Meet Happiness

picture -Tina

Meet Happiness

by Tingting Xu, June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sample Transcript

Interviewer:Author myself (I)

Interviewee: My neighbor Dalu (D)

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

I: First, eh, Are you ready?

D: Just ask. Ai~


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

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

I: What was it like?

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

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

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

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

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

I: What were the happiest moments of your childhood?

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

I: What are your best memories of your school?

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

I: Do you have any siblings?

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

I: Can you tell me something about them?

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

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

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

I: Why did you come to the United States?

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

I: Can you talk about something about the church?

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

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

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

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

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

I: How did you meet your wife?

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

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

D: She was a citizen.

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

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

I: Why did you choose to do decoration housework?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

by Pui Man Stephanie Ho, December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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


Sample Transcript

Pui Man Stephanie Ho: Where did you born?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JH: That time, I was around fifty years old

SH: Did you bring any family members with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

SH: Have you been influenced by the American culture?

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


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

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


SH: How about any differences in religion?

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


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

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

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

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

SH: So you see the bomb in person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

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

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

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

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

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

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

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

T: Just whenever

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

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

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

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

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

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yes

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

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: For your parents it was also easy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

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

A: Ummm 7 years.

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

A: Yes

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

A: I don’t understand your question

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

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

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

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

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

A: Probably middle school

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

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

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

T: Who were you mean to?

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

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

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

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

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

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

A: What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea, only when I had to.

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

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

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

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

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

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

A: No.

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

A: Never.

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

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

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

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

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

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

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

A: I guess because of her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Yea and she was going to school.

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

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

T: Why were you lucky?

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

T: What do you mean go through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What do you mean they were well off.

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

T: What kind of business was it?

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

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

A: I don’t know.

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

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

A: Because they were able to escape the war.



Home and Horizon


Home and Horizon

by Siuzanna Arutiunova, January 2016

People immigrate in search of places with more opportunities and a better life. Kamila was ten when her mother left her and her brother in Uzbekistan with their relatives and came to the U.S. to start a new life and to bring her kids here when she settled down. Within almost a decade, Kamila and her brother came to the U.S. to live with their mother. After she immigrated, Kamila went through a lot of hardships, from the language barrier to creating a bond with her mother. Through various challenges and new experiences, Kamila has gained a comparative perspective on things around her that has changed her perception on the world and on herself, making her more independent and understanding of other people’s choices as well as her own.

Kamila and I have been friends for a long time. Our parents tell us that we were in the same grade in elementary school. Even though we don’t remember each other from then, we are good friends now. We, along with her best friend, Katie, met at the Rosenberg Library on the Ocean Campus of City College of San Francisco for the interview. She described to me how her mother, who was forced into marriage with her father, left Uzbekistan to find a better life for herself and her kids in the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old. During that time, Kamila lived with he grandparents and rarely got a chance to see her mother. After eight years of separation from their mother, Kamila and her brother came here and finally reunited with her. Because such a long time had been spent apart, Kamila and her mother had a hard time establishing a mother-daughter connection at first. Not having known English, Kamila had to overcome a language barrier when she first came here, which, as she admits, created various hardships at school and made her want to go back to Uzbekistan. Adapting to a new country and new norms was especially hard for her. For some time, she wanted to move back to her home country, but after all, she was able to adapt to her new life here. She constantly compares her home country, Uzbekistan, to her new home, the U.S.

Moving to the U.S. not only created various obstacles for Kamila, like learning English, but also caused her to miss her home country and reject her new home at first. It was hard for Kamila to adapt to the new country and system. She said that she rejected it at first: “I didn’t want to stay here; I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members.” When she came here, she had no one to communicate with but her mother and brother. She needed friends and new connections, which she was unable to make because of a few reasons. One of the things that was stopping Kamila from adapting was that she didn’t know English well enough to communicate with people. The language barrier was one of the hardest challenges she came across, and caused her to not be able to make new connections: “at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language; I couldn’t communicate with people.” Kamila is an extroverted person and for her to not be able to talk to people was hard. She couldn’t communicate and thus missed her friends and family back home. Studying the behaviors of Asian immigrant youth in the American society in her article “Xenophobia, ethnic community, and immigrant youths’ friendship network formation,” Jenny Hsin-Chun Tsai, an Associate Professor in Psychosocial & Community Health at the University of Washington, suggests:

“The label of ‘LEP’ and ‘ESL’ overtly signifies immigrant youths’ ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’ status and defines the social boundary between immigrant and American youth. Immigrant youth may choose to exclude Americans from their friendship networks for their own psychological well-being” (293).

The language barrier is one of the main reasons immigrants feel like they don’t belong to the new place. Difficulties in learning the new language hold immigrants back and make it hard for them to adapt to the new society and to feel accepted by the natives. Later, Kamila told me that she thought moving to a new country would be fun, but her expectations weren’t met: “I felt like I’m not belong here.” It is natural that when people immigrate, they feel out of place at first. Kamila wasn’t used to the system, language, and different norms and couldn’t adapt to the new lifestyle quickly. In their article “Racial Discrimination, Multiple Group Identities, And Civic Beliefs Among Immigrant Adolescents,” Writers Wing Yi Chan and Robert Latzman discuss how adolescent immigrants tend to assimilate into the new society after immigrating. They point out:

“Segmented assimilation suggests that many immigrant adolescents have limited access to resources because structural racial discrimination excludes them from participating in the mainstream society (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Civic contribution is a way for immigrant youth to break the cycle of exclusion” (531).

Racism from natives or citizens has a huge effect on immigrant youth and their adaptation to the new environment as it can prevent participation in the new society, which is one of the core ways to get used to a new home, develop an attachment to it, and feel a sense of belonging to the new society. Although it was hard in the beginning, as the time passed, Kamila started to adapt to the new place, and feel comfortable living in the U.S.

Her mother’s journey, including immigration, inspired Kamila to pursue her education and changed her perspective on marriage at early age, making her realize that in a lot of cases it is unfair to young women to be forced to marry before they have an opportunity to explore and find what they want to do with their lives. The story of Kamila’s mother is quite interesting: as Kamila told me, her mother was forced into marriage at a young age. Forced marriage is practiced quite a lot in Muslim countries. Australian scholar, theologian and human rights activist Mark Durie discusses the interpretations of roles of women in Islamic society according to the religion in his article “The Rising Sex Traffic In Forced Islamic Marriage”: “a forced marriage is an exercise of ‘therapeutic force’, which is considered to be good for the woman. Like setting a broken bone, a forced marriage at a father or grandfather’s behest ‘restores’ the woman to her rightful state” (8). Clearly, Durie, does not agree with such treatment towards women and argues against it. In his article, he shows that women are considered sinful and forced marriage is considered healthy for them. He also shows that women are in the constant possession of men, whether they are fathers, grandfathers, or, later, husbands. Even though women in such societies generally do not pursue education, Kamila’s mother was not as interested in marriage as in continuing her education: “My mom said she didn’t want to marry him [Kamila’s father] because she wanted to study; she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree.” Even though her mother got married, she never stopped wanting to study: she finished her bachelor’s degree while raising Kamila and her master’s while taking care of both Kamila and her little brother. It is considered unusual or even savage for a woman in that society to want to study instead of following the established path of getting married early and being tied to the family, but that path was definitely not for her mother. Against all odds and societal norms, she moved to the U.S. as soon as she secured a Green Card: “she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know.” It seems as though the chance to come to the U.S. saved her life: she could finally make her own decisions, be independent and free to accomplish her goals. Through her mother’s rebellious nature, Kamila discovered that there is not just the one option of getting married and starting the family. There is another scenario, in which a young woman can pursue higher education and become successful and independent, like her mother. “I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because…she had not opportunity…to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life.” Kamila thought that her destiny had already been decided of her: she thought she was supposed to get married at a young age and pursue married life. Her mother showed her that that that wasn’t Kamila’s only option for future, which Kamila recognizes and appreciates. The way her mother fought for her life and changed her destiny inspired Kamila to pursue her education and made her see that she has a chance to make her own decisions and view forced marriage as an inequitable action toward women.

Eight years of separation resulted in an undeveloped connection between mother and daughter, which made Kamila feel alone and misunderstood by people around her both in the U.S. and in Uzbekistan, when she needed someone she could share everything with. Her mother left for the U.S. when Kamila was nine years old, so the strong mother-daughter bond hadn’t formed yet. Besides, throughout the period of separation, they did not see much of each other, so they couldn’t become very close. Another struggle for Kamila was that she couldn’t connect to her grandmother because she felt that she would be misunderstood. She felt the need to talk to her mother. During her teenage years, Kamila need her mother the most: “I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does.” Even though a strong connection with her mother wasn’t established, Kamila couldn’t share her thoughts with her grandmother and needed her mother to be there for her. This separation did not only affect Kamila and her mother separately. Sahara Horton, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver studied this issue in her article “A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood.” She acknowledges that “transnational separations cannot be viewed solely as affecting mothers and children as isolated individuals but, rather, as impacting the intimately experienced bond between them.” We can see this happen between Kamila and her mother. While after the reunion Kamila wanted to finally be close to her mother more than anything else, it turned out to be a lot more difficult than she expected: “when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like ‘Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!’ And when I was doing it I felt like, ‘Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!’” Kamila was just a kid when her mother left to another country and while she was growing up, she didn’t have a chance to find out what kind of person her mother is. Her bond with her mother wasn’t strong enough. In her article “Those Easily Forgotten: The Impact Of Emigration On Those Left Behind,” a professor of human and community development, Maria Marchetti-Mercer, discusses and analyzes the psychological effects on the family members and friends left behind after the people that are close to them immigrated.

In particular, the increasing emigration of women has changed “the shape of the immigrant family” (Horton (2009, p. 23). Remittances can become a way of “mothering at a distance” (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997), but the absence of a mother figure may cause emotional problems for children who miss her nurture (Ukwatta, 2010). Children may experience feelings of loneliness and abandonment, despite the economic benefits associated with this type of emigration. Ultimately, the family unity is broken down because of insufficient communication between parents and children. In general, children seem to be deeply affected by the emigration of parental figures (Glick, 2010) (378).

The time spent apart causes the bonds to become less strong and people grow apart and none of the economic benefits of immigration can make up to that. This is an especially delicate issue when it comes to parent-child connection. When the separation between a child and a parent happens, the child feels left alone, misunderstood and lonely. Talking Kamila’s case into consideration, this is exactly how she felt all those years without her mother near her. After their reunion, Kamila didn’t know her own mother; she didn’t know what reactions to expect from her. She compares her relationship with her mother to meeting a new person and finding out about them. The distance from her mother made Kamila feel like she doesn’t belong to her new home, like she was alone and misunderstood for a while, but after Kamila’s immigration, they slowly strengthened a connection between each other.

The process of immigration and new society with the norms different from the ones she was used to were overwhelming for Kamila and finding a friend like Katie, who is now very close to her and has helped her through tough moments, makes Kamila feel understood and more comfortable in the school environment. When I asked Kamila if she would have been able to find her way through high school without her friend, I received a definite and absolute “no”: “I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it.” Friendship is especially important for Kamila: it was the very thing that saved her from getting completely disappointed with moving to America and leaving her family and her closest friends behind. Kamila needed a person who would understand her struggles. Her bond with Katie started during their high school years and has only become stronger with time. One of the reasons for that could be that they both speak Russian, which made a communication for Kamila a lot easier, since she wasn’t advanced in English. When Kamila mentioned that her best friend wanted to transfer to Sacramento State University, she spoke with tears in her eyes: “I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me… she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me.” From her responses, I realized that Kamila feels that she receives more support from her best friend than from her mother. Clearly, she has found support and understanding from her friend and received the help she needed so badly. As Kamila described, Katie guided her and was there for her when she needed help, which made her life easier and her high school experience more enjoyable. Because of her established friendship with Katie, Kamila enjoyed her high school years, got used to the system quickly, and felt understood and accepted.

Kamila’s perception of societal norms has changed since she moved to the U.S., and she has become more appreciative and open to the idea of independence and freedom of expression. As she described, norms in Uzbekistan are very strict. Essentially, after moving here, she started comparing social norms in her home country to those of her new home and noticed a lot of differences. “So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone, its like… its just nothing, its just simple.” She shared that it was odd for her to see such things as a couple kissing in the street and many other things, including the openness of homosexual couples, which seems no more than ordinary for us. It was all unusual for her because she had never seen those things while she was living in Uzbekistan. When she moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the norms that are socially accepted here, she started viewing the norms in Uzbekistan differently. “I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we [are] all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do.” She shared, she has far more freedom of choice and more opportunities here than she had in Uzbekistan. She admitted to having difficulties adapting to new norms at first, but later found that she prefers these norms to the ones in her home country: “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you.” Having lived here for a while, Kamila noticed that people in this society are more open-minded than in her home country, and started to become more open-minded herself. Now that she is able to compare the two counties’ norms, Kamila is more understanding and appreciative of freedom of choice and expression than she was before she moved to the U.S.

Kamila’s view of freedom changed after she moved here: as a young woman, she sees that she has far more freedom here as opposed to her home and recognizes that opportunities for women are generally limited in Uzbekistan. The society in Uzbekistan, in which women are very pressured and are limited in their rights, is known for being of a very conservative nature: “in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff.” So the society doesn’t expect much from women and shows that their core responsibilities are within a household. In her book Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan, writer Wendy Mee states:

“In general, women are associated with the inner, family domain. Such attitudes have implications for young women’s opportunities to pursue work and higher education, and also encourage the practice of early marriage for young women. Many Uzbek women believe that family concerns outweigh individual desires to pursue education or professional activity. One study conducted in Namangan and Tashkent provinces found that the majority of teenage girls believed they should put aside professional pursuits after marriage to concentrate on their roles of wife and mother” (28).

Women are not expected nor encouraged to pursue education and are forced into marriage in a lot of cases. The basic role of women in Uzbekistan is to be faithful wives and a mothers. As shown in the quote, the majority of teenage girls think of early marriage as of the right thing that they should focus on. Kamila herself thought that she would get married at a young age, because that is what that society dictates. Nevertheless, as she got a chance to experience other norms, she changed her mind: “when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like ‘Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals.’” Clearly, only by comparing the norms here with the ones in her home country, she has been able to see that the norms in Uzbekistan are unfair. Kamila is now at City College of San Francisco. Although she is still not sure about the field of study she wants to pursue, she is willing to put her efforts toward getting an education. When I asked her about marriage, she clearly was against marring at a young age. She now sees that young women do have a lot of goals and potential that get shut down by the society that pushes them to create a family very early in their lives. Observing norms in the U.S. changed Kamila’s perspective on women’s rights: now she believes that women deserve to be independent and make their own decisions as well as sees the injustice of forced marriage at a young age.

Moving and meeting new people changed Kamila’s perspective on the traditions and religion that she followed while living in Uzbekistan to the point when she started questioning them and considering them limiting. Born in a Muslim country and household, Kamila was following some Muslim traditions. After immigrating, she found herself in a more diverse environment and got a chance to find out more about other religions. Through her best friend, she quickly learned about Christianity and compared it with Islam. She pointed out that she started questioning her religion after being exposed to another religious believes. “When you get to know other traditions and cultures, you think: ‘oh, this is right. But why can’t I do this in my religion? I want to, but I can’t’”, she says. “I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life.” As she gained more freedom and became exposed to other traditions after immigrating from Uzbekistan, Kamila started to step away from her religion. According to an article in American Foreign Policy Interests: The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy:

“There is ‘something’ in the mainstream practice of Islam, not in its ideals, that is deeply opposed to women. The ‘madrassas’ (Koranic schools), for instance, spread two major messages about women. The first one is based on the pretense that women are ‘inferior’ to men. The second teaches that women should not be ‘trusted.’ These schools do not try to advance or elaborate on any justification of these assertions. In the same way in which they contend that Jews and Christians are conspiring against Islam, they contend that women cannot assume positions of leadership in any undertaking.”

Such unjust mainstream beliefs are unfair to women and thus limit their opportunities. Suggesting that a woman in less of a person than a man is completely unjustified and discriminative. This is why women are being treated as objects that cannot survive on their own and need men to belong to. Kamila must have felt that these religious beliefs were holding her back from achieving her goals and living an independent and full live. In the process of immigrating, Kamila discovered other religions, which, through comparisons with her own, made her think of Islam as a religion that limited her natural urge for experimentation and freedom of choice.

After she moved to the U.S. and observed and experienced the norms here, she gained a comparative perspective that allowed her to see how unfair and limiting the norms in Uzbekistan were. One doesn’t usually think about certain things like the norms of the society that one grows up in. They come as given, normal. And one doesn’t generally question them. When a person moves, he or she has something to compare his/her homeland to. When Kamila moved to the U.S., everything was new to her. While observing the socially accepted norms here, she started to compare the norms in Uzbekistan with the norms in the U.S., which caused her to view the norms in Uzbekistan differently. She started to see things differently and question the norms she had abided to not so long ago. She mentioned that homophobia is an issue in Uzbekistan: “our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this.” This hatred toward the members of the gay community is very common in Islamic counties. In an article about ties and understanding of homosexuality from religious perspectives, “Religious Affiliation And Attitudes Towards Gay Men: On The Mediating Role Of Masculinity Threat,” authors Gerhard Reese, a writer and psychologist, and Melanie Jones, analyze responses from representatives of different religions toward homosexuality. Through this research, they found that “With a sample of 155 male heterosexual university students (Muslims and Christians in Germany), we found that Muslims held more negative attitudes towards gay men than Christians did” and that “Previous research suggests that some subgroups of men from Muslim communities hold negative attitudes towards gay men” (340-341). It is pointed out, that Muslims tend to be very much against the gay community, more than representatives from other religions. One of the reasons for that is described by Doctor Achim Hildebrandt, professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. His article “Christianity, Islam And Modernity: Explaining Prohibitions On Homosexuality In UN Member States” analyses how Christianity and Islam respond to the homosexuality. Hildebrandt makes an interesting point, stating:

“According to this concept, same- sex acts are condemned ‘because they run counter to the antithetical harmony of the sexes; they violate the harmony of life; … they violate the very architectonics of the cosmos. … Sexual deviation is a revolt against God’ (Bouhdiba, 1985, p. 31). This disapproval refers to both male and female homosexuality” (855).

Many Muslims are against homosexuals because Islam presents it as a negative and unnatural behavior. Heterosexuality is shown to be the natural order of things and  a lack of compliance with that order is considered an anomaly. Kamila confessed that she did discriminate against homosexuals at first: “I would discriminate them the I came here but right now… I’m okay with this.” Living in the U.S., seeing that some things that were prohibited in Uzbekistan are allowed here changed her perspective on a lot of things. “I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or you’re wearing short skirt.” From what I understood, she prefers this society to the one she was living in in Uzbekistan because she finds people more open and easy-going. Although she disagrees with certain norms and traditions, Kamila still celebrates some of the Uzbek and Islamic holidays and follows certain rules. Exposure to new norms after immigrating to the U.S. allowed Kamila to compare and contrast society here and in Uzbekistan and come to the conclusion that the norms in her home country are limiting and discriminative.

By experiencing multiple cultures, Kamila has selected the norms that she found the most appealing for her from both cultures and incorporated them in her life, never completely rejecting the culture she grew up in. After all, she is a “child of two worlds.” A German philosopher and writer Hans-Georg Gadamer, introduces the concept of “fusion of horizons” in his book Truth or Method. This concept stresses out that no one can forget the way they grew up viewing the world and themselves and replace it with another way after they immigrate. Each way of seeing things is a “horizon.” “The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point… A person who has no horizon is a man who does not see far enough and hence overvalues what is nearest to him” (302). Horizon describes how one can see the situation: broadly or only form one angle. “Fusion of horizons,” according to Gadamer, means that after being exposed to another culture, one starts seeing things differently, incorporating the horizon they just acquired with the one they grew up with. This gives a person an opportunity to evaluate things from different perspectives and have a broader view of the world. As we can see, Kamila’s horizons have been broadened and she can now recognize a lot more things, like injustice than she could before. By comparing and observing norms in her new home, Kamila was able to identify how unjust some of the social norms are in her home country. Her experience with the american society significantly broadened her view of the world and allowed her to see situations from different perspectives.

The process of immigration with all its consequences has broadened Kamila’s horizons and allowed her to gain a comparative perspective on everything around her, which has caused her to start questioning the norms and traditions in her home country, and made her more aware of her own freedom, and freedom of others. Although some people might argue that she shouldn’t question her culture and traditions and abide the norms regardless, people should have a choice of whether or not they want to follow certain traditions. It is natural for immigrants to feel out of place in the new country as they face a lot of changes and challenges, that transform their lives, and make them view their own traditions in new ways. By going through all these changes, Kamila has gained a lot of experience in dealing with numerous challenges and now has finally restored her life back into balance.

Works Cited

Chan, Wing Yi, and Robert D. Latzman. “Racial Discrimination, Multiple Group Identities, And Civic Beliefs Among Immigrant Adolescents.” Cultural Diversity And Ethnic Minority Psychology 21.4 (2015): 527-532. PsycARTICLES. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Democratic Reform And The Role Of Women In The Muslim World.” American Foreign Policy Interests 33.5 (2011): 241-255. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

DURIE, MARK. “The Rising Sex Traffic In Forced Islamic Marriage.” Quadrant Magazine 58.3 (2014): 7-11. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Gadamer, Hans. Truth and Method. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum Group, 2006. Print.

Hildebrandt, Achim. “Christianity, Islam And Modernity: Explaining Prohibitions On Homosexuality In UN Member States.” Political Studies 63.4 (2015): 852-869. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Horton, Sarah. “A Mother’s Heart Is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood.” Cult Med Psychiatry Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (2008): 21-40. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Marchetti-Mercer, Maria C. “Those Easily Forgotten: The Impact Of Emigration On Those Left Behind.” Family Process 51.3 (2012): 376-390. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Mee, Wendy. “Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan.” 1 Feb. 2001. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.

Reese, Gerhard Steffens, Melanie C.Jonas, Kai J. “Religious Affiliation And Attitudes Towards Gay Men: On The Mediating Role Of Masculinity Threat.” Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology 24.4 (2014): 340-355. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Safayeva, Kamila. Personal interview. 1 Oct. 2015.

Tsai, JH. “Xenophobia, Ethnic Community, And Immigrant Youths’ Friendship Network Formation.” Adolescence 41.162 (2006): 285-298 14p. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Interview Transcription

 Siuzanna Arutiunova: So the first question would be: When did you move to the U.S.?

Kamila Halilova: I moved to the United states in October 1st 2013

SA: why did you move? was it your own decision or did you follow somebody here, like parents?

KH: So in my case it was kinda different because my mom moved here 8 months, no, 8 years ago and she won green card so after 8 years we just reunited with her. It was just the only thing I was following at that time

SA: Oh, so you spend 8 years apart from her?

KH: Yes

SA: How was that for you? Was it a hard period? Who did you stay with?

KH: Um, I was staying with my grandparents, my mom’s parents. It was kinda difficult because when I was like 13-14 years, I needed like a person who I can trust and I needed a mom like … and … crap! I can’t say it… its like really deep. [In Russian:] ask me something else, I don’t want to talk about this

SA: Alright, so what was moving to the U.S. like? Did you have any expectations about it?

KH: Um, of course I did because I was watching like American movies and I thought high school its like college for me but it was kinda different. High school its like its another life – you go there, you spend time with your friends and its like your family, but another family. That was a really good experience for me – high school.

SA: Did you face any obstacles that you would point out especially?

KH: Of course I did. First of all was communication. I didn’t know any like word in English. I couldn’t speak anything like, you know. It was kinda hard because when people talk to you and you don’t understand and you just smile like an idiot (laughs) you don’t understand anything and you’re like: “Oh God, what do you want from me?”. That was like really struggle for me at first time.

SA: But did you overcome that obstacle?

KH: Not yet. But like still I can’t understand sometimes when people talk really fast, but as I get like I practice a lot and it gets better and better every time.

SA: How did you feel about leaving your home country, leaving your grandparents behind?

KH: So first like 3-4 months I missed all of my friends and my family members and I felt like I’m not belong here. You know, when you come to another country and you feel like “Oh, everything is gonna change”, and its not and you miss your country and your old life and it’s kinda sad because you felt you’re gonna do something new and its gonna be fun but its not.

SA: So it was more of the harder period that the fun one?

KH: Like at first time it was really hard because I really didn’t have anybody here except my mom. And I couldn’t speak in their language, I couldn’t communicate with people. One thing I could do was just like enjoy the new place and that’s it. I couldn’t talk to anybody, I couldn’t like, I don’t know, I couldn’t say or do anything that I wanted to do with my friends and stuff and other things.

SA: What would you say was the hardest thing you came across while you where immigrating?

KH: Um, I thing it’s more like adaptation. I mean, USA its like it’s a place where immigrants come from a lot of countries and they have their own traditions and you have yours. And in San Francisco its like more popular, so it was kinda hard for me to adapt with people that are different from me because their like thoughts are different than my thoughts, you know. And it was kinda struggle.

SA: Would you say that you had a cultural shock when you came here? Like a lot of different races all mixed together.

KH: The other thing is that everything was different from my country, from my traditions and in my religion we don’t have a lot of things that in America people do.

SA: Can you give me examples?

KH: So, in my country we can’t kiss with a guy in the street. And here its so open and everyone its like… its just nothing, its just simple. But in our country we can not do this because a lot of people would discriminate you. Its just religion, you can’t do this. So it was kinda shocking. Also, that when you see same sex couples walking, and hugging and kissing. It was kinda shocking because I’ve never seen such a thing in my life. We can’t do it in out country because our religion is against it and people just kinda… I don’t know just… and our people will like hate you you or do something or even kill you because of this, so… It was kinda hard for me to adapt for this life.

SA: Umm, would you say that… I mean, how long did it take you just to get used to it?

KH: Um, probably a year because I feel like the first 3 months I didn’t want to take things that this country gave to me because I didn’t want to stay here, I didn’t want to do anything. And I just wanted to move back to my country because I missed all of my friends and family members and all of other people, but after like maybe 6 months I started to like here because I felt like I belong here because I chose to be with people who was not going to discriminate you because you go work or you go to a date with somebody, you know, because in our country women don’t work usually. They just sit at home with their children and are just being a homemade wife. And that’s it.

SA: So, you mentioned that the standards and gender roles in Uzbekistan are different from those in the U.S. Which standards do you prefer. For now, which standards do you think are more right for you?

KH: I feel like everybody should be independent, especially women, because we all humans and we have rights to do things that we want to. And in Uzbekistan you don’t have rights to do what you want do. And I feel like in America people are more open and are more nicer than in my country because they don’t discriminate you cause you’re wearing like shorts or short skirt or something else. I feel like I changed a lot when I came here and I started to adapt here and I started to following traditions that people doing here and not in my country. And I feel like in America there is a lot of benefits, especially for my study. In our country, you can’t study if you’re poor because nobody’s gonna look at you because of your brain. Its just money and that’s it.

SA: Did you notice all these limitations when you were there or did you start noticing that when you moved here and saw how it is here?

KH: Yeah, I just noticed it here because I didn’t really know… When I was in my country I didn’t pay attention to these things because in our traditions like women and girls should stay home and should help your mother and do home stuff, and I didn’t notice until I can here, when you’re an independent person and you do whatever you want. You go study, you go work, do work, you go whatever you want to do. You do it if you want it. In our country you don’t have a right to do it. So, I just noticed it when I was here.

SA: You mentioned that your mother came here 8 years ago. And you also mentioned that women are very limited in their rights. Why did she move here?

KH: My mom wanted to mover here from her childhood because she felt there is no right, in our country there is no right for a woman in our country to do like work stuff and to be independent and she always wanted to move here because she knew in America you can be whatever you want and you can reach it if you do your best and you just want it. You can do it because you have a passion to do it. And in the United States you can do it because their doors are open even for poor people.

SA: More opportunities.

KH: Uhu

SA: Do you regret coming to the United States? And if you had a choice right now, would you rather stay here or go back to Uzbekistan?

KH: If you ask me this question like maybe a 1.5 ago, I would say that I would leave because I just missed it and at that time I couldn’t adapt to American lifestyle and it was struggle for me to know other people, other traditions and other culture. I would leave because I just felt that I don’t belong here, but right now I feel like America is like a really good place for me to be because I can reach whatever goals I have. I mean, I can do more things here than I can do in my country. Especially when you’re a girl and you just have a lot of goals in your life and you want to reach them but you can’t because you’re a girl. And I feel like in America I can do it than in my country.

SA: So you moved here for high school or college?

KH: I moved here when I was a junior in high school and I just had 2 years to graduate from high school and go to college. It was kinda fun but it’s a lot of work because you have to finish high school in 2 years, when other people does in 4. And I feel like my high school years was really great, because I met my best friend and she’s really supportive. She helped me from my first day. She was like a person, who I always wanted to be. Like she was smart and she also … she’s my friend…(cries) and I’m gonna miss her…

SA: Why? Are you going to be separated?

KH: (cries) Cause she’s gonna move to another college and I feel like when she’s gonna leave me, I’m gonna be like , you know, again alone. And she is like my sister. (to Katie) I wish you’d be my sister!

SA: (to Katie) When are you moving?

Katie: In 2 years.

KH: (cries) When we were in a senior class I remember she said she wanted to move to Sacramento State and I felt so bad because in my heart, in my deep heart, I felt like I’m gonna be alone again. It’s like part of myself is leaving me. She is the only one person who tried to make me better, make my personality better than I was before. Like she helped me from my first day in high school and she’s still helping me to, I don’t know, to struggle… overcome my struggles. And I feel like nobody does it for me except her. I will fell so bad when she is going to leave me. (to Katie) I really don’t want you to leave me. (to me) Its like… she’s like my angel.

SA: So she guided you though everything?

Y: We guided each other.

KH: Yes, she was my really best best person in my entire life.

SA: Do you think that you wouldn’t be able to handle all of this on your own?

KH: (cries) I would not. I would not because my first two weeks was really bad and I couldn’t understand anything. I was lost. Completely lost, you know. And I wouldn’t make it through these days without my best friend. I would not make it. Cause she was helping me for like, I don’t know, two almost two years because we know already each other for two years. And, you know, I never felt … how do you say it…I never felt like … I need somebody in my life like her in my life and its kinda funny because she’s not calling me in the evening when she walks with her dog I feel like where is my phone, where is she, you know, … I don’t know, I feel like she’s the only one who did support me for my whole entire journey from the very beginning till the end. And she’s still helping me. I don’t know what would I do without her.

SA: Do you feel that kind of support from you parents or from your mother?

KH: Um, I would say no, because my mom wasn’t with me when I was in high school during my whole day and she didn’t know what kinds of struggles I had and she didn’t know like, you know, what I needed. She thought I’m okay because I didn’t tell her anything that happened in school or outside of school. And she though I’m okay, you know. And, I don’t know, I just think that your best friends only knows your weaknesses and your struggles and you’re trying to help her because best friends does it for each other.

SA: Do you have any siblings that moved with you?

KH: Yes, I have one brother, who’s 13.

SA: So, did he move the same time you did?

KH: Yes, we moved here the same time.

SA: How was it for him?

KH: Oh, for him it was really ease because he adapt like quick, from the first day. And he never thought to go back to our country because he felt like he belongs here and he felt like “oh, it’s a really good country to be in”. I feel like because he was in middle school, he had less struggle than me, you know. Because he has less um responsibility to do things and I feel like it was more easier for him than for me.

SA: Would you say that is because of the age? Because he wasn’t that attached?

KH: I would say that, because he was only twelve or eleven. I think he was eleven when he moved here.

SA: Ant you were?…

KH: I was sixteen. When you’re eleven and you move here you have new friends that are cool and you’re also a boy, you have like more like adaptation skills than sixteen years old girl. And he even said that he would not move to our country from the first day because he saw this city and he said“I would stay here cause I like it here”. And I don’t think he had any struggles with communication … with communication and other. Like he adapt really fast. He adapt really quickly than me.

SA: Umm, so what do you think was the hardest part for your mom when she was moving?

KH: For her I think it’s just new place. I think language was like the first thing she had to overcome, you know. And he other thing, she was alone, all by herself, where she doesn’t know anybody, she didn’t have a job, she didn’t have a place to leave. But she, she had her friend from the first grade. She was living with them and I remember she said if Angela would not help her, she would, she would leave because she couldn’t afford living in San Francisco and she still, you know, thankful to her because if Angel would not help to do it, she wouldn’t reach it to stay here, you know. And I think we have a same like… same situation because when she moved here, she had a friend to help her, and when I moved here, I met a friend that helping me still. I think this is part that we were like in the same situation.

SA: Was she happy when you moved back with her?

KH: She was really happy because, you know, 8 years without your children in new country… I mean, I think she had more difficulties than me because she was alone and she didn’t have anyone here and she also missed us, her children. And she like tried a lot of times to bring us here but she couldn’t until 2013. And I remember when we got out green cards and our visas, she was so happy and she almost cried because she did it, she finally did it and we were gonna to move in with her and live with her. I think it was a good part of our lives.

SA: Did you see each other throughout those 8 years?

KH: We did. She was coming like once a year, maybe, or twice in two-three years to see us. And sometimes she couldn’t, because you can’t leave your job when you go to another country. It usually takes a month to come in our country and come back. And a lot of jobs don’t give you that time that you need. And sometimes she was really sad because she couldn’t see us for a really long time.

SA: Do you feel like it was harder for you as a girl to be without your mom at that age. Because like you have questions and you’re growing us and you really need a role model to be there next to you. Did you feel like you missed here because of that?

KH: Definitely yes because I needed a person I could talk to when I was a young woman, I was growing. I had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask my grandmother because I felt like she couldn’t understand me in the way my mom does. And still, you know, when I was reunited with my mom, I felt like “Oh, you know, here is my mom, I can talk to her with, I don’t know, … with graceful feelings, you know, I could open with, I can talk to her about a lot of stuff!”. And when I was doing it I felt like “Oh no, wait, I don’t know this person!” because when she was leaving, I was eleven, no, I was nine years old and we never talked about things that you talk with your mom when you’re growing. And I was 16 and I wanted to talk to my mom, like for first three months, I felt like “Oh my god, I don’t know this person.” I’ve never felt like I’m gonna to be so different from my mom and me like , you know. When you live with the person who you didn’t live with 8 years, and it is weird because you know its your mom and you can talk to her, but at the same time you’re feeling like “Oh my God, I can’t talk to her because I don’t know what’s gonna to happen”. It was a struggle a little bit in the beginning for me.

SA: Do you think she felt the same way to you?

KH: I think so, because haha in 3 months we spend each other, she was like “Oh, so you don’t this one, oh ”. It was like a new chapter when you get to know other person. Like, when you see, like…Let’s pretend you met a person and started to know about his life and his personality. This was the same thing with my mom because I didn’t know what kind of, what kind of umm personality she had. At the same time, she didn’t know anything about me, my feelings, my personality and other things.

SA: Do you feel reconnected now? Like, it’s been two years…

KH: Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t understand me the way I want to her like understand me. And sometimes when we talk I feel like “Oh, yeah, this is my mom”. She gives me good like advice and I fell like “Oh, yes, this is what I wanted”. But sometimes I feel like no, we’re still not connected the way I want. I think it is because of the age. Because I’m eighteen and I want move freedom and she feels like I’m still sixteen or fifteen. She treats me like a child.

SA: Parents!

KH: I know…

SA: Um, do you feel like you have more freedom right now than you would have had if you were back in Uzbekistan, even with your mom there?

KH: Actually, yes. I feel more freedom here than I would like feel in my country because I have ability to go to school, to go out with my friends, to make my life better here than I would do in my country because to look back from like where I’m now, I never went out with my friends if I wanted because girls not supposed to, they’re not supposed to go out with friends or just hang out with like people they know. They’re not supposed to do that. And I feel like I have freedom now because I can do it, I can go out with my friends. Not every day or every week, but still… sometimes. You know, I feel like here I have more freedom than I had in my country.

SA: Is there any kind of specific situation that you would like to talk about? Like, you know, something happened that absolutely changed your view on life throughout your immigration period.

KH: Actually, it was a lot of things that changed me when I came here. As I said, my friend and I… So my friend, she’s from Ukraine and she is Christian. I am Muslim. We have completely different traditions, we have completely different thoughts about life, actually we HAD, we HAD different thoughts about thoughts about life and traditions and stuff, but right now, I feel like we have same like same thoughts and same feelings about certain things and I think she is the reason I change my thoughts about life. When you’re growing in the Muslim country and in the Muslim family it’s really struggle because a lot of things that people do here, it’s against our religion. And when you get to know like other traditions and cultures, you feel like: “Oh, thin is right, you know. But why in my religion I can’t of this? I mean, I want to, but I can’t”. And I feel like for my entire journey, when I was like getting to know my friend, who was my friend those days, but now my best friend, um, when you get to know her and you listen to her and try to understand her culture and traditions and her thought about certain things, you feel like “Oh God, yes, that’s right!” or “no no no I’m never gonna do it because I’m not Christian, or I’m not Muslim, or other things” … But like, she changed me really really like a lot and right now I’m getting shock of myself because I wasn’t that kind of person what kind of person I’m am now. It is weird because if you ask me when I first moved here if I would do the kind of stuff I am doing now, I would say “Oh my God, NO!”, you know. And I feel like she changed me in a good way and because of her, I wanna stay here and be with her. And just to get to know a lot of other stuff that can happening. And be a good person here.

SA: So, you said that you’ve changed a lot. Can you give me one or two examples of things you would have never thought of doing that you are doing now?

KH: I would say that, … so I changed because when I came here, I discriminated umm… I mean, how do you say it…

SA: Discriminated against someone?

KH: Um, so, I discriminated people, who had like same sex connection and right now …

SA: Homosexual

KH: Yeah, homosexuals. I would discriminate them the I came here but right now, I’m kinda, you know, don’t like it, but I’m okay with this. I mean, in my country, we really don’t like people who chose to be with the same sex with another person. And right now, I feel like, when I see somebody gay or lesbian, I feel the same way because they’re humans like me and I don’t discriminate them. I don’t know, I changed my view in their choice, in their live choice. I feel like this was the biggest part of my life that changed.

SA: Would you mind me asking about your religion?

KH: Yeah, I’m a Muslim.

SA: No, I mean were you very religious when you were there?

KH: Oh, so when I was there, I was like a religious girl. And not like really into religion. I would follow certain things that my religion is against and I would not follow some of the rules that it says. So, I’m not… Yeah , so in my religion, there are certain that you have to follow and certain things that you need to follow. So I was following that I should follow and I didn’t follow things that I needed to follow. Like as a Muslim, you have to pray every day five times, I didn’t do it. And as a Muslim, you have no right to talk with a guy that is a strange guy. And I didn’t follow this rule. And right now I feel like I’m not follow ing any rules that my religion says because I mean, it’s I mean, in my view, how do you explain that, … in my view, I feel like these rules are not for me because this are against my life, my life.

SA: Do you feel those boundaries?

KH: As a girl, I wanted to try new things and new stuff and my religion is against it and I feel like it is against my choices and my life and my …

SA: So, do you feel like you stepped away from your religion when you moved here?

KH: I feel like it because my choice is different than my religion rules. And I fell like would do things that I want to do and not what my religion says. I can follow some of them, but not all of them.

SA: Would you say that was more of a society than the religion itself? Or was that the religion specifically?

KH: Um, I would say that was religion specifically, because our society follows like religious…

SA: So its based on religion?

KH: Yes.

SA: That’s interesting. Did you connect with anyone from your culture here?

KH: I did, actually, with a lot of people. But they’re kinda really old people and they like move here at the same time as I me and you know, old people, they don’t here adapt really fast. They still following their traditions and they don’t want be, like, they don’t wanna open to another. And I fell like when they come to our house for, I don’t know, for just tea or just talk to, and I feel like they discriminate me because I adapt here and I wanna adapt here and wight now I don’t wanna follow any ruled that I have followed and I feel they really discriminate me. They don’t say anything to me like personally, but I feel like in their thoughts they really discriminate me because I can see it when they talk to me or when they look at me. And I feel like, um, I don’t know, I cant do things like I want to do with people who still follows those rules that was In my country because i feel like they really discriminate me.

SA: Do you feel like your family does that as well or you they want more freedom for you, but again, limited kind of freedom?

KH: Definitely limited kind of freedom.

SA: Like just don’t go crazy but in the same time, don’t sit in the house.

KH: Yes, definitely, so the good thing is my mom’s boyfriend, or future husband, its like this way, I don’t know (laughs), he’s a Jewish and he was from Ukraine also. He moved here when he was, I believe, ten years old or seven years old. And he adapt really quick. and because of him, I feel I have more freedom than I would have had with my mom only because he supports like my feelings and he supports umm my decisions to do some kind of stuff. And Sometimes when me and my mom argue about something, he takes my place and my mom’s put, but the same time he tells my mom to like to give me a chance to do what I want to do because he says that I am pretty, I mean, I’m pretty adult enough to make my own decisions. And I feel like he was kinda like teacher for me when I was here at the first time. He is like the person who tries to help me and tries to help my mom and tries to help everybody, you know! (laughs)

SA: Would you mind me asking how did you take that when you came here and your mother was involved with someone else? How did you adapt to that?

KH: It was kinda funny (laughs). So, I knew my mom had a person who she’s in love with. And but I didn’t met him when I was in my country and I didn’t really know who the person was and what kind of persons he. But I did it against her with because my mom had a lot of struggles in her life. And I knew it because my parents were the worst. And when I looked at them, I knew they don’t like each other. They spent ten years of their life living with each other and just living, you know, without love, without like happiness. They were living together because they had to.

SA: Was that an arranged marriage?

KH: It was… I really don’t know what kind was it. According to what my mom, her mother forced her to marry my dad because it’s part of our religion, and traditions: your parents like your parents are finding you a husband that you will live with your whole entire life and you have NO RIGHT to choose your own husband, or to choose a guy who you’re gonna marry. And it was the kinda thing that my grandmother did: she just found the guy who she liked and she just forced my mom to marry him. And it was kinda this. And I feel, when my mom said she didn’t want to marry him because she wanted to study, she wanted to get her diploma and master’s degree, you know, but my grandmother forced her to marry because in our culture girls should marry in early age, 18, 19 or 20. After that …

SA: You’re dead to the society (laughs)!!

KH: I know, right! (laughs) You’re dead to the society. And when I was in my country I always thought I’m gonna marry when I’m gonna be 18 or 19, you know because its like our culture and you don’t have a choice to like to do your things or your decisions. And I always thought that I’m gonna marry at young age. But when I came here and I saw here’s culture and and here’s lifestyle, I really changed my mind. And I felt like “Oh my God, this is wrong: girls can’t marry when they are like 18 or 19 because they have not reached their goals. What if your husband’s gonna leave? What are you going to do without a diploma or a degree or anything else?”. And this is the thing that changes really fast, when I came here because my mom always wanted me to study to get my diploma and degree. And she wanted me to be independent because she hasn’t… she had not have a chance to like…she had not opportunity do her like decisions, to make her decisions and she wanted me to do it for me like for my life. So I have a chance to change my like, to have a better life. Yeah, I think it was kinda this, so… My parents were forced to marry to each other.

SA: Did your mom get a degree?

KH: Actually, my mom did. She finished a university.

SA: Here?

KH: No, no, no, in our country. She pushed herself to study and …

SA: While she was married?

KH: While she had me. She was pregnant and she was, she had um… no, she was I think freshman in university and she got married and when she was sophomore, she was pregnant with me, like. and after that, when she was getting her Master’s degree, she was pregnant with my brother (laugh). So for her it was kinda really big struggle for her because I was a baby and she had to pay attention to me because I’m a baby an I need to be feed and … At the same time, she had to do her homework and her study. When she was telling me about her life when I was like a baby, I noticed when I was a baby that she wants me to study right now and THEN get pregnant and THEN get married because when you’re pregnant and you’re studying, there is a lot of stress. And she was very stressful when she had those days. But right now she’s really happy. She has 2 children, she has her significant other that supports her and I think like she, she just…

SA: Has everything that she always wanted?

KH: yeah, yes, has everything that she always wanted

SA: So basically her lifelong dream came true

KH: When she moved here. She said it to me. When we were talking to each other, she said that if she didn’t win green card and came here, she would not survive in our country because she wanted to do certain like things that out society didn’t accept, you know. And when she came here, she felt the freedom, she started to making her decisions like and reach her goals. She said that was pretty awesome to be like, you know, mature or responsible for her life.

SA: Guess you both feel pretty good about doing here, don’t you?

KH: Hahah, I guess. I do. And she does too.

SA: Is there anything else in particular that you would like to share?

KH: I guess, one thing that I would share is that when you move to a new place and you don’t speak in their language, you don’t know about the culture and traditions, you just need to…you just need to, you know, relax and don’t stress and … [asked me in Russian how to say “go with the flow” in english] go with the flow and everything is going to be fine because when I came here, I had a lot of stress and it just pushed me back than forward. You just need to be like relaxed like my brother. He was like… he was like living life and that’s it. He didn’t have any stressful days in his life. I feel like he’s not gonna have any, but still, you know.

SA: Do you keep in contact with your family?

KH: Yeah, of course! My grandmother came here a year and a half ago. She comes and goes back to my country every year. She stays here for 4-5 months, she helps us and she goes back to our country. And even when she comes here, she feels the difference between America and our country because in America it’s so simple to do things you want if you follow rules that are… I mean…how do you say it…when you come here and you want to do certain things and you know that its not prohibited and you can do it. In our country everything is prohibited!everything!! And she feels the difference. And she says she would live here than in our country but she can’t.

SA: So she prefers more freedom?

KH: She is really strict. She is more into religious things. But when she came here, she changed her mind. Like completely changed her mind. Not completely completely, but …

SA: On a certain scale.

KH: Yes, and it’s kinda great because when I was young, she was like really strict with my mother and she didn’t allow me to do things that I wanted to do. And, you know, when you see a person who changed his mind to certain things, you’ll be like “Oh God, wow”, you now.

SA: What is your legal status right now? Are you a permanent resident?

KH: I’m a permanent resident. Currently my mom applied for citizenship, but I am not gonna get citizenship with her because I am 18 already. And government says I have to live here for five, four six years to get citizenship. But my brother does with her because he’s fourteen, he’s a minor, I don’t know. So he’s gonna to get citizenship with her and I’ll have to wait for mine.

SA: Well, I hope everything plays out just the was you want to.

KH: I hope so too.

SA: Thank you so much for doing this!

KH: No more questions?

SA: Nope! Thank you, thank you!


I Left My Heart in Syria


I Left My Heart in Syria

by Serena Mokatish, May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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


First Meeting:

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

Steven: “Really sad.”

Serena: “Why did you feel sad?”

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

Serena: “But none of your family died?”

Steven: “None.”

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

Steven: “From the war.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Sad.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

Steven: “Do you have any more questions?”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

Serena: “And you learned more?”

Steven: “Yeah, I learned five languages.”

Serena: “Wow!”

Steven: “I know that is a lot.”

Serena: “And you have more friends there?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Fluent.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “What games did you play?

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I had so many friends.”

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

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

Serena: “Oh, that’s good.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Would you go back to Syria?”

Steven: “When the war stops, yes.”

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

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

Serena: “Aw!”

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

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

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

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

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

Serena: “On the plane?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I love them a lot!”

Serena: “Aw!”

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

Serena: That’s good, that’s good!”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: (laughs) “Okay.”

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

Serena: Church?

Steven: “Church!”

Serena: “Would you miss me?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: Really?”

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

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

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

Steven: “Second.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: (Laughs).

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

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

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

Steven “Twenty-four.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Give me a hug.”

(Serena and Steven hug)

Second Meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Not really.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “Are you proud to be Syrian?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “My friends and family.”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Happy, fun, good.”

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

Steven: “Sad, scared, and worried.”

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

Steven: “Sad, excited, and scared.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really happy, excited, joy.”

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

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

Serena: “Of course. Nothing beats family.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Why do you get mad?”

Steven: “Because I want my mom.”

Serena: “You’re a mommy’s boy.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Both because we all live together.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “What makes you Syrian?”

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

Serena: “Does your mom work?”

Steven: “No.”

Serena: “How about your dad?”

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

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

Steven: “Yeah, I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “I miss my friends more.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “What makes it boring?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah we all help each other.”

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

Steven: “Yeah they are all nice.”

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

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

Shayla’s Journey


Shayla’s Journey

by Karen Guinn, May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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


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

Karen Guinn:  How is it in your country?

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

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

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

Karen:  Can I ask you how old you are?

Shayla:  I’m 29.

Karen:  Oh, you’re my daughter’s age!

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

Shay:  Yep!

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

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

Karen:  So what’s the money for?

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

Karen: Oh.

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

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

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

Me:  Have you experienced any earthquake!

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  No boyfriend?

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

Me:  Is English your first language?

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

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

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

Me:  What do you do in your free time?

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

Me:  So where do you live?

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

Me:  So do you take public transportation?

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

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

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

Me:  How does the government take care of you?

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  What does your mother do?

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

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

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

Me:  Oh I’m sorry!

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

Me: Aww, so it’s unconditional love?

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

Me:  So how was your trip here?

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

Georgian-American or American-Georgian


Georgian-American or American-Georgian

by Michael Figlock, August 2014

I met with Levan at the Japantown Mall due to its close proximity to where he works as a bartender. He told me that afternoon that he was short on sleep, having just worked after playing an extended, cut-throat game of Poker with his friends the night before. The two of us met such that I could write a paper for my English 1A class, a class that he had taken previously. Something that resonated with him from the class was an essay in which Andrew Lam, a Vietnamese-American writer, said he was old enough to still remember his country and still young enough to still adapt to this one. Levan described this condition as being one that applied to him and his relationship with Georgia, the country from which he emigrated. Levan’s description of his country of origin was a complex one, fitting for a country that has been in the hotbed of Eastern European political affairs for the last three decades. Levan described his time in Georgia as being largely positive, despite genocide occurring “three blocks away from [his] house” while he was there. Russian tanks came through Georgia and literally drove over protesters. Levan said that he considers himself “Georgian-American or American-Georgian.” He considers Georgia to be his home, though since living in the United States, this has changed. Now, Levan’s sense of home has come to include both Georgia and the United States.

Levan is 28 years old and is working hard to improve his livelihood as a member of both countries. While speaking to him I got the impression that, throughout the rest of his life, he will continue to travel between both Georgia and the United States.  He is working on getting his certification to become a paramedic so that he can do good works in both countries. He is currently certified as an EMT, a steppingstone to becoming a paramedic. As a paramedic, he wishes to retrofit vans into ambulances such that Georgia can have a modern ambulance system. According to my impression of him, he is someone who very much believes in pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.  He has already bought cars in America at auctions to send back to Georgia. He is “taking all of the classes, as much as [he] can,” in order to go to SF State, where he hopes to study history and perhaps get involved with the Red Cross. As he already knows “four or five languages,” he thinks that this kind of move with his life is very possible. Levan says that languages come pretty easily to him and that, as a result, he enjoys learning them. Even though he doesn’t speak Spanish or German particularly fluently—he speaks English, Russian, and Georgian fluently—he thinks he could pick them up pretty quickly if he were to spend some time in a country that speaks them.

The sense of community is what Levan misses most from Georgia. He says that it is a very “community-based country,” and that what he feels he has lost the most since leaving is “the sense of family.” His times there were peaceful “from ’91 to 1999.” In Georgia, one stays with the same classmates all the way through school, with teachers coming to the classroom rather than the other way around. As a result, your classmates become very close to you, some of them becoming like brothers, and another, even, possibly, becoming a wife. Much of his life there was devoted to soccer and friends. Some of the times that Levan reflected on the most fondly were when he was living with his grandparents, away from his home city. There, his brother’s friends showed him around and, because of the fact that his grandfather was a famous Georgian boxer from many years ago, many older people wanted to show Levan around as well. Yet the reasons for Levan’s time spent with his grandparents were not happy. Someone in Levan’s close family needed serious medical attention as his father’s car had been sabotaged and exploded.

When Levan was living in Georgia, he witnessed an armed conflict there. Georgia has always been “in-between struggles, even since the Ottoman Empire.” Early in Georgia’s history, the area was a battleground for wars between Islam and Christianity, the two factions warring over where Georgia would fall in this conflict concerning eternal damnation. More recently, Russia has been the aggressor in the struggles that Georgia has been a part of. Levan’s opinion of Russia is that the country is a “bully” and he “can’t stand bullies.” There was genocide during the years that Levan was there; which happened in 1991, when Levan was about five years old. Some of his family’s relatives came into his house with AKs and stuff to help him flee from the capital city. Levan was pretty casual when discussing the genocide and he didn’t spend much time talking about it. Now that he’s older and has a greater awareness of the world, he says that his understanding of what happened back there has grown. He wishes that, when he was in Georgia, he had taken more time to learn about the country’s complex past. I wondered if that was what compelled him to look into studying history at SF State, but I didn’t ask.

When first making the United States his home, Levan’s biggest struggle was the linguistic barriers associated with the cultural transition. His brother got a job at Charles Schwab in America after coming here with political immunity due to the war in Georgia. It was Levan’s opinion of his brother that he’s doing “very well” for himself. Levan came here after his brother and went straight to high school in San Francisco. Some of the other struggles he faced have included the “depression and the sadness that [he] miss[ed] people, nostalgic feeling of being around home.” What got him kicked out of high school briefly was a fight over a mistranslation. Levan, when he was in Georgia, had a certain amount of education in English. According to him, not everyone “jokes, for example, the same type of jokes.” I think that this statement highlights that there are many cultural nuances that are present in communication, particularly with respect to joking. The mistranslation that Levan was involved in, though casually dropped frequently between Americans, was one that he thought was insulting his mother in some pretty drastic ways.

Something that stuck out to me in Levan describing his former self prior to coming to America as being a bit more consumed by “ego-type of ways.” The impression I got was that he was also doing a certain amount of fighting in Georgia as well. Levan said that something that has been a struggle in his life for some time now has been not feeling as though he was older than or even superior to his peers.  Since coming to America, he was exposed to people from places that he “wouldn’t even think about—from Philippines to China to Arabian countries

to–of course Russian people.” Because there are so many Russian people living in the Richmond, the district where Levan originally moved in San Francisco, he fit in decently well because Russian is one of the five languages that he speaks. His perspective became one that takes humanity in general into account rather than one just focused primarily on Gerogia. He used to think that “being a Georgian was the best thing,” but after his time in America, he contrasted his previous viewpoint with saying that “it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”  He now describes himself as “out forward, outgoing, and [he] won’t do anything to piss people off.” He said that he notices at jobs at whatnot that people recognize him as someone who is easy to deal with.

Something that particularly indicates in my mind the bicultural nature of Levan’s post-American-living identity is his desire to eventually raise children as both Georgian and American. His goals are to “raise a family here, just to take them there, let them grow as my children, as understanding both.” This is one way in which Levan would seem to cement his identity as both a Georgian and American. Levan believes that what makes America so great of a country is its capacity to integrate the ideals of people from many different countries. It is my opinion that Levan has internalized this perspective into himself in that he views himself as being greater for integrating the ideals of people from many different countries. His brother’s wife is Brazilian and he joked with her about Brazil’s recent trouncing in the World Cup.

Now that Levan has expanded the scope of his previous perspective of the world, it is impossible for him to go back to viewing the world in the way he once did.  In his own words, he said something to the effect of “he kinda’ cannot go back to his natural habitat,” meaning that his worldview with respect to his home and how he sees the world has been forever expanded.  Levan’s mother tried to come to America but was less pleased with her transition between the two countries.  She made the trip when she was much older than how old Levan was when he made the trip.  It was Levan’s opinion that it must be harder for someone to come to America, or leave their country at all for that matter, when so much of their life has been established in another country.  Recently, when Levan left San Francisco for “somewhere, even [his] country—[he] went there a few times—[he] miss[es] it here so much, [he] can’t even explain.  [He] went to the East coast for two weeks [and he] couldn’t wait to get back.”  His opinions of living in Gerogia now is that living only there would leave him feeling “cornered,” with the only good news he hears from people living there being that they had a kid.  Practically everything else that he hears coming from the country is that someone has died or some other negative news.  I think that Levan would feel tied down of that’s what he was doing right now. Politically, he is not fond of the way in which Georgia has sacked its powerful leader for being too despotic.  Though a particular powerful politician there was able to arrest numerous politicians, he became criticized for gaining too much power.  Now, it is his opinion, that the country is governed by politicians who are far too young and inexperienced (Levan).

Edward Said in his essay, “Reflections on exile” paints the departure of one home country as nearly almost always a contributor to great sadness in the life of the exile. Where there are people who are exulted as having experienced great, humanistic, transnational experiences on account of immigration, there are always far more people who have been dislocated on account of conflict whose story of immigration is very sad. Levan’s story of immigration is hard to categorize as either fully working toward a positive end in his life or something that was conflict-induced, his story, I think, exemplifying Edward Said’s description of immigration stories. Levan’s brother, a decently large player in Levan’s immigrant experience, at least, came to America on account of political asylum he received due to a conflict. Levan’s life however, much to the merit of his resolution, seems to be very much moving in the direction that he’d like it to, that being toward his role as a medical professional. Simply, Levan’s life is comprised of both growing experiences that recognize a broader understanding of the human character as well as experiences that were put into motion on account of conflict.          Edward Said also would seem to make the claim that existing between nationalities is necessarily a painful experience. Levan, who sees himself as Georgian-American yet is not completeky satisfied with everything that is Georgian or everything that is American, is perhaps better off not being restricted to having a single nationality. This way, he can assimilate the best parts of what he can derive from both countries–say, the family-sense of Georgia and the life opportunities of America–and make a wholly new identity for himself, outside of any one nationality. This way, he can pursue the American medical field while also being a contributor to the communities that brought him up in Georgia (Said). In “Happiness and ‘economic migration’: A comparison of Eastern European migrants and stayers,” David Bertram shows that, at least in the case of Eastern European emigrants moving into various Western European countries, the happiness level of immigrants varies from country to country. This peer-reviewed research would support the idea that Edward Said’s classification of emigrants into two categories of those who are pleased with the humanistic experience of their immigration and those who are displeased with it on account of having to do so due to conflict is too simplistic. The reality of the situation is that the experiences of immigrants leaving eastern Europe may contain too many specificities and unique qualities for general assertions to be about all of them (Bartram).          Whereas some may say that an immigrant’s story must be either entirely devoted to humanistic transnationalism or the product of conflict’s strife, I think that Levan’s story has shown otherwise. Now, Levan’s sense of home has come to include both Georgia and the United States. His goals in life of working to become a paramedic in order to establish a modern ambulance system in Georgia and his goals of raising his future children in both countries will further establish him as being a member of both countries. The specificities of Levan’s story of moving from Georgia to America further establish the diverse nature of what it means to be an immigrant.

Transcribed Interview

Voice 003: 00:20 — 00:35: 15 sec

L: I’m taking all of the classes, as much as I can, until I can go to State, so I don’t have to pay as much over there, ya’ know?

M: Are you trying to go to SF State? L: Yeah.

M: Cool.

L: I’m actually going to apply wherever, ya know, a lot of places, but State–I like to be close to the City.

…Voice 003: 0055 — 01:25: 45 sec

L: I’m certified as an EMT. I’m going to try and be a paramedic, but I need six months of experience and six months more of education to be a certified paramedic. It makes a big deal pay-wise, but work wise, it’s pretty much the same. There are six or seven medical procedures we cannot do without our medical control, but it’s good. And bar-tending on the side.

…Voice 003: 00:40 — 2:30: 2:35 min

L: At City College so far it’s light health, but at State I want to change to something with history so I could, like, probably go to Europe–Red Cross maybe. Have some medical education, know, like, four or five languages–

M: You know four or five languages? L: Yeah. M: What languages do you speak?

L: English was my third language, Russian was my second, Georgian was my first, German, and I’m struggling with Spanish. I don’t know Spanish, but I’m picking it up with people I work with. I work with a lot of Latin people. So that’s about it, but if I take it, it should be good. But I know I need at least three months in Europe or being in Germany to speak fluently, because I’m kind of forgetting it. If you don’t use it, it’s like a muscle, ya’ know.

…Voice 004: 00:00 — 00:35: 3:05 min L: What route are you going to take? What’s your main idea? What’s your topic going to be?

M: I was sort of waiting to talk to you. I was going to be really true to what you say and go from there. L: Sounds good, man. You want some coffee?

…Voice 005: 00:00 — 02:00: 5:05 min M: What can you tell me about where you’re from.

L: I’m from the Republic of Georgia. It’s considered Eastern Europe. On the east and west sides we have seas. On the north side we have the Caucasian Mountains bordering us from Russia. And to the south we have Turkey and Azerbaijan and all Muslim countries, pretty much. My country has always been in-between struggles–Ottoman Empire since back in the day because Georgia comes from the fourth century. Back in they day, they’ve been trying to make us Muslim and we were wanting to do Christianity so we combined with Russia and we were working together but when we got our independence, they would wouldn’t give it to us. They wanted land–

M: Are you talking about in 1990?

L: The first time was in 1981. It was a big genocide. Russian people came over with tanks and we had protests and they ran people over with the tanks. I remember I was about 5 years old and in 1991, it occurred again–a big one–and I remember some of my family’s relatives came in our house with AKs and stuff and were like, “We have to take you out of here.” And I remember my whole family–we had to go away from the capital city. We had to hide out for at least three days until things calmed down. So it was pretty bad at that time. It was so bad, actually, people were just thinking about surviving and maintaining.

…Voice005: 02:10 – 05:25: 8:20 min L: But then I lived through some peaceful times, I guess. From ’91 to 1999, it was pretty peaceful. I remember those times as pretty pleasant. Hanging out with friends, going to school, playing soccer–stuff like that. But economy wise, it’s always been a struggle because I always saw my parents, ya’ know, go through it. There where days where we had to survive for certain days and there were days where we were all good. It was ups and downs, but overall, I had a very positive…

M: Impression?

L: I had a very positive impression about my country.

M: When did you come to America? L: I came to the United States in 2001. And the way I came here was that my brother actually got here first and because of that war, actually he got… immunity, I guess. Political immunity. So the United States gave him a visa, gave him a passport, and gave him all the opportunities he could have and he used every piece of it and he pretty much made it here. He started with computer engineering and now he’s at Charles Schwab. Just a manager. So he’s doing alright. He’s doing very well, actually. So after five years he brought me here so yeah. That was about me and him at first. After that I took a placement test and tested into ESL at first in high school and freshman year was a little bit tough, not knowing the language, cultural customs, seeing all these people from different backgrounds, so it was difficult, but then sophomore year, I was alright. I moved out of the ESL. Junior year I was doing even better and senior year I did so well in the previous years that I only had to take five classes, I remember. I was getting out of school about 1:30 when people had to stay ’till 3 so…

M: That’s cool.

L: It was alright.

M: Where did you go to high school? L: I went to George Washington High School. It’s in the Richmond district of San Francisco–close to the beach.

M: So you moved straight to San Francisco when you…

L: Mmm hmm–straight to San Francisco, straight to high school. I thought I was gonna’ have to take some classes at John Adams. That’s where people that I kinda’ knew that were from different countries as well but they were going to those schools just to gain English. But I had some background back in Georgia. I was going to an English teacher and so I actually took languages very seriously because it was coming easy to me so I enjoyed it.

M: What can you tell me more about your childhood in Georgia, the happy times, I guess, or whatever? L: I respect–not respect, I actually see more clearly right now because people tell me enjoy these years, it’s gonna’ be the best years of your life because…

…Voice006: 00:00 — 05:55: 14:15 min

L …all you have to worry about is getting home on time, eating, and going back out to play again, I guess. And it was good up until 1997, my father, his car was sabotaged or something and his car blew up so my mother, father, and older brother, before coming here, they had to go to Russia because the medical field is much more better over there so he had to get treatment there for three years and I basically grew up with my grandmother and grandfather and I had to switch the neighborhood because I couldn’t stay in that place no more, that neighborhood. So my brother’s friends–by the way, he’s six years older than me–so his friends took care of me, showed me to places and things. I kinda’ grew up feeling that I was older than I was actually, ya know? Just because I was exposed to certain things, I guess, made me feel that I was wiser or bigger than other kids in my peer–and I believe until four years ago, I still used to think that way. It was a setback on me, ya’ know? I should have… yeah. I’m realizing now and I’m just going through it, my process. What else can I tell you about Georgia? It’s a very community based country–every body knows everybody. And on top of that, my grandfather, actually, in 1952 and in 1954 was a Georgian boxing champion and he was pretty well-known so me mentioning my last name and knowing that I was his grandson, everything was easy for me. I could have went anywhere and everybody was showing me a lot of attention and everybody was taking me places. It was good times for me. I couldn’t really experience that–I was in that age where I didn’t take it serious, right? And it was bad times. Now that I look back and see some documentaries on what really took place–literally three blocks away from my house, that’s where the big clash happened–protestors and army. And to look at it right now… I get goosebumps. Literally they used tanks to just run-over people and it was a genocide, I believe, it was horrible. But I didn’t really feel it, ya’ know? Summers were hot, in my city. So we owned a cabin in the mountains which was four hours away. Every summer, my grandfather and grandmother would take me out to the cabin, leave me out there, go back into the city, do whatever. I had some real family living there, friends, and everything. So for literally three months every summer, I would spend away, and come back to the city. Good memories, pretty much. Good memories. Besides, I guess, adolescence and just fighting, now and again. Overall, it was great.

M: Cool. What’s the biggest struggle you’ve faced, after coming to America.

L: The biggest struggle was… The struggle was changing the environment. Because I did that previously, like I told you–I had to change the neighborhood–and it was difficult for me because I was not in that age where I could just travel anywhere by myself. Friends that I really had, close ones, I kinda’ left them in that old neighborhood, which I wouldn’t visit no more. And just that idea that I had to do it allover again, just to pickup, but on a bigger scale–I’m not just switching neighborhoods, I’m switching countries. I guess the biggest struggle was depression, sadness that you miss people, nostalgic feelings of being around home, appreciating home cooking, home cooked meals, the language barrier, people from different countries, trying to understand them. Not everyone jokes, for example, the same type of jokes. Everyone has different morals, I guess, standards, logic, so I had to kinda’ adapt to it, but overall I had a good time. Right away, I made friends from places that I wouldn’t even think about–from Philippines to China to Arabian countries to–of course Russian people are very–a lot of them are by the Richmond district and Russians–speaking a Russian language helped me out because I was basically mostly with them. And the struggle I had to go through was… basically, I fought a lot because I didn’t understand certain things and I felt people were just… looking down on me, making fun of me. Just simple getting lost in the translations. I don’t want to say, but to me, mother@%#$@#, when somebody said that, I don’t want to say it on here, but to me, it meant something horrible. It meant that you were insulting my mother, and just because of that, I actually got kicked out of high school, and had to go through dropout preventions, and all that stuff. But once I grew up, kinda’, I adapted, I learned. Now I have friends where we just joke about it and don’t take it seriously. But basically, the biggest struggle was trying to fit in, make friends…

…Voice007: 00:00 — 05:55: 20:10 min

L: …try to fit in, just those times where you want to go back home. But then again, I had an older brother who guided me through it. He told me, “You’ll understand later,” and “This and that…” But basically my main struggle was the language barrier, cultural differences–not much of religious differences, not at all–mostly just cultural and language. M: Where would you say your home is now? L: Where my home is? I’ve been thinking about that a lot… a lot… I believe… And also, I want to rephrase something. We learned something in his class. We were talking about this person that came from Vietnam and I don’t know if you guys read that pamphlet again, I don’t know. We had to write a summary about it and in it he mentions how he was “old enough to still remember his country and still young enough to still adapt to this one.” And it really touched–I felt like I was still in that place. I was old enough to still have memories and still feel Georgian, I guess, I have pride in it. And I was young still enough that I was adapting to it so right now I consider myself Georgian American because every time I go somewhere, even my country–I went there a few times–I miss it here so much, I can’t even explain. I went to the East coast for two weeks, I couldn’t wait to get back. This is where I consider my home now. And I’m probably going to be here, probably raise a family here just to take them there, let them grow as my children, as understanding both, and being more open-minded and [indistinguishable]. It took me awhile to get rid of some of the ego-type of ways that I had imprinted in Georgia. A certain type of way that people carry themselves. A certain way that people are. I believe that I consider myself Georgian-American or American-Georgian, whichever, even though I’ve still got an accent–I don’t know why. I hope this is helpful.

M: That was a pretty heavy answer. That was pretty heavy. I guess you’ve already really answered this, but how have you changed since coming here? L: How have I changed? M: Or not?

L: I have progressed in many ways and in some way I feel like I have regressed as well. Mostly I believe I’ve changed… I used to think that being a Georgian was the best thing. I was so thankful that I was born Georgian, but the way I think about it right now is that I have a total different respect for just humans, humankind–it doesn’t matter where you’re from. I show respect to everybody and I treat everybody the way I want to be treated. Being like that tends to get me ahead because people tend to notice me, even in jobs. I’m out forward, outgoing, and I won’t do anything to piss people off. I wasn’t used to be like that back then. You looked at me wrong, I had to say something, I had to do something. I had a lot of things that I thought I had to stand up for even though they were very [indistinguishable]. But I’ve made my mistakes, I’ve learned from them, I try not to do stupid stuff again. But overall I believe my character just grew. One of the things I think about it is once a person is exposed to a lot more, or a lot, he kinda’ cannot go back to his natural habitat. I went to Georgia and people that said goodbye to me five years ago, literally five years ago, were literally still in the same yard playing cards dominoes, and I couldn’t stand it no more. I couldn’t live that way. I felt like I was cornered. I had no prospects in life. I don’t want to just live at my parent’s house, get a wife, and let my parents [indistinguishable]. It gave me more strength, it gave me more passion towards growing, learning, to become something. Not only something that my family’s proud, something that I could do for my country. And the reason I took paramedic was I was hoping to go back to Georgia. I used to buy some cars in auction here and send them back home. So I was thinking that maybe with this education I could ship vans, turn them into ambulances, and have an American-standard ambulance system with a medical field. Over there, it’s different. If someone is sick and you take them to the hospital, you pay for the bed, you pay for how many days they stay, you pay for the medicine. There’s no healthcare. Everything comes out of a person’s pockets.

…Voice008: 00:00 — 03:15: 23:25 min L: So my main intention is to improve things over there. Everything that I went through here and everything that I went through back there make me, I guess, I can’t say fearless or nothing, just made more more confident to achieve what I want to achieve, be what I want to be, and not only for myself, I want to do good to others–make my country proud. M: When I asked you this question, you said you like you both progressed and regressed. What have you lost, I guess?

L: I believe what I’ve lost is the sense of the family because people that are my age–so the way it is in Georgia, the education system–once you get in first grade up to twelfth grade you’re with the same classmates, literally, same classmates. You don’t change classrooms when you go to classes, teachers come to you. So you pretty much grow up with these people, they become your friends, your brothers, one of them may be your wife, ya’ know? And everyone that was in my grade over there, they all have families, they all have kids. They just made their own families. So I guess I’m missing out on that because in America, I’ve been through relationships, some long, some short, and I’m kinda’ like sometimes I feel like that’s maybe what I need, ya’ know? Not only feel, I miss–I want it. So I guess the most thing I’ve missed is the family part. I bet you if I was in Georgia right now at the age of 20 I would’ve got married, I probably would’ve got kids. I know so many people there that are my age that have two kids, one is 8, one is 6.

M: How old are you? L: I’m 28 years old. So when I see them, it brings me happiness. Seeing a little guy that is identical to his father and I remember him when he looked like we went to school together, all these things. That’s about it, I guess, and also I miss… I could’ve learned more about Georgian history while I was there. I didn’t take time doing it out here because I’m busy, always busy. After high school, I guess, I haven’t stopped working or school. I just had to work, support some family there, friends. To be honest, besides I got married and I got a kid, I haven’t heard good news. Somebody got into a crash, somebody passed away, somebody lost his bet–all the time there’s somebody that calls you and kinda’ ask something of you. They kinda’ demand a lot from you. I don’t miss that part. Hahaha! I’m just rambling around. But basically I missed out on the family. …Voice008: 04:10 – 10:45: 30:00 min M: What are your thoughts on American culture in general?

L: Wow, I could say a lot about that. In my opinion, to this day, when I think about America, I think about people from all over the world. Besides, I guess, Native Indians. I believe they are true Americans. But besides that, I think America was created on many people’s different cultural ideals and melting it all together. That’s why they’re so powerful and strong to this day. They have ideas from all over. Just people from everywhere, pretty much. I consider America to be a very powerful country, they are very influential, but however they do sometimes, certain things, where they just stir something up and just step aside and see what happens. That’s what they did in 2008. Russia wanted some land in Georgia. Georgia… we had friendly relationships with Russia but then America kinda’ like took our side, said that they would protect [indistinguishable]. Our Georgian president back then who got all his education in America went home and since 2005 ’till 2012, he really changed the whole mentality of Georgia. He already arrested all of these people who were criminals, mafia. There’s no corruption at all and he built new things. He wanted Georgia to go into the United Nations, but during all this process, I guess, he did two terms, 8 years, he kinda’ became a dictator. So people started hating him so they actually kicked him out and now they think the president is not really a president, he’s a vice president, but they’re so young and so inexperienced. I feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. I mean it was a success to get the word out, win the votes, not just corruption. People achieved what they wanted, that was great, but on top of that, we needed somebody who knows what they’re doing. They have a bunch of inexperienced young people in politics and government and there may be some wrong mistakes but it’ll take time, I believe, I can’t lose hope. But besides that, I’m grateful, man. America gave me all these opportunities, man, helped me out a lot. So I can only say great things about it. M: I know you said you weren’t really into politics, but what do you think about Russia today? L: Bullies. I believe they are vey bullies. They are very ignorant and I guess in some ways they are good for them, they don’t want to change, they don’t want to improve things–okay, I understand it, but you don’t have to stir some stuff up. You don’t have to influence others. You don’t have to take lands when they say no. You’ve got to let them be. So I believe Russia is a very powerful country. Not as powerful as they believe, actually, in my opinion, but I guess they have a lot of countries that are close to them that would kind of support them, but in my personal opinion, Russia is a bully. I can’t stand bullies. I kinda’ like it that Georgia is away from [indistinguishable]. I like it, but then again, you’re so close to them, they’re so huge, you kinda’ have to be careful what you gotta’ say, because they could easily do this–wipe us off the map and we’ve been coming from the fourth century and some stories in history books I read of fighting Chingis Kahn and all this and one thing he said, I believe, that stuck to my head that the two things he couldn’t conquer, Chingis–you know him, right? M: Yeah, he started Mongolia.

L: Yeah. Yeah, and also Shak Habas, he was an Ottoman king of the Ottoman Empire, Shak Habas, he mentioned that the two things he couldn’t conquer were death and Georgians. And when I heard that I was like, “woooow.” M: Wait, who said that? Chingis Kahn said this? L: No, Shak Habas. Shak Habas of the Ottoman Empire. But Mongolians, yeah, they came, the conquered us for a bit, but then we fought them off, we always fought them off, but with this era, this day and the technology, man, I don’t think it’s possible. I just want everybody to still be happy. I don’t want little stupid things to make them mad and [indistinguishable]. …but we are fearful of Russia, in that sense. M: So you said your brother works at… L: Charles Schwab. M: Charles Schwab. What’s the rest of your immediate family doing?

L: My mother was here for a minute. She actually came here at the age of 42. She went to school, got some education, she got some certificates as child development and other things. Then she worked at the workers compensation for about 8 years and then she went back home. I guess, for her, it’s much more difficult than it was for me because at that age you have all of the family and friends there. Me, for example, I was still young. That’s about it. My brother is here, he has a wife. He married a Brazilian woman, she’s wonderful. I joke with her about, Brazil’s loss the other day, she hates me for it. M: Hahahahaha!

L: I have a three year old nephew. I just adore him. I like him. I believe without coming to America, this family that I’m looking at wouldn’t happen. I’m just grateful [indistinguishable].

Hopeful for Home: From Burma to Myanmar to San Francisco

Hopeful for Home: From Burma to Myanmar to San Francisco
by Darius Bright, May, 2014

Julia is an international student in the United States from Myanmar, a nation previously called Burma, and still called Burma by many people who stand in opposition to its history of military rule. During the interview and this writing, I will primarily refer to the nation as Burma. Burma is located directly south of India, north of Thailand, west of China, and east of the Bay of Bengal. Julia is majoring in business in the United States, and education is her primary purpose for obtaining a student visa to study in the United States, and because of the restrictions on business and trade in Burma, a result of political influence. Burma is a constantly changing nation with frequent internal conflict. However, she is fortunately part of the racial and ethnic majority. Julia remains indecisive about whether she considers staying in the United States or whether she will return to her home country, because Burma is progressing, but slowly, so her indecisiveness comes from her simple life experiences and her optimistic vision of a better Burma, politically, socially, and economically. During my interview with Julia, we discussed her views on Burmese politics, conflicts, and culture.

There have been many changes in Burma, and many political conflicts in a relatively short amount of time. There are expected to be more changes and this gives Julia her hope for a democratic nation and homeland. Since 1989, Burma has officially been recognized as Myanmar. However, the nation is still called Burma by those who oppose the military takeover of the government. The nation that seemingly has two names is called Burma by the people who view Myanmar’s government as illegitimate. In an email conversation after the interview, I asked Julia, “Which name do you prefer,” and she told me that she did “not have a preference.” She said that, because she was born into a recent generation, she isn’t deeply immersed in politics. However, she does think that people who call the nation Burma do so because it was the name chosen by the former communist government. Because of Burma’s location, it has many ethnic groups from its surrounding countries, such as India, Thailand, China, and so forth. The largest religious affiliation is Buddhist, but there is a considerable presence of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. The Burmese government was once overthrown from within in 1962, in an event known as a coup d’état, often shortened to coup, and defined by the Meriam Webster Dictionary as “a sudden exercise…especially the violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group.” Later, in 1974, there would be an organized government, which would only last until 1988, when a military coup gave the military power over the government, turning it into a military dictatorship. In that same year, anti-government riots broke out in protest for democracy. Troops from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which is the name given to the military regime in control, killed over 300 protestors. In the year following the riots, the nation was officially named Myanmar. In a span of twenty-seven years, Burma’s government has gone through three major changes and two significant riots. Because of these rapid changes, there is also hope for significant change in the future.

Concerning Julia’s question of whether or not to return to Burma, its answer appears to rest heavily on the potential future changes that could occur in Burma. Because politics affect everything there, Julia says she would go back “if things get better…They’re trying to get closer to democracy, because Aung\San Suu Ki.” Changes for the better are expected mostly from the success of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was formed in 1988, and is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s General Secretary, and the daughter of the father of communist Burma, Aung San. She is also Buddhist and uses non-violent protest to promote democracy and human rights. For that reason as well, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Julia is hopeful that the change towards democracy will come. It’s reported by Derek Tonkin, in Contemporary Southeast Asia, that the “NLD won 80% of the seats in the parliament and 59% of the national vote, during a multiparty election in 1990.” However, the SLORC would not accept her party’s victory, arrested her, and placed her under house arrest for fifteen years. According to Alison Koistinen, who wrote an article called “Peace Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi” in Peace Review, Aung San Su Kyi was arrested for “endangering the state,” though Julia believes that she can change Burma if given the chance. She says, “She makes many promises but progress moves slowly and people grow impatient.” She also states that if a significant change were to happen, it would be around 2015, but for now she is unsure. After Suu Kyi was released, she announced that she would run in the 2015 election. Julia told me, “She was actually under house arrest recently so like since she came out she is trying to change the policy in Burma. She is trying to put Burma into the part of democracy.” Suu Kyi won the first election and may win again. This tells me that Julia is full of hope for change and that change is dependent in Suu Kyi’s success. And it seems as if she has a tremendous amount of faith in her. When I asked Julia is she would go back to Burma, or if it would be worthwhile to stay here, she replied, “Yeah, because I need to get more experience, more experience here first, maybe I might, or if it goes well, then I will stay here.” Julia is majoring in business and is here because of the restrictions placed on owning a business in Burma. “There’s too much restriction for the business major, because, if you want some company, you need like…until 2015, we wouldn’t actually know how it goes.” She expects to acquire her experience and education here and use what she learns back home, but only if business restrictions are lifted. This is partly dependent on Suu Kyi’s success, because, if the country becomes more democratic, trade and business regulations will become more negotiable. For now, this is why Julia came to the United States and why she considers settling here.

Burma has some visible issues when one looks at the conflicts that arose over the span of twenty-seven years. Julia is fairly young and has no firsthand experience of the conflicts in Burma. She does, however, possess some knowledge about some of the conflicts that are present. One of the most important topics that Julia touched on was the topic of racism. She said that she only know a little bit about the history of racism in the United States. When talking about the United States in Burma, “the focus was mainly on politics.” She continued to say, “Actually, in Burma, we don’t have racism. Everything is equal. So, yeah, we don’t actually think much of it.” In a way, this is surprising because of the different racial and ethnic groups in Burma. Displaying a photo she took at school in Burma, students varied significantly in appearance. Revisiting that statement in an email for clarification, Julia retracted her statement: “It would be wrong to say that there is no racism going on. It’s probably the way and place I grew up. In that, we don’t have to deal with such matters.” While the racial ethnic conflict was virtually non-existent in her life, she does have some knowledge about it. “I guess you can check on ‘Rohingya’ in Burma and you might be able to find conflicts,” she suggested. In an article entitled “The Potential Role of Racial Segregation in Burma,” published in Forced Migration Review, Nathan Willis wrote: “Ethnic discrimination has long fueled violence and displacement within Myanmar [Burma], especially in relation to people of Rohingya ethnicity, who have been fleeing their home in the ‘tens of thousands’ in 2013 alone.” Though Rohingya is not a race, because race describes physical characteristics, ethnic groups under persecution tend to find themselves in the middle of a racial conflict if people of said group look similar. In the same article, Willis writes, “In recognition that no state is immune from racism, legislators need to take seriously the need to enshrine a legislative response.” Buddhist is still primarily Buddhist with around 80% of the people practicing Buddhism. While racism is certainly present in this conflict, because Julia was part if the middle class and the demographic majority, if is very possible that she never witnessed this conflict. When I asked her about a moment that she will never forget, she spoke of simple pleasures: “Well, there’s lots of things. Like, going on a field trip with friends from school, and there are lots of events that I, you know, like I get to go with my family for vacation, but there wasn’t anything particular.” Her response is not something one would expect from a person coming from hardship. Because if this, she doesn’t share the push factors of immigrants who risk their lives crossing the United States border. Most of her life was simple and peaceful.

The way Julia describes her traditions in Burma is very much like the way one would describe the traditional values of a typical American family a couple of decades ago. Even though some aspects of Julia’s experience with her culture seem analogous to those in much of the United States, her nostalgia for her culture serves as a powerful pull factor in her desire to return home. When asked about her traditions, one example she gave was: “Example, a girl have too many boyfriends, it’s not really good for the girl, I mean how the society views the girl. So, like, you know, like, they don’t think good of them. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter much right now. In the past, it really mattered. For mothers, they’re still under the tradition.” This example is very much like the traditional values that are still present in places around the United States. Many of her experiences with tradition were as simple as this example. She goes on to say, “Because, like, in Burma, it’s like the old age where boys and girls are treated differently, so, like, the girls, they have a lot of restrictions that girls can’t do.” Though the lines drawn by conventional gender roles have been blurred in most parts of the United States, these same traditions are still present and are still being challenged. These social and cultural expectations are analogous to those a couple of decades ago in the United States. Julia even admitted, “It doesn’t really matter now.” This suggests that times are changing and that these somewhat analogous cultural experiences would make adjusting to life in the United States manageable. The only real difference that I found in the cultural traditions of the two countries is that in Burma it would be considered strange to hug among friends. She explains, “No, they don’t hug; they just usually greet.” You know, put on the hand on the shoulder, but no hugs.” Hugging seems to be associated only with romantic relationships.

Julia’s only misgiving about what she has perceived in American culture and tradition is that families seem disconnected. Stronger family values and relationships are two of the main factors that she misses and would go back to Burma for. “I like the system where the family grows up. Since I got here, I sort of feel there are some problems for families here. For that, in Burma it’s really rare for those kinds of problems. Not really rare, but the majority of families are doing well.” The tighter family bonds in Asian families stands in contrast to the bonds in families in the US. This is most likely a result of the collective societies typical in Asia. Julia came to the United States because her career goals revolve around her business major and she says that she “wouldn’t go back to Burma for business.” Even though these restrictions on business and trade are the primary push factor pushing Julia out of her homeland, Julia would rather raise a family back home, which is a significant pull factor.

Burma’s government, economy, and society are in a transitional state. There are hopes that the country will eventually transition to a democratic system with open trade and human rights laws, though these same transitions are why she left in the first place. They affect her educational goals, her career, and those of the whole country. While she considers staying in the States if things do not improve, there is no doubt that she feels a sense of belonging in her homeland and that she will always identify herself as Burmese. Julia believes that a democratic Burma can alleviate many of the nation’s troubles and hoes that Aung San Suu Kyi can bring them there.

Works Cited

Koistinen, Alison. Peace Review. Sept. 2003, p. 349. Academic Search Premier.
Willis, Nathan. “The Potential Role of Racial Discrimination in Myanmar. Forced Migration Review. Feb. 2014. Issue 45, pp. 82-83. Academic Search Premier.

Tonkin, Derek. “The 1990 Elections in Myanmar: Broken Promises or a Failure in Communication.” Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs. Apr. 2007. 29.1. 33-54. Print. Academic Search Premier.

Sample Transcripts

Me: Julia you’re from Burma, correct?

Julia: Correct.

Me: Why did and your family move to the U.S.?

Julia: Actually, it’s just Me and my brother. We came as international students. So like umm, we just came for studying and the education.

Me: Just for the education.

Julia: Yes.

Me: But you would think about moving back?

Julia: Yeah, I guess I would, like after graduation maybe.

Me: Maybe.

Julia: Yeah, because I need to get more experience, more experience here first. Maybe I might or if it goes well then I’ll stay here.

Me: Ok, so um, is there anything here that uh, that you believe that’s worth while staying here for?

Julia: Yeah, probably the, probably, because of the law, because in Burma the (inaudible), yeah because the different… there’s too much restriction for the business major. Because, like, if you want some company you need like…until of 2015 we wouldn’t actually know how it goes; the politics and Burma goes so we’re not really sure. So…

Me: And that’s what your major is, business?

Julia: Yes, [my] major is business.

Me: Ok, what was uh, and you were there from what age?

Julia: I was there from like, before I turned 17. Around 17 years

Me: Is there something you’ll never forget as a child in Burma?

Julia: Well, there’re lots of things, like going on the field trip with friend in school, and there are lots of evens that I, you know, like I get to go with my family for vacation but there wasn’t anything particular. (inaudible)

Me: Ok, and uumm, so you friends, so like were there different groups there where you were treated differently like?

Julia: No.

Me: Because I was reading about the military takeover.

Julia: Oh, right. There is that, like, there like different groups like normal people and there are the military. Right now it’s going sort of well, but in the past there are only two kind of groups normal people and the military and the military gets you know, better how do you say, uh, they get lots of opportunities, chances, in terms of business and stuff while normal people have to try hard. And you know for military you can bribe and stuff. Like it’s easy to get rich for the military.

Me: I see. So they are like the upper class?

Julia: Yeah, sort of like that.

Me: Wow, so any one can be part of the military?

Julia: It depends, yeah, it sort of depends. It’s been for years so, well there is actually, well anyone can be military but it does not mean like, all, everyone in the military gets to be you know, upper class.

Me: Ok.

Julia: It’s for the higher ranked.

Me: And you’ve never had any harsh experiences while you were there or with any of these divisions or…

Julia: No.

Me: I imagined, like any other country, it’s different from the U.S., so is there any particular culture shock you had here?

Julia: Well, the first thing I was shocked, well it’s not actually culture, but ten, no I wasn’t really shocked but then it was something, wasn’t something I was comfortable with first, at first like when you see each other, you greet when you hug right? But in Burma, it wasn’t like that. It’s sort of like hard for me to respond like when people hug but I’m getting used to it.

Me: And these would be friends, right?

Julia: Yeah, these would be friends.

Me: So, even friends in Burma don’t usually hug?

Julia: No, they don’t hug—they just usually greet. You know, pat on the shoulder but no hugs. Except for like, couples.

Me: Is there any cultural reasons for why they don’t hug or…

Julia: Not really, because, uh, especially between you know different genders. Yeah, I mean, the opposite gender. Because like in Burma it’s like since the old age where girls and boys are like treated differently. So like girls, they have lots of restriction that girls can’t do.

Me: And so if they hug a male…

Julia: Because it’s like how society view them.

Me: How does society view them?

Julia: For example, [if] a girl has too many boyfriends, it’s not really good for the girl. I mean how the society view the girl. So like, you know like, they don’t think good of them. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter right now. In the past it really matters. For mothers, they’re still under the tradition.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about your closest friends in Burma and your closest friends here?

Julia: Actually, my closest friend here is also Burmese, so like, how do you want me to tell them?

Me: I was wondering if you would just, uh, compare the two like if you had any close friends you have in the US back to your friends back home.

Julia: How we communicate?

Me: How you communicate, um, your different beliefs, um, how you do you interact, values…

Julia: Even my friends from Burma, they, some of them, they actually go here. So different how we view things. Like, the Burmese way of tradition where things are like going out late at night is not really good, for girls. It’s not really good to go out late at night but for here you know, we can just go out. And like friends will come out at night. At first, it was hard for me to do it. And later I get used to it.

Me: How did you feel when you were called out late at night? Was it for like, parties or just to drink?

Julia: Yeah, just to go and drink, because they know I wouldn’t go if it was for party, so it’s just for drinks for now. Maybe for parties later, I guess. Because we don’t actually party in Burma, so.

Me: Do you think that if you decide to go back to Burma you will miss going out late whenever you want?

Julia: Well, sort of. Well, it’s not actually hard. It’s harder for not how society views it, more how our parents restrict us from going out.

Me: To you, what does it mean to be Burmese?

Julia: There are lots of restriction but I sort of like it. In a way, they draw a border for how much a girl can do. But I guess if a US person go to Burma and follow the tradition, I think they would be so restricted and so they wouldn’t be able to follow it because it’s too much restriction you couldn’t do this or that. There are lots of things you can’t do.

Me: What is TV like in Burma? Or, like, when you read a newspapers, the media, what is it like if you were to compare it to what you see here? For me, living in the US, when I turn on the TV, it’s always someone gets murdered, or some bad news, or lots of sex, and you know.

Julia: We have different channels. Well, we can either watch channels that are related yes but also there are local channels. But for local channels it’s mainly how the military’s doing good for the society. So surface, same with the newspaper. They don’t dare write bad things about the military. It’s like for here, they are more open for what’s going on. So Burma, if you write anything bad about the military the guy would get in trouble.

Me: I see, so, when you see any of this going on in the United States, where we talk about, you know, the senator getting in trouble, we point out things , just like basically everything you see. Were you surprised?

Julia: I was sort of expecting it.

Me: Oh, you were expecting it?

Julia: Just like how it’s restricted in Burma, there are also some philosophy how the U.S. can be saying this stuff if it is on the news and stuff so you can sort of imagine how it would go here.

Me: And did you have any feeling or a thought that like before you got here that you can do what you want?

Julia: Yes, sort of, a bit.

Me: Because, that seems to be something a lot of people think. Oh, you go to the U.S you do what you want.

Julia: Well, I guess there are some laws and restriction.

Me: So your country doesn’t have a set curfew for women?

Julia: You mean how we get back home?

Me: There is no law for the curfew?

Julia: No.

Me: Here, they tried to at one point to make a law. I come from Chicago, so I’m not from California. At one point, they tried to make a law there was a law that if anyone under age 17 that if they are out pass a certain time, the police can pick them up and take them to their parents’ house and give them a ticket.

Julia: That’s different.

Me: Yeah, I don’t know if they’re still doing that now but Chicago has really bad crime. A lot of a lot of the crime is done by young people.

Julia: I guess it didn’t go really well.

Me: I don’t think it did but, I left Chicago when it was going on.

Julia: Well, just parents do the curfew.

Me: Was it hard to be a transfer student?

Julia: I was expecting it to be hard but it wasn’t as hard as I think, because I thought maybe, you know, uh, I would have, you know, because this is a community college, so I was expecting since it’s college, I was expecting really, really high education and that I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t understand it. But, then, unexpectedly, I think I understood it well. I think it’s because there are lots of lots of classes that start from the basics, right? I was expecting not to start at the basic and just go to the high level.

Me: I think, what I’m trying to ask you is if it was physically hard to come to school here from Burma. Did you have a program or something to help you get over?

Julia: No. Umm, I think it’s mainly because my brother is here, so he is the one who handles all the stuff. So I just go.

Me: Is he a citizen here?

Julia: No, international student.

Me: So, right now your brother is probably the closest person you have. But is there anyone in your family you’re close to, like your mom or dad uncle aunt?

Julia: Yeah, I’m really close to my family but I don’t meet them.

Me: I mean, like, emotionally. For me, I was always close to my grandmother because she was always there, and she always supported me and made me feel good about myself and stuff like that.

Julia: I guess it would be my mother.

Me: And she pretty much supports what you do?

Julia: Yeah. If she doesn’t like it, she would say it but it’s up to me to decide on it.

Me: How did she feel about you coming here?

Julia: Actually, she support it.

Me: I was wondering if your mom was worried.

Julia: Oh yeah, she super worried but she worried too much she would always say like on Skype we communicate, like be careful and stuff and repeating the whole thing. And even my brother say she is like a recorder saying it over and over again. But then she also knows she can’t do anything so she can’t just come here and stop me. It’s actually hard to get a visa to come here.

Me: You brought up the military, that if you wrote something bad about the military you get in trouble. Do you go to jail?

Julia: Yeah, you either go to jail or sometimes the public does not know what happens.

Me: Oh, I see, like you go like missing, or they can’t find you.

Julia: Well, I think it’s mainly the jail, that person normally goes to jail for writing a small piece of news in the newspapers. I think they get sentenced to like around two digits a year like either 50 years or 30 years, I guess. Because I hear lots of news from the TV, like private news. Private means like the military are not aware of it but there is no locals listen to it. I think they are called like V.O.A.

Me: Wow, you said like 50 years?

Julia: From what I know, there are people, like, actually, there was a riot going on in 1988. I guess then those people that was against the military were put in jail and I guess they’ve been there for like 50 years.

Me: Because of that, do you know how your parents feel about the military or anything? They never talk about it, right?

Julia: Well, they do actually.

Me: So, they talk about how they feel about the military at home?

Julia: Yeah, sort of, they do. Actually, all the time.

Me: But it’s not good it.

Julia: Well, you can talk between families because they normally do. But then as long as long as you don’t do it by action, it don’t really matter.

Me: Oh, so you can say something outside.

Julia: Actually, 90 percent of people say their something outside.

Me: But as long as they don’t write it in the newspaper.

Julia: Newspaper, or like every, you know, everybody actually knows whether they write it in the newspaper or not. As long as they don’t act it out, take actions. Because, you know, like I can’t remember the time, but there was a year when there was a riot again. It was recent. I think in 2005 or 2003, where the military shot lots of people.

Me: The protesters for the riot, they weren’t breaking anything, were they?

Julia: No, they were just, you know, on the street rioting. They were just going against power.

Me: Kind of like here with signs and talking.

Julia: Yeah, it’s like going against power.

Me: You see that a lot here. There was something called the umm…
[baby is crying loudly]

Me: I’m just gonna wait.

Me: So we had something called the Occupy Movement, where people were gathering and protesting the fairness for all the money that rich people make and how poor people get more poor. Were you here during that time?

Julia: No, I just am here like 2012, I guess.

Me: Yeah, that was around this time, so you didn’t see it?

Julia: No, I don’t read that much of the news.

Me: Ok, I was wondering if that made you nervous.

Julia: Well, not really because I was expecting this kind of stuff to happen and government won’t do as much, take that much of action like in Burma.

Me: How do the Burmese in general see the United States in general?

Julia: Freedom of speech, I guess.

Me: That’s it?

Julia: There was a thing about how people be free. It was more how the whole world would describe as democracy.

Me: One thing that people think about the United States is freedom, this freedom that, but did anything about, like, did you guys know anything about the racism or the discrimination that goes on?

Julia: I sort of know it but for general reason most of the adults in there, they normally think more to the how there is freedom because of the different leadership. More politics than racism. They think more about politics in Burma. Actually, in Burma, we don’t have racism; everything is equal. You know, equally likely. So, yeah, we don’t really actually think much of it.

Me: Even here in San Francisco, it was very racist towards Asians or anyone of Asian descent, just basically anyone who is not white. Even during World War 2, where they took the Japanese and put them into internment camps. Back then everyone Asian looked Japanese. Sometimes they would put Chinese and you know everyone there. And that happened only like more than 50 years ago. I was wondering if anyone knows about the things that happened like that.

Julia: Ummm, no.

Me: I figured. So, how do you feel about the military takeover or the politics?

Julia: Well, actually right now the military takeover is over in Burma. They’re trying to get back to like, closer to democracy. Because Aung San Suu Kyi right? You know, the lady in Burma? Aung San Suu Kyi?

Me: Yeah.

Julia: She was actually under house arrest until recently so, like, since she came out, she is trying to change the policy in Burma. She is trying to put Burma into the part of democracy. However, some people, because of the promises she make, promises she make with some people about how she would change the policy and laws, but there are some people who are impatient. They want it really recent.

Me: Like right now.

Julia: Yeah, right now. So, in those cases, I actually really thought like those kind of people should stop the military from Burma. Some people are patient like they understand how long time, like how long it would to take for the actual things to happen. But for some people, they are impatient; they want it to happen right now. Me and my friend would normally say how they see the military better than how Aung San Suu Kyi is doing the things. We just feel like they aren’t understanding.

Questions Answered by Email [Post Interview]

Me: Hi. Thanks for the interview. I will like to ask a few more questions.

Why do you call your country Burma instead of Myanmar?

Do you practice Buddhism here? How do you?

Julia: Burma was the initial name of the country before it changed to Myanmar in 1989.

However, from my experience, most foreigners use ‘Burma’ more than ‘Myanmar’ to describe my country. I would normally get a response where they asked me where ‘Myanmar’ is and would only get it when I rephrase my words to Burma. Since the name was changed in 1989, during the time when I learned my language, it would be written in a way where it would be pronounced “Myanmar” but we still call people in our country “Burmese.” Because “Burma” is the name that was given to our country by the hero and savior of the country, “Aung San,” so some people continue to believe that it is the actual name for the country.

I am a Buddhist so I do practice Buddhism but I am not the orthodox type. I am not familiar with what is in San Francisco so I rarely visit and pay respect at the monastery here. However, I say my prayers every day as a way to respect both Buddha and my family at home. Although we normally have a Buddha statue at home, since I am temporary living in San Francisco, I don’t have that. I believe that what matters is that I pray from my heart and soul and that physical form is not required in order to practice Buddhism.
Hopes this help. If you have further questions, feel free to ask me.

Me: I was wondering if you have a preference for calling you’re county Burma or Myanmar, and if you do, then why?

Julia: I guess I missed answering the actual question. I, myself, do not have any preferences to how I call my country, maybe because I am part of a younger generation who has lesser interest in politics. However, there are still some people who choose to call Burma than Myanmar. The reason I could think of would probably the fact that Burma is given by Aung San (father of the country) and people want to honor the name he had given, especially when the government and the citizens were not on a really good term when the name was changed.

Me: Also, can you describe the place you grew up, like your neighborhood? And the people who live around you? Was it peaceful, lively?

Also, can you tell me more about the statement, “we don’t have racism in Burma”? or did you mean it another way, maybe or is it just for where you live?

Julia: I used to live in an apartment, the bottom floor. What is different from the apartment in Burma and the apartments here is that in Burma, apartments are cheaper and more affordable because of they are not as spacious as single housing. It is fun living in apartments in Burma because without making much effort, neighbors just surround us before we know it. There are also quite a lot of stores and food stands around that neighborhood. There are a lot of festivals in Burma and that is one of the ways that we become close to our neighbors.

However, my family later moved to a single housing neighborhood. Things are not as lively as before. People would only greet when we need face to face. Other than that, everyone is busy with his/her own chores and jobs. It is kind of lonely in that house and sometimes I miss my times in the apartment.

As for the question on racism, it would be wrong to say that there is no racism going on. It is probably the way and place I grew up in that I didn’t have to deal with such matters. In the apartment neighborhood I lived in, we have lots of people of color for our neighbors. And I don’t see any problems between our neighbors and they are also really great people. They would share the sweets they made on their religious festival to everyone in the neighborhood.

The case of racism was not really that bad that it would cause trouble in the past. However, there are hot topics on issues close to racism and discrimination in the past year. It is still going on. I guess you can check on “Rohingya” in Burma and you might be able to find the conflicts happening in Burma. This is the latest topic that would relate to racism in Burma.

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader
by C.K. Ramsey, May 2014

Inspired by Voice of Witness–a San Francisco non-profit dedicated to the use of oral history to elucidate the personal accounts of human rights abuses suffered by undocumented immigrants living and working on the fringes of American society–this argumentative essay project endeavors to give voice to immigrants and their unique American experiences. Although our class project is inspired by Voice of Witness, we have chosen to expand our pool of witnesses to include not just those who have endured human rights abuses, but anyone with a contemporary immigration narrative they wish to share. Lujain Alobaide is a fellow classmate from Iraq, who has graciously agreed to share his story with me. Lujain is an intelligent young man with progressive views on a range of topics, most of which we touched on in our extensive interview. We discussed everything from his image of home and family in Iraq, his immigration experience, impression of America and its citizens, to politics and homosexuality, as well as religion and race.

Lujain’s romanticized image of life in Iraq is most likely rooted in the fact that he was a very young child when he lived there, unaware of the privileges his family may have enjoyed considering that they, and the country’s former leader–Saddam Hussein–are Sunnis and occupied the nexuses of power in the nation. I doubt that Shias and Kurds would share his view of Iraq during the era of Hussein. His view on LGBT rights is quite liberal–he supports equal rights for LGBT Americans–but his opinion of homosexuality is surely entrenched in Islamic philosophy that is emphatic in its connection to nurture rather than nature as the source of behavior. But it is his belief that discrimination based on skin color is non-existent among Muslims that was most surprising. He states emphatically that Islamic instruction has settled the issue of racism within the Muslim faith, but there is no escaping history’s impact on the present. All the major religions have histories of racism, and those histories of race and religion contribute to our current attitudes toward people of color, whether you are Christian or Muslim, Black or White. With these topics aside, I have chosen for the purpose of this essay to focus on how the experiences of his young life have changed his concept of home and family, concluding that his journey from Iraq to America has expanded said concept from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to one that includes a new reality of home and family in his new homeland, while he struggles to extricate himself from the grips of familial discord.

Born in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, before the American invasion in 2003, Lujain enjoyed a middle-class life of comfort and security with his mother and two brothers, in a house owned by his grandfather, along with two uncles, an aunt, and their children. His parents were divorced, and his father lived in the United Arab Emirates, where he worked as a civil engineer. Forced to flee Iraq to escape escalating sectarian and ethnic violence unleashed by the American invasion of 2003, he and his family found themselves living in the United Arab Emirates with the man he felt abandoned them. Lujain would be pressed to create a new definition of home in a new land, with a father he didn’t know.

A huge smile stretches across his face as the warmth of happy memories of close family ties and a carefree life flood the room when Lujain talks about growing up in Iraq. Although his parents are divorced and he has very little contact with his father, he still looks back on this time with fondness: “I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely, probably was the best time of my life…I know we had like a really big happy family…” He lived in a large multi-generational home built by his grandfather, with his mother, two brothers, and a host of cousins, aunts, and uncles that filled the space left vacant by his father’s absence. He speaks fondly about school, and a life without “concerns,” although his memory may be impacted by his age at the time. Tisha Ornstein and Lixia Yang, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Psychology at Ryerson University, suggest in their article “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults,” that “…the emotion-focused orientation instruction at free recall strengthened the emotional enhancement effect, particularly the positivity bias, in young adults,” meaning that, if we hear positive things about a particular time or place–even if we were too young to truly remember events ourselves–we will create positive associations with that time or place. I believe the necessity of positive memories is paramount to Lujain’s positive associations with national identity and concepts of home and family.

To focus on what he remembers as positive from his childhood assists him in contending with the painful absence of his father, a subject that surfaces immediately in our discussion: h states, “…even though there was a part of me, you know—I don’t have a dad, I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him—he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared,” suggesting to me that, even though this may have been a happy time in his life, the absence of his father impacts his memories of this time perhaps more than he realizes. He has to remember this time as happy so as not to deal with the vacuum his father’s absence created. According to Dennis Balcom in his article “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons,” appearing in The Journal of Men’s Studies, “Paradoxically, abandoned sons often have intense feelings related to their fathers…The son’s reaction leads him to reject the importance of his father,” which explains the dismissive tone in Lujain’s voice when talking about his dad. “Until the son acknowledges his unfulfilled needs and longing for his father, he can remain in turmoil about himself…” While I didn’t notice any indication of inner turmoil, this could be due to the role his uncles played in his life. Assuming the place left vacant by his father—“they are like my real fathers, more than my own”—their presence was no doubt valuable in his nurturing, and in the creation of a strong sense of self. Reminiscing about the place where family unity and a life without violence and ethnic unrest still existed inadvertently exposed a wound left untreated by the absence of a parent, an absence that, when juxtaposed against the presence of his uncles, feeds his concept of family in Iraq.

The smile is gone; the warm happy memories have turned into cold recriminations against the liberators who promised freedom, but instead deprived him of the home and family he had come to cherish and rely on. Life in Iraq after the American invasion had descended into violence and chaos: “It was really bad…one of the things that I remember…there was a, you know, they bombed a car…they put a bomb there, and it exploded…a lot of people get killed, and it was really nearby my house…it was really scary…” According to Lujain, the American invasion unleashed sectarian violence and threats of invasion from Iran, Iraq’s closest and most feared neighbor, which Saddam Hussein, through fear and intimidation, managed to keep at bay, a point confirmed by Savera Someshwar, Managing Editor of, in her article “Iraqi society has been extremely polarized.” “What started as a US-led coalition invasion to topple Saddam Hussein turned into one of the most brutal sectarian conflicts the modern world has seen…a terrible communal bloodbath that is still continuing,” not to liberate and free the people from the clutches of a dictator, but instead to gain control of the country’s vast oil reserves, “more like colonialism stuff,” he said. He also believes, like many Iraqis, that it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to depose Saddam Hussein and liberate their own country. He railed against the devastation done to his country by the so-called liberators: “…you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?” Home for Lujain and his fellow Iraqis had become a minefield of terror and violence, ripping apart families, destabilizing the security and economy of the nation, pitting religious factions against one another, and destroying the home of his memories, thanks to the benevolence of their liberators, the U.S. government.

Life became so unbearable in Iraq that the family fled and was forced to turn to the father that had abandoned them for assistance. “He called my dad and talked to him, and my dad finally have some emotion I guess, and he said, ‘OK I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys.’” Lujain was visibly upset by the memory of having to ask the man he felt rejected him for help. If there was anyone else the family could have contacted for help, his face told me, they would have. So, against his better judgment, he and his family went to Jordan, and eventually moved to the United Arab Emirates with a man he didn’t even recognize when he saw him on the street: “I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like OK that’s him.” It had been years since the last time he’d seen his father; he was still a very young child – four or five years old – when his parents divorced and was now twelve years old, having not seen his father in all that time. “Preparing the abandoned son to engage the absent father begins with clarifying the son’s unspoken wishes. What did he always want to say…ask…share with his father?” (Balcom 6). There wasn’t time for any of this for Lujain or the family, and the reunion turned out to be disaster. “It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life…” A year into the reunion, his parents’ relationship began to go downhill, and, according to Lujain, it was his father’s inability to come to terms with abandoning his family, that most likely lead to his parents’ divorce in the first place. Whichever is the case, life in the United Arab Emirates was fraught with contention and Lujain found himself ensconced within the dynamics of a family that were as chaotic as the nation he was forced to flee. Could he create home under these conditions?

After an antagonistic five years together, the Alobaide family decided to immigrate to America, a decision precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008, which limited employment opportunities for the father. The immigration process proved humiliating for Lujain: “…it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time. She would like as you a question like; when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people?” With Saddam Hussein deposed, Shia and Kurdish communities that had suffered violent human rights abuses at the hands of Hussein’s Ba’athist government targeted Sunnis, whom they associated with Saddam. But Lujain points out that not all Sunnis liked or supported Saddam, nor was he a man motivated by faith: “Saddam was pretty much a secular guy, he never cared about Islam or any religion, if he had done so he wouldn’t have been the dictator he had became.” Unfortunately, the opportunity to discover that they shared a universal distaste for their former leader was lost, and differences were inflamed by an occupying nation’s desire to colonize the region and exploit its natural resources. The nation’s oil reserves were the targets of daily attacks by Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, whose sole purpose was to further destabilize the country and gain control of the nation’s economy, in competition with the occupying force. Law and order were non-existent; looting and kidnapping were on the rise, and the country responsible for unleashing this reign of terror on their homeland was now asking them if they would be a threat to this nation. In an interview with John Malkin of Voices For Creative Nonviolence, Iraqi national Walid Waleed talked about what he and his fellow Iraqis have experienced since the invasion in 2003: “On 9th March 2003 my cousin was injured…an American soldier shot her…” Waleed’s cousin was wearing an Arabic dishdasha–a long sleeved collarless garment–which was black, the same color Saddam Hussein’s fighters wore. The soldier couldn’t tell the difference because, according to Waleed, he “…he didn’t have the knowledge to see the fashion of women in an Arabic country.” Throughout the interview, Waleed goes on to describe the difficulty of living without the everyday conveniences most westerners take for granted: “security, electricity, fuel (gasoline, kerosene, cooking gas), jobs, education, medical care, and to get back our houses, which had been looted by Almahdy army, the correct spelling is al-Mahdi. Although Lujain and I had a good laugh about the ridiculous question asked by the immigration interviewer, it was obvious to us both that there was nothing funny about it considering what his country was enduring. The family was approved to immigrate to America, and Lujain would once again have to expand his concept of home and family to include a new homeland, and a new set of obstacles his family would face there.

A new beginning in America would include a new perception of the American people. “I had a lot of hatred towards Americans…I was like, those people who killed my people.” Understandably, Lujain’s view of American was negative considering what the American invasion did to his country. One of his relatives was jailed in Abu Ghraib prison, and witnessed many of the abuses suffered at the hands of American military personnel: “…they would be creative in the ways they tortured people,” he states. His bitterness rose to the surface when discussing the perceptions he believes Americans have of his people “terrorist,” “ignorant,” and “uneducated.” Susan Akram, writing for the Arab Studies Quarterly, suggests that “The demonization of Arabs and Muslims in America began well before the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001,” and has been used to justify America’s neo-colonialist Middle East foreign policy, the vilification of Palestinians to justify support of the Israeli governments theft of Palestinian homeland, and US military interest in securing the natural resources–oil–of Arab countries to be exact. Moving to America has changed Lujain’s opinion of the American people. He no longer believes that all Americans hold negative stereotypes about Iraqis and want to hurt them: “…it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason…you can have a discussion with them.” He says he now understands that people often rely on stereotypes rather than knowledge of different cultures before forming opinions about particular groups. His concept of home and family has expanded to include America and her people.

Like most Americans, Lujain’s view of his new government and its political system is still in the love-hate stage. “We…definitely…have democracy, at least if you compare it to…other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem.” He believes the American people don’t pay enough attention to what is going on in other countries, and don’t always consider the impact our policies have on people around the world. He may be partially correct—most Americans don’t know much about our nation’s foreign policy—but it’s a mistake on his part to believe that people from other countries know any more about their nation’s foreign policy. I’ve often found that immigrants from other countries that I have spoken with are misinformed about foreign policy decisions made by this nation and theirs. But our foreign policy isn’t the only thing he has an issue with; he doesn’t understand why the richest, most powerful nation in the world would have such a dismal educational system or homelessness: “…and the…shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care…” He pointed out that even in Iraq everyone had access to health care, guaranteed free education from elementary school to college, and there was no such thing as homelessness, until after the American invasion. It would have been great if I could have defended America on these issues, but I couldn’t. Lujain was carving out a home for himself in a country that afforded him the ability to speak his mind on any subject, rather than the fear of doing so in his former homeland.

While he has grown to accept and embrace his new homeland–flaws and all–his nuclear family is still at odds with one another. When I suggested that the transition to this country had been tough on his family, he agreed: “Oh, definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other.” He claims that both his parents want to play the “victim role,” most likely exacerbated by the fact that his father isn’t working: “…when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process,” a man, who can’t support his family, and doesn’t always feel like a man. His brother is struggling to find his niche; he’s worked in maintenance, in a hotel, driven a taxi. “Now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he’s actually created a lot of problems for the family as well.” We didn’t discuss his brother much, but perhaps he isn’t having as easy a time adjusting to life in America as Lujain. It would be interesting to hear his point of view on America, and how he feels about living here. What is clear is the almost non-existent relationship between Lujain and his father. They barely speak to one another except for the occasional “hi and sometimes goodnight.” Consequently, Lujain spends most of his time, as much as he can, away from home. “The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep,” he stated. “Marital conflict can cause adjustment issues, complicate conflict resolution styles and alter emotional security,” according to Melody Causewell, of Life in America has provided Lujain with opportunities he did not have in Iraq, opened his mind to different people and cultures, and has impacted his concept of home both positively and negatively.

Lujain’s concept of home has expanded from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to include the reality of a new life in America with all the freedom and privileges citizenship affords him, while caught within parental discord. Unlike Iraq, America offers Lujain options that can allow him to change his family dynamic. He can encourage his parents, and his entire family to get counseling, or as a last result, he can convince his mother to divorce his father. Whichever decision they make, they are not alone, many American families experience conflict as a result of infidelity, economic instability, battles over how to raise the children, or for many other reasons. Fortunately for Lujain, his family can come through these difficult times and survive. He can never relive his memories of family life in Iraq, but he and his family can conceive and create a new American family to rival those memories.

Works Cited

“Lujain Alobaide.” Personal interview. 21 Mar. 2014.

Akram, Susan M. “The Aftermath of September 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and

Muslims in America.” Arab Studies Quarterly 24.2/3 (2002): 1-61. Ethnic NewsWatch. Web. 16 May 2014. <;.

Balcom, Dennis A. “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 6.N3 (1998): 1-25. Gale. Web. 25 Apr. 2014. <;.

Causewell, Melody. “The Psychological Effects of Marital Conflicts on Adolescents.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 18 June 2013. Web. 14 May 2014.

Malkin, John. “Life in Iraq: An Interview – February 2008.” Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Feb. 2008. Web. 16 May 2014.

Someshwar, Savera R. “Iraqi Society Has Been Extremely Polarized.” India Abroad 38.25 (2008): 1-2. ProQuest. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <;.

Ornstein, Tisha J., and Lixia Yang. “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults.” EBSCO. Apr. 2011. Web. 20 May 2014.

Lujain’s Transcript

C.K. Ramsey: We know you were born in Iraq, What was your life like there?

Lujain Alobaide: First I can tell you my life before and after maybe the war if you would be interested in that.

CR: Which war, do you mean the American invasion?

LA: In 2003, yea so basically even before the war, I mean technically my parents were technically divorced. I was living with my aunt, my uncle I have two uncles, my aunt, and my grandpa they all have like their kids and my family. I have like two other brothers and my mom, we were all living in the same house it was a really big house. Like I don’t know eight rooms or something like eight bedrooms, yea it was really big, it was my grandfather’s house because, as I told you my parents were technically divorced, and my father was in the United Arab of Emirates. During that time I think they were divorced in somewhere in 1998, and I was really young I was somewhere like four years old. I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely probably was the best time of my like because you know I was a kid, and you know I know we had like a really big happy family you could say. Like you know with my uncles aunts and stuff I was technically really happy you know, go to school there were no concerns and stuff even though there was a part of me you know, I don’t have a dad I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him, he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared because he just came, like the second time I ever saw him after they divorced was after seven years, no it was actually even more, yea cause the second time I saw him was in 2006 and it was not in Iraq anyway, we’ll back, we’ll come back to that I guess, so he after they like, after they divorced they technically came, I mean he technically came once before he traveled you know, he just came and bring some candies, I remember and then after that I never seen him. He maybe he, I mean my brother, my oldest brother, he sometime call him like maybe and we talk like once in each six months over the phone and less than one minute so there is like a really big gap that still affects us until today

CR: Yea growing up without a dad is tough. So you say your brother talks to him every six months?

LA: Yea, I also like, I like probably when I grow up more when I was maybe 11 or 12 actually. I probably talk to him like really maybe 1 minute or so.

CR: What did your father do for a living?

LA: He’s civil engineer.

CR: Did your mom work?

LA: My mom during that time no.

CR: Your family in Iraq, you say you had a big house so would you say you lived a middle-class lifestyle?

LA: Uh you could say that, because it was actually my grandfather who built it, and my aunt, I mean you can see we were definitely dependent on my uncles, they are more like they are like they are really my fathers, they are like my real fathers more than my own you can say even though I living with my actual dad right now, which we can talk about later its really complicated.

CR: Do families in Iraq tend to live together in multi-generational households?

LA: They do that as long as you know it’s a big house and there’s no problems, you know sometimes when the kids they got married they go out they buy new house, but usually if you are talking about in terms of middle-class or working-class I mean like maybe it’s just my point of view, like maybe especially like before, maybe 90 percent of the people they had their own house, it was really to see a person who is renting or is homeless there is no such a thing.

CR: No such thing as homelessness?

LA: No not before the war that’s for sure.

CR: What was the environment like was it urban like San Francisco, or rural?

LA: It was definitely mixed but in terms of my life we lived in the capital, which was more like, you can’t really say like San Francisco, San Francisco is really much more modern than Bagdad. During that time I lived near by the airport which was good before the war, but during the war and after, it was really big problem because there was almost the major battles happened there, it was kind of just normal place there were no mall or fancy buildings no.

CR: What about school, were they like American schools or were they traditional religious schools?

LA: I wouldn’t say really religious, but the education system there is fundamentally different than here, that is definitely for sure, ah the school before the war it was good but it was kind of like, they really glorify the president of the country you know, that kind of dictatorship like in every page of the book like when you open the book there is a page that has the picture of Saddam Hussein who was the president of Iraq at the time, as you probably know, and perhaps some excerpts of things that he said some quotes and stuff.

CR: What did you think of Saddam Hussein?

LA: Well that’s a good question, but you really have to know that as a person, I mean he’s definitely a dictatorship you know there’s no argument about that, but if you compare the country in his era and afterwards it would definitely, even the people who hate him they would definitely tell you that when we were in his era there was life much better than now, at least we have some kind of security and stability, now we could anything could happen a bomb or something could kill a lot of people now there is a lot of blood.

CR: Although you may not have liked him, you felt safer when he was in power and there was a better standard of living?

LA: Definitely.

CR: Are you a Sunni, or?

LA: I am a Sunni.

CR: What are the different factions?

LA: Well there is the Sunni and there is the Shia and there is the Curds but the Curds are kind of centered in the north area.

CR: What’s the difference?

LA: Well its basically they’re all Muslims the Sunni and the Shia, it’s really an old you know a kind of stupid argument I would call it because there’s no actual arguments there’s just this has been created you know for when you want to have make a civil war or something they will play on this, the difference between them. When the prophet Mohammed, of the Muslims, when he died there has to be like a successor for him, and during that time there were like four men they called the righteous successors, ah there was their names are Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali ibu Abi Talib, they came after the prophet they succeeded him. The Shia believe that his son-in-law, Ali should be the first successor after him because they believe that the Caliph, you know the one that succeeded the prophet should be from the household of the prophet not anyone else, while the Sunni’s believe that the one who should succeed the prophet could be anyone but he had to meet the certain eligibilities, he doesn’t have to be within the household of the prophet, but again this really did not came into place until maybe 500 hundred or more years after the prophet had died so it’s kind of like even ridiculous how things are being now.

CR: So it’s kind of like Christianity in that when Jesus died we got Jews, Catholics, Baptist, and whatever, with everyone saying we’re the real ones, and someone else saying, no we’re the real ones, that kind of thing?

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Why did you come to America?

LA: Well we came to it’s kind of like we’re really jumping around cause I mean first of all before we came to America I have to tell you about it.

CR: OK, tell me.

LA: Well after the war you know it was really difficult because there was all kind of civil war all kind of you know people get killed there was a lot incidents that happen to me and my family and to my uncles.

CR: Are these things the Americans did, or because of the American invasion?

LA: It’s definitely because of the American invasion because when they invade the country there was no kind of sovereignty, there was not like one person, there was no specific group that is taking control. There was like Iran our neighbor, you know the country Iran, they was like controlling some areas, there was like Americans, there was like all kind of those players. It was really bad, I mean after 2006 there was a civil war which we had never had before as long as I remember, the first time I knew what Sunni and Shia mean was in 2006 when that happened, ah there was a lot of incidents. One of the things that I remember, we were building a new room in my grandfather’s house and there was a you know they bombed a car, you know they put a lot of bombs there and it exploded somehow, and I don’t know how they remote control maybe, somehow a lot of people get killed and it was really nearby my house, and so I was walking like, I was on a ladder and I was just climbing up and that happens. I almost fell down, it was really scary, and then they did some nasty things. One of the nasty things they did at that time, and people when you see people getting killed and stuff you do, you know what do you do, you call the ambulance and you get help and stuff, so people would be like really crowded right so they do really nasty thing they would put another bomb another car and they would also bomb it so when people was like you know get really packed and crowded they would bomb the second one.

CR: How did the Iraqi people view the Americans, did they see us as people coming to help, or did they see it as an invasion, people there to do more harm than good?

LA: Well you’re talking about just my opinion or the Iraqi people?

CR: Either one, your opinion or things you may have heard about how people felt about the Americans.

LA: Well I would say that the majority of the people know that the United States wanted to invade Iraq, not to free us definitely it was more like maybe oil purpose you know more like colonialism stuff you know, it was not about freeing people. I could really give you a rational answer for that, if you compare the status of the country before and after the invasion, you compare that and you will know definitely that the, I would call it the occupation or the invasion, it was not to free people definitely and a lot of people thought that too. On the other hand they also wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, so there was this and that. I think like there should have been a kind of like revolution to make that guy step down without you know a phony intervention.

CR: You felt it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to get him out and we should have just minded our business?

LA: Yea definitely, definitely, I mean definitely because I mean you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. I was happy, I was just living there and everything was, I hadn’t had any concerns before even though I had problems with my dad that wasn’t a big problem, it was OK you know, I’m not going to be homeless, I’m going to have food to eat you know, education was free even in the university it was all free I mean you just came in and you try to free me. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?

CR: When you came to America and you heard how people in this country talked about the invasion did you think we just didn’t get it, did you think the we didn’t know the truth that maybe our government didn’t tell us the truth about the reasons we went over there, or that we just didn’t care?

LA: Well to be honest, I felt like some people are really kind of really ignorant about the issue. Cause some people, they don’t even know where Iraq is located, their like oh really your from Iraq, and some others they really sympathized and apologized, and you know it was really nice you know, to see that at least some people they have sympathy, but in my opinion it was like a lot of people, as Americans they are really more concerned about, you know, their lives, their matters. Which is really understandable because they just want to make a living, and they don’t really have a lot of time to watch the news, which is already corrupted, they just want to get some food, get their child a good education. I didn’t feel like people had time to seek this kind of knowledge about wars and stuff, you have no idea. Remember the reason why they invaded, the actual reason they announced in the media. They say that Iraq had a massive amount of weapons of mass destruction, yea and it was never found, and they say Iraq was linked to al Qaeda, which they totally hate each other. I mean if you really think about it, how many people died in 9/11? Three thousand five thousand, ok, do you have any idea how many Iraqis or Pakistanis died in those wars? No let’s just talk about Iraq, maybe it’s like at least two-hundred thousand, that’s just those who died, and millions have been flown out of the country like refugee, and I just come here too as a refugee status.

CR: After experiencing that in Iraq, what was I like to come to this country, the country that invaded your country, and turned your life upside down?

LA: Well it’s a kind a like you don’t really have another choice, well if you stayed in Iraq you most likely will be killed there or something. Because my uncles, they went out of Iraq because they had someone threaten them, they left an envelope and they put one bullet in it, and they said that if you don’t pay us this amount of money we are going to kill you, or kidnap you know. They could do a lot of stuff, and there was a lot of thing actually happening during that time, so they are not lying to you, they would really do that. That’s why my uncles went, but the reason why I went, well before I came here I went to the United Arab Emirates, and how did that happen was, basically my older brother, he wanted to go out of Iraq because when he grow up as a teenager he didn’t feel comfortable in my grandfather’s house, because you know there, it’s kind of like my uncles kids, he have like two daughters, and it’s like another guy who’s also a teenager, and it’s not likable, I don’t know I thinks that’s the reason he wanted to go. In a teenage.

CR: Is this a custom thing, where men of a certain age, shouldn’t be around girls of a certain age?

LA: I think so, yea. I mean, I think my uncle didn’t like my brother being there at that time. I think so. I mean that’s what I get from what happened, like he never told him, you need to go, no never, and they were actually planning to give us a separate apartment, that was the plan, and then it changed. He called my dad, and talked to him, and my dad finally have, some emotion I guess, and he said ok I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys. And then we went there, we went there with my auntie, like my brothers sister, which I almost never knew before, and we went on a trip, by car, we drove to Jordon, and here’s the funny thing, we went to a place and we stayed with my father’s sister. Before he came my brother was going to the mall, and my brother was walking in that neighborhood, and then my father came, and my father, he shout at him and say hey, I don’t remember what he said I’m not sure, but like my brother didn’t recognize him, he was like who’s this guy, and he just went on.

CR: You hadn’t seen him in so long. Did you know who he was?

LA: I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like ok that’s him.

CR: It must have been tough growing up without a dad, huh?

LA: Yea definitely, but it was even tougher to live with him, I would say, because what is happening now, technically it’s not, well here’s the thing, when he comes and then after that my uncle’s family they all fled and they just went out of Iraq, and they all came to live in Jordan, my father got reunited with my mom, which in my point of view, that should never, ever had happened you know. If I were like maybe at this age, or two years, or maybe one years ago, I would never, I would never, allow this to happen. It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life, you know. We went to the United Arab Emirates with him and my mom, we stayed there for like five years before we came to the United States, well the reason why we left the United Arab Emirates is because after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a big change in the construction business, so you know the projects were really slowing down, and there was like a lot of financial problems in his job, so my uncle during that time, he decided he would apply to an organization called the international organization for immigration, so he applied, and he helped us and somehow, and we applied through him, I guess, and we had our first interview. We flew from the United Arab Emirates to Jordan, we had like several interviews, they like ask you about your life, they asked you if you give them the permission to, you know, look for every single detail about your life, and we give them that permission, you know, just by security purposes I guess, and there a funny thing that, during one of the interviews, they were like, there were three interviews, the first two you meet with like Jordanian’s, they are like, they are associated with the organization, but the third one, you have to like meet with the American representative or something, and this (he laughs), is really funny. She would ask, it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time, she would like ask you a question, like when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people? (I laugh) I’m serious, she would really ask you that, and you know, it was kind of ridiculous.

CR: Like if someone were going to do, you would really tell them, right?

LA: You know, I mean are you serious? Why are you even asking such a question?

CR: That’s crazy. So, when you first arrived in America, where did you go?

LA: Well, when I first arrived, my uncle came before us, so he set up an apartment, and we went to Daly City. We lived there like for one year almost, and then we went to Pacifica, which is where I reside now. There’s a lot of things going on also, like my parent’s, when we came here, we’ve been here like almost three years, or two, and maybe seven or eight months, out of this time, say maybe two or three months, they have not been talking to each other, they are almost like divorced, but we live in the same place, and they just communicate through me and my brother, which I find is really despicable, they just make our life, you know difficult.

CR: You’ve only been in America like eight months?

LA: No, like two years and eight months.

CR: Oh, two years and eight months. Your English is really great, I’m sure that’s something that people say all the time right? But it is. I know people born and raised here, who can’t speak English.

CR: When I first came, I didn’t really like speak any English, the only words I really knew was like, hi, how are you, good afternoon, you know, that’s it, but I went to high school in Daly City, Westmore, and I really study my ass, and I really like, I really wanted to learn, it was definitely a big shock, it kinda like you were in Mars, and you came to the Earth, like everything was different.

CR: Do you think the schools are better here, or better in Iraq?

LA: No, it’s better definitely here.

CR: Americans complain about the school system here.

LA: Well comparatively.

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: Spoiled?

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: What do you mean, in what sense?

CR: Do you think we don’t appreciate the educational system we have here?

LA: Well no, I don’t think you guys are spoiled, because there is a lot of bad things, I mean there is bad things, but on the other hand there is also some advantages, maybe like Americans complain, about maybe that, I don’t know. What do you guys complain about?

CR: Everything, Americans complain about everything, we’re a spoiled people, we’re used to having a lot?

LA: I think the problem is that, like with the American system it’s more kind of private, there is a lot of money issues going on, I think that as a county the United States should like, even at the University level, that should be free, you’re like almost the greatest nation on earth right now, so how come you have people who are homeless, or you have people who don’t have access to education, well compared to the poor underdeveloped, I don’t know, like the third world countries like mine.

CR: Yea, that’s the debate that some people are having right now. I think America should have free education for everyone, but I think there are reasons why we don’t. I mean America has a long history of colonialism and racism and discrimination on a lot of different levels, and just think that we simply don’t want to educate all of our people.

LA: I see, which is I think luckily in my country, I would say that actually, as far as like racial, or skin color is concerned, there was like almost no such a thing, like because I think Islam has like banished, or what is the word to say, like abolished that idea of racial…

CR: Do mean Saddam?

LA: No, I’m saying about Islam, yea the prophet like, when you know like one hundred four thousand years ago, like one his famous saying is that there is no difference between you know, like red, black, white, whatever color, or ethnicity that person has, it’s only about how righteous, how spiritual, or good you are to people.

CR: Do you have black people in Iraq?

LA: There is in the southern Iraq, there’s not a lot you know but it’s actually like this, in the southern area of Iraq, most of the people are darker skin, but in Basra, that province that I was talking to you about, they are very dark skinned, but like who cares. We didn’t have such a, you know, I’ve never thought about a difference between a person as a color of skin, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

CR: Do you have an American dream?

LA: Well definitely, I mean I have a big hopes about America, you know just like what we’re reading right now, everyone thinks that America, this the country of opportunities, a county where you can make money, a country of prosperity, you know all this stuff.

CR: Do you have a particular dream for yourself? Like, how old are you now?

LA: 20.

CR: 20? You’re a baby. (We both laugh), do you think, in thirty years, this is what I would like to be, this how I would like to be living?

LA: Well, I mean my dream is really like to have a really stable job, not like any job, I’m really interested in innovation and those kinds of things. I really wish that someday I could make my own discovery or something.

CR: So are you talking high tech innovation, or scientific innovation?

LA: Probably a little more with scientific innovation, rather than high tech innovations.

CR: You want to find a cure for cancer? (We laugh)

LA: Well not in biological stuff, I’m more like into physics maybe.

CR: Now that you’ve been here a while, do you still feel the same way about America, as when you first arrived?

LA: No definitely, when I was there (Iraq), I had a lot of hatred towards Americans because I was like those people, even though I came, I was like those people who killed my people, killed distant relatives, one of my relatives was like jailed in, I’m sure you heard about that Abu Ghraib scandal, and one of them was there, and he saw all kinds of torture, and they would do things you know, they would be creative in the ways how they tortured people, and America called my people terrorist, ignorant, uneducated, you know all those kind of stereotypes, so definitely, I didn’t like Americans before, but when I came here, I understand what really Americans mean. When you are there you understand that Americans are white, that’s really the perception over there, but when I came here, especially in California, no it’s not like that at all, you got all those kinds of people, from different backgrounds, there have different cultures, and they don’t even know where Iraq is, or they don’t really, they’re just trying to live their lives. They’re really nice people you know, it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason and, if you talk to them some people will understand, you can have a discussion with them, it’s not like, I think in terms of like western and eastern culture there’s definitely stereotypes going on, they kind of like flash back on each other, like Arabs would say Americas are corrupted, they see all the girls are naked, and then that’s kind of bullshit, and other’s would say your ignorant and you don’t respect your women, you know.

CR: Yea, there are misconceptions on both sides. It reminds me of this story of a group of American women I saw on a T.V. show somewhere, who thought they were supporting Arab women, complaining that Arab women shouldn’t be forced to wear the burka’s, and how Arab societies were oppressive toward women. Then a couple of Arab women in the audience stood up and asked what the women were talking about. We’re not forced to wear burka’s, it’s a part of our religion, and it’s what we choose to do. The point being, we don’t know each other, we only have stereotypes to rely on.

LA: Well since you brought that in, as you know, I’m a Muslim, but my mom, she doesn’t wear a hijab, but as a Muslim, I really wish that someday she will be convinced, and she will wear it, because I mean the idea behind that is really not that, as a Muslim we believe that women should be dressed modestly, and therefore should be she should be treated for her own personality and not for like her looks.

CR: But do you believe that it’s her choice?

LA: Definitely, I mean who knows, at the end God will judge her, it doesn’t mean, I would not say that this is good woman because she wearing modestly, and she’s half naked she’s a bad person, no definitely.

CR: Not even a stripper? (we laugh)

LA: Even a stripper you know, she might have some kind of experience in her life that forced her to be a stripper, you know maybe she lived in poverty, which is really, and that’s the peoples problem, I mean like, we are too judging on people without understanding their situation, or what caused them to do that.

CR: What do you think about our government?

LA: The American government?

CR: Yea, our government? It’s your government now also.

LA: Well, like in terms of parties you mean?

CR: It doesn’t have to be about the political parties, I think they’re both the same anyway?

LA: We have definitely like, we have democracy, at least if you compare it to like other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem, and there is a lot of problems inside, like you got the education system problems, I mean we just mentioned that some people don’t have access to education, you have homeless people, and the really shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care, I mean seriously, if someone doesn’t have money, he can just die or something because he doesn’t have money to pay.

CR: So were you surprised at the push-back against Obama-Care?

LA: Well technically, this push is really, there is a people, they are only concerned about money, they don’t care about people, they know they have enough money to pay insurance, so they don’t care about other people, if they will have the opportunity to purchase insurance or not, that’s the kind of thing I don’t like about Republicans in general, I mean I shouldn’t say Republicans, all of them no, but those ideas of, I think they are really being selfish, in terms of, they have money so they really don’t care about people, they are just pro-business, they just want to make a profit out of people agony, they take worker’s rights, there is a lot of things, the minimum wage, and all these kinds of issues.

CR: Do you like the idea that in America, if you don’t agree with a position, you can speak-out about it?

LA: I mean that’s definitely a really good thing, I mean if you were in Iraq in Saddam Hussein era, if you talk or said the wrong things about him they would definitely get you.

CR: Would they take you for a ride?

LA: Take you for a ride, yea, a long ride. Definitely freedom of speech is really important, but I think it’s also kind of limited in somehow. You can’t really say anything you want, and there is also some kind of implicit stereotypes, like when you want to apply for a job or something there is always some kind of racism, or some sort of discrimination going on.

CR: There’s the official America, then there’s the real America.

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Do you think you’ve suffered any discrimination in America? Particularly if people find out your Iraqi, because just looking at you, you look like the average white guy.

LA: I’m looking like the average white guy?

CR: Yea, when I saw you in class, I never thought you were middle-eastern, I thought like the suburbs. But when people find out your Iraqi, do you think you have discriminated against you?

LA: Well sometimes yes, sometimes no. I mean sometimes you, they, I don’t know why they have that idea you came from the desert, you are on a camel. Some people have those kinds of ideas, on the other hand there are people who really sympathize with me, they would apologize you know we are sorry. Then from that I really understand that those people they are really nice, they are not the same, there are some really good people, which is true for every race and every country.

CR: What do you think of us, the American people?

LA: It’s interesting that it’s kind of like multiple countries in one country. You got the White community, you got the Black community, you got the Latino community, then you got the Asian community. There’s all those kind of things, and each one has their own culture and stuff. I think like the Whites in general, they’re really afraid or something. There’s like something going on with them in terms of the changing demographic in the United States. They fear, I don’t know, I guess they fear change.

CR: They fear minority status.

LA: Yea I think so, definitely. I think that’s an on-going issue, that kind of racial thing. I don’t think it will ever end.

CR: Many people thought Obama’s election meant the end of racism. Shit, the tea party said hell no, and they just went after him with everything they had.

LA: There is a lot of things like, they will do everything just to disagree with him. Like even if they agree on something, they will disagree just because, you know.

CR: A lot of Obama’s policies were originally Republican policies. If you look at his policies, he’s not really a Democrat he’s really a liberal Republican.

LA: I don’t this idea of just two parties. I think there should be like an independent, or like a third party.

CR: We do have Independent’s, but most independents tend to vote along one party line or another, usually with the Democrats.

LA: Yea, well they don’t have a party, that’s what I’m saying.

CR: Let’s get back to this. Do you still have family and friends back in Iraq?

LA: I have some friends.

CR: Do you stay in touch with them?

LA: Yes I do. I mean in terms of family, I have like some on my father’s side, some uncles and aunties, but I don’t have any family relationship with them. We never spoke, we never talk. We’re kind of like strangers to each other, but in terms of my friends, I have some friends there that I went to elementary school with, and we try to keep in touch. One of them, I thought he was killed, but happily, and surprisingly, I found him, he actually found me on Facebook.

CR: What does he think about you being here?

LA: (rye laugh), well if you’re talking about him specifically, he’s kind of OK with that because he kind of understands why I came here, but if you’re talking about what people in general think about someone who is in America that’s a different story. They will, it’s kind of like those fallacies you know, like you’re living in the heaven, all the money, you got the big house on the beach. Their implication is they see a lot of movies, and they think that really is what America really is like, everyone is living a happy life, this tone of optimism. Yea, when they disagree with you on something it’s like, ah now your being an American ha. Like they tease you, oh now you’re an American now, they’ve spoiled you’re mind, now your corrupted.

CR: Would you like your friends back in Iraq to come to America?

LA: Well, I know like some of them they wanted to come because there are like all kinds of problems you can imagine, in Iraq, like for example, when I was there electricity is like one of them in terms of like utilities, the government is really; the only word I can think of is bad word, I want to say the government is fucked up.

CR: Oh, you can say that, it’s an American thing.

LA: Interestingly, I wouldn’t say that if I was speaking Arabic, I don’t know, I guess it’s the American part of me.

CR: You see we’ve corrupted you just like your friends said.

LA: It’s not true.

CR: Was it like that before the war – before the invasion – in terms of like, did you have the basic necessities in life, did you have electricity and all that stuff?

LA: Uh, in terms of electricity, it was much better than after the war. There was no water shortage, there was no like gas – which we have a lot of oil, and after the war people stand in line like for a day just to get gas.

CR: Is it still like that?

LA: No it’s better, but I think the worst time was like 2006 to 2008. It was terrible, it was like all kinds of problems. It was civil war, people killing each other, there were a lot of things going on.

CR: Do you work here?

LA: Now, no.

CR: Have you worked here?

LA: I worked like, really not a long time, maybe two month or three, with a self-employed, but he’s an Iraqi too so. I haven’t experience working for American supervisors. My brothers work, my father he doesn’t work because his, you know when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process.

CR: Yea I’ve heard about that, but your brothers work here?

LA: Yeah.

CR: What kind of work do they do?

LA: Well, one of them he’s currently working also with a guy, he mainly do like construction, not construction, maintenance in buildings, they like fix lights, they paint, I guess they do a lot of this. Its manual job you could say. The other one he used to work as a break-faster, like in a hotel.

CR: A break-faster?

LA: You know the guys who they serve breakfast.

CR: Oh he’s a cook?

LA: No he doesn’t cook.

CR: He’s a waiter?

LA: Kind of like a waiter, but you can’t really say a waiter. It’s like, I remember his position it’s something like a break-faster.

CR: Breakfast?

LA: It’s not breakfast, I know what is a breakfast, but.

CR: I don’t know what that is – I guess you have to be rich to stay in those kinds of fancy hotels. The hotels I stay in have buffets.

LA: Yea they do, but what he told me about the hotel he was in was really not a good one and he quit the job actually, and he’s now he works in cliff-car or something. It’s like he’s a taxi, but he not an official taxi car, and now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he actually created a lot of problems for the family as well, anyway.

CR: I guess the transition to this country has been tough on your family?

LA: Oh definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other. They both want to play the victim role I guess. I mean he always like talk about things, I think he’s really, he plays the role of like he’s always right, he’s the one who has the right principles and ethics, he’s right and we’re all wrong, so if you disagree with him then you’re kind of the bad guy. I think in his earlier life he was totally the opposite person, he was like, I don’t know how do you say that in a good way. He was like in his marriage he drank, he goes with girls and all those things, and now even though I don’t do the things he do, and he still try to be strict, which is disgusting, I mean seriously, you’re talking about me, and don’t you remember what you were doing when you were my age and even when you were married.

CR: With the pressure your under, with the family and stuff, what do you do to release, do you talk to somebody, or get away with friends?

LA: Well, I spend most of my time just not going home. The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep.

CR: What do you do?

LA: You know for example, like I am in school now, I would just like do my homework. Usually if I would just go to a library or something and finish my homework, or do anything that keeps me away not to go home. Maybe I go to my uncle house, or you know, just not go home. And on the same side, he would always like, and my dad he would say, especially like we would have a celebration or something, and me and my mom would go my uncles house, he would say see you are corrupted, you are bad, you always leave me alone, but on the same hand, what do you want me to do? I can’t stay with you, you always argue and it’s not like you’re talking like we are a family. We’re not a family, we say we are, but we’re not, we’re just people living together, that’s all.

CR: Do you have any friends here?

LA: You mean American friends?

CR: Any kind of friends, outside of your family, outside of your siblings?

LA: I don’t think so, no. You mean like a close friend? No, which is really kind of sad, cause I used to have a lot of friends in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and I used to hang out with a lot of people, and when you see me you see like fifteen people with me but now I’m alone.

CR: I’m sorry to hear that, you should make some friends, you’re a nice guy, and I think that everybody can use friends.

LA: I think that the structure of like here is they just really want you to work, they kind of like make the system work this way that you go to school, then you go to work, then you go home, then you do this, then you do that. You don’t real have, it’s an individualistic society. It’s definitely that. You have a lot of individualism involved, there’s not a lot of social life here.

CR: Do you identify as Iraqi, or American or both?

LA: I’d say both, cause America has changed some ideas in me, I’ve grown as a person. I think I’ve been more open minded to accept different cultures, and different people, and different thoughts. I mean maybe one of them is the gay issue maybe, if you think like in terms of, if you ask any middle-east person – by the way I hate this term because it’s so misleading term.

CR: Middle-eastern?

LA: Yea, because the term was technically made by Britain when she was like,

CR: invading everybody,

LA: exactly, the term is like Great Britain is the center of the world, and those other countries are the middle-eastern in comparison to where Britain was, in the center. It is definitely geographically wrong, and because if you’re talking about geographically, you would only be talking about Afghanistan and other countries and nothing to do with location. Middle-eastern means all of them are Muslims, which is wrong, and that all of them are Arabs, which is wrong too.

CR: Europe and America get a lot of shit wrong. Would you ever return to Iraq for a visit, or to stay?

LA: If you’re saying like, you know, in maybe the coming ten years or so, I don’t think so because there is a lot of instability, and really the 2006 civil war has bisected the community, there is like a huge, huge corruption in the government, people are just like, they don’t really have like, they are not the same as,

CR: It’s not the same as when you were growing up there.

LA: no, but if things got better, I would definitely like to visit. My uncle, he went to Iraq like two years ago, and he took some pictures of some, you know, the house we were living in, and I like cried man. It’s like really sad, the neighborhood is just all different, the people; he said that even the peoples personalities have been changed. I don’t know.

CR: I think that happens in war, when people have suffered trauma. I can imagine living in Iraq, having a somewhat peaceful life, even if I didn’t like the dictator. I mean I didn’t like Bush, I think he was a dictator too, and then all of a sudden there’s war, and people I know die, bombs are being dropped on me, I would probably never be the same after that.

LA: Definitely, I think a lot has changed, and as I was telling you, I think I’ve changed, and I kind of accept people more.

CR: Well I guess this concludes our interview, and I really appreciate you doing this for me.

LA: No problem (very American).


“Home Is Where My Family Is”

“Home Is Where My Family Is”

by Jazmine Ashley Diaz, December 2013

For my oral history project, I decided to interview my mother.  At first, I thought to interview her mother, my grandmother, thinking that, because she is old, she’d probably have more stories to tell and would have better experiences coming to America than my own mother did.  But after careful thought, and remembering the fact that my grandmother has dementia, I chose to interview my own mother instead.  My mother’s name is Rosalina Capili, Sally for short before she married my father and changed her last name to Diaz.  She was born and raised in Guadalupe, Makati, Philippines, which is located in the northern region of the Philippines, relatively close to Manila.  She is in her mid-fifties but has the spirit and heart of a thirty-year- old.  In between being a full-time business accountant, taking care of her family, and watching her Filipino soap operas, I finally found time in to ask her a few questions about her past. 

            My mother grew up with seven brothers and sister, her being the fifth out of eight children (See also: “The most beautiful one”).  Her parents, Nenita and Ruperto Sr., raised eight children—Reynaldo, Ricardo, Romy, Rosalina, Rosana, Ruperto Jr., Eddie, and Conrado—in a small house in a well to do neighborhood.  Growing up with Catholic parents, Rosalina and her siblings grew up in a strict household.  Especially after her father left the country, and Nenita was forced to raise eight children by herself, Rosalina spent her time either in school or at home with her brothers and sister.  She claims that her mother’s reason for keeping them at home was to make it easier to watch all eight of them.  “Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home.  When we were living in the Philippines, the way your Lola [grandma] takes care of us, she always keep us inside the house” (Diaz 3).  Around the age of ten, her father left the Philippines and moved to different countries to find better jobs to better support his wife and kids.  Before coming to America, Ruperto Sr. lived in Vietnam and worked as a firefighter.  After a couple of years there, he migrated to America in 1970.  Not only would he find better job opportunities in America, but also here Ruperto Sr. would be able to bring his family with him and take advantage of the immigration reform law that started in 1965.  “Concomitant to the law was the family reunification law that allowed families from Asia to come to the United States” (Garcia).  Here in the U.S., he worked as a tailor, much like how he had in the Philippines, where he had owned his own shop.  In the span of eight years, he finally petitioned his wife and eight kids to America.  During his time alone in America, he met a woman who later became his mistress and was yet again a father to one more daughter named Jocelyn.  Despite the drama between the women in his life, Ruperto Sr. still managed to support both families, and in the end went home to Nenita and eventually died by her side.  Her parents’ intention to move to America was to find better jobs and create a better living for their family.  “Your Lolo [grandpa] believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the jobs here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hardworking” (Diaz 2).  It is common knowledge to Rosalina’s parents that staying in the Philippines, regardless of how hard they worked, was not going to be enough to support a family of ten. 

When Rosalina migrated to America, she was only eighteen years old and, when I first asked what her expectations were coming here to America, she immediately answered with, “A better family.”  Then, I proceeded to rephrase my question and asked her the same thing but added, “For you as an individual.”  To this she replied with, “I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life” (2).  After two months of living here, she got her first job at Carl’s Jr., and soon after she was hired, she enrolled in Heald College; after nine months, she graduated with a Business Major in Accounting.  Rosalina only spent three months at Carl’s Jr. and quit because she couldn’t stand the laborious work.  Her next job was at Runaway Tours, a tour company that no longer exists, where she stayed for almost ten years.  If there’s one thing my mother takes pride in, it’s her work ethic.  For as long as I can recall, it has always been my mother who “brings home the bacon”—she pulls the majority of the weight in my family and always flaunts how in every job she’s ever held her bosses always tell her she’s a hard worker.  “I am!  My boss always told me, it’s true!” (3). 

Over time, a person’s perspective can change, which is why I asked Rosalina how she felt after having lived in America for a week, a month, a year, and now.  “My first week here was very hard, I was crying… It was [a] culture shock for me” (3).  To Rosalina, the first few weeks were frustrating for her because everyone spoke English and the culture in America alone was completely different than that of the Philippines.  What most people don’t know is that Filipinos are actually very good at speaking English; it could almost be their second language.  Most, if not all, Filipino TV shows are spoken in half Tagalog and half English.  The language barrier between English and Tagalog speakers is almost easy for any Filipino to overcome because there are a lot of words and phrases that are the same in Tagalog as it is in English.  However, because America is such a diverse country, especially during the seventies when Rosalina moved here, compared to the Philippines, which is for the most part a Catholic country, the new ideas about morality and ways of life came as a surprised to my mother.  Having been brought up a certain way and to soon learning that there are more than one different ways of thinking is overwhelming for anybody.  But even having lived in America for over twenty years now, Rosalina still honors her original beliefs.  “When I came over here, I still lived by the Filipino way. I still carry my culture.  I’m not too Westernized; I still keep my moral values as a Filipina” (4).  Although Rosalina still refers to the way she was brought up to raise my sister and I, there are definitely certain aspects and “Americanized” ideas that she has used in her parenting styles that her mother would’ve never even considered.  Rosalina is more lenient in the way she raises her children, but still punishes us with a firm tone. 

Migrating to a new country will always have its difficulties, and there is no getting around the fact that these migrants will face a good amount of discrimination or displacement.  I asked Rosalina about a time in her life when she felt like she didn’t belong in America and almost instantly she began telling me the story that I’ve already heard one too many times.  While the story has a scary and serious conflict, after hearing it over and over about a dozen times, it does get old.  The first time she told me this story, it broke my heart and I really felt scared for my mother, especially because what happened to her has happened to me just a few years before I started high school.  To make a long story short, when she was on her way to work one cold February morning, she decided to take a shortcut and walk through the Powell Bart station to get to work.  Suddenly, a man grabs Rosalina from behind and starts groping her.  Helpless and with no one around to help, she moves into the fetal position and eventually the man runs off.  Still traumatized about what happened, Rosalina picks up her things and continues on her way to work.  She arrives to work in tears and even after she tells her boss what has just happened to her he still tells her to calm down and just clock in.  My mother was baffled that her boss wasn’t sensitive enough to even ask if she wanted to just go home.  “That’s when I feel like, is this America?  Is this the place where I really wanted to live” (6)?  Clearly, Rosalina’s expectations of America don’t match her reality—she couldn’t understand why the country everyone seemed to place on a pedestal wasn’t as positive as everyone made it seem.  Nevertheless, Rosalina is still thankful to be living here.  The fact that she has a better opportunity to excel and make more money in America will always triumph over even the worst forms of discrimination.  To counter this question, I asked Rosalina to share with me a time when she felt like she was really an American.  For Rosalina, there wasn’t any real dramatic life event that made her feel like she was truly American—she felt like a true American the day she became an America citizen.  Coming to America, Rosalina was only a green card holder,  and then, a few years later, she applied for her citizenship and was approved.  “When I got my citizenship, [it was like] my kind of diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen” (4). 

With all these questions about times in her life when she felt American and about how her life was back home in the Philippines, it brought up an idea of self-identity.  I was curious to know whether she considered herself to be Filipino, American or Filipino-American, and to what degree she identifies with each nationality.  For Rosalina, she identifies herself as a Filipino-American.  Her Filipino roots will always be what she identifies with first and foremost because that is her blood that is how she was raised; it is her native language.  Being Filipino is what is most familiar to her.  And of course she also identifies herself as an American, as she has lived here for over twenty years and has adapted the American way of living.  She has a good job, can speak almost perfect English, and is very knowledgeable about the culture.  Whenever I make minor corrections to my mother’s English, she always says to me, “That’s why I send you to school—so you can learn and then teach me,” which slowly I am starting to realize makes a lot of sense.  In Maria Root’s book Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity, she writes about many different themes revolving around Filipino Americans and their identity, and about them migrating to the United States.  In Chapter Seven of her book, she reiterates an idea coined by the Filipino American National Historical Society Conference in 1994 called the “bridge” generation.  “Their children, the ‘bridge’ generation, attempted to bridge the traditional Filipino culture they learned at home with the American culture they learned at school” (Root 97).  I am a part of the “bridge” generation for Rosalina, and because of me she is able to keep her Filipino roots while still being able to learn about the American culture.  This idea has proven to be successful for both Rosalina and I because I am one of the few Filipinos that I know of that is born in America and can understand and speak both English and Tagalog.  Although I was born and raised in America, I was brought up in a traditional Filipino household, and growing up my family spoke to me in Tagalog a majority of the time. 

Many people have different responses to what they envision their homes to be.  Some would say home is where they were born and raised; others might respond with “home is where the heart is.”  Rosalina defines her home simply as wherever her family is, her family being me, my sister, her parents, and her brothers and sister.  If she moved back to the Philippines today, without any one of us there with her, the Philippines would no longer be considered her home.  Whether we live in America, the Philippines, or in some other foreign country to us, as long as we’re together Rosalina’s ideas of home is complete.  Despite the discrimination she’s faced, and will soon face because discrimination is still very much alive today, Rosalina’s reasons for staying in America overshadow any form of discrimination.  There are push and pull factors, especially for migrants who’ve just came to America.  A push facto is one’s reason for leaving one’s home country; situations like unemployment, poverty, and war are perfect examples.  Pull factors are positive reasons for coming to a new country like better job opportunities, a more attractive quality of life, or maybe it’s where most of your friends and family are.  In Rosalina’s case, there were definitely more pull factors than there were push factors.  She and her family knew that, if they continued living in the Philippines, they would always be struggling to make ends meet.  Of course this does not mean that we are not struggling today, but we are more comfortable and at least here in America there is help we can get if we really needed it, and much better opportunities to find a job that’ll better support all of us.

Her “Philippines” home differs from her “American” home in the sense that the Philippines is her natural home: it’s in her blood and it is intimate and well-known to her.  Her “American” home is her current home, where her family and heart resides.  It is also a place where she knows she can prosper and have unlimited opportunities to take care of my sister and I, as well as a place my sister and I can both be successful and have an even better life than she did.  Certain situations and timing are both reasonable factors as to why someone might migrate to another country.  Both were crucial enough factors for Nenita and Ruperto Sr., which is why they made he careful decision to bring their family to America.  Living in a completely new country, especially one like the United States, will change a person’s perspective and ideologies.  For Rosalina, it opened up her mind to new ways of living and a more improved way of bringing up her children.  In the end, Rosalina’s idea of home is wherever her family is and wherever her family goes she will follow.

Works Cited

Diaz, Rosalina. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2013.

Garcia, Arturo P. “A Brief History: Filipino Immigrants in the United States.”             Liberation News, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Root, Maria. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks: SAGE             Publications, 1997. EBSCOhost. EBook Collection. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

            Oral History Project Transcript

Jazmine Ashley Diaz: Where did you grow up?

Rosalina Diaz: Guadalupe Makati, Manila, Philippines.

JAD: When did you immigrate to America?

RD: I came here about December 1984? 

JAD: With whom did you immigrate with?

RD: With my family—my father came here first in 1970 and then he petition us to come over here.

JAD: Who’s “us”?

RD: My siblings—my six brothers and one sister and my mom.  But I was the last one who came over.

JAD: Why were you the last one?  So, you all didn’t come here together?  At the same time?

RD: No, my father could not afford to…

JAD: So, who came here first, after Lolo Papa?

RD: After your Lola Papa immigrated here in the 1970’s, three years later he petitioned my mom and my younger brother, Tito Rupert.  And then a few years later, uhh…  Tita Anna and Tito Boying came and then another year came your Tito Conrado, Tito Eddie Boy, and your Tito Romy came.  And then I was the last one to come over, after six months because my name was lost from the record.

JAD: What records?

RD: From the immigration records, so the lawyer, um, went back and, um, recorded my name.  What happened is because all our name started with an R: Ricardo, Romaldo, Reynaldo…  So I guess when the lawyer was writing it he got confused. So my name was forgotten, so my mom noticed it and the lawyer tried to fix it!  That’s why I came here six months later.

JAD: Why did you migrate to America?  What were your, or at least Lolo and Lola’s, intentions for coming here?

RD: Your Lolo believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the job here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hard working compared to the Philippines; you keep working, keep working you cannot, you know, earn money, enough money to pay for everything.

JAD: What jobs did Lola Papa have, and Lola Mommy have, in the Philippines?  Did Lola Mommy ever have a job because I know she’s never worked?

RD: Your Lola Mommy never worked.  She was a homemaker, or whatever, a housewife?

JAD: What did Lolo Papa do, wasn’t he a tailor?

RD: He owned a tailor shop until he decided to migrate to a different country, which is America.  He first migrated to Vietnam for a few years and then he came back over, and then that’s when he first started to migrate to America.

JAD: What did Lolo Papa do in Vietnam?

RD: He was a firefighter.

JAD: What were your expectations for moving to the United States?

RD: Uh, a better…  A better family, I guess? 

JAD: For you as an individual, because you knew you were going to grow up here?

RD: Oh, I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life.

JAD: How old were you when you immigrated?

RD: I think I was eighteen when I came over here?  And then eighteen years old I came over here in December, and I was not able to find a job ‘til February and then my very first job was working at Carl’s Jr.

JAD: The one downtown?

RD: Yes.

JAD: Next to the Payless?

RD: Which one next to Payless?

JAD: The one downtown where they play the chessan [to play chess]?

RD: No…  No, there’s a Carl’s Jr. across Four Seasons Hotel before there was a Wells Fargo, now they don’t have that anymore.  I worked there for maybe three months and then I stopped because it’s so hard to work:  I stand, I been like standing for eight hours all day, my feet hurt!  And then I told your Papa, I told my dad, that I want to go back to school.  So I went back to school; went to Heald College, I attended there for like nine months?  And then after I graduated I got my very first job at Runaway Tours, it’s a tours company.  And then I stayed there, I worked there for over, almost ten years?  Yeah, I worked there almost ten years.  I hold my job pretty good because I am a hard worker.

JAD: Okay, mom.

RD: I am!  My boss always told me, it’s true!

JAD: Did you face any Human Rights abuses?

RD: No/

JAD: How did you feel after having lived her for a week?  A month?  A year?  Today?

RD: My first week here was very hard, I was crying.  It was, uh, what do you call that?  It was culture shock for me.

JAD: Why?  How was it a culture shock?

RD: I don’t know, I guess for one, people here speak English.

JAD: Did you know how to speak English?

RD: I do, I do speak English, but not very much.  And I’m very shy person.  You know how when we’re in the Philippines my mom never let us go out to social, to what do you call that?

JAD: Like me?  Like how you treat me?

RD: Yeah.  They never let us, ‘cause there’s like eight of us and only your Lola Mommy that takes care of us while my dad is in other country working right.  I think my mom reasoning, for her keeping us inside the house and not play to other kids is it’s much easier for her to, uh, manage all eight of us.  Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home.  When we were living in the Philippines the way your Lola takes care of us, uh, she always keep us inside the house.  We of course sometimes go out and play but most of the time she prefer that most of the time we’re inside the house, since there’s eight of us my mom decided, oh you guys since there’s eight of you, you can play with each other instead of play with other people.  We don’t have friends, well we do have friends in only in school but we don’t so have so much friends outside of school because we’re not allowed to go out all the time.  Uh, after living here for a year… It’s okay.  My mom is very conservation—my parents are still conservative, she thinks that even if we’re like nineteen… Even at the age of nineteen we’re still not allowed to go out.  I work, I go home, and then in the morning I work, I go home.  That’s my life.

JAD: Like me!

RD: Hello, you go out every once in a while.  I can only go out with my brothers, but my brothers don’t like me going with them ‘cause they have their own thing.

JAD: Looking back at when you first moved here, how does how you felt then differ from how you feel about living in America now?

RD: I have a better job and I have my kids, my lovely kids (I roll my eyes).  But I’m still shy (laughs)!  Some younger generation, they’re like more outspoken, they’re like they think they’re more Americanized, but me, when I came over here I still lived by the Filipino way, I still carry my culture.  I’m not too Westernized, I still keep my moral values as a Filipina.

JAD: When and how did you know or feel like you were truly an American?

RD: Uh, I believe after I started my job.  The one at Runaway Tours, yeah…  After maybe, after few years, maybe three years.  ‘Cause I can vote…  Oh no!  I believe ‘cause after we immigrated here we were like green card holder, we’re not a citizen yet.  So I became a citizen after a few years, I applied for my citizenship.  When I got my citizenship, my kinda like a diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen.  I changed my passport to green to purple to blue, I felt like (touches hand to heart) I am an American citizen.  Yes!

JAD: Do you consider yourself to be Filipino-American?  If so, which nationality comes first to you?

RD: Of course the first one that comes to me is my Filipino, it’s my blood.  I came from that, I was born and raised in the Philippines; I can never say that I am an American.  Although I am thankful that I am here—I have a good life to where if I were living in the Philippines.  I am still Filipino and I am proud.

JAD: Why are you looking at me like that?

RD: Why, do you expect me to say I am an American?!

JAD: No, I’m just asking you like which one do you feel more strongly.  Like do you put Filipino first or do you put American first?

RD: I always still put Filipino first, but because I live in America I, you know, have to speak English, learn the language, uh, learn the culture because I live here.  Because I don’t agree living in one country, not learning their language, not learning the culture and then, um, people get upset because they’re not being helped by the government.  That I don’t agree.

JAD: What struggles did you face migrating to/living in America?  Did you face any discrimination?

RD: Yeah.  Discrimination is still exist no matter even if they said that it doesn’t, it does it still exist ‘cause me being Filipino, they consider me minority no matter how good I am at work they won’t promote they still prefer white people.

JAD: Which job was this?

RD: Uh, this is when I worked at Runaway Tours.

JAD: Would you consider the Philippines to still be your home? 

RD: Of course!

JAD: And you told me once that when you retire you want to go back?

RD: Of course!

JAD: And leave me here?

RD: That would be your choice, I’m not gonna ask you to go somewhere else.  But I’m not moving until I see that you’re okay:  That you’re married, you have your own life, you have your, you know, your job, your own house.

JAD: What is your definition or ideas of “home”?

RD: Uh…  Home as in “home”?  Well definition of home for me is being with my family.  You, Caitlyn, my brothers, and my sister—that’s home for me.

JAD: So, would you consider America your home or Philippines your home?

RD: Philippines is still my home.  Philippines is my homeland.  But you know if I lived in the Philippines I’m more comfortable, because um, I’m familiar with everything, I know the culture, I know how it works, I know the government and, um, if I have enough money I can afford to live like, I can afford a maid.  Whereas here, I’m the maid…  For my kids (laughs).  I am the maid for my own family…  How sad.  Especially that (points to my sister)!

JAD: Tell me an incident in your life where you felt like you didn’t belong in America.

RD: Oh my God!  This is when I just came here and I started at the Carl’s Jr. Working, uh, this was about a year later in February and someone grabbed me from behind!

JAD: Oh my God, is this the Bart one?

RD: Yeah!  That’s when I really feel like, that I can never ever forget that in my entire life ‘cause I lived in the Philippines and that never happened to me ever, ever, ever.

JAD: Okay, so tell me again what happened.

RD: Okay, I start at ten o’clock in the morning, work, I left my house at 285 Turk street, so I was walking there from Powell street and then I decided because it’s too cold, this is February because it was freezing cold, I decided to go Bart station underneath Powell to make sure I don’t get cold.  As I was turning from the very end of the Bart, someone grabbed me from behind.  I yelled, I screamed, no one was helping me so I decided to sit down, you know brace myself.  And the guy let go of me and he start running and I was left, on the floor, and I look around and still no one was there to help me.  So I pick up my things and then walk and then next thing you know I saw the guy on the escalator looking at me smiling and I froze.  And then I went up, guess what?

JAD: He was there waiting for you?

RD: No, there was a police car right outside the thing.

JAD: Did you tell them?

RD: There’s no police there, but there’s a police car.  I looked around but no one’s there so I just continued ‘cause what I’m thinking is my work, I’m gonna be late!  I came to work and I was shaking and I was crying and I was telling my boss what happened and he said, “Okay just calm down” and he didn’t even ask me, “Would you like to go home?”  He just says, “Okay, calm down just punch in and start working”.  That’s when I feel like, is this America?  Is this the place where I really wanted to live?  They have no concern for anything that happen to me, I was mad.

JAD: What causes you/are your reasons for staying here?

RD: Good living.  Actually, the reason why I stay here because I have a stable job, I earn money.  I can’t imagine me in the Philippines anymore, honestly.  I can’t imagine what will be my life.  Growing up and marrying someone in the Philippines, I cannot imagine!  I don’t think you’ll have a good life, anak [child].  I mean, not as good as I wanted to, I don’t think you’ll be…  You’ll probably still be a bum. 

JAD: Okay, but you still want to go back though to retire?

RD: Yeah, just to retire.  I’ll be living there comfortably.  The only reason why I want to retire to the Philippines is because when I get old here, when I get old and I’m not able to provide for myself I don’t think the money that the government is providing us, even the money that we’re putting aside that they take from our salary, what do they call that?  Our social security?  Um, they’re saying that by the time I retire there’s no more money for us, for the government to give us.  So, that’s why if I take that money, and go to the Philippines, will multiply times forty—I’ll be rich in the Philippines, I’ll be able to live comfortably.  Here, I’ll be probably lining up some place like Glide Memorial to get my free lunch.