seventeen, actually but I didn’t have a chance.  My father was totally against that.  Uh, but I made it uh the age of twenty five.

Karen:  Can I ask you how old you are?

Shayla:  I’m 29.

Karen:  Oh, you’re my daughter’s age!

Shayla:  So, yaeh it’s a different experience.  Oh! I like it here to be honest it’s. . .  life is much        easier here than over there.

Shay:  Yep!

Karen:  So you decided at 17 you wanted to come here?  So how was it?  Was it easy to like. . . your paperwork?

Shayla:  Not that easy because they were asking a lot of stuff like bank statements and stuff like    that at that time.  I had money but I didn’t have like a bank like a statement that show I have all the money right now.  You know what I mean?

Karen:  So what’s the money for?

Shayla:  Uh tuition, like rent, they money to come here to be a student here.

Karen: Oh.

Shayla:  Like a plan to have the money to be a student here.  It was not that east at first, but after I got accepted it was nothing.  Everything was like easy and fine actually yeh!

Karen:  When you got here?  What was your impression? How was it when you got here?

Shayla:  Ok, when I came here it was my first day here.  So in the states you know.  So, I always had that idea about America.  Before I came here, how it was, beautiful and I was like in my head, I’m gonna go to America!  I’m gonna see a lots of Americans and stuff like that.  When I came here I was like so chugged because it’s so diverse here.  People from different countries live in the same city.  Amazing because you can just come here and learn about other cultures and everything.  You don’t have to go travel the world.  So it is fun, it was actually fun.  That’s the thing, another thing I was kinda scared about the hills in San Francisco.  And then I was walking the other day down the hill and then I was like am I going to fall?  How do people walk like this.  So my country was like super flat, flat, flat, flat.  So when I came here I was scared I heard a lot of things about earthquakes and stuff like that.  I was scared the first year.  I was so scared.  I was like I don’t wanna stay here and you know during an earthquake.

Me:  Have you experienced any earthquake!

Shayla:  Yeah, but it was nothing.  Not here in the states.   I felt it, but in Kuwait I felt it.  The earthquake happened in Dubai and Iran but we felt it in Kuwait.  Because they are so close together.  Like California and Nevada let’s say something like that.  So I would say the weather actually.  I was confused about the weather.  Like one day I would wear everything in my closet and then in two hours, I would have to take off my clothes and stuff.  One hour it would be super-cold then the next hour it would be super-hot.  Am I going to like this weather?  I’m going to live here at least 4 or 5 years, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.  Then later, like last summer I went back to Kuwait, and I couldn’t handle the heat.  I was like I kinda like San Francisco weather. (laughs)  Even though I used to complain a lot about the weather here.  I feel in love with the city, the people, the weather, everything.  Actually the weather has a major role in me succeeding in my life.  The weather plays a big role in my life, not just mine but everybody’s, I am a much happier person here, I would say.

Me:  So what are your plans? Are you going back home?

Shayla:  No, I want experience here like a year or two, then I might go somewhere else.  Dubai or something like that.

Me:  What about your family?  Is your family all still in Kuwait?

Shayla:  Yes, they all live in Kuwait, two of my sisters are outside actually.  One is in London, and the other in Aberdeen, Scotland.  I tried to go and study over there but it was too much for me.  It’s just when you live somewhere where everybody’s nice you just wanna stay there.  When I went to London it was like everybody was like…people are not like here.  So, I couldn’t live there it was so boring.  It was not easy to make friends, but here people just want to make friends.  That’s why I love San Francisco.  I’ve been to Sacramento and it’s super-hot over there.

Me:  No boyfriend?

Shayla:  No!  Just study!  A couple years ago I just stopped being interested in education for I don’t know how many years, and then at 26 like 2011, I decided fun time was over.  I need to finish my education.  I need to focus and finish my degree.

Me:  Is English your first language?

Shayla:  We have to study English it’s not optional in school back home.  I practice my language with my friends, because when I was hanging out we had a lot of American people.  People who were in the army.  So I used to hand out a lot with them, and I came here I hung out with Native Americans, English speakers.  That’s what helped me understand.  I was good at understanding, but I didn’t speak very well.

Me:  What are you studying?  What kinda work do you want to do?

Shayla:  At first, I was interested in hotel management, but at the same time I realized, it’s not for me.  I’m a real sensitive person and this job requires a lot of people interaction.  I’m not good at that.  But, living here I realized I’m always passionate about dogs.  About animal control.  Here in this state people take care of animals a lot.  In Kuwait they are just not doing that.  So, I want to bring my experience back.  Now they just started that, someone already started that and I was like NO!  I wanted to do that!  So now that like taking care of that.  At first I was like I don’t wanna major in something that in the future I can’t get a good job back home.  So I didn’t want to get into something that I can’t get a good job.  Maybe now there’s a possibility I can start back n Kuwait and help people with dogs, but I wanted to get experience here or in another country first, and then maybe go back home.

Me:  What do you do in your free time?

Shayla:  I used to go out a lot with my friends, but I don’t do that anymore.  Even though I’m kinda interested in video games.  Well I’m just gonna play this stupid game, they don’t have video games in Kuwait.  Now after two years it’s kinda helped me, they way my brain works and the way I think.  Let’s say I play a game that I’m adding numbers, using numbers, memorization those type of things, now I’m better because of video games.  So, I thought about it even if people are arguing about it and getting in fights about it, I’m gonna take the best from it and learn.  I’m like, now I can go out or I can play video games and stay with my dog, and that’s what I do I stay inside my home actually instead of going out.  I just wanna stay home and stay with my dog, I never want to leave my dog.  I like that.

Me:  So where do you live?

Shayla:  Daly City, it’s foggy all the time, so it’s gotten normal.

Me:  So do you take public transportation?

Shayla:  Public transportation is terrible, OMG.  It was bad, I just got a car, but the thing about being late and late to my class even though I left in time.  You don’t know what’s gonna happen, the bus might stop and someone might have a problem with the bus driver and it’s always crowded.

Me:  How is it compared to Kuwait’s public transportation?

Shayla:  You have a car, you mostly have a car because you can’t walk in Kuwait.  It’s impossible to walk around.  Only immigrants use public transportation there.  Citizens never use public transportation.  Let’s say the government take care of the people so you don’t have to use public transportation.

Me:  How does the government take care of you?

Shayla:  Let’s say for example you are a man and you get married.  The government is gonna take help you support your wife and your family.  They give you money every month to take care of your family.  Money to build your house, but you have to pay them back.  So let’s say you need a car the government well not the government.  The government work with the bank even if you have bad credit they will fix it for you.

Me:  What if you don’t pay them back?  Do you go to jail?

Shayla:  If you don’t pay them back they’ll sue you they give you like 1,2,3,4,5 chances then you’re gonna go to jail.  They will give you like a year to come up with the money.

Me:  Anything else you wann talk about that’s different?

Shayla:  Just the learning experience.  So, I wanna support my mother.  It’s a cultural thing, my Mom takes care of all of us and there is four of us.  My job is to get my degree and take care of her.  Because she’s spending money and taking care of me, and now it’s my job, that’s how it works.  So it’s my turn.  I also wanna say being independent, for the first time now it’s a good experience, but I still wanna raise my kids the way my mother raised me.  I want them to make their decision and even if they want to be independent, I’m going to still support them.

Me:  What does your mother do?

Shayla:  My mother used to be a manager of hotels.  She used to be working at a couple of hotels, then she started her own company.  Just a small company, she made herself.  Mostly, I get help from the government, not from her.

Me:  Did your parents separate?  Or where is your Dad?

Shayla:  No, my Dad passed away when I was seventeen about twelve years ago?

Me:  Oh I’m sorry!

Shayla:  So after that my Mom is amazing, so now my goal is to help her.  I wanna help her.  I still feel this is not enough for my mother.  She’s done a lot for me.  She’s so amazing, and she never asks anything in return.  I love my mother!

Me: Aww, so it’s unconditional love?

Shayla:  Yes, I wish a lot of people see that here.  It’s just a really different experience here.  The girls that I know here, they don’t have the same thing.  I always ask why.  We have a belief that is I take care of my mother, life will take care of me.  If I’m going to be happy my mother should be happy.  Everything is about my mother.  The only thing I’m sad about, if I’m here and she’s there.  She completely understands me, I don’t feel like I fit in there, and even though I’m attached to my culture.  I just do it in a modern way.  I don’t know how to explain that.  People ask me if I’m muslin, I say yes.  They say you don’t look muslin.  Then I say ok.  It’s just like we act the way we like to act.  I do what I want to do and this is what I’m doing.  My relationship is between me and Ala!  People were like making fun, and I was like they see stuff from the media and think things.  I meet a lot of people who are educated, they know a lot of things about the world and people have different opinions.  So racism in the United States is big, we don’t have that back home.  Even though we have racism, it’s more about class.  So either you have money, and some people don’t have money.  That’s it color or where you’re from no, NO!  I’m a really honest person, so I want you to tell me about it.  Instead of behind my back, because I’m gonna know who you are!  So even if a person has something against me, I would rather be friends, just make friends of your enemies.  I believe people are good.  So when you have good and bad, good always wins.

Me:  So how was your trip here?

Shayla:  It was hard at first, it can be easier.  Now I love it, I’ve been living here three years now I can’t imagine going back and living there the rest of my life.  I’m kind of used to it here, people don’t get in your business.  There it’s like a cultural thing.  People do get in your business, let’s say I’m wearing shorts.  They’re gonna be like “She’s wearing short!” I just cut my hair recently and they started calling me Tomboy!  I hate it!  Don’t give me names!  Here they are like respect it.  They leave you alone.  There they say something to you because it’s a muslin country.  At the same time it’s democratic, and I don’t think that works.  It’s weird, so that’s why most of the time I don’t care.

My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

           of America and his Own Identity               

by Max Bauer, July 2014

For over a century, since the first major wave of immigrants started coming to America in the 1880’s, the United States has captured the imagination of people all over the world looking for prosperity. My father was one of those people. He visited the United States for the first time in the early 1980’s, and eventually settled down in East Lansing, Michigan, as a professor at Michigan States University. Like immigrants of all national and ethnic backgrounds, my father was drawn to the allure of the American dream, as much as he was drawn in by American mythology. To my father, America represented a land of freedom and progression. It was the birthplace of the blues and the rock music that had caught his ear as a teenager. Every immigrant comes to America with his or her own preconceptions of how life in the United States will be, and, upon arrival, many of them find that trying to generalize the United States in such a way is a futile task, as the country is so vast and so diverse that trying to label it all as any one thing would almost certainly be a lie. For my father, above all, America represented hope, and a chance to break free from the antiquated European culture for a new and exciting adventure. In many ways, he found what he was looking for. His time spent in America has been both exciting and illuminating, having changed many of his preconceived notions about the United States, while simultaneously changing his personal identity and the way he now perceives his European identity as a whole.

My father was born in Austria in 1955, to parents who had just survived the horrors of World War II, and were now dealing with its fallout. His father had been an accountant and his mother was the most wonderful housewife. After the end of the war, his parents moved back to their hometown, Puchberg Am Schneeberg, a small but stunningly beautiful town surrounded by mountains on almost all sides, content to spend the rest of their lives away from the horrors they had been forced to endure. It was here that my father was born and raised. Having always been an ambitious child, my father set his sights far beyond the borders of Puchberg at a young age. Exceptionally smart, he focused on studies, and saw them as a gateway out of the rural lifestyle he had hoped to escape. When it was finally time to go to college, my father chose to study at the University of Vienna. Vienna is the intellectual and cultural center of Austria, as well as my birthplace, and is where my father took his first steps on the path that has lead him to become head of his department, Telecommunications and Economics, at Michigan State University. Like many of those who eventually migrate to the United States, he was drawn by the allure of the American dream, as well as its culture. He eventually was able to experience America first hand, getting the opportunity to study in the United States. After doing research for his dissertation in the United States, and meeting my mother, he moved back to Europe briefly, before finally being offered a job at Michigan State University. Both my parents still live in Michigan, where my father is a professor and my mother runs a film festival. I believe they are happy, though the stark contrast between American and European culture was at first difficult to reconcile.

The lure of American culture, both the promise of boundless opportunity for those willing to work hard enough, and the wonderful Rock and Roll music that had always captured my father’s ear, enticed him into studying in the United States. I asked him why he chose the United States, and what had drawn him to this country. He told me the story of an uncle of his, who was a prisoner of war during World War II, and how he had been stationed in a prisoner of war camp in Virginia. His uncle had always spoken very positively about the United States. His uncle felt they had treated him very well, and he was grateful to them for having rescued him from the German army, for which he was being forced to fight against his will, on penalty of death, as many Austrians had been. It’s hard to overestimate the importance the opinions of family can have on a child’s impressions, and I think his uncle’s opinions of America were the foundation of my father’s interest. The second reason my father was drawn to the United States was the opportunity for success. Even compared to an academic sphere as developed as that in Vienna, the United States was among the most exciting places to be, both in terms of academics and opportunity. According to my father, “America was seen as a place of big opportunities that were more flexible and more entrepreneurial than Austria at the time”. Like many immigrants before him, the possibility of financial success played a major role in his decision to come.

From the perspective of my father and many Europeans during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the United States seemed like some new species of exotic flower, blooming and bursting at the seams with social movements and entirely new genres of music, largely in part to the press coverage and cultural significance of the counterculture movement. During this time the United States was very much defined by the era of the hippies, and the psychedelic music associated with it. From an international perspective, it wasn’t hard to imagine the United States as a place where one could lose themselves in the counterculture entirely. Donald R. Wesson, whose study, “Psychedelic Drugs, Hippie Counterculture, Speed and Phenobarbital Treatment of Sedative-Hypnotic Dependence: A Journey to the Haight Ashbury in the Sixties,” of 1960’s San Francisco and the chemical dependence that for many originated during this time, summarized the general attitude of the 1960’s well: “the 1960’s were a time of social upheaval, wars, vibrant creativity, and missed opportunities” (Wesson 2). To a young Austrian growing up in a fairly isolated town, the United States must have seemed like a place where exciting new things were happening, and where the chance to express oneself and feel free existed on every corner. In some places, that reality existed. In most places, however, the counterculture scene developing in San Francisco was far from reality. Like many immigrants before him, my father made the mistake of associating what was happening in San Francisco, and the personal values inherent to many aspects of the hippie movement, such as social equality and freedom, with the entirety of the United States. As a result of my father’s misconception of the majority of Americans and their value, I believe he placed significantly less value on his European identity than he would have otherwise. Not to say that my father didn’t love being from Austria; he truly did. But, the stories of freedom of expression and the unbelievable music coming from the United States were dynamically opposed to many aspects of European culture, a culture my father described as “rigid yet steeped in history and art.” Eventually my father found his way to America, where he experienced the reality of American culture first hand.

After having spent some time in the United States, the preconceived notions my father held about American values, as well as his conception that America could be defined as a homogenous entity, changed. Before truly emigrating to the United States, the only time my father had spent in America was in the urban and progressive areas of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. In many ways, the people, who in those areas tended to believe in certain values, such as social equality and environmental conscientiousness, were more similar to his European peers than they were to the people in the Midwest, where he would eventually raise a family. The true culture shock for my father occurred when he finally accepted his job at Michigan State University, and moved to the Midwest. Before that point, he hadn’t realized just how different various parts of the United States could be. He commented on its variance during our interview, “I remember when we arrived in Michigan, I was shocked to see just how different everything was. It seemed like we had landed in the wrong place. It was then I realized just how vast, and how diverse, the United States was.” As our family started to settle in, both my parents had a hard time at first adapting to life in the Midwest, and with relating to the people. Even my mother, who was an American citizen, having grown up in San Francisco, was taken aback by the difference in values. In the Midwest, relative to the places my parents had lived, life moved slowly. The people focused on community, raising children in a safe environment, and enjoying their relationships with other people. Compared to the often self-centered, individual success oriented life style prevalent in cities, the Midwest, at first, seemed dull. But soon, both of my parents started to truly enjoy their new life. They could enjoy the safety of the community while raising their children. They also started to form long lasting friendships, friendships that may not have been possible in an urban setting, due to the almost paradoxical isolation brought on by dense populations. Though my father had always wondered what would have happened if he had stayed in Europe, he never regretted moving the United States, both for personal and professional reasons.

Trying to define European identity in any absolute terms may not be valid, but if one were to ask people from Europe how they relate to their countries as a whole, I believe there would be several commonalities between the responses. Having spent a lot of time in Europe, both with my family and on my own, I feel fairly qualified to speak about the similarities across Europe, and the differences between European and American identity. The immediate difference between the two cultures is simply the length of time each has existed. In many ways, the United States is a nation that is still developing its national identity, having only existed for a handful of centuries. In Europe, on the other hand, there are thousands of years of intellectual and artistic history built into the cultural center of each nation. Art and history are such an integral part of European culture that I believe that all Europeans have a greater appreciation for the humanities than most Americans. The second major difference is the physical space that Europe occupies. Europe has about twice the population as the United States, though it occupies less than half the space. This astounding compression of cultures and languages has, in a very natural way, contributed to the international mindset of Europeans. They are constantly coming into contact with people that speak different languages and the importance of multilingualism can never be overstated, while in America it simply isn’t a priority. All of these characteristics are very present in my father, and though he may have once felt restrained by European culture, I believe that today he appreciates it more than ever.

The stark contrast between my father’s European identity and the staunchly American personalities he came across in the Midwest at first seemed like a barrier he would never cross. He was used to the progressive and exciting areas of New York and San Francisco, and trying to reconcile his Austrian values with the slow paced life in the Midwest was difficult. The most difficult part was trying to relate to the humor in the Michigan. The fast paced city life of Europe, with thousands of years of culture and history, clashed drastically with the wide open spaces and the often culturally lacking values of Michigan. Drinking Coors and watching baseball weren’t particularly engaging activities for my Father, and he soon longed for the culture he had left behind, even refusing to return to Europe in fear that the process of having to return to America would be too painful. His refuge was work and research, where he was no longer trying to artificially assimilate to a culture he didn’t belong in. “I think that my own personality is much more in tuned with European senses compared to culture here in the US. I never regretted it on a professional level, because there were so many more opportunities here in the US, but I always wondered what would have happened if I had stayed.” Fortunately, life in Academia proved very fulfilling for my father, but the sense that he had lost the connection to his roots was a traumatic experience. For any immigrant, the sense that they somehow abandoned their past is often present. European culture, that to my father once seemed rigid and stuck in place, now felt like an essential part of his identity. It took the shattering of his preconceptions of America to realize that his roots were not only there to be escaped from, they were a fundamental part of how he saw himself as a person.

Due in large part to the experiences my father has had teaching at Michigan State University, his connection to both European and American culture has significantly increased. By realizing that many of the idealistic notions of America he had were on many levels not true, my father has grown to understand that he initially gave less value to his Austrian heritage than it deserved. Having only recently become an American citizen, my father has adapted his identity to the winding road of his life. He truly is a man of both worlds, able to operate seamlessly in the culturally rich environment of Western Europe, and the fast-paced, success oriented American lifestyle. To put it in his own words, “I feel at home in either country. They’re both my home now”. Today, my father takes every opportunity to visit his home town that he can, having learned to embrace both the country he came from and the country that he has raised a family in. I see my father as a man who is constantly evolving, and always looking to take the first step on some new adventure. His identity is in many way elastic; he seems to be constantly growing. Over the years, the world view he has adopted has given him a heightened sense of patience and understanding, and has helped him overcome both his own tribulations and given him the insight to help other people overcome theirs.

Over the years, various experiences have changed the way my father perceives America and Americans, and as a whole have changed the way he relates to his European identity. By moving to America, my father’s preconceived notion of the United States as a homogenous entity in which the same value systems exist throughout the nation, changed, and as a result, he developed a greater appreciation of his European heritage, which he now enjoys for its culture and relation to history. Though at first he saw his European roots as antiquated, to the point that he felt being European was a disadvantage, he now appreciates the unique cultural sensitivities it has instilled in, and the diversity it adds to his identity, both in how own eyes and the eyes of others. He once believed that he could generalize Americans, but he ultimately realized he completely underestimated the complexity and the vastness of the nation. Many immigrants have the experience of expecting a nation to be a certain way and finding it to be much different. According to Marcella Ramelli, whose article “Being prepared for acculturation: On the importance of the first months after immigrants enter a new culture” appeared in International Journal of Psychology, the first few months in a new country are often shocking for an immigrant, as they find themselves needed to behave and even think in a different way than they had expected. She writes, “When immigrants arrive in a new country, they are repeatedly confronted by situations unknown to their cultural perspectives. As a result, immigrants often experience anxiety and a sense of uncertainty due to the invalidity of their old thinking-as-usual” (Ramelli 2). After spending time in the Midwest, which differs tremendously from the cultural hubs of San Francisco and New York, where he spent time doing research, my father realized the extent of the diversity of the United States. He had always envisioned the United States as brimming with an omnipresent excitement, and though that feeling does exist is some places, many parts of the United States have different values. Realizing the false assumptions he had made about America, he grew to appreciate the simplicity of his Austrian roots, and as a result embraced his heritage more than he ever would have otherwise.

Works Cited

“Weekend Interview with My Dad.” Personal interview. 9 July 2014.

Wesson, Donald R. “Psychedelic Drugs, Hippie Counterculture, Speed and Phenobarbital   Treatment Sedative-Hypnotic Dependence: A Journey to the Haight Ashbury in the Sixties.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 43.2 (2011): 153-164. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 July 2014

Ramelli, Marcella, et al. “Being Prepared For Acculturation: On the Importance of the First Months after Immigrants Enter a New Culture.” International Journal of   Psychology 48.3 (2013): 363-373. Business Source Premier. Web. 23 July 2014.

Sample Transcripts of Interview between Max Bauer and his Father, Johannes Bauer

M: First question is, why, uh hello? Why did you choose America, why was America your country of choice to migrate to?

J: That’s a very good question. I don’t think there’s one answer there’s multiple reasons for it. One was since I was a kid I was fascinated by America, umm, I was always curious about it. For one probably my uncle, I don’t know if you remember him, he was a prisoner of war. He actually was moved to a camp in the US, in Virginia I believe. And uh, but he always spoke very favorably about America, and so that left a very good impression. And you know my family grew up in war torn Austria, after WWII, Austria was divided into 4 zones. One was American, one was Russian, one was French, and one was English. And my parents wound up in the Russian area, and all they did was talk about the hardships they had sort of dealing with this so at the same uncle, just by luck, ended up in an American zone and so again he was very favorable towards America. So again that’s one reason, from very early on I have this sort of positive image of America. Secondly, when I was a teenager I really liked American rock music, like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers and the Doors and all those bands, I mean they were just with us all the time, I that got me interested in that sense. Lastly, you know I saw America as a place of big opportunities that were more entrepreneurial than Austria. And so then I had a chance, as a fellow student, to spend some time in the US, to write a dissertation that included some work in the US, and I found some grant money, and some financial support to come to the US for a while, so I moved to New York first for a little bit and then to San Francisco to UC Berkeley and in New York Columbia University, and I would explore the country in between. So I picked up a VW van in California, it was like a camper van, I went to the Southwest and the national parks and everything and I was quite fascinated by the country and then I went back to Europe and I decided, well first of all you know Susan and I, Mom and I, met in San Francisco when I was at Berkeley and the solidified the connection and eventually I became curious to work in the US, mostly because first of all when I left, I felt I hadn’t learned enough about the country. So I wanted to come back. The opportunities in Austria were not, and in Europe in general, were not as good at the time in my opinion. So I came here, and we stayed. That’s pretty much it in a nut shell. So fascination for one, personal ties for two, and work opportunities, much better than they were in Europe.

M: mmhmm. Ok so what age were you when you moved to the United States?

J: When we finally moved, I was 35.

M: Ok so you came to America first for school.

J: Yeah let me think about it. I was in my early thirties or late twenties. And you know there was a time when Susan lived in the United States, and I lived in Europe. And we had this long distance relationship where I lived in Vienna, and I started looking for job opportunities in the US. I started applying for jobs and had a few interviews. I mean I remember I was in Atlanta, at a big conference, and Michigan States offered a job, and invited me to an interview on campus and so I came here and talked to them and eventually it worked out and finally we all came back to the US.

M: Ok great. Dad I’m gonna make sure that this is recording and I’ll call you right back.

J: Alright, ok great.

M: Hey

J: Hello?

M: Hey so it worked. So umm next question is, when you first arrived in America, what expectations did you have?

J: (pauses) Hehe. I have to think back. You know I came over very very naively, I mean I thought I would just, well you have to keep in mind that when I came here I was doing work on my dissertation, and I was supposed to do research, and my dissertation was comparative research so it was comparing American economic policies to European policies. I thought I would be able to just talk to a few people in different organization and in private industry and then I would understand what was going on in the US. I was shocked at how complicated the country was. And so at the end of that first year, I realized that I knew nothing. I was actually quite disheartened. I was actually really quite discouraged because it was way more complicated than I ever had imagined, and the little bit of work that I could do in that one year seemed to totally be inadequate to the size of the country, and you know other things, such as it being energetic, and there being lots of music was great and big sky scrapers and the fascinating experiences in San Francisco and New York and all those things, I had read about it ahead of time, I had heard about it many times, so it was great to see it all live. But in terms of the work I did, I thought everything was much more simple than it turned out to be. It was much more complicated than I thought it was. And much bigger and much more complex.

M: Hmmm, well which of those expectations turned out to be true, and which turned out to be false. Well I guess you sort of covered that.

J: Maybe we should talk a bit about when I came back, when I was hired by Michigan State. Because at that point I hadn’t really emigrated yet. I hadn’t thought about living in the United States until I was hired. When I came back in 1990, I had very few expectations. To me it was all an adventure. I thought it was very exciting to get into professional life and develop a career here. You know I didn’t really know for exactly how long I was going to come and I didn’t really talk about it explicitly. We thought maybe for 3 years, maybe 2. And then go back to Europe or something. But uh when I came here I realized I was in a tenure position so there was a chance that I would get an unlimited contract, so I figured ok I’ll just and see if I can get tenure.

M: Well I’d say that seems to have worked out really well.

J: Yeah yeah sure. And then after 3 and a half years, they were willing to give me tenure early, usually it takes about 7 years. And now I thought, well I have tenure, if I have tenure why would I want to go back to Europe? And then you know you and Tatia had friends, and a social environment and you liked going to school here and we had a nice house and there didn’t seem to be much reason to take you back to Europe. You know, I expected things to be more dynamic, more entrepreneurial at the university because in the end a lot of it was very bureaucratic, although things have changed in the meantime, I did not anticipate that there would be so much material. But here everything was so vast and so big, I mean in the end, once I lived there, I realized how big the country is. How diverse it is and how complicated it is. You and I actually expected to make more money than I actually did. After taxes and everything that was taken out. In the beginning, eventually, we had enough for a house. But you know it was never easy for me, because I always regretted leaving Europe for some reason. At first I didn’t like living here. But also because we didn’t have enough money we had to sell the apartment in Vienna, so we could have some money for a house. Soo, we didn’t really go back to Vienna, because when we left, Europe opened up, and as a result real estate prices rose, and so by the time two years later when we thought about going back, everything was twice as expensive. So what happened had happened, and I always had second thoughts about what would have happened if I had stayed in Europe, especially on a professional level, because I think that my own personality is much in tuned with European senses compared to culture here in the US. I never regretted it on a professional level, because there were so many more opportunities here in the US, but I always wondered. So for the first 5 or 6 years I deliberately didn’t go back to Europe, because I thought it would be sad, and I wouldn’t want to leave the old world, because there was always this sort of sense that I had lost my roots. And you know it’s interesting to talk about your Mom because she came back to her own country, but she was used to California, and even though she was in her own country, she was in a totally different place. First of all, people were much more reserved, maybe, than they were on the coast, but after a while, after she got to know them, they became much more open and friendly, and so she was able to form very deep relationships. At first she was very disappointed coming back to her own country but after about two or three years she really started liking it. You a lot of things that would happen on the east coast, like hour long traffic jams, and the benefits of the Midwest like great public schools, and safe caring neighborhoods.

M: I was always glad that I grew up in the Midwest and not in a big city

J: Yeah I think the quality of life that you and Tatia would have had growing up in a city would have been, in many ways, much lower.

 

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.

The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

leaves

The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

by Anh Nguyen, December 201

There is a saying in Chinese that is roughly translated as “the fallen leaves find their ways to the root,” and which educates people to eventually stay true to their culture and origins. Charlene Yang, a Chinese immigrant in America, lives her life according to this saying. About twenty years ago, Yang moved to America with her parents, sister, and brother. Yang came from a poor province in Guangdong, where she vividly remembers the heat of summer. Like many people living in China at that time, Yang found it hard to acquire enough food and clothing. Yang was working while going to school with a salary of 80 cents a day. Her school not only allowed underage students to work, but also even provided work for students and permitted three days off a week to work in the fields. Seeing that her life could not get better if she had stayed in China, Yang decided to leave for America with her family when she was 23 years old. Her life was not easy when she first came here as she did not speak English, and everything was much more expensive than she had thought. Yang started to lean English by going to a night school while working in a clothing factory every day. When her family became more stable and more accustomed to the American life, she went to Macau to marry her husband, after which he also moved to America with her. Then, she became pregnant with her first daughter, and so their lives in the US began to be stable. Now Yang is blessed with a stable job in a hotel and a happy family with two daughters and a son.

Looking back at her decision to move to America, Yang thinks it was the best thing she could ever have done, to secure an easy and happy life for her children. Our interview takes place in Yang’s living room, which is full of Chinese ornaments and some small decorations with American flags. The background sound of her husband watching an American football game via Chinese telecast, and her children discussing things in both Chinese and English can still be heard through the recording. Yang speaks with a soft voice, and, sometimes, when the cheers of her family watching the game cuts her story off, she quietly stops talking to give a gentle and satisfied smile towards her family. When asked about her identity, Yang becomes confused because she thinks it has an obvious answer: she is Chinese. Although she cannot give any reason why, Yang insists that her family, which consists of three children who have never been to China, is a Chinese family through and through. After close examination, I realized that Yang is neither totally Chinese nor totally American, and is clinging to her Chinese origin as a coping mechanism in her American life. By blindly sticking to her Chinese culture, Yang is actually confused about her cultural identity as she tries to assimilate her origin, dream, and future to forcefully realize the American dream and make America her home, and it is only then that she realizes that she neither belongs to America nor China, which is actually a manifestation of the “underground” racism towards Asians in the United States.

Yang’s story is one of the few cases in which the American dream actually comes true, but she has not relied on sheer luck, but rather her enormous, effort to realize her dream. With a soft smile, Yang expresses how content she is with her life now. Yang is happy with her job with stable earnings and many employees’ benefits that she never had in China. Comparing her new life with her life in China, Yang is also happy when she thinks her children’s potential futures are much better than they would ever be if she had stayed in China. Yang came to American to seek a better life, and she found it. But Yang’s case is actually the odd happy case of realizing the American dreams among the poorer and unprepared immigrants in the US. Liso, an undocumented immigrant in the US, shared her view of the American dream through the book Underground America, which consists of many immigrants’ stories exposing the unthinkable hardship and abuses they have to face in America: “you find dollars lying in the grass, every leaf on the tree is a dollar” (80). However, when Liso moved to America, she realized that her life was worse off than it would had been, had she stayed in Africa, and that many Americans suffer great poverty, contrary to common belief in her country. Liso and Yang’s stories are so different that one might think they live in totally different countries or different times because Yang’s America is the land full of hopes and promises, while Liso’s is the complete opposite. Putting aside the fact that Liso was in a more complicated situation, both legally and mentally, one might think that Yang is genuinely lucky to have her life as it is now. Yang did not rely on luck, but rather her effort and attitude to make her dreams come true. When she first came to America, Yang had to adjust to the American culture, which was completely new and different to her. Because everything here was so expensive, Yang remembers she was so afraid of paying for anything that she spent two days walking nonstop to find a cheap place to stay. In addition, Yang left behind her friends to live in a country whose language she did not even speak. Therefore, Yang was also facing hardship when she moved to America. However, Yang did not let her dream slip away just because of those troubles. She tried her utmost to learn English and to save up money while keeping a positive attitude about her situation. Because she believed in herself and her accomplishments, she kept altering the hardship into challenges for her to change herself. Therefore, Yang realized her American dream by keeping a realistic view of the US and continuously challenges herself.

Yang identifies not only herself but also her children, who have never been to China, as Chinese, a behavior that is an example of one of four mainstream coping mechanisms of immigrants. Cultural identity of first and second-generation immigrants like Yang and her children is an interesting subject to study because they tend to be caught between two reasons to debate over their identity: adapting and deserting. In their study “Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand,” Mei Lin Eyou, Vivienne Adair, and Robyn Dixon classify second generation Chinese immigrants in New Zealand into four groups according to their attitudes towards China and New Zealand’s cultures. The study of over 400 adolescent Chinese immigrants shows that “162 (44.4%) of the participants were classified as integrated, 133 (36.4%) as separated, 20 (5.5%) as assimilated, and 50 (13.7%) as marginalized” (536). If, according to Yang’s first answer that she thinks of herself as Chinese, she falls in the 36.4% group of separated immigrants, who find themselves strongly connected to their original culture, although, after being questioned about her answer, she changes her answer to half American, half Chinese, which means she wants to appear more as an integrated immigrant, who mainly identifies herself with the mainstream cultural identity. Her lack of resolve suggests that Yang is probably confused about her cultural identity. Her confusion is the result of her struggle to live her American dream while holding onto her Chinese origin. As a result of her inner debate, she chooses to cling to her Chinese origin as a simple way to cope with her dream of living in America, the future of American life for her children, and her cultural origin.

 Although Yang tries the easy way out regarding her cultural identity, she is actually still in a much more complicated and lost situation as she tries to identify herself. Yang is actually neither integrated nor separated because her lifestyle is not similar to either the stereotypical American or Chinese. Consciously or not, Yang surrounds herself with Chinese people and avoids contact with Americans. In additions, she celebrates both American and Chinese holidays, which may make her seem like integrated immigrants who are equally affected by their original and new cultures. However, Yang acts according to the stereotypes of Americans more for the appearance of it than celebrating the actual reasons for the holidays. Thus, Yang is, indeed, trying to identify herself with both the Chinese and the American. In consequence, Yang is neither American nor Chinese, and the more she tries to act like either of these two, the more she does not belong to either of the two groups. Incidentally, Yang’s behavior clearly exemplifies the coping mechanism of a marginalized immigrant, who is alienated from both cultures. On the one hand, Yang acts like a Chinese person because she was educated to do so from childhood, so this lifestyle stays as a habit. On the other hand, Yang tries to be American because she is affected by the expectation of her family and friends about someone living in the US. Therefore, while trying to act according to different and contradicting expectations of her, Yang actually loses sight of who she is and who she wants to become. Thus, Yang’s final answer to the question about her cultural identity, which is simply “I don’t know,” greatly exemplifies her complex exile from both the cultures that she is trying to assimilate with.

Yang’s choice to stick with the Chinese culture is actually inevitable because it is a decision predetermined by American society. As explained earlier, as Yang is caught between the dilemma of blending in with the American lifestyle and retaining her Chinese upbringing, she has two choices of cultural identity, American and Chinese. However, in reality, Yang has no other choice but to stick to her Chinese roots, and to understand her forced choice, we have to understand the history of Chinese and Asian immigrants in the US. In The Wealth Inequality Reader, edited by Dollar & Sense United for a Fair Economy, Meizhu Lui assesses the racial wealth gap of American-born Asians and white Americans to find out that “American-born Asians have moved into professional positions, and the median income of Asians is now higher than that of whites. However, glass ceilings still persist…Asians are still defined by race and branded as perpetual foreigners” (50). This situation is true if we go back in history of Asian immigrants. Asians came to the United States at the same time as the Irish. However, when the early Naturalization Act of 1790 recognized the Irish as citizens, Asians were left behind in the race to be legally admitted. Then comes the Civil Rights Movement, and once again Asians are simply forgotten. Now, while there is less discrimination between the black and the white, at least by law, Asians are neither black nor white. In addition, laws were passed to alienate Asian immigrants like the Foreign Miners Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and Alien Land Act, so Asians have mostly existed quietly in secluded areas that Americans do not penetrate. In accordance, Yang represents just a small fraction of the Chinese society existing inside America, but as a dispensable external part. As a result, Yang has no other choice but to identify herself as Chinese and not American because it is the decision that society expects her to make due to her Asian race.

In other words, Yang’s choice to associate herself with Chinese people is the manifestation of the “implied racism” towards Asian Americans in the United States. Racism towards Asians is “implied” because it has never been historically and officially admitted. Asians were lucky to not be considered among the slave race, but were never among the rulers either. Even nowadays, many Asians in San Francisco solemnly live in Chinatown, Japan-town, or Korean-town. Society simply accepts the idea of naming some place Asian-town and Asian-market. Imagine saying black town! And even more confusing, if people are named because of their skin colors, shouldn’t they say yellow instead of Asians? Everything points out to the conclusion that racism towards Asians is “implied,” and it is so deeply rooted that it becomes natural and unquestioned. Living in a society that accepts and facilitates this kind of “implied racism,” Yang’ choice, once again, is the final outcome of most Asians living in the United States, and this will be the choice many more Asians immigrants will have to make if they want to live “harmoniously” here. The solution to this implied racism is even more complicated than racism towards black people because, while black-racism is openly recognized, Asian-racism is inexplicit. As a consequence, public movements are unlikely to solve Asian-racism. Educated Americans are proposing two ways to eliminate racism towards black people, which persist despite all the movements, that we either erase history or change the future. However, these methods will not provide any solution for racism towards Asians, as long as Asians themselves do not admit they are being discriminated against. So, the first step towards eliminating racism is recognizing it, but, again, this is the choice of Asians. Hopefully, Asian immigrants like Yang will no longer suffer from any kind of racism and have more control over their choices of identity.

Living in the culturally diverse United States, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese, despite living here for a longer portion of her life because she is confused by her dreams, expectation and origin, so she chooses to act Chinese out of sheer habit. However, Yang is neither Chinese nor American, so she is eventually exiled from both cultures and even loses sight of who she want to be. Yang’s situation shows the problem that many Asians immigrants, and immigrants in general, have to face. Immigrants are often caught in the dilemma of either changing their ideologies to adapt to the new culture or staying true to their former cultures. In any case, the decision will vary with the person’s personality, ability to adapt, and ability to understand him or herself. However, as an Asian immigrant in the United States, Yang has to suffer the implied racism that white immigrants do not have to face. And because Asian-racism is inexplicit, Yang is unconsciously, yet undoubtedly, influenced by it. Thus, the decision to cling to Chinese culture is not Yang’s choice but the result of the drives from society. In other words, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese is the usual behavior of a stereotyped Asian immigrant who society construct. Yang’s actual cultural identity is a wonderful mixture of the American free and exciting lifestyle and the reserved and refined Chinese doctrine. If only she could realize this, she would not be so lost and would be able to make peace with her dreams and her burden to carry on with the Chinese lifestyle.

Works Cited

Lui, Meizhu. The Wealth Inequality Reader. Dollar & Sense United for a Fair                       Economy. Oakland: Dollar & Sense, 2004. Print.

Eyou, Mei Lin, Adair Vivienne, and Dixon Robyn. Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. Auckland: Elsevier, 2000. Print.

Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Ed Peter Orner. Voice of Witness. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2008. Print.

Interview Transcript

Under the dimly light of Yang’s living room, we started our conversation. Far off to our right, Yan’s husband and children were watching an American soccer game in a Chinese news channel. The sound of the broadcast came out to be a chaos mixture of Cantonese and English; I was surprised to know how they could even make out what was going on. Yang offered me a glass of warm water with some lemon slice. We were sitting in the same sofa, so I moved to one far edge and urn to her, to give us some space, and mainly to look at her.

       Where were you born?

       I was born in China. I was 23 when I came here.

       Did you always want to come to the US?

       Yeah. I came here with my parents. They came here when I was 21. I was separated from them for 2 years.

Yang’s eyes seemed distanced as she thought of her parents. She turned from me to briefly look at her husband. As she fixed her eyes on the wooden coffer at the end of the room, which seemed to contain every little ornaments and mementos one could keep, I went on with my questions.

       Can you tell me about your first day in the US? Why did you decided to come here?

       I had always thought that everything was better here. Now China is better, but it is still better here. I heard that business is good now.

Yang turned to look at me directly when she said that, with sparkled eyes, and her hands trying to draw the cross line with China on the one side and American on the other.

       Can you tell me a little about your life in China?

       I lived in Guangdong. All I remember is that it was very hot there. We worked all day, and there was not enough food to eat.

Her eyes scrunched as she talked about her old life in China. It was as if she was trying to fresh some long forgotten memories.

       What did you do in China? What was your job?

       I mixed rice for one or two years. I was sixteen when I started working. It was when I was still studying. I worked 7 days a week. There was no holiday. It was so hot. I worked from 5am to 2pm every day. After working on the field, I went back to my house to take a shower, take a rest, and then went back to work again. I was paid 80 cents for one day. The work was not the same every day, and it was not hard work, only too long. Sometimes it took 10 hours a day, sometimes 12. Although we never stopped working, we were very poor.

Yang repeated the last sentences more than twice. She told her story in broken sentences. Sometimes she would stop and try to think of an English word for what she wanted to say. While struggling to express her at times. Yang was eager to tell her story. Yang could not remember the world “field,” so she drew it out in a piece of napkin for me. As we looked it up in the Internet, she commented on how Internet is “so good, so easy,” and how quick witted I was to think of using the online dictionary.

       How often do you contact with the people back in China?

       Not very often. My husband’s brother is in China. We talk on the phone sometimes, but not often. They say it is very good now. They make more money, and there is more food now. Everything has changed since I left, which was about 30 years ago.

       Can you tell me more about your school in China?

       I did not like school in China. If we did not do homework, they would punish us by hitting our hands. I was so scared of the teacher. The school’s system was not good in China then. The president’s policy was not good. We did not study at all. We did not go to school 4 days a week; students were supposed to work during those days. The school gave us work like cooking to feed the pigs.

We had to stopped and looked up the “pigs” word again. Yang apologized for her limited use of English, and made up for it by using body language and hand gestures. She held out one hand and hit it with the other when she told me about her being hit in school. Yang did not use the word “president,” she use a Chinese word for it. I didn’t know how the word looked like and how to put it in English character. But one thing for sure, I knew it meant “President” in Chinese because I had always heard my Chinese friends using that word. What a wonder that even my Chinese friends, who were influenced in English, still used the Chinese word when they talked about their Leader.

       Do you want to go back to China some day?

       No, I like it here. I only go back to China for vacation.

       Can you tell me a bit about your journey to the US?

       I spent 3 days coming here. I came here with my brother and younger sister. We walked for 2 days. We did not take the bus to save money. Everything was so expensive here. My parents, my brother, and I worked for a textile company. I worked there for about a while, and then I worked for an electronic company for 9 years. Now I am working for a hotel. The pay is good, and they offer employees’ benefits there, so I like my job now. My mom worked in a restaurant. The money was good, but it was hard job. We wanted to save money to buy a house. We Chinese like to have a house. We do not like moving or renting houses. If you borrow money to buy a house, after 20 years, you have that house. But if you rent your place, even after 20 years, 30 years, you still do not have any place.

It took Yang more than 20 minutes to talk about her life when she first came to the US. Yang puzzled when I asked where she first worked as she did not understand the word “company.” After a while, she muttered some Chinese word and began to catch the meaning of my questions and continued on.

       How did you meet your husband?

I pointed to her husband, who was sitting with her children 3 feet from us watching TV. They broke out some cry; maybe the game had reached its climax. The only light in the room was glittering above their head, where the TV stand was. Yang turned to her husband, and her face brightened.

       I had known him in China before I came here. He is a good man. One year after I came here, I went back to Macau to marry him, and then we came here. Now you cannot do that any longer.

       Why did you decide to come here?

       I was thinking for the future. Everything was better here. Now I have my family and my children here with me. We are very lucky to be living here.

       Do you miss China?

       A little bit. I only miss my friends. I do not like anything else in China. Now in China, the food is not good because there are lots of chemical in the food. It is not like that here. I do not have to worry about food here. The government here has policies to protect people. US’s government is better. The salary is better in China now. Government job’s pays about 5000 to 6000 thousands Chinese dollars. Although you can make more money in China, you cannot spend your money however you want to.

       How did you find life in the US?

       I did not speak English when I came here. I had to learn from A B C. I worked in the morning and went to school at night. Every day, I went to school from 6 to 8:30pm. It was very hard. After my husband came here, I had my daughter, so I stopped going to school. I learnt English by listening to the radio.

Then Yang told me again about her life in China: how she had worked all day long with below minimum pay, and how unfriendly the weather had been.

       Do you think of yourself as Chinese or American?

       I am Chinese, of course. I am still Chinese. I say “we Chinese” all the time.

Yang laughed out when I asked if she was Chinese or American, as if it had been some silly question with obvious answer. But when I turned the question around and asked what type of passport she used, to which the answer was American passport, she cached on my intention. Yang adverted her eyes and shaked her head, muttering to her self: “But I am Chinese.” As I pestered her what made she think so, Yang smiled gently.

       What about you then? Are you Vietnamese or American?

I was surprised that she asked me that, but nevertheless, I affirmed her.

       I am Vietnamese of course. I was born in Vietnam, raised in Vietnam, and I have a Vietnamese passport. I came to the US for less than a year. How can I be American?

       But what if you were me? What would you say?

       Then maybe half and half.

Her eyes glittered.

       Ok, half and half then. I am half American, half Chinese. But I am Chinese.

Realizing I could not get more than this answer, I changed the subject.

       What about your children? Do you raise them according to the Chinese tradition?

       They are Chinese.

       But they are born here, and they never lived in Chinese, they are still Chinese?

       They are Chinese. Their father, mother, grandparents are Chinese, and so they are Chinese. I tell them they are Chinese. Sometimes I think about China. I was born there, so I am Chinese. Although I like it here better, and I do not plan to go back to China ever, I am still Chinese.

       Do they speak Cantonese?

       I tried to teach my daughter. I even sent her to Chinese school, but she did not like it. She said “Mommy, I don’t want to learn Chinese. It is too hard.”

Yang laughed heartily looking at her daughter at the other end of the room. Her children were talking to each other in fluent English.

– What do you think of the one child policy in China?

– It must have been long time ago. Now, the government allows you to have a choice. If the first child is a girl, you can have another try to have a boy. But now everything is expensive, so people only want to have one child. So many people have abortion to have one boy only.

Then Yang went on to talk about how lucky she was to live in San Francisco. Our conversation died off as the clock stroked 10pm. Yang got up to prepare for her job the next day at the hotel before she went to bed.



 

 

 

 

 

Finally Found Home

Finally Found Home

by Ruben Guzman, October, 2013

For many people, “exile” is a word that is hard to define because each person interprets the meaning differently. For the last essay of the semester, I decided to interview Karina, a student at C.C.S.F., because she has lived in various countries; in addition, I feel that she has experienced the “exile” we have been closely examining in class. During Karina’s upbringing, exile meant constantly moving and being an outcast in every environment she has lived in, which caused her identity and concept of homeland to be stunted. Because of the way she looks, people automatically give her an identity, such as Russian, Ukrainian, American, or Canadian, but for Karina, it isn’t easy for her to define herself. Having lived in Kiev, Montreal, and San Francisco, and having experienced isolation, have caused Karina to have difficulty forming an identity and a concept of home.
After her parent’s separation, at the age of one, Karina and her mom moved from Norilsk, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine, where they stayed with relatives. Living in Ukraine would be the first time Karina would experience identity confusion. During the nineties, Ukraine was still part of the U.S.S.R, which was a union of Eastern European countries during the majority of the twentieth century. During Karina’s childhood, she witnessed the collapses of the Soviet Union. When Ukraine separated from the U.S.S.R, there was a change in government, from communism to capitalism, which created a chaotic environment in Kiev because there wasn’t any established order. This period in her life caused Karina to start challenging her identity because she was living in a time when Ukraine was forming a new national identity, and she didn’t know whether to identify with being Russian or Ukrainian. On one hand, Karina starting identifying with being Russian because that’s where she was born and her mom would reinforce this notion. On the other hand, Karina identified with being Ukrainian because she spent her early childhood there and hadn’t lived in Russia for a long time. In other words, at a young age, Karina struggled with identity because she was torn between her mom identifying her as Russian and living in Ukraine at an early age. This confusion of identity led her to be an outsider at school, where her schoolmates would identify her as Russian, while the Russian kids would identify her as Ukrainian.
Karina’s struggle with identity can be compared to an article written by the scholar Elena Dubinets, titled “Music In Exile: Russian Emigre Composers and The Search For National Identity.” In the article, Dubinets writes about three Russian composers who struggle with identity after fleeing Russia, after the 1917 Russian Revolution. What Karina and these composers share in common is that they were both in a country that was going through huge economic and cultural change. In one part of the article, Dubinets is explaining how these Russian melodists were labeled as “Russian composers” in their new homelands despite having spent the majority of their life abroad, instead of Russia, and at the same time, other Russian composers, from Russia, rejected their claim as Russian because they didn’t compose their music in Russia. Dubinets writes, “These émigré composer are still regarded, without exception, As ‘ Russian composers’, even though most have tried to become assimilated into musical and cultural life of their new countries.” In other words, what Dubinets is saying is no matter how hard these composers try to acclimatize in their new homelands, the people around them are still labeling them as Russian, simply because they are foreigners, while simultaneously being spurned by other Russians. Karina experienced a similar situation in Ukraine, where she had a hard time choosing to identify with what her mother wanted her to be, and trying to be Ukrainian at the same time. This article helps solidify the fact that Karina, along with these composers, dealt with the burden of trying to acculturate in their new homelands only to find that assimilating is a difficult task that carries heavy emotional wear.

Due to economic instability, and cultural change, Karina and her mom moved from Ukraine to Montreal, Canada, when she was twelve years old. At first, Karina was really excited for the opportunity to have a fresh start, because she didn’t feel like she fit in well in Ukraine. However, In Montreal, Karina experienced exile on another level.  Unlike in Ukraine, Karina wasn’t able to fit in as easily; as a matter of fact, it was more difficult for her to acculturate because of strong Russian facial features and accent. For the first couple of years, Karina loved Montreal for its natural beauty and diversity, but at the same time despised it because of substandard living conditions, along with feeling like an outcast in a new country and being detach from her family in Ukraine. At first, Karina had a difficult time making friends in Montreal because she barley knew how to speak French, along with the hostility towards her by other young women of her age, which made her create a false idea of “home” in Ukraine. The first year in Montreal made Karina miss Ukraine dearly, which caused her nostalgia to cover up the unpleasant memories of Ukraine and make them disappear. Moving to Montreal resulted in Karina facing loneliness because she was living in a new country and didn’t know anybody, which makes it hard for a pre-teen to cope with this form of exile.

Although Karina experienced identity crisis and exile in both Ukraine and Montreal, something positive came out of these situations: these hardships have enabled Karina to develop strong character traits, such as thick skin and a great outlook on life, which make her the ambitious woman she is today.  The scholar Anamaria Falaus argues that exile can be a positive experience. In her article titled  “Identity Metamorphoses In Codruscu’s Exilic Memoir,” Falaus argues that the Romanian-born American poet actually benefited from exile by channeling his energy into his art that made him famous. In her conclusion Falaus states, “Identity is not what never changes, but, on the contrary, it is what allows one to constantly change without giving up who one is.”  In other words, this quote is expressing that identity isn’t what constantly changes; rather, it’s the circumstances that change and not the individual. This applies to Karina in a manner that reveals her character as a strong individual who can thrive in any environment, no matter how difficult the challenge is.
Similar to Palestinian scholar Edward Said, Karina has to deal with the burden of having to explain her identity to people whenever the question arises. In the case of Said, he states, “I have retained this unsettled sense of many identities-mostly in conflict with each other-all my life, together with an acute memory of the despairing feeling that I wish we could have been all Arab, or all European, or all Orthodox Christian.” Karina said something similar along the lines of, “when you immigrate you lose your home… Because when I go to Russia or Ukraine people say, ‘Oh it’s that American girl.’  When I come here they’re all like, ‘Oh it’s the Russian Girl.’ When I go to Canada, it’s like, ‘Oh it’s the American girl who happens to be Russian.’” On a follow up interview, I ask Karina if it would had been simpler to just have one identity, and she responded, “Defiantly. If I had a choice, I would love to be all American, or all Russian. It just makes life simpler, but at the same time I don’t take any of my experiences back.” Said, like Karina, had to struggle with identifying a “home”; however, at the end of the interview, Karina has a better sense of what home means to her. For example, Karina states, “home…my personal home…it’s where ever I feel comfortable…so, its my house with my husband right now.”  What this means is that, throughout all her struggles, home is within her, and later when I asked her,” “So, would you consider The United States your home?” she quickly replied,” Absolutely, as of right now, my home is San Francisco.”

Having lived in different countries forced Karina, at an early age, to experience isolation, which delayed her ability to form a strong identity. Karina has always been categorized as an outsider everywhere she has gone, which has caused her to constantly challenge her identity. However, through those challenging moments, she eventually overcame those hard times and metamorphosed herself into the strong person that she is today. Although Karina frequently had to face isolation from the societies she had to live in, the process made her an independent person who has a strong sense of self. Like Said, she has come to terms that she will forever be an outsider, which she’s okay with. For a child, moving from one place to another can be difficult in that one always starts fresh. Isolation comes with moving to a new region, and without a great outlook the experience can seem like a nightmare.

Me: Where you born?
Karina: I was born in Russia, city called Norilsk…it’s a small town north and mmmm the majority of people that live there work in mines and is related to mines…yeah

Me: Having that said, were your father or any of your relatives were in the mining industry?

Karina: mmm my dad was actually going down to mines to mines to look for uuhhh nickkl?nickll? its… metal

me: nickle
Karina: Yeah exactly he was actually the mines and his mother, she worked in some type of management, and I’m not sure exactly what she was doing, but she wasn’t going into mines. She was just working for the company.

Me: Ok annnnd so you said you were born in Russia, when did you leave there?

Karina: Well, I lived there only for one year, my mom went there pregnant to give birth to me there… I don’t know the particular reason, she never really explained it to me and when I was about one year old she brought me back to Ukraine where she lived, and where she was born. My father is actually Ukrainian as well. but he had to move to Russia, to the.. Norilsk city umm because he had to look for work and it was really hard to find work during eighties and nineties.. so yea.. so that’s why he move to Russia.

Me: And what do you remember about the Ukraine? and what city was it in?

Karina: well, um I was living there in the capital city called Kiev…umm. I remember relatively a lot… I don’t know where to even start…umm. yeah when I was… When I left there I finish 6th grade there so still in middle school according to US…well elementary I wasn’t sure.. I don’t even know what to answer (thinking to herself) I remember a lot of things …. you know… What in Particular?

Me: MMMM like the environment.

Karina: The Environment was really chaotic because it was during the nineties and Russia, Ukraine and all the countries were still part of USSR where umm.. Really chaotic because I mean we had the communist and we had to transfer to another economic system.. a lot of rich people get richer and the poor people didn’t know what to do so we had a lot of criminals around that time and nineties would say is probably the hardest time know to people for the last hundred years.. its was really hard. Maybe world war one or world war two were a more challenging. to transfer from communism to capitalism.. so I remember the chaotic , the gangsters everywhere on the streets.. I remember that it’s not as organized as now. because now is like the government is responsible for the stores and stuff… where you can open the stores or not ,before it was the gangsters that took care of that, the mafia, and basically you had to pay high, really high taxes to do anything you wanted..

Me: And, Alright you said it was chaotic but when you where growing up did it seem normal?

Karina: It was still scary yes, it was normal when I was living there.. I realized that it’s not normal when I moved to Canada, but it was still scary cuz you knew who the bad guys where and you had to be more careful even when you do certain things for example when some people go to the market you had to be more careful than… I don’t know my mom would just be all like… would be saying you should be extra careful.. you know so you could still feel that it was chaotic because our parent knew times that were a little bit badder even though maybe you didn’t have as much food, as  much products and stuff like that but you still had more…It was safer exactly.

Me: And How long you live in the…. When did you immigrate from Ukraine to Canada?

Karina: Ukraine to Canada… In Ukraine I lived ten years I moved there when I was twelve, ummm I moved to Canada when I was twelve to Montreal directly it was illegal immigration that my mom was able to start in Ukraine with my stepdad and so we were well prepare to move to Canada, when we moved there we already had an apartment umm my mom spoke a little bit of French… just enough to buy bread and the basic necessities… My father struggled more…defiantly and yeah….
I moved there when I was twelve 2002.

Me: And the reason was economical?

Karina: mum My mom never fit well in Russia… She is a very strong woman… She is all about her career. And that does not work well in Russia anymore. During Soviet Union Actually had more equality between women and man then there is now. Now women depend on guys. If you want to do well in that country you need to marry somebody or you need to date somebody rich and my mom was never like that she always wanted to be independent sooo and she wanted the same for me she didn’t want me to depend on some other random person that I never knew. And that’s why she wanted to move to Canada.. Yeah it was really for the independence of women.

Me: So let me sum this up your mom moved because economically it was better in Canada and on top of that she didn’t like culturally where Ukraine was headed because it got to the point where it was kinda of becoming uhhhh a macho society

Karina: Yeah

Me: where the man was in charge and the woman was dependent and your mom didn’t want that for you.

Karina: Exactly! yeah cause she lived through it… she dated some guys, not purely for money, but she know how it feels… eeeee I don’t know I think that now she that she lives in Canada that she fits better there with her mentality than in Russia because even till this day In Russia woman are more oppressed than guys are… Guys have a lot more opportunities

Me:  And Do you remember the move from Ukraine to Canada?
Karina: Well yeah. ha. It actually took a while because ummmm.. My mom kept on saying we gonna move in two months and in two months and two months and it took around a year and I was telling all my friends ” oh yeah I’m moving to Canada and I was always making my date change…you know because of my mom, she kept telling me different dates I don’t know the reason in particular, and at some point my friends my friends didn’t believe that I was going to move to Canada and I finally did…It was…you know I didn’t realize that I was moving forever until maybe year that I lived in Canada, so after a year I lived in Canada I was like “oohhh this for real” haha but the move itself I wasn’t realizing at what point it’s going to be challenging probably.
Me: Were you angry, did you not wanna leave Kiev? Were you excited?

Karina: I was really really excited because when I was a Kid I didn’t fit in very well into my school so for me it was a new change, but I didn’t’ realize that this change would bring me other stuff. for example I didn’t have as a much close connection with my grandmother that raised me.. She actually was  the person that was raising me, so leaving her was actually really hard. It’s defiantly not an easy thing..immigration.. and probably the hardest thing was immigration…leaving everybody behind… It’s not even the things… the things can be replaced but the people, all the memories.. giving all that up was really hard.

Me: Ok so you were ambivalent, meaning you were two sided.. On one side your excited because you didn’t fit well and on the other you couldn’t replicate those replications that you had… With your grandmother, with your family..

Karina: Exactly. so it was fifty-fifty. I mean I was a child.. I was twelve years old I wasn’t realizing how serious it was to move to another country I was still too little to understand that.

Me: So I’m gonna backtrack a little bit to Ukraine… How is the freedom there? Do people even have it? or how was it…..

Karina: No, I would say no and ummmm I recently went to website…it was called Freedom house… It’s ummmm a US Organization that rates how other people live in different  countries and then they assess if the country is free or not. And they say that Ukraine is partially free while russia is not free and I disagree with that because I think Urkaine is more limited than Russia..ummmm we have orange revolution for one of the presidents it was around 2004 and that didn’t work It was basically a fight for a president that we wanted to elect…we had hope but what happened? we elected him and then he had no power so basically even when we express our..ummmm wants by votes it still doesn’t go through… the press is defiantly limited… there is defiantly… how can you call that? ummmm the government lets what it wants go through the press, you cannot say whatever you want it’s not basically free press

Me: So there’s no freedom of speech or freedom of press.

Karina: Well freedom of speech you know it’s different in the United States people don’t don’t understand the value of freedom of speech until someone decides to fight for it people try to fight for freedom of press which doesn’t exists and actually when I was still living there there was one journalist super famous, he tried to announce all the problems with the Ukraine but the problem was that he was killed like months after that. and just recently they found him, like who killed him? Ultimately they said it was some criminals but for reals it was the president…Everybody assumed it was the President during that time cause they were controlling the freedom of speech uuhhh freedom of press.

Me: Okay moving forward.. what was your first impression of Canada when you went there like… It was Montreal and take me through the experience: the surroundings, the sights, the schools, the culture.

Karina: Okay… So when I arrived there it was great, it was bad weather so that actually didn’t help… The architecture is a little bit different the buildings are painted sometimes brighter especially more expensive neighborhoods so when I arrived in Montreal it was bad weather and all the buildings were already the grey tones so I had an impression that he city was so sad and umm the first person that I saw in Montreal it was a Hasidic Jew, so he had special dreads, he had the hair especially made like waves uummm that’s when I realized it’s a different world… because I never seen hasidic Jew’s in my country and then I seen some African Americans and as a kid I was actually excited by those changes umm. so that was my first impression I thought the city was super great and depressive sad but I like that… The culture was a lot more diversified..  because as a child your more attracted that. like your interested… I don’t know.

Me: Okay so it sounded like you really embraced mov…. ummmmm arriving there because
Karine: I embraced some parts, some of it

me: okay
Karina: It was weird because it was a culture shock you know because it was completely different society so there’s some good things and there’s some bad things and ummmmmm one of my favorite things was…I don’t know if this will help you… Was the dollar-rama It’s like one dollar store and you would go buy anything you want and when your a kid your like “oh my god I’m rich” I can buy whatever I want… Small things like that made me happy but you know I was still sad by my move because I wasn’t able to see whatever I saw in the past ten years. The last ten years wasn’t there

Me: So Economically you guys lived a lot better in Canada than Ukraine?

Karina: Actually no it was the other way around ummmm so when we moved to Canada my mom decided to go back to school.. to the university.. and umm I was helping her, I was helping her clean apartments and the money we received sometimes she would give it to me, other times she would take everything then it depended on whatever on what our family needed because it was only me and my mom… I had to work for it too and it was actually a lot harder… we lived in a studio for seven years… me and my mom.. which I find super hard… when your sixteen you want to have some privacy and basically I had to give up all my privacy just to be in another country and I think that played a role in why I didn’t want to say in Montreal because I always associated Montreal with a studio apartment… And I always struggled financially with my mom because we were on welfare and she was studying it was hard time but I knew that there was a reason why she was doing it and I knew that one day it would be better for us… so I was willing to give up maybe 5, 7 years of my life for a better future….yeah but financially it was defiantly a better situation in Ukraine…It was only temporary

Me: So when you came to Canada at the age of twelve… that’s kinda a difficult age because your transitioning from a kid to an adult and for me middle school was really hard growing up because the kids were just…. I myself moved from one part of San Diego from another and economically it was different and I was around the same age so  having that said it must of been hard growing up and going to school as a pre-teen essentially

Karina:  Yeah defiantly when I was going to school in the Ukraine I went to a private which was an expensive school and I knew that my status better than majority of the people in my city you know but then in montreal it was… there was no middle school.. they only have elementary and high school and it was defiantly different  I can feel the difference ummmmm I didn’t have a good experience in high school because the first high school i was sent to it was aahhhh really ghetto that was there they sent the immigrants you know which is I understand perfectly because they have a special class it’s called… you know to help you learn french…

Me: Like ESL?

Karina: Yeah! ESL basically ESL classes in high school are only in ghetto where immigrants live… Usually they can’t afford to live in a good neighborhood so it was really funny because i was living in a good neighborhood in a small apartment but was going to ghetto school in my first school actually nobody accepted me and I was rejected and it was weird but then I change another school where they had….it was really mixed they had everybody and I think it was actually great because it was a lot more mixed and people were not like ” I’m black so I wont talk to you” or ” I’m white so I wont talk to you” so my other school was a lot better.

Me: Ok

Karina: Ummmm yeah, so my first school I struggled and the second school I think it was easier because I was able to find other people who were in the same situation and actually me best friend that I met there is actually from equator and she moved around the same time that I did and so we had something in common and we could understand each other you know and I think having her and other people like me it was easier to even adapt because we learn new stuff and were sharing with each other how to adapt better in that society.

Me: That must of been nice… Personally I can appreciate.. you know growing up meeting someone who was in a similar situation.

Karina: Yeah, I mean I actually thought that it brought me and my best friend closer because sometimes were misunderstood… I huh.. Its so hard trying to explain it… your still a little bit different you know your not… you have the accents in all and you lived in different countries and had different experiences you know  so ummmm having my best friend understanding me what I go through that actually helps bring us closer.

Me: So during the first school you went to… when you felt exiled… did you ever find yourself missing Ukraine? were you thinking like “Oh Man” “Why did we move here?” ” I wish I was back home”?

Karina: Oh yeah defiantly I did but ummmm as soon as I able to find friends in the other school those waves of thoughts changed it right alway, then I saws the light at the end of the tunnel, then I was like “okay there is a purpose why I was here” ” It’s going to be better and better” and it became, every year it became easier and better and better and then at some point it became better than living in the Ukraine, but the first year I was defiantly thinking ” Why am I here?” ” Why did I move here, I wanna go back to the old ways” because I gave up everything that was there and I didn’t have anything… Plus even though I went through illegal immigration to Canada I couldn’t go to Ukraine for four years… So that was kinda hard.

Me: Okay so Canada ended up being a great experience… When did you come to the United States?

Karina: The first time I came here I was sixteen years old I went here to visit my mom’s friend, my mom ACTUALLY forced me to come here, It was Los Angeles in particular ummmm I didn’t want to go there because I was well adapted at that time in Canada, I had my friends, I was doing well in school and I was just perfect, I didn’t want to go, I wanted to spend the summer with my friends, and my mom was like “NO! Were going to go see my best friend in LA” We went to Los Angeles and we went to Las Vegas as well, so we visited two cities right away when I arrived here, it was for business, and then I came back every year for the next three years between Montreal and Los Angeles because I met my husband Ivan there and I started dating him, so three years I was back and forth between LA and Montreal.

Me: So you came here when you were twenty correct?

Karina: Yeah, to leave I was in my early twenties late nineteen.

Me: And your twenty-three now?

Karina: yeah

Me: So that was three years ago.

Karina: Yeah around that time.

Me: So you left Canada because you were really into Ivan?

Karina: That too, but I do not know why but I think it was something subconsciously maybe because it was my immigration and I had some bad association with Canada and I associate Canada with something hard, because the first years of immigration where defiantly not easy and since I moved there…since the first day I told my mom that I will never live there and that i’ll move one day, I would tell her all the time and that’s what happened, one day I was like I’m done with Canada, I called Ivan and told him that if he wanted to move to San Francisco with me together… I cannot explain the exact reason why I left Canada… Really I can’t… It’s a beautiful city but  it wasn’t for me I guess.

Me: Okay it sounded to me that… you were over Canada, you had your fun.

Karina: Yeah!

Me: And It was time to grow.

Karina: Yeah probably, and United States… I don’t know why, since day one, I came here, I felt like I fit better here than Canada, I felt here that it was my home, I actually found this immigration a lot easier than Canada… even thought Canada is beautiful country, United States just felt better for me.

Me: Alright, when you were living in Ukraine, you knew about the United States obviously, because they’re know throughout the whole world… What was your impression of the US when you lived in Ukraine versus when you arrived here.

Karina: Okay so because I was only twelve I wasn’t interested in politics by that time… I imagined United States as Jeans everywhere, Michael Jackson where, American bikes everywhere, and New York… Imagined every city in the United States looking like New York and that was my imagination of the United States.

Me: How about our freedoms? Cause United States prides itself on the best human rights.

Karina: You know… we had a cold war… Russia…well USSR versus United States so those freedoms were not talked about in Russia, we had no idea that in the United States your life was easier and equal… that’s what they told us… but we didn’t…we didn’t have any of those details…so I had no idea about freedom of speech… Actually I only realized that when I came here… I realized… I learned more about it… You know about the culture of the Untied States… But in Russia we had the idea that America was Hollywood, White teeth, Michael Jackson and Jeans. That’s how they see it even to this day when I go there I don’t talk politics to my friends because that’s what they don’t about about the United States…what…..They associate different stuff…urrhhh how can I say that….hahaha I don’t know how to say that… Basically they don’t think about freedom of speech… when they think about United States they think buying culture, buying….

Me: Materialistic

Karina: Yeah! Materialistic there you go.

ME: Okay so you really didn’t ummmmm have too much of an exile coming from Canada to the United States because you were with Ivan….

Karina: I thought Ivan helped me a lot…yes because he had more experience living here… so having that person already living here for ten years or more…it’s really helpful because in Canada I didn’t have that… I didn’t have a person that knew everything, I had to discover everything for myself and here I wouldn’t say Ivan did everything for me. For example when it came to school I did everything myself… Like enroll myself into the community college and figure out all the college I wanted to attend and information like that… It was up to me to find it… But the basic stuff like the first immigration papers, he help with that… so it was a lot easier.. here you are not scared of government… that is basically it… There you see government as gangsters that have power that are even more scarier than mafia on the street… that’s how I see it… Our president… Our current President was actually in jail for robbery he was allegedly… suspected for rape of a woman… gang rape… and he was actually caught for two other cases but they were cancelled or something like that….. basically  a bunch of criminals… even that going to vote means nothing there… for me I would never go vote there… here I think it’s a lot of.. here you can know about politics you have the opportunity.. it’s so available… And you can get your opinion heard, if you want you can go and vote, you can actually do even more than that, you can get people signing……

Me: Petitions

Karina: Yeah! right petitions, and you can talk to people and say ” hey you know my cause is that…so do you wanna participate in that”. It’s so much more easier to make a change in United States than in Russia… It’s not as corrupted… there government is corrupted.

Me: A lot of people like to complain about our government, saying ” Oh our government is corrupt”, ” the government just wants to take” and….

Karina: I mean… There is still something wrong… don’t get me wrong…. I still think that sometimes the United States government is too big… you know sometimes we have too many offices… like departments and stuff like that and sometimes it takes too much of our taxes… but i’m saying that it shouldn’t be that way cause maybe it’s better that way…you know… but you know that at least money….some money.. will go to people… there you know if it goes to the government than you will never see it.
So yeah thats basically the biggest difference I don’t see that United States government… I don’t see it as corrupted… even though many Americans believe so.

Me: Having all that said.. Do you have a concept of home?

Karina: Like home…my personal home…. It’s where ever I feel comfortable… So its my house with my husband..right now.. But home as a country, I am struggling with that… Sometimes it makes me sad that I don’t have a home because I moved so much around….uummmmm. But at the same time I’m grateful because that’s what made me who I am because I had so much experiences in different countries but at same time it’s defiantly a struggle… If I was born in the United States I wouldn’t move haha… You know I wouldn’t not go through Immigration If I… If I didn’t have too… Because when you immigrate you lose your home… Because when I go to Russia or Ukraine people say ” Oh it’s that American girl”  when I come here they’re all like ” Oh it’s the Russian Girl” When I go to Canada it’s like ” Oh it’s the American girl who happens to be Russian”

Me: hahahaha

Karina: So it’s like no one takes me like I am the same thing as they are… You know I’m always an outsider where ever I go so..

Me: And you feel that made you the person who you are… Because your a pretty strong woman..

Karina: Ahhh thank you… um well I mean it defiantly helped me out… I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because I am still grateful and I think United States so far is more of my home than any other country out there even though I was born in Russia I feel that my home is in San Francisco more than any other country..uuhhh place..

Me: Thats cool….Finally having going through all your moves… How has these moves affected your perception on Ukraine?

Karina: Um I think that I see that country as it has less opportunities that I thought of… When I was a child I thought that I was still able to get a job there… I saw some future there… But now I think that It has less opportunities than I saw… In reality there was a lot less opportunities… and I think that this country is going to go through big change….maybe revolution really soon…Maybe next thirty years… than it will become better, at the moment… I don’t think it’s doing as well as Russia and it is more corrupted and my perspective became… I think that it is a lot harder to live there than I thought… It was..yeah.. Now that I live here I appreciate certain things for example service even when you go to hospital… they don’t treat you like piece of meat… if your old there, doctor will basically tell you just die …you know… And here they will take care of you, they will always be polite, nice… things like that make a difference.. Even if it’s small things it makes a difference.. you know I think that now my perception of Ukraine is not as good as it was, because I saw better, I saw that it can be better, I saw that Canada and United States have more opportunities.

Me: I think that’s all the question I have for you… Thank you Karina.
Karina: No problem!