The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

Danbi Photo

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

By Danbi Kim, June, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcripts

Me : Introduce yourself?

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

Me: How could you decide to come here?

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Why it was a dark time?

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

Me: Where was the location? In California?

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

Me: did you come here alone at first time?

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

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

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

Me: language barriers?

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

Me: Challenge living in the U.S?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: any discriminations?

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

Me: things to miss the most in Vietnam?

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

Me: future goal? Your major?

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

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

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

Me: about your hometown?

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

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

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

Me: How was feeling when you land in SFO?

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

Me: Any hobbies?

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

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My Dad’s American Dream

Nancy Mach Photo Montage

My Dad’s American Dream

by Nancy Mach, June 2018

The American Dream, what is it? Everyone has different ideas of it, but my dad has a very special one. To some people, as stated by scholar Ryan Kasser, “Pursuing material wealth is sometimes viewed as empty or shallow and as precluding investment in one’s family and friends, self-actualization and contributions to society.” Everyone’s idea of an American Dream is different. My dad has a very unique one that is not an American tradition. To the ordinary American, in general, “Financial success has long been a core component of the American Dream, and many of the values modeled and encouraged by modern society suggest that success and happiness depend on procuring monetary wealth” (Derber). As you read along, you will find the true purpose to life itself.

My dad’s story started out in Vietnam when his dream was simply safety and peace because it was dangerous there, giving him no choice but to leave. My dad is a big advocate for peace; he never stands up to anybody. My father’s home is America, which is more peaceful than Vietnam. My father, Donald Mach, was born in Vietnam and he is a remarkable man. He is a generous peacemaker. My dad is warm, thoughtful and devoted, the patriarch of the family. He very much takes good care of mom and me. In school, my dad loved to study math. He always got good grades. Vietnam, to him, was absolutely fascinating but there was a lot of turmoil. In Vietnam, there were a lot of robberies. People had to go to the army and never knew when they were going to die. Vietnam was going to be in war and was becoming communistic. There was a lot of anarchy. The United States of America was calm. America was much better than Vietnam in this way. The respect of human rights here is better. He recalls, “Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me.” My father’s identity is here in America. He’s already an American citizen. It’s fine here in the U.S., he says; even though his housing condition and lifestyle is in disarray, there are opportunities here in America that Vietnam does not have.

My dad’s first goal was to make it to the US and be free from Communism and war: that shaped his American Dream at that time. My father’s fantasy was to have a better life and come to the US for a better chance of landing a job and to send me to college. “I like it here better, because it’s easier to find a job here.” Almost every immigrant I’ve met would say that they came to America for a new life and a new beginning. America is a stepping-stone to start and to having a better chance for prosperity and success. “Americans have long been aware of our special circumstance. We think of America as a refuge for every human being who has ever dreamed of a better life and been willing to risk his or her own to come here and start over” (Rifkin 1). In the beginning, my dad wanted to search for the promise land, hoping that would get him to the American Dream, to get away from the tumult. He traveled to America by boat through the Pacific Ocean. There were no jobs available because of the Vietnam War. He was in the army while there was Communism. My dad stayed in the Philippines for half a year. It was really hard to survive in Vietnam. “It is better here in the US…more freedom.” He wanted me to do well in school, thrive, go to UC Berkeley, and live the better life that he couldn’t have in Vietnam. He was a refugee so he pressured me to achieve well in school. He doesn’t know much about American laws and traditions. Nor does he comprehend how to achieve the American Dream. All he knows is how to work hard and go to school. But later he finds that it’s what’s inside that counts because one can graduate from UC Berkeley but it doesn’t mean one’s life will automatically be prosperous and abundant. That’s how he sees his American Dream: to have an auspicious, safe and abundant life.

Even though my dad regrets choosing to live in the Tenderloin, which contains many drug addicts, homeless, filth, and poverty, and is the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco, his biggest goals were to find safety and harness his ability to survive with food and shelter, which has been accomplished! My parents’ current situation living in the Tenderloin has numerous problems but still he manages to find happiness. “I would much rather live in a house in the Monterey Heights than the Tenderloin but I know that wouldn’t solve all my problems.” My family lives in the Tenderloin, the most unfavorable part of the city in San Francisco. He has told me that he regrets not buying a house when he could have two decades ago. He regrets my mom’s decision to live in the Tenderloin. But even though he would like a house, he still thinks that even if he had one, what’s more important is having contentment and inner peace of heart and mind because he thinks that’s better than big thrills. Real estate prices have gone up more than 100%. He never harkened to my mother about buying our own home 20 years ago, when we could easily have afforded it. He was too scared to do it, and now it’s too late. There’s no way we can sustain a home a now. Everything has gotten worse in that neighborhood. It just keeps getting poorer, not better. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Every time I visit my parents at their apartment, there is feces, both dog and human, on the ground everywhere. There is broken glass, litter, and a foul odor. Drug addicts are lying on the ground. Their home is surrounded by homeless people. It’s so upsetting to me to walk back and forth and see tents and the homeless people can be so rude! They can toss out insults at me all the time. I feel bad, not just him, but for myself. It’s awful. There’s nothing I can do. It is terrible. I feels like it is hell walking through all those homeless people. To him, it is quite vulgar but there is nothing that can be done. He just wants to remain optimistic. “I don’t like it but there nothing to do.” The apartment I had to live in with them in is said to be haunted. The last resident there had warned us that there had been a woman that had passed there and that the house was haunted, but my mom cared not to listen. My dad wanted me to do well in school, which is any parents’ dream for their kids. He wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. That’s what my parents wanted for me, to be successful. I have so much bitterness towards my mother. I hate her. We don’t get along. I feel so angry with my mom. Why did she choose to live in the Tenderloin when there are so many other places like Cole Valley, Haight, Richmond, Sunset, etc.? Why, oh why, did they choose a frightful place like the Tenderloin? I cannot comprehend her decision at all, though one can still make the best of life in every given situation. For example, one can live in a mansion with demons or be a doorman in heaven. He still has achieved relative safety and peace.

While places like the Monterey Heights neighborhood with luxury cars, and materialism is a depiction of the American Dream for some people, that Dream is different from my dad’s. He realizes that this depiction shown in the photo montage may cause distress and huge anxiety to others. My dad thinks people with money seem to control and manipulate others by showing off their material possessions. I agree with him; people dress to impress and spend thousands on clothes, perfume, shoes, eyelash extensions, handbags, tanning, makeup, waxing, nails and even cosmetic surgery just to prove their point. “First, Emmons (1991) found that personal strivings for power (desires to control, impress, or manipulate others) were associated with more negative affect and more distress” (Kasser and Ryan 410). People will drive nearby City College with their nice cars just to show off what they have. In the journal article “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream: A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success,” by Carol NickersonNorbert SchwarzEd Diener, they deduce, “The American Dream of financial success has negative consequences for various aspects of psychological well-being.” Basically, as the family income increases, the happiness decreases because the more they want money, the less the family is happy.

My dad says when one sees money as a means of success, he or she will fail to achieve happiness. Despite the popular belief that wealth, fame, money and fortune can bring happiness, my dad envisions the American Dream, which he carried with him from Vietnam to America, to involve working towards one’s individual success through goals while maintaining a harmonic balance of one’s self through good morals and values. My dad sees the contrast between celebrities and the super-rich and the poor in the Tenderloin as misleading, and realizes that wealth is not the answer to life. Despite all these riches, they can’t bring happiness. My dad feels that it’s better to be rich inside than to sell one’s soul for fame and fortune. In America, there are people like Rihanna, Donald Trump, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande, the ultra-rich, and then there’s my dad and me, who are low income. There’s a big difference between the two. There are the super-rich, and the super-poor. When my dad walks downtown, he sees homeless people begging for money, the Tenderloin (a neighborhood filled with poverty and drugs), and Glide Memorial Church (a soup kitchen); he’s saddened by the fact that the contrast between the two is so unfair and treacherous. On one hand, the wealthy tourists are coming out of the Hilton Hotel in Union Square holding shopping bags, coming out of Louis Vuitton; then the other hand, a homeless person sits down asking for change. Stated by Deci et al., “Higher control orientations have been shown in past research to be associated with less self-actualization, more concern with what others think and less-emotion-behavior congruence.” People may care more about how they look and their material possessions than the human beings around them. There are men and women alike who love to shop, are obsessed with shallow and superficial things, and don’t care for things that truly matter like education, love, and family. There are young and rich people that get everything they want, go shopping all the time, don’t have to work, and live in nice houses, but in the end they turn out to be miserable. Some things are more important than cosmetics and clothes. Being rich and shopping all the time for beauty products can be nice but in the end, fashion fades. Education is forever. Nobody can take away one’s education. Education, love and family should be more valued because they are what truly matters. He sees people drive Downtown or by his workplace with their hot cars just to show off their possessions. Wealth cannot bring one happiness.

My dad thinks the process of going from rags to riches doesn’t mean automatic happiness, proving that famous people falter even having millions of dollars. To my dad, if he’s happy with making life goals and reaching them, that’s what is more important. What’s more important, what people think about each other and what car one drives, or their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing? To my father, how he feels inside is more important than where he lives and whether he takes the bus. He has told me before that one can have all the money in the world but be poor in every other way. If one has nothing in their life but money, that is not an abundant and prosperous life. That is more like death. He feels many people who are super rich and have everything commit suicide and become drug addicts. My dad thinks a good example is Lindsay Lohan. He feels that she had everything young girls could ever want. She had beauty, talent, intelligence, fame and fortune. There was nothing she lacked. She was the girl every guy wanted and the one that all the girls want to be. Well, look at her now. She did a 180 degree. She was beautiful and young and her life started to go into a downward spiral. She started to act out as a bad girl by partying and doing drugs like cocaine and crack. It started to show physically by her aging and becoming very homey. Now she lives in Dubai, where she is hiding out so that no paparazzi can take photos of her. She let the fame get to her and now she cannot turn back. Once she was young and had it all and the next thing she looks like she’s 69 years old when she’s only 31! So there it goes to show that money doesn’t bring happiness. My dad is right. “Is the content of goals and values differentially associated with the well-being of the individuals who hold them?” (Ryan and Kasser 280). Isn’t true that inside is what matters? The goals and values that one has should matter and what one individual’s wellbeing of mind, body, and spirit matters more than what makeup or outfit a woman is sporting. One may have $2000 in their pocket walking Downtown, yet one can feel like the most miserable person in the universe or another person can have only $100 and be the happiest person on earth. True story.

My dad thinks rags to riches is not what he values and I agree with him. I say look at the superstar female rapper Cardi B. She claims, “Everybody got different beliefs and different religions and were raised differently, yet you also supposed to be careful you don’t offend somebody. Everybody gets bothered about everything. Everybody got a fucking opinion about you. You always got to filter yourself.” She claims that she was happier before she got famous. I agree. She said she had more privacy. “Abraham Lincoln, our most legendary, charismatic president, embodied both myths of the American Dream: the rags to riches, materialist myth of individual success and the egalitarian moralistic myth of brotherhood” (Fisher 2). Focusing on goals and achievements like motivation, organization and preparation skills, and works hard every day to make the next day better is surely more valuable than just shopping and obsessing over shallow things. Fashion and beauty trends come and go because they are like sand on a beach that get washed up by the waves. One needs to build a life with stones and brick that will last through the storm.

Being in the present moment and enjoying life as it comes along is having peace and harmony, is what my dad values, and that’s a lot better than being a hamster in a windmill. It is like when one is going, going, and going but not making any progression. It is like running around in circles going nowhere. When all we are doing is chasing after what we desire for the future instead of living in the present hour losing inner peace. “If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and have self-worth. And making goals to make yourself better matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.” To my dad, life is like a rat race when one is trying madly to get that degree, get that luxury car, and get that job. He thinks it’s like a hamster in the windmill, running round and around and getting nowhere. He says that’s a lot like life to many people. Why, when all one needs is what one already has inside? My dad thinks values like abstinence or sobriety are more important than driving a beamer. “You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving them, and happy with your life, that’s what matters to me.” He says if one is happy with what they have now and not just what they are waiting for next week, that’s a sign that one has got to stop and smell the roses. It’s important to live in your body and not just in your mind. “The American Dream Nixon personifies [is] an image more in harmony with their present, predominate self-concept…” (Fisher 1). My dad feels that when you focus on the present moment and the concept of right now, life is easier to handle. Tim Kasser and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester writes in the journal article “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals,” “Only money (e.g., achieving financial success), family security (e.g., a stable home life), and global welfare (e.g., world peace) are of interest here, corresponding to financial success, affiliation, and community feeling domains, respectively.” If it’s who our friends are, what neighborhood we live in, and how much money one has that ultimately defines people, life is so depressing. So if one lived in the Tenderloin and was low-income and had unattractive friends, does that mean he or she is a loser? It must make those people feel lowlier than someone who lives in the Beverly Hills, is gorgeous and has beautiful friends. That sounds pretty shallow because it doesn’t mean the rich person is happier. One may drive a Toyota and be happier than somebody who drives a Jaguar.

My dad thinks that inner peace is better than being wealthy and living in grief and sadness. “The overall likelihood of attaining one’s aspirations was positively related to self-actualization and vitality” (Fisher 413). According to my dad, aspiring for the little, simple things are more important than fame and fortune. “And it is naturally opposed by those who place highest value on moral rather than material goods” (Fisher 161). It’s his own choice and declaration what he want to do with his life and make his own destiny. So his dreams can flourish and his goals can be achieved. He wants me to graduate from CCSF, get a certificate and land a career. He may not like it in the Tenderloin just as much as I do. He’s not happy about it but he wants to make the best of every situation. “You feel good inside, good enough, you know.” He’s wise in knowing that. “Self-acceptance assesses aspirations for individual psychological growth, self-esteem, and autonomy. Research on values has found the related domains of self-direction and maturity” (Schwartz & Bilsky). Exactly, being free, being a grown adult, growing psychologically, having confidence in onerself, and aspiring for one’s dreams: that’s the definition of my dad’s American Dream.

After all, my dad’s life has the basic foundation of happiness which is safety, food, housing, family, and a job which he is ever grateful for because he has exactly what he needs and needs nothing more. He never got to make the traditional American Dream (like everyone else) but just the fact that he’s here instead of in Vietnam is enough. “Communism … I like Capitalism better.” He never got to make millions of dollars. It’s either a life or death situation living in Vietnam. “I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important.” To my dad, America has been very helpful. It gave him a job, retirement, a wife, a daughter, and more importantly, abundance, peace, prosperity, and joy. He will be able to retire and can live life joyfully. He can be happy because he has wisdom and inner sense of peace and contentment.

My dad feels that inner peace, harmony, and good morals matter most. Abstaining from sex, purity, and waiting for the right person is always a good thing. Sex is like a lawnmower: if one doesn’t know how to work it, it may cause great damage. When a woman gives her most precious body to a man that does not respect and truly care for her, it is a waste and painful for the woman herself. Also, having a clean sobriety and not smoking and drinking is not only good for the physical health but also for the mental health as well. Drugs are very awful and can cause great harm to one’s life. It may ruin a person’s entire life permanently. It is like selling one’s soul; once it’s gone, it is gone forever. The true American Dream is not wealth and materialism. Having goals, values, good morals, and self-individual success, and striving for world peace is vital to living the American Dream. My dad thinks that money does get people a lot of things. Money gets people almost everything one can dream of. Money is seductive and if people have nice houses so cars, they thnk they are living well. Plus they have more financial freedom. My dad’s initial dream was to have peace in his homeland and to get away from the pandemonium. He needed a job to survive, a place to live and be safe. Since he has achieved those dreams, his new dreams are different as I have pointed out this whole time. He feels if he’s motivated, works hard, and has excellent preparation and organization skills, that will take him far in daily life, which will make one quite a success in itself. Although my dad asks, “Who doesn’t want money?” he wants money too, and feels money is universal. It makes everybody happy. Then again, if one is depressed and goes on shopping sprees, the happiness is only temporary. He says, “It is instant gratification but that doesn’t last long.” My dad thinks that attaining and improving one’s life every day is a good motivational tool for happiness and self-fulfillment. He feels that if ones’ life is full of abundance and prosperity even if it’s invisible, that’s what one should be striving for. Just because someone has money does not automatically mean their life is abundant. The American Dream is setting the right goals and values for oneself, living presently in harmony with others, having one’s own aspirations, one’s own concept of individual success, being morally good, behaving in a brotherly way, and striving for world peace. This is the true meaning to life and the dream of not just Americans but the whole world.

Works Cited

Charles S. CarverEryn Baird. “The American Dream Revisited: Is It What You Want or Why You Want It That Matters?”; First Published July 1, 1998;http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9280.00057

Nancy E. Hill and Kathryn Torres. “Negotiating the American Dream: The Paradox of Aspirations and Achievement among Latino Students and Engagement between their Families and Schools” First published: 09 March 2010;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2009.01635.x/full

Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 22, no. 3, 1996, pp. 280–287., doi:10.1177/0146167296223006.

Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 65, no. 2, 1993, pp. 410–422., doi:10.1037//0022-3514.65.2.410.

Mach, Donald. “The American Dream.” 1 May 2018. Oral History Project; English 1A; Dr.    Steven Mayers; CCSF; Nancy Mach

Carol NickersonNorbert SchwarzEd Diener. “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success”  First Published November 1, 2003;

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.0956-7976.2003.psci_1461.x

 

Sample Transcripts

Do you like living in your apartment in the Tenderloin? No, but I have no choice. I cannot afford a home in a nicer area right now.

Do you like flowers? Yes, I like looking at them. I would like to grow some if I could.

What are your wishes? A nicer home, a better happier, and lifestyle

What is your favorite neighborhood? Monterey Heights. It’s beautiful there. Safe, no litter, no homeless, quiet and serene.

What did you do when you were young? When I was young I loved to play Ping Pong.

Where do you wish to live? I would wish to have a happier life in the Monterey Heights

Do you like living in the in the Tenderloin. No I don’t. I am disgusted by the like the litter, smell, and the drug addicts.

What is your favorite food? I like to eat Vietnamese food.

Do you speak English well? I know a little only.

If you could go back to Vietnam would you? No, only to visit but not to live. It is better here in the U.S. …more freedom.

What do you like about USA? I like it here better. Because it’s easier to find a job here.

Is San Francisco cheap or expensive? San Francisco is a wonderful place but rent is very expensive. It’s hard to live here. I want to own a home.

What color would You paint your own house? I would love to paint the exterior of my house yellow

What do you think about the drug addicts and homeless around your area? I don’t like them but living here is closer to my job. I work in a hotel nearby Union Square.

Have you ever done drugs? No, I never have done drugs. And I’m glad I never had. They are bad for you.

How was Vietnam like? Vietnam is very pretty and very beautiful

To you what is the real reason you came to America?

I dream of making success I come and find a job and have a family. And have retirement plan. So I could go on vacations. I see the American dream would like to have a safe home to live. A happy home, auspicious. But if you cannot do that what really matter is that you are happy inner self happy. If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and self-worth. And you make goals to make yourself better that matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.

What are your wishes?

My wish is that you can be happy even though I did not give u born an American dream. I want you to be happy by inside. And how you feel about your own life. Happiness is not just from material stuff from your money is from your inside.

Are you happy? Are you okay? Why do you always frown? I am worried about you.

I am stuck there is nothing I can do. That’s life. But at least I can eat and sleep and I am not homeless. It could be worse. Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me. I just want you to do well you can move on to where a nice place you want to live and be independent. I want you to be happy and successful in your own life. You are free you are over 18. No longer dependent on me. I want a happier life. I want a better future and lifestyle but it’s hard right now. But I have a job and I have retirement plan that is okay with me.

How do you think the American dream is like?

It is a lie that American dream mean money you can have a lot of money but be miserable. Happiness come from in your heart and inside your soul. If you happy with every day happen that’s why you happy inside. You can be poor inside and rich with money. I want a nice house so I could enjoy but I cannot. In America it is always about car or house you own to show off. If your life is direction that good enough. You feel good inside good enough you know?

If you are depressed don’t you think you should take medication?

I’m fine. Medication will just make things worse. I had told your mom we want to live in Richmond or Sunset and she don’t listen. Too late now. I hate walking around here it is like hell. Dirty everywhere, bad people. But Vietnam worse a lot of robbery and danger. Communism … I like Capitalism better.

What is your idea of an American Dream?

I would like to have a pretty home in a safe area. I’m sorry I not give that for you. I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important. And provide for me and mom. Either way I proud of you what you become. You work hard and you are beautiful girl.

Where else would you want to live at?

Ideally I want my house in Ingleside or Sunset or Richmond somewhere safe. Living here is so stress and strife for me. I don’t like it but there nothing to do. I cannot afford.

What about me now?

I know you are grown and you are now 30 and you can choose your own life. You no need to depend on me and mom.

Sorry I did not fulfil your dream to go to UC Berkeley.

You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving and happy with your life that’s what matters to me. It doesn’t matter for you to have a car or driving, as long as inside you are know you do good. You are happy with inside yourself. If you happy then I happy too.

What would you have done different?

I regret not buying a house sooner. I am so regret. I hope things can change. Hopefully you do well in your life and things can get better if you work hard in school. Sorry I didn’t give you a good life with an American dream.

Are you happy?

Don’t worry for me. Worry for yourself. I can take care of myself. I am a big now. It’s okay you don’t need money to be happy. You are happy already. I don’t need to be rich to be happy. As long as I can have food on my table and roof over my head I am happy. When I in Vietnam cannot survive, die anytime.

If you had one wish what would it be?

I would love to have beautiful, big house in a beautiful neighbor and a lot a lot a lot money but the most important thing is happiness inside if you happy inside that you got it. You broke no money and happiest in the world. And you can be walking in Union Square $5000 in pocket and you most miserable. Life is what you make. You already learn from me. You know me. I tell you all the time. Yes there’s homeless outside so what inside is okay. Just don’t go out at night. Rent is cheap here. You go elsewhere rent too expensive.

What makes you happy?

I like play Ping Pong. And Chinese Chess and Listen to Chinese Music and watch Vietnamese movie or Hong Kong Movie. Happiness it comes from inside, a nice feeling in your soul. No materialistic thing. Wake up and drink a coffee. Having a roof, food and eating, have a family, have people that truly love you not false love care. Being safe. Have peace. Be peacemaker. No enemy. Everywhere mom go she has enemies. Don’t make enemy with no-one. Be peaceful.

Explain more.

Make goals and achieve them. Everyday things that you make to learn to grow. Every day is new day. A new present to open. Christmas present. People learn from their own mistake. You make mistake, you learn. You go through big suffer and you go stronger. Am I right? Life is fair. Do you know what I went through in Vietnam? Now look at my life now. You go through rotten thing and you get stronger. I always teach you these thing peace is the answer. No enemies.

So, what matters is how you feel inside and not if you’re rich and drive a Rolls Royce or Bentley?

Exactly. Rich people sometime kill themselves they not happy. You have all the money in the world and not happy. Life is grow and learn that it. If you enjoy your life you rich inside. Now if you rich inside that’s the secret. Simple. Just keep life simple. Me and mom never go out or vacation or buy house. We have food and shelter that what matter to us. No need for those extra things. Waste money.

 

Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

by Jimmy Gonzalez, January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration Detention Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Border Plan

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

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

Prevention Through Deterrence

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

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

Solutions

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcripts

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

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

Jimmy: Security, security from?

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

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

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

Jimmy: Understood.

Jose: They force you.

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

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: That went into the gangs?

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

Jimmy: Understood, I understand

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

Jimmy: That’s how it was.

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

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

Jose: Yes

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

Jose: Yes, with my brothers.

Jimmy: Were they older than you were?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: And were they also going to school?

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

Jimmy: Which ones were they?

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Mm

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

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And she was only working

Jimmy: And you saw all of this?

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

Jimmy: Oh so you heard it?

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

Jimmy: Wow, wow

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

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To gain strength, to come here

Jimmy: Of course

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

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

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Which is why

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

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

Jose: Um

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

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

Jimmy: How old were you when?

Jose: I was sixteen years old

Jimmy: Sixteen years old

Jose: Yeah

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How did you travel to the United States?

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Describe your trip

Jose: My trip

Jimmy: How was it?

Jose: How was it?

Jimmy: Yeah

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

Jimmy: Is is safe?

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

Jimmy: That was thirty years ago.

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: The Zetas, right?

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

Jimmy: Right

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

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

Jose: Um

Jimmy: What were the difficulties?

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: And why is that the most difficult thing?

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

Jimmy: Hm… Wow, in the desert?

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

Jimmy: Where did you guys sleep?

Jose: Um..

Jimmy: In the desert?

Jose: Wherever

Jimmy: Wherever?

Jose: Yeah, you had to seek a place

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

Jose: Yeah only

Jimmy: Water?

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

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

Jose: Yeah we were like twenty-five people

Jimmy: All men, women, children?

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

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

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

Jimmy: From all the places

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

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

Jose: Um, um, well I felt distressed because

Jimmy: Hm.

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Only thirteen?!

Jose: Only thirteen.

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

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

Jimmy: Three days in the desert

Jose: Three days inside the desert.

Jimmy: And

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

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

Jose: They stayed by themselves.

Jimmy: Alone

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

Jimmy: Because the coyote had to keep moving forward?

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

Jimmy: Oh no, ah.

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

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

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

Jimmy: More fast

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

Jimmy: In your country?

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

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

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

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

Jose: Um, no, well I don’t know

Jimmy: You don’t know

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

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

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

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

Jose: Yes, I wanted to keep on studying.

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

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Teacher?

Jose: I wanted to be a history teacher, yeah

Jimmy: History Teacher

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: You went to study?

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

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

Jose: Yes, I graduated from high school

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

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

Jimmy: Uh huh

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

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

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

Jimmy: You had been disappointed

Jose: Seemed like garbage to me.

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Due to their obstacles, wow.

Jose: Yes, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their present status.

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

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

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

Jose: What?

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

Jose: If they taught these things in school?

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Yes, yes

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

Jimmy: The normal

Jose: Like here

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: That’s it

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

Jimmy: I understand, and

Jose: It wouldn’t benefit them [laughs]

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

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

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

Jimmy: Like which ones?

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Prior to coming

Jose: Many things

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

Jose: No no.

Jimmy: Or did you think.

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

Jimmy: Ah

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: In whatever

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

Jimmy: And

Jose: The idea was to start making money

Jimmy: Money?

Jose: Yeah

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: Always

Jose: In one way or another they always pressure you

Jimmy: The employers?

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

Jimmy: And the immigrant cannot do anything?

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

Jimmy: Maybe because they will not listen to you

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

Jimmy: Simply because one does not have the papers

Jose: Yeah exactly, there isn’t much

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

Jimmy: Does not have

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

Jimmy: A difference

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: But that is how life is you know

Jimmy: Here in the United States

Jose: Yes, but I do not get weary

Jimmy: You do not get weary

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

Jimmy: Of course, of course

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

Jimmy: Yes yes, I understand.

Jose: Yeah

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

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

Jimmy: An American

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

Jimmy: Yes, is the process difficult?

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

Jimmy: It is very difficult

Jose: It is very difficult, yeah

Jimmy: Wow and so now you have a wife?

Jose: Unless their is an amnesty [laughs]

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

Jose: Yes their was one in 1999

Jimmy: Uh-huh and

Jose: But since then there has not been any

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

Jose: Yes I have a daughter

Jimmy: A daughter

Jose: And I have a wife

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

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

Jimmy: Like any other family

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

Jimmy: Of course [laughs]

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

Jimmy: And your daughter was born here, right?

Jose: What?

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, she has papers?

Jose: Yes she does

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

Jose: Yes of course

Jimmy: Of course

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

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

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

Jimmy: Oh, your father is in El Salvador?

Jose: Yes, my father is in El Salvador

Jimmy: In El Salvador

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

Jimmy: Ahh I understand

Jose: In the company that he works

Jimmy: Ah, and do you miss your father?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, a lot?

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

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I speak with him every now and then

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

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

Jimmy: He does not want to come here

Jose: No he doesn’t

Jimmy: He doesn’t

Jose: He’s okay over there [laughs]

Jimmy: He’s okay over their?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay, that’s good

Jose: He feels good being over their

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

Jose: Okay, um,

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

Jose: Okay yes, maybe, well, um,

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

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

Jimmy: So,

Jose: Something better you know

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

Jose: There are more opportunities for you

Jimmy: More opportunities?

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

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

Jose: Um

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

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

Jimmy: How would you feel?

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

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: It is something that is very important

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

Jose: Yes

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

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Oh do you know people that

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

Jimmy: Mhm, and you wish that

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

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: Disability and all of that, you know.

Jimmy: It is not good

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

Jimmy: Yes, yes, mhm, so,

Jose: But anyways, that is the way it is

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

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

Jimmy: You feel good

Jose: Yes

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

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

Jimmy: Oh okay

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

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

Jose: More or less yeah

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: I understand enough to speak it a little.

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

Jose: Um…

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

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

Jimmy: [laughs] That does not exist

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

Jimmy: Yeah [laughs]

Jose: There is no American Dream

Jimmy: What do you think when you hear that?

Jose: What would the American Dream be for you?

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

Jose: Ah okay, well, okay that’s good

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

Jose: There is none [laughs]

Jimmy: None

Jose: For me their is no American Dream

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

Jose: Yes, but they are only sayings

Jimmy: They are fantasies, it is not real

Jose: Fantasies, yeah

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

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

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

Jose: No, I do not regret it

Jimmy: You do not regret it

Jose: Because I am better here

Jimmy: As opposed to being in El Salvador

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

Jimmy: Even though you feel the pressure

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: Even though I am doing that job

Jimmy: Yeah yeah

Jose: Yeah [laughs] that’s the truth

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

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

Jimmy: It’s not enough

Jose: Yeah, and you work like an animal.

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

Jose: No I never worked their

Jimmy: Never, how good

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

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

Jose: No

Jimmy: Everyone knows how to work

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

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: They push forward

Jimmy: Yeah

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

Jimmy: [laughs] Are lazy?

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

Jimmy: [laughs]

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

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: They don’t appreciate it

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: Yeah oh well, changing subject

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

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

Jimmy: And proud? [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] And proud, and yeah

Jimmy: Well,

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

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

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: And I appreciate your time, I wish you

Jose: Yeah, your welcome

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

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

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

Myth 13: Today’s Immigrants Are Not Learning English

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

by Chris Plunkett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

My Father: How Moving to America Has Shaped his Perception

           of America and his Own Identity               

by Max Bauer, July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J: When we finally moved, I was 35.

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

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

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

J: Alright, ok great.

M: Hey

J: Hello?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memories of an Émigré

Memories of an Émigré
by Levan Tortladze, May, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

 Transcript

Levan T: What is your name?

Adriana: Adriana.

Levan T: What year were you born and where?

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

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

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

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

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

Adriana: I always dreamed about.

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

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

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

Levan T: What was her reaction?

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

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

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

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

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

Levan T: Have you heard about other immigrants?

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

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

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

Levan T: How long was the process?

Adriana: About 4 months

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

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

Levan T: How long have you been here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levan T: What good came of this hardships?

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

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

Levan T: Your greatest accomplishment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Disproving Myths, One Immigrant at a Time

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Disproving Myths, One Immigrant at a Time

by Jessica Hart, December 2013

Maurizio, as an undocumented child, was brought to the United States from Lima, Peru by his parents, for a better quality of life. Now, as a man and a good friend of mine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maurizio and learning more about him. I have known him for eight years but never on a personal level. When Maurizio and his siblings were young, his father wanted a better life for his family so he decided to move to the United States. His mother, like most wives, waited for her husband to send money back home so they could reunite in the future. Through a travel visa with his mother and sibling, he made it to the United States and began his life as an American. Maurizio experienced gains and losses through assimilation, but he found more, and he even acknowledges that if he had a choice today he would not move back to Peru. As I interviewed him it seemed as though I was on a journey through his timeline of events and interesting stories. There are myths believed by some people that immigrants do not pay taxes or assimilate to United States culture. Through his story, Maurizio disproves these myths and shows us that he is more than political stereotypes.

While a lot of people think that the immigrants who are in the United States as adults made the choice to be here illegally, Maurizio shows that not all immigrants have that choice. I was surprised when he explained that his family was not very poor as I had assumed. They were actually a middle class family before migrating and they came to the United States for a better quality of life. His father had lost his job and decided it was best to move the family to the United States. Like a lot of immigrants, Maurizio’s father traveled to America alone until he was able to bring over the rest of his family. His mother worked for a prestigious bank back in Lima but was fired because her bosses decided it was cheaper to pay college students, rather than pay her multiple wages for all the positions she was working. Maurizio then explained to me that Lima does not have unions or laws to protect workers’ rights like in San Francisco, so they were able to fire his mother without justification. Both parents lost their jobs and they wanted better opportunities for their children. Maurizio made it clear that he had no choice to come to the United States because he was only a child. While boarding the plane to Houston, Texas, Maurizio was leaving behind the family maid, whom he seemed to have adored, and a dog that may no longer be living. Maurizio felt that he would have had a career if he was still living in Peru, in comparison to the job that he has here in S.F.  He acknowledges that those were losses accumulated, but because of that he has gained perspective. During our interview, he said, ”Because now that I am older, I’d probably, like I said would not have the mindset that I have now, back then, I probably would have chosen to come here.” Understandably, like most children, he would have wanted to stay with what he knew, but as a mature man, he understands what his father wanted and is grateful that is he is now here. If he had been an adult at the time of living in Peru he would have made the same choice to come to America just as his father had.

While some Americans feel that immigrants move here to drain our country of resources, Maurizio’s story disproves this myth; in actuality, Maurizio’s family was always searching for something better so they moved around a lot to increase the quality of their lives. With his family, Maurizio moved around quite a bit during his childhood whether it was a bigger apartment for space or to an actual house because it was better for raising children. He moved four or five times with his family. When he turned eighteen, he moved in with his girlfriend at the time, and when they broke up, Maurizio then moved to a friend’s house with their family and still has not settled into a place of his own. Maurizio has now found a better place living with his sister and father. Although his rent is more expensive, he now has his own room and is closer to his immediate family. He mentioned that, in his future, he may move several more times before attempting to buy his own home. According to the American Journal of Public Health authors Tama and Jeanne Gunn, their study “Moving to Opportunity” stated that, after interviewing 550 families, “Boys who moved to less poor neighborhoods reported significantly fewer anxious/depressive and dependency problems than did boys who stayed in public housing” (Gunn 1576-1582). This article can help us understand the reason why most immigrant families move so often. Moving is not an easy task but oftentimes lead to a better quality of life if one moves away from urban areas or into safer housing within that urban area. Moving to a better place is often seen as moving to a place that reduces stress and/or provides opportunities. Each time Maurizio and his family moved, it was because they felt that moving would enhance their quality of life in some way. Evidently, their reasons for migrating to the United States had nothing to do with planning to use any of American resources. They wanted a life in which they can work, and comfortably provide for their families.

Through assimilation, Maurizio lost the sense of unity he once knew from his large helpful community, but has gained back a small portion of that unity among his extended family members. If one takes the time to get to know Maurizio, it will become obvious that he has an undying love for his family. I asked Maurizio what his concept of family was and he said that he has one large family and has allowed a small number of people to access that special place in his heart, which he keeps reserved for his family. People have to prove themselves as worthy; for example, his friend from high school and his roommate at the time of the interview gave him a place to live when he was kicked out of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and had nowhere to go, so he considers him as a brother. After moving to California, Maurizio realized that there is a lack of unity among our people as compared to Peru. According to Maurizio, “…they might not help you with money all the time but, but they’ll always help you, like if you need clothes…” To clarify, neighbors in Peru will donate or let each other borrow clothes so that one can save one’s own money for something bigger such as college tuition. Maurizio emphasized that, in Lima, there is unity among their citizens but in the United States people have a more individualistic mindset and tend to mostly care for their own families and not their entire community as Peruvians do.

Maurizio seems to be very self-motivated; he describes himself as a simple guy who is easy to please. As long as his basic needs are met, he can handle the rest. What surprised me the most were his ambitious career goals.  He reminded me of myself a little. He wants to be an auto mechanic and his own boss. After that goal is completed, he will move on to owning his own body shop and is even considering a career as a chef, owning his own restaurant. He also pointed out that, if he were living in Peru, he would have already had a career by now, with support he would have gotten from his Peruvian community and family. He made a point to stress that, even though he is living in America and there is a lack of support, he will not give up; however, things will take him a little bit longer to get started. According to The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, “The childhood experiences of entrepreneurs have found to be difficult, characterized by poverty, insecurity and/or neglect and personal tragedies, such as parents divorce, a parents death, family financial difficulties, and/or serious illness” (Drennan 231). This makes sense as a way of understanding why Maurizio is so ambitious. His parents were going through a divorce, he and his family had faced financial difficulties, and, although he has had an overall happy childhood, he has faced some personal tragedies that have taken a toll on his mindset and has shaped who he is as a man.

It is noticeable that a lot of immigrants who settle in America tend to start small businesses, whether it is an ice cream truck, street vending, food trucks or auto body shops. It is said that “…Economic migrants are described as tending on average to be more able, ambitious, aggressive entrepreneurial, or otherwise more majorly selected that similar individuals who choose to remain in their place of origin” (Chiswick 52). Residents who are born in America tend to be job-orientated.  We are taught at an early age to think about what good jobs and careers we want to pursue after college and home ownership. As children, business ownership is not as emphasized as an option in getting a good job. This would explain why Maurizio is striving for more than just a job. This will help him in the long run; right now, he has to work different jobs to take care of any basic needs. Having his own business would allow him finally has some stability in his life if his business becomes successful enough. A business is never an easy goal but it is a goal preferred by a lot of immigrants because they don’t want to depend on anyone else to take care of them: they prefer to do it themselves. Maurizio is a citizen now and has the option to apply for general assistance but hasn’t.  He wants to take care of himself with the money he earns.

Americans assume that undocumented immigrants like Maurizio at the time do not pay taxes. A lot of immigrants use fake social security cards and, through those social security numbers, they can work, pay state taxes and those taxes are taken out of their paychecks under the number they are using.  Because those number are not theirs, they do not receive the benefits Americans would receive, therefore contributing to the American economy more than they benefit from it. Instead, America accepts cheap labor and taxes from undocumented immigrants and those working immigrants never receive tax benefits. They even pay gasoline tax, and sales tax. If undocumented people protest in any way, they risk deportation and, for Maurizio, he had already experienced a traumatic experience revealing to a classmate his citizenship status. Maurizio’s first job as an undocumented person was a dishwasher, as he waited for his papers to come in. During that time he worked, he was subjected to taxes and paid them.

It is believed that the U.S. is an openhanded country that has always welcomed immigrants from all over the world but this is a myth. Maurizio had to hide his citizenship status; otherwise, he and his family could have faced discrimination and deportation if they were reported during the time their travel visas expired. Maurizio was really young when, in confidence, he told his classmate he was not a citizen. Maurizio said, “They turn on you, use that information against you. I remember telling one person, I was really young um, I mean they made fun of me at the time and always making jokes about how there were going to tell immigration I was here.” He lost trust in people but also gained an understanding of what information should not be shared beyond family and why. Maurizio still carries that fear of trust and this just proves that America is not very welcoming towards immigrants as originally thought by a lot of Americans. According to Family Court Review, Robert Coles, a prize- winning psychiatrist from Harvard states, “Morality is not learned through memorizing lists or formulas. It is learned through being with others. It is learned through the example of others” (90). Anyone can become bullied, but we have to analyze the reason children would joke about someone’s immigration status. They hear adults talk badly about them and have learned that a lot of society disapproves of immigrants living here while undocumented. If we truly lived in a welcoming country, then Maurizio being an immigrant would not be the butt of children’s jokes. Children learn from their parents that immigrants are less valued members of society that are to be treated as third-class citizens. So, naturally, they think it is okay to tease undocumented children because the adults in their lives have exposed them to negative opinions. Those children will one day become adults and the learning of myths will continue unless society learns to recognize a myth from a fact. They can start by putting themselves in Maurizio’s shoes.

There are a series of stereotypes surrounding immigrants. They are viewed as people who come to America to take advantage of resources and not assimilate to the United States culture but immigrants are hard working people. If one understands someone’s history, one may understand his or her leading direction. Immigrant children do not often have a choice to come to this country. They have hard times trusting others because of a fear of being exiled from their peers. It is not easy for them to get work and they cannot even obtain library cards because they do not have documents to prove they exist. The cost of college is more expensive for them and they pay a lot of money into our tax system. Yet, Americans seem to think that they take advantage of our resources when they are actually being taken advantage of.  They learn English and some even forget their original languages.  They lose who and what they could have become in their own countries, possible experiences and materialistic things that they could’ve had. On the other side, they all gain an undeniable experience that leads to a story that too often goes unheard. Maurizio has gained more than he expected and more of a broader concept of home and family. When people migrant from one place to another, they take to that new place their ways of life, but once they establish residency, they adapt to their new surroundings in different ways just as Maurizio has done. We should learn who these immigrants are before deciding to believe in stereotypes about them.

 

Works Cited

Chiswick, Barry R. “Are Immigrants Favorably Self-Selected.” JSTOR. N.p., 2 May 1999. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.

Drennan, Drennan, Judy, Kennedy, Renfrow, and Patty. “Ingentaconnect Impact of Childhood Experiences on the Development of Entrepreneu…” The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 6.4 (2005): 231-38. Latest TOC RSS. Ingentaconnect, Nov. 2005. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

Leventhal, Tama, and Jeanne B. Gunn. “Moving to Opportunity: An Experimental Study of Neighborhood Effects on Mental Health.” American Journal of Public Health 93.9 (2003): 1576-582. American Public Health Association -. 10 Sept. 2002. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.

S, Robert. “The Moral Intelligence of Children.” The Moral Intelligence of Children 3.1 (2005): n. pag. Wiley Online Library. 15 Mar. 2005. Web. 07 Dec. 2013.

 

Interview Transcript: “Appreciation”

Jessica: Ok, so I’m here interviewing Maurizio…umm actually we’ll just start.

Maurizio: Alright.

Jessica: So what is your story? Tell me about when you came to the U.S. your choice to come to the U.S? If it was a choice.

Maurizio: Umm well it wasn’t my choice, I was young at the time, I was ten years old. I was living in my home country, I’m from Peru. Um, what had happened is uh uh my father left for the United States, you know for a better life back in 1996 three years before I, I came here with my mom, and we were suppose to stay over there my dad was kind of help support us and you know, eventually maybe move over, or maybe he is going to come back, I don’t really know the overall plan because I was too young I guess. So, in their, you know in their perspective they didn’t , I,I don’t think that I, I don’t think they felt that me and my sister were, were old enough to understand . So um at some point something went on and my mom lost her job, she had a really good job, she she used to work at a very prestigious bank. She was part of the corporate exculative thing.

Jessica: Mmhum.

Maurizio: She held the job basically of the four people so she had four different wedges she was making good money, you know we weren’t really poor. It was just my dad who lost his job so he decided to go to the United States, you know to, so something because he couldn’t find a job, his life situation was getting bad and yet he didn’t go to college or anything so it not like he could get a good job. So he left, and um my mom lost her job because the bank they decided it would be easier to pay four different people fresh out of college than to pay four different you know at a higher wedge because she been there over fifteen years, so they cut her loose.  Because it would be cheaper so because in Peru county there are no um laws or anything protecting people, you know like there is here, like unions and all that. You know?

Jess: Yes

Maurizio: So they cut her loose. So we, so she saved money and my dad helped us come over here with the money which he was making over there and in 1999, in July we flew over here, that’s, that’s how that happened.

Jessica: Ok how? Um excuse me for asking again, how old were you?

Maurizio: I was 10 my sister was 9.

Jessica: 10?

Maurizio: Um hum

Jessica: Sister was 9?

Maurizio: Um hum

Jessica: What part of Peru are you from?

Maurizio: Capital, Lama

Jessica: Umm hum, ok.

Jessica: If you had a choice?

Maurizio: um hum?

Jessica: at that age, if you had a choice, would you stayed in your country?

Maurizio: Well the choice, it can vary because you know at a young age, as I was back then. I would’ve chosen to stay with what I knew. My family, my country, my house, my friends, you know all that, but you know, like I said the choice can change.

Because now that I’m older, I’d probably, like I said would have had the mindset that I,that I have now, back then I probably would have chosen to come over here. It’s a hard question to answer cause, you never know what exactly what you want at that age. You know?

Jessica: Right

All you want is just to be happy with your family and friends.

Jessica: Do you have any regrets about leaving?

Maurizio? None

Jessica: None?

Maurizio: None, I don’t have any regrets because Like I said, I didn’t know what I left, what I was going for. Hum therefore hum, I have nothing to look back for. My family was here, that was the most important part, my sister was here, my mom was here, my dad was here you know. So no regrets because we’re all here.

Jessica: Ok, ok now when you were a child what did you expect coming to the U.S.?

Maurizio: Nothing at all.

Jessica: Did you expect for it to look like Peru?

Maurizio: Na, I can’t remember everything that when I came here, when I came here I remember stepping off of a plane getting to the new house. I was just noticing how everything was different. But after that, at the same time everything was pretty much the same. But the climate, for example it’s exactly the same except for it’s a little bit colder over here than over there and it rains a lot more over here than it is over there. But the climate is still pretty dry, you know?

Jessica: Um hum

Maurizio: It’s pretty much the same. It’s not like North Carolina, where my mom lives right now it is completely humid.  I never experience something like that before, and, and a lot of ____ I can tell that San Francisco and Lema are pretty much the same. Only thing that varies is the change of temperature being colder that’s it.

Jessica: Okay

Long Pause…

Jessica: So what city did you come in, come to when you 1st came, what city?

Maurizio: Straight here. I mean…

Jessica: San Francisco?

Maurizio: Yea, I came to live here to live in San Francisco, but if you’re asking where my flight stopped first, I was in Huston.

Jessica: Huston Texas?

Maurizio: Yea

Jessica: And do you…

Maurizio: I just…

Jessica: From Huston you came to SF.

Murizio: Yes, but I only saw the airport. But you know…

Jessica: Yes

Maurizio: It’s not, it’s not like I went to the city or anything. I only stayed for a couple hours.

Jessica: Ok, Have you tried or planned to visit your home country in the future.

Maurizio: I tried, but I couldn’t because of money problems. Cause I was always going to school and didn’t have enough money for bills and all that and going to school. Because going to school is very expensive, it’s like over it would be 1500 for a ticket and then you go and everything in Peru, like the economy in Peru is not that bad, like at all like other countries like anything you buy over there is just as much as its sold over here, like the price, I didn’t have enough money to save for anything like that, so…. But now, I’ma go. I’ma go in December. My mom bought me the ticket because otherwise , it would still be the same story I wouldn’t have enough money to go…so?

Jessica: So right now what is your current living arrangement?

Maurizio: Right now? I live with my roommate, and in a week I’m moving out. I’m moving in with my sister. We going to have together, an apartment…

Person: mumbles in background

Maurizio: (Whispers) looks at me.

Jessica: It’s ok you can do it.

Maurizio: Yea.

Person: Whispers

Maurizio: $7, $7.11

Person: Whispers about pizza money

Jessica: See whats up with Gio cause I have him $20.

Maurizio: Just tell Michael to go in my wallet.

Person: Walks away…

Maurizio: and Its somehow…mumbles.

Jessica: laughs

Jessica: Ok um, let’s start over. We were talking about living arrangements.

Maurizio: I live with my roommate, umm friend from high school [Person’s Name], you know him very well.

Jessica: yea

Maurizio: together we have a good relationship, you know as far as friendship goes. We played basketball together; we went to school for four years, spent lots of good times together with a bunch of friends. Um he helped me out, because I was living with my ex girlfriend. The relationship ended and I didn’t have no where to go. Him and his family took me in and after three years of living together now I’m moving out, with my sister. Shee, we um got an apartment at the same house where my dad lives but it’s the downstairs apartment which was being rented out to somebody else but…COUGHS, so yea, now I am moving in with her.

Maurizio: It’s a two bedroom apartment.

Jessica: How do you feel about moving?

Maurizio: I prefer it because, well not money wise, I have to pay more for that but when it comes to privacy, and my own room, private kitchen, you know I prefer it you know, it’s a commodity.

Jessica: Ok, how many times have you moved in your lifetime?

Maurizio: Id say, there was the move over here to this country, for starters. Then I must’ve have moved four maybe five times, something like that. Well, ‘cause well we were always searching for a better apartment, better house, so when the opportunity presented itself we moved, so we moved maybe four or five times.

Jessica: Ok, What do you remember most about your childhood, about Peru? What do you remember about that, Peru.

Maurizio: It was a fairly, happy childhood I suppose, the only thing that wasn’t pretty, the only thing that was different well I guess I shouldn’t say different. That wasn’t like, to my liking I guess, my parents were never home they were always working. We had a maid; she’d take care of us, cook for us, clean the house and stuff, she stay over with us, she had her own room, we had a good relationship with her. We, we play hide and seek and things like that. Had a dog, had a good relationship with my dog, better than with the family. [We laugh] That’s my dog.

Jessica: Did she stay in Peru?

Maurizio: Yes, my dog and her young. Dogs’ probably dead by now, it’s been over 20 years. I don’t know if it still alive you know?

Jessica: Yes.

Maurizio: umm Yeah, and then we would always have house parties, family were always over. There were times when I would go to sleep at night and in the morning I would wake up, a uncle was sleeping in the sofa. Sometimes different uncles, it was floating. It was always, whenever they slept over it was always a happy morning you know, because they be there, and then breakfast, bigger, you know a more larger breakfast you know with people, always something to talk about. Me and my sister were always close because were only eleven months apart.

Jessica: umhm

Maurizio: We would always have something to talk about we play together um my grandma come over she really loved us a lot, so she make sure she, she come visit us at least four days a week, things like that it was…fairly happy. Except, the only thing that made it hard was my dad and my mom fighting a lot. My dad is really hardheaded and my mom is very aggressive when it comes to arguments so they would always clash together and there was a lot of like domestic problems in-between them, never really with us because that’s something they would always agree on, like how we were suppose to be brought up, what we were suppose to eat and they always gave it one hundred percent in our care. But eventually they got separated, you know my dad came over here, by the time we, me and my sister came over and my mom, they were separated you know. They had already divorced. So Yea.

Jessica: Do you plan to stay in California…and what is your reason behind your choice?

Maurizio: At this moment I’m not entirely sure because ahem, money problems like I said I been trying to go to school and all that. Um I don’t really have a special career in mind, besides working on cars because I really love working on cars and that like I’m thinking I really want to own my own shop, both a mechanical shop and a body shop. Because to me, you get a lot of money off of that, it’s a good profit and it helps me out because I’ve noticed that you meet a lot people who waste a lot of money in fixing cars, keeping them clean, you know, if you get into an accident and all that. And that’s basically something I’ll be able to wave off like expenses by owning businesses like that. So let’s look at the situation, I get money and I have to deal with it with my own property and I don’t think it is, it would be required of me to move out, seek other opportunities with a plan like that. Because that way I see it, a lot of people would like to move out of the cities, their state.  Like all that because that like to pursue other opportunities of a career or families or whatever their, the reason may be. I don’t have that, I don’t have that reason, that motivation to get out of California. Um that’s probably a goal, visit other places, sightseeing, Europe, Asia, and other states, but moving out I don’t think so.

Jessica: Ok, if there was a dollar figure that you would need to get you started on your path to a better life, to the life that you want for yourself, how much would that be?

Maurizio: Like money wise?

Jessica: Yes. To bee, to be at where you want to be how much money do you think you’re going to need?

Maurizio: To be what I want to be or to get me started on the way?

Jessica: Let’s say get you started, so to get you started on the path where you want to be in life your goal, your auto body shop. How much would you need?

Maurizio: I only wana go to school and that’s all I’m worried about. *coughs*to do that just to get me by school at least for a couple months or so  which is, that’s all I really need that’s all I need. To like get me, to get that little start, you know. I think I just need a couple grand that’s it, about two grand. With two grand I can pay for my, for my classes at city college to start that would set me on my way I don’t need much. I don’t I don’t ask for much I just need that to get started and everything else up to date and also my job. I’m not the kind of person that ask for money or ugh wants free money for that matter but sometimes we all need a little help you know?

Jessica: Yea.

Maurizio: …and two grand would do it for me, if I wanted to get started like right now. But whatever to me.

Jessica: What do you love most about the city you have chosen to reside in…or the city you are currently in right now? What is the, what do you love most about the city you are in right now.

Maurizio: Umm. That’s a hard question. I like a lot of things about it, but I wouldn’t say there is something I love most about it. It is, I guess that would depend on what makes me the happiest and it’s in between the fact that my family is very close and that I really, really like good, I guess people. Like the city, I like Twin Peaks and stuff, it’s…in a day where I’m stressful or like really frustrated, If I go up to twin peaks  or another place like that it calms me down.

Jessica: What do you hate most about the city?

Maurizio: The fact that their doing construction on main streets during the day.

Jessica: AH.

Maurizio: That’s it.

Jessica: So [mumbles] bother you?

Maurizio: Well, yea I’m a driver by profession so I do need the streets to be cleared out. [laughs]

Jessica: If this applies to you, how have you assimilated to American culture?

Maurizio: No. In Peru, you can’t really buy what you want all the time. Over here, you can.

Jessica: So you buy what you want whenever you want?

Maurizio: No not exactly because I do have, I mean I would be able to if certain things hadn’t happened in my life, like identify theft.

Jessica. Ohhh.

Maurizio: I don’t have a credit card or credit anymore. But if I had a credit card, like most people do and they see something they want or need. Something at the moment, they can buy it and pay off the credit card later.

Jessica: Don’t you think you would be in debt because of that?

Maurizio: Na.

Jessica: Ok so you pay off the total on your credit?

Maurizio: Always, I paid, I worked! When I had credit, I worked.

Jessica: Oh ok.

Maurizio: I was, I was always spending about three hundred every month and paying, paying it off like six hundred dollars, every month. And the reason why I needed to pay six hundred dollars a month because there were certain expenses I really needed like when I was going to school, when I had credit, when I had money to go to school, bought a laptop. To you know, to keep up with my work and type shit up you know. And you know, and that you know it, it just, my laptop cost me about nine hundred dollars so of course I had to pay a little more occasionally. But for the most part if I didn’t have a big expense I always kept my credit card in check, never owed more than four hundred, five hundred dollars at a time. I would always pay it off. Cause I’m a person that hates to be in debt, I don’t like to owe anything to anybody, for that matter that’s why I never buy a car off the lot, I never want to deal with that, with a huge debt.

Maurizio: Next question.

Jessica: Yea, hold on a minute. What is your concept of home?

Mauriizo: Hum…it’s very simple. Home can be anywhere, could b your, it could be the place where you feel more comfortable at, it can be where your family is at, or it can be the place you like most.

Jessica: For you?

Maurizio: For me? It’s here now this is where my family is, this is what I know. This is where I work at; this is where I can make things work.

Jessica: What was your first job?

Maurizio: I was a dishwasher at a place called, it’s a coffee shop called La Boulange.

Jessica: La Boulange? Where’s that at?

Maurizio: ColeValley. On Cole and Parnassus and a lot of people have been tell me that aren’t coming back [laughs] because I was giving out free food. [laughs]

Jessica: Were you a legal resident at the time?

Maurizio: When I go the job?

Jessica: Yes.

Maurizio: I was for one year, after that my papers came in.

Jessica: So when you came you were not a legal resident?

Maurizio: Uhuh, well I was because I had a tourist visa but after six months I wasn’t.

Jessica: Ok, so after six months, tell me about the process.

Maurizio: I don’t really know much about it because I was young; my parents took care of all that.

Jessica: Oh ok.

I just knew that I had a tourist visa and it would be six months to ten months. Depending on the kind of visa that you get, nine or six months.

Jessica: And after that you didn’t have any…

Maurizio: Nope nothing, V nothing.

Jessica: Ok and what age did you get your green card?

Maurizio: Eighteen and a half.

Jessica: Eighteen and a half, ok. What’s your current job?

Maurizio: I’m a driver um for Auto Parts Warehouse. We deliver, to other car shops and garages all over the city and the Pensula, San Carlos. So I do a lot of driving, I drive 11 hours a day.

Jessica: Since you have been, at least one point in your life a non legal resident do you think you have been treated fairly by this country, by the U.S?

Maurizio: I have, as long as nobody knew I was illegal

Jessica: Ok so as long as no body knew?

Maurizio: In truth nobody knew I was legal

Jessica: Did you tell them?

Maurizio: People I felt that I could trust, and its very hard for me to trust somebody.

Jessica: Why is that?

Maurizio: When you’re young you make mistakes trusting people you shouldn’t, when you tell somebody too much, somebody that is not going to help you not going to be there. Somebody that you really can’t trust…

Jessica: Yeah.

Maurizio: They turn on you, use that information against you. I remember telling one person, I was really young um, I mean they made fun of me at the time and always making jokes about how they were going to tell immigration I was here. Tell them I was illegal or whatever it is. It made you, well it made me feel like aw man what did I do I just put my whole family in jeopardy and everything. There were times I left like that, I didn’t know if they could do anything or not at the time I was just a kid at the time. I don’t know how the processed worked; I didn’t know who they could call. I, I didn’t know anything. As a kid you never wana, you never wana hurt your family anyway possible so it took a toll on me. After that I never trusted anybody. There are other things that happened of course that made me see the different perspective about who you trust but that’s one of the driving forces behind that.

Jessica: Was it one of the kids at school that made fun of you?

Maurizio: Yeah, I didn’t really know anybody outside of school, my dad always cared too much for me and my sister, he never left us out or anything so we never had any friends, besides the ones at school.

Jessica: What’s your concept of family?

Maurizio: Family, are the ones that are defiantly there for you, um people you can count on. Not necessarily have to be your parents, your brothers or cousins, blood, blood related for that matter. Family is someone there for you through thick or thin. Family is someone you can count on, who you can trust, all your problems and above all your good moments, when you’re having fun, when you know people. You can all together just simply truly trust.

Jessica: so, your concept of family is a little bit more general and you made a list of many possibilities of what a family could be.

Maurizio: Well, I consider them just one family to me. My dad, my mom, me, my sister and my little brother and about three or four friends, whom are considered my brothers and my sisters. And that’s it. I do generalize, like anybody could become a family member but that kind of a, you know?

Jessica: That place in your heart?

Maurizio: That place in my heart, exactly. They would have to show you how, you know? I’m not saying doing something stupid like you know, like take a bullet for you or something, you know? Just you know, if you’re in a moment of need and there really there for you, you know. Like Tim for example when I got kicked out of my girlfriend house the moment, I had nowhere to go, my dad wasn’t even in the states my dad was in Missouri because trying to pursue a different life so he went to another state. My mom was already living in North Carolina. And my sister was living with one of my aunts and the space for me there. And Tim and his family took me in. Something like that could earn you a place in my heart. So Tim is like a brother to me. That’s a example.

Jessica: So what age were you when you moved out of your family’s care?

Maurizio: I was 18.

Jessica: Ok. Did you move in with you girlfriend right away or?

Maurizio: Yep. That’s the reason I left my parents house.

Jessica: For freedom or cause you had a girlfriend?

Maurizio: Well, I had girlfriends before and I wasn’t really even, I didn’t move out back then, you know. But I think it was mostly because of freedom because this girlfriend was different, somebody I really fell hard for…so yes, because my parents was also trying to, I was also working and had my own money and they still wanted me to come home no later than ten o-clock at night, so I wasn’t having that. [laughs] But now that I look back on that I probably should’ve stayed home. But either way, that was my decision back then.

Jessica: Do you think that living here in San Francisco, do you think you would be the same person if you were living in Peru?

Maurizio: No.

Jessica: Do you have an idea of how you would be different?

Maurizio: Probably a lot more happier.

Jessica: You would be happier in Peru?

Maurizio: Not happier, a happier person. [while pointing at me]There’s a difference. Happier person, probably would have had a career by now. Education in Peru is very strict and there is always somebody willing to help. Family, neighbor, doesn’t matter, they might not help you with money all the time, but they’ll always help you like if you need clothes, “I have a shirt I have for you so you don’t have to spend money on clothes, so you can pay your tuition for school” something like that. Soo, most defiantly I would’ve had a career, I don’t know how far that career might have taken me, but I would defiantly be a professional.

Jessica: So you don’t get that feeling from San Francisco?

Maurizio: See back there you had support. Over here, everything is on you.  And because everything is on me, for the past couple years since I got out of high school I failed to provide that for me, a higher education. Now, that don’t mean I’m gonna quit. It means it’s going to take me a little longer to do that, you know. But, things would be different if I was, if I was in Peru. But I don’t regret any choices or the fact that I’m here because, because of everything that I went through over here, you know there a lot of positive sides to it I speak English, um that’s always a major plus apparently to everyone else.

Jessica: So you’re bilingual?

Maurizio: Yeah, I speak perfect English and perfect Spanish. So, you know, I have a wider mind set I guess. So, family, friendship, people that are worth your time, you can care, giving them a chance. Um because of everything that has happened I have had a lot of bad times, just a lot of bad experiences with people. A lot of bad times just a lot of bad experiences with people. I’m a pretty good judge of character now. I can analyze just about anybody.

Jessica: That’s good; do you have a plan for higher education beyond CityCollege?

Maurizio: No, not really. Not because I don’t want to, it’s because I see my life as steps you know.  I just know what I have to do. I will be getting another job soon that’s going to help me pay for school to be a mechanic. Cause to be a mechanic you don’t have to go to a four year college or anything. Now, to go onto business you have to study a little bit of business. When the time comes that I am able to get that business then I’ma put myself through school again. When I have everything I need to take the next step I’ma take the next step. Provided I know exactly what that next step is going to be. I don’t plan to completely plan out my whole life because things never go the way you want them to go sometimes. You always got to be able to adjust it and to see different things coming to the current reality. There I don’t plan for more than a couple of years. Two years from now, believe me when I say this I’m going to be that mechanic I told you about and by then I’ll probably start learning about body work in a car because its two different things learning about being a mechanic and body work on a car and it’s just a start. I have a long life ahead of me; I could learn a million other things. I been already a cook at a fine dining restaurant, after the coffee shop I went to work for Ruth’s Stake House, pretty prestigious. I know how, if I got a little bit more studying in cooking and food and all that I probably could be a chef too, if I wanted. I already know how to cook real good because of that experience working at that restaurant. There a lot of thing I can do. After I start a mechanic shop and a body shop I plan to start a restaurant, and you know restaurants, they can either provide you with a lot of money, how good they do with the market and stuff and clientele or it’s a gamble, a restaurant is always a gamble, or it could go down the drain and you could lose all the money you invested in it, which is why I plan to have the mechanic shop and the body shop because the money I earn from there is going to support the restaurant, until it start providing for itself.

Jessica: Ok, that’s nice.

Maurizio: Like I said it’s a plan. I already know what I’ma do next and because I know that I could do it and I know that I could do it in three years time I’m already thinking about what the next step of that might be. Now in two years, my perspective might change and I’d want to try something else, but until that stop coming into my head I’m not going to plan ahead.

Jessica: If you could and you had the resources would you go after a Masters or Ph.D.?

Maurizio: Oh yeah, in a heartbeat.

Jessica: Ok.

Maurizio: I know how to study, it comes naturally to be. In High School I never had to pick up a book or study over a half hour.

Jessica: Ohh, that’s impressive. I was the student carrying all my books in my backpack.

Maurizio: I was too but that’s because I had to do homework, not because I actually read them.

Jessica: [laughs] Okey. Do you consider yourself an immigrant? What do you consider yourself to be? Immigrant? Citizen?

Maurizio: Those are just labels designed to segregate different groups of society by certain groups, political levels. For me, for me, I’m just a normal human being living in a city. There’s no label for something like that. I call myself a citizen if there hadn’t been a label picked up already by a group of people.

Jessica: That’s fair.

Maurizio: But if a citizen is someone who has papers and, and ID, if that’s the definition of a citizen then I rather not because I think a citizen should be somebody who lives in a city, provides for their family and pays their taxes, weather there illegal or not. Because I grantee it to you people that are illeagel pay their taxes

Jessica: So, I’m going to ask you a question now, and then I have one last question for you.

Maurizio: Ok.

Jessica: Maurizio: Who are you? Who is Maurizio?

Maurizio: It’s a hard question, I don’t even know that myself and the reason why because who I am now, isn’t who I am going to be ten years from now.

Jessica: Well, who are you right now?

Maurizio: I’m just a guy that enjoys life. Not just the fun part of life, which is you know, there is people my age and what they’re doing is like drinking, dancing, hitting on girls stuff like that.

Jessica: Mumbles…

[Phone Rings]

Jessica: Yes mom? Yes. I don’t know, I might have not closed it all the way but it shouldn’t be wide open, ok bye…ok I’m so sorry…who are you? Oh, who are you right now?

Maurizio: Like I said, I’m just a guy who enjoys life. I like going out and having fun and all of that. I also enjoy my family and I love every opportunity to feel proud of myself like I’m achieving something. I like to call myself just a simple guy.

Jessica: A simple guy?

Maurizio: Pretty much I don’t need much to be happy.

Jessica: Ok, we can wrap up for today and if I have any more questions I will email you.

Maurizio: Ok that’s fine.

Possible Follow up Questions?

What life lesson did you learn from your father?

What life lesson did you learn from your mother?

How has your father and mother job loss situation shaped your determination for a better future?