Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

by Jose Castillo, May 2017

Being in exile in a foreign country tends to affect immigrants’ identities giving them international perspectives because it brings back memorable and hard memories as they imagine their futures. When people are in exile, meaning separated from their countries, leaving home involuntary, or by force of circumstances, it affects people’s perspectives. Many immigrants who are in exile in the United States also experience memories of their homelands, international perspectives, and legal or human rights abuses, since they are affected due to the political situations of poor countries. Abdul, a nineteen-year-old, my research partner from Jordan, describes how he was affected when he came to the United States by saying, “When I came to the Unites States, it changed my….my action, values slightly…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home, life changes.” It is common to see an immigrant being affected while he experiences some personal changes when arriving in the United States. It is clear that personal values can also change, but also comparing his new life with his life in his home country, his life has changed because of a political conflict. In his country he was struggling with his family to defend his land from military invaders. Abdul claims that he was armed to be brave as an adult, ready to defend his family and land. This is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and the immediate challenge he faces when dealing with his immigrant identity, as well as legal and human rights violations while he is in exile. The human rights abuses he faced in Palestine, which lead to his exile, forced Abdul to immigrate, and affected his personal identity. This made him feel like he had two conflicting identities here in the United States. This transition proves that Abdul’s memory has gone through certain changes while in exile and left him fragmented; However, Abdul’s memory has been through a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Abdul’s human rights were violated when he was unlawfully arrested, which left him traumatized while living in his native country. Today, many immigrants relate how oppressive their governments were while they were living in their home countries. Oppressive governments are those that have authoritarian law and oppressive system, which is the main reason people seek political asylum as refugees in distant nations. From my interviewee’s perspective, he relates how he was affected while living in Palestine when he says in a worried tone:

“Ah…I want to talk about as I mentioned before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air. They also entered our own house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupied my house and stayed there for three days. Can you imagine the military staying in the house for three days like you cannot do anything right?…and it…it is just really super abusive and affects emotionally…its my land, and I was just fighting back for my land…”

Frankly, this statement explains a difficult situation, because it narrates an oppressive situation that affects people’s lives while they are detained inside of their own homes by a suppressive military that does not want people to protest for their human rights.

In addition, Abdul’s human rights were violated when the military invaded his homeland. When foreign militaries invade an outside territory, they take land and scare people. In many countries where there are conflicting military conflicts, military invader governments do not care about territory, whether it is independent, or has a limitation of sovereignty.  Likewise, Peter Orner, a professor and writer at San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Program, worked with Voice of Witness to collect and edit the personal undocumented stories of immigrants in the United States. He shares the story of Diana. Through her story, Diana exposes violations to her human rights such as an arrest and harassment by ICE agents when they were asking persistent questions to her, and she was in arbitrary detention for not having right the documents. In her words, Diana explains the illegal actions against her:

“The agents put the fingerprints into a machine and asked me where I was from. I felt calm, more and less, I said, ‘No, I need my lawyer, I have a right to a lawyer. I have the right to make a phone call.’ They told me I’d get a lawyer and my phone call later and   asked me again where I was from. But I refuse to tell them. ‘Cooperate with us,’ they said. ‘Why are you making this so hard?’ But I insisted on the rights I knew I had’.”

Obviously, there was not a reason to answer these types of questions, since Diana knew that she did not have the appropriate documents.  If she had the right documents given by the U.S. Immigration Department while she was in exile, she would gladly have given her recognition before the arresting agent. Otherwise, human rights violations against immigrants and my interviewee make no sense. When we see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of this declaration states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind of race, (…) Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of territory” (UDHR).  This article clearly shows the right of freedom people deserve without the political oppression of an outsider military government, who wants to oppress an independent community. It is true that it is something unusual, because it makes people leave and go into exile instead of risking their lives in a dangerously militarized land. This transition proves that certain aspects while in exile left Abdul fragmented; therefore, Abdul’s memory has been though a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Learning English has been difficult for Abdul because he has become an adult and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile in the United States.  Learning the English language is a way to communicate important issues because it is the way people or society give and exchange information and ideas with each other.  Immigrants in exile notice the difficulty of learning the English language because in order to learn the language, they need to have a little backup, or a little information in order to know more about it. Abdul says in his own words, “Ah…It was very hard the English language…the first language…when I was young was very good, I had a little back up of the English language.”  This means that some immigrants experience difficulty when they do not know the language, but also not all have difficulty if they have a little knowledge of the English language. The effects can be reduced if they have a little important information that might help them when learning at a later time, or when they go into exile. According to Becky H Huang, a Harvard professor, and Ah Jun, a university linguist, in “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of Second Language Prosody,” in which they emphasize how an exploratory analysis of the age of arrival effects the production of a second language and affects Mandarin immigrants:

“Owing to its theoretical implications for the mechanism of second language (L2) acquisition and practical implications for L2 education, the age-related decline in ultimate second language (L2) attainment is one of the most controversial topics in the L2 acquisition field. Among the various L2 linguistic domains, phonological production is arguably the least controversial candidate for an age of learning effect.  In fact, Scovel (1988) argued that the age effect exists only for phonology because the ability to master the sound patterns of an L2 is susceptible to neurological development.” (388)

For the same reason, this statement proves the variables in which my interviewee’s perspective is affected by his learning of the English language while he is in exile. Also, many immigrants are affected in other areas like: writing, speaking, and reading, when they are told to interact in these areas just like native students do, who are less affected. For this reason, learning English has been a difficult process for Abdul because he has become an adult, and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile.

Experiencing a different type of lifestyle, or assimilation, is another challenge for my interviewee’s perspective and affects him because it takes time for him to assimilate while he is in exile in the United States. While Abdul continues his life in America, he experiences a new culture inhabited by diverse people from other cultures, which America requires him to integrate with. The difference with his culture and his homeland is that his school and values are drastically connected to his culture. Abdul, in his own words, says, “When I came here into the United States, I feel like I was at home” (4). This statement means that despite coming to America, Abdul as an immigrant still feels attached to his culture and homeland rather than feeling as an American, or telling anyone he feels as an American resident. Also, he might feel half assimilated to the American culture just like when he was in his country, or not at all. In “The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris,“ by Abdelhady and Dallas, they say, “I could not explain this dilemma to the receptionist. I could not tell her that I had never felt American, despite the various indictors of my successful assimilation” (1). Obviously, it is hard for an immigrant to feel that he or she has become part of the American culture, because his or her roots are still attached to their culture. Of course, it will take time for them to assimilate into the new lifestyle of the American culture when they are submitted into the assimilation process like Abdul.

Abdul has become culturally integrated by participating in a new society while he lives in exile.  When people are integrated into a new culture like Abdul, they have to identify themselves with the new people, which is one of the new challenging situations that has affected Abdul’s identity while he lives in exile in the United States.  Exile means to be separated from one’s country or home involuntarily or by force of circumstances, which affects people’s perspective while they live differently in other countries. For instance, Abdul, my interviewee from Daly City, has to experience some changes as a result of exile, which affects his entire identity.  When I asked him the question “How does exile affected your identity?”, he replied with a kind of worried tone.  On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at 5: 23, he responded regarding the effects on his identity, and states as follows:

“Ah…so…basically…ah…when the first time I came here, I just certainly… When I came to the United States, it changed my action, values slightly…ah…I am just feeling the life out…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.  Identity is one of the challenges that affects immigrants because it changes the way they act, their values, and they feel that their life also tends to change to a certain degree.”

Practically speaking, it is obvious to see these changes that people have to go through when they integrate and move to another region. They go through changes in values and are often surprised by the new amazing changes they go through, because it is not easy to make changes immediately. Once immigrants arrive and integrate in the new region, the process of change takes place in their identity. This means that immigrants or groups of people who immigrate to another nation due to any oppressive circumstances, have to face the causes, effects, and circumstances, which shape their new identities while they are in exile. For example, in modern times, many Jewish people are separated from their ethnic community, and have suffered a horrible persecution, which also affects their identity while they are in exile for a long time. In the section “Jews,” in Funk &Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, it says, “Modern Jews are members of a separated ethnic community or fellowship rather than of a race, a community that, in the face of incessant and terrible persecution, has maintained its identity for almost 19 centuries, from the final dissolution of the Roman province of Juda in AD 135 to the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948” (Funk &Wagnalls). As has been noted, people from different backgrounds and religious cultures also face some challenges of oppression, and no one disputes the fact that it affects their identities while they are in exile just as it is with my interviewee. At the same time, Abdul’s integration into the new culture has made him participate in the society and feel whole.

Another challenge that Abdul has faced is how he deals with his reminiscences about his past while he lives in exile in the United States. Many immigrants tend to have memories of what their past lives at home was like, or their schools before they went into exile. Being at home means being in one’s native country, thinking of what kind or school or university people would like to go to study before exile takes place. For example, Abdul has experienced some memories when he was in his country, and remembers where he wanted to study before his exile, which affects his identity. When I asked him the question, “How do you envision home?,” it logically made him remember his school life from his native land, and where he wanted to go to study. He replied enthusiastically by remembering his fresh memories of these thoughts during the interview. He states, “Ah…so when I began my school I was thinking like…where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or home, or so I was thinking in the United States, because when you graduate you have a good jobs you know, a source of jobs any time.” Thinking is a way to remember, to consider when there is an opportunity to choose a better place to go to study, since memories affect immigrants who are in exile. The use of memory has fostered a healing process and helped Abdul to feel whole.

In the same way, Abdul as an immigrant is affected because he uses his imagination to interpret his memories about his family while he is in exile in a distant homeland. Many immigrants tend to have imaginations about critical moments with their families when they were in their homelands. For instance, Abdul used to have imaginations about difficult moments with his family in Palestine when he was invaded at home by the military. In his own words, “…They were offending me by shooting in the air, and they also entered our house and arrested me and my family.” Immigrants like Abdul almost always tend to have imaginations about some hard moments together with his family in Palestine, a place where he grew up to adulthood. In “Child of Two Words,” the author, Andrew Lam, has on imaginative interpretation of his memories of his mother’s words during his childhood back in his native homeland, Vietnam. He recalls her saying, “’Your umbilical cord is also buried in an earthen jar in our garden,’ she said. The incident and the knowledge of my own earthly ties made a strong impression on me; our ways were sacred and very old” (1). It is obvious to think that a part of oneself is buried in a place where we lived before, and is not forgotten, because there is always a strong imagination of what happened in the past, but also there is the effect of his memories while he is in exile in the United States.

Being in exile is not an easy challenge because it affects people’s identities, since most immigrants who are in exile in the United States experience hardships. These challenges include: effects on their identities, human rights violations, and effects on learning the English language, since they are affected by their personality’s perspectives while they are in exile. Some may say that immigrants are affected when they go into exile, and face issues like identity fragmentation, education, and challenges of human right abuses, since they do not expect them while living abroad. The United Declaration of Human Rights declares that people should be protected anywhere living in their homeland or abroad, or regardless of identity. Regardless of the UDHR, there will people who don’t agree that immigrants should be protected when they travel abroad. What was described is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and who has faced challenges when dealing with his immigrant identity.  As we can see, there are certain aspects that have affected his personal identity while he was in exile, and caused him a challenge issues in the United States. Immigrants like IAbdul have to pass through a process of challenging effects in order to begin healing as a whole human being.

Works Cited

Abdelhady, Dalia, The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris, NY: NYU Press. 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 1 May. 2017.

Green, Penny, and Amelia Smith. “Evicting Palestine” State Crime Journal.  5.1. (2016). 81.Vocational Studies.  Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Hasler, Beatrice. S, et. al.  “Virtual Peacemakers: Mimicry Increases Empathy In SimulatedContact With Virtual Outgroup Members.” Cyber Psychology, Behavior, And Social Networking 17.12 (2014): 766-771. MEDLINE.   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Huang, Becky H., and Sun-Ah Jun. “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of SecondLanguage Prosody.” Language & Speech 54.3 (2011): 387-414. Academic Search Complete. Fri.5 May. 2017

Lam, Andrew.  “Child of Two Worlds.” “Perfume Dreams.” Jun. 1998.

Orner, Peter. Editor. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.  McSWeeney’sBooks.   2008.

“Jews.”Funk&Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia(2006). 1p. 1. Funk &Wagnalls New WorldEncyclopediaAcademic Search Complete. Web. 1May. 2017.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  60th Anniversary Special Edition, 1948-2008. [New York]. United Nations Publications, 2007. eBook Academic CollectionEBSCOhost)   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Sample Oral History Transcripts

Jose Castillo: Hello, today we are makig an interview. Today is Tuesday. Its 5:23 PM in the afternoom, March 14 of the year 2017. We are makig an interview with Hashem’s friend, and his name is Adbul. He replied:

Jose Castillo: What is your name?

Abdul: Abdul.

Jose Castillo: Ok, nice to meet you Abdul. Ah..How do you feel today?

Abdul: I’m feel very good.

Jose Castillo: Oh that’s fantiastic that’s great.

Jose Castillo: What is your age?   He replied, I am nineteen years old.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic.

Jose Castillo: Where are you from?

Abdul Ihsun: I am from Jordan.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic, That country is so beutiful. That’s wonderful.

Jose Castillo: Lets see and let me asking you some few question during the interview. How does it feel to be in the middle of a war?

Abdul: Ah does it feel unsafe…I mean…like your life is under threat under any time, and you doesn’t feel any safe right?..

Jose Castillo: Ok..and the…

Abdul: Do you want to be find again…like…?

Jose Castillo: Oh right!      Yeah, I know that people have that kind of feeling about to be in the middle of a war.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..the next question is…What make you to come to the United States?

Abdul: I came for the main reason to study for a bachellor degree, and civil engineering study, I am curretly enrolled at City College , and I am taking basic to tranfer to San Francisco University State, and also working a part time job for a secure restaurant.

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see you can management your time to work.

Jose Castillo: The next question is: How does exile have affected your identity?

Abdul: Ah…so…basically..aahh…when the first time I came here, I just certainly    When I came to the United States, It change my..my action, values slily…ah…I am just feeling the life out..your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.

Jose Castillo: Ok..that’s fantastic. Because at the same time for surely you can fell the emotional way when you were back home you can  feel the safety here in the United States, and is a great opportunity where you can developed a more a…, a more emotional time for your can develop your personality, your idetity, and the same way you can see how the cultura here in the United States is about you know…you can learn or even assimilate your own cultura where there is another opportunity where you can see both sides of the point of views in the cultures in the country, because we live in a country where there are  so many diverse cultures comming from around the world. But at the same time, I see that your immagination of your identity has been affected…your security here away from a situation of a war where there is situation that put life in danger, but here you have an apportunity where you can have a life to study of your wonderful profession, and to apply with your own identity, and  I think that that is very interesting.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..as we continue our interested interview, and my nex question is: How does this interview envision home?

Abdul: Ahm…can you expaling more?…

Jose Castillo: Lets see in a specific story. What was your specific story if you were in your country at home, and then comming here to the United States? Can you explain?

Abdul: Ah…so when I began my high school I was thinking like …where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or in home, or so I was thinking in the Unites States, because when you gradurate you have a good jobs you kow, a source of jobs any time, ah…to emigrate to the United States, and to have besically…ah…I apply for a lotery and immigrate to the United States..ah..and I just won the visa lotery from the United States. I came here and went to City College and to tranfer to San Francisco State as I mention before to complete my bachellor degree. That’s it.

Jose Castillo: Whao…that’s amazing you envision your story at home, and the way you won the visa lotery. You’re so lucky you won the lotery, since there are many students who envision the same opportunity, but you were selected to come to the United States with the dream to come true. Congratulations to you. As we continue our interesting interview…how does this brochure of perspective of your international has affected you regarding of law of human rights?

Abdul: Ah…I want to talk about as I mention before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air, they also entered our house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupaid my house and stayed there for three days.  Can you immagine the military staying in the household for three days like you cannot do anything right?….and it…it is just really supper abusive and affects emotional…its my land, and I just fighting back for my land..

Jose Castillo: Ok…yeah..I can see. You were passing through with your friend and family, and the military violating your rights , and your friends and  your family seeing the military standing there so long…is imposible, because is a condition where people would feel frustrated, and feeling bad because is a severe violation of a human situation. People has the right to protest that even other people don’t like it, and I understand, I know a situation your went through yur family.

Adbul: Ahm…so bacically as I said before myself we were palestinian …ahm..as against human rights…against what the military do against the human rights…ahm..we were throwing rocks at them… and they shoot at us and and a cousing got shot …ahm..we actually went to the hospital…ahm…I mean… there in Palestine you can fight from freedom, which we can fight these country, which is the United States because of the free speech to protest..protest..ahm..you feel whatever you want is right to be yourself, but there  ….    you can not express by yourserlf…ahm..the way you want… because people there are abusing you, because they want to take your land and more and more land and that we wold not except.

Jose Castillo: I see…your frustration is kind of….the opression forcé….I see the moments of desperation, the moments you experience…your friend getting shot…..I see the opposing forcé oppresing you, opressing your family, oppressing your people…they don’t have civil rights to be protected, I see the moments of exesperation because is a time of oppression…whao I can believe how hurful your freind was shot…it was a moment I can see your friend being bloody in a frustrating moments and taken to the hospital and seeking help …

Adbul says in the middle of my talking: they want to take the whole land….

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see is a very difficutl situation…ah..at that point I can see…ok..ah… the next question I would like to make …is how hard was for you when comming to the United States without speaking the English language?

Adbul : Ah..it was very hard the English language the first language…when I was Young was very good, I had a litlle back up of the English language. I came to the English schoo before I came here…ah…I learned a lot of skills, listening, writing, lots of skills that were able to speak to people in the community…you know…basically they do not have language can not speak with people because…ah..most people in the United States speak English . As I said before, the English school I was enrolled, I learned a lot of staff right there…ahm….I was able to speak….to speak

Jose Castillo: Oh…I see. That’s interesting to see you already spoke the English language…you know.        , which also is an opportunity…you here in the United States…you know…and find a career and education. That’s interesting, you are part              As far I can see, there is an area you know, a hardest part you strugle..you know…  Adbul say: (to communicate….)   one you communicate, you have the facility to communicate your though..you know…     Adbul : (Caugh…)       where you can find a nice career you know. I see…is something you know, is a hardest countering English language when comming to the United States.  That’s fabulous.

Jose Castillo: Let me see with the last question: how does this interview make you to feel after telling this story in this interview?

Adbul : I feel happy because I told you a really story…the real…ah…the real aspect of my…because when I was…ah…(he looked a Little nervous..)  when I was standing in front of you…ah…I just released the pain by bringing here…ah…also was fun to meet with you…you know…you know…ah… talked about me…ah…yeap.

Jose Castillo: Whao..that’s interesting, you feel a Little…you have come out with a nice talk, you have come out of a liberation..you know…because you were able to tell with confidence…you know…your personal history…you…   Adbul say: (be whatever you want…)  you…have at home..you know…a conflictive situation..and now you are at a place where you feel secure…

Jose Castillo: Congratulations….welcome to the United States, and thank you so much.

Adbul : You welcome.

Jose Castillo: This interview ended at 6: 05 PM in the afternoom of Tuesday, March 14 of the year 2017.

 

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

by Jimmy Gonzalez, January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration Detention Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Border Plan

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

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

Prevention Through Deterrence

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

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

Solutions

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcripts

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

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

Jimmy: Security, security from?

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

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

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

Jimmy: Understood.

Jose: They force you.

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

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: That went into the gangs?

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

Jimmy: Understood, I understand

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

Jimmy: That’s how it was.

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

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

Jose: Yes

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

Jose: Yes, with my brothers.

Jimmy: Were they older than you were?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: And were they also going to school?

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

Jimmy: Which ones were they?

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Mm

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

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And she was only working

Jimmy: And you saw all of this?

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

Jimmy: Oh so you heard it?

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

Jimmy: Wow, wow

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

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To gain strength, to come here

Jimmy: Of course

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

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

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Which is why

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

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

Jose: Um

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

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

Jimmy: How old were you when?

Jose: I was sixteen years old

Jimmy: Sixteen years old

Jose: Yeah

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How did you travel to the United States?

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Describe your trip

Jose: My trip

Jimmy: How was it?

Jose: How was it?

Jimmy: Yeah

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

Jimmy: Is is safe?

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

Jimmy: That was thirty years ago.

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: The Zetas, right?

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

Jimmy: Right

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

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

Jose: Um

Jimmy: What were the difficulties?

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: And why is that the most difficult thing?

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

Jimmy: Hm… Wow, in the desert?

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

Jimmy: Where did you guys sleep?

Jose: Um..

Jimmy: In the desert?

Jose: Wherever

Jimmy: Wherever?

Jose: Yeah, you had to seek a place

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

Jose: Yeah only

Jimmy: Water?

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

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

Jose: Yeah we were like twenty-five people

Jimmy: All men, women, children?

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

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

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

Jimmy: From all the places

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

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

Jose: Um, um, well I felt distressed because

Jimmy: Hm.

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Only thirteen?!

Jose: Only thirteen.

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

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

Jimmy: Three days in the desert

Jose: Three days inside the desert.

Jimmy: And

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

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

Jose: They stayed by themselves.

Jimmy: Alone

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

Jimmy: Because the coyote had to keep moving forward?

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

Jimmy: Oh no, ah.

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

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

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

Jimmy: More fast

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

Jimmy: In your country?

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

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

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

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

Jose: Um, no, well I don’t know

Jimmy: You don’t know

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

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

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

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

Jose: Yes, I wanted to keep on studying.

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

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Teacher?

Jose: I wanted to be a history teacher, yeah

Jimmy: History Teacher

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: You went to study?

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

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

Jose: Yes, I graduated from high school

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

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

Jimmy: Uh huh

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

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

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

Jimmy: You had been disappointed

Jose: Seemed like garbage to me.

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: I understand

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

Jimmy: Due to their obstacles, wow.

Jose: Yes, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their present status.

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

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

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

Jose: What?

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

Jose: If they taught these things in school?

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Yes, yes

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

Jimmy: The normal

Jose: Like here

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: That’s it

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

Jimmy: I understand, and

Jose: It wouldn’t benefit them [laughs]

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

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

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

Jimmy: Like which ones?

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

Jimmy: Wow

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

Jimmy: Prior to coming

Jose: Many things

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

Jose: No no.

Jimmy: Or did you think.

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

Jimmy: Ah

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: In whatever

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

Jimmy: And

Jose: The idea was to start making money

Jimmy: Money?

Jose: Yeah

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

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

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

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

Jimmy: Always

Jose: In one way or another they always pressure you

Jimmy: The employers?

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

Jimmy: And the immigrant cannot do anything?

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

Jimmy: Maybe because they will not listen to you

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

Jimmy: Simply because one does not have the papers

Jose: Yeah exactly, there isn’t much

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

Jimmy: Does not have

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

Jimmy: A difference

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: But that is how life is you know

Jimmy: Here in the United States

Jose: Yes, but I do not get weary

Jimmy: You do not get weary

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

Jimmy: Of course, of course

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

Jimmy: Yes yes, I understand.

Jose: Yeah

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

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

Jimmy: An American

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

Jimmy: Yes, is the process difficult?

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

Jimmy: It is very difficult

Jose: It is very difficult, yeah

Jimmy: Wow and so now you have a wife?

Jose: Unless their is an amnesty [laughs]

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

Jose: Yes their was one in 1999

Jimmy: Uh-huh and

Jose: But since then there has not been any

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

Jose: Yes I have a daughter

Jimmy: A daughter

Jose: And I have a wife

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

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

Jimmy: Like any other family

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

Jimmy: Of course [laughs]

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

Jimmy: And your daughter was born here, right?

Jose: What?

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, she has papers?

Jose: Yes she does

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

Jose: Yes of course

Jimmy: Of course

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

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

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

Jimmy: Oh, your father is in El Salvador?

Jose: Yes, my father is in El Salvador

Jimmy: In El Salvador

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

Jimmy: Ahh I understand

Jose: In the company that he works

Jimmy: Ah, and do you miss your father?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, a lot?

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

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

Jose: Uh-huh

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

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I speak with him every now and then

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

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

Jimmy: He does not want to come here

Jose: No he doesn’t

Jimmy: He doesn’t

Jose: He’s okay over there [laughs]

Jimmy: He’s okay over their?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay, that’s good

Jose: He feels good being over their

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

Jose: Okay, um,

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

Jose: Okay yes, maybe, well, um,

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

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

Jimmy: So,

Jose: Something better you know

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

Jose: There are more opportunities for you

Jimmy: More opportunities?

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

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

Jose: Um

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

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

Jimmy: How would you feel?

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

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: It is something that is very important

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

Jose: Yes

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

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

Jimmy: Yes

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

Jimmy: Oh do you know people that

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

Jimmy: Mhm, and you wish that

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

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: Disability and all of that, you know.

Jimmy: It is not good

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

Jimmy: Yes, yes, mhm, so,

Jose: But anyways, that is the way it is

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

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

Jimmy: You feel good

Jose: Yes

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

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

Jimmy: Oh okay

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

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

Jose: More or less yeah

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: I understand enough to speak it a little.

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

Jose: Um…

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

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

Jimmy: [laughs] That does not exist

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

Jimmy: Yeah [laughs]

Jose: There is no American Dream

Jimmy: What do you think when you hear that?

Jose: What would the American Dream be for you?

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

Jose: Ah okay, well, okay that’s good

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

Jose: There is none [laughs]

Jimmy: None

Jose: For me their is no American Dream

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

Jose: Yes, but they are only sayings

Jimmy: They are fantasies, it is not real

Jose: Fantasies, yeah

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

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

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

Jose: No, I do not regret it

Jimmy: You do not regret it

Jose: Because I am better here

Jimmy: As opposed to being in El Salvador

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

Jimmy: Even though you feel the pressure

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

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

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: Even though I am doing that job

Jimmy: Yeah yeah

Jose: Yeah [laughs] that’s the truth

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

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

Jimmy: It’s not enough

Jose: Yeah, and you work like an animal.

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

Jose: No I never worked their

Jimmy: Never, how good

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

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

Jose: No

Jimmy: Everyone knows how to work

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

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: They push forward

Jimmy: Yeah

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

Jimmy: [laughs] Are lazy?

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

Jimmy: [laughs]

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

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: They don’t appreciate it

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: Yeah oh well, changing subject

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

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

Jimmy: And proud? [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] And proud, and yeah

Jimmy: Well,

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

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

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: And I appreciate your time, I wish you

Jose: Yeah, your welcome

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

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

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

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

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

by Pui Man Stephanie Ho, December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcript

Pui Man Stephanie Ho: Where did you born?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JH: That time, I was around fifty years old

SH: Did you bring any family members with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(20:46)

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

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

SH: Have you been influenced by the American culture?

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

(28:44)

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

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

(32:02)

SH: How about any differences in religion?

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

 

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

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

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

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

SH: So you see the bomb in person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Freedom to Dream

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The Freedom to Dream

by Anobel Khoushabeh, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

I Left My Heart in Syria

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I Left My Heart in Syria

by Serena Mokatish, May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Transcripts

First Meeting:

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

Steven: “Really sad.”

Serena: “Why did you feel sad?”

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

Serena: “But none of your family died?”

Steven: “None.”

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

Steven: “From the war.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Sad.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

Steven: “Do you have any more questions?”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

Serena: “Why?”

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

Serena: “And you learned more?”

Steven: “Yeah, I learned five languages.”

Serena: “Wow!”

Steven: “I know that is a lot.”

Serena: “And you have more friends there?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Fluent.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “What games did you play?

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I had so many friends.”

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

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

Serena: “Oh, that’s good.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

Serena: “Would you go back to Syria?”

Steven: “When the war stops, yes.”

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

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

Serena: “Aw!”

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

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

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

Serena: “Mhm.”

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

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

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

Serena: “On the plane?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah I love them a lot!”

Serena: “Aw!”

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

Serena: That’s good, that’s good!”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Not that much.”

Serena: (laughs) “Okay.”

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

Serena: Church?

Steven: “Church!”

Serena: “Would you miss me?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

Serena: “Why?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: Really?”

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

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

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

Steven: “Second.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: (Laughs).

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

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

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

Steven “Twenty-four.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Give me a hug.”

(Serena and Steven hug)

Second Meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Not really.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “Are you proud to be Syrian?”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “My friends and family.”

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

Steven: “Syria.”

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

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

Steven: “Happy, fun, good.”

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

Steven: “Sad, scared, and worried.”

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

Steven: “Sad, excited, and scared.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Really happy, excited, joy.”

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

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

Serena: “Of course. Nothing beats family.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena: “Why do you get mad?”

Steven: “Because I want my mom.”

Serena: “You’re a mommy’s boy.”

Steven: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Steven: “Both because we all live together.”

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

Steven: “Syrian.”

Serena: “What makes you Syrian?”

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

Serena: “Does your mom work?”

Steven: “No.”

Serena: “How about your dad?”

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

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

Steven: “Yeah, I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

Steven: “I miss my friends more.”

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

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

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

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

Serena: “What makes it boring?”

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

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

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

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

Steven: “Yeah we all help each other.”

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

Steven: “Yeah they are all nice.”

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

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

Roles, from Generation to Generation to Generation

Roles, from Generation to Generation to Generation
by Sean Lerche, December 2014

My name is Sean Lerche. I am a second generation immigrant, son of Victoria Xin, grandson of Heng Xin. I am the result of the teachings given to my grandfather being passed down to my mother and then to me. My life is destined to always be influenced by the beliefs and actions of my predecessors, by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and that influence by the past is no different for my predecessors. I was taught by my mother, my mother was taught by my grandfather, and my grandfather was influenced by his past. For my grandfather, Heng, speaking of his past meant speaking of being brought up in a poor family, of working to gain an education, and of establishing a family of his own, all the while trying to escape poverty through schooling; for my mother, Victoria, speaking of her past meant working to fulfill her parents’ wish for her to gain an education and establish a stable life of her own in the United States. Just as my grandfather would shape his values and views on life around his upbringing in a poor family and working to escape it, my mother would shape her beliefs around her father’s teachings, and she would influence how I would come to see the world.

Victoria Xin is a first generation immigrant from Hong Kong, having immigrated to San Francisco at the age of two years, and she views the United States as her home, for it is where her family is. To her, China is not where she belongs, hardly where she wishes to be, for her origin is not what determines home to her. Instead of stories of China, she would tell me stories of her youth, particularly how she interacted with her family and how she acted in school. My mother told me that, after school ended, her father would walk with her home. And along the way, they would stop at a few stores. They would buy candy and sometimes a comic book or two. They would return home to my grandmother and my mother’s four siblings. My mother told me that my grandmother would take care of every household chore: cooking meals, cleaning the house, taking care of the children; she would be strict with her children when they did wrong, to the point where she was practically feared. Victoria described, “Mm. Well, Gong-Gong worked as an accountant, and Pa-Pa stayed home to take care of me and your uncles and aunt. She did the cooking and the cleaning around the house. Umm . . . well, she was very strict.” Besides Victoria, who was the youngest, my grandparents had four other children, three sons and another daughter. The sons would fight constantly, as siblings do, and were known to go after one another. The first daughter, Victoria’s older sister, actually had moved out rather quickly, marrying in her late adolescence. While still an immigrant from Hong Kong, Victoria’s life revolved around her family in the United States, not around where she once lived.

For my grandfather, Heng Xin, a traditional familial structure seemed best, one in which the father works, the mother remains at home, and the children focus on attending school and getting good grades; having seen how his father could not care for his entire family, Heng came to see his parents’ family as being unstable and wished never to return to that, eventually pushing his daughter Victoria to seek to establish a stable, traditional family. His father was a polygamist and had multiple wives. As a result, Heng had many half-siblings, a few which he did grow close to. His father however did not make much money, and the family often had to eat what they could. His mother would fight with the other mothers in an effort to get food for her own child, but she rarely spent time with Heng because of it. To Heng, this familial structure, in which the father works to care for multiple wives and many children, may have appeared as faulty. His father could not provide much of a life for his children, and Heng likely saw this as a failure on his part. To avoid ever being in such a situation once more, a family with only two parents and kids, in which both parents had certain roles to play in the structure, had stability. In regards to Victoria, the expectation was to find stability in her own life, to first gain an education and a good job, then to start a family. Victoria noted, “I didn’t move out until I was, mm, 27, I think. It was easier to afford college living with Gong-Gong and Pa-Pa (Cantonese for one’s grandparents on one’s mother’s side; Gong-Gong for one’s grandfather, and Pa-Pa for one’s grandmother). They never really minded, as long as I was in school.” For me, though, my mother actually works. My grandfather, however, never minded. He did still expect me to work to attain a stable job; he did hope that I would be secure in my future and thought that it would provide me with happiness, as it had for him. In an effort to find stability in his life that was absent from his childhood, Heng came to believe that he must push his descendants to seek stability as well, both in the workplace and in one’s family; while Victoria did establish a family, she chose to have her own career instead of being the caretaker at home.
Without the guidance of his parents, being that they were normally too preoccupied as to pay heed to him, Heng learned to act on his own, working to succeed in school so as to escape poverty. In order to attend school, he would ride his bike for miles. When he became tired, he would go so far as to hang onto the back of a bus while it moved down the busy streets of Hong Kong. For him, he came to view school as being an important part of his life, seeing it as the pathway to a new life far from his poor origins. It is completely possible that Heng even felt pressure in his schooling to succeed as well. Writer Lau Sing notes, “Chinese students regarded interest and effort as being a more important factor for success in work than American students did. They also saw having personal assets such as good luck, wealth, and intelligence as being more important,” after reviewing over what students in both Hong Kong and the U.S. view as being the purpose of schooling. Heng very well may have feared that there was no other path than schooling, even if it was at the expense of classmates. Without his parents, Heng learned to act in school independently, finding his own drive to succeed.

Seeking stability in his life apart from the poverty he experienced in his youth, Heng focused on finding stable work and establishing a family, even as World War II and the civil war in China threw his life in disarray. As the years passed for Heng, he went on to study to become a marine customs officer. He actually worked from a fourth-level officer to a first-level officer. He claimed he wished he could have remained an officer. When Japan invaded China during World War II, he cleverly avoided being drafted into the Chinese army by remaining a customs officer, but even he had to escape northward across China to avoid the invading Japanese army. To his luck though, Heng met his wife along his escape. He vied to her parents for marriage and won them over. They would eventually have five kids in total. The war had its losses though. Heng would later find out his sister had been a casualty. He didn’t really voice how close he was to her, and he didn’t show any signs through facial expression. Even after World War II, there was an ongoing civil war between the capitalists in power, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the communist party, led by Mao Zedong. When the communists won, they spread their government control all the way to southern China. Heng was told he had to give up half of his belongings. He found this to his disliking, for he’d long worked for what he owned. He and his family left for Hong Kong across the bridge connecting mainland China to the island, which he said was rarely guarded well. The schools in Hong Kong were incredibly competitive though, and his children were having difficulty. So he left Hong Kong soon after for the United States. I asked him about his political thoughts on the civil war, about whether he agreed with capitalism or communism. As was uniquely my grandfather, he answered with a big smile that it didn’t matter to him. The communists took his stuff, and he didn’t like that. All that mattered was creating a stable life for himself and his family; affiliation to any political side or even China meant little in comparison.

Already having grown used to thinking and acting independently in his childhood due to the inability to depend upon his parents, Heng would come to see that he could not so easily trust either his nation or the rest of the world, having experienced both World War II and the communist revolution, and that his loyalty lies solely with his family. In the midst of fighting between the Chinese army and the Japanese army and between the GMD and the CCP, Heng could not feel any allegiance to the Chinese army or either the capitalists or the communists. No side guaranteed his safety or even the safety of his family, for which he sought stability for. In World War II, his sister died. In the communist revolution, he had to flee with his family to Hong Kong. No side worked to aide him; he could only trust his own thoughts and actions. To Heng, the only ones he could trust were his family, and that was where his loyalty would come to lie; my grandfather would come to instill the same sort of loyalty in me. Growing up, my grandfather came to be aware of my efforts to remain strong for my family, not by asking but by observing the same behavior in me he had displayed. I would not show distress to my family, and he was able to see me acting as such, for he had done so for his own family. Victoria says of her father, “I don’t think I ever saw him cry. He was always smiling.” Working to become the pillar for my family, he would come to be a pillar for me. Having thought and acted independently, unable to see how he could have trusted others to aide him, my grandfather would come to believe that, as the pillar of his family, he could not show his distress; having done so himself, he would be able to see how I acted to do so for my own family and act to be a pillar for me. Having come to believe that he must act to protect his family due to two wars that threatened his family’s and his own safety, his independent thinking and dedication to his family would be what would eventually allow me to relate to him, as we both had worked to protect our families.
Heng would come to pressure his own daughter to seek higher education, and his daughter would come to pressure her son to seek higher education. To him, the education she gained would have been a result of his pushing, and that education would have guaranteed her future, even if it meant she would resent him for it. At the same time though, this very pressure he placed on her would eventually become my own burden. My mother would come to place this very same pressure to succeed upon me. As much as she wished she had not experienced it herself, she would come to expect me to succeed as well. She would come to always remind me of how smart I am, of how, if I made more of an effort, I could succeed. She would come to act as her father had, as his past had pushed my grandfather to pressure himself. For me personally, though, I can’t help but wonder how important an education really is. I understand that an education would guarantee my future, that it would mean my safety in an economy with an expanding financial gap between the rich and the poor. “At the same time, technology is making education a significant barrier between the rich and poor in America. If you have a college degree in the US, the unemployment rate is 4%. If you don’t, the unemployment rate is near 20%,” as Eric Jackson stated while observing the reasons for the shrinking middle class in the U.S. I do question, though, whether that diploma will be for me or my mother, whether it will mean my happiness, or whether it will solidify my mother’s success in raising me. In asking that, I must also question how my grandfather felt as well, as to what his push to pressure my mother to gain an education was for as well. It is his action in pressuring my mother to seek higher education that would eventually cause her to believe that she must pressure me to seek higher education, even as I try to find my own drive in doing so.

Having been raised in a poor family, in which his father was a polygamist and could not provide his family with more money on his menial pay and neither of his parents had the time to pay heed to him, Heng came to believe that he had to act independently, seeking an education so as to find stability in life; when he established a family of his own, Heng instilled the values he learned and placed high expectations on his children, believing that such actions would eventually provide them with the happiness that he found. Heng’s upbringing taught him his views on life and himself, and his past would come to influence his children and even his children’s children, for his teachings would become the foundation for how his children would raise their children. Having sought an education and succeeded, Heng would pressure his children to seek educations, and they would do the same to their own children. The past that had caused Heng to seek an education and search for stability in life would come to eventually affect how his children, including Victoria, would be raised and how they would raise their own children; his past would affect not only him but also the next generation and the generation after that. Even so, while my grandfather believed in thinking and acting independently, I grew to be independent entirely of my own volition, without having been pressured by him to do so; I had chosen to act independently so as to better serve my family, just as he did, and knowing that we had both done so allowed for us to grow close through that similarity. My mother was also able to form a life independently, apart from her father’s influences; while her father believed in a traditional family structure, in which the wife is to fulfill the role of caretaker for the house, Victoria started a career as a lawyer, though her father never really objected to her seeking a career. While my grandfather does still influences both my mother’s and my views on life, both my mother and I are still able to think and act independently of his teachings; however, my grandfather will always be the teacher of my mother and me, teaching us his values and views on life, just as his past had taught him. So it is for all people; their pasts influence the way they view life, and they will go on to teach their children their values, eventually influencing the next generation and maybe even the next one through their children.

Works Cited

Sing, Lau, et al. “Chinese and American Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Purposes of
Education and Beliefs about the World of Work.” Social Behavior & Personality: An
International Journal 28.1 (2000): 73. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 May 2014.

Jackson, Eric. “Why the Middle Class Matters in both the US and China.” Forbes.com
(2011): 21. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 May 2014.

Georgian-American or American-Georgian

tbilisi_sunset-6

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.

From A Refugee’s Perspective: Life in the U.S. and Iraq

From A Refugee’s Perspective: Life in the U.S. and Iraq
by Lujain Alobaide, June, 2014

Voice of Witness is a project that has launched several books illuminating human rights abuses. Their oral history interviews include immigrants who have encountered human rights abuses at the hands of their oppressive homeland regimes, human traffickers, employers, and law enforcement. In our English class at CCSF, we also conducted oral history interviews with immigrants who may or may not have necessarily suffered human rights abuses. In doing so, we urged them to debunk myths about immigrants and reflect on their experiences in both their homelands and their new host-country. I decided to interview a friend and fellow Iraqi. Adel was born in Baghdad in 1997, when severe economic sanctions were placed on the nation after its attempt to invade Kuwait. After six years of his unfortunate childhood, the United States of America, along with several international forces combined, declared war on Iraq and occupied the country after almost three weeks of battle and the almost complete destruction of the infrastructure of the country. Life was extremely rough on Iraqis, especially for children, who encountered all kinds of widespread corruption at every level of government and society. After seven years of insecurity due to ethnic killings between Sunis and Shittes, Adel and his family immigrated to the U.S., the country that had so negatively impacted Iraqis’ lives; however, having the blessing of being safe was more significant than worrying about who had planted the roots of the problems. Although there are some inherent disadvantages of living in the U.S. for Adel and his family, he mainly spoke about the overall advantages the U.S. offers in comparison to Iraq: the opportunity to live in an advanced and productive society, the modern educational system, and the ability to live in better and safer conditions despite the new loss of financial security.

Adel believes that his family was destined to come to the United States sooner or later. His father, Oday, wanted to move to the U.S. even before the invasion because he believed that his prospects would be brighter in the land of dreams; indeed, I learned later that he was mainly influenced by his American brother. Adel’s grandfather gave Oday the permission to travel, but on the condition that he marry first. After he got married, Adel’s grandfather was disabled and completely paralyzed. After this sad incident, Oday became the head of the family, and it was inappropriate for him to leave his disabled father behind. After a few years, his father died, his sister got married, and the door was open again to the possibility of immigrating to the U.S. in 2004. Oday successfully convinced his kids and wife to move there someday. As Adel told me, “It was planted in our minds that we will immigrate someday.” Furthermore, he participated in a lottery that could grant him a green card right away. Oday was extremely eager to travel in 2004 since he had a job waiting for him, but all his attempts had failed until he learned about the International Organization for Migration. Although it was a long and tedious process, Adel’s cousin urged them to apply, especially after one of Oday’s partners took his money and had threatened to kill him. Therefore, the family moved to Jordan and then to the U.S.

Adel started to express his ideas about some advantages he gained after moving to the U.S., such as the freedoms of speech and expression that were denied to him and his fellow Iraqis before. He discussed the simplest example that he could give and said, “In Iraq, a student could neither express his opinions nor argue or disagree with his teacher’s opinion” in middle school. He certainly thinks that the U.S. offers a certain level of freedom of speech and expression. Indeed, Iraqis’ opinions and freedom of speech were greatly suppressed and banned before and after the war of 2003. Mouwaffaq Al-rifa’I, in his brilliant article “False Hopes,” addresses the fact that with the current political instability, freedom of speech and press suffered greatly before and after Saddam’s regime. The government in Iraq was so oppressive that all oppositionists had to flee from Iraq, and the press had one duty, to praise the president and his family. If any politician or ordinary citizen criticized the government and the president in particular, he or she would be prosecuted. More recently, people may not criticize the government unless they are willing to risk their lives. Unfortunately, the issue of freedom in Iraq was so restricted even to a child-like Adel, who saw a huge distinction between the two countries.

We also discussed the pros and the cons of Iraqi society versus American society, and Adel agreed that Americans have a more individualistic life than the family-oriented lifestyle of Iraqis; nevertheless, he prefers it since it has enabled the Americans to become a more advanced and productive society. He complains the Iraqi community still has its despicable age-old tradition of caring too much about gossip and the fact that they often impose on a person’s privacy by asking personal questions. Adel claims that he and his family have abandoned those habits. Adel explained that in Iraq,“People have plenty of leisure time; they have nothing to do, while here you have to work a lot.” To a certain extent, I disagree with him. Most people in the U.S. have no time for any kind of social life in comparison to Iraqis. Adel agreed with me, yet said once again that people care more about work, probably indicating that this is what places the U.S. among the most developed countries in the world. Adel perceives life in the U.S. as a very practical, work-oriented type of lifestyle, while family and gossip is always the priority for his fellow Iraqis. He mentioned that “A typical day of an Iraqi is working from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then enjoying the rest of the day with their families.” Then he severely criticized his own people and called them mostly “lazy folks,” placing huge importance on secondary matters such as food, saying “People live to eat, not eat to live” while Americans are hard-working folks. For the most part, it is certainly significant for any country to be advanced to maintain its work productivity; however, that doesn’t justify the almost lack of social life among Americans. It’s clear that the fact that Adel has grown up in Iraq during war-time has negatively impacted the way he looks at his society, while he appreciates living in what he calls a “productive society.”

Although many Americans criticize their education system, Adel believes that the United States education system is much better than the education systems in both Iraq and Jordan. Adel experienced a great deal of suffering due to the educational practices that were common in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003. Adel summed up his experience by saying, “I passed my classes by bribing my teachers.” In Iraq, several teachers forced him to pay for useless private sessions in order to pass the classes. For instance, although he admitted he neither spoke, wrote, nor understood any English, he was exempted from taking the final exam, since it was merely about paying money to teachers behind closed doors. Furthermore, in other subjects such as Arabic, Math, or even Islamic Studies, he would either pay for a private session or one of his classmates would give him a copy of the test after obtaining it by bribing that particular teacher. When Adel moved to Jordan, things became even worse for him. Teachers abused their authority by beating their students, using thick pieces of wood, small aluminum pipes, or other instruments, which caused him to hate going to school. Obviously, education was one of several aspects of Iraqis’ lives that were utterly destroyed by corruption and bribery. While in Jordan, that particular school hadn’t yet purged the old barbaric practice of corporal punishment, which indeed caused Adel not only to hate the school, but also to hate his memories of Jordan. On the other hand, schools in the U.S. allow students to pick their classes after consulting with their advisers and there is no inhumane treatment of students. Hence, studying in the U.S. represents a great opportunity for Adel to expand his educational experience, and start loving school.
Like many immigrants, Adel’s first impression of the U.S. has its own unique taste of mixed emotions, and Adel felt that some medical agencies had discriminated against him since he came from Iraq, while he felt he was treated with great sympathy and respect in his two-week middle school experience for the same reason. As any new immigrant, Adel and his family, accompanied by his uncle, applied for social security numbers as their first step in the long process of obtaining green cards and then applying for citizenship. One of the requirements is a medical check-up, during which he felt he was subject to unnecessary shots because the nurses knew he was from Iraq. They felt obligated to prevent any kind of diseases from spreading because of the radiation that was left over after the shelling. He also mentioned that his uncle’s wife, who is an Irish-American nurse, was surprised and annoyed by the amount of medicine and shots they were injected with. Adel remained sick for two weeks and believed it was due to the excessive and unnecessary medicine. In contrast, one week after living in the U.S., he attended the last two-weeks of middle school in Oroville, California. Adel felt utterly welcome despite the language barrier. He said, “I spoke very few words, like five or six, such as hi, how are you? And these kind of stuff.” Students urged him to come by and sit with them at lunch time, while the kindness of his music teacher impressed him. Adel said, “Every morning I would go to see a band practicing. One day, he posted a sign saying not to enter, so I didn’t. Next day I saw him and he told me that I’m an exception to the rule, and that I can actually enter.” His teacher was extremely sympathetic and respectful because he knew what it really meant for a kid to be living in Iraq at that time. Although it was a minor type of discrimination, Adel felt insulted by the way he was treated according to that labeling of being an Iraqi, while on the contrary, Adel’s two-week experience in middle school not only made him love going to school, but also helped him successfully integrate into American life.

Adel’s family was considered a middle-class family in Iraq, given that his father was an electrical engineer, while he is currently among the working class in the U.S., so I touched on this sensitive area regarding the governmental assistance his family is receiving. Adel’s family receives both food stamps and cash aid, so I asked him about how they met their living expenses. He explained that they rented out their home in Iraq, and used that money combined with government assistance to make ends meet. I plunged in into one of the most widespread misconceptions regarding immigrants and I informed him that some Americans view those who take government assistance, such as his family, as parasites. He responded, “We have only finished three years in total and that if we will be taking it for more than five years, the myth become valid.” Adel had forgotten that his father is unable to practice his profession since his degree isn’t recognized in the U.S. Indeed, he must study for a couple years to earn the equivalent degree. In the meantime, he is actively looking for a part-time job that can accommodate his medical conditions, while Adel’s mother is currently working part-time. Indeed, after Adel got his job at McDonald’s and his mother started working at Costco, the county reduced their benefits by more than half. His personal experience is just one among thousands of people who are wrongfully accused of being parasites. Although there are some prejudices against immigrants like Adel, he is very resilient and able to deal with them and with the lower-level of financial income that his family now has.

One of the reasons why Adel has such a negative impression of his homeland is the overall corruption trend in Iraqis’ lives. According to the United States Department of Justice’s report on the overall status of Iraq in 2013, ten years after the war ended, the severe human rights abuses still persist. That said, the three most important ones are:
“politically motivated sectarian and ethnic killings, including by the resurgent terrorist network led by al-Qaida and its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI); torture and abuses by government actors and illegal armed groups; and a lack of governmental transparency, exacerbated by widespread corruption at all levels of government and society.”

Iraq has been the best place for terrorist groups to seek shelter. This fact, in addition to the government’s unlawful actions against civilians, led to 6564 fatalities in 2013. Arbitrary arrest and long-term imprisonment without trial was widespread in the last decade. Human rights abuses and degrading treatment in prison and detention centers that usually lack clean water and electricity were very common as well. Moreover, many other international agencies that advocate and monitor human rights were banned from access to sensitive locations like prisons and detention centers. Corruption on the governmental level was so bad that it was reported that 60 percent of the country government employees were bribed, and several citizens confessed that they were compelled to pay bribes an average of four times a day. In addition, government officials were found to be guilty of stealing public funds, and the total of the first ten months of the same year was found to be 112 million dollars. Previously mentioned, conditions and others has created such a negative depiction in Adel’s mind regardless of what the roots of the original problem are.

One of the biggest advantages the U.S. has to offer became apparent as Adel spoke about one of his harrowing experiences in Iraq. A few weeks after the official occupation of Iraq, an Iraqi missile fell on his family home while they were eating lunch; in Adel’s own words, “It fell down exactly on the room that was above us. If there was nothing to block it, it would have fallen on us. If we [hadn’t] died from its heavy weight, we would probably [would have] died from its extremely high heat.” Luckily, it was a defective missile, and when it fell down, only half of it fell. Adel’s family were enjoying their lunch, when his aunt stood up and started washing dishes. The shelling didn’t really sound that severe, at least compared to three weeks of continuous shelling. His father thought that the shelling was just starting earlier than the usual, when his mother observed that the neighbors were actually pointing at their house. The neighbors told his father that there was some smoke coming from the backyard. His father went upstairs to find a cloud of smoke, and then ordered the entire family to evacuate the house. Police officers and firefighters arrived. More than ten men equipped with different kinds of rags and gloves crawled down the stairs with the missile and placed it in their truck. It was really heavy and extremely hot, and caused major cracks on their stairs. They were all terrified; however, they had some type of metal air-conditioner holder that had a cubic shape, which stopped the missile from getting into the kitchen and most likely ending their lives. Probably, the paramount advantage is the security he enjoys while living in the U.S., which was perfectly expressed in his own words: “at least [in the U.S] I could put my head on the pillow without having to worry about if some militia will raid on our house and kills us… ” For the most part, almost every war-refugee would agree that having the grace of safety is always the number one advantage the host country can provide for with.

Although living in the U.S. has its disadvantages for Adel and his family, he sees the U.S. as a place that has provided him with safe living conditions, access to a well-developed education system, and the chance to live in a productive society. Being a refugee and child in a time of war has greatly impacted the way Adel views his homeland, especially in comparison to the U.S. Iraq has been under harsh conditions since the first Gulf War of 1980. War after war, combined with economic sanctions and isolation from the international community has spurred many Iraqis like Adel to emigrate to more advanced societies that can provide them with basic human needs. Indeed, the majority of Iraqi immigrants have fled the country due to the utterly unsafe living conditions, which is a natural human merit that makes any human favor living in the safer country. Therefore, home for Iraqis is the place where safety can be found, and basic human rights are granted. Probably the best statement that describes why Adel and other Iraqi children might not admire their original country is found in Shereen T. Ismael Article, “The Cost of War: The Children of Iraq.” Ismael said, “Peace is the nurture of happy children.” Therefore, violence combined with widespread insecurity and corruption makes the United States the best provider for Adel and his family’s needs, which were lacking in his homeland country.

Work Cited

Abdullha, Adel. Personal interview. 7 March 2014.

Ismael, Shereen T. “The Cost of War: The Children of Iraq.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 38.2 (2007): 337-357. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 May 2014.

United States. Dept. of Justice. “Iraq 2013 Human Rights Report.” The United
State Department of Justice. Virtual Law Library, May. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

Rifa’i, Mouwaffaq Al. “False Hopes.” Index on Censorship 36.3 (2007): 35-43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 May 2014.

Interview Transcripts

I told my friend Adel previously about the project and he agreed to be interviewed by me.

Lujain: Adel tell me about your life in Iraq.

Adel: Should I speak in English?

Lujain: You don’t have to.

Since I knew that he would express himself much better in Arabic than English. Arabic was the language spoken between us throughout the interview. In addition, please not that these are not the entire transcripts; this is only some part of the interview.

Adel: on the first day of the war, we were prepared for the war by setting a room that was next to the stairs, next to a bathroom, so that the entire family could sleep there at the outset of the war of 2003. I and my sister brought our stuff, and toys and placed them in that room, and it was determined that this room would be the safest one. In other words, it would be the last room to be destroyed if a missile would hit our house.

Lujain: Are you saying that only you and Sarah (his sister) would sleep in that particular room since it is safer to remain there?

Adel: Well, actually all of the family stayed there whenever the shelling was too severe. Also, this room has few windows, so it was safer to remain there for the first month of the war. May uncle and his family (two daughters, two sons, and his wife) came and stayed with us in our home as well. My uncle use to live in your Neighborhood (Lujain’s Neighborhood). Indeed, my uncle had died (sighs). We were total of 13 person living in our house.

Lujain: Wow, that’s a lot. How many rooms were there in your home?

Adel: Man what are you talking about, we were all 13 individual in my small room whenever the shelling was severe. I think that was merely true for the first week, and then we started to play some games.

Lujain: Okay.

Adel: Because we thought if we were going to die then we will. There was no much to do about it. We were constantly hearing airplanes noises.

Lujain: Tell me about when the missile fell down at your house; was your uncle’s family still living with you?

Adel: Haaaaaaaaa هااااااا, no they weren’t with us, they returned back to their neighborhood after a while. (The Arabic word is a special Iraqi expression that refers to that fact that the person now got the idea of what the other person is asking or talking about).

Lujain: Uhmm, then tell me when did that happened? The Official war was no more than three weeks.

Adel: I know

Lujain: Then, when did the missile fell down?

Adel: in the middle of the war.

Lujain; Uhmm, (facial expression suggesting that I still don’t get it).

Adel: It was after the official occupation of Baghdad, but it was an Iraqi-missile.

Lujain: Okay

Adel: But there was still sort of minor resistance against the American Army. There was still some parts that were under the Iraqi-control.

Lujain: uhmm, okay. (Laughs), Oh Lord, why did they merely targeted it your house?!

Adel: exactly man, I guess it was a random mistake.

Lujain: An Iraq missile.

Adel: it was a spoiled missile. Only half of the missile fell down.

Lujain: Okay. Who were the agencies, or people that came to assist you?

Adel: Police and firefighters.

Lujain: but…( interrupted )

Adel: wait, let me say it in a chronological order. (Laughs). We were eating our lunch when the missile felt down. It fell down exactly on the room that was above us. If there was nothing to block it, it would have fell on us. If we weren’t to die from its heavy weight, we would probably die from its extremely high heat. My aunt were washing dishes, the whole family were in the kitchen eating our lunch. It was afternoon.

Lujain: who was there again beside you?

Adel: my family, aunt, and my grandmother.

Adel: the voice wasn’t that huge in comparison to what we heard during the war. It was utterly soft voice.

Lujain: That is so bizarre. I remember that even when missiles were distanced, their voices was still intimidating. May be it is because it was spoiled.
Adel: I don’t know. My father took me and my sister to the secure room, and sat us in his lap, and placed his arms around us.

Lujain: As a child: What were your feelings? Afraid, terrified, etc.

Adel: yep, of course I was terrified.

Lujain: Was your body shaking? Did you got sick because o you fear? (I was requesting more details).

Adel: oh okay, no, we were all afraid, but no to the point that I got sick. A child is hearing a horribly loud voices, what do you expect him to feel? (Adel was fumed). We used to close the doors and the windows to minimize these voices. The room would isolated the voice.

Lujain: Okay. Man, I remember our house was shacking as if an earthquake had occurred.

Adel: We would always sit in the room that has the fewer windows. My dad observed, “Oh the shelling have started so early today”, when it felt down. All of the sudden, my mom mentioned that our neighbors are looking at our houses, and they were pointing.

Lujain: (Laughs).[ Laughs that was intended to show the irony of what life can bring into people’s lives].

Adel: My dad went out, and the neighbors’ said there was a smoke evolving from the back yard of our house. We spilt the house before the war into two houses: once was sold, and the other one is where we lived.

Lujain: Okay

Adel: sighs, he went upstairs, and the merely view was pure smoke. He said, “everyone hurry up out.” We went out to the house that was exactly in front of our house. Indeed, after the war, a bickering had occurred between us and them.

Lujain: OKAY

Adel: Anyway: one of them kept repeating, did it explode yet or not? Laughing.

Lujain: what….??? Surprised from the that person reaction.

Adel: I swear we were all afraid, while this lady was wondering in such a rude way.

Lujain: Oh my God.

Adel: my father was the only one who stayed with the police and the firefighters to help getting the thing out. One of them opened the door and ordered everyone else to go down stairs.

Lujain: ohh (in a surprising tone), there was still some sort of services provided during that time.

Adel: Yep it was a missile. It would have destroyed the entire neighborhood, not only our house. The expert went out of the room and said, “It’s spoiled, it won’t explode.” But there was a liquid, if it started to pour down, then there would still a possibility of explosion.

Lujain: uhmmm

Adel: Look, it was already so hot, so it will operate fire and explode. The missile was exceptionally hot. (He emphasized that three times). The experts brought all kind of rags and gloves, and the missile was crawled down by more than ten man. It almost broke our stairs. You can certainly see the cracks that was left behind by the missile.

Lujain: Do you know how many tons was it?

Adel: No.

Lujain: wow, ten men carried it.

Adel: No, it was only by crawling it down. You might want to ask my day about the exact weigh and number of people who helped crawling it down Again, I assure you that it was no less than 10 man. All the edges were cracked. They delivered it to the truck, and carried it up in somehow and placed it in.

L.A: Now, tell me about the reasons why did your family decide to leave Iraq and when was that decision of going to the U.S. made?

A.A: my father decide to go to the U.S before he even married my mother.

L.A: why?

A.A: My dad wanted to get out of Iraq uhmm uhmm, honestly, he went to get out of the country to build his future more.

L.A: So, in his point of view, Iraq was inadequate place to live at.

A.A: it’s not about being inadequate, he want to go out because my uncle did so before him. My grandfather, may God place his mercy upon him, told him that he should first get married so his family will be content about his situation, and then he could travel afterward.

L.A: okay.

A.A: My dad told grandpa okay, he married my mom, and they were cousins anyway. During the time my father got married, my grandfather was incapacitated. He was totally paralyzed. He couldn’t even talk, so my father was the only one who took care of him during that time. My dad was the head of the house, so it was utterly wrong for him to travel.

L.A: okay

A.A: my grandfather died, and my grandmother and my aunty lived with us. When my aunt got married he thought about it again. My dad thought that he will go first and then he will send us some kind of invitation later. He didn’t thought about us coming.

L.A: When was that?

A.A: I think it was in 2004, when my uncle who resides in the U.S. found a job for him, and my dad was about to sign the contract.

L.A: why? Wasn’t there any jobs in Iraq?

A.A, yes there was some, but he wanted to become a citizen and then invite us easily.

L.A: why do you think obtaining American citizenship is important?

A.A: Because people would respect you if you have it. Just go to anywhere worldwide and they wouldn’t respect your Iraqi citizenship. If you travel with U.S. passport, people will put you above their heads [They would highly respect you].

L.A: don’t you think the reason folks around the world don’t respect us is the consequences evolved after the war?

A.A: of course, after the falling of the regime. But let me tell you, when I first started to have some sort of realization, it was in planted in our minds that we will go out someday. It was like a dream that my father convinced us of. He would always sent messages to an organization.

L.A: do you mean the IOM? Or the UN?

A.A: No, no no, I forgot it man. You just get it by luck.

L.A: Oh, I Think you’re talking about lottery.

A.A: There were many people who won it, but after a while our case was declined.

L.A: uhmmm.

A.A: My cousin Ali, he called and told us about it, which he was the first one who applied. He urged us to apply, and there were many steps in the process. After a while, we had an interview. Don’t ask me about the date though.

L.A: Was it in Iraq?

A.A.: No the interview was conducted in Jordan. So they sent us visas to go there, because it was hard for an Iraqi to get a visa to Jordan. We traveled there by car. It was extremely nice. We noticed that people had many papers. Our driver in surprise wondered where our papers are.

L.A: Do you visas?

A.A: Yeah I guess. We told the driver to calm down, we will pay you man, no worries. We entered easily unlike other folks. We did the interview and we were told to wait for the second interview, which takes about more than five months to be contacted again.

L.A: so you didn’t face any hardships. Everything was well prepared for you.

A.A: It was really nice, as if you were entering heaven.

L.A: do you mean the first time you saw Jordan was to you as though you entered paradise?

A.A: OF Course, nodding his head. From destroyed building to Malls and stuff.

L.A: can you explain more?

A.A: even when we entered anapartment it was really wow. Indeed, it was normal apartment. The apartment below us was where my cousin Ali lived.

L.A: okay.

A.A: In surprising turn, we had to wait for a long time after the first interview, and we were supposed to move to Jordan; however, we didn’t know and we wasn’t prepared. They didn’t tell us that we will be living in Jordan from now and on. Frankly, it was really tough on us.

L.A: you were shocked.

A.A. extremely shocked, because we can’t return again, the visas are provide only once. We started to think about how we are going to go back again but we went to Iraq again anyway. Anyway, the first day we weren’t tired when we first arrived, the whole route was pretty nice, mountains and totally new nature.

L.A: okay

A.A: okay, we returned back, and prepared ourselves to travel back to Jordan. I passed my classes by bribing my teachers (paying for useless private sessions). Indeed, the teacher came to me and told me you have to take a private lecture in order for me to pass the class, so did I and I passed. Again, it was really hard to prepare for our departure.

L.A: Are you saying because after the war, there was a lot of corruption in all aspects of life including education?

A.A: Yes, so corrupted, so corrupted, so corrupted (he repeated).

L.A: Did you learning anything in school, or was it just because you sort of have to go?

A.A: Well, although I didn’t understand anything in English, I was exempted from English ( a special Iraqi system, in which if you are really good at certain subject and you have a grade of an A, then you are exempted from taking the final exam). The exact reason behind getting the exemption is that I went with a group of students and paid a private teaching session. We would put the money inside the Notebook and gave it to her. Also, the lady who was my personal driver is my Islamic studies teacher, so I secured a good grade as well.

L.A: (Laughing)…

A.A: For Arabic, my friend would pay the teacher, get the exams and gave me some copies; however, my geography teacher demanded an extremely high rate for a private session. I just couldn’t afford it.

L.A: how much did she wanted?

A.A: yeah, indeed I paid about 200 dollars for my English teacher, but for geography she demanded it at least one session per month. So as a consequence, I didn’t pass the geography, but luckily I passed the class as whole just because I had a good average.

L.A: So tell me about when you first arrived to the U.S.

A.A: My uncle was waiting for us, it was warm-moments to reunite with my uncle, whom I never saw before. We went to their home and slept since we were extraordinary tired after a long trip. On the very next day, we woke up, and found ourselves in a forest.

L.A: wasn’t clear for you where are you at from the first day you arrived?

A.A: no it wasn’t clear. Even the second day we we’re still exhausted, but the third day we were so shocked. Living in a forest, no neighbors, and you can’t even walk, the nearest city is thirty minute a way. I mean we used to live in the center of the city of Baghdad. (it was a big transition).

L.A: Okay.

A.A: then we moved to Jordan, but it was always crowded with people. Now, we were living in exile.

L.A: weren’t there any stores or any kind of malls close to your uncle home?

A.A: No, you have to drive thirty minutes. There may be two neighbor, one of them has a shortage of electricity and used his generator to conduct electricity.

L.A: dude, that sounds like you were still in Iraq.

A.A: We went and applied for social security number. Also, I was ill during that time. When we went to the hospital for a medical check-up, I personally took at least five shots on each arm. It was really strong, that’s probably why I got sick. My uncle’s wife is actually a nurse; and was surprised and annoyed for the amount of shots we had to take. She herself wondered why would the give us all of that. It seemed like when they knew we were from Iraq, they had to do that because they were afraid that radiations or whatever kind of diseases we might have carried with us from there.

L.A: did you feel undignified because of the way they treated you in the hospital? Do you think the hospital stuff dislike the place you came from?

A.A: Yes, they did.

L.A: how was your respond to the new society?

A.A: I was so afraid.

L.A: from what?

A.A: everything. After one week, I begun to attend school right away.

L.A: How was your interactions in the school with students in particular?

A.A: Their reaction toward me was a new student who didn’t spoke any English. Frankly, my English was so bad back then. I barely spoke couple words. Most of the time, I didn’t understand a word from what they’re telling me. I speak few words, like five or six, such as Hi, how are you and these kind of stuff. But I tell you in my uncle house..

L.A: how many years have you studying English?

A.A: In Iraq one year, but all the years was private sessions.

L.A: uhmmm.

A.A: In Jordan also was a year, but it was British. It was all different. I started to understand them a bit, but I couldn’t do any homework without my uncle’s wife.

L.A: so she tutored you.

A.A: yes, but the problem was that I even couldn’t understand her either (Irish American who speaks English only). Man, when she used to say hi to me, I would only wave to her by my hand. Similarly with my mom, they kept saying hi to each other. We didn’t speak it. When I first saw my dad speaking, I was like wow; where did he learn it?! The first day in school, they called an Iraqi girl who was younger than I to assist me. But honestly she only showed me where my class is. I didn’t understand anything, they all left me by myself. Oh, Lord, What am I going to do? I was scared to death. In addition, my music teacher was extraordinarily nice to me, he welcomed me. Every morning I would go to see a band practicing. One day he posted a sign saying not to enter, so I didn’t. Next day I saw him and he told me that I’m an exception to the rule, and that I can actually enter. He knew that I like these stuff, and I’m not a troublemaker.

L.A: so he distinguished you from everyone else. Do you think he was sympathetic since you are Iraqi.

A.A: Yes I do think he was sympathetic because I’m Iraqi.

A.L: what did you feel about all that?

A.A: I respected him because…… (quite)

L.A: do you think you are lucky because your uncle was here given that he knows the country very well? (He came to the U.S. in about more than 40 years ago). You know some people come without having proper documentation and has no one to offer help for them.

A.A: Yeah it was really tough on us. Without him, we are destroyed……
After that, we wanted to move out, because we wanted to find a place where jobs are available, so my parents could work. We first thought about moving to Sacramento, but we finally came to Daly City where your uncle’s live. There was so Arabs who live there. We aren’t alone. It was nice.

L.A: so you told me you came nearby San Francisco to find a job right.

A.A: YES

L.A: okay, from what do you pay living expenses during you first three years?

A.A: we rented our home in Iraq. Also, some assistances the government provide us with. Currently, my mother is working, and my father is still looking for a job.

L.A: what do you mean by assistances? Is it cash aid and food stamps?

A.A: yes.

L.A: many Americans believe that those who take these services are parasites. What do you think about that?

A.A: it’s not a shame.

L.A: I said parasites. (Those two words parasites and shame has a similar pronunciation in Arabic).

A.A: if they take it over than five years, then they are.

L.A: okay:

A.A: But we are still new. We just came here. They were born here … (Interrupted by me).

L.A: are you saying you really need those aids?

A.A: definitely. Because…. Uhmmm (laugh) ……. Because we are starting from the zero. It’s as if you were just born, so wouldn’t you need aids? And you can’t even work. It’s hard to find a job easily.