Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred


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.


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,

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.

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 “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Latino USA, Futuro Media, 18 Nov. 2016,

Isacson, Adam et al. “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border – WOLA.” WOLA, WOLA, 9 Nov. 2015,

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,

“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


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.


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.


(28:56)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%.


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.




Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant


Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant

by Fiona Fong, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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


Sample Transcripts

Fiona: What is your name?

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

Fiona: How old are you?

Moon: I am 93 years old.

Fiona: What country did you immigrate from to America?

Moon: I immigrated from Taishan, China.

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

Moon: I currently live in San Francisco , California.

Fiona: Did you immigrate during a historic event?

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

Fiona: Why did you leave Taishan?

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

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

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

Fiona: How did they force you to leave?

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

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

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

Fiona: Did you come to America illegally?

Moon: Yes, there was no choice.

Fiona: How did you come to America?

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona: Did you pass the first trial?

Moon: Yes I did pass.

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

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

Fiona: What jobs did you work in America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona: How did you bring your wife over?

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

Fiona: How did the political experience affect you?

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

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

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

Fiona: Did you move to other countries?

Moon: No, I really like America?

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

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

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

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

Fiona: Why do you think Immigration in America changed?

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

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

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

How much did you pay for rent?

who was john smith

in a way did you pay him back?

Fiona: Thank Moon for sharing your story.

Moon: You are welcome.

Exile for Yedel

Exile for Yedel

by Ruth Alemu, December 2013

Has it ever boggled your mind why people want to leave their counties and struggle through different cultures just to start a whole new life? Or have you ever wondered why some people don’t just work hard in their own countries and better themselves? Well, people leave their families and countries to find better life, peace, freedom, money or love. A conducted interview with an immigrant named Yedel Sew, who currently resides in the Bay Area, explains why people are exiled to other countries. Yedel Sew is from Ethiopia and grew up in a good neighborhood in the historic city Bahir Dar. He was exiled to the United States to find freedom for himself because he was punished for criticizing the Ethiopian government about forbidding the freedom of speech and the choosing of one’s own political party. For a long time, he had refused to give in to anger or exile; instead, he resisted the government threats.The government accused him of being a terrorist when they found out that he was working with the opposition political parties to bring about a fair democratic government. Despite the fact that no accusation had evidence, many of his friends were imprisoned and killed. Yedel wanted to leave the country when he realized that most of his friends had been thrown in jail or killed. According to Yedel, the torture was extraordinary; for instance, the males were forced to carry and pull heavy weights tied on their genitals until they pointed out one of their political member. For this reason, Yedel left his country and exiled himself to the United States of America (USA), and suffered through lots of misery. He left his good job, family and fiancé behind. His exile to the US was more devastating for his fiancé and his mother, not only because he was their source of income but also they couldn’t flee with him. During his journey, he was hungry, slept in refugee camps, was imprisoned, and almost lost his life while he was traveling on a boat. Although arriving to the US seemed to promise a life with freedom, being an undocumented immigrant made it difficult to find jobs and start a new life all over again. Until he acquired legal papers that allow him to stay in the US, he worked under the table, which was difficult for him because employers often felt free to pay him low wages and ignore dangerous conditions since he had no legal way of complaining. Along with significant language and cultural barriers, exile left him with a lengthy bureaucratic procedure until he established his new legal status. People that are facing political problems in their counties, like Yedel, should exile themselves to other countries in order to gain freedom regardless of encountering multiple setbacks and struggle during the journey because it will help them live better lives.

Being a refugee from third world country was challenging due to the rising of anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized countries; the journey to the US was not as smooth as Yedel assumed. He started his journey from Ethiopia to Cuba with legal visa (a passport), but from there to the US, his passport was useless not only because he was travelling by car and boat but also because he was coming from a third world country, which didn’t guarantee him a pass or respect. He described how he left his passport in Ecuador: “I threw away my Ethiopian passport since it is no longer helping me to transfer, because I couldn’t get any visa with Ethiopian passport” (Yedel). Having an Ethiopian passport definitely prevented him from getting a visa because most of the people from third world countries are running from their homes scared of war and poverty, like him. His long travel includes the countries Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and lastly, the United States. Yedel and his two friends started the big journey together without any knowledge of where or how to go. Eventually, they contacted some smugglers to assist them through their journey. Besides the payment paid to the smugglers, they had to bribe the officers every time they got pulled over. He wrapped a stack of pesos with a U.S. dollar and handed to the police officer to make it look like a lot of U.S. dollars because he couldn’t afford to pay them in dollars every single time they pulled him over. Long drives, walking, staying in refugee camps and being thrown in jail without knowing for how long they would be kept, the journey was extremely distressing. There was a time when Yedel almost lost his life; he was trying to cross the border between Colombia and Nicaragua with a small boat made out of wood that carried around fifty people without any access to restrooms. He says, “The smugglers told us we will arrive in two days, but it took us eight days. We were lost in the middle of the journey and the boat run out of gas, so we put bed sheet to move the boat with the help of wind. The phone inside the boat stopped working; they said no battery. Also, we were moving without any compass and we didn’t eat anything else except one apple a day” (Yedel). It was a life and death situation for him to be in that boat because there was lack of basic survival necessities such as food, water and restrooms in addition to getting lost in the middle of nowhere. The boat was overcrowded, making it potentially dangerous, but they continued with the journey. The trip lasted days; the waves were high and they suffered more when the motor stopped and they began moving through the help of the wind. When they finally reached land, it was like liberation. Even though being from a third world country was a setback on his journey, he felt liberated when he reached the freedom land.

Although Yedel wanted to stay in Ethiopia, the government dictatorship made him run from his country due to the fact that there was no equality between ethnic groups and also political difference was not accepted. While he was in Ethiopia, freedom of speech was like a dream. The dictator leader wouldn’t let him live because he was against the system. He explained his experience in anger: “While I was in Ethiopia I had a very nice job with the field I graduated and I had a good life. But I have been jailed and beaten around three four times only because I was spoken the truth during community meetings. When you say I need freedom, they will look for trouble and beat you up” (Yedel).  The so-called “Democratic Party” controls the country. If a person talks about what is wrong and what is right, that person will end up in jail. That is why an independent and ambitious young man like Yedel could not live in Ethiopia because he believes in speaking out. He fought not only for himself but also for people who can’t fight for themselves as well. In reality, he doesn’t have security or the guarantee of his life because they can throw him in jail any time. Hence, Yedel left his country even though he wanted to stay and do something tangible to improve his country. Before he left, Yedel was becoming wealthy because of his hard work, but the ruling party was not happy with what he was getting and wanted to destroy him. In the 2005 election, Yedel and his friends participated in the opposition political party. The idea was to push the government to have a free and fair democratic election but the government was harassing the opposition parties and was using systematic political control, which made the election difficult. At that time, the majority of the people were supporting the opposition party, so, if the government didn’t want to have a fair election, they wanted them to give up power peacefully but when the government found out about their plan, they put his life in danger. Yedel fought until he couldn’t take it anymore; however, waiting for his death was not possible for him because some of his friends got imprisoned, tortured, were deprived of sleep and food and lastly killed. Given these actions, Yedel left his country in order to flee from extreme and almost humiliating politics.

Knowing his basic rights helped Yedel to gain his freedom, yet many times he was denied it. While crossing a border, there was moment when they put him in jail without letting him know how long he had to stay there. They were caught at the Nicaraguan border by the border police and imprisoned for forty-five days. During those forty-five days staying there caused a lot of suffering; the food was not etable, the hygiene was bad and they were sleeping on the floor. Because of the bad treatment they received, Yedel and his friends planned to do a hunger strike in order to fight for the basic human rights they were denied. The hunger strike went very well as he explained, “We didn’t eat for eight days while we were in the journey and again we did four days food strike, so some of the people got constipated and sick. Normally, they are not allowed to have under age prisoners in the facility but one of the guy that fainted was not even eighteen. They were scared of being sued so they begged us to eat and promised to let us go” (Yedel). This shows that they knew this strike would attract human right fighters’ attention, which in the end helped to free them. Besides, the guy who fainted was not even eighteen years old; thus, he was not supposed to be imprisoned with them. Fighting for their rights allowed them to continue their freedom journey. Then, Yedel and his friends left Nicaragua because the Nicaraguan government asked them to pay for every night they stayed at the camp. As they had planned already, they continued their journey to the United States and left Nicaragua. In the book Underground America, a collection of the narratives of undocumented immigrants compiled by Peter Orner, a storyteller, Abel, was abused by his employer but knowing his rights and fighting for it saved him from abuses. He said, “Some of us are more comfortable speaking up about our rights—we know what we are entitled to. We speak to Americans, people who do have papers, people who work at organizations, people who can do something for us. The bosses of the companies are afraid of these organizations because they support us” (Orner 132). Even though he didn’t have legal papers to stay in the country, knowing his rights helped Abel to fight for himself. Yedel did the same thing too; he stood up for his rights, looked for organizations to fight for his right. Therefore, knowing his basic human rights minimized the suffering during the exile.  

Although Yedel felt ambivalent when he discovered that his expectations about the United States were unrealistic, he was happy because he gained freedom, which was the center of his journey. Life in The United States started out great for him though it was not as he expected. Although the job market and the economy was not as good as he expected, he did not complain since his main reason of moving to the US was to gain freedom. He said, “The main reason I exile from my country is because of freedom so I am okay with any economical or personal disappointment like missing my family. I was not respected in my own country but I am living here freely. Nobody touches you” (Yedel). While he was in his country, he had a good job but in the United States, because of his legal status he wasn’t able to get a better job and he was a little bit disappointed by that; plus, by the time he arrived in the United States, the economy of the country was not in good condition. The other thing that makes him disappointed is missing his family; in fact, he can’t reach his family any time soon. Yedel has missed not only his family but also his longtime fiancé who he was about to get married to within a month before leaving the country, but he was waiting for her to graduate. He was preparing for their wedding but sadly he had to leave right away to avoid putting his life in danger. During his journey, he couldn’t communicate with her because he was not in good condition either. That created a big gap between them and it was too late to fix the problem because she got married and had kids. She couldn’t wait for him since he was not able to go back to the country. Yedel said, “It is hard to get that kind of love right now. I don’t have that kind of satisfaction and happiness right now.” He loved his fiancé too much and can’t bring the old time feeling and satisfaction with anybody else.

Things haven’t gone smoothly with his family either; the family business that he took care of is now out of service, and the cafeteria he owned was sold to cover his expense in the United States. His family is not at the same economic level; his brothers got fired from their jobs because they were working for a government office and, since they are connected with Yedel, the government took revenge on them. After four years, one of his brothers started working some low level jobs even though he is a graduate from the university and had been working for long time. Yedel was full of anger when he talked about the crises in his family. He couldn’t support and provide his family like before because in the United States the working situation is different. He doesn’t have motivation like before when he used to go to school while working long hours and taking care of his own business. He said that he was taking care of all that responsibility just to get rid of the stress he had in his country. More or less, he is happy in United States, though he is not in the position that he supposed to be. Altogether, Yedel lost three major things in his life: his family’s economic status, his job, and his fiancé.  But freedom has balanced all his losses.

Even though it’s hard to predict the future, Yedel believes change will come through time with the help of an endless effort. In the future, Yedel has some expectations for his life and has already planned to do lots of things in the coming New Year. He wants to go to school, work hard, start a family in the United States, and help his country to gain a free media because the ruling party controls most of the media. His passion for his country is still fresh. Surely, he wants to participate more in politics; so far, he writes articles and gives donations every month to private medias organizations because he believes the media plays a big role in politics. The Ethiopian government has banned almost all private media outlets for reporting facts about the government’s hidden actions. “The Anointed Leadership,” an article written by Makau wa Mutua, shows the current image of Ethiopian journalism: “Human rights groups estimated that over 60 journalist have either been imprisoned, detained, or are awaiting trial for being critical of the government” (Mutua 2). Government authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism charges only for speaking of the truth. Only government medias can talk about politics; around twenty non-governmental magazines have been closed but four private magazines are still open only because they allow the government to manipulate their messages. They will not report reality; they do not talk about the people who are lost in the dessert while trying to escape from the country. Even though he lives from paycheck to paycheck, he knows that, if he contributes something, it will help a lot. He said, “I support the media because I want to know what is going on in my country and the only means I can get that report is from the private media. I cannot forget about my country. I will not sleep until I see freedom in my own country like other countries” (Yedel). This shows the last ultimate vision of Yedel is to see the free flow of information and freedom of expression without the influence of political units. Ethiopia lives in a world where information is literally fabricated for the people as truth but nowadays bloggers play a big role in spreading information. Yedel helps these bloggers financially. One of the anonymous bloggers said in the articleThe Hazards Of Dissent,”“The blog carried reports and analysis of the trial of opposition leaders. In some cases, international human rights group like Amnesty International have followed through the leads in my blog and demanded the government stop its human right abuses. Under pressure, the government released some prisoners and closed torture chambers” (Zagol 62). Not only do the bloggers increase the flow of information but they also help justice to be served. Therefore, because people like Yedel supported the media, for example the blogger mentioned above, the increase of the flow of information has brought the government to reconsider their decision, which fulfills Yedel’s hope for change.

 In conclusion, although people like Yedel go through multiple setbacks and struggle when they flee from their countries due to political problems, finding freedom and living in a country where freedom of speech is respected brings feeling of accomplishment in life. Migrating would also allow others like him to continue helping their countries as he has with the support of media as mentioned in the above paragraphs. On the contrary, others may think that, instead of fleeing from one’s country, one should stay and face the problem in order to solve it. People like Yedel do not choose to flee from their countries to make money or to relax; instead, they are exiled to the US to spare their lives from ending up like his friends—imprisoned or killed.   


Work Cited

“The Hazards Of Dissent.” Index On Censorship 36.4 (2007): 59-63. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Mutua, Makau wa. “The Anointed Leadership.” Africa Report 39.6 (1994): 30. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Orner, Peter, and Tom Andes. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008. Print.



The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey


The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

by Anh Nguyen, December 201

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Interview Transcript

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

       Where were you born?

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

       Did you always want to come to the US?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       Can you tell me more about your school in China?

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

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

       Do you want to go back to China some day?

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

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

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

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

       How did you meet your husband?

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

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

       Why did you decide to come here?

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

       Do you miss China?

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

       How did you find life in the US?

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

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

       Do you think of yourself as Chinese or American?

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

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

       What about you then? Are you Vietnamese or American?

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

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

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

       Then maybe half and half.

Her eyes glittered.

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

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

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

       They are Chinese.

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

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

       Do they speak Cantonese?

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

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

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

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

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






From Eritrea to Sudan to Iraq to Egypt to America: Samira’s Perspective on War

From Eritrea to Sudan to Iraq to Egypt to America: Samira’s Perspective on War

by Thomas B., May, 2013


I interviewed an Eritrean woman named Samira. Samira had to flee Eritrea because of war. The experience of being forced to leave Eritrea and subsequent experiences affect Samira’s perspective on war. After exile from Eritrea, being a refugee in Sudan, and briefly living in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, Samira was “sick and tired of war.” Samira is skeptical of armed struggles and the insistence of authorities that they are necessary. Eritrea was plunged into thirty years of strife, and in fact it is still facing the threat of conflict. She is disappointed in the government that her country got when it gained independence. From her statements in our conversation, I believe Samira sees violence, even violence done in the name of a cause that appears just, as a never-ending cycle.

Eritrea is a country of six point two million people on the Eastern coast of Africa (Eritrea). To the East lies the Red Sea. Across the sea one will find Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Southern half of Eritrea is a relatively thin region of land that hugs the coast. In the West the country fans out to cover more inland areas. Eritrea has been subject to continuous strife as a victim of imperialism, regional rivals and an oppressive government. It is a poor country, where one million people face starvation (Masci) and the per capita income is just $680.

The roots of Eritrea’s Independence War go back almost 125 years, to 1890, when Eritrea became an Italian colony. Eritrea remained under Italian domination until Italy ended up on the losing side of the Second World War. In 1949 Eritrea became a United Nations trust territory administered by Britain. In the early 50s, the United Nations made the deadly mistake of turning control of Eritrea over to its larger neighbor to the South West, Ethiopia. This mistake led to decades of strife for Eritrea and Ethiopia.

That the roots of the conflict go back into history many generations is connected to Samira’s perspective that violence is a cycle that feeds on itself, not a confrontation between good and evil that resolves itself. She said of the current problems in Eritrea that “the cycle, the violence just continues.” The cycle of violence that began with Italy colonizing Africa has continued to the present day.

Eritreans waged a long struggle against Ethiopia for independence with Ethiopian forces who fought to hold on to the territory. From 1974 to 1987, Ethiopia was ruled by a Marxist-Leninist government called the Derg. The Soviet Union and Cuba became involved in the fighting, in support of the Derg. Eritrean guerillas persisted in the face of superior military technology and numbers, and for thirty years the Independence War brought strife to the region. The war took a heavy toll on Eritrea, Ethiopia, and neighbors. A famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1984-85 killed approximately one million people (Masci). Many fled to find safety elsewhere. In 1991 Eritrean independence fighters won a military victory against Ethiopia that led to a 1993 referendum in which the Eritrean people voted for independence from Ethiopia.

Samira and other Eritreans hoped that the Independence War would lead to a democratic, accountable government for Eritrea. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. In Samira’s words, “…right now, the people who were fighting to liberate [Eritrea], supposedly, are the one’s who are torturing the people. Right now, my story might be like nothing compared to the thousands and thousands fleeing the country.” As so often happens in the wake of a revolution, Eritrea has come to be ruled by a single man. Isaias Afewerki, who led a leftist guerrilla force called the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front during the Independence War, has held the presidency since independence was established. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front has been reincarnated as a political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Afewerki expressed support for a multi-party government before independence, but Afwerki’s People’s Front is the only political party allowed in Eritrea. The Country has no media sources independent of the People’s Front, so Afewerki wields total control of news coverage. Off the record, Samira and I joked how Afewerki was “maybe a president, maybe not a president.”

Plans to move Eritrea towards democracy have been indefinitely deferred. An election planned for 1998 and the implementation of a constitution approved by the voters in 1997 have been delayed indefinitely. In a 2009 interview with Reuters, Afewerki said, “I have never said that this a successful democracy.” Afewerki’s government denies that it has no desire to implement a constitutional multi-party government in Eritrea, maintaining that wars with countries like Yemen and the old rival Ethiopia make the country too unstable to risk a political reconfiguration. However, in Afewerki’s own words that he spoke before coming into power, “a one-party system will neither enhance national security or stability nor accelerate economic development. In fact a one party system could be a major threat to the very existence of our country” (President Isaias Afwerki’s Biography).

Samira’s father became involved in the independence movement as an intellectual when she was a small child. He had been a teacher before the conflict began. Samira told me, “my Dad didn’t go to fight, however he was helping recruit people to help with money or to recruit people to help with political things.” He was a member of a group in which each person was restricted to knowing just seven other members, so if a member was captured he or she would not be able to divulge the names of too many comrades.

The Ethiopian government, which of course controlled Eritrea at that time, caused Samira’s family great trouble to punish them for her father’s actions in support of the independence movement. Samira told me “He was imprisoned here and there. For example they would tell him “24 hours to get out of the city” so he’d just have to move, sometimes he’d just have to leave us somewhere and then later on we’d join him.” The government ordered Samira’s father to move around a lot. Their idea was to restrict Samira’s father to being in cities where he wouldn’t be effective for the rebels. He was imprisoned many times by the government and unfortunately he was tortured in prison several times: “they put them in cold water they put them upside down” said Samira.

I think that her father’s politics and the failure of the armed struggle to create an equitable Eritrean government influence Samira’s perspective on war. Maybe if her father had not been so involved in politics, Samira would not see her own experiences in terms of the larger events. But surely having a close family member who was so passionate that he would go in being involved after being tortured would guarantee that Samira would be political herself. The fact that armed struggle with Ethiopia led to a long, bloody war and a despotic government colors Samira’s skeptical perception of war.

Eventually, the fighting made living in Eritrea impossible. One day Samira was at school in the capital Asmara when planes began bombing the city intensely. Samira fled the capital with her brother as thousands of people fled the city. The two followed the flow right out of the city. She described that day: “people [were] fleeing anywhere they could. So we just followed the crowd… All the way out of town…because we didn’t know what we were doing.” Samira said that she doesn’t remember how many days she traveled, because they were moving day and night and it was difficult to think straight. They had no time to get their things or tell anyone they were leaving. It was total chaos.

Samira went to a neighboring city where they believed they would be safe, but soon that city was bombed as well, so they continued to flee. Samira said she would “never forget” how everywhere she went people told her to take off her red sweater, but she didn’t understand why until an older woman told her “[the plane] spots you in bright colors, it spots you right away.” Samira and her brother made their way North to Sudan. They walked half the way, then they got a ride from some Eritrean fighters on a truck they had to ride “like goods.” Samira not gone back to Eritrea since.

In Sudan, Samira had to contend with the threat of being kidnapped in the night by the Sudanese government, which sought to relocate the many Eritreans who fled to refugee camps in Sudan. The camps were located in harsh, remote locations where heat and thirst took many lives. Samira told me that her “neighbors, who were also cousins” suffered being brought to one of the refugee camps by the Sudanese government: “They would come early in the morning when you are asleep. You’re not even awake. You are sleeping. They took them. Two of the children died. It’s just sad. They couldn’t tolerate [conditions at the camp]. I was lucky, we were lucky.” In recent years, the Sudanese government, attempting to suppress a rebellion, committed an act of genocide against their own people in the Darfur region (Genocide in Darfur).

I can only imagine that being separated from most of her family and hiding from the maniacal Sudanese government must have been a difficult adolescence for Samira. She had already known a great deal of strife at that relatively young age. This is the age where most people start to think about politics and things like that, so her adult perspective on war must have been forming during this time. Clearly, Samira and her country were not benefiting from the conflict and the immediate view of it would not have yielded the kind of distance a person needs to have to romanticize a conflict. She must have been truly “sick of war” by this time.

Samira continued her education during this time with help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She completed high school on time, then went on to Cairo to study at a technical institute for secretarial work. She had wanted to study medicine, but that was not really possible because of her status as a refugee. She said “it would have been different” if the conflict had not happened. This is one more reason for Samira to be “sick of war.”

Eritreans weren’t allowed to work in Egypt, so she went on to Baghdad, but left because of the Iran-Iraq war and general dissatisfaction with being there. Even though that war did not directly affect people in Baghdad, she had had enough of being in war zones by that time. Samira came to the United States when she was 19. She lived in South Dakota for a while, then moved to San Francisco.

Samira was reunited with her family in the United States, as family members have left Eritrea over the years. Samira still has extended family in Eritrea, but no immediate family members remain in that country. It reminds me of how Edward Said said that his home Palestine became “a series of Israeli locales” (Said X) and how all of Said’s family and acquaintances were gone from Palestine. Samira was reunited with her father after being separated for about ten years: “I can’t even put a word on it. I’m so blessed.” Samira must have some trauma from the events of her childhood, but she has lived most of life in the United States in reasonable comfort and does not seem like an unhappy person.

In conclusion, Samira’s flight from Eritrea, her difficult time in Sudan and the despotic nature of Eritrea’s independent government made her dislike war as a political tool. Those who only experience war in movies and video games sometimes have romanticized notions of what war is like. They don’t imagine what a bombing raid does to an ordinary little girl and her brother. When people call for a bad government to be driven out by some freedom fighters, they don’t necessarily think about what happens when those freedom fighters become the next government. Now, as a reservation, I don’t believe that Samira feels that Eritrea should be a part of Ethiopia! What I am saying is that Samira stopped believing in the armed struggle. We talked a little after the recording stopped, and she said something that stuck with me: “peace for all the people is my mission.”  When we were talking about the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea is asked her if parts of Eritrea “are still occupied by Ethiopia.” Samira said, “I think it’s an excuse for just…an ego of the government. It’s not to do anything with the people. They could live safely and peacefully, actually.” Samira doesn’t believe in fighting or in those so-called “freedom fighters,” who are now dictators.

Works Cited

“Eritrea.” Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, 3 May 2007. Web

“Eritrea: Selected Social Indicators.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Ed.               Gall, Timothy L. and Gall, Susan Bevan. Online ed. Detroit: Gale. Global Issues In Context. Web. 22 May 2013.
“Genocide in Darfur.” United Human Rights Council, 2013. Web.
Masci, David. “Famine in Africa: Are Affluent Nations Doing Enough to Avert Disaster?” CQ Researcher 12.39 (2002). Web.
“President Isaias Afwerki’s Biography.” Madote. 13 Nov. 2010. Web.
Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1999. Print.


Samira warns me that she speaks softly, then the recording starts. I am surprised by the sound of my voice. My additions to the conversation are written inside of [—] marks like [this]. My comments on what is happening in the conversation are written on the right side of two forward slashes like //this. Be aware that this is not intended as a word-for-word copy of the mp3 file. The goal is to capture the meaning of what was said rather than the exact words. What appears here should be considered my translation of the conversation from the language of conversation to the language of text.

Me: I’ll just put it [the recording device] closer to you.

Samira: [laughs] ah, ok.

Me: Ok Samira, I’m Thomas. So, tell me about where were you were born.

Samira: I was born in Eritrea; it’s a town called Abudat [SP?].

Me: Is that a small town?

Samira: It’s a city.

Me: In a valley?

Samira: No, actually it’s a low land. But I didn’t grow up there, I was just three months old when I left so I don’t know [the city].

Me: Why did you family leave?

Samira: Well, my dad was a teacher and also politically involved, so they [the government] were putting him from city to city [to impede his political activities].

Me: So, did you grow up in a particular town or did you move around with your dad?

Samira: I actually moved around. I didn’t grow up in a particular place.

Me: And you were going to school?

Samira: Yes.

Me: So, can you tell me about your father’s political involvement?

Samira: My father’s political involvement is a long story. You know about partition of Africa, right? So what happened was Europeans took all of Africa. Eritrea was taken by the Italians and was ruled by the Italians for about 50-60 years. And then in the second world war, Italy became allies with Germany the British kicked out [the Italians]. I’m making the story shorter!

Me: That’s fair.

Samira:.. kicked out..

Me: …the Italians…

Samira: … and they took over…

Me: …Eritrea…

Samira: They took over Eritrea for 17 years. And then what happened was, when all the other countries got independence, Eritrea did not. What happened was the British, or the Eritreans, couldn’t make up their minds.

Me: They couldn’t make up their mind if they wanted…?

Samira: There was a political thing; the US was also involved with that. They wanted to be part of Europea [Europe] and there were some Eritreans who wanted to be with Ethiopia. But when [Eritrea] was federated with Ethiopia without the people’s will, the Eritreans started movements. The teachers and students participated in demonstrations and stuff. My dad was a part of the movement.

Me: For independence?

Samira: First for the demonstrations and stuff. But then what happened was, when the brutality started [I don’t understand this part. It’s around 3:38.], Ethiopians took over, and people didn’t like that. They started grassroots movements called [the seven people?], everybody would know seven people so that way when someone got in trouble they…

Me: Oh, I see //this part isn’t clear to the listener: someone in the movement would know seven other people in the movement so that when somebody got caught by the government, they wouldn’t be able to divulge the names of more than seven comrades.

Samira: He was one of the people that started the movement, in 1961. He started to get watched; he was in prison, all these things. That’s how the trouble started. And after that, when more and more brutality more imprisonment and killing started, Eritreans stated an armed struggle in 1961. At that time what happened was that people went to fight. My Dad didn’t go to fight; however, he was helping recruit people to help with money or to recruit people to help with political things, so he was imprisoned here and there. For example, they would tell him “24 hours to get out of the city,” so he’d just have to move; sometimes, he’d just have to leave us somewhere and then later on we’d join him.

Me: Can you tell me a story about that happening?

Samira: Ok, so one story is this: [PORT] is part of Eritrea. However, it’s very far; it’s very hot. So they put him in 24 hours to go from the city to go to that place [the port]. So he left us there in the city because he could not get us to another city. He left by himself. There were others going there too.

Me: They were telling him to go to this port town?

Samira: To port town. For example, he cannot move from there. He cannot go anywhere. [Father’s birthplace] is his birthplace; they told him he cannot get there; he cannot go to that city. He can go to work, but he cannot move from that city.

Me: He was being kept in the port? He was arrested in the city? And you were with separated from him with your mother?

Samira: Yes, with my mother and two siblings; others were not born. So, after a year and a half or so we joined him in that port.

Me: how old were you when this was happening?

Samira: Hm, when this was happening, I was eight years old. So, we went to there; however, it’s like the climate is harsh so my mother was sick. So we, my mother and me and siblings, not my father, we moved to Ethiopia. It’s not far away [from the port]. Later on he could go to [Ethiopia] but that’s the only town he could go to.

Me: Yeah. So, you were right across the border, and you dad was in this port, and the government didn’t want him to leave this port.

Samira: Yeah, however, they allowed him to that city in Ethiopia because it was Ethiopia it was not Eritrea. Any Eritrean city he could not go in. So, when we would go to Eritrea, we were kind of smuggled. We would go see my grandparents.

Me: How exactly did they smuggle you?

Samira: Well, we would go from Ethiopia; nobody would know. However, when we got to [Asmara?] everybody knows everybody, so they would not say, “they are the kids of so and so,” because that’s how you were known, as “the kids of so and so.” There was curfew there. At six, we would go just right before the curfew and stay in my grandparent’s house and if we had to see another family we would go just before the curfew and not tell anyone that we were coming to stay there for a week or so.

Me: Where were you going?

Samira: To Eritrea. To see my grandparents and uncles and cousins. We would go there, go, go, go, and come back to the city where my parents were born.

Thomas: So then, uh, you must have grown up moving from place to place as your father was getting told where to go, I guess they wanted to restrict his political movements so they were telling him where to go?

Samira: Exactly.

Thomas: What about when you were a teenager?

Samira: Ok, so now…a teenager…I’m like 12, 13? So, when I’m 13…what happened was…when I was 13, the Ethiopian government was overthrown. It was the <<can’t make out, sounds like name of leader who took over>>… It was a communist country, Ethiopia. So, kind of like my dad’s restriction going to Eritrea, was kind of lightened; like he could go Eritrea! But not to his birthplace, but to Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea. So we went there, like he want[ed] to move, so we went there and there was war and stuff. It’s like one day me and my brother, we were like at school…my younger brother…and we couldn’t go back to our house.

T: Why?

S: So…what happened was like…there was bombing and stuff…so we just moved with the crowd, we just went with the crowd. We didn’t know where we were going; we didn’t know what we were doing; we just like…because we…in Ethiopia, when we were there, when the revolution was there, there was also war and stuff, but not bombing. So, we really didn’t know the exact what was going on. So, anyways, what happened was we went to a city by foot…I don’t know how many days we traveled. At first daytime, and then at night.

T: You were fleeing the capital because of the fighting there?

S: Because of the fighting…because of the bombing. The bombing was not only in the city, but the city that we were going to, it was bombed also. We didn’t know that. Nobody knew that, but it’s like the planes and stuff, you know, and people, I think were accustomed <<?>> There was this older woman.

One thing I’ll never forget: I had a red sweater on and like everybody shout[ed], “take the sweater off, take the sweater off,” and I didn’t know what was going on. So this woman came in and took out the sweater, because it’s bright color; it spot you right away…the plane.

Anyways, we got to another city called Keren and that happened to be my parents’ birthplace…

T: When you fled the city, was that immediately when you left school that day or was this more…

S: It was bombing, so it’s not like school was let out, but we have to go; we have to leave. So the thing is our house…and it’s like people are fleeing anywhere they could. So, we just followed the crowd.

T: So you just ran out of school and followed the crowd all the way out of town?

S: All the way out of town…because we didn’t know what we were doing. So, anyway, when we got to the city, it is like everybody is ok [with] what you guys [are] doing. It’s like people are so kind and stuff and they’ll ask you and we say we don’t know where our parent are; we were just at school. Kind of everybody ask[s] you whose daughter or whose son, it’s a small community. Everybody knows everybody. If you don’t know me, then somebody else will know me. So they asked someone and they knew; they came and they took us to their place. Still, they are scared because still the bombing is going on.

So anyways, so it kind of start[ed] in the morning and there was a lot of people who died in the bombing. Actually, somebody I know lost three daughters.

Then, after 15 days staying [in] that city, we decided we couldn’t go back to Asmara, to the capital, so what happened was…

T: So you left all your things in Asmara

S: Oh, yeah, nobody can get anything. So, we decided, somebody, that it’s not going to be safe, so they contacted our family; like, they contacted my mom, my mom.

T: They must have been worried about where you were?

S: Oh, yeah. They didn’t even know where we were, and there’s so many people died. At the same time that my dad was also in prison. That’s why they contacted my mom. So, my mom was like, whatever you could do, you could help them. We went to Sudan by foot…halfway. And then halfway the freedom fighters, they had this lorry that they take like so many…it…we were good

T: People had questions if you were good?

S: No, no, no. We were up, we were on this van, this lorry.

T: Oh, you were riding…a truck?

S: A truck, yes, like we were goods…everybody’s on like everybody there are so many of us.

T: Were you riding on top?

S: There were other people outside the truck. Some people were just holding outside on the truck. If you were lucky, if, you were inside the truck.

T: So, when you were walking from Asmara…and then you walked toward Sudan.

S: We stayed in that city, Keren, for 15 days first. And then we walked halfway to Sudan, and then halfway on that truck.

T: And were you still with other students?

S: We didn’t know. I don’t know if they were students but there were young people. Because we were new at the <<??>> we don’t know. Because we knew…when the bombing started everybody just fled in all directions.

T: So it was just you and your brother looking out for yourselves? The adults were nice?

S: They were nice, but we don’t know them actually. We really didn’t know them.

T: They gave you food and water?

S: Yeah. When we were from the other city, we didn’t have any food. When I say we didn’t have food it’s like, we had just like minimal things like you would get from the villagers. Everybody give you but you don’t even feel like eating. And most of the time, we are trying just to go. But in the city we had food and everything, and after that…so we couldn’t go back to Asmara, because the thing got worse; there was no bombing. But the chaos and the killing continued.

Now, the people who took us from that city, so people who we know…we didn’t know them but our family knew. So we’re going toward to Sudan. Halfway we walk, and then halfway we got the truck. We went to a refugee camp in Sudan.

We stayed in the refugee camp about…how long? Not quite a month. Then UN came…

T: Was there enough food?

S: Not to start. Not the ideal food. There was food. But not the type as here. You just don’t…we were not poor. We had food…

T: At home, but not in the refugee camp?

S: It was not enough; it was not appetizing.

T: So, I’m wondering, when you fled the city and were heading to Sudan, when you came to a village…what would happen when you came to a village…would everyone be fleeing and go on the road with you?

S: No…people in the village stayed there because the villages at the time were liberated and were not under Ethiopia, but under the rebels, the freedom fighters. They were always afraid of the bombing and stuff because everybody else would be hiding. Some of them might, but some of them not.

T: Why did you decide to go to Sudan and not stay in one of the villages?

S: Because, as I said, it’s not stable. You never know. The other thing also, is like…I don’t know. Everybody else was doing it. You’ll end up fighting too.

T: It was safer to go to another country?

S: It was safer.

T: So, you stayed in the United Nations refugee camp in Sudan for about a month, and then did you go back to your parents or did you go some place else?

S: No, our parents were still in Eritrea. What happened was the UN was opening a high school in Sudan, in Kassala, so they took us to Kassala…it’s a city in Sudan that borders Eritrea. There are many Eritreans there; they have been refugees for a long time…probably since the ‘60’s, since the war started, or the conflict started.

So, we came there and my brother went to middle school. I went to high school. They were giving us, usually they called it Unesco…it was not ruled by Unesco; it was run by the UNHCR.

T: When you were in Sudan, did you feel alienated from the native people in Sudan?

S: There were so many Eritreans refugees there; it’s bordering Eritrea. There’s always inter-marriage, you know, family here and there in both places. On the border you know how it is, many are relatives. Especially in that areas there are so many refugees for a long time, so, it’s like so many Eritreans were there already.

But, but, what was happening in the Sudanese government was always threatening the refugees. You cannot be in the city; you have to go to the refugee camp. It’s like always you’re on the run, always you’re in the hide. Even though we have papers for the UNHCR, still we are afraid that somebody will take us to a really, really bad places, very, very hot places, that has nothing, not even stable refugee camps.

T: The government tried to put the refugees in the most inhospitable places in Sudan, in the middle of the desert. No water.

S: Exactly. Yes. That is exactly what has happened to many unlucky people. I remember at one point, one year that we did that so many people died, especially…there was really high…

T: High temperatures, not enough food, not enough water?

S: Nothing, nothing at all. Very remote area.

T: It was not violence but the conditions.

S: Yeah, it was the conditions. We were lucky.

T: Did you experience this yourself?

S: No, I did not experience myself, but I knew about it. My neighbors who also happened to be my family…my second cousins…they took them to Abroham <??> a very remote area. They would come early in the morning when you are asleep. You’re not even awake. You are sleeping. They took them.

T: Kind of kidnapped.

S: Exactly, kidnapped. Two of the children died. It’s just sad. They couldn’t tolerate. I was lucky; we were lucky, didn’t get to that.

T: Did you complete high school there?

S: Yes.

T: When did you learn English?

S: In Eritrea or Ethiopia, you start taking English as a subject in 2nd grade. When you are in middle school all the subjects are in English. That’s how I started learning. In the UNHCR schools all subjects are in English. We had to sit for GEC, compatible to English school if you passed.

T: Were you working? And did you reconnect with your parents when you were in high school?

S: Yes, my last year in high school, my mom and my three siblings came to Sudan. They had to flee. My dad was in prison so they had to leave the country. They couldn’t go to school and my mom was tortured…they would come to the house and take stuff. She didn’t know where my dad was in prison so she had to leave the city. I saw her briefly there and then I had to go to another city to take the exam for the GEC, the General Education.

While I was there after we finished the exam, I just stayed in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. I stayed there about three months and UNHCR was also giving scholarships for Egypt and Kenya. They told they want us to apply to get scholarships. So we applied…they just give you a general English exam that you can pass. So I passed both for Kenya and Egypt but then Egypt was business secretary school and the one in Kenya was for nursing school. But then my friends were going to Egypt so I just go…I don’t have nobody to go with me to Kenya even though I want to do something medical field. I just went them to Egypt, to Cairo.

T: You went to Cairo and started university there?

S: It’s not university. It’s an institute for studying secretarial business.

T: It would have been tough to focus on school while you’re running from all the violence…yeah?

S: That’s very true. It’s been hard but the thing is doable. You also want to try because our father and mother wanted education so bad. They educated themselves, not universities and stuff, but still education was so valued…they value education. They instilled that in us. Even in the refugee camp, you just read. In Sudan, I’ll tell you, in Kassala, we have electricity, but you pay for electricity…but we have to say hi to my teacher.

<<interrupted by teacher in 33:40 — 32:30>>

T: Seems like you have a really good relationship with all your former teachers.

S: They are amazing. I mean, I love my teachers. Even from my childhood. My dad was a teacher.

T: He would have had to stop teaching with the political thing started, when he got involved in politics.

S: I mean, when he got out…he’s here now…yeah, I saw my dad after 11 years, 12 years…

T: I asked you, it must have been difficult to study because of the violence and then you started to talk about the electricity.

S: You pay for the electricity, no matter what. The problem is this: no electricity most of the time, we don’t get electricity…and it goes dark all of a sudden. We have to put kerosene and we have to study hard. Let me give you an example, for history: Compare the American Revolution to the French Revolution. It’s an essay, it’s not like ABC and whatever like you can give.

T: I’m not sure if I would pass that question.

S: (Laughs) I don’t know. No American will pass history. I’ll give you that. That’s what I tell my daughter. I’m being judgmental.

T: It’s sort of true. Even though I’m American, I’ve lived here my whole life, there’s just so many basic things that I don’t know about my own country. It’s embarrassing a little.

S: That’s OK. You know they give you a citizenship exam and I don’t know if any American would pass it. That’s what I tell my daughter. When I say American, I mean anyone who was born here and my daughter was born here.

T: I saw some studies where they asked Americans from the exam and it was abysmal scores.

S: So yeah, we have to study, like oil, it’s lights…we still pay for electricity.

T: So you went to Cairo and study at the institute for secretarial business…

S: It’s a language school, and international language institute but it’s a comprehensive school…it has language, secretarial, business college. Ours was a combined business, secretarial.

T: So you were not able to study medicine.

S: I was not able to do that over there.

T: Do you think it might have been different it you didn’t have to flee from Eritrea?

S: Yes. It would have been different.

T: You managed to avoid getting kidnapped.

S: Yes. It was sheer lucky. We were sleeping here next, and the next door people got taken out, they would go. It was always fear.

T: We had this book about illegal immigrants that has this quote about how the people are afraid of being picked up by the INS and ICE. You must be deal with all the time in your work with asylum seekers.

S: Yes, that’s true.

T: Did you finish the secretarial school?

S: Yes…some of my subjects were transferable here to City College.

T: Was your father still in prison when this was going on?

S: When I was in Egypt? Yes…

T: He had been in prison continuously?

S: Yes.

T: I don’t want to make you talk about things that are too painful, but you said your mother was abused and your father must have been abused in prison.

S: Oh, yes…torture. Torture…he talks about it now. They put them in cold water; they put them upside down.

T: And your mother, did she follow you to Egypt or stay in Sudan?

S: She stayed in Sudan.

T: And were any of your siblings with you in Egypt?

S: Yes, actually one of my brothers was there. He went there on his own from Sudan.

T: He was an older brother who had had already been there for a while…

S: No, not the one that went with me, but another brother. We’re six siblings…I have 1 sister and 4 brothers. One of my brothers went to Egypt on his own. This one was on his own, he flew there from Ethiopia. And then my sister came when I was there…I went to Sudan and brought her to Egypt.

T: When you finished at the institute you must have started looking for work.

S: Yes, but in Egypt you cannot work because you have to be an Egyptian citizen. They are very strict. However, because the UNHCR school had some kind of connection with like they were training us with different companies. The companies didn’t employ us; they take us as trainees they give us some pocket money. The UNHCR was giving us some money too for the education and to survive.

So, after we finish, we have to go somewhere, we cannot stay in Egypt because our student visa expires. Even though we were refugees still we couldn’t live there.

T: How old were you at this time?

S: I was 18, 19.

T: You had to leave Egypt because of the rules. Where did you go? Were you thinking about going back to Eritrea at this time? Was the fighting stopping?

S: No the fighting was still going on. The US and Canada were giving resettlement if you apply. I didn’t want to go far away. So, I went Baghdad to go to university. Stayed there a month or so. But it was not for me. So many things.

T: Everything was different. Language was probably different?

S: No, I knew Arabic. I speak Arabic. It’s not the language, but the political thing. Iraq at that time was good, many Eritreans there…I don’t know…

T: The weather?

S: No, Iraq is beautiful; the weather is beautiful. Baghdad is very beautiful…

T: Something about the culture…

S: I can’t pinpoint exactly…

T: Because you didn’t have family there?

S: Probably. But the other thing there was the Iraq-Iran war. Baghdad was not affected that much but still you could feel the…I was sick and tired of war. So I came back to Egypt again…so, it’s like, where to go? Like nowhere. Did have a choice, so I applied for US resettlement. Got accepted and came here, and went to South Dakota.


The funniest thing is at the UNHCR office in Cairo, Americans like, “Where are you going?” “I’m going to South Dakota.” And the Americans…not anybody else…”South Dakota!?” As if I’m going to the moon or some place. This was 1985.

It’s different there now. At least you can see diversity there now, but when I went there…

T: You must have been the only African in town.

S: Yeah, well, I was not even in town. I was on the outskirts of Sioux Falls. I was not the only African; I was the only colored person there.

T: Was it kind of awkward? Were people really racist there? Or just confused?

S: There were some of the nicest people there. They would go out of their way to do stuff, but they were not racist. They were confused. That’s how I would put it. I would speak English and they would ask, “How do you learn American?”

T: How did you learn our obscure unknown language? (laughs)

S: Exactly! (laughs)

My favorite thing is this…I would be eating…and I’m a Muslim…I would say “Insha’Allah,” the name of god. That’s what you say when you start something. And they’d say, “Pardon” and I would say I’m just calling my god. Oh…she’s not even Christian and she knows about god.

T: So, it’s probably like everyone goes to the same church in this town.

S: Yes.

T: The people were nice but you decided to leave South Dakota pretty quick?

S: I decided to leave South Dakota pretty quick not because of the cultural but because of the weather.

T: It was freezing

S: It starts at the end of October, the first of November, the thing just changed, like over night like freezing. So by the 10th of November, I have to…I came here actually to visit a friend.

T: You came to SF to visit a friend?

S: Actually to LA, to Orange County. My cousin joined me [in] South Dakota. I stayed there about three months. She was there about 10 days. We came here to visit a friend but the weather was so good. I had a friend in SF and I told my cousin, “I’m going to visit.” We just made up our mind; we’re staying here; we’re coming back here. We went back (to South Dakota) and we came back here. When we came back here, I told my cousin, “I’m not crazy about Orange County for me. SF is the perfect place.” I found a place. My place is here.

T: Yeah, this is a great place. A lot of immigrants end up here. I’m one of the only people I know that’s born in San Francisco.

S: You were born in SF? I have a couple of people who were born in SF.

T: I probably have one of the most boring life stories.

S: No, San Francisco…you have a story. Trust me. Believe me.

T: You haven’t told me about any jobs. You were maybe 20 by now and looking for work.

S: I applied to this place and accepted in South Dakota. But I have to leave. So I came here in San Francisco; I got a job at childcare.

T: Did you have work in South Dakota?

S: Yes, childcare…but I was accepted at nursing school. But I moved here because of the weather. So I came here, worked in childcare. They told me to get PPD testing (TB)…a skin test for TB. I went to refugee clinic to get the PPD test and as I was talking to this lady. She’s a nurse, and she said, “your English is good, and we are looking for an interpreter and someone for our pre-natal program, the doctor wants an assistant.” I said, “I have no medical training but, yeah.” She said they train me. So I applied there and I worked there almost 10 years.

What I was doing at the refugee clinic…I was working at the pre-natal program doing vital signs. Refugees from different countries come, but I was responsible for Eritreans and people who spoke Arabic.

T: So you speak Arabic, but I don’t know what language you speak in Eritrea.

S: I speak Arabic, Tigre…in Eritrea we have 9 different languages. So I speak Tigrinya. I was taught Amharic in school. I speak Tigre, Harari, Arabic and English.

T: You speak five languages fluently?

S: Yes…well, if you think I’m fluent in English, then, yes.

T: I noticed you’re wearing a jacket. Do you find it cold here?

S: No, it’s not cold. I’ve been here 30 years, so I don’t when it’s hot. But my body is always cold. Not because…it was windy outside. I’m always cold.

After that I found a job at UCSF Aids project. I was doing HIV triage and counseling.

T: Was it people who just contracted the disease?

S: No.

T: Why was it triage?

S: We will get calls and prioritize this person, this needs. If somebody calls me and says “I’m HIV positive,” I tell them where to go. If somebody calls and says, “I want to get tested,” I tell them to go. I was coordinating. We have nine different sites, so coordinating that. I worked there about 10 years also. Then I got sick and surgery on my hand. I had nerve thing. It was painful, so they had to surgery. After that I had some health issues, so I didn’t go back to work. So I was laid off, also because of funding stuff. I had priority hiring but I couldn’t go back to work for a while.

T: That brings up to the present? You have family in the US?

S: Yes, I live with my daughter and my husband. My family were living in different places, some in Sudan. First, I brought my two brothers, and then my mom, and then my other two brothers. And my sister in Cairo. And the last person I brought to the US was my dad.

T: You told me your dad finally got out of prison after about 10 years. Were you about 30 then?

S: I don’t know…I’m not not good at the timing now. I don’t know if it was the whole ten years. In the time we lost contact. We heard about him from other people. He contacted us.

T: He was free for a little while and then managed to contact you again. And did he come to the US?

S: Yes, after a while. It was a process. They have a family reunification.

T: What was it like seeing your dad after so long a time?

S: I can’t even put a word on it. I’m so blessed.

T: And there’s been continued fighting in Eritrea and Sudan. Has that impacted you since you left Africa?

S: Yes. I don’t have immediate family there but I have cousins and uncles. I have friends. The things is this, Eritrea got independence in 1991 and was recognized as an independent state in 1993. However, right now, the people who were fighting to liberate it, supposedly, are the one’s who are torturing the people. Right now, my story might be like nothing compared now to the thousands and thousands fleeing the country. They were kidnapped from the refugee camps. They’re being sold to the Bedouin in Egypt. And they’re being sold to organ traffickers, their organs being sold. They are being asked to pay $50,000 to get out from the capturers. It just continues. The cycle, the violence just continues.

T: There are still some parts of Eritrea that are occupied by Ethiopia?

S: There’s a border in conflict about it. Whose is this town; whose is that town. I think it’s an excuse for just…an ego of the government. It’s not to do anything with the people. They could live safely and peacefully, actually.

T: Do you think Ethiopia wants to control Eritrea because of the Red Sea?

S: Ethiopia doesn’t have a port, and Eritrea has two ports. Yes, some Ethiopians really want the port of Assab. There are some who say openly that in the government right now. They say they don’t [need] Assab because they are using Djibouti. But it’s easier for them to use Assab. But right now, Assab is a ghost city, not even used by Eritrea. It’s so sad because that port was very alive and very…

T: That’s the place where you separated from father for a while…

T: Do you feel like an exile from Eritrea? Did you have to leave?

S: Of course. There was no choice. I was not given choice.

T: There was day the bombing…

The mp3 Ends here. We continued talking for a couple minutes. I remember she said “my mission is peace for all peoples.”

Tan’s Oral History: Perspective

Tan’s Oral History: Perspective

by Ziyang Yu, May 20th, 2013


History is important to us because people learn from history, and can avoid making the same mistakes again and again. Everyone has a unique personal history, which makes every person possess an interesting and special life. Personal oral history can let people know one deeply, which creates better relationships between people. After people share their personal narratives, they may feel happier because someone listens to them, and cares about them. My Interviewee, Jing’e Tan, who is my grandmother, is a Chinese immigrant. She came from Taishan City, Canton province, China, and has been in the United States since 1996. She was born in 1944 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which meant she was born into chaos. Her oldest son appealed for her to come here because they wanted a family reunion and a better life in America. After her arrival in the U.S., she has taken care of her grandchildren, and worked as a housekeeper. She did a great interview with me at my home. Before I interviewed her, I didn’t know a lot of her stories. When I was about six years old, my grandmother immigrated to the U.S., and I was living in China. Therefore, my grandmother didn’t exist in my childhood, and I felt strange about losing her. However, after I interviewed her, I have come to know her life much better. I started to interview her out of curiosity, and the interview ended up fostering a very deep feeling of understanding about her life.

Tan’s family felt depressed and worried about the Japanese all the time during the Second Sino-Japanese War. China was very weak from the end of the Qing dynasty through establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and China was labeled “The Sick Man of East Asia.” Therefore, a lot of countries invaded China, and wanted to segment China’s lands, antiques, and riches. Japan was the biggest enemy for China to fight at that time. Qinna Shen, who is a professor at Miami University, wrote a piece entitled “Revisiting the Wound of a Nation: The ‘Good Nazi’ John Rabe and the Nanking Massacre,” which is about how the “good Nazi” and the Japanese hurt China from 1931 to 1945, and how are people trying to heal this awful wound today. The author states, “over 300,000 Chinese were murdered by the Imperial Japanese Army…more than 200,000 Chinese were massacred and approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred in Nanking during the six weeks after the city fell.” This is a shocking number of the Chinese people who died from the ruthless Japanese murders. All Chinese civilians felt afraid of the Japanese and worried about their safety because of their cold-blooded actions. Tan says:

“My mom told me that she was so scared of the Japanese because someone told her           that a  villager killed a Japanese soldier and then the Japanese destroyed a town, which was near Taishan City. She heard that the Japanese killed everyone they saw, raped women, and burned down the houses. My mom felt depressed all the time during the war because she didn’t know when the Japanese would attack Taishan City.”

The whole country was in an unstable situation, and Tan’s family had anxiety during that period. Every day the family lived under this depression, and every moment the whole family needed to get ready to escape from the Japanese. Also, Tan felt sorry about what her mother had done to her brother; she says:

“When the Japanese arrived in Taishan, my mom was so afraid because my mom had four   kids and pregnancy at that time. My older brother was only a few months old, and he cried all the time. Therefore, my mom was worried that the whole family would be caught due to his load noise crying. She decided to discard of him to safe our family during the exile. She put down him on a thick growth of grass, and ran away. She cried as her ran, but after a few minutes, she ran back to pick up him.”

This event tells me that her family was very frightened about getting caught by the Japanese. All mothers want to stay with her children, and take care of them. However, Tan’s mother lived in this chaotic situation, so she had to save the whole family, which meant she had to abandon her newborn child. Her family seemed to live in the abyss of misery, which created her family’s hopeless perspective and search for safety.

Tan’s family experienced conflict and desired a stable source of food during the war. Most of the young people in China haven’t experienced a war, and cannot imagine how horrible a war is. People want a good life, in which they have good jobs, healthy bodies, and happy families. When people live through a war, they never experience what a pleasant life looks like, and the only thing concerning them is survival. The indispensable factor for survival is food. Food is very valuable, and even money can’t always buy a piece of food. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Tan’s family had some experience with the lack of food. Tan says:

“At that time, all people were starvelings in China because the country didn’t have  enough food for anyone. If you wanted food, you had to cultivate or you went to a mountain to forage for it. My family couldn’t go out ploughing and sowing because we were afraid of the Japanese. We just kept hiding in a mountain. There was no market selling food as today. Especially, my family has five siblings, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that we couldn’t eat rice every day; sometime we ate potato; sometime we ate wild fruit during the war.”

Food seems like luxury in a war. Even though people find some food, they punish themselves for eating the food because they want to store it for the future. Her family needed food for the children, but were afraid go out to do cultivation because they worried about getting caught by the Japanese, which made her family have a conflicted perspective. If they wanted safety, they needed to hide in the mountains, where they didn’t have the chance finding or cultivating food. On the other hand, if they went out cultivating, they might get killed by the Japanese. In their minds, they had conflicted perspectives between food and safety. Moreover, Nuha Al-Radi was an Iraqi diarist, ceramist and painter. She experienced the Gulf War in her homeland, which is Baghdad, Iraq. She wrote a book called Baghdad Diaries, which in basically about what she saw and what Iraqis did during the war. In the section, “Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso,” Al-Radi describes herself and Iraqi civilians looking for food and safer places to live. She says, “Only we would escape from a war carrying freezers full of goodies. Iraqis have been hoarders for centuries. It’s a national habit. Since one never knows when anything will be available on the market, one buys when one sees, and in great quantities” (14). Al-Radi is a lucky person during the war for she has food to eat. Iraqis usually store a lot food at home because they live in a precarious situation. She notes that storing food is “a national habit.” This habit accompanies her during her exile during the war, and she must store food all the time and carry it from one place to other place. Tan’s family and Al-Radi both lacked of food during the wars. Unlike Al-Radi, Tan’s family was first experiencing war, so they hadn’t store any food before the war. When the Japanese attacked in their city, they just ate what they had, and picked wild fruit to eat in the mountain. Tan’s family had more desperate perspective on food than Al-Radi.

Tan’s has had a disconnected perspective in the U.S., and her expectations haven’t come true. Most American immigrants have their expectations about what they will get in the U.S. People have a lot of reasons for migration. Some people want a higher education, so they become international students and study abroad. Some people pursue a better living; therefore, they immigrate to the developed countries. Tan wanted reunion, to stay with her family members, which was the significant reason for a woman in her sixties to come to America. She felt very happy that she could live with her oldest son’s family and took care of the grandchildren. During her first year living in the U.S., she felt bored, homesick, and disconnected from this country. She states:

“I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China. In the U.S., I just like a disabled person. I have legs, but I could not go to place I like because this country was brand new for me, also I have gotten lose for a few times. I have ears, but I could not understand what my grandchildren were talking to each other. I have eyes and month, but I could not communicate with Americans, and read my grandchildren’s homework. I felt very bad about this.”

Tan considered herself the disabled of the family, and her expectation didn’t come true. Her expectation was to have a better life with her family. She wanted to get into the U.S. She wanted to know what the grandchildren were talking about, and make a good connection with them. Also, she feels disconnected from the American community, which makes her create disconnected perspective in the U.S. Moreover, Out of Place is a memoir written by Edward W. Said, who was a Palestinian-American literary theorist. The memoir is about how Said was exiled from his own country, Palestine. After he left his country, he considered himself out of place at schools among his classmates and teachers, out of place in the culture, and out of place in terms of language. Therefore, he felt out of place all the time. Said says, “Because of Rule I we spoke more, rather than less, Arabic, as an act of defiance against what seemed then, and seems even more so now, an arbitrary, ludicrously gratuitous symbol of their power” (184). Said was bound by schools’ rules, but didn’t obey the language rules. He became a rebel by opposing these rules, and spoke more Arabic at the college. According to his exiled from the school’s language rules, he felt out of place in his native language. Tan’s felt a lost connection with her grandchildren and the American community, and Siad felt out of place in his native language at the school. They both have disconnected perspectives on their new places, which makes them feel lost all the time.

Tan’s perspective started changing from her comparisons between the U.S. and China. In the first few years of living in the U.S., she felt unhappy because what she expected didn’t match the reality here. However, after getting used to living here, she started changing her perspective. She compares the U.S. and China, and considers herself is a lucky person. She says:

“I receive better welfare in here than China, which can protect my health. American government offers different kinds of welfare to help low-income family. Even though my husband is not an American citizen, he still receives some benefit. I am receiving SSI and my husband is receiving food stamp. America is great in some ways because here no one die of hunger. If I had had stay in China, I wouldn’t have good live like today.”

She realized that, actually, she is living a great country, which provides her better health care than China, and the U.S. government offers her SSI. If she hadn’t move to the U.S., she believes that her quality of life would much worse than living in the U.S. Her comparison shows that her perspective has changed from “being the disabled” to having a good quality of life.

Tan considers that where her family is where her home is. “Home” is a very sensitive and emotional word. Everyone has different ideas and definitions about his or her home. Some people think the place where one comes from is a home, while some people think the place where one is living is considered a home. In Tan’s mind, wherever her family is where her home is. She says:

“Ten years ago, my home was China, but now I only consider United States is my home. To me, home must has family members, which include children, parents, and spouses, etc. My home in China is only an apartment for me, and it doesn’t worth anything. On the other hands, my five children, my seven grandchildren, and my husband all live in the United States, so my American home is much valuable for me.”

Ten years ago, her whole family was living in China, so China was her home. During her first few years living in the U.S, she felt homesick, and still considered China was her home. However, after all her family members moved to the U.S., she started to change her perspective of home. Family is very important for her, and Tan’s definition of home means being together with family members. Moreover, Isabelle Allende, who is a Chilean American, was forced to leave her country in 1973, and writes about it in a memoir called My Invented Country. The book is about her memories of Chile, written after she was exiled from her homeland because she was in a horrible situation under the Pinochet dictatorship. After she left Chile, she felt nostalgic about her homeland. Allende left Chile in 1975; her first time going back was in 1988. She thought Chile had undergone a big change and didn’t recognize her hometown, which was Santiago. After she visited Chile, on the return flight, when she saw the San Francisco Bay from air, she said, “Back home at last. It was the first time since I’d left Chile in 1975 that I felt I was ‘home’” (192). She considered, for the first time, San Francisco as her home. She is not clear about “home”; she always thinks the only home she has is Chile, but, after she revisited Chile, she developed a new idea about her home of Chile. She felt Chile had changed, and the buildings and the people there were all brand new for her. At first, Tan and Allende both thought that where they were born would always be their homes. However, after they got used to living in the U.S., their perspectives changed, and they started to consider the United States is their home. The places that they were born were not their homes anymore, and only exist in their memories. The United States is the only home in the real world of Tan and Allende’s lives.

In conclusion, the Second Sino-Japanese War gave Tan’s family the depressed perspective of survival, and Tan’s migration changed her perspective on home from being a homesick person to considering America her home. A lot of people consider where they are born their home. However, Tan thinks the place where she and her family are living together is her home. The home in China exists only in her memories of the past, and the home in the United States is her true home now, in which she can stay with her whole family. Everyone has a different perspective about his or her personal history, and everyone has a different perspective about home. Also, a person’s perspective may change someday, but personal history is unique and valuable.

Works Cited

Allende, Isabel, and Margaret Sayers. Peden. My Invented Country: A Memoir. New York: Perennial, 2004. Print.

Radi, Nuha. Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicle of War and Exile. New York: Vintage, 2003. Print.

Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Shen, Qinna. “Revisiting The Wound Of A Nation: The ‘Good Nazi’ John Rabe And The Nanking Massacre.” Seminar – A Journal Of Germanic Studies 47.5 (2011): 661-680. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 May 2013.


30 April 2013

Interviewer: Ziyang Yu

Interviewee: Jin’e Tan (my grandmother)

1) Where are you from? I am from Taishan city, Canton province, China. How long have you been here? More than ten years. I haven’t counted exact years yet.  Did you migrate to different places in China before come to the U.S? No. I only stayed in Taishan, and I haven’t moved to other place beside Taishan. When were you born? I was born in 1944 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. I knew the Nanking Massacre, which the Japanese killed three hundred thousand Chinese in Nanking, but I haven’t known the Japanese attacked in Taishan. Did you remember anything during the war? Not really, the war was ended in 1945, and that year I only was one year old. However, my mom told me that she was so scared of the Japanese because someone told her that a villager killed a Japanese soldier and then the Japanese destroy a town where was near Taishan city. She heard that the Japanese killed everyone they see, raped women, and burn down the houses. My mom felt depressed all the time during the war because she didn’t know when the Japanese would attack in Taishan city. At that time, I just lived inside my mom’s abdomen. I hadn’t born yet. Did your mother tell you any terrible event that your family face during the war. Let’s me think. Yeah, my mom told me that when the Japanese arrived in Taishan, my mom was so afraid because my mom had four kids and pregnancy at that time. My older brother was only a few months old, and he cried all the time. Therefore, my mom was worried that the whole family would be caught due to his load noise crying. She decided to discard of him to safe our family during the exile. She put down him on a thick growth of grass, and ran away. She cried as her ran, but after a few minutes, she ran back to pick up him. We all escaped from the Japanese together, and no one left. She said we ran to the countryside of Taishan. We hid in a mountain until the Japanese left Taishan. We were so luck because we all survived, even though there was not enough food for us. And then we went back home. That’s what my mom told me about the Anti-Japanese War

2) How did you come here? By ship or airplane? Both. At first, my husband and I went to a pier by car, and it took about two hours. then we took a ship to go to Hong Kong pier. That took me so long. I still remember on that day has rough sea, and the ship couldn’t berth easily. The arrival time was three hours delay, and we spent about seven hours on the ship. I was worried about I might miss the airplane.  At that time, the public transportation was not as convenient as today. Also, I have seasickness, and I felt very bad on the ship. I felt embarrassing about the delay because my relatives were waiting in the pier for more than 4 hours. Finally, the ship was park, and they taught us to take a taxi from Hong Kong pier to Hong Kong International airport. Luckily, We got on the airplane on time, and I didn’t have airsickness. My oldest son and his wife picked us up from San Francisco International airport to his house.

3) Have you even moved to different parts in the U.S.? I have lived with my oldest son’s family in Chinatown Since I arrived in the U.S. What kind of job did you work in the U.S? I didn’t have time to work because needed to take care of my two young grandsons. One was eight months old, and another was two years old. I was very busy at that time. I needed sending and picking them up to school. At home, I did all kind of housework, such as cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. However, after the grandsons graduated from the elementary school, I had a little time to work. I worked part-time job to take care elder people, and did some house work for them. Have you experienced a special event in your work? I had an unforgettable event in the fist day of my work. At the first of working, my son drove my to work, but I needed to take a bus to go back home by myself. I got lost, and I couldn’t find the bus stop. I walked and walked for a half hour. I started felt nervous, and I was still seeking for the bus stop. I asked for help, and I said, “bus Chinatown” and “Chinatown bus.” I only knew these two words in English, which would help me back home. They replied me in English, and wave their hands. I guessed that they didn’t know what direction to take a bus to go to Chinatown either. It was getting dark and dark, and I felt more and more afraid. I kept walking, and I didn’t know my direction was correct or not. Suddenly, there were two huge dogs barked on me, my tear came out and I ran away. At that time, I felt very sad and helplessness. In my mind: “Is this what America look like?” So, how did you get home? Thank god. Finally, I found a Chinese high school student, and I asked him in Chinese. He said, “If you trust me, walk fallow me”. At that time I had to trust him because I didn’t have another choice.  We walked for a while, and we found the bus stop. He said to me that you waited for the number 1 bus right here to go to Chinatown, and he left. I appreciate this young guy helping my. Luckily, I got home about 9:30 p.m. My family was standing on a street waiting for me back home. They asked me, “You got off at 5 p.m. why do you come home so late?  Where did you go?” They asked me a lot of questions. I felt gaily and I said it softly “I got lost.” Did you continue working there after this experience? My family wanted me to quite working, but I found another job where is near my house. What was your second job? It is very near my house, and I only walked fifteen minutes to work. My family didn’t need to worry about I got lost again. My second job lasted for two years. After my second job, I haven’t worked any more. I have been taking care of my youngest daughter’s daughter.

4) Do you like to live in China or the United States? I think they both are same to me. I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China, but my oldest son’s wife said that your sons and daughters would come to America later. After years by years, all my five children arrived here, I got used to living in the U.S.  How do you feel living in the U.S. now? I receive better welfare in here than China, which can protect my health. American government offers different kinds of welfare to help low-income family. Even though my husband is not an American citizen, he still receives some benefit. I am receiving SSI and my husband is receiving food stamp. America is great in someway because here no one die of hunger. If I had had stay in China, I wouldn’t have good live like today.  Have you ever visit back to China? I didn’t have time and enough money. I needed to take care my grandchildren, and I work part-time job. So, you haven’t gone back to China? Only once, but I came back for my mother’s funeral. I stayed in Taishan for a month, but I was on the sorrowful mood during that time. I didn’t travel around Taishan, and mostly I just stayed at home to think back my mother. However, I met brother and some relatives, and I felt relieved that all my relatives were doing well in China. I never consider this retune was a vacation because of my mother. Which country do you consider as home for you? Ten years ago, my home was China, but now I only consider United States is my home. To me, Home must has family members, which include children, parents, and spouses, etc. My home in China is only an apartment for me, and it doesn’t worth any thing. On the other hands, my five children, my seven grandchildren, and my husband all live in the United States, so my American home is much valuable for me. Are you planning visit back to Taishan in someday? No, I only have one younger brother in China, and rests of my Family members are living in the U.S. Also, I am getting old, and I can’t take a thirteen hours fly to China, which can make me so sick. I will stay in the United States rest of my live with my family together.

Follow up questions:

1.Did you have enough food to eat during the war? At that time, all people were starvelings in China because the country didn’t have enough food for anyone. If you wanted food, you had to cultivate or you went to a mountain to forage for it. My family couldn’t go out ploughing and sowing because we were afraid of the Japanese. We just kept hiding in a mountain. There was no market selling food as today. Especially, my family has five siblings, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that we couldn’t eat rice every day; sometime we ate potato; sometime we ate wild fruit during the war.

2. How do you feel living in U.S. and are you feel happy living with your grandchildren? I felt homesick during the first two living in the U.S. At that time, I really wanted to go back to China. In the U.S., I just like a disabled person. I have legs, but I could not go to place I like because this country was brand new for me, also I have gotten lose for a few times. I have ears, but I could not understand what my grandchildren were talking to each other. I have eyes and month, but I could not communicate with Americans, and read my grandchildren’s homework. I felt very bad about this.