The Maze

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The bottom block features mazes on all sides, while the top two feature Buddhist and Chinese animal symbolism.

The Maze

by Thea Zhang, May 2019

This is a story of a girl named Carey, who immigrated to the United States from China during childhood. In her adolescence, she decided to become an artist. Roberto Bolaño was a Chilean writer and poet, who represents “the most significant Latin American literary voice” in the last century and suggests that exiles is in a search for identity. According to his article “Exiles,” “To be exiled is not to disappear but to shrink, to slowly or quickly get smaller and smaller until we reach our real height, the true height of the self” (Bolaño 1). The author states exile as a process of narrowing down a vast world of possibilities, either slow or fast growth to discover the truth about oneself. In addition, Bolaño says, “Many of the exiled, freighted with more suffering than reasons to leave, would reject this statement” (1). In some but not all cases, while exile can be a journey of suffering for forced immigrants, that is not necessarily a route one has to go through. Instead, the woman in this story did not suffer from a harsh transition of immigration. Her family simply hoped for a better life. For Carey, exile involves defining one’s identity throughout the various stages, and all of these stages are associated with art. The shifts in culture with constant movements made Carey fragmented into different identities. Inside her soul, her world remains dedicated to the Chinese tradition with her family and childhood memories, whereas, outside, she integrates language and education with the new culture as an American. Art has been a medium of freedom and liberty through its creative form of self-expression and personal healing, allowing Carey to adapt herself to a new environment that comes with different languages and lifestyles, and to imagine herself as whole.

I met Carey on the first day of school in the fall of 2018. Through her introduction in class, I learned that she was born in southern China and grew up in different parts of China. Since her father was from Guangdong Province and her mother was from Sichuan Province, she moved back and forth between these two provinces for the first nine years of her life. She immigrated to the United States when she was nine. Since then, she has been living in San Francisco for almost fifteen years. During the continuation of my interview with her, she stated that life is like a maze. She was lost until she found art was a way to express herself, and to clarify her identity as a whole, so she could find a way out of a maze. Nevertheless, with time and patience, Carey has been able to start to overcome the challenges in her life.

Carey describes her young childhood as having constant movements because her parents come from different cities in China; the many uncertain situations she found herself in, each with many possibilities, became increasingly confusing in terms of identity. These small movements, the movements between a small village and a metropolis, lead not to unification but to fragmentation. Whereas Sichuan is a province in southwest China, Guangdong is a coastal province of southeast China. She states:

“I was born in Guangdong province. But I moved to Sichuan province for one year, and then moved back to Guangdong for better education. Moving to and fro between those two hometowns. In total, I stayed in Guangdong for around seven years. After that, I immigrated to the United States.”

For one year, when she was seven years old, she lived in a small village in Sichuan Province, a small community where all villagers knew each other as neighbors. She remembers growing up with her sibling and playmates in the village. One of her most vivid childhood memories is of a night when she was running in the playground and was carrying a colorful lantern during the mid-autumn festival, a traditional festival in China. Growing up in a small town is an experience unlike any other regarding childhood memories, even though she was raised by a strict mother, who often told her to come home early and did not allow sleepovers. It was enjoyable, full of love and laughters. Occasionally, she reminisces over her fond childhood memories. However, comparing these two cities, she says, “I like Guangdong more because it was more like a city. Sichuan was just like a small town that filled with mud and dirt, a rural place.” The transitions from a small village to a metropolis provided different viewpoints of the country for her. When she was nine, she started to draw mazes, whether she was in school or at home. Perhaps she was subconsciously trying to find a way home. The concept of home brought her uncertainty in the transitional period, causing small fragmentations that caused her to feel she had two roles within her childhood, and she had to act differently in different situations.

The education system and school life form a significant part of her identity; as a student, Carey transferred from another country and felt split into multiple selves in a sense due to cultural differences. Carey migrated from China to the United States in 2005, with her parents and her younger sister. She describes, “I did not know the reason that I immigrated to the United States because I was too young. My father and mother decided to come here, so I have no choice.” Although it was not her choice to make the life-changing decision, it symbolizes a turning point of her life. According to “Exiles,” Bolaño claims, “Exile, in most cases, is a voluntary decision” (3). In this case, her parents chose to leave their hometown to make a better life in a different country. During her first year in the United States, Carey struggled with her transition from China. The most significant movement in her life happened when she was nine, in the fourth grade in elementary school, which was only a year and a half from graduation. She transferred to a primary school in America. Sita Patel, a psychologist, in a study on newcomer immigrant adolescents that was published in School Psychology Quarterly, states: “Newcomer adolescent immigrants are a particularly vulnerable population…[a]s they face the simultaneous challenges of rapid developmental changes and acculturation-related stressors and adjustment” (1). Adolescent immigrants appear to be a vulnerable group. On top of the fact that they face a variety of difficulties in adjustment, the interactive role of family stressors on school outcomes brings out adverse psychological pressures. Initially, she created multiple identities, and did not feel like an American, even though she had lived in America for a long time. Following a different education system in America, Carey studied in middle school for three years, in high school for four years, and has studied in college for four years until now. The cultural environment within the education system and at home broke down into two directions; Inside her home life, her family became a pressure on her school life. Outside, in the world of her school, the different education system was also confusing. Carey had to code-switch and act differently in the two different environments.

The language differences act as a barrier between the two parts of her world; Carey grew up between two cultures and had to come up with ways to integrate both of her sides to redefine herself as a whole. In the new country, there were language barriers and cultural differences, which hindered her ability to adjust. Carey states, “I speak Chinese at home, but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Chinese, but I also integrated Chinese and English with my family. Sometimes, it also comes with Sichuanese and Cantonese.” Sichuanese and Cantonese are dialects of Chinese. Her family’s holding onto her traditional side is a way of maintaining traditional culture to express themselves more liberally. Sharon Thompson is a counselor who is working with the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Interpreter Training at Troy University. Her article provides an explanation of creative skills and techniques for counselors when working with children who function as language brokers, who have been utilized by their family to translate and interpret information within other cultures and environments. According to her article in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, “One of the most significant challenges for these individuals is communication within their new culture” (Thompson et al.). In this case, Carey is considered as the language broker in her family, which creates a significant challenge for her to communicate within American culture in English. Furthermore, intra-family relations also form foundations of her identity. Eileen McGann, an art therapist and an editorial board member who is working with Art Therapy Outreach Center, in the Journal of Emotional Abuse, presents with other scholars a pathway with different factors for the adolescent to achieve the consolidation of one’s identity. They state:

“[An] adolescent must experience and internalize validation from her immediate community and the culture at large. For young women of color, the effects of intra-family prejudice and societal racism can severely compromise their ability to embrace their ethnic identity” (McGann et al.).

The article shows that a confusing religious identity with a confusing sense of nationality can lead to more misunderstanding, which causes more fragmentations, especially for female adolescents of color. To maintain inner solidarity with a group’s ideals and identity is an essential stage in identity formation. In the process of identity formation, Carey is suggesting that retaining her Chinese culture with her family creates a sense of belonging and integrating a new language creates a new way to consolidate her identity.

The passport symbolizes the turning point in her identity transformation from Chinese to American; however, Carey sees home as a narrative construction across two countries with little differences and more similarities. While most immigrants would compare their hometowns to America in many different ways from their expectations that they had before the move, Carey does not notice many differences between San Francisco, Guangdong, and Sichuan as she considers these cities are all her home. There are very small differences between these two countries that she does not considers significant. She states, “The only difference between America and China that I could think of is the nightlife, whereas in the U.S. when it is getting dark, no one would hand out. In China, you can stay until midnight.” The society in America is more individualized, compared with the lifestyle she had in China, and lacks a sense of community. But she also reflects, “The same thing is life; you still have to live and work.” Apparently, she does not notice many differences between these two countries. Life remains the same wherever she is. Until now, she considers herself as an American due to the U.S. passport. She states, “I am a U.S. citizen now. Before I had a China passport, I would say that I was an immigrant. But now that I am not.” The Chinese passport carried a part of her previous identity, and the U.S. passport creates a new one. This change in form stands for a turning point that home is a narrative for Carey, instead of a place or a location. Hanoch Flum, a professor at Ben-Guion University of the Negev, suggests that identity development plays a significant role in the context of cultural transition. From a psychosocial and sociocultural perspective, the author investigates “self-continuity” and identity integration in light of “inherent discontinuity” among young immigrants. He claims, “Their negotiations of identity, with a focus on their narrative construction of past, present, and future across life domains (education, career, military service, family), are illustrated in a variety of developmental paths” (Flum). The identity of young immigrants is complex due to the narrative construction of their entire life. Seemingly, Carey copes well with her new identities, which mix both sides; her home plays an important role in a variety of developmental paths. Even after creating a new self, she continues to question her identity despite the certification of her physical identity; in fact, these feelings of being lost and fragmented run through Carey’s core.

The process of experiencing different types of art has challenged her perspective of her identity. While she is in exile in the United States, art allows her to incorporate any aspect of her identity freely. At the very beginning, Carey wanted to experience a variety of art classes in the school. Carey states, “I was not sure what kind of art I wanted to take at first. Therefore, I decided to take every kind of art classes; then I would know which kind I like.” By learning and assimilating the art world, she can shape her views of reality gradually. Besides, each kind of art presents a different aspect of herself. Along with a group of scholars, Rachel Ettun, who is affiliated with Rambam Medical Center, in an article on the study of the connections between art and healing and spirit, with the title of “Transforming Pain into Beauty,” states:

“From drawing to sculpture…the arts can have a major impact on patients’ spiritual well-being and health. The arts empower patients to fulfill the basic human drive to create and give patients a sense of possibility. Through creative expression, patients regain a feeling of wholeness, individually and as part of the larger world.” (Ettun et al.)

This quotation shows that the arts not only can fulfill the basic actuation of creativity but also provide a sense of possibility. Exploring in the art world, Carey can achieve wholeness and can be independent in the world. Through the exploration of different kinds of art, she finds out her favorite is sculpture, which allows her to build up her world through the project. However, she uses her creativity to find ways to incorporate cultural aspects of both her identities. Since then, Carey has discovered her interest in art and pursued the goals earnestly: earning a degree and becoming an artist. Ceramics was the beginning of her exploration of art, as a medium of freedom. Carey says:

“I studied ceramics for two years in high school includes beginning ceramic and intermediate ceramic. The ceramic classes in college were interesting too. Whereas I used my hand to make in high school, I learned how to use the machine to make in college. I have more options to create my work, more materials, more techniques for ceramic.”

She has studied ceramics for more than five years. By learning more materials and techniques, she can access more options to express herself. Initially, she did not know what culture to identify with, which traditions to embrace or how to maintain her family’s identity and the Chinese status while she grew up. But through art, she finds a way out of the maze created by these transitions.

The cultural diversity of San Francisco has helped help Carey begin to construct an American identity because she is able to maintain her Chinese culture in the meantime with more freedom. Carey can redefine herself and discover a sense of belonging through art while she spreads Chinese culture, which she is familiar with. Carey says, “As a Chinese American, I think I know Chinese style better than the others here. Therefore, I want to make more about it and let everyone know what Chinese style looks like.” The colorful lanterns in the Chinatown of San Francisco also light up a small part of Carey’s identity. The lamps, painted in the traditional Chinese colors of red, gold and green, make Grant Avenue one of the brightest streets in the city at night. Ellen Dissanayake, an American author and scholar that specifically focuses on the area of “the anthropological exploration of art and culture,” claims, “Art belongs to everyone and is a natural part of human behavior.” Also, she can be braver and stronger in the art world with more freedom. Carey states, “But art, you do not need to think of it. Even you made a mistake; it is still art.” From her perspective, art is made of creativity and freedom. When we make a mistake, we must correct it adequately as quickly as possible. According to a, American cartoonist and writer, Scott Adams, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Allowing people to make mistakes can be liberating for one’s creativity. In the world of pure art, Carey does not need to be afraid of making mistakes. Even though she makes mistakes in her artworks, she can afford the consequences. While allowing herself to make mistakes without fear of failure can be liberating for creativity, she can also use art as a medium of freedom to reconstruct her fragmented identity. Her aesthetic is that of freedom and imagination, mixing two such cultural elements with her identity, which mixes the Chinese and American. It shows that Carey wanted to incorporate different aspects to solidify a sense of self through the discovery of imagination.

Carey experienced exile when she was a child and did not have a choice. She sees art as a tool to reconstruct her fragmented identity with freedom and liberty by following herself to achieve happiness. Carey describes, “Art is freedom, happy and interesting to me. Art is like walking around and design.” Most of the time, instead of teamwork or collaborations with others, she enjoys working by herself. She likes to bring the artworks home and design them because it makes her feel comfortable working alone. When it comes to the question of whether art is healing, Carey answers firmly, “Absolutely. Art will not make me feel tired and frustrated. When I get started on a new piece of artwork, I would be one hundred percent focus on it.” For Carey, designing and creating are enjoyable processes. Caelan Kuban, a doctor of psychiatry at UC Irvine, suggests that art helps people to express themselves. In her journal article “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.” Art can be a trusted medium for self-expressing and imagination. Art can help in times of stress by relieving oneself from any situation; for Carey, art can be a way for her to express herself and make it clear to find her identity through imaginations.

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Through the processes of making artworks, she feels peaceful and comfortable by expressing her opinions and ideas. In the advanced sculpture class in spring, students need to use a hundred words to presents the meaning of their life in a sculpture. Carey states, “For the sculpture project, I made a tree. The meaning of tree is just like our life; the tree branch is the choices that leading us to different directions. It was a kind of lifestyle, which has good parts and bad parts, positive side and negative side. Through the tree, you can see my life.” The leaves are sparse, few and far between, which means her life experiences are not enough. She explains, “If my tree has a lot of leaves on it, that means I already have many experiences, my life will be complete.” The tree represents the meaning of her life with her different identities. One example of the use of a tree is by Everett Middle School in San Francisco, which lost a student to gun violence in 2001. Laurie Marshall as an art educator, sharing her philosophical context on how art can be used as peace building. She states, “Each year they devote a week to Peace Studies. In 2011, they created the Cypress Singing Tree of Peace, where students share the action, they plan to take into their community to create peace” (Marshall). The author claims that art can be healing for the individual and peace building through the creation of the tree. Following the material and the tools particular to an artwork also allows people to think and follow the thoughts of the material. Herbert Read, an English art historian and philosopher who is best known for numerous books on art, states in Modern Sculpture, “It is while carving stone that you discover the spirit of your material and the properties particular to it. Your hand thinks and follows the thoughts of the material.” During the art-making processes, the medium of arts often sustains efforts and struggles. In the meantime, people may paint an image, or cut the plaster and clay to reform a sculpture. Engaging with art materials is a sensory experience that often leads to a release of emotions. Carey often worried about her future. Making a piece of artwork to discover the spirit of its components can also be a way of relieving the daily stress of her life. The future is unknown, but with the use of art as a medium, she expresses all the feelings to complete her identity.

Her changing concept of home caused Carey to separate into multiple identities; by maintaining traditions and expressing herself through the creativity and imagination of art to find herself as a whole with freedom, she can redefine her identity through the discovery of art and the works of art in the time of exile. By combining Chinese and American styles together, she can unify her identities. Using culture and creativity is a way for Carey not only to hold on to her old identity but also to help create a new one for her own. One could argue that tradition does not create anything new, that it is only a way to remember the past. However, past, present and future form a narrative construction that spans across our lives. To confront the past and better face the future, the beauty of culture and art allows people to express themselves in their ways and learn new ways through creativity and imagination. It can draw an emotional connection across different cultures and bring a new way for people to establish themselves, and their families. For Carey, her immigration forced her to construct a new identity and to find a place to belong during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Exile can create the fragmentation of life, but through the healing process of creativity and imagination within art, people can conquer the difficulties in life. Although Carey struggled with her new responsibilities as an adult in the U.S., she will eventually manage to overcome her difficulties and worries, to embrace the world of freedom.

 

Works Cited

Arévalo, S. Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Presidential Task Force on Immigration. American Psychological Association.Washington, DC: 2012.

Bolaño, Roberto. Exiles. University of California Press, Apr. 2011.

Dissanayake, E. Self-taught art: The culture and aesthetics of American vernacular art. Very like art: Self-taught art from an ethological perspective. Outsider art in C.Russell, University Press of Mississippi, 2001, pp. 35–46.

Ettun, Rachel, et al. “Transforming Pain into Beauty: On Art, Healing, and Care for the Spirit.” Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ECAM), vol. 2014, Jan. 2014, pp. 1–7. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1155/2014/789852.

Frantz, Gilda. “Creativity and Healing.” Psychological Perspectives, vol. 59, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 242–251. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00332925.2016.1170567.

Flum, Hanoch, and Tamara Buzukashvili. “Identity Development and Future Orientation in Immigrant Adolescents and Young Adults: A Narrative View of Cultural Transitions from Ethiopia to Israel.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, no. 160, Jan. 2018, pp. 15–30. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1176356&site=eds-live.

Lin, Carey. Personal Interview. March 23, 2019.

Marshall, Laurie. “Art as Peace Building.” Art Education, vol. 67, no. 3, May 2014, pp. 37–43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1046775&site=eds-live.

Martin, F.David. “Sculpture and ‘Truth to Things.’” Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 13, no. 2, Apr. 1979, pp. 11–32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ215391&site=eds-live.

McGann, Eileen P. “Color Me Beautiful: Racism, Identity Formation, and Art Therapy.” Journal of Emotional Abuse, vol. 6, no. 2/3, June 2006, pp. 197–217. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1300/J135v06n02_12.

Patel, Sita G., et al. “Newcomer Immigrant Adolescents: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Family Stressors and School Outcomes.” School Psychology Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 163–180. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/spq0000140.

Read, Herbert. A Concise History of Modern Sculpture. New York: Praeger, 1964. Print.

Sickler-Voigt, Debrah C. “Carving for the Soul: Life Lessons from Self-Taught Artist O. L. Samuels.” Art Education, vol. 59, no. 3, May 2006, pp. 25–32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ740333&site=eds-live.

Thompson, Sharon R., et al. “Using Altered Art for Children Who Language Broker: Navigating Roles and Transitions.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling, vol. 40, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 302–315. EBSCOhost, doi:10.17744/mehc.40.4.03.

 

Sample Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic: Immigration, Art, Freedom

Interviewee: Carey Lin

Interviewer: Thea Zhang

Interview Date: March 23, 2019

 

Carey Lin: My name is Xia Lin, I am 24 years old and I am a student.

Thea Zhang: What are you doing lately? School and work?

CL: School, Work and to earn more money

TZ: Where did you grow up?

CL: I grew up in China and I came here for a better life. Okay, just tell the truth. I did not know the reason that I was immigrated to the United States because I was too young. My father and mother decided to come here, so I have no ideas

TZ: Where were you born? Where did you originally come from?

CL: I was born in Guangdong province. But then I moved to Sichuan for 1 year from sixth grade to seventh grade to have school over there, and then moved back to Guangdong, I stayed in

Guangdong around six or seven years. After that, I immigrated to the United States. I like Guangdong more, because it was more like a city. Sichuan was just like a small town that fulled of mud and dirty, a rural place.

TZ: Do you consider yourself as an immigrant?

CL: You can say that, but right now I am not. I am a U.S. citizen now. Before I had a China passport, I was said that I was an immigrant.

TZ: What are the differences or similarities between China and America?

CL: Compare to China, I like the weather here. Sometimes it is too hot and sometimes it is too cold. Cause I do not like to wear t-shirt, I like to wear hoodies stuff. But the food is good and then it is a safety place. The biggest different of these two countries; In the U.S., when it is getting dark, no one would hand out. But in China, you can do that, and you can stay until midnight. The same thing is the life, you still have to live and work. It depends on what kind of life you want.

Of course, I like Chinese food, because I am Chinese. Even though I am a American, I eat Chinese food at home. This is kind of habit things. But at here I do not hand out outside, so mostly it just like burgers, bagel, pizza. (These kinds of American foods.)

TZ: Do you consider move back to China?

CL: Who knows, maybe. I would say that if I graduate from college.

TZ: What details can you tell me about your family?

CL: There are four people in my family including me. Father, mother, my younger sister and me.

TZ: Can you describe your relationship with your sister?

CL: Pretty good, sometimes we fight and sometimes we hand out, that is called sister. The relationship between my parents and I is good too. Not fights, we usually hand out and talk so much so we don’t have secrets at all. Sometimes we will say it. Mostly with my mother, she is just like my friend. Dad is dad. Because he is a man. Less communication with more distance.

We were talk to each other only when we were at home or when I met him. But I would say the relationship between us is still good. Sometimes we will help and respect each other. We don’t fight a lot. Last time we fight was because of my sister, she and I fought each other. And my dad always says, ‘your sister is young, and you are the older one, you should let her’. That was long time ago, I was 12 years old by then when I was a teenager. We did not fight during this long period.

TZ: What is the biggest challenge you faced right now?

CL: Education. And then you have to work. I mean, after you graduate from college you have to find a job. Then buy a house and then you have to leave. And the thing is that I have to transfer, that is a challenge for me. The biggest challenge for me is future. Because you never know your future; I am still feeling confused.

I want to be a maze design. Because I like to draw maze. If I can find any job about maze, I will do whatever I can. It does not matter it that drawing or any others. Painter is just paint anything, but maze designer is only about maze. I was just thinking of this right now. In general, just be an artist.

TZ: How to balance work and study?

CL: The most important thing is to schedule your time. I have two part-time jobs right now. So, scheduling a good job hour. Four days for work and two days school.

TZ: How do you feels about college? Years?

CL: Stress and challenge. This is my fourth year in college. The classes are different and especially English. And math is difficult, I hate math. But biology is fine, because the teacher is good and helpful. When the teacher was caring and wanted to help, that make me felt more comfortable and less stressful.

In 2005, I was at the fourth grade in elementary school. I still did not graduate from China. And then I moved here and took fourth grade class for only half semester. So, I got one and half year elementary school in America, three years for middle school, four years for high school and then four years for college. From 2005 until now.

TZ: What are the differences between high school and college?

CL: I want to be a maze design. Because I like to draw maze. If I can find any job about maze, I will do whatever I can. It doesn’t matter I like high school. It was less stressful even for Math and English, because I don’t care. I don’t care about the grades, but I need to care about it for transfer right now, I don’t want to spend another year in college. Mostly I got good grades, but it depends on teachers. High school is youth to me; friends, hand out, no stress. I did not have a job by then (No pressure on life too). Basically, it was very simple: wake up, go to school, hand out with friends at lunchtime in cafeteria, then back to home. I did not feel any stress about English and Math, because it spent one year to take the course and now is just one semester. So, you can see how fast it is and I can take my time to learn math.

TZ: What was your favorite subject in school?

CL: I studied ceramic for two years in high school. Including Beginning ceramic and AP (college level) ceramic. Four and half a week for two years. The ceramic classes in college were interesting too. I learnt how to use the machine to make in college and I used my hand to make in high school. In college, I have more options to create my work, more materials, more techniques for ceramic. There’s no essay, test, quiz and homework. So that I like it.

TZ: What make you decided your major in Art?

CL: I decided my major in art because I like it, any kind of art. I was not sure what kind of art I wanted to take at first. So, I decided to take every kinds of art then I would know which kind I like. My favorite is sculpture, I like to build stuffs.

TZ: How to build a sculpture project?

CL: Like the wood project, the first semester of sculpture, I made the wood goldfish. I knew exactly what to do, and then I could enjoy it. But if I don’t know what to do, it just stuck in the first stage and feels stressful in the rest of that class.

The processes to build the goldfish: first, the teacher asked me to design an animal with movement. Second, I did not want to do it too complicated and I wanted to keep it simple. So, I thought of fish would be so much easier for me. The reason why I choose goldfish because my house has it and it is for Chinese style. Then, the teacher showed us how to do it: use three woods, use tools to shape it and design it then make it in 3D (use machine to make the fish skin cut the wood smaller). Think, draw, then make it real. I think I know Chinese style better than the others. So, I want to make more about it and let everyone know what Chinese style is looks like. I tend to be a worker; I don’t like to sit at the chair, and I liked to move. Even drawing, I can walk around, thinking about it and then drawing instead of sitting still all the time. That’s why I don’t like drawing that much, I just think in my mind.

 

TZ: Can you describe ‘Art’? What is it to you? How do you feel about it?

CL: Art is freedom, happy and interesting to me. Art is like walking around and design. Not like the other jobs, you need to sit in an office and type at computer. Most of the time, you can work alone. I don’t like teamwork. You just need to feel about yourself and focus on yourself. If someone watching me, I feel so weird. That’s why at Chinese brush painting class, I don’t usually at class doing my stuff, I liked to bring it home and draw because it feels more comfortable to working alone.

TZ: Do you feel art is healing?

CL: Yes, because it will make me feel not tired anymore and focus. If I feel that is not interesting, then it will make me want to sleep. But art make me feel not tired.

TZ: Do you have a favorite artist?

CL: Maya Lin.

TZ: Or any specific artwork that you like?

CL: No. Just any sculpture and wood, or about maze.

TZ: You are taking sculpture and Chinese brush painting right now. So, what do you do to prepare for a art work?

CL: I will be painting in my house and finish the sculpture at school, because of the materials and machines. For sculpture I made a tree. The meaning of tree is just like our life, the tree branch is like our choices that leading us to different directions. It was kind of like a lifestyle, which have good parts and bad parts, positive side and negative side. Through the tree, you can see my life. Cause that’s my project. I can describe myself as a baby tree and grew up to be strong. The leaves depend on the things that I had done in my time. The tree is done by now. But it still growing up and you never know what kind of tree it would be. The tree is implying the meaning of who you are. The leaves are sparse, few and far between, which means my life experiences is not that enough. If my tree has a lot of leaves on it, that’s means I already have many experiences, my life has been complete. The lack of experience is because I did not finish school and education.

TZ: Why are you choosing this tree?

CL: At first, the teacher asked me to think about a hundred words for people life like passion, sign and verbs like smell, taste. Then I was choosing the tree, I think the tree is contained those hundred words you are facing. Only tree can present the hundred words through the leaves and branches.

TZ: What kind of materiel you use for it?

CL: Using wires and tapes. I used wires to control the tree branches, to hold and tight and to cover it. Used tapes to make the rolling, little pieces and stick on the roll made it more like a tree. I draw it done first. When I am doing this project, I was thinking about it all the time even when I was sleeping. What should I do and making plan, I was focus on it.

TZ: Can you tell me the differences between a art work and an essay?

CL: (laughs) I felt giving up on essay. You have to think about it in mind, think about verbs and run-on sentences. But art, you don’t have to think of it. Even you make a mistake, it is still art. And I don’t like to communicate with people. I prefer work alone.

 

Xian Yan’s Best Life

Xian Yan’s Best Life

by Pamela Robinson, January 2019

From China to San Francisco, how does a positive mindset inspire Xian Yan to attain her best life?

“Chengdu is the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Chengdu history dates back to at least the 4th century B.C., when it served as capital for the Shu Kingdom. Artifacts from that dynasty are the focus of the Jinsha Site Museum. The city is also home of the famous Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a conservation center where visitors can view endangered giant pandas and a natural habitat” (experitour.com).

This is a story about an amazing, inspirational 45-year-old woman named Xian Yan, born and raised in Chengdu, China. When she was a young girl, she lived in a house with her parents and two siblings. One memory she recalls as a young child is the time when her family was having hardships, as life in rural China then differed from that of urban China. “In the latest two decades, Rural Tourism (RT) has speedily developed and become an important concept of tourism in China. However, there remains little understanding in the western world about RT for its special role in China’s rural socio- economic regeneration” (Su 1438). Baoren Su, a research student affiliated with Zhejiang Gong Shan University, believes that “Nong jia le” tourism developed vigorously, at a good pace.

“As an distinctively Chinese version of rural tourism “Nong jia le” tourism, among with other forms of RT such as folk custom tourism, leisure farm tourism, and rural ecotourism, has been developed not only as a new style of holiday making among Chinese urban residents, but also as a new form of privately owned small enterprise among millions of Chinese farmers” (Su 1439).

Although Yan’s family lived in China when it was poor, “the government generously gave [Yan’s] family means to generate money through farming,” which helped make a big difference. When her family’s farming business started in the 1980s, she worked on the farm. Yan and her siblings had a lot of work to do around the house so they didn’t play with other kids in their hometown. Yan went to school at a time when education in China was excellent, better than it is now. She worked hard on the farm and afterwards went to school; however, her parents just needed to pay $1 for her to go to school. “When my mom died my siblings and I had to help with the housework, especially the cooking, help with the feeding of the animals like the pigs, chickens, and goose; although it was hard work it was a lot of fun,” Yan reminisces. While the uncertainty about life’s experiences sometimes influenced Yan’s mindset and her tendency to absorb negative energy, the positive effects of a happy farm home allowed Xian Yan to have a happy childhood. Yan can attain her best life by maintaining a positive mindset, surrounding herself with positive role models, connecting with positive people, and being mindful of her rights.

Can Xian Yan’s determination and will to survive alter her inner drive to achieve her goals? Yan viewed her parents as role models who always initiated their values and morals of hard work to inspire her at a young age and emphasized how school is highly recommended by everyone in Chengdu, China. Penelope Lockwood, Vice Dean, Academic Planning and Strategic Initiatives, at University of Toronto, wrote a study about motivation by positive or negative role models. Lockwood states:

“Positive role models, individuals who have achieved outstanding success, are widely expected to inspire others to pursue similar excellence. Accordingly, the accomplishments of star athletes, musicians, and award-winning scientists are often showcased in an attempt to enhance people’s goals and aspirations. People also seem to be motivated by negative role models, individuals who have experienced misfortune. Indeed, positive role models can inspire one by illustrating an idea, desired self, highlighting possible achievement that one can strive for, and demonstrating the route for achieving them; however negative role models can inspire one by illustrating a feared, to- be- avoided self, pointing to positive future disasters, and highlight mistakes that must be avoided so as to prevent them” (Lockwood 854).

While living in China, Yan was raised by two parents driven by integrity and a strong sense of self worth; however, is there a possibility for Yen to grow to her fullest potential through positive intervention and hard work?

Life is good for Xian Yan in Chengdu, China. She was married for about five to seven years and then got divorced. Afterwards, she worked hard to become a teacher in her hometown and owned an apartment and a store. In China, the internet became popular so she went online and met a man. The man she talked to was from the United States and “[she] would talk on the internet each day for more than 5 or 6 hours a day for eight months.” By getting to know him online, Yan felt they had the same will to survive. They felt the same way about each other, and shared the same feelings. Yan felt they were “very compatible.” All the positive conversations lead him to decide to go to Chengdu and marry Yan. Later, they decided to come to the United States to apply for Yan’s visa (a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizen). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted on December 10, 1948 by the UN General Assembly, is “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” The UDHR’s second article states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs.” Xian Yan’s life is good right now and positive thoughts about her husband inspire her hopes and dreams of building a new happy life here in the U.S.

Robert S. Chang, a second-generation Korean-American part of the Faculty Scholarship at Seattle University School of Law Digital Commons, announces an:

“Asian American Movement in the legal academy and an opportunity to reverse the pattern of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Traditional civil rights work in current critical race scholarship fail to address the unique issues for Asian Americans, including nativistic racism and the model minority myth. Space must be made in the legal academy for an Asian American Legal Scholarship and the narratives of Asian Americans. It is through solidarity that Asian Americans will gain the freedom to express their diversity” (1243).

“The Model Majority Myth: This history of discrimination and violence, as well as the contemporary problems of Asian Americans, are obscured by the portrayal of Asian Americans as a “model minority.”

Asian Americans are often portrayed as “hard-working, intelligent, and successful,” but the dominant culture’s belief in the “model minority” allows it to justify ignoring the unique discrimination faced by Asian Americans. The portrayal of Asian Americans as successful permits the general public, government officials, and the judiciary to ignore or marginalize the contemporary need of Asian Americans” (1258).

“An early articulation of the model minority theme appeared in U.S. News & World Report in 1966: In any Chinatown from San Francisco to New York, you discover youngsters at grips with their studies. Visit ‘Chinatown USA,’ and you find an important racial minority pulling itself up from hardship and discrimination to become a model of self- respect and achievement in today’s America” (1259).

Despite the language barrier that Xian Yan will have to overcome and learn, her positive thoughts and interactions with her English-speaking husband are going to help her to attain her best life.

Positive role models are mostly what Xian Yan is receptive to but perhaps a negative interaction will give some insight into one’s decision to achieve success in this new land. Yan finally arrived in San Francisco, with her daughter and husband and someone asked, “Is San Francisco everything you thought it would be?” Yan replied, “In San Francisco it is quiet and the people are very nice here too and China it is very noisy. San Francisco is like the whole world, all the rich people are here, and they say hello and also there’s a lot of Chinese people that are here too. In S.F. there’s a lot of diverse foods, diverse people, and you can eat different foods here too.” Adjusting to life here is much easier for Yan. Life is very easy going and it helps that her husband treats her family well. Yan knew there were going to be changes in the culture, the language, and school. English is a hard to language to learn to speak, but Yan learned to speak some English when she was in middle school in Chengdu. Yan was always good in school so her schoolwork ethics helped her to adjust to life here in S.F. Yan’s husband “doesn’t speak Chinese that well, but he speaks English,” and practices with her every day. As a result, Yan enrolled at City College of San Francisco to study reading and writing. Yan thought that her documentation of being a teacher in Chengdu would help her achieve a higher teacher credential in the United States but she found out it was just a piece of white paper not applicable to use in the U.S. Somehow, this negative response motivated her even more and as Yan’s English improved tremendously she knew, however, that if it wasn’t for “her determination and drive that lives inside of her,” the probability of Yan achieving her goal would have been small. Yan is living her best life with her daughter, Shi Shi; son, Jordan; and her husband. She speaks and teaches Mandarin to some students in S.F. and enjoys teaching very much. Yan always says:

“Teaching is my job, it is like the only job for my whole life, I love it! I really love it!” While the Chengdu Chinese culture can somewhat disappear in San Francisco it is an essential part of Yan’s life moving forward as a teacher to her children. Min Zhou, is a Professor of Sociology and inaugural Chair of the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Zhou’s main areas of research are on immigration, education, Asian America, etc. Min Zhou states that, “Chinese schools become an important physical site where formerly unrelated immigrants come to socialize and rebuild social ties” (17). Yan wasn’t sure how to adjust to the cultural change in life in San Francisco; however, Yan’s mother-in-law helped her remember some of the cultural aspects she had forgotten about her upbringing as elder Chinese women are more familiar and practice the culture more often than younger Chinese women. Yan has a child named Jordan and she teaches him the Chinese way, meaning the Chinese children need to respect their parents and grandparents and need to follow the order. In Yan’s Chinese culture, the teachers are treated like parents and Yan teaches her son the same things about how teachers and parents are on the same level. Even though Yan is more in tune with the American culture because she has other Chinese friends that have adjusted to the American way of doing things, Yan continues to grow in her new life.

Xian Yan has a beautiful outlook on life and says that “People are all different, like every color of the rainbow are different, like the textures of wood colors are different.” Yan’s outlook on life is so powerful as it connects with positive people, which makes her exceptionally different. Xian Yan celebrating her strength and resilience helped her to overcome her life struggles.

Work Cited


Chang, Robert S., Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post Structuralism, and Narrative Space, 81 Calif. L. Rev. 1241 (1993). 16 Dec. 2018. https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1411&context=facult

Lockwood, Penelope. “ Motivation by Positive or Negative Role Models: Regulatory Focus Determines Who Will Best Inspire Us.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2002): Vol 83, No. 4, 854 – 864. 12 Dec 2018.

Su, Baoren. “Rural Tourism in China.” 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

UN General Assembly Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 Dec 1948. 16 Dec 2018.

“Welcome to Chengdu.” Experitour. www.experitour.com. 1 Jan 2019.

Xian, Yan. Personal Interview.

Zhou, Min. Community Forces, Social Capital, and Educational Achievement: The Case of a Supplementary Education in the Chinese and Korean Immigrant Communities. Harvard Educational Review, April

2006.https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Min_Zhou3/publication/44836550_Community_Forc es_Social_Capital_and_Educational_Achievement_The_Case_of_Supplementary_Educatio

 

Missing Childhoods

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Missing Childhoods: Immigrant Minors Have No Access to Protection

of Their Human Rights

by Zhen Chen

June, 2018

Peter Orner, author of Underground America, talks about a series of human rights abuses through the narratives of undocumented immigrants. In these stories, most narrators had to face discrimination and exploitation and were treated unfairly by people in positions of power. Readers will be shocked to find out that not only adults but also minors are enduring social injustice. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nation in 1948, proclaims fundamental rights for all human beings, human rights abuses have continued to exist for decades. The U.D.H.R. states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1). However, at this very moment, a large group of people, even minors, has to face multiple abuses of their innate and inalienable human rights in different countries such as China, Mexico, and the US. Because of political and economic reasons, such as political unrest, discriminatory policies, and poverty, many people, including minors, are forced to flee from their countries of origin and illegally enter the U.S., and these undocumented children have to face unfair and even inhumane treatment both in their home countries and in the U.S, which violates their human rights.

The second child of Mr. Lai, a narrator of a story in Underground America, was threatened to be killed by the local Chinese government because Mr. Lai didn’t obey the one-child policy, which discriminated against unborn babies’ right to live and was enforced by inhumane treatment— forced abortion. Mr. Lai, a typical parent living in a rural area in southeastern China, loved kids, hoped to have more children, and was too frightened to lose his second unborn baby; thus, he and his wife hid in their sister’s house until the baby was born. Based on the policy, their second pregnancy was deemed “illegal,” and so their house was destroyed by the local officials as a punishment, making Mr. Lai even more determined to leave China. His wife was eventually forced to have a hysterectomy; otherwise, she would have faced imprisonment. With great disappointment, Mr. Lai sad, “I just had no faith in China” (Orner 36). The enforcement of the one-child policy, which abused their most basic human right, took away uncountable unborn babies’ lives. Even though some babies survived, their parents had to pay penalties or let them live without legal status for many years. The U.D.H.R. declares that “Everyone has the right to life” (Article 3). However, without birth registration, unborn babies were not allowed to be born in China. No matter the Chinese government’s explanation of how important the policy is to economic and social development, it cannot be denied that the harsh policy violates the right to life, and forced abortions and sterilizations are inhumane. From 2015 to 2016, the policy started to be dismantled, but pregnancies still must follow certain laws. The Chinese government, which tends to be autocratic because of the single-party communist political structure, through its supreme power, has commanded its people, such as Mr. Lai, to strictly comply with the family planning laws. Mr. Lai’s case demonstrates that the implementation of one child policy in China forced him to kill his second child by forced abortion, and the discriminatory policy most certainly abused the child’s human right to life.

In another instance, Roberto, coming from Mexico, had to drop out of his elementary school and work under terrible working conditions because of poverty; attracted by better working opportunities, he became an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. and still experienced exploitation in the workforce solely due to his legal status. In Mexico, Roberto first fled to Mexico City from a small ranch because his family was poor and his father always beat him badly. At age ten, he dropped out of school and got his first job, which was still very vivid in his memory because it was so dangerous, although he felt independent. He worked “on a plank of wood, lassos around our waists…eight stories up” (Orner 58). His employer was not concerned about his safety. Eventually, Roberto escaped to the U.S. for a better life and worked very hard to support himself and his mother still living in Mexico. During the time he worked as a farmer in the fields in the U.S., he watched undocumented children that were under ten years old working in the sun for a whole day. He said, “You see it, and it makes you want to cry” (Orner 63). After leaving the farm, he found an easy job in a tortilla factory in San Jose, California, but was paid only $4.50 an hour, which was less than the minimum wage. According to the U.D.H.R, “Everyone has the right to education…at least in the elementary and fundamental stages” (Article 26). Due to economic and political reasons, some children have to give up on education, or even worse, have to endure unsafe working conditions, long working hours, and unequal pay. The U.D.H.R states that “Everyone has the right to security”( Article 3); “Everyone has the right to rest…reasonable limitation of working hours” (Article 24). Roberto, like many other immigrant minors, was forced to give up on his right to education, leave his native country, and experience exploitation because his family had no financial ability to support him based on the economic situation in Mexico. Moreover, as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., his “illegal status,” ruled by the immigration laws, made him vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination by his employers in the U.S. Roberto’s case shows that both economic and political inequality lead to abuses of his human right to education and exploitation from his boss.  

Because of the unstable political situation in Guatemala, Eduardo, Orner’s asylum-seeking client, was tortured inhumanly by a paramilitary officer for over a decade, and his traumatic experience violated his human rights to be treated humanely. Due to the fact that Eduardo was tortured from when he was five years old until he was seventeen, Orner considered this case strong enough to convince the judge. Nevertheless, the judge still ruled against Eduardo. Orner thought the judge might have seen too many similar cases in one day, and that it negatively impacted the judgment. This case reflects other children in Guatemala who also suffer violent assaults. Another book, which was written by Lauren Markham, called The Far Away Brothers, shows readers that not only boys but also girls face sexual assaults when they escape from Central America. Markham points out that “In 2010, Six out of ten migrant girls were sexually assaulted en route to the U.S- other estimates are even higher” (159). When these migrants arrived in the U.S., some still experienced sexual abuses at detention centers. “In 2014, Houston Chronicle investigated 101 reports of sexual misconduct…the alleged sexual abuse was often accompanied by threats…” (Markham 85). These boys and girls are innocent and don’t deserve to experience physical or sexual abuse. They might believe that escaping to the U.S. is the best choice for them because the U.S. is known as a country that protects human rights. The U.D.H.R. states that “No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 4). Therefore, the physical assault that Eduardo suffered, and the sexual abuses that some undocumented girls experience, both violate basic human rights and are caused by complex international politics, such as the civil war in Guatemala, and the detention system in the U.S..

Desperate political and economic situations cause forced migration, but living in the U.S. without legal status, many undocumented minors are forced to be separated from their families, which violates their human rights to family. Roberto’s description of his forced migration is heart- breaking: “Sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I cry by myself. Sometimes I scream by myself. Who am I? I’m nobody” (Orner 74). Even though the U.D.H.R. states that “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state” (Article 26.3), many undocumented immigrants are not allowed by the laws to reunite with their close relatives in the U.S. because they are living without legal documents. From all these cases that I explain previously, readers can feel each narrator’s pain of separation, and it seems to be so difficult for them to connect with their family members based on the harsh immigration laws in the U.S. Moreover, a lot of undocumented minors don’t have legal ways to protect their human rights to reunite with their families if the discriminatory laws keep ignoring their human rights.

Due to socio-structural change, including social and political institutions, many children who escape from abusive situations in their homelands and flee to the U.S. have to face different abuses of their human rights, involving the right to life and security, the right to education, etc. While many might think each example of child abuse is a singular violent action, various cases show us that socio-structural change, which is composed of politics and economies, is likely to result in multiple human rights abuses to children. Others might argue these children choose to give up on education by themselves. However, they drop out of school due to the desperate economic situations. Although all human beings are born with human rights regardless of nationalities, some children are confronted with human rights violations because they lack access to resources. Social and political inequality cause them to suffer human rights abuses. Furthermore, both economies and politics contribute to forced migration, and many undocumented minors are legally excluded from human rights and treated unfairly by discriminatory immigration laws in the U.S.

Works Cited

Markham, Lauren. The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life. Crown, 2017.

Orner, Peter. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Verso, 2017.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

Danbi Photo

The Ups and Downs of Kat’s American Dream

By Danbi Kim, June, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sample Transcripts

Me : Introduce yourself?

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

Me: How could you decide to come here?

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Why it was a dark time?

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

Me: Where was the location? In California?

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

Me: did you come here alone at first time?

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

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

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

Me: language barriers?

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

Me: Challenge living in the U.S?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: any discriminations?

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

Me: things to miss the most in Vietnam?

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

Me: future goal? Your major?

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

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

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

Me: about your hometown?

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

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

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

Me: How was feeling when you land in SFO?

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

Me: Any hobbies?

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

Strong Woman

street-scene-el-nido-palawan-philippines

Strong Woman

by Isabela Irene T. Nangca, December, 2017

In Philosopher Friedrich Nietzche’s book Twilight of the Idols, he wrote, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (6). Margareta is a medication aide in an assisted living facility in San Francisco. I met her on July of 2016 when I was hired at the facility as an assistant medication aide. Margareta was the one who trained me. She gave me the impression of being a strict teacher, but a caring mother. Curiosity made me want to know her story as to how she developed her ironic mix of loudness and gentleness. As we got closer, she started to open up about her stumbling blocks and the relationships she has had with the people around her that have shaped her into who she is now. Although some of the relationships she has made with the people she has loved, such as with her deported mother or her cheating and abusive ex-husband, combined with some of the stumbling blocks she has endured, such as her documentation issue, have given her challenges in life, Margareta has channeled this negativity into her personal motivation and strength to achieve a good future for herself and for her daughter.

Back when she was still in the Philippines, Margareta de Jimenez grew up in a close yet distant family. She was born on August 5, 1985 in Leyte, Philippines. Growing up, she lived with her grandmother because of her parents’ and siblings’ constant absence. She told me that when she was little, she felt “like I [didn’t] know [her] parents…and like [she was] the only child.” Her parents were visiting her every six months from the United States because they were on multiple-entry tourist visas, which required them to go back to the Philippines regularly, while her siblings were already living permanently in the U.S. According to “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Goals and Support Groups,” by Robert Strom and Shirley Strom, grandchildren being raised by grandparents are common, mostly due to different parental conflicts. It was stated in the journal article that “Letting children know they [were loved was] essential for helping them grow up. Grandparents [were] often praised for how well they fulfill this need” (Strom and Strom 705). She mostly spent time with her grandparents and cousins, making her feel like they were her parents and siblings. She was raised by her grandparents because of her parents’ absence. Despite her distance from her immediate family, she was always kept close and warm by her extended family. With a twinkle in her eyes, she recalled, “Every Sunday, we always [had] family gathering[s], and during the holidays too.” She said that after attending the church in the morning, together with her cousins, uncles and aunts, they would have a simple feast at home, strengthening the close bond between them. Although her parents’ and siblings’ absence created a hole in her heart, her extended family filled the hole with love and warmth instead.

Because of her parents’ decision to make her follow them in the U.S., Margareta saw lots of opportunities but was sad at the thought of leaving her grandparents and scared of the uncertainty of her parents’ plans. At the age of seventeen, her parents wanted her to live in the U.S. with them. As a child, she said, “I [had] no choice.” She was saddened by the thought of leaving the family she knew and of being with the immediate family she barely knew. She had a stable and simple life with her grandmother, already starting college and enjoying a blossoming relationship with her boyfriend. She was reluctant to leave it all behind for an uncertain future in the U.S. with a family that she didn’t know. Most of the time, children don’t have a say in their parents’ decisions for them. Those children always follow their parents, no matter what consequences there might be. Like them, Margareta felt the same way. She followed her parents’ decision to go to the U.S. even if it meant leaving her good life with her grandparents behind in the Philippines in exchange for an uncertain life in the U.S. with her parents, not knowing the struggles that would come her way when she finally got to U.S. She loved both her grandparents and her parents, but the thought of living with her parents, who were very distant to her and away from her grandparents, who she already considered as her parents, made her very lonely.

One reason why Margareta’s parents wanted her to come to the U.S. was because her mom was already being petitioned for residency by her stepdad, who was only using her mom’s money for another lover, and they were hoping that she would be granted the residency since she was still a minor. Before she came to the U.S., her parents had already divorced and her mom was already married to someone else, a U.S. citizen. Her mom really loved her stepdad, only to find out that “[her] stepdad was only using my mom for money.” Her mom questioned him when she noticed the constant withdrawal of money from their joint bank account. Money is a root of problems in relationships, not just married couples, but also family members and friends. In Social Psychologist Dr. Joan D. Atwood’s article on the relationship between money and couples, she stated, “Many individuals have problemed relationships with money and when they enter marriage, money matters can become a trigger for arguments” (10). An argument between Margareta’s mom and stepdad arose when her stepdad confessed that “he [had] a female heart” and his boyfriend was the one who he spent the money on. At the same time that this problem arose, the petition process was almost complete and a final interview was on its way. After her mom and her stepdad had been interviewed one-by-one, the immigration officers decided that their marriage was a fraud so they turned down the petition. Her mom was disappointed because she knew that right from the start that it was probably just a one-sided love. She got angry at her stepdad because she and her mother suspected this after he had said something in the interview that influenced the decision of the immigration court. This fueled a flame inside her, which motivated her to move forward and fight.

After being with her parents for a short period and after the issue between her mom and her stepdad, she was scared of being left alone in the unknown again, but started to stand on her own and be independent. Since her biological father was going back and forth between the U.S. and the Philippines, he was still a blurry figure in Margareta’s life, so basically all she had in the U.S. was her mom, and now, because of the issue with her stepdad, her mom will also be a blurry figure again in her life. After her stepdad’s failed petition, she and her mom received a deportation notice from the U.S. immigration. She said, “We were planning of going back home, but my mom decided that I should stay here.” Her mom decided to go back home to the Philippines for good, but told her to stay because her mom knew that her future would be brighter in the U.S. But now, Margareta’s life would be harder because not only was she alone, but she was also a TNT now since she could not renew her work permit due to her deportation notice. TNT is a Tagalog abbreviation for “tago nang tago,” which in English means “always in hiding.” This is a characteristic of every undocumented immigrant: that is why it is a term used for them. In journalist Helen Thorpe’s book Just Like Us, about the woven lives of four Mexican teenage girls, their documentation issues and their futures, one of the girls, Yadira, an undocumented immigrant, experienced being away from her deported mother, who was charged for stealing the identity of a U.S. citizen. Yadira described the deep longing she felt for her mother and her anxiety about her future. As with Yadira, Margareta also felt afraid of being alone in one of the tough times in her life as an undocumented immigrant. So although there are lots of opportunities in the U.S., her future would still be uncertain because of her documentation issue. Still, she diligently worked hard and looked for ways to legally achieve residency.

After a few years, Margareta found the one she thought was her one true love, who helped her with her documentation problem yet broke her heart by fooling her and abusing her. Before her mom left, both of them already knew what could solve her documentation problem: marriage; but her mother reminded her “to do it with love.” Her mother never wanted her to fool someone else just like her stepdad had done to her mom, even if it was in a different way or situation. She met and fell in love with a U.S. citizen, Pedro, who knew about her situation but still accepted her anyway. They planned a lot of great things for the future, even marriage. At first, her relationship with Pedro “was legit … but I guess, things change; he changed.” When they found out that she had gotten pregnant, Pedro accepted the baby whole-heartedly and even wanted to keep her and their baby, so they planned to get married and did. But days before, Pedro visited his home in the Philippines. He changed his mind, telling her that he wanted to be single because he didn’t want to be responsible for her hormonal emotions, but he was still willing to support their baby. Then, she revealed, “I didn’t know that he was cheating.” When he wanted to break up, she decided to move out and be independent again. The day she moved out was the same day that she received a removal notice from U.S. Immigration. She started to text Pedro because she was so scared. He tried to comfort and calm her down through text messages but accidentally sent a wrong message that was intended for a girl he was flirting with. The girl was the reason why he wanted to be single when he visit the Philippines. After his vacation, they continued their marriage. He still wanted to keep their baby, and she moved back once the petition for residency had started. Although he still wanted to help her documentation issue, she opened up about how “he [had] threaten[ed] [her] every single time,” how he psychologically scared her with his words, and how he continued to flirt with the girl. He would slap her with the documentation issue to make her feel useless and threaten that she wouldn’t get the chance of acquiring residency without him.

During those hard times, Margareta grew closer to her friends, especially to her best friend, Agatha, and they became her support and gave her motivation to continue on. A year after she arrived in the U.S., she went through a CNA program, where she met Agatha. When her mom got deported, Agatha became her company as she started to become independent from her distant family. Agatha helped her find ways just so Margareta could and would stay, even suggesting marrying her, if it was already legal, so she could be petitioned by her best friend. Margareta was encouraged to move forward and work for her future. Then, when Pedro came and made her vulnerable again, no one from her family or Pedro’s knew what had happened to them, except Agatha. She was there to help her stand up and to encourage her to fight back. Margareta describes how “Agatha is like a family: my sister.” Despite Agatha’s own personal issue, she never failed to be there for Margareta, like a family. According to William Rawlins, a Stocker Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University, in the foreword of The Psychology of Friendship, a book about friendship by Psychology Professor Mahzad Hojjat and Associate Psychology Professor Anne Moyer, he said, “Friendship has manifold psychological significance and time-honored recognition as indispensable for individual and communal well-being.” Agatha has been very significant in Margareta’s life and wellbeing by giving support and encouragement, especially in times of need.

Through the struggles she faced with Pedro, Margareta’s baby gave her the utmost of strength and determination. When she caught Pedro cheating, Margareta wanted to leave the baby with Pedro and return to the Phillipenes, because she didn’t want her baby to grow up with a broken family and knew that she wouldn’t be able to raise her baby alone. But she knew that her baby deserved a good life so she said, “I was motivated to stay in the U.S. for my daughter’s future.” She thought of her baby’s potential future in the U.S. if she fought and stayed. In “The Role of the Future in Student Motivation,” a journal article about students’ motivation in their education, it was stated that “Frank (1939) and Lewin (1935) were two of the first modern psychologists to discuss the importance of the imagined future in understanding human motivation and behavior” (Husman and Lens 114). It was discussed how perceiving the consequences or outcomes of different possible actions could motivate a person to choose an action with a better positive outcome. This is the same as Margareta: she had the option of letting go of the baby and going back to the Philippines, or keeping the baby and staying with Pedro, who suddenly wanted her to stay. She chose the latter for the future of her baby, learning to fight back against Pedro’s threats. She became a strong pillar against Pedro and for her baby.

After several years, Margareta’s life is now stable and quiet but she still holds her past in her attitude and character. After receiving her green card, she immediately moved out of Pedro’s house and waited for her citizenship for five years, instead of the two years she would have waited as a a fiancé/spouse. She won her citizenship last 2016, so she was able to petition for her parents, and the process is now ongoing. She is expecting their interview soon. Her marriage with Pedro just officially ended last January 2017, but they are “now on good terms.” He continuously supports and spoils their daughter to the fullest. Agatha and Margareta are still working together in the same workplace and still have each others’ backs. Margareta’s baby girl is already in her 3rd grade at school. She is a very bubbly and silly diva, like her godmother, Agatha. As for Margareta, going back to the start, I now understand why she has this ironic combination of characteristics. Her softness comes from the circumstances and the people who made her feel vulnerable, while her boldness comes from the people who encouraged her to fight.

Although her relationship with her distant parents and her cheating husband, and her lack of documentation at such a young age, have given her challenges in life, especially her life in the United States, Margareta has channeled these problems into her strength with the motivation that her friends and her daughter give her. While her parents and grandparents play a vital role in her life, Margareta’s friends took up that supportive role during the hardest times of her life in the U.S. When Margareta was still young, her parents were blurry in her image of family because of their physical distance from her but fortunately, her grandparents stood up as her parents during their absence. When Margareta and her parents finally got together in the U.S., it was short-lived, for her parents were forcefully sent back home, leaving her alone in the crucial moment of her life as a young undocumented immigrant. Thankfully, her friends, especially Agatha, were there for her to give her support and her daughter was also there for her to give her strength. They still are here for her today. Families play a vital role in the lives of young immigrants, especially those that are undocumented. Young undocumented immigrants always need their loved ones to help them through their hardships and to give them support. Margareta never had her family beside her during those hard times, but thankfully, some people stood in their place to help and guide her life.

 

Works Cited

Atwood, Joan. “Couples and Money: The Last Taboo.” The American Journal of Family Therapy, vol. 40, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-19.

De Jimenez, Margareta. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2017.

Husman, Jenefer, and Willy Lens. “The Role of the Future in Student Motivation.” Education Psychologist, vol. 34, no. 2, 1999, pp. 113-125.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Translated by Richard Polt, Hackett, 1997.

Rawlins, William. Foreword. The Psychology of Friendship, edited by Hojjat, Mahzad, and Anne Moyer, Oxford UP, 2017, pp. ix-xiv.

Strom, Robert, and Shirley Strom. “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Goals and Support Groups.” Educational Gerontology, vol. 19, no. 8, 1993, pp. 705-715.

Thorpe, Helen. Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America. Scribner, 2009.

 

Sample Interview Transcript

Interviewer: Isabela Nangca (IN)

Interviewee (Pseudonym): Margareta de Jimenez (MJ)

Interview Setting: November 11, 2017 at 4:30 PM

IN: Hi Marge! Good afternoon!

MJ: Hello Issa!

IN: When is your birthday?

MJ: Birthday? August 5, 1985

IN: Where were you from?

MJ: I’m from the Philippines, from Visayas, Leyte

IN: Can you tell me something about your childhood in the Philippines? Any memorable experience/s?

MJ: Memorable experience, just, uhm, being able to, I guess, spend time with, okay, the memorable part, I guess, when we were little, most of my cousins, nakatira kami sa lola (we were living with our grandmother), and we have that great bond, yeah, we always hang out, we always have, like, every Sunday, we always have family gathering, uhm, everyone must be there, and then, uhm, sometimes, during holidays, uhm, and then, more like, ung mga panahon na (the times that) we, you know, like I was able to really, like spend time with them when were little.

IN: When did you came to the United States?

MJ: So, I came to the US when I was 17, when I graduated high school. I didn’t want to but I had to come with my parents. I came to the US as a tourist, and my mom was trying to process my resident card here. So, my mom actually got married to my stepdad and the part of the reason why I was coming to America because I was petitioned but unfortunately, uhm, it has to go through a lot of process.

IN: So, what do you mean by you were petitioned but too many process, then you came as a tourist, so it’s like you can’t wait for the petition?

MJ: So basically, when my mom was petitioned by my stepdad, she wants me to be in America already while I was still underaged, that way when she gets the papers done, I will get automatically get the green card as the same time as she will. And at that time, I only have a tourist visa for 10 years, which is I have to go back and forth to Philippines every 6 months. And during the process, well, she thought that, you know, when Im already here in the America and we’re already processing the papers and when everything goes through, they wanted me to just stay here instead of going back after 6 months, even though it’s still on a pending, uhm you know like uh, processing our papers. So my mom tried to, uhm, request from the lawyer, request an extension and they have try to submit, and you know, see if the court or immigration will say “okay”, uhm, then I would have stayed and so me and her because she’s also under process. We have to both, but then she, well maybe she, I don’t know, I’m not sure, maybe she could stay but maybe not me, because basically she’s the one being petitioned as a wife or fiancé, and I’m only the daughter, so maybe I have to go home. That’s what I’m understanding back then. But I guess the request was granted so I stayed. And later on, during the process and stuff, there was a lot of, uhm, issue that actually made everything worse that instead of getting the papers granted, it turned out to be bad, like hindi nagkatuloy (it didn’t continue) because my mom found out that my stepdad was only just using her, he was not really, uhm uhm really, lalaki (male) because he has a another heart, he likes man, he has a female heart and he likes boys, well originally I guess. I don’t know why he wanted to pretend, I guess, I don’t know what’s his reason. And then my mother found out that he was using her money, you know that they have joint account and stuff. And then when we were doing the interview, unfortunately we were supposed to have out attorney and my mom decided not to have the attorney. So when we were getting our interview, final interview, we uhm, we ended up getting interviewed one by one, and that was more, it was the scariest feeling that me and my mom, and I’m sure my stepdad too. They were already in bad terms at that time and we were having, uhm, interview na tag-isa-isa (alone/one by one). The first person that got interview was my stepdad, no, my mom. And then after my mom, they interviewed my stepdad. And I never got interviewed because after that, they already got denied. They were suspecting that it was fraud and all that stuff. I don’t know if my stepdad was the one that actually turned it, you know like, kinda like, maybe he, may they’re probably interrogating, maybe they scare him away for whatever it is because he knows to himself that he’s not really real to my mom, maybe he got scared, and then he started probably telling stuff there that “oh this is what happened.” And then we got, my mom had to, me and my mom had a deportation notice after then. So within that 30 days, we have to leave the country and that was 2005. And uhm, so we were planning of going back home but my mom decided me should stay here, just to be good, not do anything crazy, not do anything stupid, just try to be good and work if you can, and you know, just try to survive because she knows that that was the only she can give me at that time, future wise, like I know, she knows that if I stay here, I’m going to have a better life. I know I’m going to be by myself, or not really by myself because I have family still but you know, I chose not to be with my siblings. So I basically started to be independent, I continued to work at the company I started working. I’ve never really had any issue yet with asking the papers stuff. It was basically it was fortunate, or maybe it was God’s plan that all throughout the time that I’m not legal, I’ve never encountered, for many years, that you know, mahuli ka ba (being caught) because you’re only tago nang tago (hiding). But at the same time, of course, I have to do good and I didn’t wanna have any issue so I don’t get in trouble. Stay away from trouble for many years and then, so my mom went back home to the Philippines, and I stayed here with my friends. Later, after a couple years, you know, I met my daughter’s dad, my ex-husband. So at that point, when we were great, we planned a lot of things. He knew about my situation and then I got pregnant, and he wants to make sure to keep me and the child here. So, it was basically legit, like it was real at that time, that we were planning. Later after, I got pregnant. I guess things change, you know, he changed, he have things in his mind, he was young, whatever, and he wants to- you know, we had plans that we wanted to do. At the same time, it actually didn’t happen because he changed like he wanted to be single and he already know I’m pregnant, and this and that. So basically I have to go through at the time that he was helping me, at the same time, uhm, you know with the petition and stuff, it was more on, you know, at that time, I mean, in the beginning, it was supposed to be, you know, because he wants me and he wants the child and then later on, it ended up like, oh, uhm, i wanna be single, whatever, and then, he just wants to keep the baby, so I have to kinda struggle with in that phase where I don’t wanna be with him but because of my child, I have to be there and even if he already have some new girlfriends, or I mean you know, new girlfriend back in the Philippines, he would still, you know, I’m here and like trying to just to stick around, you know, I mean, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, it’s not the- what I wanted but it’s just what’s happening because that’s what he wants and I’m giving him what he wants, uhm, in the middle, like i don’t want to go through the papers because my mom, when she left, she would always tell me, if you ever want to, to, you know, get your papers done, we all know that there’s no other way for me to get my papers is just to get married, she always tells me that do it with love, like you really love the person. You are not using the person because of what she have gone through and even if it’s in a different way, different situation, because the guy, I mean my stepdad was messing with her head, uhm, yeah, it’s like, whatever, you know, cause I can always get just be, you know, maging fake ka na lang (be fake) just to get that. I didn’t wanna go through it, I wanted to let go of the baby, I wanted to do a lot of- there’s so many things because I’m by myself, I have no family here close by. I didn’t wanna tell my brother about my situation because I know they also have problems with their own. So, I have my best friend, she’s the only one that would know most of everything that I have encountered, or you know, experience in my whole life here in the US since my mom left me. And she’s always been there to help me with everything that I need. She’s like my family sister, or like a sister, kinda like best friend. Now, I have to go through a lot of mess because, you know, something that i cannot control. But, I have to stick around for my daughter, to make sure that she gonna hav good features-      she’s gonna be here. I don’t wanna, you know, there’ even a point that I just wanna give up already like I don’t wanna go through the process anymore because it takes a long time for the marriage, I mean, the petition for that, and, uhm, I’m struggling to much because the way that he was treating me that tame was really, uhm, the worse, like worse, uhm, experience that i wouldn’t ever ever thought that I would experience when you know, when I was uhm bata pa (still a child/ still young), whatever. Ang dream ko talaga (My dreams), i always dream to have uhm. And then, ang pinaka pangarap ko kasi noon (my dream before), to have my own family and I though he was my family. And then when I have my daughter, I thought it will change hi mind. It actually changes his mind, after four years, my daughter was already born. But that’s like I already have moved on but yeah, so and dami kong pinagdaanan bago ko makuha yung (i did so many things before I got), uhm, yung mga bagay na (the things that) I really thought na ang hirap nung panahon na yun (those times were very hard), especially knowing na shit, buntis ako (I’m pregnant), I’m not even legal here, and I have to deal with this man that i thought would help me, i mean he did help me with papers and stuff, but the consequences na binibigay niya sakin (he’s giving me) was not- it wasn’t really, it was not a normal or like, uhm, he was just really treating me bad at that time, and I don’t know why, and I even cursed him before, and you know, pero lahat magbabago (but everything will change), nagbago naman ang lahat (everything changed) because what can you do, he’s going to be forever part of my life, may anak kami (we have a child), and everything. So, and then after nun, we have to go through court hearing because at that time when he wanted to break up, I got pregnant, the same day I had my removal. So, when I had my removal, hindi namin expected yun (it was unexpected), we already planned to get married even before I got my removal because I got pregnant but at the same time, hindi ko akalain na may removal ako (I didn’t realize that I have removal). And then, when I received the removal, and I remember that it was like December 2008, uhm, nalaman kong nabuntis ako nung (I found out I was pregnant on) December 25, after 3 days gusto na niya magsingle (he wants to be single), gusto na niya maghiwalay kasi gusto na niya umuwi sa Philippines (he wants us to break up because he wants to go to the Philippines), hindi ko pa alam na he was cheating pala (I didn’t know that he was cheating). I just found out everything the same day that I got my removal, same day that I moved out, and same day that he sent me a wrong message that was supposed to be for the girl he was flirting back in the Philippines and that’s the reason why he wants to be single before he goes to Philippines because he is already going to see someone and I let him. In the beginning, I let him go. Okay you want to be single, because he just wanted to go to the Philippines because he just wanna be single, that he doesn’t want to be responsible for my emotions, whatever. So even if I was pregnant, I was actually strong to let him go. I said, “okay, and i’m going to move out. You have your own life, go do whatever you want.” At that time, I was just gonna, I was just thinking, “Oh, you know what, I don’t need you, I’m going to take care of my child, I don’t care.” And there’s times that I think of letting go of the baby because he/she doesn’t have a father anyway so might as well, I don’t want to continue, but most of his family members already know, and they kept telling me, “you better not do it because you have to keep the baby.” And then, I have no choice. I mean, at the end, I realized na “oh it’s buhay (life) and I already know I’ve made mistakes in the past na hindi ko na siya pwedeng ibalik ulit (that I can’t change), you know, so then I have to keep the baby. And every single time, I have to deal with him, magpupunta kami sa court(when we go to court), because I have the removal so we processed everything. We got married. He tried to petition me. He did all that stuff and he always threaten me every single time when we are not really in good terms like about sa mga kalokohan niya (his foolish actions), like he thinks, like he can do whatever he wants here with me while he’s here, while he still talks with the girl in the Philippines, like parang okay lang (it’s okay). But I had no choice because at that time I have to live with him because there’s no way I’m gonna be doing these papers and I’m living somewhere else. We’re gonna get caught and I’m gonna going be back home for whatever this and that and it’s gonna be on my daughter too like paano na lang ang future niya kung babalik ako? (how would her future be if I come back?) I mean, I know, like what my dad always say “oh bakit ka naman mamomroblema kung madedeport ka, eh hindi ka naman ipapadala sa Thailand? (why would you worry if you get deported, it’s not like they’ll send you to Thailand?)” like he always joke that, like “you’re going back to us, to your family, here in the Philippines.” But, yeah, I get it, you know, no matter what happens that time, I was like thinking “oh yeah babalik naman ako sa Philippines, may mga tulong ako. (I’m going back to the Philippines anyway. I have help.)” But it’s still not gonna be enough for me and my daughter na maglive (to live) in the Philippines and we know how it is and how hard it is to be there, magtrabaho (to work), and all that stuff, yung mga opportunities na meron ako dito (the opportunities that I have here). I’m gonna give up everything and what’s gonna happen to her. I mean, I’m sure I’m not gonna leave her alone or my parents are not gonna leave me alone. But, I’m pretty much independent for many years that I’ve lived na ako lang (alone) without my parents so that’s something that I would not wanna go for. I had to fight. When I fight, I have to swallow every damn thing kahit masakit, kahit na gusto mo na umiyak (even though it’s painful, even if I want to cry already. Pero for one year na nangyari sa buhay ko yan (that it happened in my life), none of them knows what I was going through. Ang alam lang ng brother ko (the only thing that my brother knows) is I was having a removal notice, that I have to go through court. My brother never knew anything about Pedro until after one year because I don’t wanna tell them anything. My parents didn’t know anything about him. Ang nakakaalam lang is my best friend and yung mga kaibigan ko na malalapit (Only my best friend and my close friends know). But my family never knew about him, the cheating, treating me like shit

IN: Like how does he treat you bad? How, like abuse, or something?

MJ: He treats me like “oh you know, if not for me, you’ll be a TNT, mababalik sa Philippines (you’ll go back to the Philippines)” and all that stuff.

IN: Parang sinasampal niya sa face mo? (like slapping it to your face?)

MJ: Yeah, sinasampal niya lagi sayo (he always slaps it). And then, pagmagaaway kayo (if you argue) because there’s no way na maiiwasan mong mag away kayo (to avoid arguments) because of how he’s doing. Buntis ka na nga at lahat and he had the nerve to leave you for another girl na nasa Philippines. Of course, at that time, gusto niya, enjoy siya (he only wants to enjoy). But then, eventually, he didn’t know na it’s gonna bite him in the ass once na mawala na yung babae (that the girl will leave) because she was just using him. He would spend many many many money for that girl and not spend anything for me or even just for our baby because you know, he was young back then. He was stupid, all he does is whatever benefit him at that time is what he takes. If not, then he doesn’t care. Even his parents would get mad at him. I always tell myself that one day, he will regret that. It’s gonna go back to him 20x. It’s not gonna be that easy or simple but it will. After four years, that’s what happened. It all came back to him. Then tapos na (it’s done), nag go through na kami sa papers ko and everything (we processed my papers). I had gotten my papers, and I was happy. I mean, I appreciate naman na (that) he still continued to help me. Yun na lang ung pinanghahawakan ko na (That’s what I’m holding onto that) even though he was an ass at that time, I know he was just being selfish because he thinks that he got the power cause he was controlling me because of my situation and I let him that time. Not totally let him because I would fight back na sagad-sagad kahit na uuwi ako sa Philippines (extremely even if I will go back to the Philippines), na I don’t give a shit, bahala ka sa buhay mo (Tagalog idiomatic expression for I don’t care about you, do whatever you want), I can do that but di mo makikita anak mo, balaha ka (you won’t see you child, I don’t care)” because of what he’s doing. Natapos na lahat and everything (it was done). Nag go through na, nakuha ko na what I need (It went through, I got what I need). It sucks na (that) you have to go through a lot of, you know like, magkaproblema ka pa sa papers (you’ll get problems on your papers) and then you would go through mga treatments like mga ganyan (those) or you would experience na parang ganyan (like that). Sometimes you would think na walang puso itong taong ito (he’s heartless). But then, like I said, Ito na lang ung pinanghahawakan ko na (that’s what I’m holding onto, that) he helped me out kahit na ganun siya ka grabe na (even if that’s how he is, that) I have to struggle and sacrifice a lot of things, emotionally, physically, mentally. Because I was just, actually that time, iniisip ko lang yung anak ko (i will just think of my child) and what’s gonna happen to her and to me at the end. Of course, magiging masaya kami (we will be happy).

IN: So, how many years did the process of the papers go through?

MJ: So we got married on January 2009. The process started at that time. It took me until 2011 before I was granted. I have to go back and forth sa court to show them the documents that they needed to see, so that way, they can keep me here. I had to hire a lawyer and pay hell of a money to save me and my daughter here in America. And because, hindi naman talaga dapat magiging parang set up (it is not a set up originally). It just happened kasi nagbago na siya (because he changed). It was supposed to be really legit marriage, love, family. If it was not a legit, I would not, I mean, bakit ako magpapabuntis sa kanya? (why would I want to get pregnant to him?) 2011 – I got my green card. Mas maganda ang nangyari sa buhay ko after that (My life became better). Kung baga, naisip ko na din na lahat ng mga struggle ko and sacrifices nung Naiwan Ako ng parents ko, may deportation notice kami (I always think of all my struggles and sacrifices, when my parents left me, when we got our deportation notice). I was worried about my mom and dad and ang layo ko (i’m so far away), mag-isa lang Ako (I’m alone) for many many many holidays. I was happy to have him because I thought siya na ung family ko dito (he will be my family). And then, sinira Niya yun para sakin at para sa anak ko (he destroyed it for me and our daughter). Pero you know, there’s always a reason why everything happens to each individual. With mine, I learned a lot from my experiences sa buhay ko na hindi ko aakalain na (in my life, that I won’t believe that) I’m gonna become me now. And that’s because of that stuff. It wasn’t easy, simple, but kapit lang bes (just hold on bes). Then, okay na. Nag citizen ako nung (I became a citizen) last year (2016), after 5 years. I was supposed to be citizen already after 3 years but hindi ko nakayanan ung treatment niya sakin na maghihintay pa ako ng 3 years (I really can’t endure his treatment anymore to wait for 3 more years), tapos magkakaroon pa kami ng (then we will have) another probation. After 2 years ng green card, uhm, bibigyan ako ng (they will give me)- actually I’m pretty fortunate that time kasi nung ginawa na yung green card ko (when they processed my green card), imbis na magkakaroon ka pa ng 2 years probation (instead of having 2 more years of probation), ni-let go na nila yun (they let it go) because it was already 2 years na I was going through court. So the court and being with him at that time na kami pa rin hanggang nung natapos na (from when we were still together until the end), automatic na nila akong binigyan ng (they automatically gave me) green card for 10 years na (that) I don’t have to worry about probation or anything kasi yun na yung 2 years na cover na dun (because the court already covered for the 2 years probation). Then, nung nakuha ko na yun (when I got it), so I wanted to get a citizenship already in 3 years starting the day they granted my green card on 2011 pero naghirap talaga ako sa issue naming dalawa (but I’m really having a hard time with him) so I have to let go of him… (32:06.34)

IN: What’s your motivation to go on despite everything that happened to you? What pushed you to stay in the US?

MJ: I was motivated for my daughter to stay in US for her future. I could of went home after my biggest breakup with her dad but because i know there is not much opportunity there specially for her i had to stay and sacrifice being single mother for her.

IN: When you were still in the Philippines, what’s your perspective of USA?

MJ: When i was in Philippines …i think of USA it’s beautiful because I know there’s many opportunities but I don’t want to live there because HOME SWEET HOME with my family and friends in the Philippines where I came from and I only want to stay there. But my parents forced me because I have no choice im only 17 eh. Lol

IN: When you first came to the US, did your perspective change? (From your answer in #2)

MJ: yes my perspective on USA changed since I attended school and met new people and friends and I got used to it and I became happy that I stayed in the US because I became independent. I worked to help my mom and learn how to budget and stuff and specially knowing the fact that I GET WHAT I WANT because I have my own money.

IN: Then now, how would you view Philippines and USA?

MJ: I would say when I went to Philippines for vacation i see the big difference than US and i would say that in the Philippines i can only go for vacation and not live. The feeling is already different between living in the Philippines and the USA, very big difference. I would also say I’m happier now being in US living the life in US its been 14yrs living in the US. My lifestyle is different now.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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!