Where His Family Is

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Where His Family Is:

Git Lee

by Isabella Chen, September 2017

I met Git while I was volunteering with Project Shine helping coach an ESL class. I worked with him a lot because he has a bit of hearing loss as well as not being able to see out of one eye. I was drawn to Git from the beginning because he is 84 years old but still one of the harder working students in the class. Most Chinese senior citizens I know love to just sit in front of the TV or hang out at Asian coffee shops but I knew that Git was a different kind of “old” person. Git comes off as a delicate old man that is very polite and soft spoken. I enjoy working with Git because I get to use my Cantonese skills and help translate the chapters that he doesn’t understand. We became close because I was helping him get into DSPS (Disabled Students & Services) for over a month, every Monday at 9:30 at the Mission Campus. Git was born in 1933 and speaks Cantonese. This common ground led me to want to get to know him better. He is currently retired and lives in the house that he partially raised his five daughters in in the Outer Mission. Eventually, his daughters bought him and his wife that same house. We both share a passion for helping the community, especially the Chinese American community. As I got to know Git better, I found out that he is also from the same province in China as my dad. I asked Git if he would let me interview him for my Oral History Project and he said yes! Our interview was done at my house on a cold Tuesday in the early afternoon.

     Git migrated from Guangzhou, China in the late 70’s. He arrived with his five daughters and his wife. He knew all his life that he was coming to America because it was ingrained in his plans while he was growing up. His father left for America when Git was at a prepubescent age, leaving his mom to raise him while his dad sent money back to support them both. Because it was just the two of them, Git and his mom became really close, opening up his eyes to how important family is to him. Eventually, Git started his career as a teacher in China. He spent over twenty years teaching Chinese calligraphy and origami. Git is a husband and the father of five daughters. Finally in his mid forties, his father’s sponsorship and the paperwork for Git and the rest of his family kicked in and they were ready to come to America. After arriving, Git realized that thriving in America was quite a bit harder than he had anticipated. He faced many life challenges that held him back from his dreams and career, but conquering those challenges has helped him find where his sense of home is.

            Git has planned to make America his home for as long as he could remember. His father came to America when Git was very young to make more money for him and his family. Git grew up watching his father provide for them. His dad supported him and his mother. Git tells me, “She didn’t really work and was dependent on him because my dad was in the U.S, sending money back.” Git’s life was planned for him with the dream of his father to bring him and his mom to America. Git eventually founded a home and started his career as a teacher in China, teaching Mandarin, Chinese calligraphy, and origami. He met his wife over in China as well and started a family, having five daughters. Before moving, Git and his wife were in their 40’s with their kids living a comfortable life in their home. One day, they got a letter and it was finally their time to come to America. Git planned to come to America all his life because of the life his dad started in America and the plan to move the rest of his family out there. I asked if Git was worried about coming out here, but he promptly replied, “No, not scared. We knew we were coming to the U.S for a while now so we were mentally prepared for it. My family was not scared either.” By putting his career on hold, Git was able to move to America to please his parents as well as to give his daughters the best opportunities; this move helped him see that family is where his home is regardless of where they are located.

Git was excited to reunite with his dad again, since his dad had left for America when he was really young. Git felt like he had come from a broken home without a father to guide him. Git wanted to give his daughters a better opportunity like his dad had sacrificed his quality of life for n order to provide a better life to him and his mom. Because of the hard work endured by his father, Git had a better opportunity than many people in China by being able to get an education and then eventually become a teacher. Back in China, his family lived comfortably in a three-bedroom apartment but he dreamed of giving his daughters more. Git believed that coming to America would give his daughters new opportunities in education and careers that they deserved. He wanted the best for his five daughters and their families to come. He and his wife dreamed that coming to America meant that they would find jobs and a home right away, mostly because his father had been in America for so long and even ended up owning his own laundry business. Git’s dad migrated to the U.S. because of the Gold Rush. He had heard that there were many opportunities to make more money on the “Golden Mountain,” which lead him to come to San Francisco, CA. As Git’s dad arrived to America, he wound up in the laundry business and worked so hard he eventually owned his own business. Ronald Takaki, a Professor on Ethnic Studies, wrote in his book Strangers of a Different Shore referring to the 1940’s, “61 percent of the Chinese who were in the labor force were manual laborers, almost all of them working in laundries, garment factories, and in restaurants.” He ended up selling his business. “My dad didn’t leave me the business because he never expected me to be able to actually come to America, especially because so many years had gone by.” Git knew at age 46, in the year 1979, that it was finally time to come to America. “I got a call and had to get our paperwork in order right away because it was happening fast.”

From the late 1800’s to mid 1950’s, Chinese immigrants were denied opportunities to work in many occupations for which they were qualified due to anti-Chinese sentiment and laws that reflected this. This led many towards the laundry business. Back then laundry was considered “women’s work.” In fact, there were very few women in the industry due to the 1882 law, which made it unlawful for Chinese immigrants to come in any capacity except as merchants. Chinese men in America took over the opportunity. Everyone needed their laundry washed so no one really opposed the Chinese doing laundry as a way of living or other jobs that no one else really wanted. According to a journal article that was written by Joan S. Wang, “Race, Gender, and Laundry Work: The roles of Chinese Laundrymen and American Woman in the United States,” in 1850-1950, most Chinese men turned to laundry because “…the small amount of start-up capital needed, the eagerness of Chinese workers to be self-employed, and the limited language requirements for the trade.” Many laundry companies had three to five men doing laborious work for long hours. The workplace was hot and steamy and the heavy wet clothing would be brutally heavy to work with. While the work was intensive, the positive outcome was that these immigrants owned their own businesses with limited communication.

As Git’s finally arrived to his new home in America, he felt disappointed and overwhelmed due to the fact that he didn’t feel like he belonged her; he felt that America didn’t feel he belonged either. In China, there was gossip and talk of America being the land of opportunities but in reality it was just stressful. He struggled due to not being able to speak English, which he recalled left him “feeling deaf, mute, and blind.” He informed me that it felt like he had gone from being a scholar and a teacher to feeling handicapped. According to the IMR (International Migration Review), which collects and studies statistics on immigrants, “That the effect of early arrival is much greater for English proficiency than other outcomes and bears significantly on most, not all, attainments.” Git has also told me that when he first arrived, he always worked hard but never felt like he was doing enough. He worked from nine to twelve hours a day, six days a week but still felt discontent. He told me, “…with my job I couldn’t pay rent, back then rent was like $700-800 for a flat. With all the taxes I ended up with a little over $500 only and rent was $700-800 so how can I afford rent? Sometimes I’m like what am I working for?” Git was forced to work at the cleaners because he felt like he had no other sustainable skills. His father used to own a laundry shop but had sold it before Git arrived. His father still managed to have some connections so he reached out to the men he used to work with in the laundry business and provided Git with a few labor jobs. As time went on, Git started working as a laundry man, working from eight in the morning to around six, with an hour break and dinner at five pm. I asked him if he ever had to work overtime and he told me a lot of the time he did work overtime. “In the first year and a half [I didn’t get paid overtime] but then after [a year and a half] I did get paid overtime. As you stay overtime [after the year and a half] they will [would] throw you some money for a few hours here and there.“ Git didn’t see anything wrong in that but I believe it is an abuse in his human rights to take advantage of people that have just moved to America. Article 24 in the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), a document about equal human rights, tells us, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” In reference to the long hours Git worked with his hands, especially when he pulled up the wet load of laundry from the washers, he told me, “the load of laundry was soaked and when you have to pull it up over and over again. My fingers were throbbing, at night I remember trying to fall asleep and my fingers just hurt so badly.” Git never once had regrets of coming out to America. He felt like America was in the plans and he needed to make the best of it.

As Git started to accept that America was his home, where his family and responsibilities were now, and that he needed to adapt more, he began to socialize and joined social clubs that would take him to places around San Francisco, as well as to teach immigrants how to adapt and fit into America. On top of going on outings, he also watched movies and learned English at the club meetings. Git and his wife actually met some of their friends there. The clubs were a safe place for the immigrants to look for resources as well as talking to others that are going though and feeling the same way Git was feeling when he moved to the U.S.. Oxford Academic has a journal called Social Forces, which talks about the importance of immigrants being social and meeting other immigrants that share similar feelings. In one of their articles, they state, “These networks provide group-based resources that assist immigrants in making headway in their new society.” Git was telling me that as you work and interact with the same people, “people end up talking about you, but you just have to deal with it.” In the beginning he said that adapting to the culture was really hard. He felt like many people took advantage of him including swindlers on the street. Git confided in me:

“One time a regular looking Chinese man came up to me and told me he needed to cash his check. The check was for $30 but the man told me he need the money now and that he would take $20 for the $30 check. I believed at the time it was a good deal for the both of us so I gave him the $20. The next day, I went in to cash the check and the check bounced. I tried to do a good deed and make some money but it turned out I was taken advantage of.”

Git took it as a learning experience to not trust anyone but instead to be more aware. Twenty dollars was a lot of money, especially back then, and Git felt very ashamed that he had been tricked. He never saw the man again. After that Git felt like he needed to acclimate more to his surroundings and be more aware of the people around him.

Git finally felt like he was at home being able to watch his daughters graduate college and start their own families as a result of how hard he and his wife had worked. Git’s dream had always been to teach and learn but he had his dreams cut short due to having his life planned for him by his father, for his kids and his family. Git finally got to teach and go to school again after working so hard six days a week, nine to twelve hours a day for over twenty years. In the middle of my interview, Git actually pulled out a book that he proudly showed me. It was a book that was made for him by this family whose two brothers, six and thirteen, he used to teach origami to. Git showed me pictures of his daughter graduating from college as well as him teaching kids origami.

There were also pictures of him teaching calligraphy to older folks. He told me that he had started teaching origami because, “Someone introduced us in my community center. They told me that their kids loves origami so the couple brings them to the community center for class with me.” Then he showed me another picture that he is also very proud of, “This picture is at the retirement center of me teaching calligraphy.” He was so proud and looked so happy explaining what he had done for the Chinese American community in San Francisco. Git never moved out of SF after he settled here. He moved from Chinatown to the Outer Mission but that’s the extent of the change in his living situation.

He told me that he just really likes the San Francisco weather and that home is where his kids are. He said that he sacrificed a lot for his daughters and there was no point of him living anywhere else; as long as he is close to his family, he is home. He also felt like the San Francisco community has done a lot for him and he wants to be able to be a bigger part of it, as well as finally doing what he loves best, learning and teaching. Git currently spends his days going to the community center to eat lunch and attended class.

Git found his definition of home by being where his family is. Git grew up seeing the sacrifice his father made to America without a second thought of what he himself was giving up for his family. Back in China, Git used to be a teacher but when he finally arrived here he had to be a laborer and work as a washer and dryer at a laundry company. Git put his dream and his own priorities on hold for his father’s dream of moving him and his mother to America. As Git arrived he quickly realized that being in a new country was harder than he ever imagined. Not only did he not know the language, but he couldn’t continue pursue his career while working six days a week. Git agreed to move to the U.S. as a young boy because his father had moved to America first in hopes of finding a better life for him and his mom. Even though his paperwork to come America took so long and Git ended up starting family in China and a career in China, he was always prepared to leave his career and his home in China when the paperwork was finally ready. Home is usually where someone feels the safest, and since Git’s family was so important to him that he has always felt at home with them near by, knowing that he is doing everything he can to provide for them. Some people might say that Git is his own person, he can make his own choices, and didn’t have to leave China, or follow anyone’s dreams but his own, but he had to get away because of the one child rule and he wanted a better opportunity for his daughters. Git felt he was home in China with his mother but has always known that America is also home because his father was living there already. When it was finally time for Git to move to the U.S., he brought his wife and five daughters to move with him. No matter how much Git suffered, he always felt like America was the right direction for him, especially after being able to provide for his daughters, please his father, and to be at home, which is where his family is.

Work Cited

Myers, Dowell, Xin Gao, and Amon Emeka. “The Gradient of Immigrant Age‐at‐Arrival Effects on Socioeconomic Outcomes in the U.S.” International Migration Review. Blackwell Publishing Inc, 02 Mar. 2009. Web. 3 May 2017.

Sanders, Jimy, Victor Nee, and Scott Sernau. “Asian Immigrants’ Reliance on Social Ties in a Multiethnic Labor Market.” Social Forces. Oxford University Press, 01 Sept. 2002. Web. 3 May 2017.

Takaki, Ronald T. Strangers from a different shore: a history of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998. Print.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. United Nations, n.d. Web. 7 May 2017.

Wang, Joan S. “Race, Gender, and Laundry Work: The Roles of Chinese Laundrymen and American Women in the United States, 1850-1950.” University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Immigration & Ethnic History Society, n.d. Web. 3 May 2017.

 

Sample Transcription: Git Lee

I: So I want to ask you where you were born?

K: Huh what?

I: Where you were born.

K: Ah, in China, Canton.

I: Oh ya! My dad was also born there, So what year were you born?

K: In 33’ year

I: Ah ok, Can you explain Canton to me, maybe tell me a little more like the weather?

K: What? What?

I: How in Canton including the weather; is it hot, cold, is it a city or the suburbs? Um, Is there lots of vegetation/ farming?

K: Its is small, Guangzhou is a big city, the others are much smaller cities.

I: Are there a lot of plants?

K: Yes there was, especially farmlands there is a lot vegetations

I: ah ok, Do you any siblings?

K: Its just myself

I: wow oh my gosh, What is your favorite place in Canton?

K:(names a park) small park in Canton,

I: oh nice, i’ve never been, How many people live did you live with?

K: It use to be just my mom and I, my dad’s family was here in the US already

I: How did your house look like?

K: It was rented like how I did when I moved here (US) – with three rooms

I: What did your mom do for work?

K: She didn’t really work and was depended on him because my dad was in the U.S, sending money back,

I: so how much schooling did you have in China?

K: I went to school for awhile. I went to school for about 10 years in Canton

I: So what do you miss the most?

K: wha well, (laughs) nothing really to miss

I: i forgot to ask you what your chinese name is

K: My name is (Chinese name)

I: what is your last name?

K: lee

I: what is your english name?

K: Kit lee

I: how old were you when you arrived to America?

K: In my 40’s, i don’t really remember exactly

I: so where did you meet your wife?

K: I met her in mainland china

I: oh so you moved out here together, how old was she when she moved out here?

K: also in her 40’s

I: What about your daughters? You have 5?

K: ya they were in their teens and younger like 8 or 10

I: did your mom move with you?

K: yes but she moved out to the US first then we followed but as we finally arrived she ended up passing away before we made it out here. She passed away for a few months before we made it out here.

I: oh wow. So how long was she here for until you and your family made it out here?

K: probably a few years

I: did you have to go through angel island?

K: i’ve been there but was not required to pass through, we were allowed to arrive here already

I: Was it hard for you to move to America? To acquire citizenship?

K: no it wasn’t, I had applied for my green card and identification before I arrived

I: Were you scared to move here- to lose all your friends? Was your family scared?

K: no, not scared, we knew we were coming to the US so we were prepared. My family was not scared either.

I: Did you have any dreams or aspirations before coming to america?

K: it was hard when we first arrived, we were not used to it, we thought it was going to easy but when we actually arrived reality kicked in and back then rent was still around 700 and we thought it was really expensive. We rented a whole floor for my family and I

I: How big was it?

K: it was comfortable, we had a big living room at washington st and the cross street of something by chinatown

I: How did you find it?

K: through an acquaintance

I: did you have a lot of friend?

K: no, just met people through work

I: how did you find work?

K: my father use to own a clothes washing joint and by the time we arrived he already sold his shares and the shop. The men he sold his share to older men or men that have money or is somebody so my dad introduced us and told me to go work for them

I: Does your dad live nears you?

K: not really, he lives on Stockton st & Vallejo st in an SRO

I: did you only live in sf?

K: yes

I: did you live any other homes? Did you move a lot?

K: in 87’ we moved

10:00

I: So the house you are living at now, is it being rented or do you own it?

K: The kids ended up buying it, because they grew up

I: So did you have the same job as a laundry man your whole career?

K: Yes the whole time, I washed clothes

I: When did you retire?

K: I retired at 62..haha

I: what did your wife do? Did she do laundry with you?

K: No she worked at a garment factory, sewing clothes

I: So wow, you had so much schooling but you just washed clothes in America?

K: ya just laundry, when i retired I started teaching here and there, started out doing calligraphy and then ended up teaching kids how to do origami

I:  How did the laundry job work? Was it just one person working? Did you wash and dry?

K: Yes it was one person, I washed and dried. It was all me.

I: ooooo ahhh (he shows me a book with pictures of him and kids folding origami)

K: here are some pictures of people folding and here are some people writing calligraphy

I: oh wow ooooomg wowww.

K: this is my daughter and I.

I: wowwwww she’s so pretty

K: haha

I: when did you learn how to do origami? Did you learn it here?

K: here and back in China, the kids are my students that i teach origami to

I:  is this your daughter’s graduation

K: yes college. That kid is only 6 in there and he’s really good at folding

I: wow they made a book for you? That so nice

K: yes their father does real estate

I: how did you find you? Was it at school? (he’s my student in an esl class)

K: Someone introduced us in my community center. They told me that their kids loves origami so the couple brings them to the community center for class. The drive them and drop them off. These are brothers. This picture is at the retirement center of me teaching calligraphy

I: So laundry, is that how you met friends, at work?

K: we when i had to work there would be someone else working near me so we would end up talking and getting to know each other

I: So when did you start english

K: I was learning here and there

I: Well your english is pretty good already

K: Laughs** is just spelling that I’m bad at. My memory is bad

I: Noooooo. Even the professor says that your english is good but you just can’t hear. The professor has told me that he wants us to got DSPS because your english is really good but you just can’t hear.

K: hmm. ok

I: soooo do you still keep in touch with any of your friends?

K: ya some of them?

I: who do you know the longest? Do you still keep in touch?

K: This one dude that lives in Oakland. We write letters to each other here and there

I: wow writing letters. So why did you live in sf for so long? Why not move to oakland?

K: well I lived here for so long? Why bother moving? You just get comfortable

I: well I guess all your activities are here and you have so much. So speaking of activities, what did you to pass time when you first moved here?

K: when i first move here I joined this club “asian progressive club” is in Chinatown, (in some famous building across some bank) on the fifth floor. When i first moved here I would go every sunday to meet people and look for activities to do, and ways to explore this new place we moved to

I: What kinda activities?

K: we went to the museums, sometimes we went to the movies, sometimes there would be parties, we went to angel island also

I: was this for everyone? Not just for retired people?

K: No its a club for everyone. You just have to be a member to go to the events. They also brought just to picnic.

I: How many people went?

K: There was about twenty something people

I: What are origami? Did you do that at the club?

K: No that was something I did when i retired. After work I was be so extremely tired so how can I do origami after?

I: In china what did you do?

K: I taught writing

I: did it make you sad that you didn’t teach anymore? To have to go from your your brains to using your body for labor?

K:  Yes of course. I missed china and teaching

I: wow so when you moved here everything was different

K: ya so different

I: I can’t even imagine

K: hahaha

I: umm so emm when you first moved here did you see your dad alot?

K: yes i saw him everyday actually

I: how old were you when he moved to america?

K: I was very young when he moved here

I: So you haven’t see him for a long time, like twenty something years? Wait over 20 yrs like 30ish years?

 

20:00

K: yes

I: So what does he like to do? Like activities?

K: i’m not too sure but I know he likes to go get coffee with his brothers/ friends

I: oh my grandpa use to do that a lot. He use to sit around and get coffee for hours and hours. When I was younger I use to wonder why he would sit there for so long? I grew up around Oakland so I know that Chinatown more. So did you have any expectations when arriving to America? Did you think it was going to be easy?

K: I thought it was very hard to sustain a living in America since i’ve arrived. I felt like I was deaf, mute, and blind. Deaf because I don’t understand the language english , mute because I cannot speak and blind because I can’t read

I: Didn’t you learn english in Canton though?

K: I learned a little but knew mainly just some alphabets and some words here and there but mainly the three, blind, deaf and mute

I: you use to teach so did you think that this job (in america) is harder that your life back in China? You taught for so long and then it was all taken away from you with you feeling mute, blind and deaf.

K: ya

I: so back then, what was your schedule like? What time did you start work?

K: where?

I: here

K: i would start at 8 in the morning and end work at 8 or 9. Many time around 8 or 9

I: wow ohhh like 12-13 hrs a day

K: they would give me an hour to take lunch. You can rest and take a breath

I: then you would do laundry. Wow ehhh ugh. You did it for around 20 year?

K: yes haha

I: What do you think of America?
K: Well I think SF had really nice weather. Everyone is really nice, very giving

I: but that’s it?

K: well back then my job wouldn’t pay me enough to pay rent

I: you and your wife didn’t make enough to pay rent?

K: I mean by myself with my job i couldn’t pay rent, back then rent was like $700/800 for a flat. With all the taxes I ended up with like $500 something only and rent was $7/800 so how can i afford rent? Something i’m like what am i working for?
I: wow you worked so much and couldn’t even afford to pay rent? But what about your wife? With her job can you both afford rent then?

K: well with her job of course we can afford rent

I: What about your daughters? Where were they born at?

K: They were all born in China, well with normally we just worked till 6ish. We would have lunch from 12-1 then eat dinner at 5

 

I: Then after dinner would you have to start working again?

K: Usually not but sometimes when we have big jobs then we would have to
I: If you stayed longer would you get overtime money?

K: In the beginning I didn’t but then i would get it as I worked there longer

I: In the beginning like you mean the first few months?

K: Like in the first year and a half but then after I would get paid overtime. As you stay more overtime they will throw you some money for a few hours here and there

I: did you think anyone was racist towards you or prejudice ?

K: i’ve always worked in shops with chinese people so there was never any of that. We are all Chinese so what’s there to be prejudice against.
I: what about where you live?

K: no not really?

I: have you been out of sf?

K: I’ve been to vegas, lake tahoe, reno

I: have you been to the snow?

K: ive seen snow but never ski or anything
I: are both you and wife retired?

K: yes

I: was your wife ok with coming to America? Did she like it?

K: I don’t know her thoughts

 

30:00

 

I: Why did you stay in SF? Why didn’t you move somewhere with more space like Oakland?

K: there is no point of moving. Then I would have to look for a new place and its too much.
I: Is your house big?

K: Its comfortable

I: So where do you live now?

K: In the outer mission

I: so is it close to school at the ocean campus

K: ya its close, I live at geneva
I: there is a lot of Chinese people there, So why don’t you live in Chinatown?

K: I’ve lived (CT) there before, since they bought a house there, we ended up moving

I: did you like living in Chinatown?

K: well of course, there is a lot of chinese people there and its easier to get around and acquire what i need. And grocery shopping is close by
I: What about the rats there? There is so many rats?

K: haha ya there are some mice there.

I: You said you use to rent?

K:  Ya back then there use to be many places for rent. Back then 750 was considered a lot to rent a flat. Back then around 300/400 you can rent a whole appartment. Everything above 500 was considered very expensive. That was like over 20$ years ago

I: so back then you can rent a whole 3 bedroom for around 300$? Thats crazy!!!

K: haha ya.

I: So you use to work in sf chinatown also? Did you feel like there was a lot of gossip?

 

33.59

 

 

 

 

 

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Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

featured-image-sun-is-setting-between-saguaros-in-sonoran-desert

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 Window in the Dark

philip-wong-image-1

A Window in the Dark

by Steven Wong, December 2016

This is about my mother, the hardships she endured to support her family, and the sacrifices she has made for us. She was born in Fa dao, China. Back in her school years she was always a good student, earning almost all A’s in her classes until she graduated from high school. There was no college to attend so she went to the work recruitment office and signed up for work. Her first job was in the chemical department of a factory that manufactured ammonia. She dealt with coal remains from midnight until the morning, containing and disposing them when she was only sixteen years old. Her next job was at a clothing warehouse, where she quickly rose to the rank of supervisor and then to inspector because of her hard work. Her aunt then introduced her to a man who was from the U.S. and who eventually became my dad. There were already signs pointing out that he wasn’t who her aunt had said he was, but my mother accepted the marriage proposal anyway, not for her own happiness but for her mother’s; her mother never came to the U.S. and always wanted to come. Although my mother had never been here and did not know the language, she came along to the U.S. She studied wherever she could although she didn’t know English, so she would always have her translator with her. From one job to another, she kept finding ways to make more money so she could support her children. She chose to give up her teen years to work and relieve some financial stress on her parents, gave up being able to choose who to spend her life, and has endured physical and emotional abuse in order to be in her children’s lives.

In China, instead of going out to party like other teenager would do, she helped support her family after she finished high school, and immediately went to the work recruiting office to get a job at a factory working in the chemical department. Her job was to maintain the coal remains to make sure they weren’t going everywhere by spraying them down once in a while. Then she would dispose of the coal remains by shoveling them into a big cart and pushing it to be dumped. About the time when she was working there, she said, “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me.” My mother worked in a factory, which was a rough environment, and was doing what was considered a man’s job, not a job for a sixteen-year-old girl, but she did it in order to support her family. She also worked in a clothing factory, at which she quickly rose to the inspector supervisor position due to her hard work and dedication, to support her family. In the article “Where Are All the High School Grads Going?” which hypothesizes about why high school graduates choose to work over college, Alia Wong, a researcher, states, “They are also the ones who can land jobs that aren’t traditionally associated with higher-education degrees—blue-collar fields such as manufacturing, mining, and agriculture.” Because my mother didn’t have a college degree and needed to support the family, she chose to work in factories and warehouses instead of doing what any other teenager would.

My mother sacrificed the biggest parts of a person’s life and happiness in exchange for her mother’s happiness. My mother’s transition from China to the U.S., started with her marriage, which brought her over to the U.S. since my father was already an American citizen at the time. Recalling when she was about to get married, she said, “I wasn’t happy or sad about it I was just like whatever. I didn’t really care.” Although she didn’t like my father, she married him just because my grandma had never been to the U.S. before and she always wanted to go so my mother married my father to fulfill my grandma’s wish. She sacrificed one of the biggest parts of her life, marrying someone she didn’t even like, leaving everything in China to go to a new country she had no knowledge of: “When I got here, I didn’t know any English and was at Safeway. I didn’t even know how to say excuse me.” She allowed herself to come to America without knowing the language and having to learn to communicate. She said, “I was going to adult school and working at the warehouse across the block every day. I worked [whenever] there wasn’t school including Saturday and Sunday.” She worked hard and put herself into school so she could survive and afford to take care of my sister and I. She put herself through adult school and worked at the same time with no free time for herself. With this persistent dedication to adapt in order to provide for her children, she sacrificed her last chance at youth and happiness.

In the year 2008, my mother was extremely generous to my father even though he was cheating on her, but in order to keep the family together, she endured it for months. In August, my father came back from a trip to Vietnam. He had met up with a woman that he had been friends with. He called her his girlfriend. Every night around one in the morning he would call back to Vietnam to talk to her and my mother didn’t care about it too much until three weeks later. She asked him, “Are you serious? It has been almost a month and you’re still calling this late at night?” She gave him an ultimatum and told him he could call until the end of September. She wouldn’t care but if he called anymore after that she would divorce him so he could be with his girlfriend in Vietnam. I guess my father didn’t like the idea of my mother leaving him so he was trying to come up with any reason to make her feel as if she had done things to wrong him as well, although all those arguments were unreasonable and incomparable to him cheating. She said that “He yelled at me all night for about a week for any small reasons he could think of.” On those nights my father would yell at my mother. I sat there watching, making sure he didn’t cause any harm to her; I watched her look to the floor, not replying to him as he was yelling throughout the night. He stopped and it was almost two in the morning. Sarah Buel, a Colorado lawyer, said in “Fifty Obstacles of leaving,” her article about why domestic violence victims stay, “The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill her and the children if she attempts to leave” (Buel 19). She could have left during those nights but chose to stay with her children thinking my father would harm us if she left.

My father did not let my mother go to work during those times; his reason for not letting her go to work was that she “worked too much,” although he didn’t help support the family financially for years; she had to work. A couple of nights later, he brought her into their room and locked the door. The yelling was more violent that night. My younger brother and I were standing outside in the dark hallway listening as we were coming up with possible ways to get our mother out of that room. We decided to get pool sticks from the living room and we ran back to the door thinking of ways that we could approach this. The yelling got louder. As I stood there I thought that that was enough and we really needed to get her out. We hid the pool sticks around the corner. I opened the door and pushed it in, but the chain latch was still holding the door. I yelled to him as I was pounding on the door. “OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!” My father stopped yelling for a bit as he turned towards the door. This was it I thought, time to finally end all this yelling. He closed the door and unlatched the chain. He opened the door and yelled “FUCK ME? FUCK YOU!” As I saw my mother just standing there crying over his shoulder, I pushed him aside to go to my mother. I told her that we should go outside. My father grabbed me by the collar of my sweater. I yelled at him warning him that if he ripped my sweater I would hit him. With that being said, he ripped my collar, probably thinking that I wouldn’t do anything. I pushed him down to the side of the bed and he rolled on top of me so I punched him on his head but I held back my strength because he was old. He got off of me and I took my mother outside. He came out to the living room on the phone with his best friend telling him that I had hit him and he was bleeding. He said that his disobedient son hit him, and was making me seem like the bad guy since he didn’t tell his friend the whole story of why I had hit him. He yelled at me saying that I would get struck by lightning for hitting him, but I thought that at least he’s stopped yelling at my mother; things calmed down that night and my mother went to sleep with my sister at 10 pm. She could have left and run away but didn’t know what he would do to us children out of anger if she left. The following day he snapped, and was yelling, “Are you sure you want a divorce?” My mother replied with a yes. He swiftly and violently walked into the kitchen and I could see that he was searching for something in the drawers until the swinging door closed behind him. He grabbed a meat cleaver. Slamming the door open, he quickly walked towards my mother, towering over her with the cleaver over her head, threatening to kill my her; luckily, I was there watching as always so I grabbed his hand and pried the cleaver out of his hand as I shoved him away. After that afternoon, my mother felt that it was no longer safe for her to stay home so she called up her younger brother to pick her up since he was in town. My uncle was bigger than my father so he picked my mother up. My father didn’t stop her from leaving. In an article of an interview by Sonia Nazario, “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family,” she said:

“She followed Enrique north a few years later, leaving their daughter, Katerin Jasmín, behind. Enrique was determined that his daughter not endure the long separation he had faced, so when Jasmín was 4, he sent for her to come to Jacksonville, Fla., where the family had established a home.”

My mother left us knowing that I would be able to protect my siblings and that she would come back for us. The lady next door saw my mother and uncle leaving. She waved them over. She invited them inside and already had a gist of what was going on so she told my mother, “Ever since you guys moved next door I heard yelling frequently. Can you tell me what’s going on? Do you need help?” My mother replied that she shouldn’t say anything and that she was scared to say anything because she didn’t want to endanger her. My neighbor told her that it was okay, and she was more worried that something would happen if she didn’t step in. She asked my mother if she had gone to the police yet and if she had filed charges for domestic violence. My mother replied, “No, I didn’t know that kind of service existed.” My neighbor told her that she would call domestic violence services for her. Like my mother, many other immigrant women have no knowledge of public services that are available. In a survey asking 400 Vietnamese and Korean women participants how they feel about domestic violence, whether they feel if it is okay or okay to an extent, and if they had the knowledge of services that would be able to help them, by Mikyong Kim-Goh, a professor in the Master of Social Work Program at California State University, and Jon Baello, a researcher in the Department of Research and Evaluation at Paramount Unified School District, the results concluded: “First, the findings of the study suggest a need for active community education and outreach targeting less acculturated, more recent immigrant groups.” Kim-Goh says that there should be more knowledge of services throughout communities, especially in communities in which immigrants have recently migrated to the U.S. If my mother ha known of the services before, she probably would have left my father years before this incident. So after hearing about domestic violence services, she decided to give them a call. Domestic violence services told her that they would process her and find her a shelter, and in the meantime they offered to get her a hotel room.

My mother had to leave first to find a shelter that was in a livable condition so she could bring us after. My father still drove us to school like always after that but he didn’t bother us. After a couple of days went by, after school when my father came to pick my sister and I up, he was venting to us about how our mother took our little brother away. My sister and I were confused that we didn’t get picked up too. That night he went out scouring places where he thought my mother would be, and I felt abandoned thinking that our mother was supposed to pick us all up. My father was really mad because his youngest son was his favorite child, so I felt that my sister and I were going to be in danger. My sister slept in my room as I sat there with the chair against the door, making sure that I kept my sister safe. About a week went by, and I was sleeping in class when suddenly I was told to go to the vice principal’s office. I thought it was because I was sleeping in class. But I was met by a police officer and my sister in the vice principal’s office, and was told that we were going to be sent to a shelter where my mother and brother were already hiding. At that moment I found out that my mother hadn’t abandon my sister and I but she was leaving first to find a place, and she didn’t want to be alone so she took our little brother along: she had always planned to come back for us and she did. In an article about why some parents that are victims of domestic violence leave first and then send for their family after called “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants,” by Nancy Landale, a Professor of Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University, she says:

“One particularly troubling difficulty posed by migration is that it can separate child from their parents, either because one family member migrates first and later brings over other family members (stage migration) or because a parent is deported or deterred fro the dangerous border crossing.”

Immigrants parents first migrated without their family to make sure they have a stable living condition before they bring their family so that they are able to survive. Like my mother she left without us because she felt that even she had no idea where she was going and that she had to make sure she had a place to go before she sent for us.

I recently painted my mother when she worked in the factory as a girl, with dark colors and the smudges on her face representing how dirty it was, and the bright orange coal for the hot and dangerous environment. I portrayed her as a small girl pushing a cart of coal remains bigger than her. In the painting she struggles to push the cart signifying that this job is obviously not for a small sixteen-year-old girl, but she does it to help earn money to support the family. “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart, so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me,” she recalls. She worked after midnight so I drew a clock showing that it was after midnight. The smudges on her face show how dirty and rough it was in the warehouse and how she was willing to do almost anything to support her family. I used dark colors to portray how unpleasant the job was. I only painted one part of the factory because I wanted to focus on the department she worked in, the chemical department. I painted a bright orange in the coal to emphasize that it was still hot and inside the factory it was hot, to show that the job was a hazardous job.

I also pained a sunset framed by a round window of an airplane, against the dark inside of an airplane, to contrast the new world she was looking forward to, in contrast with with the dark old world, where she worked so hard. The light of the new world is glowing into the plane in hopes of changing her old world. I drew a sunset because it shows how beautiful San Francisco was while my mother wasn’t happy in the picture or sad, since she came here just to fulfill her mother’s dream of coming to the U.S.

She gave up the biggest parts of her life so that life for her family would be better. Although she could have made different choices, she put her family before her own wants and happiness, because all mothers want what’s best for their children and all children want to repay their parents by relieving them from work hard. She gave up her teen years to support her family, gave up being able to choose who she want to be with for the rest of her life, gave up her homeland, her friends and did it all for her family.

Works Cited

Landale, Nancy S. “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants.” EBSCO. Future of Children, Spring 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Kim-Goh, Mikyong. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence in Korean and Vietnamese Immigrant Communities: Implications for Human Services.” EBSCO. Ed. Jon Baello. Journal of Family Violence, 15 May 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Buel, Sarah M. “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, A.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.” EBSCO. Family Violence, Oct. 1999. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Nazario, Sonia. “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family.” Google Scholar. N.p., 14 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

Wong, Alia. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence.” The Atlantic, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

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

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

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

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

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

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

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

T: Just whenever

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

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

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

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

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

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yes

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

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: For your parents it was also easy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

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

A: Ummm 7 years.

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

A: Yes

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

A: I don’t understand your question

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

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

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

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

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

A: Probably middle school

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

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

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

T: Who were you mean to?

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

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

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

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

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

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

A: What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

A: Yea, only when I had to.

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

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

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

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

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

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

A: No.

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

A: Never.

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

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

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

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

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

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

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

A: I guess because of her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

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

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

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

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

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

A: What do you mean?

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

A: Yea and she was going to school.

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

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

T: Why were you lucky?

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

T: What do you mean go through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What do you mean they were well off.

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

T: What kind of business was it?

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

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

A: I don’t know.

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

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

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

A: Yea.

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

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

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

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

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

A: Because they were able to escape the war.

 

 

Home and Horizon

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Home and Horizon

by Siuzanna Arutiunova, January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

KH: Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: But did you overcome that obstacle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: Can you give me examples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: More opportunities.

KH: Uhu

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

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

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

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

SA: Why? Are you going to be separated?

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

SA: (to Katie) When are you moving?

Katie: In 2 years.

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

SA: So she guided you though everything?

Y: We guided each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KH: Yes, we moved here the same time.

SA: How was it for him?

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

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

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

SA: Ant you were?…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: Parents!

KH: I know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA: Discriminated against someone?

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

SA: Homosexual

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

SA: Would you mind me asking about your religion?

KH: Yeah, I’m a Muslim.

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

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

SA: Do you feel those boundaries?

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

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

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

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

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

SA: So its based on religion?

KH: Yes.

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

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

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

KH: Definitely limited kind of freedom.

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

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

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

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

SA: Was that an arranged marriage?

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

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

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

SA: Did your mom get a degree?

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

SA: Here?

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

SA: While she was married?

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

SA: Has everything that she always wanted?

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

SA: So basically her lifelong dream came true

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

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

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

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

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

SA: Do you keep in contact with your family?

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

SA: So she prefers more freedom?

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

SA: On a certain scale.

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

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

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

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

KH: I hope so too.

SA: Thank you so much for doing this!

KH: No more questions?

SA: Nope! Thank you, thank you!

 

Home Is Where the Family Is

 

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Home Is Where the Family Is

By Yunxian Tan, December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:         May’s Immigration Story

Interviewee:                May Tan

Interviewer:                 Anny Yunxian Tan

Interview Date:           October 25, 2015

Interview Location:     May’s Home

 

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

May:   You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Sounds good!

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

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

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

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

May:   Yeap! Can’t believable, right?

Anny:  absolutely! Can’t imagine!

May:   But, that’s the truth.

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Yes? And then?

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

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

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

Anny:  Wow, it looks like an interlocking link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Yes! You are right.

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

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

Anny:  Really? Wow, she’s so nice!

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

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

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

Anny:  Good question! And your answer is?

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

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

May:   Thank you!

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

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

Anny:  Wow, everything was going smoothly, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Hahaha~ time changed! You know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Hard and difficult? How come?

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

Anny:  For example?

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What? Was he ok with that?

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

Anny:  What did her said?

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

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

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

Anny:  Yeah! You did it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  What?

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

Anny:  What classes did you take at that time?

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Do you accept the America culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  Really? What’s that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anny:  You enjoy to live there alone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

May:   Thank you!

The Path to the United States

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The Path to the United States 

by Luz Hernandez, December 2015

 El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and violence, and therefore many families supporting their children are forced to immigrate to different countries in order to have a better future. A few students from the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Harvard Law School wrote a research report called No Place to Hide, which discusses gangs, the state and clandestine violence in El Salvador. According to the IHRC, in El Salvador:

“Fifteen years after the civil war in El Salvador came to an end, violence and insecurity continue to shape the daily lives of many Salvadorians. El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in Latin America. Its homicide rate in 2005 stood at 55.5 per 100,000 residents_more than twice the average rate for the region.”

Sebastian is a child of eight who immigrated with his mother to the U.S four months ago. Having the opportunity to learn from Sebastian about their reasons for moving and the experience that he had to overcome in order to get here can change people’s perspectives about immigrants. The main purpose of this oral history is to educate people about the obstacles that many immigrants face in order to get here. Choosing to interview him was a great opportunity for me and inspiration for others, showing that even a boy who wasn’t old enough to be a teenager and who faced many obstacles is still alive and ready to start a new future. The path to the U.S. wasn’t easy for Regina (Sebastian’s mother) and Sebastian; the experiences that they went through, including murder, getting sick, and running from immigration have caused them enormous trauma. Despite of the entire trauma that the trip caused for Sebastian and Regina, they feel and believe that immigrating to the U.S. was worth it because now he has a more stable, safe place to live, which has opened new opportunities for him.

Immigrating to a new country is not easy for anybody, especially for children. Because of the lack of opportunities, many people, including children, are forced to immigrate to the United States looking for a better future. In the past months, we have seen a lot of news talking about the massive circumstances that immigrants’ children have to suffer in order to get to their destiny. Sebastian is a child of only eight who was forced with his mother Regina to immigrate to the United States because of the poverty and gang violence in their native country, El Salvador. In order to get to their destiny, they had to face many obstacles, especially Sebastian. Leaving his friends and family wasn’t easy for Sebastian, but he needed to follow his mother, who made the decision for him to move to a different country. For a child of only eight, Sebastian experienced difficult impediments, such as running from Immigration, being close to dying, living with trauma. Sebastian and his mother were captured by a Mexican cartel, and where things got extremely difficult for them. Sebastian was forced to kill other people in order to save his mother’s life. The difficulties and the inhuman obstacles that Sebastian faced didn’t take away his hope to succeed in this country. Sebastian wants to be a teacher in the school that he is attending right now. Even though now he is safe and has been able to succeed, he also sends a message to all those kids who immigrate every day to this country: “Don’t come, because you never know what can happen to you on the path to here. I don’t want anybody to have my own experience.” Sebastian is one of the few that survived the trip to come to the United States, but unfortunately not all people have the same story. Despite all that Sebastian and his mother suffer, they believe is was worth it because now they have a safe place and more opportunities to succeed.

The fear of dying because of gang violence and poverty in El Salvador caused Sebastian and his mother to leave their native country. El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and gang activity and Sebastian and his mother were victims. Because of the lack of opportunities in their country, many families decide to immigrate to the United States, where they can have a stable place to sleep at the least. “We didn’t have a stable place to live.” With a sad expression on his face, Sebastian mentions how hard it was for he and his mother to find a place to sleep while living in El Salvador. Poverty was not the only obstacle that pushed Regina to immigrate to the United States. There was also the situation of the gangs that El Salvador is suffering nowadays. “There was a lot of violence, there were deaths every day; I was scared for the life of my son” (Regina). There are two kinds of gangs in El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. These two gangs are the main reason for the high crime rate in El Salvador, causing massive numbers of deaths, and causing children to lose their lives. For Regina, it was hard to live in this environment; therefore, they were often moving to different places to try to find a sanctuary. The fact that Sebastian didn’t have a stable home brought him difficulties going to school and making friends. “I have attended too many different schools. I lasted only ten days in each one.” When he finally got to know some friends he had to say goodbye to them because they moved every ten days to a different town. In other words, constant moving and violence, in addition to extreme poverty in El Salvador pushed Regina and Sebastian to immigrate to the United States.

The dangerous journey from El Salvador to Guatemala changed Sebastian’s life completely; he suffered from physical neglect and emotional trauma, which destroyed his childhood. Recently, radio and TV news shows have been covering how people suffer in order to get to the United States and some of these people don’t even make it. In order to cross the borders, people need to hire coyotes, who show them the route to get to the United States. There have been many cases in which coyotes take advantages of their authority by sexually abusing the people who are trying to get to the U.S. According to Sebastian, while he was on the way to the U.S., there were many women and a lot of children with them trying to immigrate. “There were around 26 people in the group.” In order to get to Guatemala, people need to cross a river and sometimes many people get stuck trying to cross it. According to Sebastian, “A child almost died trying to cross the river.” Sadly, Sebastian saw a child who almost died trying to cross that river and was agitated seeing his mother being forced by the coyotes to be naked in order to cross the river. He says, “My mom had to pay extra money because the coyotes wanted her to cross the river naked.” In the article called “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family Clinician” analyzes the challenges that many immigrants face in order to get to the U.S and the trauma and stress they suffer after the trip. According to the article:

“We are now hearing, for example, especially from the southwestern United States, narratives of women who are crossing the borders from Central to North America unaccompanied by partners or families. Engaging ‘coyotes’ (illegal travel brokers) for passage, some have been subjected to months-long sexual assaults and forced labor, as forms of ‘added payment.’ before reaching their destinations.”

Money is all that is important for the coyotes, and if the people who immigrate don’t carry money, they have slimmer probabilities of getting to the U.S. After crossing the river, Sebastian talked about how he needed to carry a heavy backpack all day with cans of food and water. Coyotes force even children to carry their own food. Sebastian mentioned that they ran out of food and water. If was hard for them to continue walking without eating; he didn’t have energy. During the night, they slept in the woods, but Sebastian said that he was only able to sleep for a few hours because they needed to be awake just in case immigration captured them. These obstacles that Sebastian faced in order to get to Guatemala were just the beginning of his hazardous journey to the United States.

In crossing from Guatemala into Mexico, Sebastian and Regina perceived that the coyotes were putting their lives at risk by lying to them about the safety of the journey. One of the hardest parts of getting to the United Sates is crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico. Sebastian was able to cross that line, but needed to pay a high price. Unfortunely, many people get lost in the desert and some people also die. For Sebastian and Regina, trusting the coyotes was the only means to get to the U.S. but what happened when the coyotes put in risk their lives staying in such a bad environment and running from immigration? Sebastian mentioned that they got lost many times: “I think the coyotes didn’t know the path.” Many coyotes, just for money, lie that they are experts in crossing people into the U.S. but there have been many cases like Sebastian’s in which they have left people behind or they haven’t even known how to get to the borders. Ruining from immigration in the middle of the woods is something that Sebastian remembers well. One night, they saw immigration approaching to them, so everybody separated and stared running. They were able to reunite with the coyotes after walking many miles alone. When they were able to cross into Mexico, the coyotes rented a Motel in Reynosa to stay there, but the conditions weren’t the best. Sebastian recalled, “The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip to the U.S.” They stayed a month in the hotel. They were not the only ones in the hotel. Sebastian said that there were many people there and that the way they lived there was poor. “I slept on the floor with the rest of the people and my mom and there were animals like rats.” While they were sleeping on the floor in such as conditions, the coyotes had their own room. For a child of only eight, this must be traumatic and it’s sad knowing that this happens every day. Many immigrants put in risk their own health and lives at risk by trusting the coyotes, who promise them a safety trip.

Being captured by a Mexican cartel in Reynosa, which put him in a really harmful environment, was the most traumatic experience that Sebastian went through. Because of the cartels in Mexico, the country has become one of the most dangerous; there is a lot of crime every day, which Sebastian and his mother experienced. The Mexican cartels are a powerful group of people that control some parts of Mexico by violence and extortion. They are known as the most dangerous people of the region. Both Sebastian and his mother experienced the terror of a Mexican cartel in Reynosa. According to Sebastian, “They got us, I saw the cartel hitting other people because they didn’t want to go with them.” “I cried and I was calling for my mom.” This is how the most horrible experience started for Sebastian. He doesn’t remember where the cartel brought them, he just remembers that it was a small room with many people. He remembers that the people there were skinny, that they may have been there for a long time. He also said that it was hard to breathe because it was small and the doors and windows were closed. Being in that situation was hard for Sebastian and the other people asking for help. “People were screaming for help but the coyotes punished them by hitting them in the face.” The only option for them was to be quiet and wait for what the cartel wanted from them. Because of these conditions, Sebastian got sick. They only gave them food to eat one time per day, and only tacos, bad food. Also, Sebastian mentioned that the cartel smoked a lot of marihuana and he got asthma from smelling all the smoke. Sebastian doesn’t remember how many days or months he was captured, but while there he had to do horrible things in order to survive. In other words, being in such a horrible environment could have caused Sebastian long term health problems.

Facing the dilemma of saving the life of his mother, Sebastian had to take others people lives, which has caused him life-long trauma: “One day the cartel brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they captured.” The cartel forced Sebastian to kill a person, telling him that if he didn’t want to do it, they would kill his mother. Sebastian was in the middle of a dilemma between knowing what was right and what was wrong but also had to think about saving his mother’s life. Can you imagine a child of eight years being forced to have a gun in his hand and kill a person instead of being in school and enjoying his childhood? For Sebastian, to say no to the cartel would have been hard because he loves his mother and basically he didn’t have another option than to kill that person. According to Sebastian, the cartel told him that the person that he was about to kill was a bad person but he didn’t know exactly if that was true or the cartel just told that to him so it was easy for him to kill him. “I was scared, and I didn’t want to do that, I felt bad.” After Sebastian was forced to commit this horribly inhumane cruelty, the cartel wanted him to be part of their group. They were training him to be a killer like them. The cartel contacted Regina’s boyfriend in the US, and asked him for money in order to free Sebastian and his mother. Fortunately, he paid the price and the cartel let them free. They went to Immigration and told them all what had happened. Even though Sebastian was rescued from the hands of the cartel, he has to carry the death of the person that he killed for the rest of his life, which has led him to a long life of emotional trauma.

In spite of all that Sebastian and his mother went through in order to get to the United States and the long-term trauma that Sebastian may be facing right now, Sebastian still feels and believes that it was worth it to come because now he has a safe and stable place to live and a better life. After facing inhumane abuses, Sebastian and his mother were able to get to the United States and start a new life, trying to overcome all that happened to them on the path to get to the U.S. Luckily, Sebastian and his mother now are in the U.S. trying to learn English and to be part of the U.S culture. Sebastian is a child with ambitions and dreams, and even though he is a child, he knows what he wants for the future. Sebastian states, “I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going to right now.” Sebastian is going to a school in Hayward at a school called Palmasia to learn English. He mentioned that he sometimes feels out of the place being in a classroom that doesn’t speak his language but he feels optimistic that he will learn the language quickly. “I feel a little uncomfortable when my friends speak English and I don’t know what they are saying, but I am going to an after school program to learn more English.” In spite of all that has happened to him, I see Sebastian as happy to be here. One of the questions that I asked him at the end was where home is for him, and he didn’t have a problem answering. He said that even though he misses his friends and his grandmother, he considers home here in the U.S. He says, “Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but we are together and I don’t want to come back to El Salvador and have the same life as we did before.” Having a secure place to live where he can grow up as a child is the reward for Sebastian of being in the U.S.

Despite all that Sebastian and his mother have faced I can see how happy they are and believe that all that they they went through in order to get here is paying off, because they are living in a more secure country and both of them have big opportunities to succeed in the U.S. Also, Sebastian and his mother are in the process of becoming legal residents of the U.S., which will open a lot of opportunities to them; for example, Regina will be able to work legally. One of the advantages of being in the U.S. is that there are a lot of resources that can help Sebastian to reach his goals. I’m pretty sure Sebastian will be that teacher that he wishes to be. People could argue, how could a mom put her own child in such danger to immigrate to the U.S. alone by themselves? Unfortunately, they didn’t have another option. She didn’t have much support in her country and her mother was too sick to take care of Sebastian. Also, she trusted the coyotes that they would bring them safely to the border. Regina is also aware that all that Sebastian has gone through, such as killing a person, can have left him with a trauma; therefore, she immediately placed him in therapy and is making sure he follows the directions for treating the consequences that the trip may have caused. Saying that, Sebastian and his mother are ready to start fresh in this country and create a new story in their lives.

The enormous sacrifice that Central American youth make to immigrate to the U.S., putting their lives at risk, shows their real need to escape from the life-threatening effects of poverty and violence in their countries. The journey to come to the United States was extremely difficult for Regina and Sebastian, especially for Sebastian, because at such a young age he was forced to kill a person in other to save his mother. Not only that, but also his life was in danger running from immigration and getting sick while they were with the coyotes in Mexico. All that Sebastian went through, especially killing a person, has left him with lifelong trauma. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an organization that provides assistance for refugees or any other kind of help for immigrants and tries to find solutions to the issues of immigration. The “2014 Annual Review of Mental Health” talks about the difficulties about health that immigrants are facing today. “There are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today. Despite the scale of this migration, the conditions in which migrants travel, live and work can carry great risks to their physical and mental health and well-being.” In spite of all that happened to Sebastian, he still believes that all the difficulties he went through immigrating to the U.S was worth it because now he has a safe and secure place and also the opportunity of being here has opened new opportunities for him.

                                                         Works Cited

“Annual Review 2014.” Migration Health Division. International Organization for Migration. Switzerland. 2015. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Barrios, Sebastian. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2015. No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador. Human Rights      

Program, Human Harvard Law School. February 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Perez, Rose Marie. “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family

Clinician.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. sjsu.edu. April 2001. Web. 8 Dec 2015.

Sample Transcripts

Luz: My name is Luz Hernandez, this is just for a project of school, is nothing bad.

Sebastian: My mom wanted to come without me because it was too dangerous [to take me on] the trip.

L: What was dangerous?

S: The people who brought us, the “Coyotes,” wanted to pass my mom naked through the river.

L: Were there many people coming with you guys? If yes, from what ages?

S: There were many minors, children. If they wanted to cross the river without getting out of their clothes, they had to gave extra money to the coyotes. My mom had to pay extra money to pass the river; we almost died crossing the river; it was too much water.

L: How did you feel in that moment?

S: I was scared and I was crying; my mom was crying too.

L: Before coming to the United States, where did you live before?

S: In El Salvador.

L: How was it living there? There were many people? Was it a small town?

S: There was a college and a park.

L: So it was a nice place?

S: Yes, my place was nice and I miss it so much.

L: What do you miss most?

S: I miss my friends and my grandmother. In the afternoon, we always played before going to bed, before get dark.

L: Did you want to come to the U.S. or it was not an option?

S: Yes, I wanted to come because we were poor and we didn’t have a stable place to live, so we moved a lot to different places and I was changing school all the time and I didn’t want that any more.

L: How many schools did you attend?

S: I went to many different schools. I lasted only 10 days in each place that I moved.

L: When you got out from El Salvador, where did you get first?

S: I don’t remember.

L: What was the most difficult, cruel and sad that you remember that happened to you while you were in the trip?

S: We were in a bus, after we walk and they left us in the middle of the dessert.

L: Who?

S: The coyotes. We walked a lot; the immigration passed close to us and we were scared that immigration could see us. When the passed close to us we needed to hide from them in the woods.

L: Did you walk a lot? Does someone help you?

S: I walked all night and one day, so two days without stop. Nobody helped me; there were many people but my mom was the only one who helped me. She helped to carry the water and the bag that I was carrying on my back.

L: What was in that bag?

S: There was a can of frijoles, and old food fruits. Everything was expired and heavy.

L: How many people where with you guy?

S: I was the only one who was small but there were other minors but I was the small one; my mom was the oldest one. There were 12 people.

L: Were you always with your mom or you were separate from her?

S: No they didn’t separate us, they wanted but my mom said no.

L: The experience form the river and all this was from the Salvador to Guatemala?

S: Yes.

L: So, what is your experience from Guatemala to Mexico?

S: When we passed to Mexico we rested in a small town, after we went to a hotel to sleep. The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip. We last a month in the hotel, there were animals there. I slept in the floor with the rest of the other people and my mom.

L: Everyone slept on the floor?

S: No everyone, the coyotes had their own room.

L: At the beginning you mentioned that the Cartel capture you, how that happened?

S: Yes, the cartel the people who manage all Mexico. In the hotel, there was not food so my mom and I went out to look for something to eat. We were in a bus, I was vomiting a lot, I got sick. So my mom and went back to the hotel and the people from the hotel called the cartel; it was in Reynosa. They got us; I saw how the cartel hit other people because they didn’t behavior good. One day, they brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they had captured in the other room.

L: This must be terrifying for you; how did you feel at that moment?

S: I was scared and I didn’t want to do that. They told me that the person who I was about to kill wasn’t a good person and that I must kill him. They told me that if I don’t kill the person, they will kill my mom.

L: Did you kill that person?

S: Yes, I did, but at that moment he didn’t die; they gave me a bat to hit him in the head. I hit him a lot so he can die fast.

L: How did you feel doing that at that early age?

S: I felt really bad, “sad face, and looking down.” They forced me to do it; if I didn’t do it, my mom probably would be died at this moment.

L: Where did you were when all this happened?

S: Everything happened in a small room. There were hundreds of people there.

L: What were the conditions of all those people?

S: Yes, all of them looked like they were there for long time; they were skinny. They couldn’t talk.

L: How long did you say you were there?

S: We were there for almost two months.

L: Did they give you food to eat?

S: Yes, they gave us tacos, but I didn’t like it because they put a lot of onions in them and I don’t like onions. I didn’t eat for the all day; they only gave us food once per day.

L: Did you get sick because you didn’t eat?

S: One day, I was about to die; I had cough and I had problems breathing. The person who gave me the gun was the main guy. Mom my mom was scared to ask for help because she taught he may kill her. The people from cartel smoked a lot of marijuana and coca and little white thing that you put in the noise, that is why it was hard for me to breath; the windows and the from door were close so it was hard to not small all that.

L: There was not way to asked for help?

S: One of the girl who was with us had a phone almost got kill because her phone ring and the people from the cartel noticed that she had a phone hiding. They put a gun in his head and they take away her phone. They told her if she didn’t to give her phone away, they will gave me the gun to me and I have to kill her.

L: How many people did you kill?

S: I had to kill three people, one guys and two girls. They were minor.

L: Why did you kill those two girls?

S: Because the cartel said that they had phones hiding without their permission. The girls forgot to turn off the phone.

L: Did you have a good relationship with the people from the cartel?

S: Yes, The people from the cartel started liking me because I did everything that they ordered me to do. They stared training me more in how to use a gun much better. They wanted me to be part of the cartel. They didn’t want me to go anywhere no more even if my dad pays the rescue. They dressed me like them with pistol around my jeans. They brought me to a place, to a park to practice, and they didn’t care that it was public. They are the ones who manage Mexico.

L: How did you feel in the moment?

S: I felt bad and sad.

L: Where was your dad at that moment?

S: He was in the U.S. and in order for us to be free my dad wanted to come to Reynosa where we were. He wanted to be there instead of us, but the coyotes didn’t want; my mom either.

L: How you and your mom were able to get out from there?

S: At the end my dad was able to pay the rescue and went for us to the frontera. But we were in immigration for a month before we got here, it was cold and also they didn’t treated us well, they only gave us to eat one time per day. Only a sandwich and a juice. It was dark, I didn’t know it was dark or light. everything was close, and they separated my mom from me. I was sick, and I cry and they brought her back with me.

L: Where all this happened?

S: In New York, I think.

L: What was the moment that you felt safe?

S: When I saw Alberto [my father] , I ran to hug him and I fell but I was happy when we were all together with him in the car.

L: How did you feel when you got to the U.S.?

S: I feel that I can’t never forget what happened in Mexico, when they gave me the pistol, we were in the bus when they got us. When they wanted to abused my mom, and made her cry.

I remember many things. When we cruised the river, when other kids were dying because it was dangerous.

L: When did you got to the U.S. where did you guys lived?

S: We got to the house of your friend, what is her name? Bertha? Yes. It was really small; we didn’t have money. I had a small bed, I couldn’t move, my mom and my dad slept in a bed the same size as mine.

L: What do you do now that you are here?

S: I go school, I’m studying good.

L: How do you feel being with other students that don’t speak the same language as you? You feel uncomfortable?

S: I feel a little bit uncomfortable because they speak Spanish, but I will learn English. I will be in a bilingual program after school.

L: What do you want to be when you grow up?

S: I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going right now, Palmasia that is the name of the school.

L: What means home for you? Here or in the Salvador?

S: Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but I don’t care because we are together, I don’t miss my country, I don’t want to come back.

L: You don’t miss your friends?

S: [Sad expression] Yes I do but I don’t want immigration to bring me back. I have all my family there, my grandparents, my aunts, but my life is here.

L: You are still scared that you might come back to your country?

S: Yes, I do, because my mom need to go to immigration; to court. And also she has a bracelet that she can’t drive but she does. She have too because she need to drop me off school but if the immigration got her she may be in trouble.

L: Do you have any message for all those kids that immigrated every day here?

S: For my friend’s even if there were my enemies I never wish them to come here because they might experience the same things that I did and that is not good because I suffer a lot.

 

Shayla’s Journey

kuwaiti-women

Shayla’s Journey

by Karen Guinn, May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Transcripts

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

Karen Guinn:  How is it in your country?

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

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

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

Karen:  Can I ask you how old you are?

Shayla:  I’m 29.

Karen:  Oh, you’re my daughter’s age!

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

Shay:  Yep!

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

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

Karen:  So what’s the money for?

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

Karen: Oh.

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

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

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

Me:  Have you experienced any earthquake!

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  No boyfriend?

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

Me:  Is English your first language?

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

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

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

Me:  What do you do in your free time?

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

Me:  So where do you live?

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

Me:  So do you take public transportation?

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

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

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

Me:  How does the government take care of you?

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  What does your mother do?

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

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

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

Me:  Oh I’m sorry!

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

Me: Aww, so it’s unconditional love?

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

Me:  So how was your trip here?

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

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.

Eloisa’s Story

Eloisa’s Story

by Deirel Márquez Perez, September, 2014

Immigrants who migrate to the United States are often influenced to do so by different external factors. Many may hope to flee poverty, to migrate for political freedom, or to obtain a good education that may not be offered to them in their home countries. For many immigrants, their choices are motivated by their search for stability in some arena of their lives. In Eloisa’s case, migrating to the United States never seemed to be her ideal goal in life, until a certain event changed her perspective drastically. Eloisa was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Growing up, she was a child in a family of three children, which included her younger sister and older brother. Although her parents split up when she was six years old, and struggled financially for most of her life, she remembers having a happy childhood due to her grandmother. Since her mother was out working all of the time, Eloisa said, “We were all raised basically by my grandmother.” In her teen years, Eloisa loved school; she was a dedicated student. She told me, “I was a straight A student. I always loved my classes.” She was very active in school, participating in a variety of sports such as soccer and volleyball; she was also the president of different clubs on campus. Her goal was to major in business administration and when she graduated from high school with honors. She received a scholarship to attend a four-year university. Many classmates and even teachers felt that she had a very promising future.

However, when she was seventeen years old, her life took a drastic turn. Towards the end of her high school career, Eloisa had been dating a young boy named Felipe, whom she was madly in love with. She later discovered that she had become pregnant by him. Shortly after this news, Eloisa began experiencing many economic and emotional hardships related to her family’s reaction of her pregnancy; they would treat her horribly because she was a young woman who had a promising future but had ruined that when she became pregnant and refused to marry Fidel. This motivated her to leave her family behind and begin a new life free from the gender-based restraints her family was imposing on her.

Consequently, her boyfriend, Felipe, suggested that they move to the United States. He would travel there first, and then bring her over illegally when he had enough money to do so. However, shortly after she migrated to the United States, she found that, whereas her patriarchal culture was the main source of her hardships in Mexico, because she was pressured to inherit specific gender roles, such as the pressure to get married and subjugation by her family, her legal status had become an additional source of hardship in the U.S. resulting in experiences of prejudice and exploitation in the work place, shaping Eloisa’s life as an immigrant woman from Mexico. When Eloisa explained why she decided to migrate to the US, she said, “Well, it was for personal reasons more than anything else. I got pregnant when I was seventeen years old and I was my family’s hope when it came to school because I was the smartest and brightest kid in the family.” Before she became pregnant, her family had high hopes reserved for her. She explained, “So my grandma had all hopes in me. You know, I was so excited with school and when I graduated from high school, I graduated with a scholarship to go to a four-year college in another state. But my mom and my family didn’t want me to go somewhere else.” Coming from a very traditional background, she was expected to marry before she left her home and when she became pregnant, they definitely could not accept her wished to leave home. She goes on to say, “When I told my family, they were like, oh my God! I was the oldest woman so it was like hard for them finding out that me Eloisa was pregnant.” Eloisa decided that she wanted to live with Felipe and her family did not take this news well. She explains: “So I told my family, and they were so mad at me not only because I was pregnant but because I told them that I wanted to go live with the father of my kid and they were like, no! When you leave this house you need to get married, and I told them, no I don’t want to get married I just want to be with him because I love him.” She began feeling immense neglect from her family when she expressed that she did not want to get married. At this point, she had become a victim of patriarchal gender relations in her family. To further understand how patriarchal culture affected her life, the book Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration, written by Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo, a professor in the department of Sociology in the University of Southern California, defines patriarchy as “a fluid and shifting set of social relations where men oppress women, in which different men exercise varying degrees of power and control, and in which women collaborate and resist in diverse ways.” In Eloisa’s life, not only men but also women were upholding patriarchal attitudes and reinforcing traditional cultural frameworks. For instance, after becoming pregnant her family lost all hope in her, as if becoming pregnant at her age meant that she could no longer achieve success. She didn’t quite expect the reaction she received, she explains “I knew they weren’t going to understand, but at least I was hoping that they would say, ok you made a mistake, how can we help you? But that never came from them, especially my mother, and all I remember her saying is, your screwed, that’s it, you’re not going to be able to do anything with your life.” She wanted to flea the patriarchal gender relations that she was experiencing in her life.

Unfortunately, Eloisa wasn’t satisfied staying in Mexico. After Felipe left the country with the promise to send money so she could later migrate over herself, at the age of eighteen, she gave birth to her daughter. Shortly after, she began facing many problems with her boyfriend’s mother. For Eloisa, it was very common to see newly wedded couples live with the husband’s parents in Mexico until they become economically independent. In her case, although she was not married, when she did live with her boyfriend’s family for some time in Mexico she experienced subordination by her boyfriend’s mother. She said, “His family even accused me of getting pregnant intentionally so I could live with him, so I never had a good relationship with his family. I never felt accepted by his family.” After moving back in with her mother, Felipe’s mom wanted to see her newly born granddaughter but Eloisa wouldn’t go visit them because she always felt very unwelcomed when she would stay there. She said, “his mom never had any respect for me as her sons partner, I would hear her say to him, well she’s your wife she needs to cook for you and she needs to clean the house and if she’s going out then you need to ask her where she is going.” Her connections to family-based patriarchal relations offer a dynamic view of her own subordination and strive for resistance. To elaborate on traditional gender relations among Mexican immigrants, Sotelo explains, “Gender ideals prescribe behavior for masculine and feminine behavior in traditional Mexican society.” Machismo, according to Sotelo, “calls for men to be sexually assertive, independent, and emotionally restrained, to wield absolute authority over their wives and children, and to serve as family breadwinners.” Eloisa’s experiences were clear proof of this, as she told me, “His mother use to put a lot of things in his head. He would do it to me! He would come home and say, you need to do this! And when I come home you need to have this house spotless! I remember how many times he would say that to me, spotless.” She, however, still didn’t feel comfortable at home. Tensions between her and her family became so bad that her health became affected. She said, “I was so skinny! So skinny because I was dealing with all this stress I was like 93 pounds!” So when she finally reached the opportunity to leave Mexico and come to the United States she was very excited. Patriarchy existed in her Mexican family and endured in varying degrees that led her to her migration to the US.

When Eloisa arrived, she had been carrying cultural and ideological baggage she had been trying to escape in her home country, she hoped to discard these elements and adopt new ones. When arriving to the US with her one-year old daughter Eloisa admits she indeed felt very nervous, “I was nervous, you know like I was afraid, heck yea! Because you don’t know what’s going to happen because this is the first time you’re leaving your country, you’re coming to something new.” When she first arrived she was filled with many preconceived almost mythical notions of the US. She had heard that no one really suffers here, that people have enough food to eat, and a car, etc. She was shocked when Felipe picked her up from the airport in a car he had just bought. Overwhelmed with emotions, she was mostly excited to begin a new life in the states away from the stress and hardships she suffered in Mexico. Unfortunately Eloisa now faced a new dilemma that was a result of illegal migration. When she arrived, she got her first job working at a hotel as a maid. At this job she began facing discrimination and experienced prejudice by her boss’s son. In an article written by a clinical psychologist Jean Lau Chin, called “The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination,” prejudice is defined as “an opinion about an individual, group, or phenomenon that is developed without proof or systematic evidence. The prejudgment is more often unfavorable and may become institutionalized in the form of a country’s laws or customs” (Lau Chin 3). She explained, “he made really discriminatory remarks to us about our culture and I just hated it. I hated it and so one day I couldn’t take it anymore so I came to her office to complain about it.” When she asked him to fix a vacuum that wasn’t working, he asked, “Why? Have one of the brownies fix it. Aren’t you all good for that?” Eloisa’s boss told her that if she didn’t like it, she could leave. At that moment, that’s exactly what Eloisa decided to do. She said: “She started yelling at me and said, you will never ever find another job like this, she also said to me that I was going to come back and beg for my job because I have no future and I have no where else to go and she was going to see me cleaning rooms because that was all I was good for.” Eloisa felt angry. She told her boss, “I’m going to prove to you that that’s not the only thing that I am good for.” When she quit her job, she was crying and felt humiliated because of the remarks her boss made. She fled her home country to only find herself experiencing discrimination and oppression in this society. She felt bad because she was beginning to accept these negative messages from her boss that suggested her intrinsic worth. This experience served as a mechanism for motivation and the next day, Eloisa enrolled in an English as a Second Language class to prove to herself that she was capable of achieving much more than what her boss said she would. As she began learning English she got another job working at a restaurant bussing tables, at that moment she fell in love with the restaurant business. She had a very strong work ethic; she would be the first to open the restaurant in the morning and assisted her boss with other important tasks that didn’t fall under her title as a busser. She was really motivated to become a server and continuously tried proving to her boss that she was ready to be promoted. When Eloisa felt that that she was not going to become a server anytime soon, she told her boss that she was going to begin searching for another job.

Out of fear of losing her, he said he would give her the opportunity to become a server. But on her first week of training, her boss approached her to talk. She explained, “I never told anyone this… I was so ashamed, but we got there we sit down and he gives me this speech and say he was going to give me the opportunity but I wasn’t going to get paid for it, so I was just going to get tips because this was a business.” Eloisa sat there almost in shock. “I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and I knew he got me. And he got me in the worst way I knew he could because I had turned the other jobs away.” What was so unfortunate about her situation was that Eloisa had mentioned that she had a daughter she needed to support and being clearly aware of her undocumented status he still chose to exploit her. She remembered what happened to her in that hotel and thought: “Okay. I’m going to play by your game.” This experience shows the way her lack of legal status affected and interacted with her work life along with the subordination and domination she herself was subjected to as an undocumented immigrant woman. To gain a greater understanding of the way economic institutions and practices structure our lives, economist Teresa Amott, and her colleague Julie Mathaei, professor of Marxist feminist economics at Wellesly College, wrote a book titled Race, Gender, and Work: A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States, in which they state, “A fledging economic system of profit-motivated production for the market, based on wage labor, grew into the dominant economic and social force determining women’s work lives, not only in the United States, but in the world.” Eloisa’s boss was abusing his power to achieve economic affluence for himself and she felt like there was nothing she could do about it because she understood her economic position. Because of her lack of legal status, she lacked protection on the job, had to endure economic injustice, and live in a state of constant insecurity, especially fear of deportation. Together with her socioeconomic class and culture, she experienced pressures that would determine her opportunities and therefore lead to migration. After becoming a mother at the age of eighteen, Eloisa’s choices to immigrate to the US and resettle were driven by her hopes to escape cultural patriarchy that she was subjugating her in Mexico. She was seeking liberation from the limitations that others placed on her. Gender is truly relevant to understanding Eloisa’s migration. Her story reveals a mix of social, cultural, and legal forces that dictate her moves; the wish to flee cultural pressure to get married, to avoid other family members, to find better job opportunities. She of course does not lie among the most disadvantaged women immigrants. Yet she nonetheless has faced numerous economic constraints due to her lack of legal status, cultural dissonance, language problems, social barriers, prejudice, and discrimination, which shaped her opportunities in life.

Works Cited

Amott, Teresa L., and Julie A. Matthaei. Race, Gender, and Work: A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States. Boston, MA: South End, 1991. Print. Chin, Jean Lau. The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2004. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 July 2014 Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Imigration. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1994. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 July 2014.

Afterward by Eloisa

What were your thoughts? Y cada dia intento despertar y pensar en una oportunidad para enpezar de Nuevo. Y mi unica esperanza es creer en esto porque aun creo firmemente que Dios es bueno. Que Dios perdona los sacrilegios. Quiero pensar que no soy mala, que sentir el amor en la forma como lo he sentido no me hace una mala persona, una egoista y una sinverguenza. Y qusar que si todo esto es cierto, entonces en el fondo no he cambiado. Mi escencia es la misma… es solo mi forma de pensar la que se ha modificado, la que ha sufrido una transformacion. Quiero pensar que este cambio me ha llevado a ser y a convertirme en mas humana que perfecta; en mas mujer que madre; en alguien mas simple que compleja… pero que nunca, nunca me ha transformado en un ser humano abobinable. Y si hoy en dia tu memoria, tu Corazon, tus sentimientos estan cargados de rencor hacia miiero pen … PERDONAME Perdoname por mis acciones, perdoname por mis palabras que te insultaron y que no olvidas. Perdona mis reacciones buenas o malas que llevas grabadas y te laceran indudablemente Perdona que no he sabido como conducirme y como consecuencia, perdi la forma de conducirte. Perdona mis gritos y mis aceleramientos. Pero sobre todo, perdona mis silencios llenos de culpabilidad. Perdona el sufrinmiento dirigido hacia ti, mi bebe, mi motor de vida. Perdoname porque no puedo volver el tiempo atras y borrar todos los malos dias y las malas imagines, las impresiones negativas y los malos sucesos que hoy nos apartan. Ruego y pido a Dios que cada dia de mivida, me de una nueva oportunidad para compersarte. Pido que mi Corazon no se detenga por la fuerza y la inspiracion que habia buscado, esta aqui, en tu lindo Corazon. En la sonrisa que apenas y muestras durante un sparkle de felicidad. Mi motivacion esta en tu motivacion y en tus suenos, Mi fuerza esta en tu fuerza y en tu entusiasmo para vivir cada dia. Mi inpiracion esta en ti, en tu alma, en tu bienestar, en tu cara, en tu sonrisa, en tu persona, en tu character, en tu personalidad, en tus historias, en tus mal genios, en tus decisions, en tu persona, en mi motor de vida llamado What are some of your thoughts now that you are living in the United States with this new life? And every day I wake up and try to think of an opportunity for new empezar. And my only hope is to believe in this because even I firmly believe that God is good. May God forgive the sacrilege? I think I’m not bad, you feel the love in the way I felt it does not make me a bad person, selfish, and a scoundrel. Quisaz and if all this is true, then on the bottom I have not changed. My essence is the same … it’s just my way of thinking that has changed, which has undergone a transformation. I like to think that this change has led me to be and to become more human than perfect; more woman in mother; someone simpler than complex … but never, I’ve never become an abominable human being. When you reunited with your mother what did she say to you? She sent me a letter, which said the following: Forgive me for my actions, forgive me for my words that insulted you and you do not forget. Forgive my good or bad reactions you’ve been recorded and you certainly lacerate Sorry I have not known how to conduct myself and as a result, lost the way to behave. Forgive my screaming and my accelerations. But most of all, forgive my silence full of guilt. Forgive the sufrinmiento directed towards you, my baby, my engine life. Forgive me because I can not turn the clock back and erase all the bad days and bad pics, the negative impressions and bad events before us away.