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!

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

by Jimmy Gonzalez, January 2017

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The UDHR document was established in 1948, and articulates the basic human rights that all human beings are born with. The United Nations (UN), an international organization established in 1945, adopted this document, whose rights member states agree to protect, defend, and uphold. The United States of America has been and continues to be a country of opportunities and refuge for those who come from distant lands. However, for the past several decades, little has been done to support the majority of these immigrants as they settle in America, so much so that there are approximately eleven to twelve million undocumented people in America. Marginalized from society, misjudged by many, and oftentimes misunderstood, the majority of these men, women, and children live as outcasts and are subject to having their basic human rights violated on a daily basis. It is clear that our immigration system is broken. In his book Underground America, Peter Orner, an American author and professor in San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Department, illuminates this human rights crisis in America through the oral histories of undocumented immigrants. To use Orner’s words, most if not all undocumented immigrants, “live in a state of permanent anxiety” (9).

People immigrate to other countries for economic, social, and political reasons. In recent decades, immigration from Central America, specifically from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, has increased significantly due to the gang-violence, poverty, and the lack of security. El Salvador, which is located between Guatemala and Honduras, is considered to be one of the most violent countries in Latin America. El Salvador’s Civil War between the military and the guerillas during the 80’s lasted for about twelve years and resulted in over 75,000 deaths. According to Norma C. Gutiérrez, a Senior Foreign Law Specialist who works for the U.S. Department of Justice, a department that sets out to ensure the public safety of all citizens, reported, “With an average of thirteen Salvadorans killed daily…El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America” (2). For the time being, the terror in El Salvador is ever-increasing. Continually oppressed by two of the deadliest gangs in Central America, known as the “Mara Salvatrucha Trece” (MS 13) and their rivals, “Barrio Dieciocho” (18th Street), men, women, and children have no other choice but to flee El Salvador and seek refuge in other nations, particularly in the U.S. These two gangs originally formed in Los Angeles, California during the 90’s, but because the majority of these gang members were undocumented Salvadorans, many, including its leaders, were deported. During this time, El Salvador was very vulnerable due to its Civil War, which allowed for these two opposing gangs to practically take control of the nation. Pushed by poverty, gang-violence, and the lack of security in El Salvador, tens of thousands of Salvadorans emigrate to the U.S. yearly in hopes of a safe and secure life. According to the UN, “Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” In her book They Take Our Jobs!, Aviva Chomsky, an American author and teacher who specializes in Latin American history, sets out to dismantle twenty-one of the most common negative misconceptions about immigrants in America. Chomsky states, “Over the course of the 1980’s, up to a million Salvadorans and Guatemalans sought refuge in the United States” (72). They risk life and death to come to a country that has historically oppressed them. Without a clear solution to this intricate dilemma, the people of El Salvador will continue to come to the U.S. even if it means death.

In the fall of 2014, I met Jose while working a part time job in San Francisco, CA. Jose was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador, which is located in the highlands. He came to the U.S. at the age of sixteen to be reunited with his mother; meanwhile, his father and older brothers decided to stay in El Salvador. The notion of a better life and more importantly, the sense of security, propelled Jose to come to the U.S. According to Jose, he and his family “lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members.” In other words, the sense of security didn’t really exist for him while growing up in El Salvador. Prior to coming to America at age sixteen, Jose believed that “The United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things.”

When Jose arrived at the US border, he was handed off to Mexican drug cartels, who commonly extort immigrants prior to crossing the border. Article 5 of the UDHR states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Jose, along with twenty-four other people, were guided by a coyote [human smuggler], who lead them across the border between El Salvador and Guatemala and then from Guatemala through Mexico. However, as they arrived at the border between Mexico and the U.S., Jose became suspicious of the coyote when he noticed that they were being handed off to the drug cartel. According to Jose, the drug cartels are “dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.” Fortunately for Jose, there was an agreement between the coyote and the drug cartel, under which if a small ransom was paid, the drug cartel would lead them through the Sonoran Desert. However, this type of deal did not automatically insure anyone’s safety. Oftentimes, immigrants from Central America do not know that at some point in their journey, the drug cartel will be the ones guiding them through Mexico and into the U.S. Jose states, “The coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the cartel.” Unlike the coyote, who was unarmed, members of the cartel carried guns while crossing the border. For Jose, this meant that if he disobeyed any of their orders, they could simply aim and fire. Jose states, “They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking…They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you…Yes, yes they are bad people.” Jose, like the millions of refugees, has human rights, but it is clear that these human rights exist only to a certain extent. Against all odds and with his himan rights practically ignored, Jose courageously navigated his life at a time in which life seemed to be dissolving.

In order to come to America, Jose was funneled through the Sonoran Desert, in which his “right to life” (Article 1) was slowly diminishing as he walked tirelessly for a total of three days and three nights. As one of the many difficult ways in which immigrants come to America is through the Sonoran desert, Jose recalls that the most treacherous part of his journey to America was when he had to walk through the desert. He states, “There, it is more difficult… One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk… Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.” His chances of making it to the other side were quite low due to the fact that those who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert oftentimes die from dehydration and heatstroke. Basically, when these men, women, and children enter the desert, their bodies tend to overheat because of the lack of water. Their bodies begin to cook from the inside and as a result, these immigrants often lose their minds, faint, and die. These grave conditions could have resulted in Jose’s death, ultimately violating his right to life. According to Jose, the only things that sustained his life at that point were “a backpack, bread, and tuna.” These men, women, and children lose their lives because they are not equipped with the necessary tools that they need in order to survive. Jose acknowledges, “This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here.” In spite of the impossibilities, Jose, like millions of immigrants, comes to America risking the precious gift of life in order to get a sense of security, peace, and opportunity. Jose at this point was pushing his limits and would by all means continue to push until reaching his goal.

Mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged, Jose no longer felt safe or secure because this journey seemed ever volatile. In fact, right before entering the Sonoran Desert, Jose started to develop feelings of stress and fear because it was now his turn to navigate through this unforgiving terrain in order to come to the U.S. With his mother waiting on the other side, he remembers, “Well, I felt distressed because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in there once inside.” Enveloped by the fear of the unknown, Jose kept reminding himself that the U.S. was only a desert away and soon enough he would be reunited with his mother. At this point in time, Jose was in survival mode, which meant he could no longer be feeble-minded for he knew that such a mentality could jeopardize his entire life. There was no time to waste, so the cartel along with the other twenty-four people stepped into the Sonoran Desert. All bets were off at this point, with the cartel guiding them, the relentless desert conditions before them, and the border patrol ahead of them. According to Jose, “The immigration is there and you are always scared because you are hoping that they do not find you or get you, the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.” Having overcome the financial hurdle, the checkpoints, and the cartel, Jose was faced with a new challenge yet again: this time it was the border patrol. The desert is vast and it is practically impossible to run away from the border patrol while suffering from dehydration. Jose was prepared to run from the border patrol even though they might shoot him or cause a separation between him and the rest of the group. It is clear that Jose was not protected while walking in the desert; in fact, as long as he remained in the desert, no one would be there to protect him. Laws are meant to protect us, but unless these laws are truly enforced, immigrants’ rights will continue to be abused. In the case of Jose, his “right to security” dissolved right before his eyes while walking in the desert amid rattlesnakes and the deadly drug cartel.

While walking in the Sonoran Desert, Jose and the twenty-four other people experienced moments of dehydration, hunger, and in some occasions, separation from one another as they were running away from the border patrol. Jose was not alone while coming to America, but as he arrived to America, he realized that only a few had made it to the other side. According to Jose, “So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.” At this point, some people had been captured by the border patrol, others had gotten lost as they were separated from the group, and some died because of the lack of water. In an interview with Robin Reineke, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Colibri Center for Human Rights, a non-profit organization in Arizona that works with families to end migrant deaths along the border, she states, “Not only are we losing lives in the border every year, but we are losing them in degrading, harmful, and painful ways” (NPR). Looking back at Jose’s story, and those of the thousands of others, how might the U.S. work to establish policy that would allow others to avoid these human rights abuses?

Immigration Detention Centers

Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are arrested and detained in immigration detention centers while they await their asylum cases, hearings, and sentences. In her study “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,” which describes the emotional and psychological effects of being transferred, Alison Parker, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights, states, “They are held in a vast network of more than 300 detention facilities, located in nearly every state in the country” (Human Rights Watch). In essence, because there are so many facilities throughout the U.S., the majority of these immigrants experience being transferred from center to center without legal representation. Parker cites an attorney who says, “[The detainees] are loaded onto a plane in the middle of the night. They have no idea where they are, no idea what [U.S.] state they are in. I cannot overemphasize the psychological trauma to these people. What it does to their family members cannot be fully captured either” (Human Rights Watch). To understand these detention centers, it is vital to understand the fact that not all of them are adequately regulated by the government. In fact, the detention centers that aren’t adequately watched are being operated by private corporations that have been allowed to operate as for-profit centers.

Without government control, these detention centers often go unpunished for violating these immigrants’ basic human rights, such as the right to a public defender. Anthropologist Dr. Lucy Fiske, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, in her study “Human Rights and Refugee Protest against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles for recognition as Human,” wrote, “Life inside immigration detention centers is precarious, filled with uncertainty and monotony and, too often, degrading treatment” (19). An extreme yet common strategy to deter refugees from applying for asylum is to place them inside what the refugees call hieleras, Spanish for iceboxes. In his study “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement and Deportation Trump Fair Hearings,” Jacob Oakes, J.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina School of Law, examines US Policy regarding unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers. He states:

Reports of harrassments, threats, and attempts to ‘dissuade from applying for asylum’ included the use of ‘iceboxes’ (or ‘hieleras’), extremely cold rooms where migrants are placed while they await their fate, sometimes giving in and signing the removal papers and other times falling ill.” (859)

Often neglected of their basic human rights, these immigrants are treated like animals simply because they lack a piece of paper. In 2009, the U.S. government implemented what is called the “Immigration Detention Bed Quota.” According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, an organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protection to immigrants and asylum seekers, “The immigration detention bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis.” As a result, immigrants who have no criminal record—even legal residents—are placed in these detention centers to meet the annual quota. Studying the immigration detention system, in her article, “Liberty and Justice for All: The Violations of Basic Human Rights in Detention Centers Across the United States,” Olga Verez reports:

But as illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970’s, ICE has been meeting Congress’s immigration detention goals by reaching deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crime that could render them eligible for deportation. (197-198)

Immigration detention centers were primarily built to temporarily detain immigrants before they were granted asylum or deported, but it is clear that their main focus has shifted. The focus has become to fill beds regardless of their immigration status. When detained immigrants should at the very least be provided with a public defender to have a fair chance in the asylum process.

Southern Border Plan

In July 2014, Mexico announced its new Southern Border Program, through which it would strengthen its border between Guatemala and Mexico. Seldom spoken about, this program has allowed the U.S. to extend their southernmost border in the sense of border patrol. President Enrique Peña Nieto promised that Central American migrants would be treated better and provided a less dangerous path to come to the United States. WOLA, an organization that advocates for human rights in the Americas, has studied how Central American migrants have been effected since the Southern Border Program was enacted in “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border,” which aims to educate the general public in regards to the new challenges that Central American migrants face. The overall purpose of the Southern Border Program, according to President Peña Nieto, is to “Protect and safeguard the human rights of migrants who enter and travel through Mexico, as well as to establish order at international crossings to increase development and security in the region” (WOLA 5). Once enacted, Mexico began to strengthen its Southern border by setting up several checkpoints to arrest anyone who was trying to come here unlawfully. The Obama administration strongly supports Mexico’s strong hand on these immigrants because this ostensibly means a decrease in migrants arriving to the U.S. border. However, what both governments fail to realize is the fact that most of these Central American migrants are fleeing from gang threats and extreme poverty, which forces them to come even if it means death.

In general, one of the common ways in which Central American migrants are smuggled through Mexico is on a cargo train nicknamed La Bestia, Spanish for “The Beast.” The reason this train is called “The Beast” is because thousands of migrants have lost their lives riding this train and it runs along a common route on which gang members assault immigrants. However, due to the Southern Border Plan, this train has become less accessible to Central American migrants because the speeds of the train have “Increased from about 10 kilometers per hour (6 mph) to 60-70 kilometers per hour (37-43 mph)” (WOLA 21). Instead of aiding these immigrants as the President of Mexico said he would, people are now coming to America by coming through even more dangerous paths. According to WOLA, “With decreased possibilities of boarding the train in Chiapas, migrants and smugglers are now relying on different and dangerous routes and modes of transportation, including by foot and boat” (2). Even though the majority of these immigrants are men, there are thousands of children and mothers who also have to face these challenges. Strengthening border patrol will not stop Central American migrants who are fleeing from the violence of this country, many of whom are in desperate need of asylum. According to WOLA, “These routes expose migrants to new vulnerabilities while isolating them from the network of shelters established along traditional routes” (2). Even more disturbing is the method with which the government of Mexico decides whether or not Central American migrants are worthy of asylum. According to WOLA, “Mexico has a broader definition of ‘refugee’ than the United States, which only grants asylum when an individual can demonstrate ‘that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group’” (25). How can an immigrant who is running for his life have enough evidence to persuade the Mexican government that he is worthy to be considered a refugee? A Central American migrant is not able to document the horrors from which he is running from, so to be judged based on the lack of evidence is simply senseless.

Prevention Through Deterrence

Prevention through Deterrence is a strategy that has been implemented to decrease immigrants from Central America reaching the U.S., but in order for this strategy to work, the U.S. would have to provide protection for asylum seekers in Central America. They have tried to build walls and fences along the Southern parts of CA, which then force immigrants to come to the U.S. through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. In his book The Land of Open Graves, Jason De León, an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, introduces Prevention through Deterrence and explains how it was built to purposefully kill hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants. According to De León, “Border zones become spaces of exception—physical and political locations where an individual’s rights and protections under law can be stripped away upon entrance” (27). Like Jose, thousands of immigrants who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert walk through terrain on which their rights no longer exist. Countless people have died in this desert because there is little to no water at all to sustain them while walking in the desert. They are forced to travel through this type of terrain because of Prevention through Deterrence. The government believes that by building the walls and fences, this will automatically deter immigrants from coming to America in the first place. De León notes, “At the same time, these policies expose noncitizens to a state-crafted geopolitical terrain designed to deter their movement through suffering and death” (28). The U.S. government knows that the Sonoran Desert is the deadliest region any immigrant could be smuggled through, but they refuse to do anything about it. In essence, that was the purpose of Prevention through Deterrence from the very beginning. Strategic and well played, Prevention through Deterrence has been working. For the time being, somewhere in the vastness of the Sonoran Desert, a refugee is fighting to stay alive. De León states, “Although no public record explicitly states that a goal of PTD is to kill border crossers in an attempt to deter other would-be migrants, the connection between death and this policy has been highlighted by both academics and various federal agencies charged with evaluating Border Patrol programs” (34). Immigrants are dying without the justice they deserve. Stepping into the desert is like stepping into one’s fate: there are only two outcomes, life or death. Even though these immigrants have the chance to turn around and go back to their countries, they refuse to do so because deep within their hearts, they hold steadfast to the idea that the U.S. will grant them the refuge they so desperately need.

Prevention through Deterrence seems like it may be working according to the goal of leading them to their deaths, but the reality is that refugees continue to come. When Jose came to the U.S., Prevention through Deterrence was not officially in place, but he still experienced walking in the desert for three long days in which he could have died like thousands of other immigrants have. According to De León, “Many have died since the implementation of this policy, and the correlation between the funneling of people toward desolate regions of the border and an upsurge in fatalities is strong” (35). The fact that the U.S. government supports these policies is absolutely appalling. They consciously enact laws in the hopes that this will overall decrease immigration by making them walk into their own graves. The Sonoran Desert will continue to be a gravesite unless the U.S. decides to do something about it. Until then, men, women, and children will have to continue to navigate these difficulties.

Solutions

It is clear that our immigration system is broken. Although there is no clear and absolute solution to this ever-growing dilemma, there are several things that the U.S. could do in order to help these refugees in particular. First, the U.S. should close all privatized immigration detention centers. By not shutting them down, these privatized detention centers will continue to mistreat these detained refugees. Now, for the one’s that do remain open, the government should carefully and regularly regulate whether these centers are meeting the federal and human rights standards. Kimberly Hamilton, candidate for Doctor of Jurisprudence at the University of Tennessee, College of Law, in her study, “Immigrant Detention Centers in the United States and International Human Law,” which explores the many different ways in which detainees’ rights are abused, suggests, “The key to effective and uniform application of policies is comprehensive training of employees and regular oversight and monitoring of policy implementation.” If the US government made it its goal to properly train the employees who work at these facilities and constantly check them, it would minimize the acts of dehumanization towards detained immigrants. These privately run detention centers should be brought to justice like any other organization so that it can be clear that treating these refugees in a totally indignified way results in serious consequences. Furthermore, immigrants in detention centers must be represented by public defenders. It is no longer acceptable that these refugees walk into their asylum case without anyone to represent them.

Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should actually live up to its decree. When Central American migrants apply for asylum, their cases should be considered even if they do not have any proof of the dire circumstances that they are currently in. The reason is because the majority of these immigrants are under life or death situations. Overall, building and maintaining the walls and fences along the Southern U.S. border uses money that can be invested elsewhere. As for the Sonoran Desert, the government has got to stop funneling immigrants through this type of terrain and take proper care of them while they await their asylum cases. This means that they should be housed and fed at least until they know whether or not they will be granted asylum to this country.

As we see with Jose’s journey and those of the millions of migrants that come to the US annually, privatized immigration detention centers should be outlawed and those that remain must be constantly regulated by the government so that these migrants human rights aren’t at risk of being abused; Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should commit to its initial plan, which would help Central American migrants as they pass through Mexico; Lastly, although walls have gone up to stop migrants from attempting this journey, Prevention through Deterrence will never deter these immigrants, many of whom can never go back home; therefore, the money which is spent in building and sustaining these walls should be invested elsewhere. While some may argue that many of these immigrants are criminals and should be detained, it is important to realize that the majority of these immigrants are refugees, including mothers and children, all of whom deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” which is commonly used, makes it easy to blame Mexico for the many types of abuses that the Southern Border Plan has generated since enforced. However, it is vital to realize that the US, along with Mexico, drafted the Southern Border Plan; therefore, both should also assume responsibility for this human rights crisis in Mexico. Humans will continue to survive and thrive many things; therefore, it is merely impossible to stop a human whose natural instinct is to survive by migrating to a foreign country. Documented or undocumented, we are all humans, and should treat each other with love, respect, and kindness.

Works Cited

Chomsky, Aviva. “They Take Our Jobs!”: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Beacon Press, 2007.

“Detention Bed Quota.” National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, 15 Nov. 2016, http://www.immigrantjustice.org/eliminate-detention-bed-quota.

Fiske, Lucy. “Human Rights And Refugee Protest Against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles For Recognition As Human.” Refuge (0229-5113) 32.1 (2016): 18-27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Gutiérrez, Norma C. “El Salvador: Gang Violence.” US Department of Justice, 1–7. http://www.justice.gov.

Hamilton, Kimberly R. “Immigrant Detention Centers In The United States And International Human Rights Law.” Berkeley La Raza Law Journal 21.(2011): 93-132. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Hinojosa, Maria et.al. “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Latino USA, Futuro Media, 18 Nov. 2016, www.npr.org/programs/latino-usa/502594534/by-the-dawn-s-early-light?showDate=2016-11-18.

Isacson, Adam et al. “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border – WOLA.” WOLA, WOLA, 9 Nov. 2015, www.wola.org/analysis/new-report-increased-enforcement-at-mexicos-southern-border/.

Leon, Jason De. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2015.

Oakes, Jacob. “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement & Deportation Trump Fair Hearings–Systematic Violations Of International Non-Refoulement Obligations Regarding Refugees.” North Carolina Journal Of International Law & Commercial Regulation 41.4 (2016): 833-918. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Orner, Peter et al. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Edited by Peter Orner, McSweeney’s Books, 2008.

Parker, Alison. “Locked Up Far Away.” Edited by David Bathi, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, 29 Apr. 2015, www.hrw.org/report/2009/12/02/locked-far-away/transfer-immigrants-remote-detention-centers-united-states.

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

Velez, Olga. “Liberty And Justice For All: The Violations Of Basic Human Rights In Detention Centers Across The United States.” University Of Florida Journal Of Law & Public Policy 25.2 (2014): 187-204. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

 

Sample Transcripts

Jimmy: Okay perfect, first of all, um, I want to know where you were born

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: Um, what brought you here to the United States, and how are you right now?

Jose: Um okay well, okay I was born in El Salvador in the capital, mhm, the reasons I decided to come here were for security and to seek a better life.

Jimmy: Security, security from?

Jose: From, like well El Salvador is a country with a lot of violence and all of that, and it is not safe. It is not safe for the same reason, the gangs, there is no security.

Jimmy: Did you have experiences with the gangs or with the military, the police?

Jose: Um, yes, with the gangs more than anything else, because in school right, we go to school and like in El Salvador from a very young age they begin to be in school so, the school is mixed with them and if they see that if you have a little money on you or something like that, they begin to bother you so that you have to give them money or they want you to become part of or a member of the gang.

Jimmy: Understood.

Jose: They force you.

Jimmy: Understood, did you have friends in your school, like you stated

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: That went into the gangs?

Jose: Yes they were gang members and they want you to go with them. If not, they can, kind of like they want to do something to you. I don’t know.

Jimmy: Understood, I understand

Jose: Well, where I lived it was like that, but maybe in other places it is not like that, but that is how it was for me.

Jimmy: That’s how it was.

Jose: Which is why like my mom told me that, well I told her that I did not feel much security there and that is one of the reasons why she wanted to bring me and one of the reasons why I wanted to go

Jimmy: So, your mom was already here in the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: She was already here, and were you living with your family or friends over their?

Jose: Yes, with my brothers.

Jimmy: Were they older than you were?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: And were they also going to school?

Jose: Yes, yes all of us were going to school, but like how I have told you, we lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members. Many times their were organized groups of them and it you felt no security, to live in that type of ambience, you do not feel any type of security. Um, well, sometimes in front of my house, a lot of things happened many times, that, for example, there was a gang and the contrary gang and they would start shooting at themselves.

Jimmy: Which ones were they?

Jose: The gang members, the MS and the eighteenth. Sometimes, their was like encounters and they began shooting bullets in front of the house.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And sometimes the people that were walking their, well, maybe a lost bullet right, would fall on them. Understand Me? Because I lived an experience like that. Close to where I lived, there was a pupuseria stand, in which they sold pupusas their

Jimmy: Mm

Jose: And one time they began to shoot right there between the opposing gangs, and the lady was only doing her business, and sadly one of the bullets hit her.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And she was only working

Jimmy: And you saw all of this?

Jose: No no, I did not see it, but it was a couple of blocks away

Jimmy: Oh so you heard it?

Jose: Yes I heard it, and I went to see, and the lady was their, a bullet had hit her in her back.

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: That’s why, that’s why it does not feel safe to grow up in El Salvador, it is not very safe. So, all those things make you think, of immigrating, you understand me, to get out of all of that. There are also other factors, like poverty and all of that, you understand me that force you to leave. That is why, well like in the United States, you know, this is a country which does not often see things like that. That forces you, that same thinking makes you want to come

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To gain strength, to come here

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To get here to seek something better, you understand me.

Jimmy: And when you were in El Salvador, what was your image, or your expectations of the United States?

Jose: Um, well, well I have always thought since I was very young, well that here, there is a better way of life and it is a place where, the United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things, you understand me.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: Studies, work, all of those things. That is why

Jimmy: Which is why

Jose: Which is why this country, that is what I have always thought about this country.

Jimmy: Yes yes, so, when you shared this with your mother, about the situation in El Salvador, she encouraged you, or encouraged you to come to the United States? What did you think in that moment?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: Did you think it was a good idea to leave all your brothers behind?

Jose: Yes, yes that was, well a good opportunity, and I do not regret coming over here.

Jimmy: How old were you when?

Jose: I was sixteen years old

Jimmy: Sixteen years old

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Wow, so when you were sixteen years of age, you had decided to come to the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How did you travel to the United States?

Jose: Um, well I came here as an immigrant, because their wasn’t any other option, you know. It was the only option to come here. I had no other choice, sadly that’s the way things happened and yeah, I came here like everyone that comes here.

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: You know, you pay a coyote and the coyote brings you all the way here.

Jimmy: Describe your trip

Jose: My trip

Jimmy: How was it?

Jose: How was it?

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: Oh okay, well the first thing you do is to get in contact with a person that brings people here. Um, and they charge a specific amount of money to bring you here, okay.

Jimmy: Is is safe?

Jose: Um, I think that it all depends, I think that the time has to do with a lot of that, you understand me. Well, before, you know like ten or thirty years ago, I think it was more accessible to come here. There weren’t many problems to come here as an immigrant

Jimmy: That was thirty years ago.

Jose: It was a little bit safer. There was security, there was security when coming here, but lately like in Mexico, it is very problematic. For the last ten years, you know the Cartels and all of that are the people that do the human and drug trafficking, they are the ones that posses the control their.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: So, now many times the news shows how their is a lot of violence their in Mexico, for territories that belong to the Cartels.

Jimmy: The Zetas, right?

Jose: Everyone, all of the Cartels from Mexico. So, they see that they work with the people, with the immigrants, those who are arriving and so sometimes the people, well it’s dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.

Jimmy: Right

Jose: Right now, I think that in this moment they are not safe, it is a little bit difficult, as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago.

Jimmy: And in your opinion, was it something easy to travel this journey?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: What were the difficulties?

Jose: Yes, no, yes, throughout the course there will always be difficulties, it will not be easy too.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: Above it all, well the majority of time it was easy, but the most difficult thing is

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: To cross the border from Mexico to enter the United States. That is the most

Jimmy: And why is that the most difficult thing?

Jose: Their, it is more difficult because their are many ways that they pass the people from the border of Mexico to the United States. They have many forms of how to bring people through. One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk.

Jimmy: Hm… Wow, in the desert?

Jose: Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.

Jimmy: Where did you guys sleep?

Jose: Um..

Jimmy: In the desert?

Jose: Wherever

Jimmy: Wherever?

Jose: Yeah, you had to seek a place

Jimmy: And what did you have, did you have your backpack, your

Jose: Yeah only

Jimmy: Water?

Jose: A backpack, bread, and tuna, yeah.

Jimmy: And was was the group that you were with a large one?

Jose: Yeah we were like twenty-five people

Jimmy: All men, women, children?

Jose: No, there were women, yeah, how is that called, the majority were only men and like, like about six or eight women.

Jimmy: Were you guys all from El Salvador, or from other countries as well?

Jose: No no no, we were from all over the places

Jimmy: From all the places

Jose: This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here, because sometimes you do not know who you are with because they are bad people. They do not let themselves be seen and they are always armed. They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking. They speak to you in a strong manner, they are violent people you know, they are the type of people that want you to do this, if not, the one who wants to play smart, they will shoot a bullet towards you. They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you. They place fear in you. Yes, yes they are bad people.

Jimmy: Wow, could you describe to me the moment when you were in the desert. How was it like? How did you feel?

Jose: Um, um, well I felt distressed because

Jimmy: Hm.

Jose: Because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in their once inside. The immigration is their and you are always scared because you are hoping that they find you or get you and the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.

Jimmy: Only thirteen?!

Jose: Only thirteen.

Jimmy: What happened to the twelve that did not go through?

Jose: Um, the rest of the group, some couldn’t endure because for three days, we were walking in the desert.

Jimmy: Three days in the desert

Jose: Three days inside the desert.

Jimmy: And

Jose: And many couldn’t resist, some stayed and others were caught by immigration because sometimes they see immigration and start running. You know in their, there is only luck you know.

Jimmy: So, those who stayed behind, did they stay with someone, or?

Jose: They stayed by themselves.

Jimmy: Alone

Jose: Alone, depending on luck. So that immigration may get them.

Jimmy: Because the coyote had to keep moving forward?

Jose: No, the coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the Cartel

Jimmy: Oh no, ah.

Jose: [Laughs] Those are other people, you know, the coyote that one decided to pay only takes you to the border of Mexico. From their, you are now a part of the Cartel. The Cartel begin to work with you.

Jimmy: Okay now that you are in the United States, what is something that you miss the most from El Salvador? Or do you miss it or no?

Jose: Hm… Well, the rest of my family I do, I do miss that, the food, and the style of life that one has over their, you now, because I think that life over here is more stressful, more fast

Jimmy: More fast

Jose: The people here never, they are always busy. Their is no sensation of being relaxed without having to worry. That is what I miss the most from my country, and that you have your own house over their

Jimmy: In your country?

Jose: Yes, that is what I miss the most, you have your own house and you do not have to worry about rent, you only worry about food and clothing.

Jimmy: Do you plan on returning to El Salvador, and why?

Jose: Yes, I would like to return to El Salvador. Um, yeah because it would be a good experience to return to the place where one was born and raised.

Jimmy: Would you go back to live their or simply visit?

Jose: Um, no, well I don’t know

Jimmy: You don’t know

Jose: I don’t know, I do not have an answer to that question right now in this moment.

Jimmy: Now, now, when you first arrived to the United States, you were sixteen years old. What were you thinking? Did you think of working? Did you want to study? What were your plans?

Jose: Um, yes, well in that moment, I the thought of continuing to study,

Jimmy: Of studying, you wanted to keep on studying?

Jose: Yes, I wanted to keep on studying.

Jimmy: What did you want to do with your studying? Did you want to become a lawyer, a doctor?

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Teacher?

Jose: I wanted to be a history teacher, yeah

Jimmy: History Teacher

Jose: Yes, yeah that was my dream, to become a professor of social studies, or history

Jimmy: Why? Have you always liked those subjects?
Jose: Yes, I have liked them. I like to teach the things of the past and things like that.

Jimmy: I understand. So, when you first came, you enrolled in school?

Jose: Yes, thank God my mom gave me the opportunity to go and study.

Jimmy: You went to study?

Jose: Yes, I went to school for four years.

Jimmy: So, you went to high school, got your diploma

Jose: Yes, I graduated from high school

Jimmy: And did you continue by going to a university?

Jose: Um, no, due to my social status, well I couldn’t continue. It was very difficult. Well, yes there were options to continue, but, well, I felt a little depressed because I had a dream to continue studying. But when I tried to apply for a university.

Jimmy: Uh huh

Jose: And then, when I realized the costs, it was disappointing. I did not want to continue and instead I opted out and began to work.

Jimmy: So, it was the money that stopped you?

Jose: Yes, it was the money that stopped me from continuing to study. There were options, like borrowing money, but I did not like it, because this is a great country, and for them to not help you and your studies

Jimmy: You had been disappointed

Jose: Seemed like garbage to me.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: More money is spent in other things and in education, never. Here they never, in fact I think that the government wants to make business from us, you know. Well, well, for someone who comes as an immigrant to this country and wants to continues his or her studies, it is no easy task. Which is why to those who have arrived here and do not have papers or anything, and have been able to overcome through their studies, I congratulate them. Because I think it is not something easy, you know.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: If they, uh, the people that are born here, you know, don’t do much, but a person who comes here without any documents and achieves to have graduated from a university from here in the United States, they do five times the work than someone that was born here, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their obstacles, wow.

Jose: Yes, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their present status.

Jose: Uh-huh, yes, if you do one percent, they have to do ten times more than you, and it is not something easy to do.

Start at 16min 15sec talks about if they taught about the war in schools

Jimmy: When you were in school, over their in El Salvador, did they teach you guys about why their was so much war?

Jose: What?

Jimmy: Did they teach you guys when you were studying, why their was so much war, a lot of violence in El Salvador or?

Jose: If they taught these things in school?

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: Um, well, they really didn’t teach about that. Well in regards to the war, they did teach us about the war, it’s motives and all of that, but well it wasn’t that important.

Jimmy: Yes, yes

Jose: Well, in school they taught what was supposed to be taught you know, the normal.

Jimmy: The normal

Jose: Like here

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: Like here, well they would teach about it like a topic to discuss about, I don’t know, for maybe about six weeks and that’s it, you know.

Jimmy: That’s it

Jose: They talk about the civil war, and the independence of the United States more than anything. In regards to recent wars, they don’t say much.

Jimmy: I understand, and

Jose: It wouldn’t benefit them [laughs]

Jimmy: It wouldn’t benefit them, oh man. [laughs]

Jimmy: So, what do you think about the situation right now, in regards to immigration? The opportunities that the people have when they are here? Do you think they come to a country, where for them it is something or a place where they can succeed, are their to many limitations, what do you think about that?

Jose: Okay yes, I think that coming here as an immigrant to this country, their are many limitations for us.

Jimmy: Like which ones?

Jose: Um okay, you know that by not having a social security it is very difficult to find a good job. Um, you do not have many privileges like being able to get a licence or the ability to travel freely, you know without fear. It is very difficult you know, in fact to even rent a place to live, you sometimes even need papers

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: If you do not have a number, no one wants to give you a place to rent to your name. You always want to give rent to someone who has papers. You know.

Jimmy: Prior to coming

Jose: Many things

Jimmy: Prior to coming to the United States, did you think that this was how it was going to be?

Jose: No no.

Jimmy: Or did you think.

Jose: No no, I had never imagined that. I had imagined many things of how it was going to be here, for example, I thought that I was going to have a house,

Jimmy: Ah

Jose: You know that having a house, it is no easy task you know, to be a proprietary of house. So, okay that is how I thought, I had expected that

Jimmy: You were going to be able to buy your own house

Jose: That I was going to have my house, my room, my garage and everything, you know. Not to have to pay so much money for rent and all of that. I had never imagined the high cost of living here.

Jimmy: Wow, and when you first came to the United States, or when you had finished studying better said, um, where did you begin to work?

Jose: Um well, I began to seek work and in whatever you know

Jimmy: In whatever

Jose: I did not have a specific field that I wanted to work in. I only wanted to work, but just didn’t know where.

Jimmy: And

Jose: The idea was to start making money

Jimmy: Money?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Um, with the money that you earned, did you send part of it to El Salvador?

Jose: Well, well, I have never helped anyone from my country because, mhm, in reality they are all doing okay. They are poor you know, but they are living, they work and all and they have enough to manage, you know.

Jimmy: And when you first started working, did your employers treat you with, let’s say kindliness?

Jose: No, when you are an immigrant, all the jobs know that you do not have a good social, so because they know, they always take advantage of you, you know.

Jimmy: Always

Jose: In one way or another they always pressure you

Jimmy: The employers?

Jose: So that you can give the maximum, so that you can keep your job, you know. That will always remain

Jimmy: And the immigrant cannot do anything?

Jose: Well, yes yes, here you are able to complain and all of that, but what’s the point

Jimmy: Maybe because they will not listen to you

Jose: Um yes that is what I think, nothing will happen, it is not even worth it

Jimmy: Simply because one does not have the papers

Jose: Yeah exactly, there isn’t much

Jimmy: Respect?
Jose: Yeah yes, the people do not respect you and so they always want to take advantage of you because of the status you possess. Even though it is not directly right, they will not tell you this directly, but their is always the sensation that someone who is working their legally, will get treated better than someone who does not have, you know.

Jimmy: Does not have

Jose: And they will want for the one that does not have to work more than the one who does have, you know, the one who has papers. The one who is legal and the one who is illegal, there will always be a difference their.

Jimmy: A difference

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: But that is how life is you know

Jimmy: Here in the United States

Jose: Yes, but I do not get weary

Jimmy: You do not get weary

Jose: But that is how life is, and when life is like this, you have to learn to adapt to how it is, you do not want to step out of the norm.

Jimmy: Of course, of course

Jose: Exactly, well that is one what has, no choice. It is like one is in life, but it’s okay nothing happens.

Jimmy: Yes yes, I understand.

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: So, now that you are here, you have been here for twelve years I believe

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: No, yes twelve years here in the United States, um have you had the opportunity of becoming a citizen?

Jose: Well, okay I have tried, well, because I am married to an American you know,

Jimmy: An American

Jose: My wife is American and she has an American passport. I am trying to see if she can ask for me, I am trying to see how I can solve my status in this country and I hope to one day achieve it you know.

Jimmy: Yes, is the process difficult?

Jose: Yes, the process is difficult, due to the way that I came to this country, because those who enter through plane legally, for them it is more easy. However, for those who come through land, if their is no law to protect one

Jimmy: It is very difficult

Jose: It is very difficult, yeah

Jimmy: Wow and so now you have a wife?

Jose: Unless their is an amnesty [laughs]

Jimmy: An amnesty [laughs] yes yes, 1983 I believe their was an amnesty

Jose: Yes their was one in 1999

Jimmy: Uh-huh and

Jose: But since then there has not been any

Jimmy: Now you have a family, do you have any children, boys or girls?

Jose: Yes I have a daughter

Jimmy: A daughter

Jose: And I have a wife

Jimmy: A wife, wow. So now you tend to them, you help them?

Jose: Yes normal, yes, of course, like any other family.

Jimmy: Like any other family

Jose: When you form a home, you have to do what the man has to do, you know.

Jimmy: Of course [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] You are the man of the house, of course, family is family you know.

Jimmy: And your daughter was born here, right?

Jose: What?

Jimmy: Your daughter was born here in the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, she has papers?

Jose: Yes she does

Jimmy: Do you think that she will have better opportunities than let’s say that you had when you were growing up?

Jose: Yes of course

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: Yes, of course, I hope she takes advantage of them, yeah.

Jimmy: If you were in, or had you not came over here where do you think you would be in El Salvador?

Jose: Um, okay, perhaps I would be working with my dad

Jimmy: Oh, your father is in El Salvador?

Jose: Yes, my father is in El Salvador

Jimmy: In El Salvador

Jose: Uh-huh, I think that I would have been working with my father

Jimmy: Ahh I understand

Jose: In the company that he works

Jimmy: Ah, and do you miss your father?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, a lot?

Jose: It was with him that I was grew up with.

Jimmy: You grew up with him, of course because your mother was here in the United States

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: Oh wow, do you still keep in touch with him?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I speak with him every now and then

Jimmy: Would you like to bring him here one day or maybe he doesn’t want to come?

Jose: Um, or go and visit him or bring him here, but he does not want to travel here.

Jimmy: He does not want to come here

Jose: No he doesn’t

Jimmy: He doesn’t

Jose: He’s okay over there [laughs]

Jimmy: He’s okay over their?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay, that’s good

Jose: He feels good being over their

Jimmy: Yes yes, and now talk to me about your future? About your, your dreams? I know that you work, but what are your goals now? You now have your family

Jose: Okay, um,

Jimmy: Where do you see yourself ten years from now or something like that?

Jose: Okay yes, maybe, well, um,

Jimmy: What are your dreams, maybe getting those papers?

Jose: Yes, my dream is to get something at least to change my immigration status you know, and then I don’t know, seek a better job.

Jimmy: So,

Jose: Something better you know

Jimmy: Once you get that status changed, you can, say

Jose: There are more opportunities for you

Jimmy: More opportunities?

Jose: Yes, logically of course. Maybe I won’t be able to find them fast or something like that, it may take time, but it is something that you are sure of, finding better opportunities work wise, maybe better respect, you know. In some places they ask you for a type of identification and the only thing that one has is a passport, you know.

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: And the people look at you weird because that is the only thing you have

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: So, maybe some more respect in that form you know, because it is not the same to show a passport as opposed to show some form of identification from this country of yours.

Jimmy: What would it mean for you to have those type of papers?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: Of being a citizen, what would that mean to you?

Jose: Oh yeah, it would mean a lot for me, of course.

Jimmy: How would you feel?

Jose: A lot because, well because of course your life would improve, you know. It is something that, when something improves your life, it becomes very significant, you know.

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: It is something that is very important

Jimmy: So, that is something you see in the future?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Envisioning yourself a citizen of this country, of the United States

Jose: Yes, but you know, I think like that, but, and I want to keep on thinking like that.

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I don’t think that I am a bad person. Many people are immigrants, and they give them their papers and everything, but many of them do not take advantage of that opportunity that they have, and are doing bad things, you know.

Jimmy: Oh do you know people that

Jose: No, it is not that I know them, but those types of cases sometimes happen you know.

Jimmy: Mhm, and you wish that

Jose: Maybe they don’t want to work anymore because they now have their number and they want the government to tend to them.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: Disability and all of that, you know.

Jimmy: It is not good

Jose: Yeah, makes the Hispanic community look bad, you know

Jimmy: Yes, yes, mhm, so,

Jose: But anyways, that is the way it is

Jimmy: And how are you doing right now, presently?

Jose: Good thank God, what mostly interests me is to have health and work. Right now I am healthy and have work, so I feel good.

Jimmy: You feel good

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How good, how good, do you work everyday or do you have?

Jose: No, I only work a part time, yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay

Jose: I earn enough for my expenses, it’s sufficient, even to put some in savings

Jimmy: And the good thing is that you know both languages, English and Spanish?

Jose: More or less yeah

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: I understand enough to speak it a little.

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah, um do you think that you are living the American Dream right now?

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Or for you, what is the American dream [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] Tell you the truth, I do not think their such a thing as the American Dream

Jimmy: [laughs] That does not exist

Jose: [laughs] That does not exist [Laughing] The American Dream, you yourself are the creator of that.

Jimmy: Yeah [laughs]

Jose: There is no American Dream

Jimmy: What do you think when you hear that?

Jose: What would the American Dream be for you?

Jimmy: To have a house, a family, working, to have an education.

Jose: Ah okay, well, okay that’s good

Jimmy: For you, what would the American dream be?

Jose: There is none [laughs]

Jimmy: None

Jose: For me their is no American Dream

Jimmy: And in El Salvador, did they talk a lot about that?

Jose: Yes, but they are only sayings

Jimmy: They are fantasies, it is not real

Jose: Fantasies, yeah

Jimmy: Because once you are here it is a whole different story?

Jose: Yeah, exactly, they don’t know [laughs] But yes, like I have told you, if someone comes with a positive mind, and the mentality of overcoming, that is all one needs.

Jimmy: So, you are not regretful for coming over here to the United States to live your life?

Jose: No, I do not regret it

Jimmy: You do not regret it

Jose: Because I am better here

Jimmy: As opposed to being in El Salvador

Jose: Yeah, in El Salvador, my life would be much more difficult in El Salvador than here [laughs] Even if I am working

Jimmy: Even though you feel the pressure

Jose: Even if I am working the most difficult jobs, to say it like that

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: But even then, I would be better off here than if I were still over their

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: Even though I am doing that job

Jimmy: Yeah yeah

Jose: Yeah [laughs] that’s the truth

Jimmy: Even though, like you had mentioned earlier that over here, you are under a lot of pressure, and life is fast, but even though that accompanies life here, it is still worth it?

Jose: Yes, it is still worth it because over their, well, like say you have a family and all of that, you have to go work in order to bring food to your home. Over their, there isn’t much work and if there is work over their, it is very heavy and the pay isn’t enough.

Jimmy: It’s not enough

Jose: Yeah, and you work like an animal.

Jimmy: Like an animal. Did you work when you were in El Salvador?

Jose: No I never worked their

Jimmy: Never, how good

Jose: Yeah, but my father taught me how to do things, how to work and all of that. To not be lazy.

Jimmy: Lazy yeah, yeah, I don’t think their are a lot of lazy people over their in Central America?

Jose: No

Jimmy: Everyone knows how to work

Jose: Knows how to work, they can adapt to any type of job, you know.

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: They push forward

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: [laughs] Those who are born here right,

Jimmy: [laughs] Are lazy?

Jose: They haven’t experienced anything. A small type of job

Jimmy: [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] Right? They, they don’t know that in other places, life is way worse.

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: They don’t appreciate it

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: Yeah oh well, changing subject

Jimmy: Perfect, perfect, okay, um, uh, right I don’t know if you mentioned your name [laughs] but introduce yourself

Jose: Okay, my name is Jose, Jose Izaguirre and I am Salvadorian

Jimmy: And proud? [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] And proud, and yeah

Jimmy: Well,

Jose: Yeah, I will never forget, I am proud of where I come from

Jimmy: Of course, of course. Thank you very much Jose, it was a pleasure to know more about your story, your dreams, your present, of what you overcame in order to come to this nation

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: And I appreciate your time, I wish you

Jose: Yeah, your welcome

Jimmy: I wish you a good future, to keep moving forward with your family and yeah

Jose: Thank you, you too, that you may graduate, move forward in your studies and represent the Hispanic community

Jimmy: [laughs] Come on! Thank you, thank you, okay.

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

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

by Pui Man Stephanie Ho, December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcript

Pui Man Stephanie Ho: Where did you born?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JH: That time, I was around fifty years old

SH: Did you bring any family members with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(20:46)

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

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

SH: Have you been influenced by the American culture?

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

(28:44)

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

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

(32:02)

SH: How about any differences in religion?

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

 

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

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

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

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

SH: So you see the bomb in person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Between Worlds

Between Worlds

by Ara Avedian, June 2016

Many immigrants suffer the consequences of not being accepted in the United States. Johnny Hernandez, of Salvadoran and Honduran descent, is just one more example of how immigrants, and children of immigrants, struggle with the social differences in the United States. I met Johnny when I started studying at the City College of San Francisco in the fall of 2015, and since then we’ve become good friends. Having two separate cultural identities made Johnny create a distinct differentiation between his “home,” which is the Latino community, where he feels stable and accepted, and his “physical home,” which is the United States. Johnny also expresses his feelings through music by being part of the composition of his song.

     Johnny Anthony Hernandez, also named “Pingo,” was born in Los Angeles, California, but with Honduran and Salvadoran origins. His immersion into his Central American culture seems inevitable to him since he expresses it in every part of his life. At one point in his childhood, Johnny went to live to Honduras for around three years. He was taken cared by his grandmother and got to experience his Latino culture directly, but temporarily. Then, he got back to the United States without a problem since he had legal U.S. documentation. He didn’t have a lot of relatives in the United States but his parents and some of his siblings. However, he managed to get involved in the Latino community and create more connections. He has the unique experience of having and understanding a mixed culture. He is currently living in San Francisco, CA and studying at City College of San Francisco, majoring in chemistry.

Johnny’s perspective of home and self has been affected by his experiences of finding comfortability, acceptance, integration and stability within each cultural identity. He says that his perspective of home is where his family is. Johnny thinks his home is, in part, the place where he was born, which is the United States; however, he feels that the major way of belonging to a place is defined by his main culture, which, he says, is mostly Honduran. He went to Honduras when he was a child, so he got to experience his Latino culture from his family’s view. He says, “Sometimes I identify with LA since that was where I was born, but being or spending a couple years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, made me feel like my place of nationality was Honduran.” Besides being immersed in his family culture, the fact that he got to go to Honduras made himself feel identified from a more general perspective by being exposed to a larger Honduran community, making him feel part of a bigger Latino society. On the other hand, Johnny calls the United States his physical home because it is the place where he is currently and physically living. Johnny has lived in the United States most of his life. There seems to be a feeling of denial of his American identity. He says: “I will feel part of the American society until they totally accept me in the American society.” Even though the U.S. proclaims equality, the inferior treatment of immigrants is always present. Norman Matloff, a statistics professor and former Chair of the Affirmative Action Committee at UC Davis says: “there is a general (though sometimes unconscious) treatment of minorities as forming a kind of hierarchy, with immigrants occupying a higher position than blacks, and within the immigrant category Asians occupying a higher position than Latinos” (“The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities”). Johnny feels that there is a hierarchy in the American society that creates differences between himself and people of other races within the United States. Therefore, this makes Johnny not proud to be American. He calls the United States his “physical home” to connote that it is not as meaningful as his Honduran “home,” in which he feels equally accepted.

However, Johnny can find the richness of his American culture in the value and importance of education, his perspective conveyed through his mother’s American culture. Johnny’s father lived a big part of his life in Honduras before coming to the U.S. in search of opportunity. His education was very poor. He never graduated from elementary school in Honduras.  On the other hand, Johnny’s mother came to the U.S. when she was fifteen years old. She has attempted to earn her GED. Even though she hasn’t received it, she still has an educational background. As she was able to experience being in the United States and since she has received an American education, Johnny’s mom is conscious of the importance of education in the United States and encourages and supports her son’s academic career. Johnny says, “She knows that working hard [and] getting your bachelors is the only way to succeed here in the United States.” Johnny’s mother seems to be more supportive and encouraging of her son’s education as she understands how important an educational degree (especially a college degree) can be right now in the United States. His father, on the contrary, doesn’t really seem to value the importance of college education and believes that, nowadays, in order to gain an economically and generally stable future, Johnny should drop school and go get a job. Donald J. Hernandez talks about how children of immigrants are affected by parents with low-education levels in his article “Demographic Change and the Life Circumstances of Immigrant Families”: “For all of these reasons, among children generally, negative educational and employment outcomes have been found for children with low parental educational attainment.” Like Johnny says: “He is illiterate in Spanish as well as in English, so he doesn’t really understand the difference between good grades and bad grades,” and this provokes Johnny to feel discouraged in school. “Immigrant families also face many challenges, and their children often must navigate the difficult process of acculturation from a position of social disadvantage, with limited language skills and minimal family” (“Children of Immigrant Families: Analysis”). Johnny’s dad barely knows the language and has no positive influence on Johnny in his educational background. Johnny appreciates the value of his accessibility to American education and listens to his mom by continuing studying at college.

Johnny feels part of a mixed culture but yet doesn’t feel fully identified by one of them, making him create a rancor for the American culture.  He says: “The city has a weakened idea of community, acceptance and unity.” He feels discriminated against since he is stereotyped as abnormal. He says: “As an American I find that a home is somewhere where you have stability and comfortability.” However, he thinks other people see him as an “outcast.” He thinks that moving a lot within and out the United States has made him lose the possible connection he could have with Americans. He says: “It was hard for me to identify myself the way I wanted growing up. Moving through place to place made it difficult.” He doesn’t feel completely identified in a place. It’s a resentful feeling because he lives in a place where he can’t identify himself and people don’t let him feel identified either by not accepting him as an American, thanks to his ethnicity. Johnny’s little knowledge about his Salvadoran culture still affects him in a positive way by making him feel integrated to his identity. “The connection that I share with El Salvador’s community is that people are friendly and close-knit.” Also in the Honduran community, he feels “more celebratory; there is always a positive aspect, a positive attitude on life, because every moment has something to celebrate.” He finds that home for him is somewhere near family. Curiously, he also said that his household is where one has accessibility to alcohol: He argues: “Since alcohol is a strong expressive way of celebrating in Honduras, just as dancing, home is accessibility to music and alcohol.” He expresses this by dancing, drinking and celebrating positivity every weekend. The interesting thing is that he doesn’t drink when he has a problem or feels sad but when he feels happy, as with his Salvadoran family culture. As a Honduran, he feels happy to be in this country because they are away from the violence in Honduras. With the Salvadoran and Honduran cultures, he easily connects with his family; his family gives him stability and comfortability, and that makes him happy at the end of the day. He has social support from the Honduran/Salvadoran community. However, in America he has none of this, making him feel like an outcast and, therefore, making him feel resentful towards the United States.

The musical piece that I composed with the help of my friend Johnny Hernandez gives a better representation of what he is been through, according to him. As Johnny helped put thought and essence into the music, one can feel the way he is feeling in a more abstract way. There are four instruments used in this song: piano, piccolo, electric bass and a flute. I chose these instruments since these were the ones I felt relate to what Johnny tried to express. Besides, the four instruments have the potential to be used with a lot of “reverb,” which is an effect that (in this case) helps to bring out the melancholy and nostalgia that Johnny carries. The song in general has a classical touch but still follows the popular form or shape of the modern time. First, the piano surprises with three emotional chords in a descending sequence, which may represent the submission or tiredness caused by Johnny trying to accept the United States as his country. The abundant use of silences in the song acts as moments of relief to catch a breath after such intense emotions. It makes one want to hear more about it but the “climax” is not given just yet as it repeats the verse with the three chord sequence. The first chorus brings in a sweet flute, which blends perfectly with the emotion of the music. The pronounced vibrato of the flute in conjunction with the dynamics of volume in the music make the piece a little turbulent, as Johnny’s perception of home and self. With the same logic, there are times in the music when the tempo is unstable; the beat of the song seems to slow down and then catch up in order to create a certain tension and then release or satisfaction. In the second and last chorus of the piece, I decided not to include the flute as I thought that a leading melody would distract the purpose of the near ending of the song, which is to fade away. The subtle woodwind instrument, the piccolo, helps giving this feeling by having a really long fade in and fade out, which in other words mean: less attack and a longer release. Also, it has a very low pitch, which is unusual for a piccolo since it has the highest pitch range of all the recognized woodwind instruments. The last and the most expressive part (in my opinion) is the piano solo alongside the powerful bass, which serves as a climax to solve all the negative and sad feelings that once remained.

Johnny’s multidimensional perspective on home and self has a certain complexity yet beauty due to his diverse cultural background. Even though Johnny shows negative feelings about his American culture, he ultimately knows that the United States has influenced him in a good way as it has made him progress educationally and broadened his perception of his cultures. He knows it forms part of his identity and is grateful for its forming part of it. He is always going to be susceptible to a change or molding of personality based on his communication with the culture or society. He has recreated his own understanding of the American and the Honduran cultures as one.

Works Cited

Matloff, Norman. “The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities.” The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities. N.p., 5 Apr. 1995. Web. 23 May 2016

“Children of Immigrant Families: Analysis.” 14 (2004): 1-3. Web. 21 May 2016.

Tamer, Mary. “The Education of Immigrant Children.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Usable Knowledge, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 May 2016

Hernandez, Donald J. “Demographic Change and the Life Circumstances of Immigrant Families.” The Future of Children 14.2 (2004): 16. Web. 20 May 2016.

 

Sample Transcriptions

Ara-Hello my name is Ara, what is your name?

Johnny-My name is Johnny Anthony Hernandez

A-Cool, do you have an alias or nickname?

J-Yeah, at home and with close friends I go by “Pingo”

A-Interesting. What does it mean?

J-Actually Pingo doesn’t really have a significance in Spanish but it’s short for Domingo, the day I was born.

A-Great. So, can you tell a little bit about yourself?

J-Well, I was born in Los Angeles, CA. I wasn’t raised there for very long, I only stayed there for a few months until I was taken as an infant to Honduras in San Pedro, for a few months.

A-Interesting, so where do you identify yourself with?

J-Well, like I said, I was born in Los Angeles and lots of times many people would ask me questions like: where are you from? My only answer could be… where do I feel comfortable with and what city do I feel like I was raised in the most. I didn’t stay in LA for very long but I feel sometimes I identify with LA since that was where I was born. But, being or spending a couple years in San Pedro, Sula, Honduras, sometimes I would say my place of nationality is Honduran. Although my mother was born in el Salvador I can also say that I identify with my Salvadorian culture.

A-So you would say that you are like half Honduran, half Salvadorian?

J-Yeah.

A-Okay, so what do you remember of your stay in L.A.?

J-So, what I remember of LA is not a lot, but I did go to elementary school from Kinder garden up until the fourth grade and the I abruptly moved with my family around the age of 9 to Arizona , I spent about 4 years there, and then, we came back to LA around middle school, in my eighth grade, right before graduation, and I went to a community school which was a community mostly of Latino. So around that time, I got to experience the city a little bit more, independence, going out with friends , that kind of stuff.

A-Cool, so what about Salvador, have you ever been there?

J-No. I have only visited Honduras. The last time I visited Honduras I was about 4 years old, and then I came back here at 5 but I really never had a lot of cultural information about El Salvador because the last time my mom visited el Salvador, when she was 15, I just never had that much information about el Salvador since my mom didn’t talk about it very much.

A-Cool, so now that we are talking about your parents, why don’t you talk a little bit about their attitude and education.

So my father education is something unusual cause he never graduated from the second grade so he doesn’t have much of learning experience and background, he is illiterate in Spanish as well as in English , so he doesn’t really understand the difference between good grades and bad grades. on the other hand, my mother tries to push me a little bit harder than my father because she has experience with her GED , even though she never got it, but she tried and that sorta thing. And she knows that working hard, getting your bachelors is the only way to succeed here in the united states.

Interesting, so what would you consider your family’s culture in general? Because you said your mom has been living here since she was fifteen, and your dad came around the same age.

So my parents never really took the advantage of learning English as they should have so they speak mostly Spanish at home, its more of a Honduran cultural background at home because as I said my mother doesn’t have a lot of really fun memories of el Salvador, so we don’t really talk much about that side of the culture. Most of the memories that she has of el Salvador was the abuse that she received as a little girl, by her grandmother who she thought I was her actual mother.

So how do you think your family has influenced you culturally?

My mother seems to have a very good work ethic, she knows that working and having a job is partly the only thing that helps you succeed is not only about having a title but also about benig a hard worker , she got that from her mother who happens to be a hard worker as well. That’s something that I see as a positive influence from my mother ; working diligently.

What’s your childhood view with your parents once you are in the united states of course.

Well, I never had fun memories about my childhood, I suppressed a lot of them, but from what I hear from my mother is that I had , everything and everything that I ever wanted, but I was lonely as a kid since my momma was at work, even if I had toys id be playing by myself not with any friends.

Do you plan visit Honduras or el Salvador and what for?

I plan to visit Honduras soon when I get into some cash because I haven’t been there in a while and It would be nice to see my grandparents not when they come and visit me but me going there. Yeah, when I visit Honduras or El Salvador I would like to stay for two months and visit las Islas de la Bahias or el Canton .

Okay. changing of subject, what is your music taste?

I really like listening to bachata and punta because people listen to that there.

Alright what about your taste in food?

Food, mm I really love baleadas.

What American influences have you received while living here?

American, nothing. Most of my American influences are those that I received while in the public school system because I spent more time at home than I did at school. English, it’s a language that I spoke only at school and not at home.

What do you consider it is to have fun?

I like swimming, I’ve always liked swimming. When I was younger I used to have a pool in my backyard. We used to have a lot of pool parties with my family.

So you think you got that liking of swimming since it was a good memory from your childhood?

Yes.

Okay, something else that you like a lot?

Also, I love reading and as a child I read a lot of harry potter books, series books, mystery novels. I really like reading on my free time. Recently I read harry potter and the prisoner of Azkaban but I read it in Spanish because I thought that I’d like to practice my grammar and that sort of thing in Spanish , and it went pretty well, I enjoyed the book a lot, even though it was Spanish more traditional from Spain so it was hard to understand some of the words.

I see, Cool. So how do you see yourself in 2 years from now?

Well I see my self still studying   here at CCSF

What about in 10 years?

In ten years, hopefully ill be getting my titles in patent law, which I know it sounds weird and all but chemistry and law are just two subjects that mean a lot to me and I really like chemistry.

Where are you planning to practice it?

I plan to practice this hopefully here in California, I’ve already started looking at some grad schools like UC Berkeley. Hopefully, someday I can be able to be back to LA and get closer to my Salvadorian family.

You have family in LA ah?

Yes, I have tons of family in LA.

So you see yourself in the future in LA with your family..

Yes. I plan to buy my first home in LA hopefully, getting a little bit closer to my family.

 

 

 

War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

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

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

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

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

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

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

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

T: Just whenever

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

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

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

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

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

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yes

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

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: For your parents it was also easy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

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

A: Ummm 7 years.

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

A: Yes

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

A: I don’t understand your question

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

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

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

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

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

A: Probably middle school

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

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

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

T: Who were you mean to?

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

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

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

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

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

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

A: What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea, only when I had to.

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

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

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

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

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

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

A: No.

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

A: Never.

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

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

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

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

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

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

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

A: I guess because of her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Yea and she was going to school.

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

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

T: Why were you lucky?

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

T: What do you mean go through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What do you mean they were well off.

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

T: What kind of business was it?

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

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

A: I don’t know.

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

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

A: Because they were able to escape the war.

 

 

Home: Love, Acceptance and Commitment

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Home: Love, Acceptance and Commitment

by Emily Schattenburg, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Work Cited

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

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

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

The Freedom to Dream

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The Freedom to Dream

by Anobel Khoushabeh, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

Twas Africa

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Twas Africa

by Tiffany Brown, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Twas it us

Africa

where civilization began

where the treetops glanced

over God’s graceful land?”

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

“was thousands of years ago where man came forth?

Then thrown into plight

After birthing new life”

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

“Twas Africa

The first leading land

Now known as a third world

For it has not

Modernized

Enough since then

Since the time of colonization

Which was counterpart

To deprivation

Racism”

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Yawube. Interviewee

            Sample Transcripts

 

T: Okay, What is your name?

S: My name is Steven America___ or Donald Yawube

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

S: I’m 38

T: Okay and where are you from?

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

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

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

T: And how old were you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: So, a lot of farming hunting

S: You could say a lot more of farming.

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

S: Yes, uh

T: Or where?

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

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

S: All of the above.

T: All of the above?

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

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

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

T: I have heard so much about Africa!

(both laugh)

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

T: (sings) California love.

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

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

S: No..

T: worries I would say?

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

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

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

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

S: You can have your dreams come true.

T: Okay…

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

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

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

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

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

T: mhm…do you know who said that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D: yes.

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

D: officials would come forth by the uh…

T:for educating yourself and advocating…

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

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

D: yes.

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

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

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

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

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

D: uhm…San Francisco…oh…Oakland.

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

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

T: yea

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

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

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

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

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

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

D: yes…

T: is that what it was?

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

T: and can you define that?…

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

T: say that again, what was it?

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

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

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

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

D: yes…

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

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

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

D: the homelessness…

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

D: Rephrase it.

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

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

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

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

T: People tend to be very selfish.

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

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

D: humanity is losing face.

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

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

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

D: no…

T: trends, food…

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

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

D: about five minutes…

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

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

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

D: retail.

T: retail.

D: and i loved it.

T: did you face any challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Home Is Where the Family Is

 

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Home Is Where the Family Is

By Yunxian Tan, December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:         May’s Immigration Story

Interviewee:                May Tan

Interviewer:                 Anny Yunxian Tan

Interview Date:           October 25, 2015

Interview Location:     May’s Home

 

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

May:   You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Sounds good!

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

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

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

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

May:   Yeap! Can’t believable, right?

Anny:  absolutely! Can’t imagine!

May:   But, that’s the truth.

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Yes? And then?

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

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

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

Anny:  Wow, it looks like an interlocking link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Yes! You are right.

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

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

Anny:  Really? Wow, she’s so nice!

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

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

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

Anny:  Good question! And your answer is?

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

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

May:   Thank you!

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

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

Anny:  Wow, everything was going smoothly, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Hahaha~ time changed! You know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Hard and difficult? How come?

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

Anny:  For example?

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What? Was he ok with that?

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

Anny:  What did her said?

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

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

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

Anny:  Yeah! You did it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What?

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

Anny:  What classes did you take at that time?

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Do you accept the America culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Really? What’s that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  You enjoy to live there alone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Thank you!

Myth 13: Today’s Immigrants Are Not Learning English

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

by Chris Plunkett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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