Two Homes

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Two Homes

by Vanessa Tso, May 2017

Migration has been happening since life appeared on Earth and the reason is simply to find a better place for living. There are a lot of reasons that people move to other countries and those reasons become their own stories. The American Dream attracts people to America, which creates a country of immigrants with diversity. Most people come to America to seek for freedom and better life opportunities as their home countries might not be able to provide for them. However, one person didn’t come to America to seek a better life or freedom, but instead didn’t want to miss the chance and took it as an adventure. That person is my dad, who simply wanted to have an English learning environment for me. The time of submitting the paper to come to America was long; however, the time for making the decision to move was short. He viewed this as an adventure as he didn’t have any particular expectations, so he simply went with the flow. When he first submitted the paper, it was 21 years ago and there was no reason for him to move as he lived comfortably in Hong Kong. With the idea of deciding later, there appeared reasons for him to move with his family as the opportunity to move America came about. While before realizing that he was eligible he had never thought of moving to America as he had a stable life in Hong Kong, he took the opportunity as an adventure for himself as he wanted to provide an English environment for his family; nevertheless, the experiences that he has faced in America have shaped his two identities as an American and a Hong Kong citizen with two homes.

Hong Kong, a crowded modern city with many sky-high buildings, sounds a lot different than San Francisco and he believed it was his only home due to the love that he had had for Hong Kong during his childhood. Grew up and living in Hong Kong for more than half of his at that point, he considered himself a typical person who came from Hong Kong. As he describes them, Hong Kong people are aggressive, hardworking and adventurous. When I asked about his childhood, he said, “I think I’m lucky. I had enough food, I’m able to get into school and graduated after five years of middle school.” Hong Kong was already industrialized before he was born and this led to the increase of population. In the article “A Tale of Two Cities: Factor Accumulation and Technical Change in Hong Kong and Singapore,” by Alwyn Young, a professor of economics, he did a comparison between the economic growth in Hong Kong and Singapore. He stated, “A mass migration from Mainland China to Hong Kong in the immediate postwar era, which cumulatively raised Hong Kong’s population from 600,000 in 1945 to 2,237,000 by mid-1950” (Young 18). Many people from Mainland China moved to Hong Kong for job opportunities and better life as the economy in China during that time was unstable. Space in Hong Kong was small, and a family of six would have to crowd into a small apartment that was originally for two. Although he lived in a small apartment with his parents and siblings, he never felt uncomfortable or crowded. The educational system followed the British system and taught the English language. His parent was a construction worker and he started helping his parent in his early 20’s. He owned a small business and a home, so life was stable that he couldn’t ask for more.

Migration is always the hardest decision to make, as there is a lot to consider; however, he quickly decided to come for an English environment and saw a great opportunity to move as the economy was going downhill in America. After 14 years, the opportunity to come to America had finally come. After a few discussions with his family, he decided to leave everything behind and came to America along with his family. Although it was a short period to make a life-changing decision, he believed it wouldn’t be “too bad.” It was around 2009, which was the time after the Great Recession. He viewed this as a good chance to move. In the book Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, written by Nobel Prize-wining Joseph E. Stiglitz, an American economist and a professor at Columbia University, he discussed the causes of the Great Recession in 2008 and how it affected America and the world. He stated, “In the Great Recession that began in 2008, millions of people in America and all over the world lost their homes and jobs” (Stiglitz xi). Fortunately, his life in Hong Kong wasn’t affected by the recession, but he viewed this as a chance to move. With the knowledge that the economy is a cycle and the recovery eventually comes, he knew it would be easier for him to invest in his life in America during that time. Yet the main purpose for moving was to provide an English environment for his daughter. He said, “I grew up in a British colony environment and I felt having the English environment is good for my daughter.” The idea of moving to America was to provide an English learning environment for his daughter, which was mindset motivated him to move to America. Since he grew up in a British colony, he realizes the importance of English as he considers it a must-learn language.

Decisions are made in order to take action. He didn’t see a reason for him to move due to his stable life in Hong Kong. When he submitted the application for immigration to America with the help of his younger sister, he didn’t make any plan to move at that moment. He said, “When I did the application, I didn’t make any decision yet.” He had the idea to decide when the immigration department approved his application because he knew it would take a few years for the whole process. The time he submitted the application to obtain a visa mailed to him took “14 years of waiting,” as he said. It was 12 years after he had applied when the US started to process his application and another two years of processing the application, which was a total of 14 years. For the book Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, by James Hollifield, a Professor of International Political Economy, he did a study on immigration policy in the European Union. He stated, “There is a structural element to employer demand for foreign workers, such as in agriculture, construction, health care, domestic help, and hospitality” (Hollifield 4). This means there are policies to control the flow of the immigrants into the counties. The time that the U.S. Immigration Department started to handle my dad’s application was late 2008, which was around the time of the Great Recession. With the idea of starting a new life, he was ready to accept America as his second home.

As a positive person, he believes any problems can be solved; however, the discrimination that he experienced at his second job made him question himself as American or Chinese. Although he was never discriminated due to his name, Wing, he was discriminated against because of where he was from. There was no problem finding a job in America as he described. In the article “After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gain Jobs; Native Born Lost Jobs,” by Rakesh Kochhar, a former senior economist at Joel Popkin and Co., he shared a report that analyzes the labor market during the Great Recession and how it affected the job rates in America. According to his report, “foreign – born workers gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million” (Kochhar 1) after the Great Recession in the United States. This shows that the demand for foreign workers increased because of cheaper labor as the economy was slowly recovering and this made it easier for him to find a job. The second job that he worked was at a company that is owned by a Chinese-American businessman. The workers were all Chinese and the language was not the problem at all. He thinks the mistreatment that he experienced by his co-workers was based on where he was from. He said, “They were already in a group, which it was hard for me to join in and the uh…” I cut him off and asked, “Did you tried to?” He continued with an unpleasant look: “I think mainly because of the culture that I have as we grew up in a different world, where the cultures are different.” Although his ethnicity is Chinese, the city that he grew up in a British colony was different from Mainland China. The cultures might be similar; however, the differences are quite different as they can led to contradiction. For the book Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America, by Mary C. Waters, an American sociologist and a professor in Harvard University, she conducted research by looking through the immigration status data in the 1800s and 1900s in America, and about the discrimination against Europeans from different parts of Europe. Later, she looked at interviews of people whose descent was from Europe to see what ethnicity they would answer. She stated, “Sometimes I am tempted to just say American when people ask, especially when I think I might be lumped together with people I don’t necessarily consider to be authentically Irish” (Waters, xii). Just like how my dad simply tells others he is an American when asked. After this experience, his identity as a Hong Kong citizen grew stronger as he felt the culture that he knew was unique. On the other hand, he slowly settled down in San Francisco and this made him confident enough to identify himself as an American.

While most immigrants would compare their home countries to America in many different ways from their expectations that they had before the move, my dad doesn’t compare San Francisco and Hong Kong as he considers both are his home. From the crowdedness of Hong Kong to the lack of nice beaches to swim in in San Francisco, as he joked around, he restated, “Right now, I like, uh, San Francisco more than Hong Kong.” Although he spent more than half of his life in Hong Kong, he likes San Francisco more because he has his family, a job and, lastly “choose to live here.” He now considers San Francisco as his home, where his family is here and his life is as comfortable as his life was in Hong Kong. He never thinks of moving back to Hong Kong as he left everything behind and started a new life in San Francisco, so, “San Francisco is my first home and Hong Kong is second.” The time that he scarified and the efforts that he put into the move, made him fall in love with the place that he lives now as he tries his best. If he ever moved back to Hong Kong, he would have to start over again from scratch. It would not be practical for him as the physical and mental demands for moving are beyond imagination.

The American Dream has been attracting people from around the world, as they want to seek a better future. Funny enough, one person, who is my dad, didn’t seek a better life as he couldn’t imagine a much better life than he was having in Hong Kong. Still, he took the opportunity to come to America as an adventure. Before moving to America, he identified himself as Chinese, and Hong Kong was his only home. However, after moving to America he identifies himself as an American and a Hong Kong citizen: both America and Hong Kong are his homes. Most immigrants who have been in America for generations would identify themselves as American as they consider America their home. However, the identity of a person can never be defined, since the topic of identity is debatable. Only the person can define their own identity and their home as there are no model answers for it. Most people would argue that when people move to another country, they should assimilate to the culture and consider that place as their home, so they should identify themselves from there as well. Still, there is one thing to keep in mind, that identity can’t be defined by others and a person can identify with more than one identity. Also, the definitions of home vary since there is not a definite answer to it. Lastly, our identity and our home might not be important to others, but are something that we treasure as we believe in those, which can reflect on who we are.

Work Cited

Hollifield, James. Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective. California. Stanford

University Press. 2014. Print.

Kochhar, Rakesh C. “After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gained Jobs; Native Born Lose

Jobs.” Pew Hispanic Center. Washington D.C. October 29, 2010.

Stiglitz, Joseph. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. New

York. W. W. Norton & Company Inc. 2010. Print.

Tso, Wing. Personal Interview. 9 April. 2017.

Waters, Mary. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. London, England. The Regents

of the University of California. 1990. Print.

Young, Alwyn. “A Tale of Two Cities: Factor Accumulation and Technical Change in Hong

Kong and Singapore.”

First 10 min. of the interview – transcript

Where are you from?

I’m from Hong Kong.

Describe that place.

Modern city, there is a modern city, a lot of people there and the population is about 7 million and many sky-high buildings. Anyway a modern city, a big city.

What was it like when you were a child?

When I was a child, Hong Kong was a British colony. We have English subject and also Chinese subject. The educational system followed the British system. At that time, many Hong Kong people, their parents most were from China and at that time, most of their parents were hawkers and construction workers and… my parent are also construction workers.

How was your childhood?

I think I’m lucky, I had enough food, I’m able to get into school and I graduated after five years of middle school. The system is five years of middle school in Hog Kong. Maybe it is equivalence to high school in the US. So yeah, maybe graduated from high school.

When was your first time to America?

Around 20 to 25 years ago… 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to come to the US. That was the time when I participated my younger sister’s wedding ceremony. Oh yeah, attended the wedding ceremony along with the whole family.

What was the first impression?

Actually, we stayed for about… two weeks. (Uhum… mommy was it two weeks?) Yes, two weeks. Not much impression.

Did you have any impression?

I came here… and been to Yosemite but it was during winter time… I didn’t know too well. I have been to Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, but I felt like San Francisco was not much different than now… Yeah… not much different.

When was the whole thing started?

The beginning of the application?

No the first time…

Oh submit the application….

Yeah, when?

Ah, it was 21 years ago.

So it was before I was born

Yeah, my younger sister, who is already a, no when she became a citizen, she helped me to submit the form. This is 20 years ago

You didn’t even know I exist! Yes, I have to wait for 14 years, which the immigration department started to process my application and when the immigration department started to process, we have to wait for two.

Two years?

So the process was like that, so I submit the application it was 20 years ago and i have to wait 14 years, no, after 12 years, the United States became to process my application about two years. So 14 years of waiting.

So 14 years, really?

Yeah, the process has different categories, like parent and daughter would be shorter, brother and sister would be longer.

The wait? So different relationships are different…

Yeah, different relationships have different waiting.

And at that time, why do you…

Oh, at that time why did I take the action?

Yeah, like why you took the action. No, like what made you decide to move

When I was in Hong Kong, I grew up in a British colony environment and I felt having the English environment is good for my daughter.

But I was not even born yet!!

Ohhh, when I did the application, i didn’t make any decision yet. So, i just submit the application. After…

So, it just like the idea of submitting the application and decide later

Yes, when the United States starts to process my application, that will be the time…

That will be the time to start making the decision.

What are the difference between Hong Kong and America?

In America, there more races and in Hong Kong, there are mostly Chinese… Hong Kong is crowded. San Francisco has fresh air, which Hong Kong does not have. San Francisco doesn’t have good beach to swim.

Where do you like more? To live…

Right now, I like uh San Francisco more than Hong Kong.

Why?

I have my job, I have my family… oh no… why?… Because I choose to live here

Do you consider United States as your home?

Yes, because I’m United States citizen.

So…

My family is here

So you consider America your home, how about Hong Kong?

Eh… Hong Kong is my second home.

So America is your first and Hong Kong is your second home.

Yes

Okay, done!

I Left My Heart in Syria

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I Left My Heart in Syria

by Serena Mokatish, May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Transcripts

First Meeting:

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

Steven: “Really sad.”

Serena: “Why did you feel sad?”

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

Serena: “But none of your family died?”

Steven: “None.”

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

Steven: “From the war.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Sad.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

Steven: “Do you have any more questions?”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

Serena: “And you learned more?”

Steven: “Yeah, I learned five languages.”

Serena: “Wow!”

Steven: “I know that is a lot.”

Serena: “And you have more friends there?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Fluent.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “What games did you play?

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I had so many friends.”

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

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

Serena: “Oh, that’s good.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Would you go back to Syria?”

Steven: “When the war stops, yes.”

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

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

Serena: “Aw!”

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

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

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

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

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

Serena: “On the plane?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I love them a lot!”

Serena: “Aw!”

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

Serena: That’s good, that’s good!”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: (laughs) “Okay.”

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

Serena: Church?

Steven: “Church!”

Serena: “Would you miss me?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: Really?”

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

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

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

Steven: “Second.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: (Laughs).

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

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

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

Steven “Twenty-four.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Give me a hug.”

(Serena and Steven hug)

Second Meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Not really.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “Are you proud to be Syrian?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “My friends and family.”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Happy, fun, good.”

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

Steven: “Sad, scared, and worried.”

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

Steven: “Sad, excited, and scared.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really happy, excited, joy.”

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

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

Serena: “Of course. Nothing beats family.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Why do you get mad?”

Steven: “Because I want my mom.”

Serena: “You’re a mommy’s boy.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Both because we all live together.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “What makes you Syrian?”

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

Serena: “Does your mom work?”

Steven: “No.”

Serena: “How about your dad?”

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

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

Steven: “Yeah, I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “I miss my friends more.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “What makes it boring?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah we all help each other.”

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

Steven: “Yeah they are all nice.”

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

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

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.

 

The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly

peonies-with-butterfly

The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly

by Jiankun He, July 2014

Everyone is an editor who uses his or her whole life to edit his or her own story book named Life, whereas immigrants are not only the editors of their own story books, but also the subeditors of a history book about immigration. Lei, a 24-year-old Chinese woman who emigrated from China to the United States, gives people the impression of a positive, happy, and diligent person. The first part of her story happened in her hometown, Taishan, China, and while she had a great draft of her future story in China, the decision of immigrating to the US changed her story. Once she began to live in the USA, she had to drop her draft of her story about her future in China, and begin to edit her life story in the USA. During my oral history interview with her, I read a part of the chapter “The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly” of her life story, which is about her life beginning in the USA. While she had a comfortable life in China, and could have had a bright future, to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, she started a harder life in the USA; in this country, which has a better education system, she has overcome different obstacles in this different milieu and has achieved academic success by working hard and getting support from her family.

Lei immigrated to the United States with her parents, little sister, and little brother, four years ago. Before they came here, Lei’s parents had run their family business, which had had been passed down from her grandpa, with her uncles and aunts. She was a college student. Being supported by her family, Lei hadn’t faced any big problems in her life, and had planned to help her family operate the family business after she graduated from college. They had happy lives in China. In 2010, there was an opportunity that only comes once in a blue moon. Her family could immigrate to the US with the help of her mother’s sister. Lei hadn’t any special feeling about this news, but her parents wanted to move because they wanted to pursue a better future for the next generations. They were willing to sacrifice their own happiness in China and put their kids first, only for the American Dream for the children. Because of her parents’ American Dream, Lei and her siblings migrated to the US with them. She tries to get used to life here, continues education, and is becoming mature.

Home becomes a home, when it not only provides a place we can live, but also gives us the feeling that we belong to it. Taishan, Lei’s hometown, is a small town located in Guangdong province, China. Lei says, “I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town.” In this town, Lei describes, people are very nice and friendly, and it is a tourist city. She loves San Francisco, but calls Taishan home because she has many relatives and friends there, and many memories of Taishan. Lei recalls that there is a lovely of tourist attraction called Black Sand Beach in Taishan. Unlike the sands on other beaches, the sands there are all black. She has an unforgettably happy memory with her friends there. Her most precious memories relate to this town; her roots are planted here, and most her relatives and friends are there. She could have operated her small family business someday and had a happy life in the town. She had everything there; she belonged to this place, which she calls home.

Beyond the feeling of belongingness, Lei has found that home should be a place that has family to giving her the courage to face any obstacle. In June 2010, Lei left her home and landed in this country with her family. This country gives Lei the impression that “the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There’re a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like.” It is really different from her hometown, Taishan, with a different culture, different language and so the American different from what she familiar. She is just getting used to this country and its culture. In the report “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants,” Wendy Erisman and Shannon Looney analyze the situation of immigrants attaining higher education in the US; they say, “among this group of 18- to 24- year- olds, 98 percent thought that a college education was important, but many were worried about taking on debt and losing out on opportunities to earn needed income by working” (Shannon, Wendy 20). Lei also has to overcome these problems to continue her education and find a job here. Even though she is facing different challenges she had never met, Lei still gets support from her family: she doesn’t worry about the rent because her father works hard to afford to it and her mother takes good care of their daily lives. Under her parents’ support, Lei can try her best to pursue the success which belongs to her. Since Lei has been living here for four years, she has a new definition of home; she thinks that San Francisco is also her home, which she defines as her second home because she can make friends here, create memories here, and, most importantly, lives with her family here. As she says, “I followed my family. That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home. It’s very simple.” Because her family gives her support and a sense of belonging, no matter how the environment changes, wherever her family is, the place is her home.

The first and biggest challenge Lei had to overcome in the USA was the language barrier. She had been a college student before she migrated to the US. Even though she was working hard at school just for her majors, she did not pay much attention on English. As Lei recalls, “On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.” This means that she had to live in a nation where she knew nothing; everything she had learned became nothing to her here. No matter that she wanted to continue going to college or working, language barrier became her biggest obstacle. She chose to progress both ways at the same time: to be a fulltime student and find a part-time job. She thought that if she worked hard at learning English, she could do well in school and her life. Lei says that she had tried to take six classes in a day, starting at 8: 00 a.m. and ending up at 5: 00 p.m. or 6: 00 p.m. She tries her best to seek any opportunity to practice English: “to talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger [in English].” After school, she volunteers at different museums because she thinks she can get more opportunities to practice speaking English. “If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I see myself as a six or seven.” Lei says this proudly. To keep working hard is the only way Lei can overcome her obstacle of her language barrier.

Another challenge Lei had to overcome in the US was finding a job. To find a suitable job is an obstacle for many new immigrants. Lots of employers don’t want to hire newcomers who do not have any experience. If they do hire one, it will probably offer very low pay and long working hours. She says that, because her English was not so good and she did not have any work experience, it was hard for her to get hired. She recalls unbearably, “a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.” On that day, she left home very early in the morning and told her mom that they did not need to wait for her for lunch or dinner because she might be home late. She went home really late at night and she had no expectation that any company would hired her because she had poor language skills and lacked work experience. But she also had hope that she could get more interview experience, which could help her to get a job. Lei says that she kept finding jobs and accumulated interviews and work experiences; she tried working at Chinese restaurants as casher or a waitress. She got minimum wage, and these kind of jobs didn’t give her enough chance to practice English, but she thought all these were opportunities to make her become matured. When her English was getting better and better, Lei finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school after school. In her words, she can’t earn too much from these jobs, but the income is enough for her daily use, and she can learn a lot through her jobs. Never give up; she is growing up into maturity and approaching success by accumulating experiences of success and failure.

Beyond Lei’s hard work, the better education system in the US is another factor that helps her to achieve a better education. She was a student in a college like City College in China after she had graduated from high school. The Chinese education system is different from the American, and even she worked hard at school, but it was still hard for her to transfer to a good university in China. She says that Chinese education is exam-oriented education. Yang Zhifu, author of “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education,” explains, “What is involved here are questions relating to examinations, to the whole phenomenon of coping with examinations, and to the relationship between what we will call ‘exam-oriented education’” (Zhifu). It is a system that only lets students get good grades but ignores students’ knowledge absorption and limits students’ creativity. Lei gives an example: “When I was in China, my professors, they might just talk. They will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US.” She also explains that students don’t even understand the topic but will still say to professors that they all understand. She had been taught in this way until she migrated to the US. The first year she came to the San Francisco, she enrolled into non-credit English as Second Language classes in City College of San Francisco because she couldn’t afford the tuition of credited class in school. The first time she found she had aged classmates and it was the first time she learned the true sense of equity education: everyone can get education. After she enrolled in credited classes at CCSF, during these two years, she came to understand the meaning of better education: quality-oriented education. Lei gives an example of her understanding: “in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative if you don’t know. And like teacher, they will cooperate with students; they might assign you as groups to discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions.” From a student in exam-oriented education, she became a student in quality-oriented education. She says that she has understood “such more knowledge than ever before.” She keeps working hard in such a good educational mode to be a straight A student, and finally she can transfer to the world-class university University of California, Berkeley, to get further education. In similar level colleges, she achieves more than what she learns here because of the better educational mode; and her hard work and the better education system give her the chance to get further her education at a good academic university.

Facts show that the way which immigrants achieve success in a new country is hard. Lei is still on the way to attaining success in her life in the United States. In this country which has a better education system, being support by family and working hard, she has overcome obstacles which come to a new immigrant and gets the chance to a get better education. These are only achievements of her life; as a good woman she is, she is sure to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, which is to have better future.

Works Cited

Erisman, Wendy and Shannon Looney. “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants”. Lumina Foundation for Education. 2007. Web. 23 Jul.2014.

Lei, Lei. Personal interview. 6 Jul. 2014.

Zhifu, Yang. “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education”. Web. 23 Jul.2014.

Transcripts

Date: 6 July, 2014.   Place: Lei’s House.

Interviewer’s name: Jiankun He (H).

Interviewee’s name: Lei (B).

H: Hello, thanks for accepting the interview of oral histories. Hi, how are you!

B: I’m good. Haha.

H: what’s your name?

B: My name is Lei.

H: Where are you from? What’s the memory do you have about this place?

B: en. I am from Taishan. A very small town in Guangdong province, China. It locates in south, yeah, south China. So, it’s been years since I came here. Let’s see. [Er] I was here 2010, now it’s 2014. Yeah, 4 years. So, I know there are big changes, must be, right? In my hometown, which I heard from my grandma and some of my relatives. And, but I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town. And I’m sure you have been there, before. So! People there are very nice and friendly, and there some very good, yeah, I am sure! I am sure it’s famous. Yeah, tourist attractions and visitors coming from all other places to visit those places. Me! I! If you ask what’s my favorite site or place in my town. It’s! I know! I will tell you one place that I really like.

H: EnEn!

B: it’s the Black Sand beach. In~ I don’t know where it’s exactly the location. I remember something class activity that the whole class. The teachers organized the activity. And then they brought us to the beach. And, you know, it was amazing, and it was a very good memory to talk about that. Because, because there are all the sands they are black, you know, there are all black.

H: Oh, all black?

B: it’s not like the ocean beach, not like the long beach, or the beaches here. The sands are black. And it is so beautiful! You know. You can pick up the shells, and you can also see the seagulls, or the children they are running all the places. And you can image that there were nice weather, and you were with your classmates and your teachers. And just have a good time.

H: that sounds wonderful.

B: It was wonderful. Haha. I really like that place.

H: what family members do you have? What did they do before came here?

B: En, I have big family in China. You know. My mom, my dad, my younger sister, my younger brother and me, five people in my family. And before came here. [Er] we have our family business, that my grandpa passed on to other uncles and aunts and my father. So, we were running our own small business in town. And it’s hard to describe what it looks like, how it runs. My dad called it a construction Co., but I preferred to call it a decoration Co. Like we sold products about metals, steels, some of the, maybe furniture. But it did not really like a house store like home depot. It’s not like that.

H: I see.

B: it’s like if orders coming, my dad will go out to see and to ask the customers what they really want us to do. If they want the products, we just sell them. If they really need people to work on their home, and we will sent workers to work on their home. I was not part of the team, but I know how my dad and my mom ran the business. And sometime I help them do the numbers, like an accountant.

H: So that’s the reason you choose the major accounting?

B: [Er] I think that must be some reasons. It is part of like my dad and my mom they know how to run a business. So, I think we are the same blood, so I might have the gift to do business and good at numbers.

H: good.

B: that, it’s not bad. Haha.

H: how did you think the US before you came here? Why did you immigrate here? And when did you come here?

B: [Oh~] to be honest, I don’t, I didn’t think any about this country before I came here. I was still at school, yeah, exactly I was at my college in the second year. [Er] at that time, I was dealing with my exams. When my parents told me about this good news. Right?

H: yeah.

B: So, I~, I think I put all my attentions into the exams. During that summer, when I really told about this with my parents and my family, I was just feeling like em, em. It was just normal, [em] it was Ok to accept this news, this fact, I will go aboard, I will immigrate to other country beside my country. So~ so~ actually it was not bad, but I was not kind of excited, expected to go, right? And I know that, yeah, a month before I knew this news, my friend, one of my best friends, just moved out, you can say he migrated to, I think it is England. It’s not America, it’s England. And he told me that oh, this country it’s very nice!!! Beautiful!!! And you know that people are very friendly, but they all speak English!!!!!!! And, hehe, I was total into my exams. So I didn’t think anything before I go there, I moved, yeah, I moved to the US. So, I just talked to my friends and my parents, [Er] do I, [Er] I asked my friends, are we really going there? And they said: “yes, why not, let’s try something else, right? You have the opportunity to go out and see the world. Why not? Just try.” I just “ok, not bad, let’s try.” That’s why I am here. Hahahaha. And, so if you ask why I am here? I will say “I followed my family.” That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home, it’s very simple, right?

H: yes.

B: I know, [Em] like my parents, they have kind of like~ like American dream, and they wished all of us babies, part of our relatives, they could, we all could have the better life, [Er] better education. So, I am not saying that the education in China is not good, but, maybe the education system in the western countries is better, right?

H: yeah, agree.

B: maybe that’s why we migrated. I landed on this country in June, 2010. I remember. The month, but I really don’t remember exact day. if you asked me what day? I am sorry. I couldn’t remember the date. I am just getting use to this country, the culture. Accept the fact. So, [Em] kind of like accept. Yeah~ and I am, yeah~ kind of that.

H: So, How do you think of the US now according to what you have seen, heard and learned here?

B: I know the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like. They will fight for their right, right?

H: Oh, yes.

B: you usually hear from the news, said, some people are going to maybe vote, they are going out to the street to give protect, [Er] what they want to do, what you have to give me, something. I am not, not saying that. Right? But, they can have, like people here they can have more choices on their life styles. [Em] I would say it’s more colorful life, here. Yeah, you can like live on the street, if that’s what you like. You can live in a house, in a department, in the dorm, in, in some, I forget the word. It’s some like a department. But if you were in China, you can only live in your own house, with your family, your big extend family. Like with your aunts, your uncles, all live together. Here you can live like in a single house, maybe far from your aunt or your uncle. But that’s. You can choose, right?

B: yeah.

H: what I learned is people, everyone can go to school no matter how old you are what situation you at. When I first came here, I would say, I was very surprised to see people like some old people, [wow~] I am sure that some of them are seventy or eighty years old. And I would say I was totally shock. Wow, why were those old people still at school, at school, right? And I asked my teachers. And they said, “Everyone can go to school here, no matter how old you are.” I, I just, I was just, just. I don’t know how to describe. Like, you open your mouth, [O~~] like that.

B: HaHa.

H: It’s shock. Yeah, it’s pretty surprised. I told my mom, “Mom, you should go to school.” And she just said, “I am old, I am old.” And I said, “No, you are not old enough, we have people, they are seventy years old, they are still go to school, in my class. Yeah, and they are studying hard. You should try, mom.” And my mom still said she’s not part of the school. I think that’s the culture stuff. But, you know, you just keep talking to people, everyone at school, yeah, like older people, mid-age people. Right? And here the technologies are much advanced. You know, like iPhone. May just one year ago, you still had your iPhone 4. But, then, just few months later, iPhone 5 comes up, iPhone 5c comes up. It’s more advanced. And, if I could describe in one sentence, it is a country having the higher living standard, I think, like, better than the third world countries, right? So, I can tell, I can tell, I can see why my parents wanted to come here. I understand.

H: So you have been here about three years, four years.

B: Yes, four years.

H: Yes, so what do you think some challenges you have in the US?

B: Some challenges. [Em~~] let me think about that. Obviously, right? The biggest challenge for me or for other new immigrants is the language barrier. I didn’t concern anything before I came here. I told you, right? I was thinking it was OK for me, right? But, there’s when I was in China. When I came here, I realized I couldn’t understand what people were talking about. It just gave me a hard time to learn English. You know, So, I tell you [Er~ Er ~ Er~] my experience. So, I was like, I think, honor. Ok, let’s say, On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.

H: wow, that’s so low.

B: yeah, I know, I~ I was just overwhelmed when, when like the sound of English being seemingly like bombarded in my direction. Like, you, you were in the airport and people were just speaking English, blah~blah~blah~. Oh, my ears hurt. I couldn’t understand. I might know like “hello, how are you, good bye.” But if you talk more, then my both ears like, I couldn’t tell. So, since then, my command, like, yeah, command of English has changed a lot. Because I study, right? I go to school, I work. If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I will say, haha, I see myself as a six or seven. Yeah, haha. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I am still trying to improve English skill.

H: that’s good, really good.

B: So, I am still working on my English. Em, this is the biggest challenge for me even for most of immigrant people, right?

H: yeah.

B: And then the second biggest challenge for me was to find a job. It’s really hard, tough to find a job here. You know, living in this country, it’s a costly land. You have to have a job. And I remember I couldn’t be hired because my English was not so good, not good enough to compare to other people, right? And, a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.

H: in a day? Wow.

B: yep. I went out like very early in the morning, and I told my mom, “Mom, I got job interviews today, so don’t wait for me for lunch or dinner. I may be home late.” Yes, I was, I came home late, really late. So, I, I don’t know they might hire me or not, I was just hoping I could get more experiences in interview. And then I could get a job. But, you know, it turned out, that none of those companies would like hire me. I can tell why. May probably because my poor English or I didn’t have experience or I didn’t have high education level. Whatever, it’s hard to find a job in the city for many new comers. Like me.

H: How did you overcome the challenges?

B: En, haha. I wouldn’t say I have overcome my challenges. I am still working on it. I~ I think it takes time to develop [~em~ language]. Like English. For a lot of immigrants. What I have been doing is go to school every day. Study in class from the morning till to the late afternoon. I remember my first was start at 8:00 or 8: 30 at the morning. And then I have (counting, one, two…) more 6 classes in a day. And 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. when my dad picked me and my sister up. And I am just trying to speak as much as I can. I seek any opportunity to talk. To talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger. [~laugh~] yes, it nice if you think she or he is a nice person. Usually people are very nice to give small talk, right? [Em] So, other than that, I will do volunteering if there any chance for me. I am doing like. [Er] I am still a volunteer in some museums, like Randall Museum, or what’s that museum? Next to the city hall.

H: Asian…

B: Oh, yep, Asian Art Museum, right? Yep. Being the… I am not sure the name. How they call. Just answer visitors’ questions and give them directions. So, if you do those, it might give you more opportunity to practice your speaking, your English. And the last thing I would find jobs. The requires employees to speak in English. I have tried many jobs that require people like employees to speak both Chinese and English. But I realized if the company needs you to speak English. That will push you, like to push you to think, to talk. It likes, I don’t know. Just make you focus on English. You will think, you will do, what, it’s hard to explain it. it just likes total different from when you talk and speak in Chinese. It is very different. ~ I don’t know how to say it, forget it~ OK? It is just to grab everything like jobs talks in English. It’s good. So, this way, I can practice English every day. And I told you finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school. Even I earn not too much, but it’s enough for my daily use, and I can learn much through these jobs. [Haha]. I am still very happy about. Before that, I worked at Chinese restaurants as a casher or a waitress like many students, right? Doing part-time. Got the minimum paid and I couldn’t practice my English through these jobs. You know, you will think all of these opportunities, all of these provide me more chances to use what I have learned at school, which I am really thankful.

H: You said that you were a student before you came here. Do you think it is easier for you get education here?

B: [~ sigh ~] to get education. Yeah, before came here, I was a college student in China. Here~ if you ask some differences between education here and in China. I would say the education system here is better. Better than in China. I didn’t say it’s not good in China. I prefect the way how it works here. Because [~ Em ~] like. Chinese Education is the Exam-oriented Education, but the education mode here is like kind of Quality-oriented Education. I can give you a very simple example. When I was in China, my professors they might just talk, they will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US. So they will ask you “do you have any questions about this lecture or about any point?” And most the students they just say “no, we understand.” But really understand? I don’t think that’s true. So, even you don’t understand you might say “yes, I understand.” But here, because. I can say you might fear to ask questions. But here, in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative, being     if you don’t know. And like teachers, they will cooperate with students; they might sign you as groups, in small groups, sometimes in big groups. Discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions. This very inspired for me. Cause it’s experience. That’s different kind of education like the teaching ways. I will say, Oh, I like it. I really like it. I can learn so much during these two years, I have understood more knowledge than ever before. I like the US, [yeah] So, and right now, I am still a college student, you know. [ ~hahaha~] I am just transfer to, I am ready, I am gonna transfer to the university to finish my education.

H: which school?

B: [~Wow~ (delighted) ]I will transfer to UC Berkeley this fall.

H: congratulation.

B: Thank you.

H: So, have you ever image the live if you hadn’t come here?

B: [~ En~] Honestly, I haven’t thought about this question before. I think I might have ended up living in town with my grandma and grandpa and my aunt. Helping my aunt run our family business after graduated. And, I might not have had a chance to broaden my visions and experienced so much if I was still in China, yep, in my hometown. And. Yeah, no more thought about that. Just, just not a question I would think most of my time.

H: [En~ En], Do you ever regret coming here?

B: Nope, absolutely no. I don’t regret coming here. I am very happy living here to meet you guys, my friends, met a lot of good people, good friends. And my family is here. And China is my home, but, America is also my home. I love both countries, they are all my, yeah, my hometowns right now. And I would like to experience different life styles if I have the opportunities. I am sure I will take these chances. I can learn English, meet and make friends from all over the world, travel wherever I like, and all kinds of different stuff I can do, and I enjoy my life here. Really, enjoy. I should thank my parents bringing me here and making an optimistic me. Without them, I could barely think of living abroad or studying abroad. It is difficult for me to live along. So, no regret!

H: enjoy your life here. Thank you.

 

One Common Thread in the Blanket of Dreams

One Common Thread in the Blanket of Dreams

by Stephanie Muñoz, July 2014

The American dream is something that a lot of immigrants moving to America are trying to fulfill. Many people have different ideas of the American dream, but in the end are just looking for a better way of life. For one man in specific, he has faced quite a few challenges to try to achieve his own version of the American dream. This man’s name is Ramón and he moved from Ecuador to the United Stated to complete his American dream. Ramón had envisioned his American dream to be in a place of progressing. His early life was not the best because he lived in poverty. There was a lot of corruption where he lived and moving to America would be the stepping stone he needed to get his life together. As Ramón tried to grow in his life, he viewed the American dream as a better way to live, and was going to accomplish his American dream with his ambition and hard work.

Ramón’s life started out difficult. It was at the age of seven when he his best childhood memories came to a halt and he had to grow up more quickly. His dad was always leaving to America to try and make some money so that he could support the family. Ramón and his mother moved in with his grandmother. He is the oldest of four sisters and a brother. When he got older and left, he barely got to spend time with his younger siblings because he left at a pretty young age. He did not finish his education and eventually decided to join the Ecuadorian military. His father was always pushing him to do something with his life, but it was hard to do anything in Ecuador due to corruption. People in Ecuador would only help someone if they knew the person, or had money. Everyone else was a victim of low income. Some people in Ecuador have a different mentality. They are not ambitious, and do not try to do something else to make life better life for themselves. Ramón believed that in America, if he worked hard enough he could achieve whatever he wanted. America was a place where he wanted his dreams to come true and not be another victim in the corrupt environment of Ecuador. The first few years of his life were hard, but then he had the chance to move to America. His father paid for someone to cross him over the border into the US so that Ramón could start his new life. After looking for a while, a family friend told Ramón about a company that he could probably work for. Ramón got the job and immediately started saving money. He acquired his residency and from there everything seemed to come more easily. At first, Ramón wanted to go back to Ecuador, after a few years, because the money made in America is a lot of money when taken back to Ecuador, but then decided that he liked America better.

At first, thought, the American Dream can be easily defined as the chance to create an opportunity. It is when one begins to work at it that one discovers how multifaceted it actually is. It involves so many variables to define the American Dream. It depends on the person, the timing, the location, etc. The American Dream is a blanket made up of many different threads. It is unclear when the American Dream actually began. The Library of Congress has outlined the different time periods the American Dream could have begun from the authors of the Declaration of Independence to the homesteaders, or from when the immigrants who first arrived to when veterans would come back from fighting and wished for more (LOC). For each of those groups, each dream was different as well. One common thread in the blanket of dreams is money. It is universally acknowledged money that can help people reach many dreams. This is not limited to immigrants searching for better pay, but true for everyone. Money extends to the other threads that create the dream. It can lead to higher education and therefore a better paying job. A higher education opens more doors, creating a social status and security (Lazerson). It could be more simplistic like having enough money to feed a family or more materialistic and have enough to splurge. The message of the American Dream is to inspire the idea of the grass being green on the other side, that one day it will get better.  The dream can stay constant or can shift over time. Life finds a way of altering it. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to attain the American Dream, because of its ever-changing fluidity. In order to fulfill the dream, people go through all possible measures. Immigrants leave their counties, their homes, to sow what they hope will be enough to bring back. A person can take more than one job and sacrifice a lot to stay on track. The more effort put into the dream, the more desirable it is.

When Ramón was just a young man, he dreamed of accomplishing his American dream. He had pictured his own version of the dream, and described it: “I thought it was a country you can progress more easily than my own country. I think there are more opportunities to progress in this country than my country.” It was clear that Ramón thought that America was a country of opportunity, whereas Ecuador was not. He explains that there is a lot of corruption in Ecuador and that, if someone is working, there is no chance of ever getting promoted unless he or she knows someone or has the money. If someone works hard, he or she will not get anywhere, but in America, Ramón believed that if he worked hard enough he could progress. He believed that in America there were more opportunities for him to change jobs and make more money, while in Ecuador it seemed impossible. Usually, if someone quits one job, he or she would be lucky to find another job. People sometimes end up staying with the same job and only make a little bit of money. Even if someone works hard, it is hard to get anything. Then, on top of that, it was hard to get a job. Many people would move outside of the country. After he turned eighteen years old, that was the official moment when he decided that he wanted to move to America and make a better life for himself. When Ramón would see friends coming back to visit Ecuador, he noticed that they were living better lives in America. He would imagine himself getting paid for his hard work and his life would be better financially. Ramón wanted some of the average things in life, and says, “My dream is to have a house, a good job, a nice car, and to have money.” Although he wanted some of the basic necessities to live a happy life such as shelter, transportation along with a steady income, he wasn’t too sure of how he was going to complete his goals. He mentions, “I was not looking for a career, only for a better way of life.” He believed that he would achieve these items with hard work. Most importantly he believed in himself, that he could attain success. Ramón felt that he was capable of accomplishing his American dream.

Ramón’s early life is what led him to chase the American dream. Even if he worked hard in Ecuador, he would not get paid enough. He says that many companies will only hire someone for three months before they fire him, so they will not have to give the worker benefits. Ramón explains, “Life was very scary because I thought it was easy to make money, but I realized that living here was tough.” Unfortunately, Ramón only had one job throughout his twenty three years of living in Ecuador. When he got older, he did not go to college, and even dropped out of high school in his third year. He reflected, “School was boring and I was not a good student.” Ramón really did not like the idea of going to school. At the age of eighteen, he joined the Ecuadorian military. He thought that the military was better than going to school. The military in Ecuador used to take in anyone. They would find people that were uneducated and did not know how to read or write. Ramón’s first year in the military was the first year that they had educated students, meaning that they at least knew how to read and write. Therefore, he sincerely takes pride of when he joined the military in Ecuador because they were the first graduating class that was educated. Since they were the first educated graduating class, they only had to stay six months whereas all the other men had to stay at least one year. After he was done with the military, he chose not to stay because he didn’t like people telling him what to do all the time, like wake up early. There were too many rules for him. Their military, however, did not get any benefits either, but he stayed because he was not doing anything with his life. He explains, “I wanted to prove to my dad that I was good for something and I wanted to do something with my life, my dad was very strict and always pushing me to something.” His dad went to America a few times to try to make a living. Ramón would live with his grandma and they suffered a lot. His father would come back to Ecuador, and then leave again. When Ramón was nineteen, his father left Ecuador to go to the United States one last time, so when Ramón turned twenty three, his dad said, “This is your last chance to make something of your life.” It was hard to accomplish his desires in Ecuador and he was still without a job at twenty two, so that was the moment that Ramón made a change in his life and decided to just chase after the American dream.

After having a challenging early life, Ramón decided that it was time to make a change in his life. It was at the age of twenty-three that he realized that he did not want to just be stuck doing nothing with his life, so he stopped contemplating and started doing. With the help of his father, he finally took action and made his first step to make his American dream come true. Ramón’s father paid for the process to come to America because he did not have any money. At first, Ramón flew from Ecuador to Mexico City, with a visa. From Mexico City, he met up with someone to take him to Tijuana, Mexico. Ramón did not have the visa to travel from Mexico to the United States, so he had to meet up with another person to help him cross the border illegally, known as a coyote. Moving from Tijuana and over the border, he went to San Diego to meet his dad. Later, his dad brought him to Orange County. They went to Orange County because his dad was currently living with his brother-in-law. The whole process of coming to the US from only took about four to five days. The first thing that Ramón remembers about when he got to America was that his father took him to Pioneer Chicken, which is a takeout restaurant. At first, he didn’t like America, as he demonstrates, “I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have money, no family here I live with my uncle. In the beginning, it was hard. The beginning is too hard. I thought after 4 o5 years I would go back to my country.” It was not until he got his first paycheck that he changed his mind about America. His father left shortly after he got Ramón settled in America, but left his uncle’s place after one year; when he got a job, so he was on his own most of the time. He then says, “After I got my checks, I started liking the money and the country too.” Eventually, living the American dream did not seem impossible anymore. Becoming independent and being ambitious is what got him to the first step of accomplishing his American dream.

The next step of Ramón’s life in trying to attain the American dream, was getting a job. Before his dad left to go back home, he tried to help Ramón look for a job. A family friend told Ramón to go to this company and luckily they accepted him and he found work. It took him a year to find a job, and in that time he did not have a car or any transportation, so his dad bought him a bike. He used this bike to get to work, where he was a laborer at an electronic company. It was scary for him in the beginning and he remembers, “I use to work at night. One time, I was driving my bike at night and someone threw something at me. It was scary to go to work in the graveyard shift at night.” However, nothing stopped him from achieving his goals. Ramón struggled a lot, but eventually explains that, “My first check I got, I was so happy. It was the first time I had my own money, my own things.” He worked hard and achieved his first glimmer of hope that his life would have meaning. Ramón says that at the place where he worked, about ninety percent of the people were not legal citizens. This is the reason why he decided to apply for residency. After he moved out of his uncle’s house, he looked at the newspaper and found a place to rent. It was cheaper to rent rooms in a house than to rent an apartment. In the beginning, he would live in one room with three or four other people and even live in bad places for about six to seven months. He didn’t want all of his money to go into his living situation at the moment, but wanted to save money for a better place in the future. Sometimes, it would get up to five or six people living in the same room, which caused Ramón to move a lot and look for cheaper places to live. He summarizes, “One time when I was renting a room, I went to work at four o’clock in the morning and when I went back the house was empty. Immigration had come at six o’clock in the morning. If I was there they would have got me too.” He was extremely lucky, but it was a close call. Ramón eventually got laid off and had to start looking for another job with barely any work experience, but he managed. It took him a while to learn English because 90% of the people where he was spoke Spanish. To learn English, he would watch a lot of TV in English, and the sports channels were his favorite. Slowly but surely, Ramón was adapting to the American culture. It took him about ten years to finally get used to living here, but now he was on his way to completing his journey of accomplishing the American dream.

Finally knowing a little bit of what he wanted to do with his life and earning a steady job, it was time to make it official and become a legal resident. He started small at first with trying to obtain a driver’s license. Ramón’s uncle’s friend let him borrow his car so he can learn how to drive and receive his license. He learned how to drive within the first year of moving to America. Then made the next move and bought a car for six hundred dollars. During his early years, they did not give people a hard time for not having legal residency, so it was easier for Ramón to get his driver’s license. Ramón lived approximately fifteen years without documentation. Later, he went to school to try to acquire amnesty. He applied for amnesty so he could do legal work in the United States. At that time, the government approved immigrants to apply from other countries. Next, Ramón applied for his green card. Getting his green card was a little more difficult because he did not have any papers, only an ID. He ended up getting approved within a year, which was good because his job required him to have a green card work. In the year 2000, Ramón explains, “After I see my friends getting their citizenship I decided to apply. My friends did not even speak or understand English and they still got their citizenship.” With all his friends receiving citizenship, Ramón believed that he had a chance of finally becoming a legal citizen of the United States. He was forty when he got his citizenship. The company he worked for now would fire him if he did not have legal status. It was actually quite simple for him to receive US citizenship because he was truly a good man. He demonstrates, “I did not have problems with the government; I paid taxes, I have not been to jail I was a legal resident, and everything they needed, I had it.” He knew a little bit of English at the time so when it was time for his interview, they gave it to him in English. In the interview they asked him, “Who was the first president of the United States?” to which Ramón replied, “George Washington.” Then they asked him to write, “The rabbit is color purple.” After the interview he checked the answer, he said, “Ok, your paperwork will come in the mail.” Then, he waited to get sworn in and about five to six months later he got all his paperwork in the mail. He exclaimed, “I was very happy.” After all of Ramón’s hard work he had now made an American identity for himself. He has now made the final step to accomplishing his American dream, more smoothly.

Ramón’s life now is much better than it was before. He states, “Life now is much better and I’m about halfway to accomplishing the American dream.” He explains that he still wants to accomplish more, and is not completely satisfied just yet. Life now is better financially living in America than is Ecuador, but he still has a little bit of stress. He is much happier and says, “I love it here. I have my house, I have my work and I am learning more.” Ramón also has a beautiful wife and two daughters. He seems to have more in the United States, and says that he doesn’t want to go back to live in Ecuador again. He loves Ecuador, but he would only want to visit for vacation. Ramón has achieved a lot of to get to where he is today and has faced many challenges, but that did not stop him even a little bit because his desire was to strong.

Although Ramón is not yet completely done accomplishing his American dream, he has achieved a lot. It started with a dream and a strict father who pushed him to do something with his life. Then, he started to realize that his dad was right and that he needed to do something with his life. In an effort to impress his dad, he joined the military, but that was not enough. Finally, he decided that, to make a better life for himself, he was going to go to America, and leave his home country. He started with nothing but a place to stay at his uncle’s house, but came to the conclusion that he want to pursue more. After getting a job, which pushed him a little bit more to apply for amnesty, he finally got his green card and was able to obtain residency. In the end, he has faced many challenges in life and overcome a lot of them. He has accomplished half of his version of the American dream and did it with hard work and not giving up.

Works Cited

Lazerson, Marvin. Higher Education And The American Dream : Success And Its Discontents. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 22 July 2014.

Leon, Harmon. The American Dream : Walking In The Shoes Of Carnies, Arms Dealers,  Immigrant Dreamers, Pot Farmers, And Christian Believers. New York: Nation Books, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 22 July 2014.

“The American Dream:What Is The American Dream?” Students. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2014. < http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/american-dream/students/thedream.html>

 

 Transcriptions

Stephanie: What is your name?

Ramón: My name is Ramón Chavez.

Stephanie: Where did you immigrate from?

Ramón: I came from South America Ecuador.

Stephanie: How was life like when you lived in Ecuador?

Ramón: My life was a little bit rough.

Stephanie: How was it rough?

Ramón: Cause when I was little my dad came to United States to live in New York. My mom didn’t have money to take care of my sister not enough money to take care of me and all my sisters. Then after she move to United States. They left us with my parent’s tor your uncle to take care of us. I grew up with no family sometimes with no clothes or no shoes. Later as a teenager I was thinking about coming to United States.

Stephanie: Did your parents come back?

Ramón: Later on they dad use to give may mom a hard time to my mom about money. Money money. That’s why I decided to come to the Unite states for a better life.
Stephanie: Did your parents Where your parents legal when they came to the United States?

Ramón: I believe my mom came legally. My father came 3 or 4 times illegally. Trips. So they are not us citizen. My father lost the papers, but he help me come here illegally.

Stephanie: So how was life before you decided to come to America?

Ramón: No too happy, I don’t have money have to depend on my mom and dad. No opportunity to make money

Stephanie: So how’s was your journey over here over her?

Ramón: I came through Mexicali, we had somebody to my dad paid for everything. My dad was living her in the US at the time,

Stephanie: How did you get to Mexico?

Ramón: I had a visa. They crossed with the coyote.

Stephanie: So what did you right when you crossed the border?

Ramón: My father came to pick to up. We went to live with my uncle. My dad bought me a bike.

Stephanie: Where did you work?

Ramón: In a electronic company. I was a laborer.

Stephanie: Do you have any experience when you work there?

Ramón: I use to work at night. One time I was driving at night and someone through something at me. It was scary to go to work in the graveyard shift at night.

Stephanie: So why did you decide to stay here?

Ramón: After I got my first check I was so happy. It was the first time I had my own money. If you work hard you can whatever you want. In my country you work hard you don’t get anything.

Stephanie: So what do you mean when you work hard you don’t get anything?

Ramón: If you work hard you don’t go higher and higher. You only stay at the same level. Here you can go higher higher, you can change job to get higher over there you don’t progress you don’t have opportunity over there that’s why people stay at the same job.

Stephanie: So were you still an immigrant undocumented when you were working at the factory?

Ramón: Yeah I did I was working for about 10 to 15 years with out legal papers. Later on when amnesty came I tried to apply for legal work status. That why I applied for green card I got it.

Stephanie: So how tell me the story of how you got it.

Ramón: It was a little hard the company say it you don’t have legal status you would get fired. That’s why I had to go to school to learn about how to get my legal resident. I had to go to school to learn about the amnesty. Tough

Stephanie: How long did it take you?

Ramón: I had my legal status to work only to work I don’t have my Later on I applied for citizenship. My citizenship was not a hard time because I pay my taxes, or never been to jail …. Later applied and 6 months later they call me to do an interview I qualified and I past the test. I was happy everyone wants to have a citizenship.

Stephanie: Were you happy? What kind of questions did they ask you in there interview?

Ramón: I was talking with him I know a little bit of English, he took me to a room, he ask me question He asked who was the first president of the United States. He check my papers, he asked me to write the rabbit is color purple. He check the paper and said everything is all right. He said the paperwork was all. Your paperwork will come in to get sworn in. Then he waited to get sworn in. to do the I don’t know.

Stephanie: Say it in Spanish,

Stephanie: Oh do the court thing

Ramón: Everything took about 5 or 6 month. Applica, and citing not like other people 1 to 3 years. That’s why have my citizenship now.

Stephanie: So when you were working why didn’t decide get your citizenship while you were working in the factory.

Ramón: Because all of the company has to be legal 90% of company was illegal they didn’t have the papers. Most of people were illegal without paper that’s why I did my resident first then my citizenship, that’s why I applied for citizenship.

Stephanie: So were you living there with your dad and your uncle?

Ramón: Yeah, then my dad left me and I stayed with my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for 1 year. After 1 year I left my uncle and 1 room 3 or 4 people in 1 room, I did that for 1 year some places were very bad.

Stephanie: So you didn’t know the people you were renting the room from.

Ramón: Cheaper place to One time I read the Spanish newspaper to rent the room when over there they gave me the price and. The lady said only me and other person in the room, but later people kept coming and coming and there were about 5 or 6 people in the room for 6 or 7 months I had to stay, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I went to look for another place rooms were cheaper the apartment were more expensive. I just rented rooms, it was cheaper.

Stephanie: So how long did it take to learn English?

Ramón: Most people in the company spoke Spanish. A long time. 90% of people speak Spanish. Someone told him was no good, you won’t learn English. The way Learn English is watching TV I used to watch sports, that how I learned how. I watch a lot of sports channels. My English is not perfect but that the way I learn I understand more but I don’t speak as well.

Stephanie: So what did you put on your resume for work experience.

Stephanie: How did you get your 1st job?

Ramón: Some family friend told me to go to this company to get a job. Later on, the company laid off and I had to look for another job. After

Stephanie: So, did you like it here at first when you came?

Ramón: Really No

Stephanie: Why not?

Ramón: I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have money, no family here I live with my uncle. In the beginning it was hard. I lived with my uncle for 1 year. At least I had food, family. After I got a job I left. But after I got my checks, I started liking the money and the country too. My country has too much corruption, the people, but only if you have money it was
Stephanie: Why did you chose American and not like Canada.

Ramón: My father and my mother came here already.

Stephanie: So why did you choose California?

Ramón: My dad came to California and I have a aunt. She had a house in Santa Ana. And my dad lived here so that why I came to live with my dad.
Stephanie: So what was your dreams to accomplish? When you came here?

Ramón: My dream is to have a house, a good job, a nice car, and to have money.

Follow-up Questions:

1. How did you view the “American Dream”? (Your view of America)

I thought it was a country you can progress more easily than my own country. I think there are more opportunities to progress in this country than my country.

2. When did you realize that you wanted to come to America?

After I turned 18 years old, I saw families and friends living better in America when they came back to visit us in our country.

3. What did you imagine yourself doing when you got here?

Working and getting paid for my hard work. It’s better economically.

4. What kind of career did hope to get when you came here?

I wasn’t looking for a career only for a better way of life.

5. How did you think you were going to accomplish the “American dream”?

With hard work.

6. How was your early life?

Very scary. Because I thought it was easy to make money, but I realized you have to work hard to get your goals.

7. What made you want to move?

I realized there weren’t any opportunities in my country to advance economically.

8. Did you try to accomplish any goals while you were in Ecuador?

Not really, because it was hard for me to accomplish my desires.

9. When was the exact moment when you completely decided you were going to try to accomplish your “American Dream”

When I was 22 year old and I didn’t have a job in my country.

10. When were you actually prepared to move/ were you prepared to move?

When I was 23 I didn’t want to be stuck doing nothing with my life.

11. When did you move?

At the age of 23.

12. What was the first step to your move?

My father helped me move.

13. What was the next step? (keep asking this question until he finally tells you how he got to America.)

My father paid for the process to come to this country. Because I didn’t have any money. My father was living in California. He paid for my flight from Ecuador to Mexico City. From Mexico City, my father paid someone to take me to Tijuana. From Tijuana I passed over the border to San Diego. They took me to Orange County where I met up with my father.

14. What was the first thing you did when you got to America?

My father took me to Pioneer Chicken.

15. When did you get a job?

After a year.

16. How did you get your residency?

I applied for amnesty because at that time the government approves immigrants to apply from other countries.

Where were you living before? (when you first got to America)

I was living with my aunt in Santa Ana, California.

17. Were you scared immigration would find you when you did apply for residency?

I was worried until I got my residency.

18. When did you get your green card?

After I applied for amnesty, but I had to wait to get approved.

19. How did you get your green card?

I just applied.

20. Was it easy?

Yes, I never had any problems with the law or government so I got approved within a year. Also, my job required me to have a green card to work.

21. When did you get your citizenship?

In 2000, after I see my friends getting their citizenship I decided to apply. My friends didn’t even speak or understand English and they still got their citizenship.

22. When did you get your driver’s license?

A year after I came to California.

23. How did you get it if you weren’t officially a U.S. citizen?

At that time it was not required to be a citizen.

24. How is life now for you?

Much better.

25. Would you say that you accomplished the “American Dream”?

Halfways. I still want to accomplish more.

26. Are you satisfied with how far you got with accomplishing the “American dream”?

Not completely satisfied.

27. Is it better or worse than what you wanted/expected?

It’s better financially living here than in my country. But with a little bit of stress.

 

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.

 

 

Immigration, Academics, and Family

Immigration, Academics, and Family: The Success Story

of an “Open Minded Brazilian”

by Aaron Henderson, December 2013

While most of us go through good times and bad times with struggles and successes, it’s the overcoming of any obstacle itself that many would say best defines a person’s identity and character.  When you look at the world as a whole, it would be tough to say that any obstacle is harder than emigrating from one country to another.  When someone leaves a place that one has called one’s home (country) for any considerable amount of time, one is forced to adapt to his or her new home (country) and expected to do so quickly.  The process can be stressful and can leave a person searching for his or her new sense of self.  This can ultimately be positive or negative depending on the experiences each immigrant goes through.  While keeping that in mind, it can also be said that America is arguably the toughest country to migrate to as the U.S. has historically benefited from immigrants’ undocumented statuses, thus holding them down in society while reaping economic benefits.  The U.S. government does this by making it very difficult for most foreigners to gain citizenship here and without that documentation it is nearly impossible to obtain a decent paying job or receive any financial aid for school.  This means all odds are usually stacked up against most immigrants in America, making the fulfillment of their goal to live the “American dream” very difficult.  The story of Lohanna Pinheiro , an eighteen-year-old college student at the time of her migration from Brazil to America, has been a very positive, uplifting, and successful development and can give hope to other immigrants.  While immigrating to America from Brazil for academic reasons, Lohanna had to leave much of her family behind in order to experience America and all that this great country has to offer.  While interviewed about her journey, she spoke about many things, including expectations versus reality, academics, discrimination, and the American dream, and began to configure how all of this has shaped her identity and her sense of home.

                In Goiania, Brazil, Lohanna grew up in a family of three.  The Brazilian culture has taught her many great values including family, religion, and pride for her country.  While Lohanna was young, she was introduced to God as she regularly attended church with family.  Lohanna’s Christianity has humbled her as her faith in God has, in her words, “been my guidance all along and I know God has many great things in store for me.” At that time in her life, she also learned the family tradition of barbecuing after church with many of her cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and siblings, in order to keep the family’s bond strong and stay close to each other.  Their extended family would spend many days together throughout the week as they are all very close, but Sunday was the big family day.  Music, games, food, and much socializing was the norm for the family as they would “live it up” together, acting more like close friends.

          Lohanna’s family was not wealthy by any means so they tried to spend money wisely as many products are very expensive in Brazil.  “In Brazil, many people work a full month to earn as little as five hundred reais, what would be something like three hundred dollars in America.  That’s per month you know so they don’t have much to afford or buy a lot of exotic foods.”   As described in the article “Global Production Networks, Chronic Poverty and ‘Slave Labour’ in Brazil”, many Brazilians work with no guarantee of regular pay while working in undesirable working conditions: “Workers’ perceptions of being thus ‘tied in’ to a job, even where the conditions of work classify as ‘analogous to slavery’, illuminate how the payment of an advance or the withholding of wages are the key mechanisms used by employers and recruiters to discipline the labour force and exploit workers’ situations of chronic need.”  These unfortunate people are the byproducts a big issue in Brazil and that’s poverty. They work like everybody else but don’t get paid until the employers are ready to pay them despite needing to house, clothe and feed their families.  While the strong family bond, religion and food are some uplifting aspects of Brazilian culture, the negatives are the economic problems and the poverty in which many live in.   With that being said, Lohanna’s family would create a strong bond of togetherness as they spent many days and nights together doing recreational things and made their own fun.  Lohanna’s childhood was filled with love and joy, but unfortunately her father passed away when she was seven, thus leaving her behind, along with her sister and mother.  It was a very sad time for the family but this left an everlasting bond between the three girls as they have remained close ever since.

                Throughout Lohanna’s childhood, she developed a negative view on Americans as she thought all people in the U.S. were snobs that held biased opinions about their country, thinking Americans were better than those in the rest of the world.  She didn’t really care for America and focused her efforts on the country she stood on.

“But that was the reason I never learned English in Brazil, because I just hated it! You know, because I always thought it wasn’t fair for one country to try to dominate the world, and that’s how I viewed America.  Like America would try to go out of their way to work on other country’s businesses.  Like in Wars and stuff like that.  And so (giggling) I just hated the United States because of that.  I think that’s the way a lot of Brazilians view America”

This just goes to show how many others view the U.S. as it seems we have made a few enemies over the years.  Lohanna must have been expecting many ignorant people here and probably wasn’t looking forward to coinciding with them.  On the flipside, however, Lohanna was curious about the “American Dream” and what that stood for.  She had seen American movies, movies that had rich families with big houses and very little poverty.  She was excited to see if it was all that it was cracked up to be.

            As Lohanna and her family were planning a trip to Corte Madera, Ca to visit her Aunt and Uncle, they knew that they needed to obtain a Visa in order to travel to the U.S.   They went to see a consulate in Brasilia to get permission to travel and got it easily.  Now they could finally fulfill their curiosity and see for themselves what America was like.  As they arrived, the weather was very cold as it was December.  It was a shock to them as the weather back in Brazil never reached the low temperatures of forty degrees Fahrenheit.  When the Pinheiro’s arrived at their relative’s home, they were pleasantly surprised: “It was interesting because it was everything beautiful, like in a dream.  It felt like we were in a movie because the weather was different from Brazil and then we got to their house and their house was huge, just like in the movies.  And then we saw all the Christmas decorations, and then it was like…living in a dream.” Lohanna was extremely blessed to have relatives who have prospered here in America so she could see the good part of America first. “I went to the ballet at the City Hall and I had the experience of watching that and, you know—I had never done that before.  And it was magical. Then I went to Lake Tahoe and saw the snow for the first time.  So I did all that stuff I had wanted to do ever since I was a little kid you know.  And I went to Disneyland and I cried like a baby!”.  This is very rare for most immigrants who are usually very disappointed with their first impression.  However, Lohanna would keep experiencing more and more positive things that America has to offer.

Lohanna would also be shocked as to how cheap the food and clothing are as well as how safe the environment is compared to that of Brazil.

“Well the first night we went to Costco it was like…All those huge boxes!  You know for so cheap.  That was the first thing.  I was like ‘WOW’, food is really cheap here compared to Brazil.  I felt like it was awesome but at the same time it is kind of unfair because I know the reality of Brazil.”

This seemed bitter sweet for her and her family as they were happy to be in the position they were in but knew how much of a struggle it was and still is for millions of people back home.  Later in the interview, Lohanna had mentioned that another good thing about America is how much safer it is.  “You could walk down the street and we weren’t afraid of getting robbed”.  Back in Brazil the criminality rate has risen greatly over the past ten years so you can see why the simple fact of not having fear of getting robbed was a sigh of relief for Lohanna. After asked to sum up what was better about American life, she explained simply that it was a better quality of life.  Little did she know, however, that she was about to spend a lot more time here than she had expected.

          As the Pinheiros’ vacation in America was coming to an end, Lohanna’s aunt and uncle offered to help Lohanna by asking her to stay in the U.S and study abroad, thus taking college classes here instead of in Brazil.  Lohanna was very pleased by this and accepted without hesitation, stating that a degree in America had much more weight than a degree in Brazil.  “I’ll have a second language and I’ll have experienced a new culture and, for God sakes, it’s America, and everybody in Brazil thinks everything here is better.”  While taking college classes here in America had excited her greatly, she knew the first step wouldn’t be easy.  She now had to learn English, the language that she thought she never would have had to or would have wanted to learn.

          Lohanna quickly enrolled in an intensive English program, knowing she must learn it quickly in order to get into college.  She speedily progressed and within months could speak in sentences.  However, not knowing English too well at the time, Lohanna would start to encounter her first experiences of discrimination.

“I would go to the store and try to find something and because of my accent or because I didn’t speak English well, the white people would completely ignore me.  But I noticed the other workers, like the Latino workers and people with darker skin, they were nicer to me.  They would try to help me while the white people would just look down on me.”

I believe this kind of discrimination pushed Lohanna even harder to learn English.  She committed herself to learning the language completely and within nine months Lohanna was ready for the TOEFL test.  This test was for people that spoke English as their second language to determine whether or not they were in position to attend college.  Incredibly after only learning and practicing English for a small amount of time, Lohanna passed the test and was on her way to College of Marin.

            Arguably, the hardest part of assimilating to a new country is learning the language.  As Lohanna had completed that aspect of joining America, the next part was learning and understanding the culture.  Many people say that there is no true “American culture” as America is made up of so many different races and ethnicities that have different cultural expectations and traditions.  Combine all of this together and America is just one big melting pot of the world, one big melting pot of many different viewpoints on life and what life is supposed to be.  Meanwhile, all are living together in one democratic country.  Lohanna has other ideas, however.  When asked about American culture and what she viewed it as she replied with this:

“There are a lot of immigrants here in America, but I do think there is an American culture.  I don’t want to speak for everybody but I think American culture is about money.  You know, the American dream where you have to work and work and work to get what you have and you….You don’t have time to pay attention to the people around you.  You don’t have time for your family, you don’t have time for your kids.  Your kids are raised by nannies and babysitters and you don’t have time for anything. You know it’s just you working everyday, that’s all you pretty much do to achieve the American dream.  And it feels like nobody really gets there because even though I think the people got that, they still working like crazy.  So I think there is an American culture and it’s founded on money, unfortunately.  I mean, it’s not everybody.  I’ve seen people that like to have time for their families and kids but what I’ve seen…Most of it is money.  Money is everything.”

The term “American Dream” was once made up by historian James Trusslow Adams in 1931 in midst of the Great Depression.  His famous quote lies in the article “The Death of the American Dream,” in which he says, “It is not the dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”  This is what so many men and women chase here in America: finical stability, personal growth, recognition from one’s peers, and so on and so on.  Many Americans are chasing too many things while forgetting to take the time to enjoy life and the company we share in it.  Lohanna has seen this firsthand while working as a nanny in Marin County, CA.  She has worked for families that are made up of hard work., so much hard work that both mom and dad are working just about every single day.  This forces the parents to leave the kids to be with trusted strangers Monday through Friday.  This whole process is putting the nanny in the mother role as the nannies are watching the kids almost more than the mother.  It’s a far cry from the family structure back home in Brazil where families are only raised by mom and dad and when help is needed, the extended family is looked to for support.  Experiencing all of this first hand as a nanny in Marin County, Lohanna has realized how much she misses her home country.

            As Lohanna has been in the U.S. for four years, she can see now what America is like and how it differs from Brazil.  She expressed that she deeply misses her family as well as her native food.  She has a hard time eating many things that most Americans enjoy regularly and also misses seeing her relatives on a daily basis.  Even though they all stay connected through social media, phone calls and text messages, she explained that it is just not the same.  When asked if she had to pick one place to call home, Lohanna stated “Brazil” without any hesitation.  “Because that’s where I was raised.  That’s where I got my sense of self.  That’s where I learned to be myself and what I like and what I don’t like.  That’s where my family is.  You know, my first language”.  I then asked that even though she has experienced so much here in America including having a serious relationship with a boyfriend, if after college she would drop everything to return home with her degree as planned or possibly make this her permanent home.  She paused and thought about it for a few seconds then replied “um, that’s interesting.  I want the good things from Brazil and the good things from the United States all in one place but that’s not possible, so I don’t know.  It all depends when I graduate and if I get married.  Where it’s going to be better but I definitely want the freedom to go back and forth.”

            While Lohanna was thinking and talking about a very personal matters, I then asked her how this whole experience has affected her identity.  She said that it really hasn’t, as she knows who she is.  She is Brazilian—she knows that, is proud of that and she is not trying to be American.  She stated that she still eats like a Brazilian, acts like a Brazilian and values her culture very much.  I then challenged that, stating that one’s identity is shaped by not only the way one views oneself, but also the way others view that individual as well.  She had explained earlier in the interview that her view on America had changed since her arrival in the U.S.  Her viewpoint has changed as well as her identity as a whole:

“In Brazil, we are more open to other people.  We are very welcoming.  We are very receptive and we are very friendly people.  See in that way, I’m still the same person.  But they still view their country not as good as America and in that case, I think my view has changed because now I see there is no such thing as a perfect country.  You know, there’s a lot of good things in America, but there’s a lot of bad things too.  When you immigrate and assimilate to another country, you look back at your country and evaluate what is working back there and what doesn’t work.  Then you can compare and grow as a person because now you can accept more the differences there are in the world.  You’re not as judgmental and racist.  So I guess my identity would be an open minded Brazilian.  Or a um, self aware.”

All in all, it seems that Lohanna’s identity has changed. It has changed in a positive light as she holds her Brazilian values while learning American culture and she has taken the good from both while leaving what she deemed as the “bad” aspects out.

             While Lohanna still lives here in the U.S., she is still experiencing and learning new things all the time.  She is a Junior at San Francisco State University and hopes to graduate in 2014 with the goal of moving on to Grad school.  As she has experienced many things in the past four years that have shaped her current identity, Lohanna’s story can be seen as a success by many including any immigrant who hopes to study here in America.  While it would be beneficial for many of us to experience another country for personal growth, America should still be viewed as one of, if not the best, as the U.S. has much to offer students who are studying abroad.  Diversity, solid academics, and heavy competition are just a few of those qualities here in America.  Lohanna’s experiences in both Brazil and America seem to have had a lasting effect on her as she appears very open minded and can see the world with great intellect.  Lohanna is a great example of what an immigrant should be about as she is motivated towards success, humble, intellectual, and diverse.

Works Cited

Philips, Nicola and Leonardo Sakamoto. “Global Production Networks, Chronic Poverty and ‘Slave Labour’ in Brazil.” Studies in Comparative International Development Vol. 47 Issue 3, Sep2012: p287-315. Print

Wright, Luke S. H. “The Death of the American Dream.” Critics Notebook Vol. 85 Issue 4 2009: p196-199. Print

Lito’s American Dream

Lito’s American Dream

by Arlesia Williams, December 2013

Since its early years, the United States has been viewed as “the land of opportunity,” and has attracted millions of people from all over the world hoping to achieve the “American Dream,” especially Latin Americans, due to how close they are to the U.S.  For many Latin Americans, this means working hard, sending money back to their families, and saving enough money so they can buy a house in their homeland for the day they return.  Acquiring the proper documentation to live in the U.S. can be a long and costly process, which causes many people to find alternative, and often risky, ways of entering the country undocumented; others are granted exile.  The U.S. allows a certain number of people to apply for exile, as long as the applicant has no affiliations with terrorists, gangs, or opposing governments.  In the mid-1980s, the U.S. offered the people of El Salvador the opportunity to apply for exile, which included temporary work visas if they wanted to escape the war.  Lito, a forty-one-year-old UPS driver and restaurant manager in San Francisco, along with his two older siblings, were granted these temporary visas.  He hoped that they would return to their homeland once the war was over, but has made San Francisco his permanent home, and has no intention of ever returning to El Salvador.  Somewhere along the way, Lito’s idea of the “American Dream” shifted from saving money to return home, to the “American Dream” so often portrayed by the media as an achievable goal by all, the idea that, if a person works hard enough, he or she is able to accomplish any goal they set for themselves and can reach great success.

Between 1980 and 1992, life in El Salvador was very difficult and uncertain due to the Salvadoran Civil War.  According to Susan Coutin, author of “The Odyssey of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers,” a 2004 article for the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), the war claimed the lives of approximately seventy-five thousand Salvadorans, and displaced twenty-five percent of the population.  The conflict was between the Salvadoran military government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNLF), a coalition of five guerilla groups.  According to Cecilia Menjivar and Nestor Rodriguez, authors of When States Kill, “most massacres took place in the countryside” (101).  The military would invade small farm towns and torture or kill their community leaders.  The war was extremely violent and included the recruitment of child soldiers, the use of death squads, heavy military equipment, the deliberate terrorizing and targeting civilians, amongst many other human rights violations.  Although significantly opposed by the American public, the U.S. government contributed to the conflict by providing a large amount of military aid to the El Salvadoran government, and with the involvement of the CIA in torturing civilians and financing political campaigns.  According to the NACLA, “Because the U.S. was providing the Salvadoran government with military and economic aid, it was reluctant to recognize Salvadoran émigrés as victims of human rights abuses and as deserving of political asylum.”  Only three percent of Salvadorans were granted exile in the 1980s, and Lito was lucky to be one of them.

Lito was born in 1972 in the town of Son Sonate, El Salvador, and is the youngest of three siblings.  His father was a preacher and his mother was “the follower,” and they did what they could to provide their children with the basic necessities, and to protect them from getting involved in gangs or the military.  In the mid-1980s, two of Lito’s cousins and a few friends were forced to join the military, so his parents decided that they would do whatever it took to get him and his siblings out of El Salvador.  Their first thought was to hire a coyote to take them to the U.S., but, at three thousand dollars apiece, they simply could not afford it.  It was then that a relative told them about applying for a temporary visa to work in the U.S.  If granted, all they had to do was to pay for their plane tickets and their kids would be safe until the war was over.  Lito always dreamt of moving to the U.S., so this was his way out, a path to riches.  He explains, “I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.”  Lito’s oldest brother was the first to arrive in San Francisco in 1983, and quickly found a job and an apartment.  He sent all the money he had left after paying his bills back to his family so they could send the rest of his siblings to the U.S.; Lito was the last of the siblings to arrive in 1985.  They were not the only ones that his parents helped move to the U.S.  Lito had a friend who he considered to be a brother and had lived with his family since he was seven years old, and his parents made sure he made it to the U.S. as well.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.

            When he arrived in San Francisco, Lito moved in with his sister, whose goal was to enroll him in school while his older siblings worked to provide for their parents, but Lito had other plans.  His goal was to come to the U.S. and make money, not to go to school, so he started helping his sister cleaning offices and shortly after started working in a restaurant with her sister-in-law, where he was paid eight dollars a day and worked from eleven in the morning until ten at night.  Although he did not enroll in school full time, Lito attended ESL classes before going to work every morning.  According to Lito, not earning a lot of money, “it didn’t matter then because (he) wasn’t paying rent and (his) sister was helping (him) with food.”  At the time it seemed like a good deal, but, today, Lito understands that he should have been paid more but he is glad he was able to gain experience in the restaurant business, which led him to become a manager later on in his life.

            While initially carrying on traditions from his homeland was easy since Lito was staying with his sister, who was involved in the Salvadoran community, by 1995, he decided to make his own path and got into some trouble after the death of his best friend, who he considered his brother, by moving out of his sister’s house.  It was then that Lito decided to join a Salvadoran gang; he wanted to prove to his family and friends in El Salvador that he was still tough, a “real” man, and he also felt that he needed to act out his anger at the passing of his best friend.  Although he prefers not to give details about his gang life, he is proud of the fact that he was never personally involved with drugs or murder.  His involvement with the gang led him to jail a few times, but none over thirty-day sentences.  Lito admits that going through the justice system, in a way, made him more “American.”  In El Salvador, he explains, “If they find that you are guilty, they just kill you, but here they give you a chance.”  None of the arrests were gang related; they were all for drinking and driving.  He was starting to see the advantages of living in the U.S. and being protected by the law as opposed to life in El Salvador during the Civil War.  By 1998, Lito was determined to have a better life, so he left the gang and started working full-time at a local restaurant.  His best friend was his connection to home.  They dreamt of returning to El Salvador and showing off what they had become.  Without his best friend, Lito felt like his connection was diminishing and he was becoming more American each day.

            With the constant change in immigration policies in the U.S., Lito had to renew his work visa quite often.  The first visa he was granted was for three years, the second for six months, the third for one year and a half, and so on.  He was not granted a green card until 2005, his twentieth anniversary of living in the U.S.  Throughout the first ten years, his parents were not able to visit him here, and he was not allowed to leave the country.  Lito explains that “every Salvadoran, when they get to this country, they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.”  Once he got his citizenship, Lito’s brother was able to apply for a green card for his parents, who were granted the visa and stayed in the U.S. for a few months, but chose to continue living in El Salvador.  Life in San Francisco was too different from the life they had in El Salvador, and they were not willing to make the lifestyle adjustment.  Lito’s mother kept her green card and travels back and forth from El Salvador once or twice a year so she does not loose her status, but not his father. He did not like the U.S. and saw no point on keeping his green card.  Lito explains “My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.”  However, Lito and his siblings were able to save enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house for their parents, where they visit at least once a year.  In the past year, Lito’s father changed his mind and decided that now he is ready to live here, but was unable to get a visa.  Once a person is granted a green card, they have to commit to live in the U.S. for at least six months out of the year.  Since his father did not follow this rule, his visa was taken away, and once that happens, it can take up to a decade for a person to be able to apply for a new visa with little chance of them actually being granted one.

            In 1992, when the war ended, there was an overwhelming feeling of hope for the Salvadorian community, both in their homeland and afar.  While Lito’s parents believed their children would go back to El Salvador, the children were building a life in the U.S.  Lito’s siblings got married and started their own families, while Lito and his best friend were working hard and saving money, all while keeping a job and sending money to his parents.  Regardless of his extra-curricular activities, Lito kept his promise to his parents that he would always take care of them, in true Latino form.  In most Latino households, it is traditional for the children to take care of their parents once they start work; this is particularly true about male children.  As in most patriarchal societies, men are viewed as strong and able, while women are viewed as weak and should conform to household chores and taking care of the family.  Although Lito’s family was not as conventional as most considering that his sister took care of the home and worked, he still felt as if it was his responsibility to take care of them.  The only way he could take care of his parents was to stay in the U.S. and earn as much money as possible, and so he did.  However, this was also the time when Lito became more aware of his situation.  If he was to return to El Salvador, he would not be able to find a job that would pay him enough to take care of his responsibilities, and it would take decades of working here to save enough for him to be able to retire there.  “Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country…I don’t plan to move back.”  The war might have been over, but the problems that plagued the people of El Salvador were not far from it.

            During the Civil War, there was a love-hate relationship between Salvadorans and the U.S. due to how the U.S. was supporting the government that was killing the people.  According to Lito, this sentiment has not changed, but the reasons are different.  When asked if he thought that the U.S. was a part of the reason why El Salvador is still in bad shape, Lito explains: “To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.”  With the dollar came inflation, which was not helpful to a country that was already in financial trouble.  Aside from the financial issue, there is also the violence that has increased since the U.S. started massive amounts of deportation in the past few years.  A large number of gang members and criminals were sent back to El Salvador, creating a hostel environment for Salvadoran, who cannot count on the local police to help them, since most of them are corrupt and, unless you can pay them off, will not help you.  Moreover, some laws set by the U.S. government have been implemented in El Salvador in hopes of restoring some order after the war, but they have done more harm than good, since the police department is corrupt and take the laws into their own hands, sometimes threatening or even killing people to get their way.

            Lito’s prospective has significantly changed since he was a child growing up in

El Salvador.  When he was a child, he dreamt of coming to the U.S. and making a lot of money so he could return to his country as an “important person.”  While he was still close to his best friend from childhood, it was easy to remain connected to his roots, but after his death, Lito started to see the world in a whole different light.  Suddenly, moving back to El Salvador was no longer an option; he had become too accustomed to the “safe” lifestyle that the U.S. offered.  He became friends with people from different backgrounds, built a career and a life in San Francisco.  Throughout our interview, Lito spoke of El Salvador as “my country,” but when I asked him whether he had any intention on returning to his homeland he said, without hesitation: “I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here.”  Although he did not move to the U.S. until he was a teenager, as with many immigrants who move here at that age, Lito felt as if he did most of his growing up here because that is when he made the transition from childhood to adulthood.  In addition, that is also the time when he became aware of the corruption and violence that was going on in his country, from an outsider’s prospective.  His dream is no longer to return home, but to build a life here.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.  The American Dream he so imagined for most of his life has been replaced by the one that all U.S. citizens know well.  He wants a steady job with benefits so he can support his future family, his “American” family.  Although the idea of moving back to El Salvador seem unrealistic for Lito, he hopes that one day his people can find peace, but he will be at a safe distance when that happens.

Work Cited

Menjívar, Cecilia, and Néstor Rodriguez. When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror. Austin: University of Texas, 2005. Print.
Coutin, Susan.  “The Odyssey Of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers.”  NACLA Report On The Americas 57.6 (2004): 38.  Web. 6 December 2013.
Wright, Mathew.  “Diversity and the Imagined Community: Immigrant Diversity and Conceptions of National Identity.” Cambridge: Harvard University, 2005. Web.  6 December 2013.
Deaux, Kay.  “An Immigrant Frame for American Identity.” New York: New York University, 2011.  Print.

Interview

Me: When did you move to the U.S.?

Lito: Back in 1987

Me: Can you describe what your hometown was like when you were living in El Salvador? Was it like a big city a small town?

Lito: We grew in a small town and after that we moved to the big city. I lived there for a few years like 3 years and then I moved to California.

Me: Ok. Do you have a big family small family?

Lito: My family is like 9 total 7 kids and my dad and my mom

Me: Ok.  When you moved here to the U.S. did you move here with your family or by yourself?

Lito: All my brothers and my sisters moved away one by one.  I was the very last one in ‘87

Me: Oh ok and how old were you moved here?

Lito: I was between like 14, 13, 15

Me: So early, early teenage years umm now when you moved here were you legal did you move with papers?

Lito: No I just came as an immigrant through mexico

Me: Ok, how does that work? Like when you are trying to leave el Salvador. Which way did you take? Did you know somebody or did you know other people that had moved here first and they showed you the way?

Lito: No I did have all my brothers and sisters over here, my parents find someone to bring me down here

Me: Oh ok, did they have to like pay them?

Lito: Yes they did.

Me: Was it a lot for the time?

Lito: I’m not really sure how much it was but I believe back in the day it was more than $3000

Me: Oh wow, in the ‘80s that was pretty big amount of money.

Lito: Yeah nowadays it’s like $8000.

Me: $8000 to come to the country? How long did it take for you to get here, from the day you left El Salvador to when you got here?

Lito: I remember if I’m correct it was something like 15 20 days.

Me: Wow how did you transport did you fly? Did you take a bus a car how was the journey from?

Lito: We did a majority in the bus from el Salvador all the way down to Mexico and in Mexico city we took an airplane to fly over the desert all the way down to Tijuana.

Me: When you got here did you stay with your family?

Lito: Yeah, with my older sister.

Me: Were they in San Francisco or a different city?

Lito: She was in San Francisco

Me: Ok, so you always stayed in San Francisco?

Lito: Always

Me: Since you moved here you always been here?

Lito: Yes

Me: Now, before you moved here what did you expect? Like, why did you move here in the first place? Did you come to work or did you want to be with your family?

Lito: We were, me personally my parents were looking for a better life for me because el Salvador wasn’t getting any better.  The military was recruiting younger kids like 14 16, and the guerillas and the other side of the hand were recruiting they were recruiting either I mean they were recruiting too, so my parents they were scared to keep me down in el Salvador.

Me: Did you have any friends or family members that joined the military, did you know anybody that joined the military or were forced too?

Lito: My parents ….. to me a couple of his nephews they were in the military but they were me personally I met a couple of times but I never got to know them better.

Me: Ok, alright, how did you when you moved here did you go to school or did you start working, how did you live?

Lito: My sister tried to put me in school but at the same time I just wanted to work make my own money make my own life and that’s what I did.

Me: So you just hung out with friends?

Lito: Yeah I just hung out and worked and things like that.

Me: Where was the first place you worked when you got here?

Lito: I was helping my sister as a janitor cleaning office and after that I was working with this lady cleaning houses and a few years later I started working at restaurant business.

Me: Ok, how long did you work did you work in the restaurant business?

Lito: Like literally like when I was 17 until like now I am still on call at the restaurant job.

Me: What type of work did you do in the restaurant?

Lito: I started washing dishes back in the day took like a year or two to become a line cook a few years 3 years later ask me if I wanted to do something like else prepping having more responsibilities like doing orders and stuff like that bout 5 years later I started being assistant manager.

Me: Where do you work now? You said that you were still on call at the restaurant and where do you work other than the restaurant?

Lito: I work at UPS right now.

Me: Ok. And what do you do there?

Lito: I am UPS driver and I do some part time preloading.

Me: So when you first came here and you weren’t going to school were you did you get into any kind of trouble as far like with the law and kind of trouble then in your early years?

Lito: Not in my early years. That was after like 95 96 that I started getting in trouble.

Me: Up until then you just worked lived with your family still at some point you went off to live?

Lito: Yeah I moved out of my sisters house I think It was 94.

Me: Ok

Lito: Since then I have been living by myself.

Me: When did you get legal status? When did you get a green card?

Lito: It was in 2005

Me: 2005 are you a citizen now or you still have a green card?

Lito: I still have a green card.

Me: Before you got your green card did you ever travel back home to el Salvador?

Lito: Never did

Me: You never went back home before then?

Lito: No

Me: Are you parents still in el Salvador? Or are they here?

Lito: My daddy you to fly back and forth in the 90’s then for some reason he didn’t want to come back to the country, now my mom is the one flying back and forth.

Me: Ok so she comes to visit?

Lito: Right

Me: So she comes to you guys.  Ok. Now when you were working were you sending money home to the family?

Lito: Yeah always have.

Me: The rest of your siblings they were doing the same? Like sending home money?

Lito: Brothers and sisters yeah they were too

Me: So everyone was taking care of the family? Back then,

Lito: Right.

Me: Before you moved here what were your expectations of the united states, like what did you think was going to happen when you got here? Did you think you were going to make a lot of money? Did you think life was going to be harder than it was before?

Lito: It was I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.

Me: Now when you came here and started working was it what you expected was the US all that you thought it was?

Lito: Not really whatever the good stories I heard was not really what I expected, but it was better than where I was before.

Me: Now did you like here in San Francisco did you have a lot of people from your community, do you know a lot people from el Salvador is there a community that has events and things that carry on the traditions I suppose?

Lito: They do there a lot of el Salvadorian events especially for September 15 day independence day for el Salvador some other occasions for other events the bring some music band and artists from el Salvador just to collect money to help others down there, but yeah I go sometimes to those events. But I know a lot a lot of people from El Salvador just………..

Me: People that you are used to?

Lito: People I hang around with sometimes.

Me: Yeah now did you how different is your life here from what it was like in ES you know aside from its different its always different but like here do you feel more comfortable here than you would there.  Like if you had to go back there do you think have a good future as far as work and family or do you think that the US is better?

Lito: For work and make money it’s the US.  Do go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.

Me: Now when you moved here did you speak English?

Lito: Nah

Me: How did you learn? Since you didn’t go to school initially, how did you start to learn English?

Lito: Just my sister tried to put me in school, I didn’t like it at all I didn’t want to have any of the responsibilities homework and things like that, but at the same time I was having my job and going to school in the mornings you know like adult school just to learn English, computers or whatever.  I used to go here and there for like 6 months.   The majority of the English I just learned, like practicing talking to people you know trying to get a better job a different level when you learn more English.

Me: When you started working in restaurants because while you cleaning offices you were working with your sister, but when you started working in resturaunts did you feel discriminated against in any kind of way, did you feel they were paying you less or treating you differently because you weren’t from here.

Lito: Not really in the beginning because I was just helping out my sister, so my sister was just giving me some money because I was helping her. And then my sister in law had a restaurant and back in ’89 they were giving me $8 a day and it started from 11 to 10 and early in the morning I was going to school like I was saying like until 1030.   Then I would go work over there after school.

Me:  Did you start getting paid more after you got your green card, or did you demand more money because you had more experience?

Lito:  What I think is that it’s the experience that make more money. If you have more experience, automatically the money will fall on you. Uh, when I was washing dishes I was making like $3.75 back in the day.  So, when I was a cook and a prep and I was doing orders for this manager, I was making like $7.75 and, and, after a year I was making $8.50. After 8 years I started being a manager at Chevy’s, so I started making $42,000.00 a year.

Me:  That is really good money.

Lito:  Back in the day, yeah.

Me:  When you went through the process of getting your green card, huh, how did you apply for it? Were you living here illegally?

Lito:  No, because I was legally because every Salvadorian when they get to this country they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.

Me:  How long do you get to keep this permit?  For as long as you want or is there a limitation?

Lito:  It was a limitation like every…well, the first one I had was for three years. The second was for a year and a half.  I had to always renew it because there is always different laws because of the war.

Me:  Now, does this permit make it so you have to work in a specific field or you can work anywhere?

Lito:  It is for any type of work, the only thing is that the permit was for a person who applied in 85 to 87 were the only ones allowed to get this permit.

Me:  So, it was only for that period of time and it doesn’t happen anymore?

Lito:  No, for people coming in the 90s, it was a different law.  Because in the 80s in El Salvador it was the war going on and all that kind of stuff, like, Honduras people when they go to this country in the 90s because of the hurricane, a lot of people came to this country because they had the right to apply for a visa because they couldn’t survive over there.  So the U.S. gave them a permit to work only.

Me:  So how did you have to apply?

Lito:  When the visa expires, you go back to renew and tell them that you are afraid to go back to your country.  If you follow every single step for 10 years, then they tell you can apply to stay in this country.  And is up to them if you get the green card or not.

Me:  Oh, okay.  From the time you applied, how long did it take you to get the green card?

Lito:  With my first lawyer, we applied in 99 or 2000.  I got it about 5 to 6 years later.

Me:  When it came time for you to get the green card, did you have to go through an interview process or you just get the paper when they approve it?

Lito:  It is an interview that they do to you, it’s a step that they have to ask you why you were here in the first place and why you want to stay.  I said that I was a minor and I came here to get away from the military or the other side of people fighting and I was a student.  So, they basically ask you all those questions in the interview and if you follow every single step, they will keep in touch with you but they don’t give you the green card right away.  But you have to have a good reason why you want to stay.

Me:  How long did the war go on in El Salvador and is that still going on?  How is life in El Salvador now?

Lito:  Right now that I go down there and visit is…before we leave the country the war was going on and now I don’t feel that kind of safe because all the gang bangers that used to live in the U.S., back in the early 2000 they got deported, so now they are doing the same thing there.  Whatever they were doing over here, they are doing to our country.  And they are destroying the country.  All the garbage they didn’t want over here, they (the U.S.) send them back to their country, so now all the things they were doing in jail and on the streets over here, they are doing over there.

Me:  So there’s more gangs and more violence?

Lito:  It’s very dangerous.  Because over here everybody thinks twice before they kill somebody.  In our country, you just kill somebody and start running and they don’t find you.  The laws are not the same.

Me:  Now, you said you had a little trouble with the law in the 90s.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Lito:  I was back in 95, I had a brother, he wasn’t blood but he grew up with us.  When he was 7 he stayed in our house and my parents paid for him to get down here.  He is like my real brother and, uh, in 95 he passed away.  And (pause) I got a little bit depressed and missed work and started drinking a little bit more and started getting in a little more deep into the gang and stuff like that.  I think it was my way out to relieve my anger of loosing a brother. So, the police got me a couple of times and I got 2 DUIs, but it didn’t do anything.  I just got angrier and in deeper trouble.

Me:  Did you get arrested?

Lito:  Yeah, the longest I was ever in jail was like 30 days.  I still had my work visa, but because I didn’t have to go to an interview when I was renewing the visa it didn’t affect it.  I was a little worried when I went for my first interview for my green card.

Me:  So what happened in the interview?

Lito:  They were talking about my criminal record and they were saying that I had about 8 DUIs, which wasn’t true but I had to prove it that I had only two and they were not trying to help me at all but things got better and I still got my green card.

Me:  Now, did you have to get a lawyer?

Lito:  I did have a lawyer in my first interview but they didn’t want to talk to him.  They wanted me to talk about myself.  They denied me the first time.  The second time I went back with the police reports to prove that I only had 2 DUIs and they denied it that moment.  After that, later, like a year, my lawyer told me that they were looking for me because I was approved and nobody told me for a whole year.

Me:  Did you feel like you were being discriminated against during the process?

Lito:  Not the first interview, but the second time, the person was from the Philippines and he had the same situation as our country.  He was asking me things like what would I do if I got deported.

Me:  Was he threatening you a little bit?

Lito:  Pretty much.

Me:  Are you a U.S. citizen now?

Lito:  No, I just got a green card.

Me:  Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?

Lito:  Yes, as soon as I qualify.

Me:  How long does that take?

Lito:  I qualify now, I just kinda very busy and lazy to fill out the paperwork, but I know in the future is very important to have your citizenship.  That’s my next goal.

Me:  Do you have kids?

Lito:  No, but I plan to have some one day.

Me:  Are you happy that you are in the U.S. and you are able to provide a future family all the things in the U.S. as opposed to being in El Salvador?

Lito:  Yes, that’s one of the main reasons why most of the people come to this country.  If you have plans to have kids you don’t want your kids to go through all the things you went through.  Not without tv, not without toys that everybody wants.  You know now you have a job that you can make good money so you can provide your kids with somethings you never had when you were kids.

Me:  What did your parents do when you were growing up/

Lito:  They were a minister, my daddy was a pastor and my mom was a follower.

Me:  So they raised you very religious?

Lito:  Yes, 80% of the people in El Salvador are very religious.

Me:  Is there a lot of domestic violence in El Salvador?

Lito:  It used to be back in the day but today women I think woke up and prefer to be single and not with somebody beating them every day.

Me:  Is life in the U.S. what you expected?  Are you happy the way your life turned out?

Lito:  Of course not, nobody is happy about waking up at 2 to 3 in the morning to go to work everyday, working 16 hours a day, but, you know, like I said before, better offers to be here and not in our country because at least we have a job over here and can make money.  We make triple in one day what they make there in one week

Me:  Did your parents ever have any interest in moving here?

Lito:  My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.

Me:  How often do you get to visit them?

Lito:  Now I go once a year and stay about 3 weeks. My mom comes here every 6 months.

Me:  Does she have to apply for a visa every time she comes?

Lito:  No, my brother is a citizen so he applied for my parents to get a green card.  She flies back and forth every six months so she doesn’t loose her green card.  My father had a green card too but never applied to renew it because he like El Salvador better.  Now he regrets that because he wanted to come over here but it’s a little too late.  We would have to do the process again.

Me:  Is it expensive to do that?

Lito:  You have to have a secure job and you need to make more that $28,000 a year and a letter from your job to prove to them that you have a job and they pay you enough

Me:  When you first got here, did you think that you would ever go back to El Salvador?

Lito:  Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country

Me:  So, security became more important than showing off what you had?

Lito:  Right.  I don’t plan to move back there.

Me:  Is your plan to stay in San Francisco?  Do you ever think of living anywhere else in the U.S.?

Lito:  I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here

Me:  Do you feel like the situation in El Salvador could get better in the next 10 years?

Lito:  I don’t, I don’t see that coming.  It’s getting worse

Me:  Do you feel the U.S. is somewhat responsible for how the situation in El Salvador has changed in the past 30 years?

Lito:  To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.  Before you used to buy like 2 eggs for 1 colon, which is like 15 cents over here, now you buy 2 eggs with one dollar, which it was 8 colons over there.  Literally, you spend like 8 times on what you are spending or more than what you were spending like 10 years ago.

Me:  In your opinion, do you think the U.S. had something to do with the war that was going on in El Salvador?

Lito:  When I was little I didn’t realize is that, is that when I was growing up, and when I was 8-years-old I figured out that, yeah, the U.S. got a little responsibility for that. Like lately, new law that they introduced over there is the same.  What happens is, the criminal has more rights than the civilians over there.  Like, if someone comes and robs you in your own house and they point you with a gun and you shoot them first and they got killed in your house, because you killed him in your property, you get arrested for life.  Is either way.  Either you dead or they dead but the law over there is the same law over here, but they don’t look at it the same way. Ok, it’s self defense, sorry you killed him, and one year in jail and that’s it.  No, they don’t think that way.  They put you in jail like you are the criminal.

Me:  Is the law there pretty corrupt?

Lito:  Some of them because, I think, criminal have the same rights as the government, I think.  If you are a security guard in some place or if you are a police officer in that area, they will pay you to close your eyes.  Either you take the money or you are dead.

Me:  Is there a big drug problem, I mean, a big drug trafficking problem in El Salvador or is it more of the Civil war that is the problem?

Lito:  Is more of the Civil war going on between gangs and the people, because if you have a small business, literally selling like $10 a day, in your little liquor store or whatever you have, they will come and take those $10 and whatever you make on the day time, or you are dead.

Me:  Oh, wow.  When the situation got a lot more violent with the gangs, was it between gangs and the government, or gangs and the people, or was it everybody fighting for their lives?

Lito:  It started between gangs, you know, people knew each other on the street and they went over there and they started fighting each other.  And after that they got along and they started getting on the regular people.  You know, like, you coming from shopping or whatever they, they pull up a knife or a gun, they just take whatever you have.  And that’s their territory and whatever rule they were following over here or in jail, you know, like, you give up your booty or you give up your food, or whatever, and they are doing over there the same rules on the street.  And I don’t that’s fair.

Me:  Were they involving kids in this, like, recruiting kids?

Lito:  Oh yeah.  Like 10, 12-year-old kids.  Because basically the law over there it is the same as the law over here.  If you are a minor, they send you to the, uh, not the person can do to charge you because you are a minor.  Over there they a minor, if a minor kill somebody, they are gonna get only one or two years and they are gonna be out and it’s easy for them.  But when you are over 18 or over 20, if you kill somebody, they know they are gonna give you the 20 to 25 or whatever.

Me:  Do you know anyone that live in San Francisco that, that, had to go through any type of gangs like that?

Lito:  [hand signal suggesting he didn’t want to talk about that]

Me:  Are you forced to go into the military in El Salvador

Lito:  You used to before when it was the army, they take you like when you were strong enough.  It didn’t matter if you were 14 or 16 or, uh, they forced you to go.  Now they don’t have a military that, like one like the army.  They do now only have like regular police and you have to have to have a degree to get into it they are the most corrupted.  They will tell either my family go through or will be dead.  So police just walk around like they didn’t see anything and they just get there after they are dead and say somebody got killed.  It happens all over the world. You call 911 over here and they ask “are you bleeding?” so they go “oh, ok the police will be there in half an hour.”  In Latin America is even worse.

Me:  Overall, in your opinion, why do you think people move to the U.S. from your country?

Lito:  I would say that, my country, El Salvador, people move for a more secure, more safe. They just wanna come and make some money for the family over there.  And for the rest of the Central America, either they got two options: either they go down to El Salvador to sell something or to work over there for a dollar, an American dollar, and they go back to Honduras, Panama, or Nicaragua, it triples, eight times the money.  They bring some dollars to their country.  But for us, we do it for the money and for a better life for our family, or the security and status, that’s much better.  People come from the other countries to make country sometimes like they cross the Rio Grande.  They come to sell things and they can’t get caught because is against the law.  They have the choice to try to come to the U.S., or they take their chances in El Salvador.  You can build a fence, but we will find a tunnel.  Exactly like the U.S.

Me:  Well, thank you very much for your time.

Lito:  No problem.