Full interview transcriptions conducted as part of the Life History Project are presented below.


  • Mekdes:

  • Gloria:

  • Dung:

  • Fredesvinda:

  • Betty-Ann:

  • Henri:

  • Veronica:

  • Carlos:

  • Pankaj:



Mekdes Bekele Interview
By Laura Messing


Laura: (1:39) so where were you born?


Mekdes: I was born in Ethiopia, in the Capital City of Addis Ababa. And my father …my mother was 15 I was told and my father was 24-23, and this was about 10 years after the second world war so there was so much commotion so much separation of families and oh my father in fact made my mother while he was going to see her uncle to introduce him to the king, because his father was a warrior a governor at one place and during the war time he was killed (2:30) during the war time so children whose fathers die during the war time get free education and he wanted to do that so he went to visit her uncle so he would be introduced to the king, and he met my mother so all that dream didn’t happen, so my mother and my father ran away (3:00) and they had me and of course they were young so they were fighting all the time and they didn’t’ want to stay together and one day when my father came home from work he found me with my nanny and he asked the girl where my mother is and she told him that she went back to her uncle and he picked me up and gave me to his uncle who was a very famous lawyer (3:30) so he said I will not be back I will not want my child I will want her to be yours so take her and I will go off to school and continue my education and of course after a few months they got together and they want to live together and they came back  to ask for me and my uncle said no, you just go ahead and finish your childhood and I am going to raise e this child and since they didn’t have money they were young (4:00) and his uncle was a rich famous lawyer they couldn’t ask for me back so I grew up with my uncle and my aunt until I was 11 and when I think about it  back that was like heaven, that was like a shrilly temple movie


Laura: How was it, I remember you told me about it once or twice but tell me about it again because it is a nice story (4:30)


Mekdes: My uncle and my aunt loved me so much even when I was going to school they hired a male servant who carried e on his back to take me to school they didn’t even want me to walk they didn’t even want the sun to touch me so he had to hold an umbrella, when I  come from school they don’t want me to eat with my hands, they feed me I had a nanny (5:00) I was so wonderful I was only child young one who was there so what happened is when I was in first grade my mother start coming to school then they have children my sisters were born, we were in the same city but they didn’t dare to come because he was a famous lawyer they couldn’t, so after they had children they had forgotten about me but my mother (5:30) I guess she didn’t forget about me so she start coming back to school bringing me candies oranges and breads and showing me pictures of my sisters so I got excited so she said let me take you and I’ll show you your sisters and then we’ll bring you back so I said sure and I went with them and they never brought me back… and I was never allowed to see my uncle and aunt (6:00)and I was so hurt I thought that I was going to go back to my aunt, so they took me back to the police station and they said that this is our child and was taken from us by this lawyer da da da and we want her back and the police said well she is your child she is your child so I heard my aunt and uncle we  so so sad in fact like a funeral they sat for three days people were coming to visit them (6:30) and of course after I got to my parents house my mother of course because she didn’t raise me she didn’t have that loving connection she abused me like I am an outside child beat me called me all kinds of names and she did so much for me and in fact I questioned family members if she was really my mother or my step mother then I (7:00) was about 16 I became rebellious of course we went to a private girls school dressed up very well taken  by a driver my father and my mother then had money my father became a business man and they were rich and had lots of children


Laura: How many siblings did you have?


Mekdes: 12 I'm the first child (7:30). So my father sent us to a private girls school and then (pause)  life was good, rich, but there was no love like my aunt and uncle so since this was a girls school I would not listen to what they said of course I would be spanked beaten and all that but I didn’t care (8:00) and one time I went to visit my uncle and my aunt and then I go back and start visiting them and then when I was a teenager, about 18 yrs old communist government a whole mess killing everyone m y friends were killed and raped in their own house, there is no freedom to read your own bible to go to church there is no freedom (8:30), so what happened is they sent the students from 12th grade to college to a rural area to teach because they don’t want the young ones to be in the city and be disturbed they want to get anything they want to the people so I was in 12th grade so I went to one rural area and served there for 3-4months and that’s where I met my ( stammer) ex husband (9:00) he was building he was engineer there and was building this big hotel there, and I met him and finished my campaign and I  went back to the town to the capital city and continued my education and went to the university and while I was in the university I had seen my own professor killed in front of us (9:30) every time we go in the morning when we get up, my father takes us to school I have seen bodies all over the street and the cadres come to our house and throw all the clothes looking for guns my father being a rich man, he bribes then with money so they wont touch us because they have raped so many kids in the past so with all the bribes and all that we were saved (10:00) and after few years I got married and when we were looking for rental house there was no rental house, it was a mess, almost 50% of all educated people were killed and the king was jailed and killed it was sad and we had to line up for tissue paper(10:30) toilet paper the whole day, for sugar, so I got married and my father said lets have a wedding before  because I am the first child and my ex-husband and I said no because we will not celebrate like that if you want you can give us the money and we’ll build a house and of course my father gave us the money and we build a very nice house in the southern area he opened he said to him you can’t go and work for the government (11:00) because government pays only 800-700 dollars a year and because I lived a good life, my father wanted me to continue living that life and my children and so he opened a construction business for him and I had my two children and we lived in a nice house and he had a business but since my ex husband’s youngest brother was against the government (11:30) and was killed on the street he was still looking for his brothers and they were coming to our house and in fact one time when my ex was flying somewhere for business they took him off the plane, so there was always harassment and I start thinking I said I have 2 daughters and I am going to raise them in this mess? that someone can come in and rape my children and there is no private school there is no good school because (12:00) everything was closed because of the communist government so my two sisters were here one for surgery my father sent her and the other one came with her and this was in Minnesota and the oldest one graduated and invited me to come for her graduation, I came  when I came she told me that this government paid (12:30) money and she went to school everyone saying hi to everyone on the street there is no one killing or no gun shot hearing every second every minute everything is so peaceful so I say to my self oh my god, theses people you don’t belong to them but they give you every opportunity to be somebody? so peaceful people can live the way the want to freedom!? (13:00) This is where I want to come, so I went came with my oldest daughter first, so I went back home and explained to my ex and of course the other side of me even though I lived with him, since he got all the money and became a rich man now, women were calling me and saying (13:30) “oh he was with me, are you still living with him? What are you dong?” So when I see my life as a woman there is no improvement for my life, my children, my husband is going out with all these women who can give me any type of disease and I can’t say anything to my parents because its not like the old time they bring (14:00) husband to you, I chose my husband so I was a shame to me to tell to my parents that he did this to me because I chose him and after my father did all this, I don’t want to tell anything about my life so with that this  pilled up in me and seeing this wonderful country where a woman could be what she wants to be so I said this is where I want to come back so I went back and explained to him (14:30) this is where I want to raise my children maybe you should come with me if you want to, “but what about your marriage your house your life?” he was acting like he was a good husband but he had very badly abused me had done so much he couldn’t do anything to me physically because my family is very powerful lawyers and judges he couldn’t do that (15:00) so after one year of talking to him he agreed and I came here


Laura: And how old were you and how old were your daughters when you came here?


Mekdes: I was 33 yrs old and Deborah, she didn’t come with me I left here back home she was about 2.5 maybe or 3 (15:30) and Dina was 7


Laura: And what prompted the choice for you and Dina to come was Deborah going to come later? How did you make that decision…?


Mekdes: For some reason when I came here first time in fact the youngest sister of my was pregnant so I had to take her son back because I knew having a child being by yourself was not easy (16:00) and I was going to raise the child and bring him back for her so of course I took the child being her and seeing hose women suffer by themselves with their children I didn’t want to do that I wanted to lift up my self be strong and then bring my children so that was the plan so that is why I  brought just Dina only with me and that was like hold string and I have Dina and if he is changing his mind (16:30) I have the other child so its kinda like holding a string and being with my child because I love my children so  I wanted one with me so I came with her because like I said I have to bring one two was not, even with one I have seen the ups and down so that’s why I brought her by herself (17:00)


Laura: So where initially did you go, which state how was the process of gaining citizenship


Mekdes: When I cam I stayed here in DC because I had some family members it was not comfortable. my child Dina have seen a lot living in peoples house (17:30) and coming from having a nanny and having your own car and maid and guard for a child to see, she was confused what’s going on so for me I was hurting but I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel I said she is a child yet she’s hurting now as long as I give her the motherly love the unconditional love (18:00) and protecting her and explaining to her what’s going on this is not going to affect her but make her stronger for the future but I stayed with family members and it was hard and one day I sat down and looked at, I don’t now what, I feel like I had lived here for so many years so I knew all the tactics to look for the job and things like that (18:30) and I got the newspaper and called I would say for one week about 50 places for house keeping and no one would take me because I was innocent and telling the truth and I said I had a child and people don’t want someone with a child and I don’t blame them because they don’t know how I am going to be so after that I gave up (19:00) and then one day all of a sudden I picked up another newspaper and I called and these people took me they had 3 kids one 1 month old and two in kindergarten I think 5 and 3 or something the woman is a lawyer and the husband has a nursery I knew how to drive so they have a van (19:30) they leave the children for me in the morning it was in Davidsonfield now I know I take the 2 children to their school bring her baby with me, feed her and all that clan the house, make the food and when they come in the evening feed them put the children in bed I did it all. But what hurts me the most (20:00) is my child I don’t want to cry, I’ll cry, whenever I think about this it just makes me, I didn’t have time for my child which I will never forget either when she comes homes from school she was walking the in the woods by herself, I don’t know when I’ll give up, it always hurts me when I think..I'm sorry (20:30) (crying/sobbing)...I was attending for the children because I want to have income and I want to start my life but my child she didn’t have anybody she was waling in the woods coming from school she could be scared in the woods because she had n ever seen this type of life but like I said before you know what, all this will pass I am building something for my children (!!) where a woman can be what they want to be these are women ad I am so glad that I didn’t have Deborah with me Deborah always tells me, she says “mommy you see Dina is fine why are you always crying” when I mention these thing I always cry I t is always tugging me, so I worked for them and I found another job which is less stressful and more time to be with my child so I went to work for them of course the family was very upset very sad because they really didn’t have to worry I was just like a mother and for me it gave me a relief for my craving for my child back home for Deborah because I have that little baby every time I change her diaper I kiss her butt I just hug her because it just replaced for my child and they were so upset in fact the lady didn’t even go to work that day she was so up set she was crying whole day when I told her I was leaving and then I got another job still I Maryland and this have two grownup kids husband and wife and I clean the house and help with the cooking and then one day a sister of mine who lives in Blacksburg calls me and she said hey, uh, we are coming to DC because we are going to move to Canada and we are coming to the Canadian embassy and would like to see you and if you would like to visit Blacksburg you can come and visit and I said no I actually want to come and live in that house she says oh no no this is a very small town you might not like it, and I said what are you talking about I am your sister you know me I come from a big city big city is not a big deal for me I don’t want to be there I came to improve my life and my children’s life and I have a feeling that that type of small town would be the ideal place for me to raise my children she said okay you will come I don’t think you’ll like it anyhow they came and pick me up and I load my stuff in their car, she said oh you have all your stuff and I said yes I told you I was coming I guess in a way she didn’t want me to come because her husband might not have loved her, but anyway I went to Blacksburg and I that’s where my life started

I was initially living with my sister and still looking for a job...I made if you have heard Deborah saying my godmother, I met Rosalie and her husband through my sister after she used to work at the Marriott she was a kitchen manager she got me a job as a table cleaner, a busser, I was promoted I got waitress job but the thing is that I didn’t know the drinks this one day this woman said to me I would like a screw driver I thought she was joking , so I went to the kitchen and said why would this woman order, they all laughed at me and explained to me but anyhow while I was doing that job, Dina and I were staying in my sisters house it was not a good picture , Dina and I have seen so much in that house and I walked to work with the sneaker In the snow from my sisters house to work my feet frozen and one day I said to her can your husband give me a ride to work she said my husband is not your driver and this is my younger sister so I said wow, people change when they come to this country so I keep walking and singing my spiritual songs and one day something came to me and I said I want to get a job, a good job something t(!) I knelt down and prayed and saw a vision this vision was this big house with so many windows and I big gate and the voice said to me this is going to be your house, and I got up and I said you must be kidding what am I making up this thing so I just left it to that, I got a newspaper and there was a housekeeping job in Roanoke and I lived in Blacksburg so I called them and this time I learned not to mention that I have a child so I called and they said oh come on lets interview you but I didn’t have anyone to take me but I think about it and this woman came to my mind and she was the pastor of my sister and her husband in Brethren Church in Blacksburg I call her and I said I have an interview in Roanoke would you mine giving me a ride? She said sure, I said got she is a wonderful woman. While we were driving to Roanoke I said to her you know what I was praying and god showed me this big house with gate and windows and she said oh you never know then we are coming to this big house with gate and windows (27:52) and she said oh my god if you hadn't said that dream before we came I wouldn’t have believed you and we  went in and this very very rich well to do family and she interviewed me and she liked me and she said when could you start and I said well I will start soon but I have something I want you to do for me, and she said what and I said I cant start without this obligation I have unless it is fulfilled what is that, I have a child, she said ohh okay , she said okay to the lady that brought me to her, she said lets go upstairs, later on I found out that was her bed room later on they came back and the lady said she liked you, I don’t know something about your voice, and she said that they would take you with your child and I was so happy and I came back to Blacksburg and took my things told my sister getting ready and asked my sister if she could keep Dina for three months so that she could finish school because when we were in Maryland she was coming up to school to school to school she didn’t have any friends and I wanted to make it sure and we have seen it happen and my sister said no I cant keep her so  I asked a neighbor from my country if she could keep my child, and I would pick her up Friday and bring her back Monday and I did this for three months and these nice people gave me my own car and I started driving Dina back and fourth to live with them of course they hired me for 8 hrs but deep down I knew that I lived in their house so in order to pay my rent I could work more so I used to work until midnight and then clean the house cook food for the lady and the same thing happened there was no time for my child and when Dina comes from school she wants to come to her mommy and comes to the kitchen and the lady says to her Dina don’t touch my kitchen your hand is dirty!! So I see my child going like that  and I feel so angry at my child coming into the kitchen and having someone shout at her so I got her by her hand and take her downstairs and I said don’t ever come up there when you come from school you go downstairs and I’ll come and you do your homework and you stay there and that’s what happened oh god, you know people don’t understand what people go through so anyhow I stay there and Deborah and my ex-husband came and that was another drama what my ex treated me that he would keep Deborah and eh would not bring her to the states but all of a sudden got worked in a mysterious way he had to come and of course he came and few months after he came miss Dina, the curious girl found his wallet and opened it and there was a picture of a woman and Dina said who is this charcoal woman, the woman have a darker skin and I said what charcoal woman I want to see and he and I start fighting with the picture and I took it and said who is this, so I said here you came to be with your family but if you don’t have love for us you are welcome, I’ll help you, this family is ready to help you with your green card, you can get your green card and join the war but I want to do it right and of course he starts crying saying that he wants to be with his family  I said okay, after few months he got his green card, it was easy to get green cards then after six months he got his green card through the family after few months he said I’m an engineer I don’t want to do gardening work and things like this in this country I want to go, I said where are you going, I said In this country you have to start from scratch I was a rich mans daughter but I became a housekeeper so what is the big deal? I want…I said okay I called my sister in dc and said look he wants to have an engineering job so can you please take him and show him around and all the engineering jobs that are around so he came there and stayed with here and of course he didn’t get his engineering job, and one day she calls e and says did he come to you, he's not in my house, I don’t know where he is, but in a month he calls me an says that he is going to send me a divorce paper and he would like me to be ready. I laughed. At the time that he got a green card we got the green card through him I moved around to Blacksburg I got two jobs I had Deborah and Dina and my sisters son and I rented an apt and I stayed there for a while and my sister moved to Blacksburg and took her son and started living in their own apt and I worked different kinds a of jobs and I worked in a bakeshop and people would throw flour in my face saying your people in your country are starving what are you doing here your scum? I have people calling me all kinds of names but all this time I was looking at the light at the end of the tunnel so I went to college Virginia ^^^ and asked them if  I could be admitted and I would have to take an exam if I didn’t have a transcript  and there was no way to bring my transcript because of the war so I took a test and passed the English and math and started my college and got my associate degree with science pre nursing and all this time all this journey I was driving from Blacksburg to Roanoke of course I got a car but I was driving from Blacksburg to Roanoke and I finished my school and went to a 4 year college and continued my nursing I got my bachelors but this Blacksburg people with a  community I happened to make it and this is where I am but I have seen the ups and the downs and the sadness but something made me strong I wanted to be strong for my two daughters I wanted to take advantage and I wanted them to be healers of this world by seeing my life and seeing what a woman can do by herself. my ex-husband and I got divorced all the money from back home from where my father bought the house everything when I came to this country I signed everything trusting him he destroyed everything and then he took me to court and claimed that I didn’t deserve alimony and of course the judge trusted him there was no way for me to claim for this money back home this is America, but I made because of this country because of this place. my strengths my cravings my wanting was freedom my wanting is to be a person I wanted to be and I want my children to see that and be what they want to be and this is the only country that gives me that


Laura: Do you think your story is particularly typical or atypical for someone coming from Ethiopia to the states with children? What you went through is pretty common, or is there a lot that you think that people haven’t gone through that you have


Mekdes: Most of the time its typical but it takes a strong person to have a dream and to stick with that dream and to trust and trust (phone rings in background). It’s typical. But like I said you have to have a dream and you have to stick with it and the love that I have for my children is what made me so strong and wants to make it for them I want to be a good example to a strong future woman and to change the world but its typical and some even send their children to boarding school because they couldn’t handle it and their children couldn’t not handle it so they run away there are so many dysfunctional broken family who very good background because of that, so yea its typical.


Laura: So you were saying that you have incredible strength and that’s really what brought you through and the freedom of this country and what it allowed what were some of the things that you received from this country in addition to your education that really made it possible to keep your head above water and make it to the place that you are in today


Mekdes: They give you’re a chance. If you want to be someone you don’t need to give all sorts of reasons for your own lack of hope, if you have hope and you strive for it, this country the system- everything will help you. That s what it is, if I had hope and there is no help, I had hope when I was back in my country, I wanted to be somebody but there was no help- from the government the community the culture, there was no help especially for woman. If you were a woman being abused by your husband verbally or physically they would tell you to stay with him for the sake of the children and like I told you even when we got married if my father was not rich we would not have a home, so this country helps you with all the things you want to, but what I think people want to do is just sit down stretch their hands to get it but you have to strive for it you have to do it with a clean heart and clean mind. That’s what I know about myself, I have no hate or revenge to anybody not even my ex-husband or to the system, my country it is not this country who threw me out of my country it was my own people my own country but with all that I didn’t have any grudges any sadness I just moved on it just the way I am and I am so glad I am like that. So the system in this country if you want to be somebody you will be somebody


Laura: So on that note, you went to school and got your nursing degree.


Mekdes: Yes


Laura: Did you always know that you wanted to be a nurse?


Mekdes: I never never knew. But when I was a child, about 9 or 10,  my uncle my mother's youngest brother we were just sitting in the house doing stuff and he said to me and said Mekdes I think you should be a nurse, and I looked at him with angry eyes and said how dare you say that to me because back then nurses were just followers to doctors, its like you have to be a maid, something like that so how dare you, but thinking about it maybe he saw my spirit my caring spirit but even here I didn’t know when I  was getting my associate degree about the end of my year I was walking on the hallway there was an add saying ‘Bradford university recruiting nursing’, and  I said oh that’s what I want to be, so  I went to my advisor and I said I want to transfer to Bradford u and she said why and I said that I want to be a nurse and she said no, you have to be a teacher because I used to tutor students chemistry and algebra who have difficultly understanding it and once they come to me they understand it and get good grades, and she says you have to be a teacher, but that’s how it happened I transferred and everything started flowing and I am so glad that I am a nurse


Laura: So tell me about your profession now your life now within the last couple of years


Mekdes: There was no job that I have applied and I have been declined. For some reason people like me and I feel that nursing is my call. Its not a job its my call its my duty I love caring for people there is no difference between me and that patient that patient is my mother my sister my family I would not even give 99% I give 100% when I care for people and I wish everyone was like that and when I decide to leave hospital nursing, one of the reasons that made me decide other than my physical limitation was that the nurses that were on the floor and the way they treat the patient.  I have so many young nurses that I pull on the side and say would you do that to your mom, why are you doing that? And the hospitals they just want you to do assembly work, with few nurses that they don’t care how its done and nurses are humans and when its too much on them they wont give a quality care and so seeing that I really didn’t want to continue watching that being done on other human beginnings, I left and now I have a really wonderful job and my bosses respect me they appreciate me and the nurses I work with likes me that’s what they tell me and I like them and I tell you every single moment that I don’t think of other stuff I really thank god for where I was where I am and how I travel and got to where  I am I love my job and in fact where I work on top of the capital, there is a statue of freedom, do you know for how many people I give that statue because she is my symbol. I came to this country for freedom and that is what this country gives you and she is on top of the capital building where all decisions and rules and regulations are done. This is a beautiful country (tearing up). I am so glad I am here for that statue of freedom she is my immortal she is my symbol I just love her like she was my daughter or something and every time I have friends I really like them I buy that statue and give it to them she means a lot to me because she represents this country


Laura: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.




Interview Guide

File name: Interview_04212007_Gloria Mendoza

Interview Date: April 26, 2007

Interviewee Name: Gloria Mendoza



Date of birth: November 10, 1951

Sex: Female

Occupation: “Working with the Spanish community” as a translator on domestic abuse cases (“Explain what is meaning of domestic violence and what they’re not supposed to do and what rules are in the United States”)

Marital status: Divorced

Household composition: Two adult children, one son and one daughter

Residence status: Citizen

Date of arrival in U.S.: February 14, 1975 (“one of my boyfriends serenata, you know he was very sad that I was coming, so I remember that”)

Country of origin: El Salvador



Jackie: So this is what we call the life before you immigrating

Gloria: This is…?

Jackie: Yes this is the part that’s official. Yeah, here we are.

Gloria: Oh, okay.

Jackie: So tell me about your childhood before the age of 12 years old. Like, who did you live with?

Gloria: Before what?

Jackie: Before you were 12 years old.

Gloria: In El Salvador?

Jackie: Yeah.

Gloria: Oh, in El Salvador. Oh, it was very nice. My mother had seven children.

Jackie: Seven children?

Gloria: Yes, and I am the fourth, number four.

Jackie: Okay, so how many brothers and sisters, uh, how many sisters and brothers

Gloria: There’s five boys and two girls

Jackie: Okay, and you’re the first girl then or the second girl?

Gloria: The first girl.

Jackie: Okay, did you have a lot of responsibilities as the girl?

Gloria: Uh, yes, a few of them, because, you know, my older brothers were doing another responsibility, too, because my mother, my parents, were teaching us to behave, to helping the house, to cleaning, cooking, we lived in that, it was a challenge.

Jackie: Wow. So who else lived in the home with you? I mean, you had your seven siblings, children, your mom, your dad.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: I mean, did you have, that’s pretty large. And what city or what area of El Salvador did you…

Gloria: Santa Ana.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: It’s the second city more important than San Salvador because we produce coffee.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: We’re growing the coffee in the area, and we live and we eat from the coffee.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: Oh wow

Gloria: The coffee and the sugar.

Jackie: Oh there’s sugar there, too?

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: Wow.

Gloria: You know production in El Salvador we cultivate in the mountains all these kinds of things. But the major important is the coffee because that’s growing in Santa Ana, the city where I am, the coffee, the sugar is in the other part of the country

Jackie: Okay. So did you parents work with the coffee?

Gloria: Mmhmmm.

Jackie: Okay, so what did your parents do?

Gloria: My parents? They are domestic, they never went to college. Um, my father made, Jackie: I think made fours years only of school and my mother took the same

Jackie: What about you, how many years of school did you go through?

Gloria: Me? When I was there? I finished, I did, sixth grade.

Jackie: Okay. I had read this morning when I was looking up about El Salvador and they had said school was free up until ninth grade

Gloria: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Jackie: And then you had to pay?

Gloria: Yes, you have to pay.

Jackie: So why did you stop at 6th grade

Gloria: Because I wanted to come here, and it was very difficult for my mother. No I went to the school for til 6 years or 9 years, I think I finished ninth grade

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: And then, uh, my mother put me to academic, you know typing

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: And then I uh classes to get more, what are these things?

Jackie: Like a secretary?

Gloria: No.

Jackie: Or an office, administrative

Gloria: Similar to that, where you typing, like secretary

Jackie: Okay, stenographic? Is that the word in English?

Gloria: No, no

Jackie: Okay, it doesn’t matter

Gloria: No, like secretary

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: Did you like that?

Gloria: Yes, I like it and I enjoy it and I have a lot of friends from that school and also they teaching, like, what was the other thing they were teaching in the academic, um, I forgot completely, but I remember learning how to sew

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes, they gave classes like that.

Jackie: Did you like that too

Gloria: Yes, I liked doing things for myself and for my mom

Jackie: So did you sew a lot for your family

Gloria: Right

Jackie: That’s a lot of things to learn at a young age

Gloria: No, but at the time I was 14 years old

Jackie: Okay, so not so young to learn all that. So, um, how about, so back to where you grew up

Gloria: Uh huh

Jackie: Tell me, describe your home

Gloria: In El Salvador?

Jackie: Yes, can you remember it?

Gloria: Yes, uh huh.

Jackie: So tell me, you’re inside your home, what do you see

Gloria: Well, uh, see, um, um, we see, how, which specifically do you wish me to describe?

Jackie: Well, you know, when you walk in here the dining room is in the right, the living room on the left, you can go upstairs. How was the layout of your home?

Gloria: Oh, it was very good because it was a big house

Jackie: Uh huh

Gloria: Very big house. You know that house belonged to the um, ex president of El Salvador

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Maybe you heard about it or know the person the president Duarte?

Jackie: Yes, I did hear about him

Gloria: President Duarte now he’s dead he passed away. He graduated from University of Notre Dame.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: He came to the United States, well the thing is the house belonged to him, it was property from the Duarte family and we grew up because my father was a friend of him

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: We grew up and we no pay for it

Jackie: That’s a great deal

Gloria: We no pay for it and we living in a big house because he say no you going to stay there and don’t worry about, they don’t need the money, you know, because the president Duarte was a very good friend of my father’s

Jackie: So was your dad…

Gloria: They grew up, you know, and then when he grew up in Santa Ana the city and then he moved to San Salvador

Jackie: Wow

Gloria: And then we were still living in the house for many years

Jackie: When was Duarte president? In the ‘70s?

In the ‘80s

Jackie: Okay, I don’t know. I know there were a lot of presidents or dictators at different times

Gloria: Yes, but he was president

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: He wasn’t in the military

Jackie: So your dad was he involved in politics as well?

Gloria: No

Jackie: Just childhood

Gloria: Yes because he was living, the President Duarte was living in the city but we grew up right

Jackie: In Santa Ana

Gloria: But when the president grew up more, you know, higher

Jackie: Right, right

Gloria: He moved to San Salvador

Jackie: Right

Gloria: The capital of El Salvador

Jackie: So your house, I can’t even imagine, it was the nicest.

Gloria: It was a corner, too, like here, you know was a big [unknown] when fruit, you know, side of the house, we eat very healthy fruit, you know, we had a very good life over there

Jackie: Wow, so does anyone still live there now?

Gloria: No, when we moved from there because my mother, my parents, they own houses, the house was destroyed and they were building other things

Jackie: Okay, okay

Gloria: They were building other things like apartments

Jackie: What a shame

Gloria: Yeah, it was a shame

Jackie: I think it’s hard when you lose your childhood home, you can’t go back to it

Gloria: Right, right

Jackie: It’s never the same, but you can’t visit

Gloria: We visit, because we pass over there, but it’s not the same because they throw away you know others

Jackie: Modern

Gloria: Modern, exactly

Jackie: So did you have a lot of friends when you were growing up?

Gloria: Yes, a lot of friends, life is different from here, you know that’s why, you know everyone has the opportunity to have a lot of friends because you know you go outside and talk with the neighbor and say hi how are you how are you doing how are your children and then in the nighttime our children playing outside from other children’s in the neighborhood which is easy to watch out because we are outside unlike here where we are inside working two or three jobs and we do not have time to watch for our childrens

Jackie: Right

Gloria: And no, life in Spanish countries is more flexible, you know, to get

Jackie: It sounds very social also

Gloria: Very socialized, exactly. We can you know share together like community.

Jackie: Right, so do you miss that now

Gloria: Oh yeah sure, that’s why many people coming to United States working hard and saving money, in fact, come because they miss it, it’s much easier over there

Jackie: Right

Gloria: Of course, and the economic way, it’s not easy, but in the other way, you know, um, from the other point of view, they have more flexibility, more liberty, you know

Jackie: Right

Gloria: Things like that you know more friends, people more friendly, people more charity

Jackie: Right right, that is a big change

Gloria: A big change

Jackie: Okay, so um, okay, so from age 12 to when you were 23 and you moved here

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: You told me you were in school, the secretary, learning how to type, sewing,

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: What else did you do, after you finished that school, what did you do after that?

Gloria: I start working. I came to the United States, and I start working.

Jackie: I mean, I’m sorry, I do want to hear about that, but I mean before when you were in El Salvador from between the time you finished school and before you were 23

Gloria: Uh-huh

Jackie: What did you do to work in El Salvador.

Gloria: Working in sewing, I told you, what I learned in the academic

Jackie: Uh-huh, so you that’s what you did, you worked there

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: Okay, so did you work in a factory or

Gloria: I worked in the factories. By the time the Chinese people, the Korean people, I don’t know, the Asiatic people…

Jackie: mm-hmm

Gloria: they were you know building factories over there, they were investing money you know, especially in factories in you know giving, you know, the opportunity to work for poor people they were, you know, giving many many skills for people over there. At the same time they hired

Jackie: oh really

Gloria: Many, many people training how to use the machines, how to use that and that and that and many things and then later on they hiring people to get a job

Jackie: okay, so that’s where you worked at

Gloria: yes, I starting over there

Jackie: so what did they export. What were you making?

Gloria: They export clothes you know made in china, you know maquilladors?

Jackie: No.

Gloria: Back then, that’s the meaning

Jackie: You mean maquilladoras?

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: Yes yes, it took me a minute to spell it in my head

Gloria: So yes by the time I was leaving it wasn’t existing but it was existing later on

Jackie: Huh. So how many hours work

Gloria: So specifically women’s clothes, like dress

Jackie: So how many hours?

Gloria: Eight hours.

Jackie: Eight hours?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: Did you get a break in between?

Gloria: Yes. Okay, lunchtime one hour.

Jackie: Okay, did you have a lot of friends also working with you?

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: Okay, and how old were you when you starting working this? Fourteen?

Gloria: No, no, I was eighteen.

Jackie: 18?

Gloria: Yes, yes. From the age of 17, 18, I think I started 17 or 18, for a few years, not too much.

Jackie: How was the pay for you?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: Did you get good pay?

Gloria: Yes, well you know, the way, I don’t remember exactly how much it was.

Jackie: Did you still live at home at the time?

Gloria: Yes, I was at home

Jackie: So you contributed to your family income

Gloria: Oh yes, exactly.

Jackie: So did your siblings do the same thing, too?

Gloria: Um, the others were in school

Jackie: Okay, the younger ones were, but the older ones were…?

Gloria: the older ones were working, too. Everyone was working.

Jackie: Wow, so what were your parents doing at the time?

Gloria: Working, my mother was working at the factory, too.

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: My father, too.

Jackie: They worked in a factory, too. Was it the same one?

Gloria: No, it was a different factory.

Jackie: So there were a lot of factories in this area?

Gloria: Oh yes, there were a lot of factories, because the city, the city, was producing too many things, the candy factories, my mother worked in the candy factory

Jackie: Oh wow

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: That’s diverse,

Gloria: Yes, diverse.

Jackie: Goodness. So tell me about some fun personal stuff, like you said you had a boyfriend at the time

Gloria: Oh yes, he was very sad I was coming to the United States and well, we were keeping in communication by phone or by letter so that’s that’s it was a nice part because when I came here I got married. Two years later

Jackie: So this guy in El Salvador, he wasn’t special enough,

Gloria: No, no, you know, when, we’re young

Jackie: Yes, things change

We have different boyfriends,

Jackie: So did you have a lot of different boyfriends, then?

Gloria: Yes, in El Salvador yes

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Yes, I was very friendly.

Jackie: Very popular, huh? This is Scorpio nature, everyone wants to be your friend. So your brothers, did they have to watch out for you?

Gloria: Uh, yes. They are very protective.

Jackie: Really? Did they have to, you know, whoever came to the door, they…

Gloria: Yes

Jackie: So tell me about, what would you do out on dates, you know would you go to the movies, would you go to dinner?

Gloria: Yes, the movies, dinner,

Jackie: Uh-huh, okay so the normal…

Gloria: Yes, the normal way.

Jackie: Cool. Fun.

Gloria: Uh-huh.

Jackie: So your parents, did they have a lot of, you know you talked about how they were raising your children, your siblings, how to behave

Gloria: Uh-huh

Jackie: Did they exert a lot of control over you? So tell me about your parents and how they raised you

Gloria: Very in good discipline. Discipline?

Jackie: Discipline, exactly.

Gloria: They were watching for us taking very good advice in order to behave with others

Jackie: Right

Gloria: They teaching us values, they teaching us um uh like be respectful for others

Jackie: Uh huh

Gloria: They teaching us go to school do this learning this or learning that because that will be helpful for you when you get adult and when you get married and you go teach your own family how to behave how to living in this world so we was very grateful to have parents like that.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Yes, very grateful. Um, because until now we still keeping that advice in mind.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And that’s very, in this society we are living in right now that’s very very helpful to have how to live in this society with too many dark things, too many crazy things, you know?

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: So we can manage, you know, how to manage our situation at home like how to teaching our children, how to behave at work, how to behave out in the streets you know be respectful always always. Be respectful for us is very very important, you know. That is the good way we are living from our parents.

Jackie: Wow

Gloria: They are doing a very good job. They did very well job, yes, for us.

Jackie: Did you go to church when you were…?

Gloria: Yes, that was another part the church. The church was very important for us, we going every Sunday.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: We observe the church calendar, you know, holidays. We observe all the rituals, you know.

Jackie: Right

Gloria: The meaning of the original, the meaning of the cultural, the religious, academics, you know

Jackie: Right

Gloria: We go to school, we go to university after that, you know we get the diploma, that’s part of our culture.

Jackie: So what’s your favorite holiday?

Gloria: Holiday? In El Salvador?

Jackie: Well, any holiday.

Gloria: Whether here or there?

Jackie: Like is Noche Buena your favorite celebration?

Gloria: Well like Christmas is very important, for us, and of course

Jackie: Right, right

Gloria: Easter, Easter and Christmas

Jackie: Did you have a big Noche Buena celebration for Christmas?

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: So how did you split that up? I know a lot of  different Latin cultures do it differently.


Jackie: Some of them do it the same but it’s different from Anglo cultures.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: So did you have a big Noche Buena and on Christmas, Navidad, did you rest? Is that your day of rest?

Gloria: Uh

Jackie: Or did you also continue the celebration of Navidad?

Gloria: Uh, basically in Christmas what we do is cooking you know special food

Jackie: Uh-huh

Gloria: Then, uh, we go to church to observe all the activities

Jackie: Right

Gloria: The holy week. Um, and then for Easter we observe it too the traditions we cook the special food, we go to church for um the holy week, too.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And um, what I remember in my country we have this kind of tradition we cooking before, two or three nights before, and then we observe the holy Good Friday for example you know nobody drives, nobody cooks, nobody cleaning, you know things like that

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Like the US community, but it’s only for a couple days

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: This community does it for more days, observing more days. Like 10 days or more. But more in that traditions all the holidays are very important.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Very important for part of their cultural background. So, um,

Jackie: So what kind of food would your family prepare?

Gloria: Oh, for Christmas?

Jackie: Uh-huh

Gloria: For example we eat tamales, oh my God, they’re delicious. And turkey.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Yes. Turkey and tamales is the…oh, pupusas is the popular food

Jackie: Right

Gloria: For us.

Jackie: Oh, you’re making me hungry.

Gloria: But for the special holidays it’s like that, tamales

Jackie: Right

Gloria: And turkey. But we’re cooking the turkey in a different way than the United States you know. We use sauce and spices and different things.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes. Wow.

Right, it’s different.

Jackie: Yummy.

Gloria: It’s completely different. And um, for Easter we cook fish.

Jackie: Oh.

Gloria: Over there, too. Here, too. It’s fish all the time.

Jackie: So it’s like fresh fish from the Pacific.

Gloria: Yes, exactly, because we have the Pacific. We have a lot of water of there.

Jackie: Yeah, a lot, right? A whole side of the country!

Gloria: Yes, all Pacifico we, so. It’s very delicious food.

Jackie: Did you eat a lot of plantains, too? Plantanos?

Gloria: Plátanos?

Jackie: Uh huh

Gloria: Yes. But not like in other countries like Santo Domingo for example or Cuba or Puerto Rico.

Jackie: Right, right. It’s not as big…

Gloria: Right. Pero we eat for the morning especially breakfast.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Right, for example when we eat fried beans and eggs and cream.

Jackie: Yes, like the sour cream.

Gloria: Sour cream, right.

Jackie: Oh, I shouldn’t have talked all about that. Okay.

Gloria: You can taste it when you go to the restaurants, Spanish food.

Jackie: What’s your favorite restaurant around here?

Gloria: Here?

Jackie: Uh-huh. Do you have one?

Gloria: Well, we have a couple of them, you know, but I really don’t want to make, you know….

Jackie: Say that one is the best, or…

Gloria: Right. Yeah. Here we have the [unknown] you know

Jackie: Totally.

Gloria: A lot, you know.

Gloria: There’re a lot of Salvadorian restaurants...  

Jackie: Oh yes.

Gloria: …around here.

Jackie: Exactly.

Gloria: Like Adams Morgan you know.

Jackie: Mm-hmm.

Gloria: There’s a lot of populations over there.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And that’s why you know there are Salvadorian restaurants there and other countries, too. And enjoy the food.

Jackie: Oh my goodness.

Gloria: You tasted the pupusas?

Jackie: Yes, and I like chicharrón.

Gloria: Chicharrón? Cheese and beans?

Jackie: Yes.

Gloria: Delicious.

Gloria: Jackie: And tamales.

Gloria: And tamales?

Jackie: Yes, I love them. Especially the sweet ones.

Gloria: Oh, the sweet ones, yes. That’s, yes. I don’t like so much the sweet ones, but…

Jackie: Oh you don’t? But do you like the ones with the chicken?

Gloria: Yes, I like it more the other way. But the abuelitas, you know the grandmothers, they like them that way, the sweet tamales.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Yes, they enjoy them a lot. [unknown] mas.

Jackie: My fiancé is Cuban, and so…

Gloria: Oh, a Cuban!

Jackie: So that’s why, oh, you tell me everything. Oh, you mention cooking, I know that kind of food. The yuca, right, they eat a lot of yuca con mojo.

Jackie: Mm-hmm. Exactly. That mojo, I love it. I put it on everything, it’s so tasty.

Gloria: Uh-huh. You know how to cook that?

Jackie: Yes.

Gloria: You learning?

Jackie: Yes, I’m not the best, but I’m pretty good.

Gloria: I have a book you know Cuban, from Cuban, Cuban how to cook that kind of food.

Jackie: Cause it’s different, right?

Gloria: Black beans, and white rice. Yuca con mojo, pollo con suela.  

Jackie: Lechon, um...

Gloria: Lechon, lechon asado?

Jackie: Yes. Okay.

Gloria: I say lechon asado.

Jackie: I know what you’re talking about. But I love Salvadorian food, too, you know. Oh my goodness. Okay, sorry. So off of food. And you mentioned that you had a lot of friends, a lot of friends, a lot of boyfriends.

Gloria: Uh-huh, yeah.

Jackie: Um, okay.

Gloria: But you know, I want to specifically clarify something point about boyfriends.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: In my country, boyfriends is not going to bed with them. You know?

Jackie: It’s somebody that you date.

Gloria: Exactly. It’s somebody that your friend more, they come to talk with you to the house and ask you parents, you know, for permit to come into the house.

Jackie: Right, so it’s very respectful?

Gloria: It’s very respectful. We’re not doing anything.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: You know, here is something different, so.

Jackie: Yeah, that’s interesting. We’ll have to talk about that, too the difference is…

Gloria: The difference is…

Jackie: What is the word in Spanish? Because it wouldn’t be novio?

Gloria: Oh, yes.

Jackie: Oh, it is? That’s the same word?

Gloria: It’s the same word.

Jackie: It’s the same word.

Gloria: It’s the same word, but it’s not the same meaning.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Which is different you know…

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: …You know from boyfriend.

Jackie: That’s really interesting.

Gloria: It’s very interesting. I clarify sometime to the people when ask me if you have a boyfriend, you know, for things like that, you know or to my children for example. ‘Cause I have two daughters, but one is married, you know, the other is married. But the second one, you know, she knows because they call here. And they know what the meaning, you know, to have boyfriend or, or, just friend.

Jackie: Mmm.

Gloria: They, they…

Jackie: They understand where the line is.

Gloria: Yes, exactly. You know…separation.

Jackie: Yeah, it’s a big line.

Gloria: It’s a big line.

Jackie: So tell me…

Gloria: But that’s the line, you know, that’s very interesting because that comes from our background.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: A different way, you know. How, moral values, specifically come from moral values, you know. The line between one thing or the other, you know.

Jackie: Right. So, I mean, we don’t have to talk about this…

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: …I’m thinking virginity is very much something to be held onto and you know, that your faithful until the time that you’re married?

Gloria: Uh, virginity, the virginity mean for us respect.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: You know. Like, for example, don’t touch because it’s not right, you know.

Jackie: Okay

Gloria: You know, uh, I’m not going to have sex before I get married.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: For surely, I’m going to marry with you. For example, when they come, when the boyfriends come to the house you know and talk with the parents and ask for you to have the hand for the daughter, you know, asking for marriage, that’s different.

Jackie: Okay. So it’s such a big deal.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: I mean, a big deal, it’s very important.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: That’s what is the cultural standard and what you respect.

Gloria: Mm-hmm.

Jackie: Wow. It’s very different here, right?

Gloria: Very different. I think for me the from English community it’s difficult to understand too, you know.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: If you have or, I don’t know if it’s difficult or to understand that, you know, or background from other countries.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: I don’t know.

Jackie: Yeah, it’s definitely your values, how much religion is in your family life and how much you respect that and how your parents raised you also, so so…

Gloria: Right. Because it’s that, in a circle you know, the cultural background is like in a circle our parents were raising like that, you know, the grandparents were raising like that, then the children, you know, doing the same and the same, you know, it’s a circle, cultural background you know.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: From our ancestors.

Jackie: Hm-hmm.

Gloria: So, that’s why that’s where it come from.

Jackie: Speaking of ancestors, that makes me think, did your grandparents live near you? Did you get to see your grandparents a lot or your cousins?

Gloria: Uh, no, I only remember my uh…yes, I remember but they died you know when we were very little.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: And it is that typical for grandparents to die younger when you were?

Gloria: I was nine months old when my grandparents died.

Jackie: Okay, okay. So you don’t remember them as much.

Gloria: You don’t remember your?

Jackie: My grandparents, my grandmother is still living, so that’s what I was wondering.

Gloria: Oh, that’s good.

Jackie: Yeah, yeah, she’s almost 90 years old.

Gloria: Oh.

Jackie: Yeah. So it’s always interesting to me to hear about who remember their grandparents and who don’t.

Gloria: Yes, exactly.

Jackie: Um, okay, is there anything about your childhood that we didn’t talk about that you wanted to share with me?

Gloria: No, basically, that’s you know, um…basically that’s you know…our childhood was good, we had a lot of friends, you know, played games after school…. Oh! The good things that I forgot to remember, dancing.

Jackie: Oh, yeah!

Gloria: We’re dancing a lot.

Jackie: So what kind of dances would you do?

Gloria: Cumbia!

Jackie: Yes, I’ve heard a lot about that, it sounds fascinating.

Gloria: Yes, that’s another entertainment for the young

Jackie: Uh huh.

Gloria: Because the dance is, is, for a long time ago. The children after school going to playing together and especially the weekends is for dancing place, bring your boyfriend and friends together to dance. Ooh, that’s nice.

Jackie: Wow.

Gloria: Yes,

Jackie: So how do you do it? I know how to salsa…

Gloria: Yes. You know salsa?

Jackie: Yes, but it is similar or different to salsa? How do you move…?

Gloria: Uh, yes, it’s different. It’s different from salsa.

Jackie: Okay. So is it more, is it in your hips still?

Gloria: Yes, in your hips.

Jackie: Okay, and do you move your arms?

Gloria: Yes, move your arms, yes.

Jackie: Uh-huh. Wow.

Gloria: It’s very nice.

Jackie: Do you still like to do that?

Gloria: Oh, yes, I dancing many things.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: I dancing rock and roll, ‘cause that’s area I grew up.

Jackie: Uh-huh. That’s true, right?

Gloria: Yes. I still have rock and roll here, music. I still like to dance when I’m doing my exercising.

Jackie: Right, right. Well, what music, what rock and roll music was really popular when you were growing up?

Gloria: Uh, Elvis Presley.

Jackie: Uh-huh.

Gloria: And um, who’s the, what’s the name of, um, the man who, it’s over here.

Jackie: Oh yeah, you can show me.

Gloria: Oh….

Jackie: No, that’s good, we should take a break in a couple minutes, too, so…



Jackie: What was…

Gloria: That will be all on the tape?

Jackie: What?

Gloria: That will be all on the tape?

Jackie: Yes, exactly. So why exactly, so why did you move here?

Gloria: Oh! We’re starting now?

Jackie: Yeah!

Gloria: Excuse me, again?

Jackie: So what made you, why did you move here? Why did you move to the US?

Gloria: Oh, because, um, I have friends here who was working here and then they was visiting El Salvador every two years and then they was talking about the job opportunities over here, you know, why I was coming for visit only and then if I decided if I like this country, you know, uh, then a decision will be coming later to move and live over here and work of course. But at the time, I say okay, maybe one day one day one day but I still after too many invitations from my friends, I decided to come in 1995 [sic]. I came with visa.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: With tourist visa.

Jackie: Hmm, hmm, yes.

Gloria: And I stayed here and went to the museums and all around.

Jackie: So you actually came to DC or to Maryland?

Gloria: Yes, to Maryland.

Jackie: So what were your friends living in Maryland?

Gloria: At that time my friends was living in Bethesda.

Jackie: Bethesda?

Gloria: Yes, Bethesda.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: And then I came here and stayed for two years and then back home and then back home again and finally I decided to live here and work here.

Jackie: Wow.

Gloria: Yeah.

Jackie: Okay, so how long would you go home for?

Gloria: For a month to couple months.

Jackie: And then you would renew your tourist visa?

Gloria: Yes. Yes, exactly. And then I got a job over here and then the man who hired me for working in a house, they give me, you know, my resident visa.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Uh-huh. Those years were very easy to get it, you know, a resident visa or green card.

Jackie: Right. Right.

Gloria: And then I got married and I met my husband here three years later.

Jackie: So that’s a whirlwind life.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: So there’s a lot to talk about in these few years.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: So, what, uh, what did you do…to backtrack, what did you do when you were visiting your friends? You said you went to the museums but did you also have a job for the two years initially?

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: So what did you do? What job did you do?

Gloria: I, I was working in a house, in house, you know, in a domestic way.

Jackie: Okay. And then you said you would go home….

Gloria: A nanny, a nanny.

Jackie: I’m sorry?

Gloria: I was doing nanny, you know.

Jackie: A nanny? Oh yeah! Did you really enjoy that?

Gloria: Yes. Uh-huh. I was hired for nanny.

Jackie: So did you speak Spanish with them? Uh, how much English did you know?

Gloria: I went to school, you know, since I came here I went to school to learn English.

Jackie: Okay. So how long, how fast, did you learn English?

The weekends, you know, I have the free time.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: That’s the time I was learning English in school. You know, it learned me very fast, very fast.

Jackie: Right, did you…

Gloria: Because I never practiced you know. The people speak Spanish at home.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: It was a Cuban…

Jackie: Oh really? A Cuban family?

Gloria: Uh-huh, yes. That’s why, you know, I never learning very well, because the English, you know, never spoken in home.

Jackie: Right.
Gloria: Just, just because I want to learn, because it was necessary to learn the language. So yes, always speaking Spanish in home.

Jackie: So how was that getting around, everything’s in English? Was it overwhelming sometimes to you?

Gloria: No, because I was moving in my Spanish way, you know? My Spanish friends, my Spanish church, and all my friends was Spanish. And even the work, the worksite….

Jackie: As you said, the Cuban family.

Gloria: Yes, the Cuban family. So I was good.
Jackie: So what made you think you really needed to learn English then?

Gloria: Uh, in order to learn the language because we’re living in a different country, so it’s very important to learn the language.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And you can move more freely from place to place and talk to the people. When you go to the bank, you know, which is the more important and you go to the bank and talk to the cashier and you don’t know the language how are you going to

Jackie: Get your money?

Gloria: Or when you go the mail office to send the money to your relatives to your country of origin and how to express and say to the mail office, I mean people in the mail office, I want a money order for $1000. That’s an example, you know.

Jackie: Mm-hmm.

Gloria: So doing things like that, you know, it’s very important and necessary.

Jackie: Yeah. So the daily activities.

Gloria: The daily activities you know, shoo…especially when you have to do your own things, you know?

Jackie: Yeah.

Gloria: Your own needs, you know, you specific needs.

Jackie: How many years did you spend in the weekend classes? How long?

Gloria: Um, it’s depending on what hours are flexible, for example in the morning or in the afternoon, on Sunday, for, um, for mass it’s very important for mass for the Spanish community, so we were going in the afternoon, basically.

Jackie: Okay. So did you do this for a year?

Gloria: Oh no, a couple years. A couple years. They, they still learning, the classes, they never finish.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: The school is still there, you know, if you can imagine. Now more schools are open than years ago. But in those days that big a school in Washington, you know Rosario (?), I don’t know if you hear about it?

Jackie: No.

Gloria: Also, the big one and the first one I went, the name was, I forgot, Café a Latina (?).

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: The church was in a big building on California Street and the school was in the basement of this big church.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: For all immigrants who come to learn English.

Jackie: So did you live in Bethesda?

Gloria: Yes, and I was moving from buses.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Transportation was the buses, only.

Jackie: Okay, and the metro wasn’t there yet right in 1975?

Gloria: No, no.

Jackie: It didn’t come to the late ‘70s, right?

Gloria: In the middle, because it was ‘75.

Jackie: Right, right. Gosh, there’s just so much to talk about. What did your family say, you know, when you came back to visit?

Gloria: Oo, um.

Jackie: How did they feel about you moving, you know?

Gloria: Yes, um, they was happy as along, my parents told me, as long as you are happy we are happy.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: So as long as you are happy, as long as you are healthy and doing good things for you and others, we are happy. And they were happy because they knew I wasn’t alone, you know, there was good friends who belonged to the city, and my parents know their families.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Yeah.

Jackie: Wow. So did you call your family a lot?

Gloria: Yes, I calling, writing. We keeping always in communication.

Jackie: So did any of your other brothers and sisters move?

Gloria: My brothers and sisters were living there. I was the first one.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: I was the first one.

Jackie: Were you always the adventurous one? In your family, were you always the one to do things first, you know?

Gloria: Uh, that’s very, very, um, very interesting thing for me because I’m always a very hard worker and after moving here and get married, that means I start helping my family to come here.

Jackie: That means you would send money back home?

Gloria: Oh yes, every month.

Jackie: So was that a substantial amount of your pay that you…?

Gloria: No, because everybody works over there so there was a lot of help. Sure, sure.

Jackie: Right, but I mean, out of your paycheck, was it a lot out of your paycheck?

Gloria: No, no, because for example, half of my money was sent of there and half of the money was for my own needs.

Jackie: Wow, so it took you two years and then you went back home and then you were here for another year before you decided to stay, right?

Gloria: Exactly.

Jackie: Okay, alright. So tell me about meeting your husband.

Gloria: Oh, I meet him because my husband was introducing from other friends, the other friend I was talking before.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: That I knew before I came here. Yes, I was introduced to him and then he was in the Adams Morgan area at the Spanish festival, you know, that they celebrate our cultural heritage every year.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: So, that’s when I meet my husband. He was from El Salvador, too.

Jackie: Was that important for you to meet someone from El Salvador?

Gloria: Yes, yes, I thought it was important to meet somebody from the same country because he already knows our cultural way and the way of living and our cultural values and something like that because we can eat the same foods, dance, also, know moving in the same circle.

Jackie: And you speak the same language?

Gloria: And we speak the same language.

Jackie: And not even speaking in the same language, but you know the same dialect or colloquialism?

Gloria: Exactly. Yes, yes.

Jackie: Because what is the form, the Salvadorian…?

Gloria: No, pero, when I say speaking the same language, how am I going to talk with him, you know? How am I going to express with him my feelings? If I don’t know the language, how am I going to talk with him?

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: I, you know, I was so happy to know somebody, especially from my same country.

Jackie: So you were about 26 when you first met him?

Gloria: Yes, and we get married when I was 27.

Jackie: Okay, so how did he go back home to meet your family? You had said how much that was a respect aspect to meet your parents?

Gloria: Oh, they did it very well, because he called my parents and also to his family and his family responding him don’t worry about it. He wasn’t able to go to my city, where I living, because he living in a different city…

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: In El Salvador, which is almost an hour and half from the city from where I live.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: They say, His older brother said don’t worry about going to, with my mom and my dad to his family, to her family in Santa Ana to talk about you.

Jackie: Oh really? So his family went to meet your family?

Gloria: His family when to my family in my city to meet my parents. Oh yes, that’s the more I like it from my husband the respectful way, because he meet me here alone without my family, and it his family took care from my family in El Salvador and in order for him to telling my family where they are from, where they are living, where exactly they are located.

Jackie: Right, so they said everything was okay, the families liked each other?

Gloria: Yes, exactly. So I feel more comfortable in such a way like that.

Jackie: Right. So where did you get married?

Gloria: In the court, for civil.

Jackie: Okay, you were married here? So what made you decide to get married here instead of going back home?

-- End of tape 1 --

Jackie: So you were telling me, what made you decide to get married in this area instead of going back home? Was it because of the expense?

Gloria: No, because it was easy. For example, we have to wait, you know the way by the time we talking together to know which way was better for us, for example his family was visiting here, they coming back and forth. And my parents can’t come.

Jackie: Right, because it was expensive to come?

Gloria: It was more difficult for my parents to come than for his parents to come. And his parents already was here visiting by the time we were deciding to get married, so that is why we fixing, we did all the arrangements in order to do it here, in a better way. And of course my parents were sad because they wasn’t present, but they said as long as I was happy, they deciding to stay there and just waiting for the photos.

Jackie: Which you sent them?

Gloria: Yes, I sent them already, very fast. So that’s why, you know, we decided to get married here, and he already have two brothers and one sister here. Part of his family was living here, so that was another, you know, part of the story.

Jackie: Did you get along with his family that was living here?

Gloria: Yes, very respectful family, very friendly. And they wanted me to be part of his family.

Jackie: And did you continue with your job with the Cuban family as the nanny?

Gloria: No, I stopped. When I got married I stopped.

Jackie: Did you live with the Cuban family or did you live with your friends?

Gloria: Uh, no…before I get married, yes, I was living in yes. But when I get married, I stopped working with them

Jackie: One thing I forgot to ask you about, when you were first visiting, did you stay with your friends?

Gloria: Yes, uh-huh.

Jackie: Okay. And so tell me about your married life. Where did you move to? And what was your work?

Gloria: Oh, it was very very well, because my husband don’t want me to work because immediately I get pregnant.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: That was something you wanted?

Gloria: Yes, yes. So that’s why.

Jackie: So where you living in DC?

Gloria: We was living in DC.

Jackie: Near Adams Morgan?

Gloria: We was living near, very very downtown.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Oh, Moderna (?) Street, you know close to, that building was located N Street and very close to 14th Street.

Jackie: Okay, gotcha.

Gloria: Very very downtown.

Jackie: DC has changed very much. I can see it my head, but I’m sure it doesn’t look anything like…

Gloria: Yes, that building was very close to Massachusetts Avenue. Very very downtown.

Jackie: So did you still have a community of Salvadorian friends?

Gloria: No, no, nobody I know.

Jackie: Okay, so how was that for you? Because you were just learning English, how did you feel about that?

Gloria: No, I was already learning English.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: So I can manage myself.

Jackie: So you didn’t feel isolated.

Gloria: No, no, I didn’t feel isolated. It was very easy to move around.

Jackie: Right. So what did you husband do for work?

Gloria: By those years, he was working in hotels, like, um, he was working in home, he was serving food, what do you call it in English? Waiter, he was waiter.

Jackie: Okay. And there’s a lot of hotels down there.

Gloria: Ooo, a lot of hotels in that area. That’s close….

Jackie: You enjoyed your life and you were excited because you were pregnant.

Gloria: Yes, I was excited because I was pregnant and I was moving enough with area of my life and doing different things.

Jackie: And you’re still calling your family?

Gloria: Yes, I’m still keeping in communication. Yes, it’s very important.

Jackie: Had your siblings moved here by this point?

Gloria: Yes, after that, my family started moving here two years later.

Jackie: Okay. Um, you had mentioned you wanted to learn English to go to the bank. So when you were pregnant did you went to the hospital? Did you give birth at the hospital?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: How did you feel about the US health care system? How did find how the US does things versus in El Salvador? Were there differences?

Gloria: In the health system?

Jackie: Yeah.

Gloria: Of course, it’s better because we living in a different country that’s more advanced in technology. Like for example the supplies in the hospital they’re using probably by that time different things like were not existing in that country. But it’s such a way like that. They’re using different technology how to take care, like for example, the injection.

Jackie: Oh, the epidural?

Gloria: Yes, I forgot the name. But that kind of thing was not existing in my country. With that, I asked what is the meaning, what is the side effect, but it’s important to know.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Which I never used in my country was that. So in order for me to understand what are they doing to your body. They’re not doing anything wrong. So for you to know what that’s for and what they’re doing with that.

Jackie: Right. So did you have an epidural then? Or did you have natural?

Gloria: I had natural. But they asked me, you know. They have the right to ask me you have to, and you have the right to say yes or no. And I say no.

Jackie: Right. So did you give natural childbirth all three times?

Gloria: No, the last one was completely different.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Yes, the two oldest was the natural way. The third was the Cesarean section.

Jackie: Okay. And that was just a complication?

Gloria: Yes, it was a little complication in the labor, that’s why.

Jackie: And so how’s that…

Gloria: I already know at seven months because they told me.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Yes, they tell me the truth when something is wrong. Sometimes, not all the time. They say, oh, something is wrong with you baby because what they say when they take the X-ray, the ultrasound, it’s difficult to see you know 100% or 90% difficult to see inside. You know, they only saw the heart is good or sometime they can see very well if your hands or your body has six…

Jackie: Fingers.

Gloria: Yes, six fingers. Specifically, you know.

Jackie: The details, right.

Gloria: Exactly.

Jackie: Wow, wow.

Gloria: It’s okay.

Jackie: So how did you feel about a Cesarean? As a woman and as a mother?

Gloria: It was very difficult, because you can’t walk in the normal way after that.

Jackie: It’s surgery.

Gloria: Yeah, to healing and ten days, two weeks to walk completely or more to walk normally or in the normal way. It’s difficult, painful.

Jackie: So I guess you’ll always have the scar to remind you.

Gloria: Yes, yes. But those years they’re not doing the surgery they are now.

Jackie: So I understand the scar will probably, is probably very long.

Gloria: Yes, very long, from here to down.

Jackie: Uh-huh.

Gloria: But nowadays, they do it very different.

Jackie: Yeah, I hear it’s very small.

Gloria: Very small.

Jackie: A lot of famous people try to get that done.

Gloria: Yes, exactly. They not doing…I don’t know.

Jackie: I’m sure that’s traumatic.

Gloria: Yes, every year, every time probably every day things are different from yesterday.

Jackie: You had told me a lot about differences here from home, or in El Salvador, and one of them was the social networks, not being able to go outside and have the kids play.

Gloria: Yes, the socializing is very different.

Jackie: So how did you feel? Do you still have a large community of Salvadorian friends?

Gloria: Oh yes.

Jackie: Uh-huh. And so that’s always very important to you.

Gloria: Sure, sure, to keep the friends.

Jackie: Right. And then, uh, you had also mentioned some differences from dating.

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: So what are some other differences that you see that are very important differences to you?

Gloria: From El Salvador?

Jackie: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Or that might have made it difficult to adjusting? Was it difficult to adjusting to living here?

Gloria: Yes, it is, a very difficult adjustment, I think, for all immigrants. Difficult, you know. We have to you know live more carefully to living in a different country because living in your own country where you know your way of life, so you know the way you can raise your childrens, behave your childrens, is very different, yes.

Jackie: And you had mentioned in your job explaining to people about raising their children.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: So what are the differences then?

Gloria: No, when you’re working with Spanish people it’s more easy than American, you know, the other culture, it’s different, basically it’s similar.

Jackie: Mm-hmm.

Gloria: Very similar. For me it was easy, because I was working with Spanish people you know. Because we could express with each other how we like it or I can understand more you know much better. Like the food, the children, you know, don’t play with this, don’t play with that. The thing, you know, is very very easy to work with Spanish family.

Jackie: So you had mentioned that….

Gloria: I really don’t have experience, you know, to work with American people when I came. I came to work with the Spanish people so that’s why my life was more easier like that.

Jackie: Yeah, that’s true. You had moved right away to the Cuban family.

Gloria: Uh-huh.

Jackie: You had mentioned food, you know, to get to eat really healthy in Santa Ana.

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: What about here? Do you think there’s a big difference with food here?

Gloria: No, no. Completely nothing. Because we have a Spanish restaurant, a Spanish store here, so it’s easy to get our food, you know, and cook in our way, you know, the way we like it. This is completely, you know, nowadays, by they day they came, the year they came, the Spanish store, you know, it was strange to see in the area.

Jackie: The mercado.

Gloria: Mercado latino, you know. It was very few things that was existing, but nowadays we have a lot of Spanish mercados in the Latin markets for all, so it’s more easier to get the food and cook in our way.

Jackie: I’m sure it does make it easy.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: But when you first moved here was it difficult to go to the grocery store?

Gloria: You know in Adams Morgan it was, I think it was from Cuba in the America grocery. They had a store over there, the owner was Cuban. And the other store which was exactly exactly in Adams-Morgan, I forget the name, close to Safeway.

Jackie: Yes, so that’s always been a very Latino area there, for many decades.

Gloria: Yes. For many decades. There was another store over there, that was the owner from Santa Domingo. There was three stores, everybody was going there, of course the Spanish community was going over there to buy Spanish food.

Jackie: Right. Um, I was thinking about your, you said you had a visa and green card…

Gloria: Uh-huh.

Jackie: How long before you became a citizen?

Gloria: How long?

Jackie: Or how many years? How many years?

Gloria: That I am citizen?

Jackie: Between one another. Exactly.

Gloria: Let’s see, I came with visa in 1975 and then I changed my status from, um, to green card, from tourist visa to green card two years later. And then from two years later to…two years later. From green card to citizen it take me five years.

Jackie: Okay. So what made you decide to become a citizen?

Gloria: Which status? Which status I become a citizen?

Jackie: Why did you decide to become a US citizen?

Gloria: Oh, because I decide to live here….

Jackie: To live here permanently…

Gloria: I get married, after I get married, of course, my family was the reason to live here permanent.

Jackie: Was it important for you to vote?

Gloria: Yes, because I was pregnant. I decided to have my family here in the United States, specifically Washington, you know. It was very easy it take me one from status to another status, because when you are legal it is more easy, you know, the way you finding how to work and such an immigration status like that. For others they not having the same luck.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: You know for me thank God it was more easy.

Jackie: Seriously, five years, it didn’t take you or seven years total, not that long.

Gloria: Exactly, exactly.

Jackie: So did you, what was involved in getting your citizenship? Did have to take classes?

Gloria: Sure, sure. The classes mean a lot because you can understand how to take the test and understand the United States, um, constitution.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: So immigration, when you went to apply for citizen, the interview was easy. Nowadays it’s more difficult every day, harder steps to manage it that situation, you know, very difficult, more expensive, more difficult every time.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: But those days it was you know very easy you know for the application it was cheaper, not many, not many things.

Jackie: So um did you officially give up your El Salvador citizenship when you became a US citizen?

Gloria: It more easy?

Jackie: Or did you, what I understood is that when you become a US citizen, you’re no longer a citizen of your native country. You can’t have two citizenships? Is that true, or?

Gloria: No, it’s true. Pero, it’s not difficult to go, you can come and go.

Jackie: So you didn’t feel like you were giving up…?

Gloria: No, no no. We going freely to our own country and no difficult ways. It’s not difficult to go back and forth or something like that.

Jackie: How often do you go back and forth? Through the three decades that you’ve lived here?

Gloria: Oh no, every two years.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: Oh yeah, I go every two years.

Jackie: How long do you stay?

Gloria: A couple months, a couple months, you know.

Jackie: Your family is happy to see you, their children, their grandchildren.

Gloria: Yes, exactly, yes.

Jackie: Do all your brothers and sisters live in the US now?

Gloria: Yes, all my family.

Jackie: And your parents, too?

Gloria: My parents, my parents and my family, but my father passed away seven years ago, no seven years ago.

Jackie: Oh, I’m sorry. So where does your mom live now?

Gloria: My mom living in an apartment. In this area?

Jackie: She was living in an apartment with my father. But they broke the apartment because my father passed away. So now she moved to my oldest daughter, Roxanna, because she have a big house, four floors.

Gloria: Wow.

Jackie: Yes.

Gloria: Extremely big.

Jackie: Wow, good for her.

Gloria: Yes, good for her. She’s doing extremely well.

Jackie: So do you like having your whole family here?

Gloria: Sure. I like it. And I enjoy it, you know, especially special moments to share together, birthdays and celebrations and…

Jackie: Holidays.

Gloria: And holidays. We celebrate everything. That’s part of our cultural way, you know, celebrate birthdays and holidays and stay together sharing cook outs.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: We enjoy it.

Jackie: That must be, um, when you have your family celebrations, that’s a lot of people, right?

Gloria: Oh yes, now it’s a lot of people. We don’t need to invite anymore from the outside.

Jackie: That’s it!

Gloria: That’s it, that’s it. Our family complete. It’s a city. A small city.

Jackie: So how long were you married to your husband?

Gloria: Fifteen years.

Jackie: Fifteen years. Okay. And does he still live in the area?

Gloria: No, he moved back home.

Jackie: Oh, he moved back to El Salvador? Do your kids still keep in touch with him?

Gloria: Oh yes. We have good communication with his family. We are friends, we are friends.

Jackie: A lot of people can’t say that, right?

Gloria: No, no, a lot of people can’t say that. But we are friends.



Jackie: Well, good. And then, um, do you, okay, so now I’m on this section about your life now, you’ve stayed in this area now for three decades, right? I mean have you lived in any other state? You’ve lived in Maryland?

Gloria: No, no, always in this area, yes.

Jackie: Okay. And what made you, when did you move to this house?

Gloria: Twenty years ago, 1988.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: Wow.

Gloria: I moved from Silver Spring to here.

Jackie: So you lived in Silver Spring, too?

Gloria: Yes, I was living there close to my church. Because it was very expensive over there. We could not afford to buy a house over there. We were looking for a house with my husband in the area because I really don’t want to move far away from church because I was active in church since my daughter was three years old.

Jackie: Oh, wow. The same church in Silver Spring? So you would go from, you would commute from downtown DC to this church in Silver Spring?

Gloria: Yes, mm-hmm. So that’s why, you know. The housing was very very expensive, because the church is located in Silver Spring, two traffic lights from the metro station.

Jackie: Okay. So what street was it?

Gloria: East-West Highway.

Jackie: I live on East-West Highway!

Gloria: Oh really?

Gloria: So…

Jackie: I’m still living close to East-West Highway, because if you go outside, you know….

Gloria: You do, don’t you?

Jackie: Yes. You have to go through Takoma, but.

Gloria: Yes, I’m still familiar with East-West Highway.

Jackie: So what church is it?

Gloria: Christ the King Church.

Jackie: Oh, okay. I haven’t noticed it.

Gloria: From the Silver Spring metro station two traffic lights, like towards Bethesda.

Jackie: Well, that’s where I live.

Gloria: Oh really? Near the Colston community?

Jackie: Yeah, because I live on East West Highway and 16th Street.

Gloria: Oh, you live in um, the apartments over there?

Jackie: Yeah, Falkland Chase, the brick apartments.

Gloria: Oh!

Jackie: Yes, so it’s right around there.

Gloria: Close, so you go straight.

Jackie: Just a little down the hill, I guess.

Gloria: Exactly, down the hill.

Jackie: Just pass the Summit Hill.

Gloria: Pass Summit Hill. That’s Colston Street. Colston Street? Where the Red Cross is?

Jackie: Yes, okay, yeah.

Gloria: It’s over there, because the big sign is over there.

Jackie: So are you still active with that church?

Gloria: So you’ve been a member now for over 30 years?

Jackie: Yes, exactly.

Gloria: Wow.

Jackie: And so…

Gloria: No, now before where I lived before I was going to another church. When I moved to Silver Spring I started going.

Jackie: Okay, okay.

Gloria: Like 22 years ago.

Jackie: That’s still a long time.

Gloria: Yeah, still a long time.

Jackie: A lifetime member. Um, so do you still know the same people, you know your friends when you moved here?

Gloria: Oh, yes. I still keeping my friends.

Jackie: Wow, so you’ve known them a long time.

Gloria: Yes, since I came here, since I was in my country.

Jackie: Wow, so you’ve gotten to see their families grow up also?

Gloria: We see each other in special occasions, we inviting each other when we have you know, like big things, you know.

Jackie: Wow. Are any of your friends like the madrina or padrino…did I say that right? The godfather or the godmother?

Gloria: Padrino? You say padrino? You try to say padrino or madrina?

Jackie: Yeah, sorry.

Gloria: Oh, that’s alright. I got you.

Jackie: Okay, good. So they’re the … of your children?

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: So very important.

Gloria: Yes, very important. Because it’s part of our, to find people we know very well to be part of the religious part, because you like of your children the godparent or godmother of your children because they giving good advice as in values, you know, talking to own childrens.

Jackie: In fact, did you or did your daughters have a quinceañera?

Gloria: Quinceañera? Yes.

Jackie: Did you have one?

Gloria: Yes, Grace have a quinceañera here in the church.

Jackie: And did Roxanna have one, too?

Gloria: Roxanna have one, yes.

Jackie: How about you, did you have one?

Gloria: I never had it before.

Jackie: No? Why not?

Gloria: Because it was very expensive to have it in my country. Roxanna had it in El Salvador. I sent her and my son to celebrate with my family over there.

Jackie: Were you able to go?

Gloria: I was working and didn’t have the time to go, pero I sent my son and her to celebrate with my parents over there.

Jackie: That must’ve been exciting.

Gloria: Very exciting, very exciting. I was enjoying my Grace, my younger daughter here, I enjoying it a lot.

Jackie: I understand they’re very expensive celebration, almost like a wedding.

Gloria: Yes, it depends on what you want to spend. But it’s very expensive.

Jackie: Right. So how many people did you invite, since you know so many people?

Gloria: To Grace’s? To Grace’s, it was 150.

Jackie: Oh my gosh, seriously.

Gloria: Yes, seriously. Even choosing families, choosing families very well we already have a large community at church, you know, friendly, plus our family. You can imagine. It’s a big…

Jackie: I really can’t imagine. I can think it in my head, but wow.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: What, did you sew her dress since you know how to sew?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: You did? You made her dress?

Gloria: No, I didn’t made it. No, I have everything upstairs. Do you want me to show you?

Jackie: Yes.

Gloria: Well after the talking I will show you.

Jackie: I’d love…so where did she have the dress made then?

Gloria: She choosing from a catalog.

Jackie: From a catalog? Okay. I noticed some places in Langley Park that…

Now, I don’t like it from there like that. I have, you know two houses from there, a neighbor?

Jackie: Uh-huh.

Gloria: It’s a blue house, you can see from the window. She sew in a very very professional way. We choosing from the catalog and she made the, um, the, um arrangements to fit very well to Grace, you know, she’s 20 inch I think, I forgot. She’s tall. And when you order something it not fit you properly…

Jackie: Oh I do know. And you saw you have to get it altered?

Gloria: Exactly, you have to do altered something in different ways.

Jackie: Which is expensive, too.

Gloria: This neighbor, she did it for us. Specifically doing things like this.

Jackie: A seamstress for…

Gloria: For weddings, for parties, things like that.

Jackie: I might have to get her info

Gloria: Yes, yes, she do it very very well. She was always hired for stores you know to alter things, you know, like that, for weddings and professional things like that, you know.

Jackie: I will definitely get her info, I need help. That’s how I knew, because I saw that Carmen’s Bridal…

Gloria: We went over there to get things to, we picking…oh, we got things from Carmen’s Bridal for my daughter’s wedding. We went over there.

Jackie: They have a large selection. I saw a lot of quinceañera dresses.

Gloria: Yes. And also across the street, the new one across from the [unknown]. That’s new, I don’t know the people.

Jackie: It’s neat to have a lot of places.

Gloria: Yes, different places.

Jackie: Okay, so tell me, what made you decide to get your degree from Trinity?

Gloria: Oh so we’re in this area now?

Jackie: Yes, if that’s okay.

Gloria: Yes, it’s okay. So what question did you say, excuse me?

Jackie: So about your degree, what made you decide to go to school, to college?

Gloria: When I decided to go?

Jackie: Or what made you decide?

Gloria: What was my major, to go?

Jackie: Yes, what was your catalyst, what said I’m going to go get my degree?

Gloria: Well, first I got a GED diploma. It was 14 years ago, my, uh, 14 or 16 or 17, something like that. Because I got my GED here, I went to school, I went to get my GED diploma, and then I save it for 14 or 16 years. You know, it was in the dresser drawer. Because I always keeping in my mind to do. It was impossible for me to go because I was having children, raising family, you know. So that’s why, when I stopped from Grace, I said that’s my time, you know.

Jackie: For you. Mm-hmm.

Gloria: Yes, that’s my time for me, you know, to do my own thing, my own life, to accomplish my own things I want to do for myself.

Jackie: So this was always a goal?

Gloria: Yes, it was always a goal. The reason I got the GED is because I want to do something for my future, for my own. So, um, I keep it and I say maybe one day I’m going to use it. It was like a Scorpio, you know, I have decision and I have the wishes to do.

Jackie: Right, uh, so you’re going to do it.

Gloria: Yes, and I did it! I started taking courses at Montgomery College, first of all. No, first of all I went to Trinity and after Trinity after I went, I had a permit to have classes over there since you come to Trinity you have to ask advisor to give sign in form and other school for one or two years and taking courses outside the school. That’s was the course, when I went, so I did it little by little, I was part time student.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: I was part time student taking two classes for years, for four or five years.

Jackie: So what were you doing as your job? Where you working at this time also?

Gloria: Yes, I was working and doing my part time job as student, too.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: So I was managing my time and I finish my school.

Jackie: So what were you doing as your job, your full time job?

Gloria: What I was doing?

Jackie: Yeah, what were you working in…?

Gloria: Oh, oh, I was working in the church.

Jackie: Oh, okay.

Gloria: I was working in church because I was in charge of too many duties in the church. I can’t say specifically what, because I was too many things doing around, so…

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: So I had the time to go to school so by the time I started in 1993, no, 1992, I started going to Trinity for taking theology classes and I have my diploma from two years over there.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: Yeah, that’s what you have to have to work for church.

Jackie: Oh really?

Gloria: For any church, for a Catholic Church.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: So it was theology classes, the course taking two years and then ready to go. After that, I saved the diploma, too, but I still practice, you know. I still practice with the diploma. But I say this is not my goal. My goal is to have college experience. I did to start doing part time student.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: In the last two years I did full time student, in order to finish, I was getting more older and by my abilities to learn it was very well.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And I prove myself, too, my school because I went always that kind of person I want to do this, decided, determinant, to finish what I start, so….

Jackie: And so you decided on human relations the degree because you really wanted to help people?

Gloria: Oh yes. Oh yes. That is one of my goals, you know, human relations is very wide, you know.

Jackie: Definitely.

Gloria: And you can do many things, many, 40 things. You know, my professor tell me 40, you can, you can do 40 jobs, you know, wide jobs, professional jobs when you have that major, human relations major.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: Yes. And they give you the opportunity to work the one thing or another thing. You can choose to do whatever you like. In my case, for example, since I am Spanish, I want to do, or to help more specifically to the Spanish community, you know, translation or advising. Um, helping teenagers in the school, giving talks to school, you know, things like that.

Jackie: Oh, wow, you do a lot of work.

Gloria: Which is very helpful you know, because nowadays, teenagers start school and run away and don’t finish school, you know and things like that.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: To advising to stop the domestic violence in home, you know. To give talk like that. It’s very wide.

Jackie: Do you think there’s more domestic violence here than when you were growing up in El Salvador?

Gloria: Mmm, what happened is that we have, we bring this domestic violence from our parents, like for example, this coming, this part of our culture, that is not good. We came from that. Yes, we came from that. We live in a different country, which is different the way we living, and we have to respect that, we have to behave in different way. Which is healthier, though, because domestic violence of course is not healthy way to live, you know. But we are confusing, until you went to school and went to management classes or behavior classes or whatever classes, you know, helping to you understand that’s not such a way that you have to live, because you can understand better. Because it’s a psychological problem, you know, the way, you know, with that. It’s not our fault, it’s our parents, our ancestors.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Because we were raising in such a way like that. And then when we are older, we are adults, it’s difficult to change from one status to another. It’s very difficult, so we have to start from the beginning, you know. We have to take education and classes to behave and teaching our own childrens how to behave. Because how we teaching how we behave, but probably not doing 100% well because we never depending, we never teaching how to do best.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: That is why we teaching. And the best way we think we do. Of course, we raise our children the best way. But sometimes we are wrong, and we have to understand that we are wrong in some parts of our lives. For example, I think that I am doing well with my children, but I’m not sure. I’m not professional mother to say, because we never, in any society going to exist, how going to be good mother. You know?

Jackie: Right. I know. It’s not possible to be perfect.

Gloria: Exactly. It’s not possible to perfect in the same way.

Jackie: And there’s different standards and…

Gloria: We think we are humans and we are difference. You know, but for the rest of the, for the rest of the for to be parents, we do very well.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: We do very very well. Yes.

Jackie: That’s really interesting. In anthropology…

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: That approach is called the culture broker…

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: And it’s because you know the US culture now…

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: You’ve been immersed in it. You know your, you know the Salvadorian culture, the Latino culture.

Gloria: Right.

Jackie: You’re able to talk between the two.

Gloria: Like for example, the sometimes, I not say always because it’s not happening every day, but sometimes the people drinking outside the house or in the park, which is not permitted in the United States, you know, to take outside, beers, you know, or wine or alcoholic beverage. But in my country, that’s not a problem. We can do it freely, you know.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And nothing happen. Pero, that’s only one part we have to say okay, we have to respect the rules of the United States. The rules say don’t drink alcohol outside your house because it’s not permit. Okay?

Jackie: Mm-hmm.

Gloria: But people do it, because we bring it with that.

Jackie: Okay.

Gloria: But at the moment we have to say this is not my country, we have to respect this country. I know living in the United States we not permit to do this, but I have to respect. So that happen you know, it’s happened but it’s not, uh, we have to stop you know, we have to do it.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: Sure.

Jackie: Um, do you feel, would you say after living here now for 3 decades, are you comfortable here?

Gloria: Yes, I am.

Jackie: Uh-huh. Do you ever have any regrets or are you very glad of the decision you made to move here?

Gloria: No. Well sometimes, of course, you know, I miss my country, but in the way I do it you know visiting two or three years, you know, in order to remain, to remind the place you keep in your mind specifically, the way you were born, where you were raising, your friends, your house, things like that, all the pictures in my mind, you know?

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: It’s good.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: It’s good to remember all these things, specifically the place where you were.

Jackie: I can’t even imagine making this transition.

Gloria: Oh yeah.

Jackie: Even at 23 or however age, it seems like such a big decision. But as you said, you’re a Scorpio, so if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it.

Gloria: Yes, determinate to do it.

Jackie: Yeah, so it’s just…you said that your whole family lives here now. So do you send any money back to El Salvador to anyone?

Gloria: Right now?

Jackie: Mm-hmm.

Gloria: No, no.

Jackie: Because your….

Gloria: No, my family lives here.

Jackie: And one question to ask you, how do you feel that migration in general affects society in the United States?

Gloria: Yes, affects society. Especially the poor countries.

Jackie: Mm-hmmm.

Gloria: Poor countries, they want to only they way they coming here is to work in order to survive. They sending money to their relatives, yes.

Jackie: And so were you, the immigration protests that were going on last year….

Gloria: Yes, yes.

Jackie: Did you feel strongly about that?

Gloria: I never had the time to be part, but in my mind, in my heart, I belong to that march. I’ve never been personally. But I agree when the protests, in order to have a new reform to the immigration laws and be more considerate and more willing to accomplish…

Jackie: To accommodate?

Gloria: To accommodate, like, our dreams, you know? The only way we want to be here is because we want to survive. Because the place we were born, where we come, it’s not, you know, willing to give like enough food for our childrens, you know.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: Do you see a big difference when you go to El Salvador?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: I mean, would you be able to live the way that you live now?

Gloria: Well, you know, things are work, thanks to our efforts, you know. My country is much better than when I immigrate in the 1970s because right now we are living we are sending three thousand million dollars every year.

Jackie: I know, in remittances.

Gloria: Right. You, do you hear that?

Jackie: Mm-hmm. That’s why I asked about if you send any money back anymore.

Gloria: No, no myself, pero other families.

Jackie: Right, right. Yeah, it’s like the third highest…

Gloria: Now El Salvador, we are even dollarizing. The dollar now.

Jackie: What do you think about that? You don’t even have to change money.

Gloria: No, no everybody agree. No 100% of the population agree to have dollar over there, specifically the grandmothers and grandparents, they don’t want to change the money, the value. No, no, no, it’s a completely big change. But they go and say it’s because it’s in favor for our economy to have the dollar value over there and it’s not the same.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: No, it’s not the same. Because everything there is expensive. More expensive that before.  So that’s that. It’s not for the poors, not for the poor people. It’s not in favor.

Jackie: Hmmm.

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: I can only imagine that there’s only one benefit…

Gloria: Exactly, yes, yes.

Jackie: That when you go visit you don’t have to change your money, but that’s only one, right?

Gloria: Yes, exactly, only one. The population only benefit.

Jackie: Well, I mean, thank you for talking with us.

Gloria: Oh, you’re welcome.

Jackie: I don’t want to, if there is anything you can think of that you want to talk about, your experiences.

Gloria: Oh, just only the college experience. Which is great to have education. It’s great. I feel very very happy to have my education.

Jackie: Right, right.

Gloria: And how very poorly this experience, which is what I wanted to have before, but before I wanted to raise my childrens and went to college, which is different than the American way, you know?

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: They have education first and then family.

Jackie: Right.

Gloria: And we think in different way. We think in the family first and then education.  This not, this is not good of course, we taking more delays. But I am so proud of myself and working hard in the United States and come here and doing good things for myself and I’m planning to have my master’s starting next year, I don’t know when, that’s coming to my mind, you know, another degree.

Jackie: You’re going to get a master’s?

Gloria: Yes, a master’s.

Jackie: Oh, good for you!

Gloria: But I don’t know when, by the time I’m getting old.

Jackie: You are hardly old. Seriously, 55 is not old these days, you know?

Gloria: I feel like that sometimes. But I see my books in my room, plenty of books, my God, other books, then when I have to find something, some information that I needed, that reminds me I have to go back to school.

Jackie: So what would you do? If you got your master’s, what would you get it in?

Gloria: Social work.

Jackie: Really?

Gloria: Social work, because it’s very related in human relations.

Jackie: Totally, because what you do right now is in essence social work.

Gloria: Exactly, and specifically many of the classes that I took is related to social work. Because I took adolescence, adolescence, you know…?

Jackie: Adolescent?

Gloria: Adolescent, I’m sorry.

Jackie: No, no, no, I know what you mean.

Gloria: I forgot, I forgot the pronunciation sometimes. And I took criminology. And I took many sociology classes, you know, [unknown] and [unknown]….

Jackie: She’s [Missy, the cameraperson] a sociology person.

Gloria: Oh, that’s why I like it. And inequality in society. That is another very important class. And I took, um….

Jackie: You said you had taken a Latino…

Gloria: Juvenile delinquency, you know. Too many things that are very related, that are very close major to the social work, you know, which you know, making you more strong and willing to help others.

Jackie: Wow. Do you have anything else you want to talk about?

Gloria: About adolescents?

Jackie: About anything. We went over all the questions.

Gloria: That’s okay, but I always, when I talk with others, you know, adolescents who don’t want to go to school, I say no, go to school because it’s important, it’s your education in the United States, it’s important. The Latinos have to go to school and show others your talent that you have talent and qualities and you have many things that you are not expressing and if you have your education you can express others. But if you don’t, that’s when people don’t know who you are. If you expressing like going to college, the society going to know who you are, who you want, you know?

Jackie: Right. So is that what made you decide to do this interview?

Gloria: Yes.

Jackie: To get the chance to help others also?

Gloria: Yes, I feel like young adolescents to be in class together in other different cultures, different ethnic groups and to be with different age people and to share with others many things. That’s what made me feel comfortable that I wanted to express who I am and specifically when you have to write papers, you know. Do very exactly, you know, who you are, you know. When you write papers, you express everything, you know, they come from your mind, you express it good things, you know. Buenas cosas. Spanish. Buenas cosas.

Jackie: To be yourself and to know who you are

Gloria: Exactly.

Jackie: And to have the respect for yourself and for others.

Gloria: That’s they way you express who you are for like for not going to [unknown], that’s the man who expressed and who the bad things on Monday at Virginia Tech, you know. But we are expressing our good things on papers, we want to share with others.

Jackie: That’s really interesting.

Gloria: When I was in sociology class, my professor asked me to write about my country. I said, okay, and dutdutdutudutdutdah….

Jackie: I’m sure! You have a lot to say.

Gloria: A lot to say yes, and when you have presentations in your classroom, you have, exactly, you know who you are in your presentation, you know if he asking your specifically from your background, that’s sociology class, the social world. How to manage [unknown] in society with ourselves.

Jackie: Wow, I’ve really learned a lot so thank you.

Gloria: Well, anytime. If you want anything else from me, sure.


<End of interview>




Melissa Stevens

688: Immigrant Museum

INV Dung Phan 01

April 26, 2007, 10:30am

Dung’s Home

Life History Interview


Dung Phan is General Manager of the Pho75 restaurant in Langley Park, MD.  I interviewed him at his home in Falls Church, VA on April 26, 2007.  Jackie Donaldson videotaped the interview as it was held in Dung’s dining room.  The transcript of the interview follows.


Melissa:  So the first part is just some demographic information.  What’s your date of birth?


Dung: It’s July 16, 1963.


Melissa: Okay.  July 16, 1963.  And for your occupation, you are general manager of how many of the Pho restaurants?


Dung: We have eight.


Melissa: Eight.  Okay.  And marital status?


Dung: I’m married.


Melissa: Married. Okay.  And household composition.  You were saying, you were telling me before the camera, who else lives in the house.


Dung: Me, my wife, two kids, one grandma.


Melissa: And is that your mom or your wife’s mom?


Dung: My wife’s mom.  And my sister-in-law.


Melissa: And your sister-in-law also lives here?


Dung: Right.


Melissa: All right.  And your resident status?


Dung: I am a citizen.


Melissa: And what was the date of your arrival to the U.S.  If you don’t know the exact date that’s okay. 


Dung: October 1980.


Melissa: October 1980.  Okay.  And your country of origin is Vietnam.


Dung: Right.


Melissa: All right.  So the first part of the questions... I am just going to ask you some open-ended questions and feel free to elaborate and to add anything else that I may not be asking you specifically.


Dung: Sure.


[Jackie interrupts to suggest a better position to sit in order to capture more than Dung’s profile.  I move chairs and resume the interview.]


Melissa: So like I said, if you can think of anything else that I am not asking you directly, you can elaborate.  And feel free to tell stories.  This is all about your experiences.


Dung: Sure.


Melissa: And like I said, for this museum project, we want to be able to, you know it’s for people who maybe are not aware of what the experiences of immigrants are like in the Langley Park area.  And for the video, your connection to Langley Park is that you are the general manager of a Pho restaurant there.  So, tell me about your childhood until you were about twelve.  Who did you live with when you were in Vietnam?


Dung: I lived with both of my parents when I was in Vietnam.  And from one to four I lived in Dalat. 


Melissa: Okay.


Dung: D-A-L-A-T.


Melissa: Yeah.  I saw that.  In planning my trip I saw that on a map.


Dung: In third grade we moved to the capital city that is Saigon. 


Melissa: Okay.


Dung: And that is all during the war.


Melissa: Okay.  And this is during the war.


Dung: When I was a kid I was very very happy.  Even though the war was going on, the environment of the town and the people, I felt it was pretty much like the United States.  In terms of freedoms, and speaking out, and going to school.  Which is completely different when the communists take over. 


Melissa: So were you aware of the war when you were a kid?


Dung: Very much.  You see people, and a lot of fighting was going on and lots of people died also from the town.  And because I was in the capital I began to see a lot of fighting and we could hear the fighting going on and we could hear the cannons, the sound of cannons.  And you could see the people coming back in the coffins.  So the war is there.  We took it as a part of life. 


Melissa: How old were you when the fighting really became apparent?


Dung: When I was in Dalat, I was too young, but I could see the helicopter coming from the sky.  Shooting down and the bullets coming up.  I remember my father was holding me.  And that was probably 1969 or 70.  When I was about five or six years old.  When I came to capital in Saigon, like I said, the fighting was a little bit far away and removed but still at night you can hear the cannon and the fighting and the news going on about such and such person had been dead.  So it’s like that.  But most of the Vietnamese take the war as a matter of fact.  You fight the communist, and the war, and people die.  But it’s not like we were really scared or anything.  We just took it all in fact. 


Melissa: You weren’t really afraid for your life?


Dung: No.  Because we grew up with it.  We were born with it.  We were making toy with helicopter and tank and we would separate ourselves into groups in school and pretend to fight.


Melissa: Wow.  That’s funny.


Dung: So we take it naturally.  It’s life and we don’t think about it that much.  The only thing we think about is that we get to go to school and our parents reminded us, you know, you study really well and you can be excellent student, and you can go abroad and study and be a leader of your country.  Otherwise you got to go to the army and fight.  So the fighting was there to remind us as we were in school also, if you don’t do well, you become a soldier out there.  You do well, that’s a chance for you academically.  And the study in Vietnam is pretty competitive.  Because the school’s really limited.  So they fail you whenever they can.


Melissa: So it was only for the brightest.


Dung: Pretty much.  So they test you in 5th grade.  You fail out, you stay in school and you just wait to go in the army.  They check you out again in 9th grade.  Another big test.  And in 12th grade.  That’s when you go to university or the army.  So it’s like that.  And every year you got to pass, and if you fail, that’s it.  They rate you as you don’t have enough capability for school. 


Melissa: And this happened as early as 5th grade?  You could be failed out?


Dung: Yes.  And from 5th until 12th, it could be any year.  If you got kicked out for any reason, that would be it. 


Melissa: Did you have a lot of friends?  What were your friendships like?  Like what did you do for fun?


Dung: It’s pretty much normal like over here.  We go to the movies, we go to the farm sometimes.  You know, catching birds and squirrels, and raise as pet.  You know, just like a kid anywhere.  I had a lot of friends.  In and out of school.  Because I think most of the time when I was young, I came from a very happy family.  So one of my good characteristics, I would say, is to make friends very quick.  Because you are moving from one school to another.  Switching the environment, it takes some time to make friends.  And I want to merge in, all the time.  So just telling jokes to anybody.  Just got good disposition, I guess.  I was very well liked and I had a lot of friends.


Melissa: That’s good.  Did your family move from Dalat because of the fighting in that area?  In order to be safe?  Or because of another reason?


Dung: I think it’s because of another reason.  I think my mom was the force behind, because she was thinking that the school in Dalat was not as competitive as the school in Saigon.  Because it is the capital city.  And they offer more opportunity and the school is a lot more competitive, if I were to become anything more than a soldier.  And that’s what she wish.  And I had to go to a good school so she pushes my father to go to Saigon.  And my father wanted to stay in Dalat because he got a good working environment.  At the time he was the head of the team of Malaria.  You know, get rid of the mosquitoes.  And he loved traveling.  And he could do that.  He could go to the mountains, and he could go from one place to another.  And he doesn’t have to do much, except whenever the team is going to a village to kill the mosquitoes, he would have to go first  to see geographically where it is, and what kind of equipment they would need, and how much medicine transport from the company to the place, and how many it would take to cover that region.  So he loved it.  And he didn’t want to go!  But my mom was like, you got to go, you got to give up the job, you got to think of the kids, you got to do it for the future. 


Melissa: What in particular did your dad do?  He worked with medicine? 


Dung: Well originally when the French was over there, he was fighting.  He was fighting in the army for several years.  And then for whatever reason he got out of the army.  Probably because they needed the people to go in and do the civil service.  He was fighting probably for two or three years.  That was probably when I was one or two years old.  But after that, when I grew up, he was already transferred to the mosquito team.  I have not asked him why he retired from the army.  But it was probably that the government was giving him the job.  He had a high school degree, which is very competitive at the time, and he knows how to read maps and he has the skills that they needed.  He was needed more there and that’s why they transferred him there.  That is my guess, but I have not asked him.  But he definitely loved the job.  And he still regret my mom for it, even now, because she is the one that pushes!


Melissa: Aw, he still holds it against her!  And what did your mom do?


Dung: My mom was a regular housewife, but she became head of the family when the communists took over because my father no longer has a job.  So she had to go out and stay in the black market.  Because my father no longer has a job.  I think my father after 1975, when the communists took over, because he was a clerk in the Prime Minister’s office, and I suppose it wasn’t anything important, but as long as you stay in the Prime Minister’s office, they suspect that you have some kind of political background.  He didn’t get offered any jobs.  So he stayed out of job until the United States.  So for 20 years he didn’t do anything.


Melissa: So at the time that the communists took over, your dad was working as a clerk.  So, how did that effect you family?  With you mom having to take over and find money in the black market.  How did your life change?


Dung: Like I said, my childhood was a very happy one until the communists took over and then I think not only me, but the whole population in the south really feel an impact.  The communists took over and then it was, now that we took over the country, we are just going to have it our way.  So they change, not only the government, but also the lives of the people.  All the families are collectivized for example.  And we don’t have market anymore to go to.  Everything is nationalized.  And the food is rationed.  And life just changed.  And from the perspective of a student who is going to school like me, even the subjects in school changed.  They teach more political, not exactly political science, more like propaganda.  You know, when we took over we did the right thing.  And that’s understandable in the beginning.  But they just keep ragging on it.  It seems like they really want to take the punishment out on the people of the south.  And they don’t want us to volunteer to say anything in the class.  They just like us to sit there, and you listen and you do what you’re told and you raise your hand.  And the focus is more and more on the political rather than the academic.  I knew the academic system of Vietnam from before, and we can compare the academic subjects, and they don’t put the stress on it anymore.  It went downhill.


Melissa: So education went downhill?


Dung: A lot.  I would say that I didn’t have to study that much in school.  Compared to the students in the north for example, my level was like I could be their teacher, sitting in the same class.  Because they didn’t know anything about geography, or history, and their mathematics was terrible.  It’s like, how can the kids sit in the same class as you and have that kind of thing.  It’s only because their father is already in the war and some kind of revolutionary.  So the while country was really shaked up.  A lot of parents of my friends were put into prison also, in concentration camp.  In the beginning they say, okay you go for 30 days and then you come back.  They didn’t say in terms of prison.  They say re-education camp.  They say bring rice for 30 days, but some of them went for 15 or 16 years.  And they say how come you say it’s only 30.  And they say well I told you to bring rice for 30 days, I did not say your term was going to be 30 days.  And we didn’t have that kind of treatment, like the government cheating the people, before the war.  So we start to have suspicion of what they say.  They say one thing and mean another.  They try to cheat you on everything and push you improperly.  One of the things they did when they first take over, is they changed the money. 


Melissa: They changed the money?


Dung: Yeah.  A lot of Chinese committed suicide when they did that.  Because you have a lot of money and then what are you going to do with it?


Melissa: Oh.  It was because all of the money that they had was useless. 


Dung: Yes.  Because each person could have, say, $300.  If you have more, what are you going to do?  So they gave it to their friends and they gave it to... and it is completely chaos.  They gave to their friends and they gave to their family and they ask these people can you do this for us.  And then six months after, they did it again. 


Melissa: They kept changing...


Dung: They kept changing it.  They took everything out of everybody.  How else can you keep it?  All these I thought about when I was in concentration camp in Malaysia, myself. 


Melissa: You were in a camp in Malaysia?


Dung: Yes, two years before I came to the United States.   So that is why I thought back.  Because in the beginning I didn’t know anything.  I was just a kid, you know.  You just witness it, and you don’t know what it is or what it’s supposed to be, and why it’s that way.  And when I went to the camp, I had a long time to think about what happened in my country.  And I start to see why it is.  And you hear people talk about it, and you meditate on it yourself.  And I came to the conclusion why they did what they did.  It was just punishment of the south. 


Melissa: They were punishing...


Dung: And for me, when the communists took over, academically, I didn’t learn anything.  And they didn’t want me to learn either.  It didn’t matter if I excelled, I don’t think I could go to university, because my father worked for the government of the south.  It was the same for all of us.


Melissa: Would you have been able to find a job if you had stayed in Vietnam?


Dung: No, because you were pretty much on your own, because whatever job you applied for would be state-owned.  And they could look on your background and they could deny you right out. 


Melissa: They would see that your dad worked for the Prime Minister’s office.


Dung: So that is one of the reasons why my mom decided to push us out.  You can’t live in Vietnam.  So it’s either you die or you go outside.  All of us.  So she pushed us out.  And that’s the reason.  And she was a bright woman.  Both times she decided.  Moving from Dalat to Saigon and then once again from Saigon to out of the country.  She is not aiming for the United States or anything, because she knows, because her family from before stayed in the north.


Melissa: Her family stayed in the north?


Dung: Yes.  And her father, who was my grandpa, used to be a landlord over there in the north.  And then they get persecuted, and that’s why she moved to the south and married my father.  And she knew exactly.  She doesn’t convey feeling very well, but as I grew up now, I knew why she decided what she did.  She had already seen what I had seen.  So that’s why she pushes my father.  Smart lady.  That’s why we are all here now.  Because she sends my brother and I out first, and then my younger brother.  And finally we sponsored our family and they came over in 1996. 


Melissa: Okay.  And as far as your living conditions before and after 1975 when the communists took over, what was your home like before, in Saigon, before the communists took over?  Did you end up moving? 


Dung: We still stay in the same home, but everything changed.  When I was a student, I didn’t have to worry that much, except my studies.  And everything else was taken care of.  Like mom worries about cooking and everything at home.  And if we don’t have enough, we just hire a servant, somebody who can help with the laundry, so that we can focus on the study.  But once the communists took over, that didn’t happen.  First, nobody had any money, and second, they decided that everybody is equal.  Whether you are a farmer, or a soldier, or a merchant, or a teacher, everybody is the same.  It is almost like a community where everybody is equal.  And I was like, that is a very nice idea. 


Melissa: Yeah, it sounds good.


Dung: Yes, but in reality it’s not.  So they stressed more hard labor.  If you were a student, you still have to go to the farm in the weekend, to learn what farm work is supposed to be like.  To make you feel more down to earth and understand the value of labor is what they say.  And they had a camp where you had to go to the forest and you had to clear it out.  So it was manual labor pretty much.  And they do it more and more, and finally you go into the army.  That is where they pushed us.  So they didn’t care much about education at all. 


Melissa: So the goal of the north was not university, like it had been in the south, but it was the army.


Dung: Right.  It’s like you don’t understand really how we live and we want you to feel exactly how we did and we will teach you how to live.  How you’re supposed to live.  And we teach you what to think.  And we teach you what to behave.  And you’re a loser and you have no say.  And they don’t say that.  But every value you have, dumping it down the ditch.  You must renew yourself again.  That’s the theme.  You have to relearn what value we have.  That’s how it was for me.  That’s how I decided, because when I got out of the country, the night before, my mom was asking, you know, it could mean death, but I don’t want to push it on you.  If you want to go, then take your brother to go.  I made the arrangement, but that doesn’t mean that I impose it on you.    My mom was asking me whether I wanted to go. 


Melissa: She gave you the choice?


Dung: She did.  She said, in front of my husband and I, I ask you, what if you die?  Would you regret and say you never had a choice?  Do you want to stay home?  You don’t know what your future’s going to be like.  Maybe you go to war.  There is a possibility that you would be dead also.  So she gives us both the choice and we are happy and we said we don’t care.  My brother and I, we didn’t think twice about it.


Melissa: Easy choice, huh?


Dung: Very easy choice!  We actually saw people dying, but actually to me, living like that is worse than dying.  Even now.  When I was in the ocean for about four days without any food, I thought I may be dying.  And the last thought was, well I didn’t do anything that is really guilty.  So I must go to heaven.  That is what I told myself, at the time.  I was fourteen.  I think, I made the right choice.  If God doesn’t want me to live, so be it.  I mean, I can’t live like that.  I can’t be an animal, let other people Tell me what to think and what to eat.  And I think a lot of people, that is why a million Vietnamese just got the hell out of the country.  Because they couldn’t live like that.


Melissa: What grade were you in when the communists took over?


Dung: When the communists took over I was in the 7th grade.


Melissa: The 7th grade?


Dung: Yes.  And I notice the change in the curriculum of the schools.  It was unbelievable.  Like they took out everything.  We used to have English and French.  They cut down on everything to push in the political course.  To make us all aware of the struggle.  Even before 1975, the war was going on but the government never pushed it on us like that.  And even if we had to go to the army, we say, well we didn’t do as well compared to or friends.  It’s a kind of fairness that you expect.  You didn’t do as well in school, so you go into the army, but there is no regret.  I could be the leader and you take the order from me, and everyone understands that.  In school we just focused on science or on humanity.  Just like it is over here.  We didn’t have any of the struggle between the south and the north, and the south was right.  I never heard anything before 1975.  But after 1975, that became the focus point.  Everything is politicized.  It doesn’t matter what skills, not just me but my younger and my older brother’s generations, they feel the same impact.  Even if you are the advisor of a company and you are technical, they just remove you and put another one.  They just want to replace everything.  They just turned the society upside down like that.  It’s almost like a revenge I would say.  I felt it.  Even now.  And that was one of the reason’s Thien was, you know...


Melissa: Uncomfortable.


Dung: But he doesn’t know.  Thien, he comes from the countryside.  And I think the punishment there is a lot more cruel than at the capital city where I was.  Because he didn’t go to school like I did.  He stayed in the United States for a very long time, but he doesn’t have that cultural background, to know that there is nothing they can do to you. 


Melissa: Yeah, he still has fear.


Dung: Right.  So that is one of the reasons.  I didn’t know that in the beginning, but the more I thought about it, it’s there.  It’s deep down, he’s repressed it, but it’s there.  There’s no doubt about that.  There’s no other reason. 


Melissa: It left a strong impression.


Dung: Yeah.  And he’s still coming back and forth to Vietnam, and he’s thinking what if they see my face on the video, even if I didn’t say anything?  What about my relatives over there?  I still have a lot of relatives.  And that is one of the reasons, I feel.  Even if there is nothing political.  But I agree with him.  He said, if the interview is going to have any value, there’s no way to avoid that.  If I cut out that part, it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  When I got to the States I realized what kind of opportunity I had, I appreciated what I had before 1975.  Which I once again found in the United States.  So it’s like reborn.  At a much better level over here.  It’s totally free.  When I got out of Vietnam, I didn’t know I would go to the United States.  Just the bare fact of getting out of Vietnam was enough for me.  Either you stay like that or you get out.  So when I got to Malaysia, I was like in Heaven.  Even though I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but I knew what I left behind.  For years, I still have nightmare.  Like I missed the country so much, and I would come back and they would put me into prison.  And my mom, it’s so vivid, my mom would say, how stupid you are!  You left the country already, how could you come back?  Look what you did.  The same dream just kept happening for me.  I don’t know about my brother.  And then I wake up and I remembered, oh, I was in Malaysia, thank God, this was better.  It went away, I’d say probably five years, and then it’s gone.  And I never had that dream anymore.  But for the first five years between now and then, I remember it well in my mind, how guilty I felt coming back.  My father was saying, I can’t believe you can’t suppress your feelings.  How foolish you are to come back.  You can’t even repress your own feelings.  I know that we all have emotion for our family and for our town and everything, but how stupid to come back.  It just kept haunting me like that. 


Melissa: That’s a bad dream.  Before you left Vietnam, you said that you had an older brother and a younger brother?


Dung: Yes.


Melissa: Did you have any other siblings?


Dung: Yes.  I have two more younger sisters.  And I had a brother who died also, escaping.  It was my brother, and then me, and the next one, and then the one that’s next to him, is the one that died. 


Melissa: He died escaping Vietnam?


Dung: Yes.  On the ocean. 


Melissa: Oh, He died on the boat.


Dung: Right.  The boat capsized and everybody died, not just him. 


Melissa: Wow.  I’m sorry about that.  So, when you left Vietnam, you left on a boat to Malaysia.  Where you planning on going to Malaysia?


Dung: No.  We weren’t planning on anything.  We were just planning to move out. 


Melissa: So you just got on a boat?


Dung: Yes, whoever picked us up out in the ocean.  That is the same thing for any Vietnamese.  We don’t have any specific destination.  We would be getting out of the country and we would be aiming for some country, but that’s not our final destination.  The captain would probably aim for the Philippines or Malaysia, but they know that it is only a transitional country.  A country can’t absorb a million people.  So eventually we would be going to some other country, which we don’t know.  Even if we were to decide we don’t have the means to go to.  The reason that I went to the United States was basically because I had no skills.  Because the United States was a very good country.  I would say we were all very grateful.   Other countries would come in and pick all the intellectuals and those with skills to support themselves.  And all those who were left over with no skills, or handicapped or whatever, the United States would pick up.  So it’s a very noble act.  Everybody knew that if you don’t have any relatives or nobody’s sponsoring you, if you are rejected by all the other delegations that are coming to the island to interview you, for whatever reason, then you will go to the United States.  And that’s what happed to me, because I was a student and I didn’t have nay skills.  And it was the same for my brother.  I was fourteen at the time and my brother was sixteen.  Even if we knew some English, that’s no skills.  That won’t help his with surviving in the United States.  So the plan was, when you went to the concentration camp in Malaysia, all of the delegations from all the other countries, like Australia, Japan, and all the other free countries, France.  They came to interview you.  If they think you can become a member of their society, they would take you.  But otherwise, they would reject you.  They would be asking you, what’s your background, what can you do, and so on.  They interviewed me like four or six times.  And a lot of Vietnamese were engineers and mathematicians, it was the intellectuals that got out first anyway, obviously.  A lot of the people went to Australia and Canada, and the rest just went to the United States, all the students without any skills, all the handicapped.  We have a saying that all the trash go to the United States.  And we are one of the trash!  Really!  That is what the refugees said.  Because they know.  If you are rejected, you are rejected.  In order to be rejected, you have to stay over there a long time, for all of the delegations to reject you.  That’s what happened to me.  That’s why I stayed there for two years.  I was about to go to Canada, but for some reason, they feel I will probably be better in the States. 


Melissa: And you stayed with your brother?


Dung: Yes.


Melissa: You both came to the United States together?


Dung: Yes. 


Melissa: Were you the first from your family to leave Vietnam?


Dung: No.  My uncle.


Melissa: Your uncle left first?


Dung: Yes, he was actually in the States for a year before, but because the United States only viewed family relationships direct.  To the Vietnamese, even the Uncle is a very near one.  And he is very willing to sponsor.  But the United States says, you are not a direct member of the family, so you don’t count as nobody. 


Melissa: They had different ideas of what family means.


Dung: Right.  So when we came over, right away we stayed with him.  He’s the one who sponsored us.  Even with his sponsorship, we had to be rejected by everybody else in order to go to the United States.  My uncle was a journalist at the time.  I’m sorry, social worker.  Yeah, he was a journalist during the war and over here he became a social worker.  And we joined him in Connecticut after two years stay in Malaysia. 


Melissa: Okay.  So you came over from Malaysia to Connecticut?


Dung: Yes.


Melissa: And your uncle already had a job?


Dung: Yes. 


Melissa: Did he already have a house?


Dung: He was renting.


Melissa: Was he renting a house or an apartment?


Dung: A townhouse. 


Melissa: Okay.  And when you came over, were you able to start school right away?


Dung: Yes.  He brought us to school.  And as a matter of fact we were in Connecticut and he chose West Hartford because he knew the school there was a good school.  He was like my mom.  He knew we had to go to a good school.  So he was moving from East Hartford to West Hartford for the reason that it would be a better school for my brother and I.  


Melissa: So when you started school again, you left when you were in 7th grade?


Dung: 7th grade?  No the communists took over when I was in 7th grade.


Melissa: Oh, that’s right.  What grade were you in when you left?


Dung: I was in 10th grade.  It was the very first quarter of the 10th grade. 


Melissa: So, you had a little over two years of schooling with the communists’ education.


Dung: Right.


Melissa: When you came over did you start 10th grade again?


Dung: Yes.  But I started the last quarter of the 10th grade.  So, kind of loosing what’s in the middle. 


Melissa: Oh, so you jumped in the last quarter.


Dung: Right.  I was anxious to get out.  They wanted to put me a year or two behind, like eighth.  And I said no, no.  I want to stay in the 10th grade.  So when the communists took over, even though academically they did not focus, but I needed to learn, so I paid a lot of attention to mathematics.  Because that’s probably the only thing you can focus your mind on.  They changed the literature, they changed the history, it became like a political course.  So basically, most of the good students knew how to go on by focusing on these things.


Melissa: On math.


Dung: We would do it automatically, because we knew these skills were universal.  If you were to do anything, that these would be the skills.  So we talked about how to survive and how to go on in the future and what we’d be doing.  But we knew, that if we would be doing something, we would have to have those kinds of skills. 


Melissa: So how did it feel when you first came over?  How comfortable did you feel in the U.S.?


Dung: Uncomfortable because I didn’t speak English that well.  I was definitely handicapped in that respect.  But the feeling was really happiness.  You know, in the school, we were grateful to everyone.  We knew that we needed help with the language.  And we tried to master it.  I was trying to help my younger brother.  If you want to go on with life, think about it, if you cannot communicate, it’s like being blind and deaf.  So we tried to get rid of it as soon as we can.  Plus, I love English.  When I was in the concentration camp, I knew that I would be coming to whatever country, more likely because my uncle was here, the United States.  So I thought, well even if I go to another country, my uncle would sponsor me to go anyway, so I paid a lot of attention to English, when I was in the concentration camp.  Because you don’t know anything. 


Melissa: Actually, going back to the concentration camp, what was life like there? Were you living with your brother?


Dung: Yeah.  It’s happy I would say, compared to the communists, because the Vietnamese refugees over there set up a political system.  Not exactly a political system, I would say, but a restrictive system.  They would set up zones, and they set up schools, and try to set up, it’s almost like normal life.  And our food would be coming from the United Nations, so we didn’t have to worry about food.  But we would do the cooking ourselves.  We were on the island, but the island had some wood, so we would go to chop it and we would cook on it.  And we would not have to worry about anything other than that.  And waiting for the delegations to go and interview you.  Your freedom is totally yours.  You would worry about three meals a day and other than that, whatever you do with your free time is yours.  It is amazing.  That’s a lot of time!  And the beach is right there.  So if you want to go and enjoy and go swim, you can do that.  And the library is there.  So if you want to go and read books, it’s like the Vietnam before the communists again.  We don’t have the kind of facilities that we did before, but certainly the freedom, and everyone was open.  Plus we just got over a near death experience.  It’s almost like a community where everybody is helping out.  Actually it was a small communist ideology when we stayed in the concentration camp, because everybody was equal.  When you cross the ocean, what else could you have?  They set up the school and I learned a lot from school.  They had a school, elementary English for those who never learned.  I had already mastered the English grammar in high school in Vietnam, and the rest is just the bulk of vocabulary.  They have a book, I still remember, it had like 2,000 words in there.  We didn’t have a book other than this.  So I would just sit there and memorize, just like study the dictionary.  For each of the words, they would have a sentence that would illustrate the meaning of the word.  I found I would be reading it, and before long I would remember the book.  It really helped, because when I came to the United States, I could immediately, I became the leader right away.  Because nobody else would communicate.  I could talk to the Malaysians when I was in Malaysia a little bit.  But everybody was, wow, he can really talk!  Because nobody could talk.  I was like the king of the blind!  You know, with one eye.  It was like that for me.  And the students were putting a lot of expectations on me, which I didn’t know.  Which I tried to fulfill also.   I said, you know, if you know more, it’s your responsibility to help them out. I took it very naturally from high school to even in college.  OK, you know more than anyone else, so [unintelligible]…I never thought of it, but that’s a way to push yourself, also.  It inadvertently put me where I should be going.  I took that gratefully.  Because, what else can you possibly give one hundred percent, you know? I didn’t have anything, but, OK: “I know you, I have an application, I want to apply for a job” – they didn’t even go to high school like in America.  They didn’t even know how to fill out a job form.  I would give a call to their restaurant and say, “Where do you work?” I could set it up.  And then if they were sick or whatever, couldn’t come to work, they didn’t even know to call.  I would call and say, “He’s staying home.” A lot of them would get fired because, say, they’d have a wedding for their sister, and they’d just automatically go. They can’t tell, “I have a wedding,” they don’t know how to tell ahead, all these things.  When I was in Connecticut, I was helping out.


Melissa: Was there a large Vietnamese population in Connecticut when you came over?


Dung: When I came over, I would say maybe about a thousand people.  Yeah.  But a lot of them were even around Hartford, and they were naturally looking up to people like me, because number one, I am going to school a lot, and number two, they needed on the application.  They can’t talk to anybody.  They don’t know! They’d bring me to their manager all the time, explaining, you know, why…they didn’t even know when they’d get fired.  They said, “Brother, they just don’t let me go to work.” I said, “What do you mean, they don’t let you go to work?” You know? So they drove me there.  They have the car; they know how to drive, and I don’t.   So they drove me over there, and they’d say, “I just go to work, and they’d just say, ‘Go home.’ Why did that happen?” So I had to explain to them, and then they’d understand.  A lot of these, like I said, they had sisters coming over or whatever, they don’t know how to communicate, period.  So they’d just quit.  Then they’d go again, and the restaurant would say they’d already hired another person. 


Melissa: Let me get some of these dates.  I know that you were fourteen when you left Vietnam.  What was the year?


Dung: ‘78.


Melissa: ’78.  And then you came to the U.S. in…


Dung: ’80.


Melissa: ’80.  That’s right.  When did the rest of your family come? And did they all join you in Connecticut?


Dung: My younger brother escaped later, and he joined me a year after.  He went to Germany first.  Then we sponsored him, so he came over here.  So, that’s a year later.  And then the rest of my family came in 1996, because we all sponsored them. 


Melissa: So they all came over together, your parents and your sisters?


Dung: Yes.  My grandmother, my parents, and my two younger sisters all came in 1996.  Actually, they came to Idaho first.  That’s where my brother was located.  And then, over here, because I was working over here.  And once again, it’s my mom who wanted to live in the capital.  Yeah.  That’s all right, because my younger sisters, one went to George Mason, and the other one went to University of Virginia.  So she was right again! Oh, no! [laughs] She said, “No, I don’t want to live in Idaho, period.” She gave my elder brother a very hard time.  You know, he had bought the house already, and he sponsored them, and he was all ready for the family, but my mom said, “Nope! Can’t stay in Idaho.  The Idaho school, it’s just like the one in the country in Vietnam.  We want to live in the capital.” My brother was trying desperately: “Mom, you know, everything in the United States is the same.  Idaho, you go to the university there, you go out to be an engineer or you be whatever.  They have the same graduation.” “No.  That doesn’t explain it.  I want to go to Virginia.”


Melissa: A very strong woman.


Dung: Very.  Very determined.  She said that just one week after going to Idaho.  She found out everything about Idaho, and…”We want to go to Virginia.” So my brother suffered a lot. 


Melissa: So he had to leave his job?


Dung: No, he stayed, because I stayed over here.  But he wanted to stay with…it’s traditional that the parent always stays with the eldest.  For whatever reason.  It’s already three thousand years, I don’t want to go over the reasons behind it.  But he felt hurt, because Mom just got over here, and she said, “No, I don’t want to stay with you,” you know? “Thanks for your house and everything, but I want to leave.” How do you take that? He had been working very hard, forever.  He bought a house, a refrigerator, there was a sisters’ room and everything.  And my brother was really cool.  And my mom said, after a week, “Here is not the place I stay. We’re not only here for materialistic things.  Don’t think that we want a house or a refrigerator. I want an education for your sisters.  We move to Virginia.”  So my brother would be calling me: “Will you talk to Mom and try to explain to her?” I said, “ Well, I can’t.” How could I? She put pressure on me, too, because I was single, and I was OK.  All of a sudden, we need a house.  We have, what, five or six people we need to take care of? So I was going around, looking for a house.


Melissa: In Virginia?


Dung: In Virginia.  I was staying with my uncle in Virginia.  I was happy being an engineer, and life was so beautiful.  You go out on the weekend, and you arrive late whenever you want, and so on and so forth.  Mom would need some money, but that doesn’t matter.  I sent all the checks; I didn’t care.  My time was mine.  Then, all of a sudden, you’ve got two sisters to take care of, you’ve got two parents who are arguing about it…I didn’t vote for myself to be like this! [laughs] On the other hand, my brother’s already out in Idaho! That’s where everybody believes they should be.  Even my uncle.  Mom says, “No, I don’t care.  We want to be in the capital.”


Melissa: Did you finish high school in Connecticut?


Dung: Yes.  I finished high school in Connecticut, and then I finished college in Connecticut also.


Melissa: And you got your degree in Engineering?


Dung: Yes. 


Melissa: After you got your degree, where did you end up?


Dung: I worked a couple of years in Connecticut, and then I actually worked in Maryland, as Assistant in Research.  Then, my boss was a close friend of my uncle, and he just kept insisting…you know, he had the chain of Pho 75, and we were talking.  I was working for a company over here, Interlochen, and every time I went to lunch, he’d say, “You know, you’ve been staying with the company long enough.  Maybe you want some freedom.  Maybe you want to go and join us?” And I said, he really must be nuts, because my background has nothing to say that I could do anything…that’s certainly drastic.  And I didn’t know how to cook much; I would cook, but I never dreamed that I would cook and everything while running a restaurant, but he just kept saying that.  At first, I thought he was making a joke.  Even now, I don’t know why he wanted me to be in there.  He kept on insisting for about seven years, and the only reason that I accepted this job was that I thought it might have more flexibility.  Because my family were all here.  You know, it’s the culture shock, and the items they need and everything.  For the first two weeks, they just kept calling me at work.  I can’t tell my parents, you know, “Mom, you can’t call me like that.” And then my parents were like, “Oh, I have to go somewhere; you have to drive me,” just like in Vietnam, so I am to leave work and drive them to wherever they want! I just can’t tell them, you know, “Mom, it’s not over here like that!” So I thought about it for a long time.  It’s just impossible.  Plus my sisters would say, “Why can’t you stay home and help me today with my homework?” From the family’s point of view, I don’t think I could manage both.  It’s either the family or work.  So everything he said started to make sense.  I said I’d give it a try.  I was saying to myself, “If it doesn’t work out, I can always come back to engineering.”   Flexibility, you know.  And then, working for a friend…and it’s not much different.  Managing the Vietnamese people I’ve known all my life, and I’m out of school, it’s no problem, and I don’t have a problem with English, also.  He actually was looking for somebody who was fluent in both languages and could help him out, you know? He needed somebody like me, but he didn’t have a specific duty for me.  That’s why I’m still floating around now! Just like, I’m in whatever town you need me in, whatever, I’ll come up! I don’t mind.  The inspector comes to the restaurant or they need more meat or something…other than that, it’s cool.  Every store runs by itself, which means my job is just going from one place to another and enjoy the coffee.  If they run well.  But when it comes to, like, OK, somebody got sick, or they get into a lawsuit, and so on and so forth, then it becomes my role, which I’ve never seen before. [laughs] So that’s why I switched from one to another. But I was enjoying engineering a lot, too.  I stayed there for about ten years before I got out.  It would be good if I can go back again, one of these days.  If I have time.


Melissa: You’re still planning to go back to engineering if you can?


Dung: Oh, I know I can go back, but I don’t plan to, because I’m not sure in the near future, when my kids are growing up, they need their dad.  So I don’t know when.  But I still enjoy, you know, writing little programs, reading little technical books, and so on and so forth.  [laughs] I am not like gonna say I am, like some people say, stressed out, they want to leave their jobs or whatever, they can’t take any more…for me, it’s duty first.  I might not have all the time to do it, but I know I can.  So that’s why.  But I’m happy the other way.  I’m also happy over here because it’s completely a new ballgame.  New workers and a new environment…in a way, it’s challenging, also.  My uncle was asking, “You think you can do it?” I said, “I don’t know until I try.  How do you know I can’t?” I know I can do engineering, because I am already there all my life.  I was telling myself, I can manage engineers, I can manage Vietnamese.  So I gave it a try. 

[pause to change tape.  small talk.]


Melissa: So it was very tough, having the family living in different areas?


Dung: You mean here?


Melissa: Well, when you came over at different times, and you came here while your brother stayed in Idaho?


Dung: No.  When I say ‘difficult,’ it was only because of my two sisters. We don’t have any difficulties, I would say.  We were already well accomplished.  You know, all three of us were engineers already, so my parents basically could choose wherever they want to live.  So that’s nothing there.  But once the family decided to stay with you, that’s the issue.  How do you maintain the same thing they had in Vietnam, so that the kids can go to school in the same way and the parents will not feel like it is a strange land that they can’t understand and these are no longer the sons they had in Vietnam? It’s tough to tell them that.  You can learn some things by osmosis, but you can’t just know it overnight.  They have to realize it themselves.  I never told them that, you know? When they talk to their friends, and they find out, oh, OK, and then they change chronically [gradually?] I never told Mom, this is how it’s supposed to be in the village in the United States.  I never did that. They found out on their own because of the Vietnamese community, and because they’re in touch.  They’re intelligent people, and they have a lot of pride, too.  I know that without that pride, they would probably rent an apartment, and they’d stay out there and never see me again.  That could happen.  It already happened for a lot of my friends! [laughs] They eventually come back again, but in that initial stage, when they just left the country, it’s a lot of emotion and everything; all their lives are behind.  And then expecting something from your son, and the son was just like me, working eleven, twelve hours, fourteen hours, fifteen hours a day, and then to come home tired, you know, I don’t blame them.  And sometimes they explode.   They didn’t mean it, but a lot of families had a very hard time adjusting. 


Melissa: Was it harder for your parents and your sisters to adjust than it was for you and your brother?


Dung: I don’t think so.  I think all of us did very well.  For my brother and I, because we lived under the Communists, that sort of really gave us the drive.  Because we knew how valuable it is when we were deprived of it.  We knew what we had before the Communists took over.  The victory of the Communists opened our eyes in that respect.  We became another person.  We’d never be the same again, because [motions to tea on table] we drink tea today, but we never thought of how we like tea, because we didn’t have tea.   The Communists gave us an eye-opening experience, and I am thankful to them for that. 


Melissa: So you’re grateful for all of the experiences that you’ve had?


Dung: Definitely.  I’ve seen people coming before 1975 who never had any experience with the Communists, and their views are not the same.


Melissa: They have different views of what life is like in the U.S.?


Dung: Very innocent.  Very innocent.  Because all they have is just like their life before in Vietnam.  The lack of facilities, but everything else is the same.  I’d say maybe like Israel or any other country in Europe.  Lacking of material comfort is one thing, but the freedom of the mind and the freedom to express and the freedom to pursue what you want is quite another. And you could say that, but it doesn’t mean anything.  Because I’ve heard other Vietnamese from my teachers’ generation telling me, “You have to appreciate what you have!” Because they had the French before.  But I never had the French.  So I’d just, like, “Yeah, yeah.  We appreciate what we have every day.  Oh, yeah.” [laughs] But until we had…like, now, we really appreciate what we have, now it’s eye-opening, and now, what they had told us starts to make sense.  That’s why they say, you know, when you lose it already, well, now you know how valuable it is.  And now, I really appreciate all the teachers who are not there anymore because they left the country already, knowing that with the Communists, their life would be over.  So when we got to the States, we were grateful to be out of the country.  I think the experience is unique compared to all other Vietnamese my age who did not stay in Vietnam.  I think my understanding and compassion and everything, there’s no doubt about it.  Even when you go to school and you write an essay, it shows.  It shows that your perceptions are unique.  And I’m not talking about intelligence, because we all took the same classes.  You know, a lot of classmates of mine had made it before 1975, and when I talked to them…I know the level.  You know, it’s your friends, after all.  But that’s something you cannot convince.  Whenever we talk, they’d say I was haunted by my experiences.  I’d say, “No, I’m not haunted!” Like I am telling you today, I am still grateful for that experience. But there are a lot of things that enable you to see very clearly to make the right decisions without even thinking twice about it.  A lot of my friends are coming back to the country hoping to do this and that, but they all fail and come back here.  I tell them, remember what I told you before? That someday, something will happen? But they just seem to never learn.  Even now they’re still like, Oh, it’s because of this, it’s because of that.  But they don’t see the real thing behind it, because they were never the victims of anything.  And I was, and I can see it for real.  So for me, I don’t think I would ever go back to Vietnam as long as it remains a Communist country. 


Melissa: When you came over, how did you feel other people thought about you? How were you treated by Americans?


Dung: Very well.  I have no complaint at all.  Even though my communications skills were very little, I would say, I appreciate everything, because it shows through the eyes and the actions.  If you drop the book, somebody picks it up, or if you go the wrong direction, people will show you even if you can’t understand, and I realized that the sense of community is right and I feel really connected, even without my language.  And I was lucky again, in the sense that the school I went to was a Jewish school, so most of the teachers had experienced the Holocaust.  So they were really looking out for my brother and I.  I didn’t know then, but, you know, after we graduated and we looked back, then we knew that we were really so lucky compared to a lot of kids.  It’s just pure luck.  A lot of interesting people I keep in touch with right now from high school.   When I went to university, it was a lot of learning, but I never had that sense that I had when I was in high school.   You really felt like you belonged there.  It’s just like a home away from home.  The university, it’s a lot of learning, a lot of friends and everything, but it’s just like a workplace.  You go over there, you finish your assignments, you make friends, but more like colleagues.  You don’t have that same sort of getting together like—


Melissa: --a community.


Dung: Right.


Melissa: When your parents and sisters came over, how were their experiences different?


Dung: You mean my younger sisters? I would say that for them, it’s very easy.  They didn’t have to worry about all the things that we had to worry about. Like cooking meals, because Mom would always have it ready already.   It’s one thing to say it’s easy, but if you don’t know how to do it  and you’ve never done it before, and you have to do it on your own, it takes time.  Plus, if you don’t know how to cook, the food’s gonna be, like, really terrible! [laughs] So you don’t want to think about eating.  So, number one and number two: when you have an obligation, for example, it really shows.  People are going to their home, but you don’t have a home to go to.  You stay in college; I did that.  I’d usually stay at another friend’s, but, even though you have a home to go to, you still feel like a stranger, and you’re trying not to intrude into the family of your friend.  You feel outside.  In a way, I think it’s easier on them, but it also deprived them of all the experiences that we all had.  So it made us more mature; we could see things.  If you always have a family and everybody’s lovely, it’s good to be in a nurturing environment, but it will not necessarily make you the most experienced person in life.  I still tell my sisters that I don’t know how they can get that kind of intuition I have in life because I stayed as an owner.  All of my brothers, we are all connected, but with are sisters we are not.  So that part of us is different.  Having a nurturing family is good for studies, but the life experience means more in order to become fully mature in life.  Right now, they’re successful already, academically, but that part of it, maybe they’ll never get.  And there’s no reason to get it, but it just gives you that kind of understanding, or that kind of compassion when you see other people.  You can get a feel for it right away.  They don’t have that.  That’s what I see, the difference.  They don’t feel it.  They’ve never been through it.  The same thing because they were too young to compare the two societies.  So that part of it they never see either.  So they don’t see it, and once again, over here, they don’t see it.  You know what I’m saying? It’s just like the baby boomers.  I think of baby boomers in that way.  It’s like, anywhere they go, they just happen to be prosperous, but it doesn’t mean that life is supposed to be like that.  In their eyes, life is always supposed to be about ‘be successful; if you strive, then you can get it.’ Doesn’t matter what.  But for me, because I learned earlier that it doesn’t matter how bright you are, if you stay in the wrong environment, that’s it.  You get crushed.  You have to get out.  Luckily, they didn’t have to do it, but…


Melissa: You said that they came over in ’96?


Dung: Yes.


Melissa: Were they living in Vietnam up until then?


Dung: They were still living in Saigon.  My mom, in the meantime, had made a business out of the lottery. 


Melissa: A lottery business?


Dung: Yes, and she does quite well.  So, that’s why I said that they don’t understand the aggravation of what it means.  They were too young to see it then, and then they grew up in that environment.  So, once again, they came over here, and they do see something from our talks, but it’s a vicarious experience.  It’s not themselves.  I don’t know if there’s any need for them, but I don’t know how to explain a lot of things that we all would take naturally, but they can’t.  In family discussions and so on and so forth, my mother and I would agree, like, we didn’t even need to discuss these things.  But for them, they’d say, “Well, why? I don’t see it!” [laughs] “OK.  Let’s make some beef for dinner; we don’t have time to discuss these things.” So that’s why they’re lucky, but I don’t know whether lucky or unlucky.  I still think that in life, sometimes it’s unlucky that you fall into a desperate situation, but it’s also lucky in that once you are out of that, you see something that you would never see otherwise.  And for not only my younger sisters, but also for my friends who stayed after 1975, they don’t know what I mean.  So that’s the difference. 


Melissa: When your family still was in Vietnam, did you ever send money back to them?


Dung: Yes.  That’s what [unintelligible] when we got out, because our family was pretty much in the middle class before, and we have needs for a lot of that thing, because when the Communists took over, they deprived of everything.  Plus, Father’s out of a job, Mother was in the black market, so even when we were going to high school, we were washing dishes at a restaurant, and we were raking leaves behind the school.  Every summer we would send a couple hundred and so on and so forth, and we’d been doing it up until the time we got out of the country, all of us.  Of course, when my elder brother was making more money, it’s easier.  He went to Hartford State Technical College and graduated and got a technician job and continuing being a technician and going to school and sending money home.  So he actually graduated after me even though he’s the older brother, because he was going part-time in order for me to go full-time.  So we all would remind ourselves, that’s life.  Once again, my sisters didn’t have that sense of responsibility.  It’s not that she wouldn’t do the same, but there’s no need for it.  She was never called on in certain situations.  So she never had the kind of sympathy.  She doesn’t understand how you are supposed to be.  And we were old enough to see the suffering of our parents when we left, so one goal right away was to send whatever we could make home.  Because it doesn’t matter how deprived we are over here, we were still a zillion times better than we were under the Communists.  So we sent everything home, pretty much.


Melissa: Do you have any idea what percentage of what you made here you were sending back home?


Dung: I would say we pretty much sent everything, other than, you know, you have to pay for the car, you have to pay rent and so on and so forth.  But whatever is surplus, we never thought about the percent or anything, we just sent everything home.  Up until ’96, I think my two brothers and I would just send everything we made.  That’s why I was living with my uncle and both of my brothers were just living in apartments.  We sent everything home.  I didn’t tell my brother what to send.  He never told me what to send, and I never told my younger brother, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.  And there was one time, I think my mom was in debt, like, $45,000.  Just somebody on the rent, they cheated her on it.  So we all split it, and we sent everything.  But you know, $45,000 takes a long time saving.  Especially because we had just gotten out of school.  We still thank God.  You know, you had gotten out of school, you could make that kind of money.  Otherwise, your parents could be in prison.  So we pretty much sent everything.  We don’t know if Vietnam—you know, in certain societies, people were cheated every day.  It’s amazing that our parents didn’t get cheated one time.  People would just lose their house, their husband, you know. 


Melissa: OK, so this is more of a general question about immigration in the U.S.  How do you think immigration in general affects society in the U.S.?


Dung: Be more specific for me.  When you say ‘immigration,’ do you mean the process, or –


Melissa: I mean the actual people coming into the country as immigrants, how do you think that affects the U.S.? I know that’s a very broad question.


Dung: Right.  I think I know what you mean.  In the very same sense, it’s what we have talked about.  Like you believe my story when I come over, so that’s a contribution there.  As a person who has only one life to live, and there is no way for you to lead the life that I have… For any country that is relatively stable, like the United States or Europe, it’s difficult to get that kind of intuition or that kind of insight into, I would say, not scientifically, but it feels like anthropology, like yours, or something like that.  It would definitely be helping there.  And it would also be helping in the way that you would see what happened in situations that otherwise you never would. Like living under Communists.  Like, what would happen if overnight, everything you had was taken away from you? Your property, your car, and suddenly you have nothing.  Like I said, a lot of Chinese committed suicide because they can’t deal with it.  And they don’t have the skills in order to fight.  There’s no such thing as Congress, where you can appeal. No such thing as a leader who you can call and say, “Such and such thing happened to me.” So a lot of Chinese committed suicide.  And they were not fluent in English.   All their lives, they had been working hard to save, and now they can’t get money.  They took everything away from them.  They had to start over from square one again.  So the human psyche…Also, when I was in high school, I was noted for my effort to study, and a lot of my friends don’t understand.  “Why are you studying so hard? You weren’t even making it there, and you always insist on doing more than what the teacher needs.” They don’t understand that.  I became the odd man out, but I didn’t mind it, because I knew that they don’t understand, and I don’t have enough skills to explain to them, and the time and everything.  So it depends on what you mean by the immigration.  I think it will always enrich the American experience by that much.  And then, the opportunity in the States which everyone takes so for granted, really, with immigration I think you see the real value of it, and you appreciate it more, and it just drives you more.  Otherwise, all the opportunities are going to the foreigners.  I don’t know if that’s the right thing or not, but, you know, if they’ve worked so hard for it, it will be fair: if I worked ten times as much as you do, I will be more successful.  That to me is the American value.  The opportunity is there, and it’s amazing.   But now that we have that sense of appreciation and be willing to work for that price, you have the eye-opening experience.  Like, OK, both of my sisters and I were going to the same university, and academically we probably did the same, but I’m saying, my sister and I are not the same.  So that’s where the immigration part of it is coming in.  It provides a depth, I would say, for appreciation of everything.  And I believe that will be a strength for everything else, because you don’t see the possibility of losing it, then you don’t appreciate it.  If somebody cuts off your arms, for example the people that are going to the Iraq War, you never thought of losing them.  How are you gonna deal with it? And nobody’s prepared enough for any kind of experience. That’s why I said that could come in and help.  Or you used to be really wealthy.  You never think that when you used to go out in the car, if you were hot you just turned on the air conditioning, which is so natural.  You never thought about it.  But if you think a little bit deeper about these things, well, they must come from somewhere.  Why do you have it? And you thank God for everything you have.  I used to hate the Communists a lot, like I said.  But now I realize they enriched my experience.  I feel grateful for that.  Otherwise, if the United States had never lost the war, I would stay in Vietnam and be a teacher or whatever.  But I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today, and I would never see that side that I would see.  So it’s like seeing a movie.  If you’re asking me how the immigration in the United States…it’s giving you the drama. [laughs] Really! Into how it’s supposed to be.  What happens when I lose both of my legs? And it’s not supposed to happen normally, but it does happen to some people.  It can give you more of a sense of appreciation of life.  And then driving  for whatever you’re aiming for at full speed. And a sense of knowing that even in the United States, you have the whole environment around with all the people, it takes years, even a thousand years to have.  So you have something that, basically over here, I am looking around, and everything is gifted.  Our country produces something so small and we are so enriched by all the gifts that are given to us, and we stop to appreciate.  I don’t know if that’s happening for America, but it’s certainly happened for me and my people.  If you asked me what contributions I’ve made for this country, I’d say almost zero.  I just come here to enjoy, actually.  Compared to what I had, what I strive is actually zero.  That’s how I see it, and I’m sure a lot of immigrants see things that way.  People come here from Soviet, a lot of friends of mine come from Eastern European countries; we can talk and it’s connected.  Just by staying in the United States, we are already blessed.  Even if you don’t speak the language here, don’t worry about it.  Future’s still bright.  If you live in a Communist country, your future’s dark.  It doesn’t matter how bright you are, it’s “Oh my God, I’m going down in it.” I never had that.  I don’t know how else to say it, every immigrant who has come to the United States is blessed in every way if he knows how to see it.  Which, I do believe they see it in one way or the other.  That’s why, what other contribution…even today, I feel like I could say something to the United States.  It would be a big ‘thank you.’ So, this project or that project, or a zillion dollar project or whatever the hell I might participate in…And if I could say anything about immigration period, I don’t know about immigration to any other country, but immigration to this country is like a gift from God.  You just have to strive for it.  You can’t just sit there and say, you know, gifts have to come to me, rather than strive for it.  I never had that kind of feeling when I was Vietnam.  You know, neither did I have that feeling when I was in the concentration camp.  And if you fail, you only have yourself to blame, because it’s the best environment, where you can get everything.  That’s how I see it.  And I don’t know, you are an American, so you have to tell me.  That question is actually for you, right? To answer that question, I would have to ask another immigrant…I’m sure that feeling is pretty much the same for my generation.  I am the typical one.  I am in no way more special than any other.  Just like another brother of mine, or just like friends of mine who are still in Connecticut or everywhere else, I’m sure they feel that.  They might not express it in the same ways that I do, but that definitely is the feeling.  Typically, for Vietnamese immigrants, anyway.  I am not saying any immigrant in the United States.  But for Vietnamese immigrants, that I know. 


Melissa: Well, that’s what we’re trying to get at.  [laughs] Well, that pretty much does it for my questions.  Was there anything else that you thought that you wanted to share? Because the point of this project is, like you said, people in the U.S. don’t understand what it’s like to have had the experiences that you had.  So if there was anything else that you thought that you might like people to know who might not understand where you come from, something that might help them understand...I mean, you did cover a lot. 


Dung: I don’t know how to help them to understand.  Like I say, it’s almost impossible.  I couldn’t do it to my sister, and she’s already having a lot of things in common.  I think it varies according to person, but I do believe that all you need to do is just to look at other people.  If you want to listen, the music’s there.  It’s like the music in nature: if you don’t listen to it, it’s not there.  If you see everyday, you just see a guy like me just going from one store to another, just like another Oriental, or you can see the owner just, like, opening another business, then you don’t see anything.  But if you look deeper than that, if you’re willing to find out what it is, then I think that not only for the immigration problem, but for all other problems, that you will find an appropriate solution for it.  And the immigration is only a part of—it’s either you view it as a blessing or a curse to your country.  But it is also a problem for the country.  Not only for Americans, you see, but also for the foreigners.  Not every foreigner makes it well in this country.  They have to ask themselves, too, what’s the reason? And the United States, if they have any regrets as to the immigration experience, they have to ask themselves, why? Is it justifiable? Is it fair in a way? Do they make fair judgments? And if you feel like you do, then you do understand the immigration experience.  If you cast yourself in the same person.  It’s just like watching a movie, with the drama.  You know, you just lived my life today, for the last fourteen years, right? I’m sure, I mean, not everyone will hear my story.  But if they hear, will they view things the same? Or if they were cast in my boat, would they do the same? If they would do any other thing that I didn’t do, then I’d say they’re different.  Just ask any American, just ask a person when you go outside, and everybody’s the same, it’s just a different part of life.  And immigration or not, a person is still a person.  Whether Vietnamese or American, doesn’t make a difference to me, to me it’s just like, how hard does he really work, and how hard do they really want? And the immigration problem is just like a problem, like any other problem.  It doesn’t have any special characteristic to it.  It doesn’t require any special solution to it.  It’s just the same problem, the generic problem.  You know, you need to look deeper.  And if you can’t find a solution yet, it’s because you haven’t looked deep enough, I believe.


Melissa: That’s great.  This is going to be a great contribution for the museum.  Well, do you feel comfortable with having said everything you wanted to say?


Dung: Sure.


Jackie (cameraperson): Missy, do you mind if I ask a couple of questions that might also be of interest?


Melissa: Oh, sure!


Dung: Sure.


Jackie: You talked about compassion and meditation and introspection.  Is your family Buddhist?


Dung: Yes.


Jackie: And in 1975, when the Communists took over, you weren’t allowed to practice religion.


Dung: No.


Jackie: How did that impact your family? Because Buddhism isn’t just a religion, it’s a philosophy.


Dung: Right.


Jackie: So how did that impact you and your family?


Dung: I think the Communists said that they prohibited the practice of religion, but in the beginning stage, there was no suppression.  We still could go to the pagoda.  We still could pray.  And up until the time I left, I hadn’t seen anything yet.  So that doesn’t have any impact.  And when I was talking about meditation, I wasn’t talking as in Buddhist meditation.  I was talking as in, you meditate on your problems.  You think about it privately.  For me, religion did help, but very little.  Only when I am out on the ocean and I am completely helpless. Otherwise, I think that not only for me, but all of the members of my family, we were overwhelmed by the fact that we were taken over.  We had so many things to worry about besides religion, so we never thought about it.  If we can practice, that’s fine.  We prayed every day anyway.  You know, open your eyes and there are tons of problems.  You have to go through and you have to think about your own fate.  You don’t need a worship place for that.  So every day, our home is pretty much like pagoda, because we don’t communicate verbally, but we all look inside ourselves and find a way out and see why we are new to this. But the sense of newness was really there for my parents, all of us.  And then we are all desperate to get out of it, but we don’t know how.  I think the whole country, the whole south just wanted get out at that point, but they didn’t know how.  There simply weren’t enough boats for it.  The people were so much into daily life, they never gave any question about religion.  And the Communists certainly didn’t—I think they had enough people to handle, so the problem of religion is like, something they never talked about.  So if you want to go, you still can go.  But nobody is going to the church or the temple anyway, because people were so worried about the depravation in their lives, which is a lot more immediate than the problem of not having a religion.  I think probably the time is now that they worry about such things, but when the Communists just took over, nobody questioned that.  And everything is possible, because they are beating us into submission, you know? And we’re worrying about how to stay alive.  Not mentally.  Physically staying alive! So that question of religion is just way above us.  I never thought about it. 


Jackie: And have you been back to Saigon since you left?


Dung: Yes.


Jackie: How many times?


Dung: Once, in 1992.  I went back because I had to be back, because the papers got complicated—the sponsorship papers got complicated—so I went to Thailand to see if it’s OK.  That’s the primary of the [unintelligible], and since we were in Thailand, both of my brothers thought it would be a good idea to go to Vietnam, so that’s why I went.  But other than that, no.


Jackie: What was that experience like for you, fifteen years later, at thirty years of age?


Dung: I was still very scared.  The thought’s always there, that at any time, they can just capture me for whatever reason they feel like.  And then you watch yourself a lot, what you’re saying.  Basically, you just try to stay quiet, stay out of trouble and try to get the family out.  So for me, it’s more like going on a vigil.  Just reminding yourself, you know, OK, you’re only here to sponsor your family.  Don’t do anything that would harm them in any way.  So I restrained—you know, a lot of people would ask me about things in the United States, and I’d say, “Well, we’re just normal.  Everywhere, our lives are the same.” So basically, I didn’t say anything at any point to be the focal point.  And the very fact that I left the country for so long and came back, most of the time I spoke English anyway.  I’d only speak Vietnamese at home.  As soon as I am out on the street, I pretend that I am a foreigner.  It would be easier that way.


Melissa: In Vietnam?


Dung: In Vietnam.  So I would speak English.  I’m sure my experience is not the same for everyone, because my Vietnamese is still a lot better than my English, even now.  So when I went into the air travel agency or any government agency, as soon as I’d speak English, they’d treat me a lot better.  So if you’re a foreigner, you’re treated better than in your own country.  That’s what happened.  And you don’t have to take tickets to wait! I just pretended I’d left the country for so long I didn’t speak Vietnamese anymore, and there’s nothing they could do about it.  They can’t force me to speak in Vietnamese.  And most of the time, I am with Indians and with Americans.  I don’t care for it.  I don’t care to speak Vietnamese because there’s nothing to communicate.  Because I see my high school friend and sit down for coffee, then I speak Vietnamese, but other than that, no.  And even in the talk with him, I got the feeling that somebody else is listening.  I don’t know whether it’s true or not.  But it definitely was true before, in 1975, when I left.  Because my trip was relatively short anyway.  So it’s just like, seeing family, saying hi, and come back.  I was worried about if they catch me over there, for whatever reason.  Because when I was in school, I was disciplined a lot for trying to state my way.  And I learned that.  You can’t solve the solution with that anyway, and that’s not a good way to vent your anger, because it may harm other people.  If you leave the country already, it’s OK with you, you can say whatever you want.  But what about the ones that you left behind that are related to you in some way? So I watched myself a lot.  And basically, I just wanted to get the hell out, and I…I flew.  The oppression is still there.


Jackie: So there’s no nostalgia that you had, fond memories of your life in pre-Communist Vietnam?


Dung: Yes. Yes, but it’s—


Jackie: But you know it doesn’t even exist right now.


Dung: No, not any longer.  Even geographically, everything has changed, so whatever I have in my mind about Vietnam left.  So I’m coming back, but not to see that part of it, because it’s not there to be seen anyway.  The people that I wanted to see are not there; they left the country already.  The geography that I—my fond memories are there, they are not there; they have already changed it.  Everything has changed, so it’s like coming to a very strange land.  The people speak your own language, but you don’t feel connected. 


Jackie: So you were a true foreigner in your own land?


Dung: Very much, yes.  Even when I speak to my friends, it doesn’t go beyond an experience that we had already, because our experiences are so diverse, and there is no way for me to explain what it means to be in the United States.  And then, for what? OK, you know, say they understand that.  And then what are they gonna do with it? So you know that they are doomed over there, and it’s like compassion that you don’t tell what’s over here.  More than the linguistic skills.  Of course I have the skills to explain.  But what for? It’s like going to heaven and then talking about the happiness of being in heaven.  I didn’t feel it was good to do that.  That’s why I never talked about anything, out of mercy for those who stayed behind. I mean, I’m living the life that they deserve, and what can I do for them except giving them some support? Financial support, emotional support.  But I restrained myself from telling them what’s happening in the world. 


Melissa: Do you still have a lot of friends living in Vietnam?


Dung: Not a lot.  I only have a few, and relatively, they do well.  But I don’t think that’s the life they want, or that they deserve.  Because with their ability and capability, they are nothing less than me, if not even more.  That kind of effort put to waste, it’s such a waste, really.  If they were over here, if not for the society, than at least for some company, they would do so well.  They would have, for example, some kind of software writing or some kind of assistant for a school or technical skills…but none of them are finding the money for their whole family, and they’ll be a little bit well off.  It’s more like a prison.  And I think it’s too late now to tell them anything, and they can’t do anything with that knowledge anyway.  They are almost in their fifties, and what are they gonna do with that? He’s not gonna be a writer.  Whether or not he’s interested in the other life makes no difference, because he’s already too busy to deal with it.  So there’s nothing much to tell.  Like, we’d talk about the old times, but then our conversation would just stop there.  He wants to know how much I like the United States, and I can’t tell them.  Where they live, they are working, and they are earning, like, $50 being a university teacher. 


Melissa: $50 how often?


Dung: A friend of mine, at the time I came back in 1992, he is teaching physics at the University of Saigon, and he is earning like $50 a month.  And he can’t live on that; he has to go out and tutor other students.  What a joke! I can’t even cream my coffee with that.  I can’t tell him how much I make as an engineer, you know? I can’t do that.  It doesn’t make sense to tell him what he doesn’t have.  But I was asking myself as an engineer, I was always asking the question: What for? For what? And I certainly didn’t see any benefit in telling my friend that that is how much you make in the United States, and that’s what you would have, and that’s how the world could be.  He’s not likely to benefit or anything from my story.  So those are my close friends.  And, of course, with the government, I still have even less to discuss.  And for all of the teachers, they didn’t teach me anything, so I don’t feel any connection at all.  Even our [unintelligible], all they’re wanting me to do is listen to them.  Nothing much to talk about.  When you see them now, what are you gonna say? “I forgive you?” Or, “I didn’t think much about you?” We just don’t have any topics to discuss.  So I didn’t feel like visiting school; I didn’t feel like visiting friends; I didn’t feel like visiting anything in Vietnam.  Because it’s not the Vietnam that I used to remember.  So that’s why a lot of people that are going back to Vietnam are saying, I’m returning to Vietnam, but my Vietnam is gone.” That’s why I never came back, because if I were to come back, I’d want to see that kind of Vietnam, not this kind.  That Vietnam wasn’t mine anyway.  How would you feel nostalgic for something that’s not yours to start with? I felt at home less than anywhere in the United States.  I would be more identifiable here with my people, with the community, the workers that I’m around, and friends, much more than I would in Vietnam.  If I was doomed to live over there, I don’t know how long I would make it. 


Melissa: Do you think things are getting better with doi moi?


Dung: I’ve heard a lot, but I would stop my saying that because like everything else, you have to experience it.  I’ve been out of the country for so long.  That’s one of the reasons that I originally talked to you, was because I didn’t want to say something about something I would have to guess.  And I don’t have any idea.  I would hope that it would be better, but other than that, I don’t have any concrete experience to justify what I’m saying. 


Melissa: Yeah, I only know from what I’ve read, statistics and everything. 


Dung: Yeah, and with the Communists always lying anyway, I don’t read any Vietnamese magazines.  I don’t know how much to believe, because I was lied to all my life.  So I don’t know how much of that is truth.  I don’t want to mislead you into, you know, these are the facts, because even if they are facts, they aren’t very factual.  And I have a lot of doubt about what’s in the magazines or what other people are coming over here to tell me, because what they are seeing is probably some aspect of what they want to see.  If they want to go to Vietnam to [unintelligible], they’ll tell you a different story.  If they want to go to Vietnam to go to school, they’ll tell you a different story.  If they come back to tell all the friends they have all the reasons that they have, if they want to see things better, they have a zillions reasons to see things better.  But they haven’t changed.  They have a zillion to see, but things haven’t changed.  It’s just hard to get the facts.  And I don’t want to mislead you, and I don’t have that to tell you.  I wish I did.


Melissa: That’s fine.  OK.  Well, did you have any other questions?


Jackie: No, that was great!


Melissa: Yeah, that was a great interview.  I feel really good about that.  You gave us a lot of information. Thank you.


Dung: Thank you.




Interview with Fredesvinda Flores

May 2, 2009

Interviewers: Lillian Torres and Gail Thakur


Your name?

Fredesvinda Alvarez, Flores Alvarez

Your work?
I work at the University of Maryland.  At the university of Maryland and the IRS building.

What do you do?
At the University, in housekeeping.

How long?

Going on five years.

How long have you been here in the U.S.?

I have been here eleven years.

I lived in Washington for seven years. That’s where I came first. Then I moved here to Maryland, six years ago.

Where are you from?

I’m from El Salvador.

What part of El Salvador are you from?

I’m from Santa Rosa de Lima, la Union.

Can you tell me about your childhood, from 12 years to younger? Where did you live? About your family?

Yes, yes. When I was a child, I lived in a frontier between Honduras and El Salvador. That’s where I grew up and studied. The area is called Santa Rosa de Lima. Then I graduated and I went to work with a lawyer in the City of Santa Rosa de Lima for fourteen years. Then I got married, with a young man who was living here [U.S.] (laughing), and I came, he brought me here with residency, me and my daughter. He put in the papers, and four or five years later they were completed and we came here.

Can you tell me about your family? Brothers and sisters?

By parents, we are six children. Five girls and one boy.

And your parents, what did they do?

My father, he was a government worker, he worked for the government, in the ground customs service between Honduras and El Salvador.  My mother, she took care of us. (laughing) She also worked. She was a tailor. She would make clothes, dresses, bridal gowns, everything.

How about school, did you like it?
Oh yes I liked school very much. I studied, the first year (primer año) I studied in a school called LA INTEC in La Union. Second and third years, I graduated in Santa Rosa de Lima, in the Instituto Commercial. All of my brothers and sisters also studied.  My father put all of us through school.

How was your home? Did you have a lot of friends?

Oh yes, we had our neighbors who lived nearby.  We loved each other a great deal. There you have a lot of closeness with neighbors. Not like here. There you care about each other, among families. We would visit each other. Here you don’t because with work, you’re always too busy.

Did you get together often?

Yes. We would get together for birthdays. We would go to the beaches, the bathing areas. Los Cucos, Las Tunas. There are pretty beaches there.

So you graduated and went to work. When you did decide to come here? What did you imagine the US would be like?

I didn’t really have any idea but I had a lot of family here, in Los Angeles, and in Houston.  My uncles are there, and I have uncles in California, in Los Angeles. But, I didn’t really…since I had my job there.  Then when I met my husband, I wanted to come here, and have a different life, a better life. Because you know you can have a job there but you’re not going to make as much as you do here.

So you met your husband there?

Yes I met him there. When I met him he was already a US resident. He was visiting there, in El Salvador. I met him because he was buying some property there, and I worked for a lawyer.  Then he asked me when I saw him on the street, as I was going to work, he asked me where I worked. I told him I worked for a lawyer. He said, what a coincidence, I am looking for a lawyer to help prepare some documents for a property I am buying. (laughing) Then well, he said I’m going to go to the lawyer where you work. To prepare those papers. So he did and I drew up the paperwork for him. (laughing).  When we had our civil ceremony, we did it there with that lawyer.

So you got married right away?

No, no. When he left, we were boyfriend and girlfriend.  About a year and a half later, he came back to get married.


And what does your husband do?

He’s a painter.

Did you know his family?

No. I only knew a sister of his. But I didn’t know she was his sister. (laughing) She was a friend of mine. She was from the same city, where I worked. She worked there. She had a jewelry store.  Later, we got to know his family. They lived in a canton near us, about twenty-five minutes away.

So when he asked for your hand, you knew you were coming to live here?

Yes I had an idea that I would be coming here.

So what did he or your family tell you about the US? What did you imagine?

Well that it was pretty. That the climate was nice, only that the cold could be terrible. [49:48] Well, I came here in December. It was snowing.  When I came here, once I had my residency, I came in December. I remember there was a lot of snow. I wasn’t used to that. It was very cold. I came without a sweater or anything. I landed in Miami. I came with my daughter.

You were with your daughter?

Oh yes. She was four years old.

How long did it take you to get here with residency?

After I got married, it took about five years. It took a long time. He would go [to El Salvador ]every year, since he’s a resident. He would go every year.

It must have been hard.

Yes, yes it was. When he would leave it was hard. I didn’t want to let him go.

So the same lawyer did the paperwork?

For the wedding yes. But no for residency my husband did the paperwork here.

How was it when you arrived here?

For work, it was hard. It took a long time because I didn’t know anyone. It’s not like when you have a lot of friends, they help take you to the jobs. But it took me a long time to find work.

How did you get your first job?

 I found my first job through my sister in law. She took me to a job she had, a part-time [job].   There I started part-time in Washington.


Was the US what you expected?

Well it was all so different. Going shopping, was very different. You have to take things. [In El Salvador] you expect that people are going to give you items. When one goes to a store there, you expect that you’re going to be served. I want this much, and they give it to you. But here you have to grab things yourself. Sometimes, I was embarrassed to do it because I wasn’t used to it, to have to take things like tomatoes.  I was shy about it. It was all so different. And then the money. I would say El Colon, and here it’s the Dollar. I would feel all confused.

Did you speak any English?

No I didn’t know any. I didn’t know any. You know, since there you only speak Spanish.  

Was it hard?

Yes it was hard. If you go to the clinic or somewhere else, and there is no one that speaks Spanish, they can’t understand you. You can’t communicate.  If there isn’t someone there who speaks Spanish.  No one can understand you. It’s hard. Or here, at first, when the neighbors would speak to you, you can’t understand them.  The language is hard.

So how did you start learning?

I started learning at work, with my bosses. Even if it was just a little but you have to do it. That’s how you learn. With the television too, a little.

How old was your daughter when you came here?

She was four years old when she came here. She came to start kindergarten. It was very hard for me because I couldn’t speak English. When she would come home with homework, I couldn’t help her. What I would do is read a little from a book, or if she had to learn colors I would look at the Crayola crayons because they have the colors written on them. (laughing) That’s how I helped her. She’s very smart. I haven’t been able to help her very much, because I didn’t know English.

So she started school in DC?

Yes in Bancroft, she started kindergarten. She started when school was already in session. She was very smart, she learned quickly, she passed the grade. Even though they had already started school, she passed. She learned fast.

So she learned English at school?

Yes and Spanish at home.

Does she speak more English?

With us, she speaks Spanish. And a little English. She would speak a little English with us. Or with her classmates. Her cousins. And at school. [44:16]

Her cousins?

Yes my husband’s family. She has some cousins. They would go to school together.  I didn’t have family here until recently, my sister and my brother are here now.

Sometimes I know its hard for parents who were raised elsewhere to communicate with children born here…

Yes! Here, its very different and very difficult. Sometimes, one has words from home that you use and your kids look at you and say “what is that?” They’re not familiar with it.

Have there every been differences..????

Oh yes. The culture, the culture of the young people. It’s very different here. You know, one always wants to teach one’s daughters the way you were taught at home. It’s different in one’s country than here. There’s more freedom here than there.

That makes it hard?

Yes it’s been hard. But thankfully my daughter has been a good daughter. She hasn’t wanted to quit school or anything, or has bad friends. She is a good daughter.

So things like going out with friends? Have there been differences?

My daughter? Thankfully my daughter has been a very obedient. I don’t let her go out with friends. Like a friend coming her to pick her up in a car and take her away? No.  I don’t let her go out with friends. If she wants to go out shopping to buy clothes, then I take her. She goes with me. I am like a friend for her.   She has a friend from school, who is from the Philippines. She’s a very good friend. But I don’t let her go just anywhere. Her friend comes here to the house.  When my daughter turned 15, she was her maid of honor.

She had a Quinceañera?

Oh yes. We threw a lovely party for her.


At the church here in Maryland. It was very nice.

I never had one. They don’t have them in Peru. Could you tell me what a quinceañera is? [40:54]’

Here it’s different than there. We gave thanks to God in church. We assist a Christian church. We held the celebration in the church. The pastor…It was very nice. We filmed a DVD. Photographs. The person who filmed the DVD, they took her to a church in DC where there are only roses and gardens. The photos were lovely and so was the DVD. We had a big dinner.  Very lovely.


Where was the dinner?

In the church. In the church, since they have a big basement. We had it there in the basement. We had all of our friends. A party and she had maids of honor.

How did she present herself?

With a pink dress, and a crown.

What does it mean?

Well it means to us that she goes from being a child to an adolescent. Perhaps others that have a different tradition, the girl will dance with her father. They dance a waltz.

Like a wedding?

Oh yes, just like a wedding. It’s just like a wedding, except there’s no groom. (laughing) It’s exactly the same. The expense is the same too. It’s very expensive. Here’s her picture. This is the picture of her. We also have the DVD. You see all of the flowers of Washington.

Did you have one as well?

Yes my mother threw me one as well.

Was it different?

Yes it was different. Well we did it differently. My mother just had a big lunch with the family. We didn’t… Some people have big parties with an orchestra. They have a dance with an orchestra. They buy an album. My daughter has an album from El Salvador. It’s an album where you put things that are part of your quinceañera. It’s adorned in pink. It’s very pretty.

Do boys have these parties too?
Some people do it for the boys too, but mostly its just the girls that you do it for.  That’s mostly traditional.  My father also had a party for me when I graduated in El Salvador. When I graduated from high school. It was very nice. We had a presentation at the church, all of us that had graduated. We also had a lunch at home. A very nice lunch with the whole family. [37:32]

And your daughter is close to graduating?

Yes. She’s close. She’s in eleventh grade. She only has one more year to go. I hope to God she will be able to study at the University. Let’s see, eh? (laughing) It’s the purpose of us parents that our children be able to prepare themselves better, so they can have a better future than we did, and a better job.  Because of the language and lack of a profession, we have to work in whatever we can get.

What does she want to study?

She says she wants to study psychology. Let’s see if she studies that or changes her mind.

You mentioned that you have other family here?

Yes now I have my sister and my brother.

Did you help them get here?

Yes, yes. We help my sister. We help her because she separated from her husband and came here. She left her two children there with my mother. She’ separated.   Her husband divorced her because he had bad vices. He liked to drink and run around with other women. She also married too young. She got married and didn’t study. The rest of us all studied but she decided to get married. The marriage didn’t go well. 

Do they live nearby?

Yes they live near Adelphi.

So your sister’s children are in El Salvador?

My mother had them and then my sister’s husband took them away. He used to hit her. My sister didn’t have a good life with him. That’s why she decided to come here.

She must be very sad to be apart from them.

Oh yes, she misses them very much. And she can’t go home to see them because she is undocumented. It’s been over six years since she came here. And she hasn’t been able to go home to see them because she doesn’t have papers. [35:07] She also had another great tragedy. About a year ago, her ex-husband died.  The father of her children, who took care of them, he died in an accident.  About a year ago now. And the children were left alone. And she hasn’t been able to go home to see them because who is going to help her children now? So she hasn’t been able to even go and be with her children because she’s had to work harder here to help them because now he’s gone.  He used to help them too. And now he’s dead.

So who are they with now?

With their grandmother. With my sister’s ex-husband’s mother. But my mother is there as well and she goes to see them.  But they don’t have the love of a mother or father.

It must be very hard.

Yes its very hard.

How old are they?

The oldest boy is 14 and the youngest is 10.

So they’re young.

Yes they’re young. But they were even younger when she left. The youngest was about four years old.

So there’s nothing she can do to straighten out her legal situation?

Yes but now she can’t do anything because my aunt’s aren’t here. If one of them could help they could help fix her situation and go see her children.

So you’ve been living here for a while?

Yes I came here six years ago from Washington. When they started building here, we had this house built.

You had it built?

Yes we ordered it and had it built.

Was it a sacrifice to buy a house?

Oh yes a great sacrifice. We both worked very hard. My husband worked two jobs. He worked 16 to 18 hours a day in Washington. He worked in a restaurant and also as a painter. I’ve also had two jobs recently.


I work in the University from 4am to 2:30 in the afternoon.  The other job is from 5 to 9pm. I work hard. In fact, we work with my husband in that part-time job I have in the IRS.  It’s with the government and thankfully its close by. That one is only seven minutes from here. Here in New Carrollton. I found my husband a job there, a part-time, because he used to work part-time in Washington.  We wouldn’t see each other until 10pm, and sometimes I would go pick him up there. So I asked the manager about a job for him and he offered him one. So now, we work there together. That’s where we see each other. He comes here at 5pm because he works in DC. So we see each other in that job. Then we come home together, each one of us in our own car.

My daughter, thankfully, my boss at work gives me permission. I have my break at 8am. So I come here and have breakfast and take her to school. I don’t let her go to school by bus. I take her to school. The bus passes by but far from here. And you know, since she’s older now, it’s dangerous. They kidnapped some young girl not far from here. So I have made an effort. I come here and have breakfast and I take her to school. And she gets out of school at 4pm. I leave for my other job at 4:30, so I pick her up from school and bring her home, then I go to my second job. It’s hard, but thank God, God gives me strength.

So she stays here alone?

She stays here but we have a couple that lives here with us. We have a basement downstairs. We have a nice couple that live here with us. We rent to them. A couple from Guatemala. A very nice couple.

So she’s never alone. There is always someone here with her. And she always goes up to her room, to study or watch tv. She’s very quiet there. She doesn’t go out just anywhere. And of course, we’re only a phone call away. I always call her or she calls me.[29:50]

So you have one daughter. In Latin America some might say that’s too little.

Oh yes too little! Some have five or six!

My mother only had two.

Your mother only had two? And we only one. We only had one for reasons of health. I would have liked to have three. That’s what my husband and I wanted. Sometimes one decides something but the one who decides one’s life is God.

But its hard here to have many children.

Oh yes, very hard. My husband has a brother who lives in Houston has five, and its not easy. I know its not easy. I see families here who, they may not even be immigrants, but life is hard here with five kids. Sometimes parents buy something for one and not the other.  I have one and I give her everything. (laughing)

And sometimes kids get older and want more.

Oh yes they want more. (laughing)[28:07]

Thank God, my childhood didn’t involve much suffering because my father worked hard. He gave us everything. He helped us. He had us study. I went to good schools. He was a good father. My mother was a good parent as well. But I’ve known people who have had much harder lives. Their lives were much harder.

You know some people send money home to build homes. Are you doing that?

When we were first married, since my husband had been living here a long time, and working here.  He has 28 or 30 years living here. When we first met, he had just bought the property.  When we first got married, he had house built for me.  A very big house. It was very pretty. I had my home, just like here, with all of my things. It really hurt me to leave it, but I had to follow my husband.

Yes, we have a home there.  We think, we don’t know, it depends on God, that we will work here and then go live out the end of our lives there. [26:20]We’ll see. Yes that’s what he says. When he retires, we would go back to that house.

Do you go back to El Salvador regularly?

Yes we do. Right now we haven’t gone that regularly because a few years ago we went a couple of times. When my husband’s mother was sick we went and when she died a few months later we went again. You spend a lot of money. My husband went back again. We’re thinking we’ll go this December or next year.

How long do you stay?

When we go we stay a month. We would stay longer but our work won’t give us that much leave.

Where is your house? Is it near your family?

Yes its close to where a brother of his lives. It’s in a town called Santa Rosa de Lima.  The city of “Kush”.

And what is like when you go home? Do things seem different?

Oh when I go back yes. And the climate too. It’s so hot. And the people, you don’t see them the same way. Their pretty color and their hair. They don’t look as good. They look more sunburned. And when I come home I am so happy. I don’t want to be there anymore. After three weeks I’m ready to come home. The heat exhausts me. It’s so hot.  The climate. Everything is much easier [here]. Washing. You have to wash clothes by hand there. Here you have a machine.

And your family, are they excited when you come?

Oh yes. They’re so happy. When we get there they are so happy. But when we leave they’re sad.  They  want to be with us. They’re so excited when we arrive.

Do you miss them here?

When I get home I miss them. When I’m here I miss them because family and friends there love us so much.

Are you used to the US now?

Yes. I’m used to being here now. I like it. I like to go back there but not for too much time. Just three weeks.  [23:00]

Have you changed living here? Do you notice a difference in yourself when you go home?

Oh yes. Yes. For example there my father had a car but I was afraid to drive it. Here, to get to work, you have to learn to drive. There my brother would try to teach me and I’d give him excuses. Here I had to learn to drive to get to work.  There if someone didn’t take me I couldn’t go to the store. Here I go when I need to.  I’m more independent.

Tell me about your church? What is your religion?

I didn’t know the message. I go to the Adventist church. Thanks be to God. I heard the word through my husband. Yes I liked the evangelicals because one of my neighbor was an evangelical. My parents weren’t evangelicals, they went to the Catholic church. But they aren’t very religious people. But thankfully, I heard the word and was saved about 21 or 22 years ago. I got married in the Adventist church.

So your husband was Adventist already?

Yes when I met him he told me he was an Adventist. I went to an Adventist church there in the city where we lived. When I moved here I joined an Adventist congregation here. Now I go to the Adventist church in the capital city.

What differences are there between Adventist and Catholic?

Well I think one learns more about God’s message. You read the Bible yourself, you don’t learn it through someone else, because you don’t know if that person is lying to you. You read it and can see what is good and what isn’t. You read the real gospel. We don’t follow any religion. We follow God and follow his commandments.

We go on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Saturdays, the main program, is from 9:30 to 12:30. Its like the high mass. The principle one. In the afternoon is a program for the young people.

How are you able to go on Wednesdays with work?

We don’t usually go. Sometimes we ask permission from work to go.

Are most of your friends from Church?

Most of my friends are from church because there are about 300 members. We know a lot of people and have a lot of friends there. I also have friends from my jobs.

Is the church mainly Hispanic?

Yes Hispanic. The pastor is Hispanic. He’s from El Salvador.

Did the Church help you in getting comfortable in the US when you first came?

Before my husband knew me, he went to that church a lot when he was single.

What about you?

Well at first, because I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have many friends. But now yes. They have helped me very much spiritually, and sometimes with work. 

You mentioned about the quincienera that some people dance. Do they dance at your church? Is that allowed?

No.  We don’t. In the Catholic church they do. They do dances there. They have a basement where they have social events. They dance. They drink. They drink wine. We don’t. We just have dinners. Cut the cake.

Did your parents ever have aproblem with the change in religion?

No no, never. Thank God, no problems. My parents never contradicted me. They were very happy. I got married as God wanted. My wedding was lovely. We had a lot of family attend. [14:45] They never contradicted me or said anything against it. Never.  Thankfully God has always helped me in everything.

So you are a person of great faith?

Yes. The job at the university, I prayed a great deal for that. I prayed to God for it because we didn’t have any medical insurance.  I had just left a job where they paid me very little. Even having papers they gave me very little. They didn’t want to give me vacation. My boss was terrible with us.

I kept praying to God that I would find a job like that. I didn’t even have a friend who could take me to that job. I heard in the IRS that they needed help there. A friend, a lady who is African-American, she gave me name of the building. So I went there and asking students, I found the building. I applied, with the little English I have, I filled out the application myself.  The big application, by myself. I filled it out and prayed to God that I would get this job. But I didn’t know that you have to add a serial number to the application so they know what job you’re applying for. By coincidence, when I was leaving, I ran into a lady in the parking lot. I asked her if she worked there. She said yes, she seemed like a very happy lady. I told her I had just applied for a job. I told her that another woman who had just applied had just told me that you had to add a serial number to the application. She asked me my name and I told her. She told me not to worry, that she would add the number to my application. She asked if could drive and if I lived nearby. I told her I did. She asked if I was ok with the hours. I told her yes. I had no problem. I needed the job because I had just left one.

There were 18 positions open and the boss said that 160 people had applied for the jobs.  Thank God I had been praying for that job because they offered it to me. They told me I would get a letter, that after the interview, I would get a letter notifying me if I got the job. Thankfully I did.

SO you did this yourself?
Yes by myself. I didn’t have a friend. As I said, I didn’t have a friend to take me because I was new to this state. I was able to get the job.

The lady who helped you worked there?

Yes she worked there in that office.

And it allowed you to have medical benefits?

Yes. We didn’t have medical insurance. And we have conditions that require medical insurance and medicine, for life you could say. My husband would pay medical consultations, and the consultations and medicine for him were almost $700. So I prayed to God that I could find a job with medical benefits. And this job offers us medical benefits, prescription coverage, and dental. For me, my husband and my daughter. All of us. Not just me. Thank God.

Do you like the job at the University?
Oh I love it. Well, I’ve always loved to clean. I like keeping the classrooms clean. That when the students arrive the classrooms are clean and that they have what they need. My supervisors have never had to say anything to me about being late to work. I like to be on time. They are understanding. If I need a day off or have an emergency. I have all the hours I need. Its an accessible job. I like the hours.  I can get to my other job on time, I can come home and do what I need. I like that job. My boss is very nice. Everyone is.

Are there many immigrants working there?

My boss, and all the main supervisors are African-American. They only speak English. My current team leader Latina. She’s from El Salvador. So I can communicate more with her. I don’t speak a great deal of English, you know, and sometimes you need to explain things in more detail, so it helps to have someone who speaks your language.

Do you like the job?

Oh yes I love my jobs, I love both my jobs. But the one I love most is the University job.

Do you still help your family in El Salvador? Do you send money home?

Oh yes. Always. You know we have our parents. Thank God, I still have both of my parents alive still. My husband unfortunately only has his father. So yes we send money there to them because you know the economic situation there is very hard.  So we know that here one’s job can help our parents there, and our brothers and sisters, when we can we send them money.  My father is retired and he has his pension from the government, but you know, its not the same as what he used to make. It’s not very much money. So we send them what we can to help them out.

Do your brother and sister help?

Yes they depend on us so they also send them what they can as well.

Thankfully, because my father worked for the government he has medical insurance. He just had to have major surgery on his heart. But those surgeries are expensive in El Salvador. But thankfully his insurance helps him. But you know, we also have to help them out. Sometimes they need to be moved from one hospital to another or have other costs.  Or there are times someone dies. I would always send money, even a little, when I learned that a neighbor or one of their relatives died.

Do people expect a lot from you when you come home? To bring them things?

Oh yes, well there is that sometimes. There are also people who don’t expect anything or ask anything. But I’ve always made it a habit to buy things. When I would see something pretty in a store I would buy it. Things like blouses, lotions, things that won’t go bad, I would buy it and save things for when I would travel home.  We always buy things like that that won’t spoil, we buy and save them for when we travel.  Or we send them with these companies that will deliver them to people at home. We get a big box and put in all kinds of things for everyone at home.

What do you wish for your daughter?

Oh we wish for a good future. Her father and I wish for a good future for her. We tell her to study and have a career, so that she can have a better life than we do.  Because you know, we work hard here to have a house and cars, to send money back home to the family. So you work hard here. I tell her to get a career so she can have a better life than we do, so she won’t have to work as hard as we do.  Because you know, if she’s prepared she can live a better life. She can have a better future.

Do you hope she goes to University?

Oh yes. We hope she’ll be able to go to the university. Maybe the university will help me. I understand that because of my job, my daughter can have help. My supervisor has three grown children. Her daughter got her degree as a teacher. Her son is a second year art student, there in the building where we work. She has a younger one that is also studying.

Do you hope she marries a Latino or would you be ok with an American?

Oh you know, it doesn’t matter. The only difference I wouldn’t like is, well sometimes when someone has a different culture, sometimes those marriages don’t work out. But if they understand each other then it’s ok. We are all the same in God’s eyes. We are all his creation.  It’s just that our lifestyles are different.

Will it be hard when she gets married or if you retire to El Salvador?

I love my daughter very much because she’s my only child. The day she marries will be hard. Or if we move to El Salvador she will miss us. She doesn’t have anyone else here. Unfortunately she doesn’t have another brother or sister. She says she’ll be alone here.  I just pray to God that she finds herself a good husband who can be with her.


Betty Ann


Interview With Betty-Ann

November 12th 2007


Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about where you were born and what your childhood was like?


Interviewee: My name is Betty-Ann Gonzales, formerly Betty-Ann Richardson. I was born in Trinidad. From a parent of Christian family: my father was a minister, my mother was active in the church. They raised fourteen children. I am number eleven out of fourteen. My parents instilled Christian values in us. Of course as children we resented it, but as we went along life's path we all went back to our roots, which was in knowledge of Christ and love of God in our heart, which I contribute for what I am today in my life. We were poor. We lived in a small town, you would consider rural area. We toiled the soil, if would call it that. That is how my parents provided for us. During summer vacations we spent, of course with fourteen children that is a lot of labor to produce the land, so with fourteen children our summer vacation consisted of being in the garden. We resented it as kids because that was our summer break from school but we spent it planting rice and bananas and spinach and whatever it took because that is how we lived. Of course my mother was a homemaker my father did odd jobs and they raised fourteen children off of the land my childhood I would say it was happy because we knew nothing else but the life we had with the fourteen of us were happy we always had food because of course we had provision and we had vegetable, and fruit, and so forth. So we never went without a meal. So as we grew my parents did not have the financial strength to send us to college and most of my siblings did not finish high school because again we were, their first, our first our first obligation was to the family to contribute to us, providing for the younger ones as you got older our responsibility was to care for the younger ones. I lived with my parents until I was 18 years old and decided I wanted to move on, my parents did not support it but i left. I worked as a domestic servant for ten years in my country until i got the opportunity to come to the United States. I had always heard of the United States. I saw different shows on television about life in the United States and I had this dream: that I would like to go to America, is how we referred to it. I wanted to be a secretary (laughs) I wanted to be a secretary, so I came to the United States in 1980. That was the highlight of my life, that opportunity to come to the United States to start a new life. I came with lots of dreams and goals and ambitions. No money of course, but lots of ambitions. And my sister sponsored me she was here, someone else had sponsored her, and she lived in the in the United States for a number of years. I  came in 1980, I worked as a dietary aid at the nursing home. From there i went to adult education, evening classes, got my G.E.D. The day after i went to Washington School of Secretary. I got a certificate because I wanted to be a secretary. That was my life's dream, to be a secretary.  I got my certificate from the Washington School of Secretary. After I accomplished that goal it was like, I wanted more. So I enrolled in Community College. I attended Montgomery Community College off and on, off and on... low self esteem, I can't do it it, it's not for me, I'm  too old, I'm not smart it enough, etc. But I persevered through. I graduated from Montgomery College, and that is one of the greatest accomplishment in my life, was to get that associates degree. At that point I was a mother.  A mother, and a wife, and a full time job. But i persevered. and I graduated from Montgomery College and I transferred to Colombia Union college for an accelerated program for adults- for working adults. With a two year Community College degree, I could attain a bachelors degree. So i perused that program and I graduated from Columbia Union college. I  majored in organizational management. My goal was for human resource management. I wanted to be a personal specialist, which I am not today. But at least I accomplished those goals. I continued to pursue. I was a (7:30) secretary; of course I accomplished that goal. And I wanted to go further in life because my bachelor’s degree allowed me more opportunities to go further into a career. I worked for private industry for a while and then I acquired a job with the Department of Agriculture as a secretary, and I worked my way into the organization and today I am a dairy import specialist, gs 12,  which is a major accomplishment for me, considering I came to this country with no education, no money. You know, I had absolutely nothing. My son, which is Eric. Eric. I gave birth to Eric when I was 32 years old, and I think my success for where I am today is because I delayed having children until I was somewhat secure to take care of a child, and take care of myself, my career, and at least have some progress and some type of life's accomplishment. I think that's the key, and education, and be secure in your life before you bring someone else into the world who is dependent on you. So I accomplished those goals, and then my dream, always my dream, because even though we were poor in Trinidad we owned our own home. And my goal was to own a home. And in 1997 I acquired this home. And my greatest pride was to own the land- not the house but the land. I had nothing in my country-absolutely nothing where my roots were, and I came to a foreign land, and owned land. That was...you know, people look at is like it was a joke, but for me it was a major accomplishment. I own a piece of land in America! Which, I did not own in my own country. Because there were no opportunities there for me. I love my country, but there were no opportunities there. And I consider America truly the land of opportunity. (10:00) If you cannot make it here, you cannot make it anywhere in the world- because it's up to you. The opportunities are there, its up to you the individual to go, it's not gonna come to you, you have to go get it. And today I'm an American citizen, even though I have this Caribbean accent. I'm proud to be a Caribbean American because I am privileged to have both worlds-the American, the opportunity to live in this country and also the opportunity to be raised in a country where the values are different. (10:45) But in the end we all have the same dreams and desire a better life. So this is where I am today: I'm really proud of where I am and where I came from, and the way I am. My life's dream and desire is to give back: give back to the country, and also give back to the Lord for his blessings for bringing me to this point. I must admit I'm not at the point spiritually where I'm supposed to be, but the Lord knows my heart and that's the most important thing. I'm honest, I'm hard working. I'm a happy person, I love to spread joy, I have a great sense of humor. I like to see other people happy. I like to share others' happiness and goals and dreams and accomplishments. And I think for that reason I have been blessed at this point. I was married for-well, I'm still married- for 27 years. My husband and I separated about four years ago, we got back together, we separated again, all because we were never one. We were never one. My husband was on the left, I was on the right, and we never came together, not even after my son was born. We were never a family. It was just Betty-Ann there and Eric there. (Sound Disturbance- 12:40) But I still thank God for the experience and... But where I am today, my son is my life. My son, his name is Eric, he's 20 years, old he's attending the University of Maryland Eastern Shores.  And  I thank God I raised a good son. By the grace of god, never been into any trouble. He's not rude,  he's not disrespectful to me. No one has ever complained to me about my son. No one. If he walked in this room now he would have a great smile on his face as though he have met you all before. That's the type of child I raised and I'm really proud of him. He's doing great in school, he's really structured and that's what I'm living for today: is to see my son become a productive member of society. That he too can give back for what we have accomplished. I'm satisfied, you know sometimes that's a tough call. But I'm satisfied in my life. (Sound disturbance 14:27) I have two jobs right now. I have a full-time day job, I work for the Department of Agriculture, and at night I work for United Parcel Services. I love my jobs. I was even out here last night and my friend said, “you seem so happy to go to work.” I love to work because by working I accomplish what I need to accomplish financially. So my part time job, I've been at my part time job for 8 years. I love my job. I'm a part-time supervisor. And  I think I love my job because it provides my needs, my financial needs. My son is in college, I have a mortgage, I have a car note, I have car insurance. Financially, I need those two jobs. I love working. I grew up- was raised working from I think 5 years old I've been working. But I love working. It brings a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I don't need to reach out to the government, I don't need to reach out to friends I don't need family- I'm self sufficient. And my son is dependent on me, and that's why I'm excited about working because I have someone else dependent on me. So I cannot let him down because when he says “mom I need a book” or “mom I need shoes,” I have to I have to provide. I cannot say “son I don't have.” I have an obligation to my child. That's why I made the decision I'd have one child. Because that's all I can afford. Because as we all know, children are very expensive. If you want to give a child a good life, a good education, you cannot have six. You will be depriving them. When my son was... his second birthday, we spent it in London. And from two to about nine it was London, Paris, Rome, Switzerland, Hawaii, Canada, Trinidad. We traveled, and that too, I feel I owed it to him that I showed him another life. That he wants a desire to have a financially secure life, that he can enjoy the finer things in life. So right now he wants the finer things in life because he has always had a good life, and I would like for him to continue. And could you pass me a picture of my son? I'm talking about Eric, right there. That's Eric. (17:40) This is Eric, he attended Falk Union Military Academy for his high school year. And this is my pride and joy right here. Thank you. I did not send him to Falk Union because he was bad, but to keep him in a safe environment. Because of my work schedule I think it was important that he was in a constructive secure environment. So he attended Falk Union for three years. And even today he thanks me for sending him to Falk Union. Of course at first he resented it... oh, my friends oh I don't want to leave home ...but I'm the parent. I make the decision. Yeah I listen to his input but at the end result, I make the final decision. So now as he has grown older he appreciates the time he has spent at Falk Union and he is happy. I have a happy son. A 20 year old teenager happy? Wait no problems? (Sound Disturbance 19:09) O.k. I'm blessed. I'm truly blessed. So at this stage in my life I feel a sense of accomplishment. And after my son completes his education, I feel as though my job is done and the next step that I would like to elevate in my life is back to committing my life to Christ. It should be done simultaneously- Christ should be first. But with my two jobs sometimes I'm tired, I can't go to church. I still have to keep the home, get the food, whatever. That's no excuse because I should put him first. But of course, the flesh says one thing but I know the spirit is saying something different. But the most important thing is that the love is here and once it's here it'll never die. So, that's my life story! Do you have any questions?


Interviewer: Yes. You said that you and your son, when he was younger, you traveled around a lot. And while you were traveling, you both visited Trinidad together. What is his relationship with Trinidad, does he have pride that he's sort of descended from that country?


Interviewee: You know one thing... Well he was born here in the United States. But what he appreciated the most was the freedom for the outdoors. You know, here in the United States. Children spend more time indoors the freedom to be outdoors was almost like unbelievable to a child. You have this much freedom. He was out there with the dogs, running around the bushes, no clothes, dirty. You know he just enjoyed it because for him it was fun. But that's life in the Caribbean it's a different life here in the U.S. Where the environment is different. Remember, Hilary Clinton always said it takes a village to raise a child. In the Caribbean a village raised a child. Here in this country the parent is responsible for raising the child. Because I lived in an apartment before I lived here. I didn't know my neighbors. Everyone went and walked away came back walked in closed the door. Home, everyone knew you so you knew to behave yourself when you were on the street, or they will ind your parent and you will be punished. So he really appreciates that freedom of the openness to just explore everywhere and feel safe.


Interviewer: How do you think that the value systems that you grew up with in Trinidad impacted the way you saw things when you came here?


Interviewee: The value in Trinidad... A lot of it is based on the Christian upbringing. Here it's the law. A neighbor in Trinidad could spank your child and send your child home your parent  and you would not tell your parent the neighbor  spank you for doing wrong. In this country the parent of the spanked child will take you to court. And that's where I think the system breaks down. Because the value the respect is gone. There's no respect for adults. The respect for adults is gone. I have seen children on the streets... it's like, unbelievable. I came to this country at 25 years old.  I am 52 years old now. I came humble. I did not question authority. If you told me that paper was red (points off-screen) even though I saw it's black and white, i would not question it because in my heart you have no reason to misinform me that is the way we were... we were raised on belief. We were raised on trust, honesty, dignity, respect. But when I came to this country I realized. And I was so hurt because you never pass a senior on the street without saying good morning good evening in a humble way. And i would pass people on the street and say, “good morning” and they will not respond. I was hurt for such a long time until I became like everyone else and didn't speak. It took a while for me to adapt to that system of I don't know you i don't have to speak to you you're nobody in my sight. Home, everyone was important. The smallest child got respect. But I realize in this country it seems like status. You will get respect according to your status in life. And I believe all of that helped to break down the society. Because you get the haves and the have nots. I will treat you a certain way if you have. And I will treat you a certain way if you don't have. And then you have this resentment between the two classes. That's my opinion.


Interviewer: So you said that's something that was difficult....


Interviewee: Very Difficult. Very Difficult. It took me a couple of years. I remember tears in my eyes one morning when I went down. I was working as a contractor secretary for a company for the dept of agriculture. And i walk in the halls get to my office and i said good morning to one, two, three people. And no one answered. Tears in my eyes. Because I didn't know anything about that. I wasn't used to that. I felt hurt. Now I won't feel hurt because I would not say good morning. Because in your work space, in your work environment you already know who speaks and who doesn't speak. So you don't speak to who don't speak and you speak to who speaks. But what does it take? T say how are you, good morning, or smile? Nothing! But the root of that comes from here (points towards her chest). What are you carrying with you? If I’m happy I can share happiness. If I'm not, there's no way I can share happiness with you. SO that's just the bottom line. Its unhappy people cannot share happiness. That's the difference. But one thing in the Caribbean, well I must speak for Trinidad. Even though you poor, we were the happiest children in the neighborhood. We were happy. There was no stress. Well, our parents were stressed out. But as children we knew no other life but the life we had. We made the most out of it.


Interviewer: How much do you think that had to do with your parents and the role that they played in bringing you up? Did they sacrifice a lot for you and your siblings?


Interviewee: 110%. Yeah. Because (Disturbance) We call it an outing. If the church is going somewhere or the school is going somewhere. My parent, my mother especially, she would not go, so she could sacrifice for her children especially. It was a total sacrifice. Your parent came... the children came before the parents. And that is why they decided we should be able to enjoy life together. Because the parents are older naturally they will pass away before the children. Well, that is how it's supposed to be, right? I would think. But, I said why should I.. I should make the sacrifice for my child and I'm the oldest member. I would be gone. And this child would be here to enjoy life. We should be able to enjoy life together. But if you have 14 children you will have to make sacrifices. Then we can do it together. That is the difference between the sacrifice that my parents made because that's just it was just our way of life


Interviewer: What's your relationship now with your family back in Trinidad? Do you keep in touch with everybody?


Interviewee: Well, both of my parents passed since I've been here. I have three sisters in this area: Bowie, Takoma Park, and Lanham. So I have threes sisters here. But I do. Folks at home do not keep in touch. For some reason but when the holiday come around we all remember each other. Who sends money, who gets a card, or who gets on the phone and calls. If you don't hear from your family all year, Christmas was a family gathering- a family one-ness. And we still maintain that. Christmas morning everyone get on the phone and call each other. But we do now that you could just pick up the phone and call a family member. We do keep in touch to a point. But as the years go by everyone go their separate ways but there's still involved in your heart. And that's the most important thing. And if the word should come out that something is wrong at home, everyone is calling at the same time. What is going on? The interest is there, the love is still there, the concern is still there. Even though the distance but you still maintain some sort of contact with your family. Because that's your family!


Interviewer: So let me ask you, what do you think the different factors for migrating were for you and for your three sisters who are here? And why do you think that it was the three of you that came and not anyone else?


Interviewee: Well we came at different times. My sister had gotten an opportunity to be a nurse in England. I remember I was young when she left to go to England to study nursing. SO she went to England. My other sister had left home and was working as a domestic and her boss was coming to the United States and brought her to the United States. So she came to the United States. And after a number of years she got her citizenship. And she sponsored me after I came after 5 years I became a citizen and I sponsored my sister who is here. So we always reach back to help each other even. Well we have an obligation. We are obligated, we have a responsibility to help the weaker. Well not weaker in terms of strength, but financially. We all would like a good life ourself it's just circumstances- we could not afford. So once an opportunity presents itself for one, then we extend it to the next one. And that is how we all are now here. We all came at different times. Like I said, I came 27 years ago, my sister that I sponsored she's been here about 10 years. But the waiting period was ten years after I got citizenship. It took 10 years before my sister came. And one of them is working as a nurse, my other sister she works for the school system- Montgomery County school system; my other sister works for Washington Hospital Center I belief, or... one of these hospitals. But everyone is doing. We took advantage of the opportunity that we got. Because it was a dream for us to have more of the life. But one thing we all did was have either one or two children because we know that was key to really having a good life. Not having too many children. That that is truly a setback in life, having too many kids.


Interviewer: So, do you feel comfortable in this country now?


Interviewee: I love this country. I don't miss an election (laughs). Very comfortable because one of my sisters her goal is to retire back in Trinidad. And my goal, I am retiring right here. This country gave me everything. And whatever I have to give back I'm giving it right back to this country. Because my life is complete here in the US. SO I have fulfilled my dreams here in the United States and I feel a sense of obligation to this country in whatever way I can give back. I will give back.


Interviewer: So even when you first came here, did you know that you wanted to stay here permanently?


Interviewee: Yeah!


Interviewer: You knew right away?


Interviewee: When I came I tried to join the military. I tried to join the service. (Sound disturbance) I was misinformed. And it's only later on... again I did not question authority. I was told I needed a college degree to join the service. And someone said no, no you don't. I did not question authority because again I came with that naiveness because that's the way I was raised. Why would you misinform me? I went to the recruitment office. I was told I needed a college degree. I didn't question it. I said, well I don't have a college degree. I have a high school diploma. And for that reason I did not serve. But I'm still serving. I'm a tax-payer and I'm a voter. (laughs) So.. I would have it no other way. No.


Interviewer: Do you go back often to Trinidad?


Interviewee: Well, unfortunately the only time I go back is for a funeral. I have been going like every two or three years for a funeral. But no, the last time I've been again was for a funeral about three years ago.


Interviewer: And does your son go with you when you go back?


Interviewee: No, my son because I wanted my son to experience where I came from. So while he was about 5,6,7 even if I did not go down, I would send him for summer vacation. But he hasn't been in a while. But at least we have photographs and so forth of home when family comes they visit and so forth. I believe he does have a bond with Trinidad.


Interviewer: I would love to see some of those photographs.


Interviewee: You'd like to see some photographs? I should have sorted it out. Can I see the album? (leans down and stretches out to grab photo album) Yeah, try that one! And the big one! Yeah, yeah. (Comes back up, holds photo albums in her hands) Let me see. (looks through album) (Camera disturbance- Camera operator's head in shot)


Interviewer: Is that you with him?


Interviewee: Yes! I've aged a lot? I hope not. Yeah, that's us (lifts page from photo album and displays it) and we met this lady, her name was Freida. She was 80 years old when we met her through a friend.


Interviewer: O.K., In Switzerland?


Interviewee: (looks down at more photos in her lap) In Switzerland, yeah.


Interviewer: Do you still keep in touch with her?


Interviewee: No she passed. (takes out page from album, hands it to interviewer) And this was us in Rome. The Vatican (Camera disturbance) Let me see. This is definitely us. I love this one (goes to take page out).  This is the Swiss Alps. (Takes out page and hands it to interviewer). This is the Swiss Alps.


Interviewer: Oh, so you all went to the top.


Interviewee: Yeah. We took the lift up. (takes out another page, holds it up) This is us in well, This is Paris. I think the other two looks like Rome. (flips through book- camera zooms in on photo album) You see this favorite shot in Disney World- I love it. It's this one. This one right there. That is my favorite one. (hands over page) And this is him and his granddad. (sound disturbance) His grandfather passed about three years ago.


Interviewer: Was your husband from this country? Or was he born...


Interviewee: Trinidad.


Interviewer: He was born in Trinidad also?


Interviewee: Yes, Trinidad.


Interviewer: But you met him when you were in America?


Interviewee: No.


Interviewer: You met him back in Trinidad?


Interviewer: Yes. We were friends and I came to the United States and I went back and married him and sponsored him.


Interviewer: Oh, o.k. I see.


Interviewer: Yes, this is him. That's big Eric.


Interviewer: That's big Eric?


Interviewee: Yeah. And Eric is my son. But for some reason it didn't work out. (laughs) Where are we? Oh, let's see. Oh, this is a picture of Eric in Trinidad. With the dog. (laughs) This is Trinidad. Trinidad, Trinidad.


Interviewer: Where did you stay when you went back to Trinidad?


Interviewee: I stayed at my parent's home. Yeah.


Interviewer: Is that your father in this picture?


Interviewee: No, that's Eric's grandfather, which is my husband's... well, that's my father in law.


Interviewer: O.K.


Interviewee: Let's see if we can find a picture of me. This is Niagara falls. (Shows pictures) This is Trinidad, and this is teas. This is my great aunt here who we visited in Texas.


Interviewer: Who's this little girl?


Interviewee: That's my great niece! My  nephew's daughter.


Interviewer: Seems like you have a very big family.


Interviewee: Well, with 14... I can imagine about 100 of us out there. (laughs) And this is Japan (holds up album page) That's my Friend Kimberly Dreese (sp?) and her son. (flips through photo album). Let's see. Here are some of the currencies from some of the different countries.


Interviewer (2): Did you put the album together? Was it you who put the album together?


Interviewee: Yes. (laughs) I have so many pictures, I decided I'm going to take some time make notes where we were, etc. (makes exasperated face) sleep, eat when I have time. (Flips through album) Let's see. Well, these are the receipts. You know, my room in Paris and Switzerland, I really adored those because those are places I never thought in my wildest dream I would have seen. Never in my life. Though i would have been to Switzerland. It's like (flips through album) This one is Hawaii here. It's like dreams, fantasies came true. But it's good to dream. It's good to dream. Because it's goals. Yeah. This is us in Hawaii (holds up page from album).


Interviewer: Do you think your son had a lot to do with you accomplishing the goals that you did?


Interviewee: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. After I had my son my outlook on life changed completely. To wanting more of the life. And providing a better life for my son than I had. And I wanted, always wanted my son to have a better life than I had. Yeah.


Interviewer: It sounds like you did a good job.


Interviewee: Thank you. I really work hard to do.. (stops flipping through album, sits back) well, my parents were poor, and they could not really give us more than they did. Comfortable home, roof over our head as they would refer to it, and meal on our table. Outside of that they had nothing more to offer but yet they believe it's still God's Will that they had 14 children. Now we accepted it and event today my sisters and I still thank them for the upbringing and the moral values and so forth because it helped  to make us the women we are you know, today.


Interviewer: So what is your, uh, do you live alone here now?


Interviewee: Right now I live alone, since my husband and I separated. And my son is off at college. I live alone. (Whispers) And I love it! (laughs)I Love it! It's so much responsibility caring for others. It's such a responsibility! I love my son. But God it's a responsibility! Because I have two jobs. During the day, it's o.k. But when I'm at work at night, I have to be concerned. Is he o.k. In the home? (sound disturbance) Is he safe? Is he at home? (laughs) I'm at work at night working. I'm concentrating on the job i have to produce there, I have to think about my son here. Think about the stress level. So just knowing he's in a safe environment, I could have had a peace of mind. And this is his second year. I convinced him to stay for a masters degree. He agreed, so I'm looking at four more years (laughs) before I can run away from home. (laughs) I enjoy life. But I would not trade my life for anything (looks through photo album, takes out page.) This is my son and Mickey. (camera turns to picture, which has been handed to interviewer) Mickey on the other side. I would not trade my life for anything. It took everything to make me who I am. And I'm proud of me. I'm really proud of me.


Interviewer: You should be.


Interviewee:Yeah, I'm not waiting for anyone to pat me on the back and say, Betty-Ann, good job. NO. I know by the grace of God I  where I am today. (looks through photo album) And who is this? This is one, one of my son's birthday parties. Oh! 1989. (takes out page, hands it to interviewer) Oh! he had some beautiful birthday parties. We celebrated all the birthday parties. Those were the neighborhood kids and the kids from the day care. Can you identify Eric? (camera turns to picture)


Interviewer: Is that him, in the middle?


Interviewee: You see him with the ninja turtle heltmet? (laughs)


Interviewer: Oh! There he is!


Interviewee: Yeah. And the ninja turtles are still on the television. They're on forever.


Interviewer: Is that what he liked when he was little? The ninja turtles?


Interviewee: Yeah, he loved the ninja turtles. Well, you know kids- cartoons, they love cartoons. (flips through album) He would be embarrassed today that I'm showing all his private photos. (pauses to look at one page in the album) Prince George's Community College. Hm. O.K. That was a CPR class I did. I was a foster mother for about 4 years. I fostered two children. That's their picture right there. (points off-screen) That's the two boys.


Interviewer: When was that?


Interviewee: About 4 years ago. I had first fostered to adopt. Which was my way of giving back. Foster to adopt. But at the time I did not have the support of my husband. And with my son and the baby and then his brother came to live with us because he was with another family and to unite the siblings, his brother came to live with us. So here I am, a mother of three. And I did not have much support. So I did inform the agency, they could live with me as long as it took until they found a good home. They found a beautiful home. Their mother is also a foster mother, also an adopted child. So she took both of them and adopted them. SO from the system- Brandon, which was the baby at three months old, he came to me and he was with me for three years. So from my home they went into a permanent home. So I feel a sense of accomplishment there, also. That they did not bounce around the system, but found a home. So both Brandon and Eri (?) went on. (Looks over at pictures off-screen) And we kept in touch for a little while. But it was naturally that their former bond with the mother and not this confusion as to- because they called me mom. And then they called her the other mom. So it was not fair you know, to have, as time went by yo know, we all went our separate ways. But as you can see, their pictures still live on on my desk at work and here at home. They will always live on in my heart. They were a member of my family. (Points to pictures off-screen) That little baby right there is him. See that little baby in the corner? That was Brandon when he first came. Yeah. And also my son Eric. Eric!


Interviewer: Yeah, I was going to say, is that Eric right there?


Interviewee: Yeah. And that's Eric today (points to pictures off-screen) on the phone. On the cell phone calling girls (laughs)


Interviewer: Do you know if he identifies himself as Caribbean-American, or does he just see himself as an American?


Interviewee: As an American. I think he values my heritage. He loves Caribbean food (laughs) He's not embarrassed of me in any way because of my accent. I have never attempted to change it. This is who I am. The most important thing is that you can understand me. There's no need for me to disguise my accent or put on another. I don't see a need to. So he understands me, which sometimes he acts like what are you talking about? (laughs) But he understands me, and that's the most important thing. He's happy. He's a happy kid.


Interviewer: That's good. So is there anything else that you want to show us or tell us about your story?


Interviewee: Well, for my story I would like to conclude this way: happiness comes from within. No one can make you happy. You have to have that happiness in your heart. And love and compassion for others contribute to happiness in your life. And also we all have an obligation to give back to those less fortunate than us. Because, you know, sometimes we say I don't wanna think about it, that's their problem. No. It's our problem. Eventually it's our problem. Your tax dollars are gonna take care of those who don't have. So that's still your problem. So In the smallest way, if you can reach out to someone, reach out. Because just someone's life history can make a difference in someone else life. That, my God, that person made it, that gave me hope. When I went to UPS, UPS-that's my night job, the toughest job I've ever had in my life. I saw this older lady she looked like she was 80 years old. I said if she can do it, I can do it, and that was my motivation. And today I'm proud to tell you,a lot of young people, I'm 52, and people look at me, “you're 52?!” Yes, I'm 52 lifting these boxes. If I can do it, you can do it. So even if it's using your life history, or whatever tool it takes to motivate someone. Sometimes it's just that little thing someone else needs to pull them to the next step. The next level. Do it. Don't think, oh I've got it made, I'm going on, I'm going to make my big salary, whatever whatever. That's where you find your life satisfaction- in reaching back and reaching out to other people. Reaching out to others, that's where you find your satisfaction. Also I don't know if you ladies belief in (quotation symbols) God, but that's where our strength comes from. It's not us. It's not our ability. There's another force out there that gives us that desire, the motivation, the strength to go forward. And accomplish and having that is like the icing on the cake. It makes a difference because when all else fails and your friends are gone and you're left alone with yourself, (laughs) you better have something else that you can hold on to except you. Because we are all weak. We think we're not, but we're weak. So find something that will give you strength. And that's that other force out there. That we can't see, we can't touch, but we can feel. And that makes a difference. And I (laughs), I thank you for this opportunity. I hope I did well!


Interviewer: You did! And hopefully your story will influence people to work harder.


Interviewee: Yes,to work hard. It's up to us. It's not the government's responsibility because that is not responsible for us. Look at all the opportunities! I had no opportunity. I worked as a domestic servant before I came to this country. My salary was $500 per month. I went to a commercial school, which is like a secretary school. The tuition was $500. I couldn't afford to go. Because my whole paycheck would be gone tomorrow. How would I... where is the transportation money? Where is the money for books? Where is the money for clothes? I just could not afford it. But here I came to this country there were student loans, you can apply to the government and borrow and pay a small amount. People just don't take advantage of the opportunities that are here. And then I've gotten this resentment: you foreigners! You come and take our opportunities! No! It's so much here, for everyone! That is why to us America is a blessed country. This country is blessed. Look how many millions of us came from other countries to add to the millions that are already in this country.  And everyone can get a piece of the pie. Why not? It's truly a blessing! So, just take advantage of your opportunities that are here. And don't look back- look forward. Because looking back can really slow you down. But if you look ahead all you see is a brighter day. You see goodness, you see light, you see progress, you see opportunities, if you keep looking ahead. I'm still dreaming. I'm satisfied but I still dream. It's o.k. to dream. It keeps you happy, it keeps you motivated. Looking forward to accomplish another goal. What am I looking for to accomplish right now? Get some more furniture. I want to do some decorating. Little things like that, you know, make me happy. You know, my son complete his education, that's the biggest- major- goal I have right now: To  see my son complete his education, because it's all on me. I've got to be the motivating force. I've got to be the financial force, I've got to be the motivator, I've got to be (quotation symbols) the bad guy, the good guy, I will have to wear the hat. Because it's gonna pay off in the end. (looks into photo album on her lap) And I could go off into the sunset and retire happy. (puts photo album down beside her chair, laughs) So, thank you for your time. O.K.?




Henri Martinez 4/22/2008


Begin with your name and occupation.


OK. My name is Henri Martinez. My occupation is construction laborer. I work on construction. I am 34 years old. I am married to this lady, Veronica. And  well, I am Uruguayan.


Well, tell me about your youth in Uruguay until age 11, 12.


Well, a normal youth. I come from a large family. We are nine brothers and umm …many friends, family and well…


Where did you live?


I lived in Villa del Cerro, a neighborhood in Montevideo, Uruguay.  I was raised there. I lived there for 24 years.


And…how was your house of your childhood?


How was it? What do you mean?


Um…what kind of house was it, what kind of neighborhood was it?


The house was big…a lot of space…beaches.  Not there was, but there still is a lot of space, beaches, wharfs,  many trees of different kind…and well…there was a mobile market at the door which came once a week, a mobile market once a week and…well, it was at the door and…all-out it was a very pleasant childhood,


Well, and which grade did you complete at school?


Years at school, did you say? Well, I went to school six years of grammar school and four years of secondary school, ten years. I went to school ten years and  afterwards I studied electricity.


Have you studied in the U.S.?




No?  Tell me about your life from when you were 12 until you came to the U.S.


Before I arrived to the United States?


Yes, before.


Well… a normal life, working, I was in a relationship and then I separated. I had many friends, some of my friends went to Spain, others came to the U.S. There were no jobs in Uruguay and we were forced to leave, some to Argentina, some to Brazil, to Spain, or to the U.S.


And…what kind of work?


Well, I worked as a manager of an import business; I also worked at a car dealership       inspecting the cars that people were returning, thing like that...it was O.K.


When did you start working? How old were you?


How many years have I been working?  How old were I when I started working?  I think I was 15 or 16.  I started with small jobs, such as distributing newspapers, helping a neighbor who had a business, mowing lawns.   I was already working when I was 14.


Did you have a girl friend before coming to the U.S.?




Are you able to talk to her?


Yes, at the beginning I kept a conversation going, but then it was not worth it. After all there was a distance of twelve thousand kilometers that separated us.


Did your parents influence your decisions, particularly your decision to come to the U.S?


No, they did not at all. My parents allowed us to do anything we wanted as long as it was honest; they always gave us support and they wanted us to be successful.  They did not influence our decisions about political parties, politics, not even on soccer teams.


When you were in Uruguay, did you go out with friends?


Yes, I was going out with friends all the time.


And now?


Now they are far away. Some friends are in New Jersey or in Los Angeles, some others are in Barcelona. It is difficult to have parties


Do you have friend here?


Yes, some friends…we have a saying…”acquaintances…many; friends… only a few”


What kind of music is your favorite in Uruguay?


In Uruguay all kinds of folk music, and well…to spend time at the club, Argentina’s rock music. There is nothing I don’t like.  Classical music…it depends. If you take a look at my musical collection you will see that I have everything. It depends on the mood at the moment you are listening to it.


In the U.S., do you listen to different music of what you were listening to in your country of origin?


No, I listen to the same music. I continue listening to all kinds of music. There is no problem.


How did you decide to come to the U.S.?


I decided to leave my country because the economic situation was not good. I have family in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, and they offer to help. My problem was the famous “corralito” in the year 2001. The situation was not good in Argentina, or in Brazil, and my friends in Spain told me that the situation there was not good either.  The only option was to come here where things were more or less good.


Did you know people living in the U.S.?


Not many, but a few.


Tell me about your experiences when you first arrived.  Where did you first live and why did you decide to live there?


When I first arrived I talked to a friend, a girl who was a friend and she told me about the job situation. She told me there was a possibility of work and she put me in touch with some employers. She told me I could stay at her place. We stayed at her house about three months. Later her brother came to New Jersey, my friend went to Miami and I moved with a friend from Uruguay.  I moved later to my own apartment, where I stayed about two years. Then I met Veronica. We have been here almost three years.  Since the year 2002, March of 2002.


March of 2002


(To Veronica). When I talk to a nice person about my childhood, my English improves a lot.


So, you marry her in March of 2002.


No, that is when I arrived in the United States. O.K.  Two years in New Jersey and then I moved, it was the year 2005 when I came here.  Well, two years.


Tell me about your jobs in the United States.  Did you find a job right a way?


At first the work was difficult.  Since I did not find a job in building or electricity, I had to start working in dry wall.  I did not know anything about dry wall. I had never seen it in my life. Everything was new to me but I learned the skill. I worked eight months for somebody who taught me and then I had no problem because I learned the trade and every day I was doing better. Sometimes jobs were good and sometimes not so good.


Have you had problems keeping a job?


Yes, it is difficult, because you build a house and when the house is finished the job ends and you have to start again.  Sometimes there are no jobs, everything stops and you can stay out of work for a week.


How was your first contact with society in the U.S. How were you received?


Well, I was well received in the Hispanic community.  In the Anglo community… American…well, but I did not have much contact at the beginning.  Then I found out how the system works and I would say: “I’m sorry”, “thanks”, and well things began to work better. I even worked for Americans and I did not have any problem.


And your contact, is it good now?


My contact?


With this culture?


Oh yes, it’s very good. I don’t have any problem.  What happens is that we have different way of living. For instance, to eat at six in the evening or at five, I cannot eat at five.  We eat at eight or nine in the evening, but we cannot eat at five.  We can have a cup of coffee ant five and then at eight or nine we eat dinner.  But these are small differences. I don’t have a big problem.


Have you used the public services, such as health services from community organizations?


Fortunately I have not. Not for health reasons.  I never went to the hospital in my country and I have never been to a hospital here.  I have never had an operation or grave illness and I have never been in an accident. In New Jersey there are not many places for the Hispanic community, but here in Maryland there are many.  I went to CASA de Maryland and I talked to them. They explain to me how the system works.  They gave me some jobs but I did not pursue them because I did not know anything about that line of work.


Has your experience with CASA de Maryland been good?


Yes, very good. 


Tell me about your life now.  Have you changed?


Now in Washington, DC. This is a big city that offers many opportunities. People are pleasant and sociable. It is different from New Jersey. People have more opportunities of making contact at the coffee shop, at the Metro.  So that has changed.  The contact with people is better and there is more opportunity, because the city is big and there is work for me, and in my personal case, also for my wife.  We can profit from all of that, everything works better and the situation is more stable.


Do you feel comfortable in this country?  If yes, why; and if not, why not?


Well, I think all Hispanics feel comfortable in the U.S.  The problem is the family. If we could bring all the family here and be together, that would be much better. Here it is colder in the winter and hotter in the summer.  But the problem is that the family is not here.  We miss family and friends.


Do you talk to your family often?


Yes, with all of them, sometimes with one sometimes with other.  They sometimes call me.


By phone?


Yes, by phone, the Internet, chatroom or webcam. Yes.


Well, what do you thing in general terms about immigration in he U.S.?


In legal terms?


In general


Immigration in general terms.  I work in construction. We build 90% of all the houses. Ninety percent of the construction of houses depends on Hispanic immigrants.  If a worker gets to be too old, there is somebody younger that comes behind and learns from the older worker.  In the fields and in all lines of work everywhere the Hispanics are like a strong arm of the working force in the U.S.


Do you send money to your family in Uruguay?


Well, sometimes a little if I can.


To whom do you send it and why?


In case of emergency or as a gift, just as everybody else.


Your wife is from Argentina, right?


My wife, yes.


Your wife is from another country of origin.  Is this important?


No.  Argentina and Uruguay is the same as U.S. and Canada.  You don’t understand. Do you?  There is no problem because it is the same culture. We have the same customs. There is no problem.


Do you have children? Do you want to have children?


I don’t have any children, but I hope I will have some. I have fourteen nephews and nieces, nine brothers and sisters, fourteen or fifteen nephews and nieces.


If you had children, would you want them to live and study in the U.S.?


About their education, I don’t know. It depends.  It depends very much on the situation. First lets hope a child arrives, then we will give him an education, then we will see. First let him arrive.


Do you want to live permanently here?


No, no. I think we are taking advantage of our strong years to do a job that now we can do and later we won’t be able to do.  We have to go back to Uruguay or Argentina.


What is your hope for the future?


Hope…we have a saying “you never lose hope”.  A great deal of hope: to work and keep working. That is the way things function. My family did it that way. My father and my mother are working class people.  My brothers are always working and that is the way it all happens and everything functions.


Very well. Thank you very much.



Interview with Veronica Munoz

Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Thank you so much for taking the time for this.


No, pleasure. My pleasure.


Could you tell me a little about your childhood and your experiences?


Ok, first I am going to tell you who I am.  I am from Argentina.  I am thirty seven.  Yah, thirty seven definitely.  I was born in Buenos Aires and I always lived there so I feel like I am a city girl.  All my childhood I was in the same place and so when I go back to Buenos Aries I still go back to the apartment where I was born.  So I feel very rooted to that place and my school was two or three blocks from where I was living. I had three brothers and our home was the closest to both of our schools so our place was much the place where everybody was gathering… my friends and friends of my brother so a lot of people were always around in the apartment where I used to be and that was one of the best things that I recall from my childhood. 


What is the age difference between you and your brothers?


I am thirty seven, my older brother is thirty nine and then I have another thirty two and thirty six.


What about your parents?  Can you tell me something about them?


They are from Argentina as well.  My Mom was from the province in the center and my Dad from greater Buenos Aires… much like this place, like College Park.


And what did they do for a living?


They, my dad was-is still-an engineer, because he still works (inaudible)… in my country you need to work even though you are retired.  My mom passed away quite a long time ago. 


And so when you were growing up did you just live with your parents and your brothers or did you have extended family too?


For a bunch of time I lived with my grandmother also and…


Was that your maternal or…?


Maternal, my maternal grandmother… (inaudible)… until I was seven, I guess.  I can’t remember.  And two aunts, one still lives with us which means in my Dad’s apartment, in my Dad’s house-she is eighty three now.


Can you tell me something about school?


It is very common in Argentina to have a school for girls and a school for boys.  Right now that has changed, but I was… all of my primary high school was in the same school and (inaudible).  We had a group, a class group of forty five girls with whom my best two friends right now still are the girls I met when I was in kindergarten.  When I am in some trouble I talk to them and so they know me more than myself so it is great and we keep in contact. 


So what do you think about having schools that are just for girls or just for boys?


I don’t know.  I think that it was very particular.  That was the seventies in Argentina and we were under particular political situation.  The world has changed so I think people… (inaudible)… I think it is healthy too… (inaudible).


If you were to have to have children now in the United States or in Argentina, would you prefer to have them go to a co-ed or all girls’ or all boys’ school?


Yah, definitely.  Since, I think was since the nineties most of schools are with boys and girls by law.  So, that has changed.


Can you tell me some about when you got a job and your experiences with different…?


My first job was when I was sixteen and I started tutoring English to an elementary school girl and since that moment-I was in a school where in all the afternoons you have English as a second language.  Even though I do not know if my English was so good, but I got that chance and I wanted some money for myself.  That’s why I started and in a sense I found opportunities to keep tutoring or working as an elementary school teacher of English.  So that is what I kept doing and then after I started university I found that working as an English teacher you get much more money.  So that is why I kept doing that for a long time.  I might be doing that again, but I don’t know.


Where did you go to university?


I went to the University in Buenos Aires and I studied literature… (inaudible).  When you go into a language, you study the literature… (inaudible).  I started university at eighteen and twenty-(inaudible).


Can you tell me about some of your experiences in university?


 It was not so different from my high school environment.  The people I met.  I went to a private university.  I worked to pay my tuition and then as I began to (inaudible), I started to study more and I got scholarships to cover it.  It was fine.  My feeling is that the university gave me quite an important background to move further into what I wanted to do.  I was not so sure.  When I was twenty-three, twenty-four I realized-maybe it is not realize-it is that I accepted I wanted to be a teacher, professor, educator.  And I am using the word accepted because, I do not know if it is the same here, but particularly in Latin America-I can tell you my experience in Argentina-its like if you go into an educator career you are not going to get any money at all.  So it is more like-some people do not see that as very positive.  I decided to keep on that track.


What led you to that track?  What is it about education?


What I like from educating people, or students, is having the chance of helping somebody be more critical to whatever… they have in their own life.  Try to develop some sort of critical thing.  That is my ultimate goal.


So let’s backtrack a little bit.  Can you tell me something about your relationships as a teenager?  Your friends or boyfriends.


I was telling you that during my teenage years I was in an all girls’ school so it was not so easy to meet guys.  I developed quite a close relationship to my girlfriends and then of course we started partying and meeting… my school was just in front of my brothers’ school which was male.  So it was very common to meet guys from that side and it was funny.  We enjoyed time… there were several places where you find the time to enjoy that part.


Were your parents strict?


No, absolutely not.  Not at all.  I was very responsible and I studies a lot compared to my brothers so I was allowed to do a bunch of things.  I was allowed to do pretty much what I wanted.


How would you compare your experiences as an adolescent with the adolescents you see today in the United States?  Parallels and differences?


Maybe because of the environment and the place where I was living which was Latin America even though it was Buenos Aires which is very particular in the Latin American map.  My impressions-I was pretty aware of what was going on in my country and the world.  I was very active in discussions and debating and in a certain way in political things.  So I felt it was very important to participate and raise your voice if there was a chance of doing it.  So, my impression is that here adolescence is more like an extended child more than a chance of developing your own voice.  That was my impression.  When I went to the university the first things that struck me when I was teaching undergrads at the University of Maryland is that I felt that I was teaching-I used to teach at the university level and the high school level in Argentina before coming-so my thing was that my students here, my undergraduate students were much like my high school students than university students.  Not just in the outcomes, but in their interests or the reason why they were sitting in front of me. 


So it sounded like you were and still are very academic.  Was that something that your parents instilled in you or was that something that was self-motivated?


I should say that my Dad and my Mom always wanted the four of us to go to university and graduate with a diploma.  I am the first and until now the only one who did it.  During the nineteenth century with immigration in Argentina, it was the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth, it was very famous-the Italian immigrants who came and wanted their kids to progress and become a doctor, a medicine doctor.  This was like their ultimate goal in life.  I make a lot of fun with my Dad saying that he is going to get a doctor-it is not going to be a medicine one and not make that much money, but at least he will get a doctor.  I do not know what I will do with this, but at least… my Dad does not understand what I am doing with this, but he gets that he is getting a doctor.


What about your brothers?  What do they do?


Well they are pretty different.  One of them is living in Canada and working.  The other one is living in Brazil and he has a business set up there.  The last one is living in Buenos Aires and still he is studying.  Hopefully he will get his career in accounting.


So let’s start talking about you coming to the United Stated and your experiences migrating to the United States.  Just tell me about your decision to come here.  I know you came on a Fulbright scholarship and you can tell me about that.


The first thing I have to tell you is that I never planned to come here.  I was quite comfortable in Buenos Aires and doing my thing.  My things were that I was working as an English teacher, I also used to teach literature in high school and I have my-I share a course at the university teaching literature and aesthetics.  This was mainly a nonpaying job.  The payment was pretty low.  So I used to teach at the high school and elementary level for my living.  I enjoyed very much moving from university students into eighteen year old ones.  The reason I came was because there was an announcement at the university about a Fulbright scholarship that was going to be open in some time.  I tried just to test myself, not as a real decision, and that was in 2001.  So then it came up that I was chosen and I was not sure if I was going to do it, but Buenos Aires, Argentina got into a huge economical crisis.  Things were not really good so in the end I decided to come for my masters and I had the chance to stay for the PhD and that was fine.  It was not that I wishing this change for a long time.  I thought that I came pretty old, I was thirty-two when I came.  I was settled there.  That was pretty hard. 


When you first came did you have any friends or relatives in the area?


Yah and I make friends easily.  The thing that was more difficult for me was that in a certain way I was in a position in Argentina, very independent and very much focused on my interests as a teacher and in academia, making my steps into it and having my network of people.  When I got here I became a student again, which was something I left when I was twenty-three.  In the beginning it was fun then it started becoming a burden.  Mainly because of all the things that I feel I want to do and I can’t.


 So when you were in Argentina and you were preparing to come to the United States, was the way that you imagined it much different…?


Definitely.  I had no idea how the system-the university was.  In fact I picked the area of comparative literature because my career in Argentina was literature.  I tried to get something related to literature and the only name that appeared in the program with literature in it was comparative literature.  I didn’t know that for doing literature you had to get into French (?).  So that’s why I ended up there without having an idea of what I was stepping into at all.  From that point the rest was a completely different idea of what the United States was.  9/11 was very close.  The Argentinean reaction was very critical.  I have a very critical position so I was thinking of a different world when I got here.


What about people and the community.  How would you compare them to Argentina?


Definitely they were different.  The basics were different.  I was coming from downtown Buenos Aires into a Greenbelt which was pretty much suburbs or living in the country side.  At night I remember waking up saying where are the buses?  Where is the noise?  All the basic regular things disturbed me.  The transportation system was the same.  Being used to seventy two mile commute in Buenos Aires within a block getting five buses that would take me wherever I want.  The other thing that was sort of a shock was-I had been teaching English for a long time and I also (inaudible) English career in Argentina, but in Argentina you learn the British English.  When I got here my British English was something that people laughed at.  I remember the first week going to the supermarket and talking to the cashier and he she looked at me thinking “what is wrong with you.”  I was like “what is her problem,” I was saying the right words, but she thought I had an attitude with the way my English sounded.  That made me feel insecure.


Do you have any other stories from when you first came here?


I thought that I was coming to do a grad school that was going to be tougher, but I realized it was not.  At all.  That really surprised me a lot.  Even though I feel like I have matured in a lot of things, I don’t feel I have made a huge step in my academic growth. 


You said when you first moved here you were living in Greenbelt?


Yes, I lived there a year and then I moved into here.  Some other people from the department of Spanish were living here… people I met while I was in, I was taking courses.  The good thing about comparative literature is that they allow you to take courses wherever you want to so it was easy to get to know people.


Were you living with anyone when you were in Greenbelt?




Who were they?  Were they people you knew before or met through university?


Knew before.


How long ago did you meet Henry?


I met him in 2003.  He was living in New Jersey so we started traveling.


How did you meet?


A friend of ours.  We started traveling for a while.  He wanted to move from the place he was living in a small town.  He wanted to move from that place in order to get more (inaudible)… job.  So he decided to come here and after a while we settled down together in this apartment.  I was already living together with roommates, but all my roommates always were (inaudible)…


Has he [Henry] been a good support system for you?


Completely.  If I had to describe it, he is the thing that gets me down to earth which is something I need-especially because I spend a lot of time thinking on my PhD.


Do you feel comfortable here in the United States?


I feel comfortable in my world in the US.  It is not very American, because being with Henry we speak Spanish and we keep a lot of-we live very much as our lives in Argentina/Uruguay in the things we like doing, the movies we watch, the food we eat.  So mainly we gather with friends and most of them are Latinos or from Latin America.  It is a very particular environment.  It is not the real environment.  My feeling is that I am surrounded by Latin American people, a very special group, because most of them are getting their masters or PhDs.  I am not into the real US life. 


Do you think you would be comfortable if you were interacting more?


I meet a lot of people.  I am pretty much comfortable in the setting I am in, but I know that this is not the American way.  I don’t have the American way of living very much.


I am really interested in identity and how you see your own identity and how you think others see your identity.  How do you think your identity has changed since you were in Argentina?


Well, I have been here since 2002, six years.  Those six years I went under a lot of situations that challenged my identity a lot. 


Could you tell me what kinds of situations challenged your identity?


Meeting or dating people from other cultures.  Getting into or immersing other cultures.  For a while I was not speaking Spanish at all.  I came here with a Fulbright; I have the requirement of going back to Argentina when I finish my studies so I always knew I was going to get back.  This places me in a situation in which I am here, but I do not need to be fully here-I can keep my (inaudible).  The thing for me that is most interesting regarding identity is when I get back to Buenos Aires.  I was there in June last year and even though I have been in Buenos Aires for thirty-two years I haven’t realized how I used to things that are done in a certain way here.  I want to go back, but right now I know that certain things have changed in my head and I do not know how I am going to (inaudible) them when I get back there.  I feel each year particularly as a Latin American person I am very proud of being Latin American and being in a grad school.  I am working on my PhD, because I think there is-all Latin American people in the US are related to low culture and I think it is so important to show that you can go further.  Just by your efforts.  In that sense I feel more Latin American than when I was in Buenos Aires.  Completely.  Completely.  That is something that has made this PhD experience so important to me.  Seeing this side that was completely lacking in Buenos Aires, because in Buenos Aires (inaudible)… in Buenos Aires even though people are closer to Latin America they prefer to feel closer to Europe in many things.  So that is why.  That is a very important point and that is something that has changed in my identity.  You grow up so a lot of things have changed.  Even though you decide some things to keep, one thing is my language and another things is the way I do not want to be politically correct and I am not even though that may cause some trouble.  I am proud of showing that I am from Latin America and that was not something in my country.


How do you feel that your identity as a woman has changed?  As a teacher or student?


In my country I never thought it was so important.  My area was literature that was something for women.  So it was not a big deal.  Here it is more genderized, I think.  Definitely. 


Do you feel exclusion, because you are a woman? 


I (inaudible) -


How much longer will you be in the United States?


Well my PhD will hopefully be two more years.


So what are your plans after those two years?


That is tough.  Really tough.  The tough thing is this… getting a PhD here places you into a certain job market-which is not an easy job market, but you have a job market.  You don’t have it in Argentina.  It is not so easy to have a PhD, to make a PhD-to study for it.  So the system is completely different from here.  It is not (inaudible)… I can apply for certain jobs in academia.  In academia it I a very close group and I have been away for a bunch of time.  I honestly don’t know, but I knew that before coming here.  It’s not something new.  I decided I wanted to do this because it was a new opportunity but then I am not sure about what job or job options I might have.  I don’t feel so stressed about it.  I know who I am so… and this experience has shown me that I can stand for many (inaudible), but show this in two years.  I would like to remember.   


You said you were back in Argentina in July.  How often do you go back to Argentina?


Depends, it depends on the TA assignments, but I had a chance last year of traveling in February for my brother’s marriage and then wedding in June/July.  Its not that I go very often.


And what about calling home? 


I usually contact somebody once a week.  I exchange a lot of emails and I am… it is very…  it is not jut talking about the news of what is going on.  I also have a very close friend, one since kindergarten who is ending her PhD in psychology and I proof read all of her materials.  It is like we share a lot about what we are doing and a friend of mine is reading what I am doing here.


Is there anything you would like to add or any stories you would like to share for us?


I think… it is pretty interesting this opportunity of doing this interview and video when I talked to Judith about it-I told her, I don’t know if  I am a good example of what you looking for, because my impression is that immigration in this country is being placed in a very negative side.  As if immigrants who come for a PhD or something else they seem to assimilate and are not immigrants anymore.  I don’t want to assimilate.  I mean I don’t want a green card.  I want to be an immigrant here and I want to show how an immigrant can do so much for this country on a different level.  What I am doing here, teaching undergrads and grading a lot-all of that job is the same as what can be done in (inaudible).  There is a difference in the sort of thing we do, but not in what we give to the country.  As a TA, him as being a construction worker, we are pretty much in a low scale wage position and I am very critical to that.  I feel that there is a lot that you can give from your place and you can share and there shouldn’t be so much difficulty for immigrants to get the basic things that they need like health and being close to families, and being able to travel outside of the country.  When I compare my situation to Henry’s because I haven’t been able to travel so much as I have no money even though I am teaching at a university.  I am-that is why when you ask me “are you comfortable?” I say yah in my environment.  But I am not so comfortable for the thing I am needing, I am not getting that.  Mainly because as a grad student everyone says later you will see the light or you will see the money.  Since that if you are a grad student you have the chance of stepping into the light and settling down here-which I don’t want to.  I think there are not so many options and there is not a very good understanding of who this immigrant group and particularly Latin American group is.  And that is why I think it is so important.


What do you think are some of… (inaudible)?


I think the most important thing is understanding that a country made up from immigrants from the beginning is just that this important mixture is what makes the richness of the country.  Seeing after September 11th it is so easy to see an enemy or outsider.  The thing is even though you see me as an outsider for certain things, but not others because you need me to educate your college students.  Make clear thing for me and that’s me (inaudible).  I have a lot of friends who are not (inaudible), but who are friends-who are serious friends showing that they are outsiders, because in this country they cannot move, they cannot access (inaudible)… and many things that are in certain ways (inaudible).  One of the things that I always teach my students is try to think of (inaudible)… not just make a plan, but think of a couple of things.  Whatever you do think of a couple of things to prevent.  You think at least you have these two things to prevent.  My impression here is that many things are not planned for and one of those things is the way that things work in the immigration community and particularly (inaudible)… what is going on right now twenty miles away in Prince Williams Virginia.  That is something completely stupid.  Economically, socially, politically.  Just, I don’t know, that is a small county. 


If you had a friend or family member in Argentina who was coming here, what sort of advice would you give them?


To be sure what he/she wants to do here, because the American dream is not something that can be achieved in the US only.  The American dream is something you can get in some other places and there is (inaudible)… from the Latino community that can make things tough for somebody from outside who cannot speak the language or whose skin is darker.  I don’t know what I would say if I were back there.  Right now I am more cautious.


Is there anything else you would like to add?


I don’t know-


Any other thoughts? 


One thing I would like to mention to you.  It was one of the things that took me some time to understand and I think it is one of the things I do not want to quit from my identity.  Political or economic status/strata makes it so hard for people to achieve in Latin America-usually your identity is not so much linked to what you achieve or what you do, but to who you are and that who are you is still a part of a community-of family, work, or environment that stands up for who you are.  My impression here is that you need to have a certificate for who you are.  It should be an item in you (inaudible), because it is much more linked to what you do or what you did.  Doing my resume last year for a job interview I put aside so many things-this is so stupid I’m not going to say-there was like a page of things that I didn’t even think of placing on the resume and I gave it to a peer, an American one, to review it.  She said it was ok, but too short.  (inaudible)… She said “let me show you mine.”  And it was… how can you write this?  I mean for me it was embarrassing to say… I don’t know… “I work at… I help people from Maryland, Langley Park translate their thing into Spanish… their letter into Spanish.”  That is something I did just to help a family, you don’t need to say it.  And she was like “That… those are the things you need to say!  That is volunteering… that is community responsibility.”  I was like my god, I am not going to say that!  So those are the things that regarding identity that I do not want to stop being who I am for who I am and not for what I do.  That is something… I think that is why it is so hard to understand immigrants in this country, because for Latin American people it is who you are that is so important.  It is important to get a degree, but it is more important in South America if you are honest and if you have people that (inaudible)… or if you are involved in your community and you participate… those kinds of things.  Not so much if you get a certificate or a letter from the guy in charge of (inaudible).  So, that is why the richness of the immigrant community is not so much seen as you do not see so many certificates or degrees, but there are other things-silent-or require a change of perspective to be valued and definitely I feel that the immigrants that are coming here in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were much more into that trend.  (inaudible)… understand a little more of what they are.


Anything else?




(Gail) When you said that you do not feel like you are growing intellectually as much as when you were home… do you feel that it is the university you are at or the program you are in or do you think it is the United States and expectations?   


There is one thing that I think has to do with the system (inaudible)… my career of literature was five years plus (inaudible).  When I have a peer in the program that is starting their masters that person may come with a sociologic or biologic background.  So his or her readings are tiny compared to the ones that I did because I had to-not because I wanted to.  Of course I wanted it bad.  In a sense I had more expertise because of the way that the career is set up in Latin America and particularly in Argentina.  So that places me in a place that is completely different than my peers.  I have – I feel like I was really blessed by the people, the professors that I met at the university both in comparative literature and the Spanish department who I have a chance of finding somebody who can help me do a dissertation that means some kind of progress in my academic thinking, but the other variable… at the same time… one of the positive things is the chance to have so much material and sources available here than in Argentina.  It was a whole new different world.  So you have the sources and you can get the person if you want-you can do it.  However I feel that it is not so hard to make a PhD in this country. (inaudible)… it is not so difficult, you have lots of things that help you get it and you can just have your PhD.  It might be a book or might be not.


(Gail) The university students here were at the same level as the high school students in Argentina-


Completely and I said it is exactly the same when I meet students entering the masters.   


(Gail) Are you talking about maturity and level of education?


In general up to PhD it is not so organized.  Here it is a different system and you get your PhD older in Latin America.  The people I met there with a PhD or recent PhD people, doctoral candidates and the ones that got it were people of 50 years old.  They have been working on the topic for 20 years.  It is not like here and still for me it has to do with not just the knowledge of the sources, but some sort of personal maturity.  I believe-


(Gail) Why do you think American students are less mature?


Age-basically age. 


(Gail) The undergraduates would not be different in age-


No.  Although regarding the grad students, that are 26 years old and starting their dissertation… doing everything so quickly.  For me, that still strikes me.  You have to wait until you are 37, but there are things… it is not so easy to find your own voice.  It is easy to follow, imitate the voice of your advisor or someone else.  I feel a PhD should be your voice.  If it takes you 20 years then take your time, because you will not repeat it.  It is not your undergraduate degree; it is not the same as that.  With my undergraduate students, for me, because I come from a different system-for me it is a bit difficult to achieve the knowledge of something if you are not immersed into it.  So if you are in your third year, as I have students, that just change their major into Spanish, ok how are you going to make that knowledge for really being a major in Spanish?  By getting x-numbers of courses?  Yah, but I took 5 years of that and that gives me a background that was the foundation for what I a doing now and I do not feel the university gives you the foundation here-


So it is an intellectual one rather than maturity… (Inaudible)


But the whole system is not so mature in the sense that… another thing that struck me still and I try to fight it when I can… depending on the courses that I am teaching, I do not accept students at the university level using textbooks.  I cannot accept that.  You need to go into the text.  You need to read a whole bunch of… I don’t know… Hopkins if you are in physics, Marx if you are in politics… suffer… get it, but if you just get a chapter you are never understanding the system of knowledge that you are facing, that you are working with.  I remember a student in anthropology in a class of Latin American history, culture, and civilization.  We were talking about indigenous movements like Zapatistas and she mentions “yah I read once in Levi-Strauss this thing about anthropological thing…” and I was “Ok, what did you read?”  “Now it was in a course and I just read the first paragraph…”  Read and then we talk because if not then you just get labels.  You can put whatever you want in there or your understanding of it, but you do not get an idea to use to develop your own thinking and develop a critique.  So it is very… and I understand this-students are taking 6 or 7 classes… they cannot read everything for each of it.  I don’t know how you deal with it… however, when I talk about this to my US friends they say that you achieve that knowledge when you are in the masters.  For me the masters is an important step and here is the one that focuses you on an idea, but there are a lot of gaps and if you are doing Latin American literature and you are working with Borges—if you have never in your life heard or read the Odyssey then there is no way you are going to talk about certain things in Borges, because when you read you cannot pick them as you have not been exposed to them before… but you can get your PhD.  The system helps you and then you find your gap to get it.  It depends on what you want to do.  That is why even when last year some new grad students started in the department I said “Ok, figure out what you want to do… and focus on it.  If you want to go for lit, start reading…”  I had a friend that called me 3 weeks ago saying “The professor is a professor in poetry and golden age poetry and he mentioned Platon… Plato… and talked about the ideas.  Can you tell me what that is?” And I said “You know, start reading, guy.  Because I can give you… you need to get it.  It is not just (inaudible), but you need to get it.  So that is pretty much a difference and a lot of Hispanics or Latino students at the university.  I am very proud of how they fight for their Latino minor last week and how they try to show that Latinos can do something else than clean up.  We need more understanding and I need to learn a lot of things.


(Emily) Can I ask how you see Latinos in education-whether it is higher education or primary school—how do you think the system is benefitting them or keeping them back?


I am not so close to high school.  I am teaching a course of Spanish for educators in high school.  My impression is that it depends on the educator, how close they can go or they can more… what they can do.  There is one thing of the system that is definitely not healthy.  It is this problem with considering kids without green cards as out of state and making them pay so much money.  That is not helping and again that is (inaudible), because the best you can do is to try get people more educated so that they can become a workforce that can cover the jobs that you really need.  I know people who definitely quit the university because of that and that is… stupid.  You have that person here, accept it and especially if that person wants to move further.  There is a lot of…  I don’t know if it is shame… there is probably in a certain way, but there is a lot of… I don’t know how to say… my experience with Hispanic heritage students is that, they speak English and in a certain way as the school for other things don’t give a lot of value to the Latino culture… it is not something that makes them so proud and it is something that they don’t usually know very much about their parents’ culture as… they know the basic things about their own family, but they don’t know the history.  In this course I taught about Latin America, I had a girl from Guatemala and when we talked a lot about the political period of (inaudible) and we discuss how that attempt of democracy was challenged from the (inaudible) and some black glove from the CIA… she was just really surprised, she was really shocked about hearing that for the first time.  And that was ok, I mean, that shows that you know what your family is… there is a lot of fear to talk much about your family, because you can always have someone who is in a position that is not so clear-even you can be in a position like that.  And so there are a lot of things that are kept in silence for a long time and I feel that is very negative for the identity itself and the identity they built in the states…  because they have lost a piece because of the states.  So there are a lot of mixed feelings.  I remember talking to this girl, there was a lot of tension, a lot of mixed feelings.              


Thanks… Thank you




Interview with Carlos Torres

September 23, 2007


LT - What is your name?

CT - Carlos Torres


LT- Where were you born?

CT - Guatemala City, Guatemala


LT - When? What year and day?

CT – 1957


LT- Can you tell me about your childhood? From the time you were little, to the time you were about 12 years old. What do you remember about, Guatemala, about your life?

CT- Everything was fine. We went to school. We were getting an education. And Mom and Dad..we were united. In a home. I felt that. Then little by little my family began to come here. One by one, one after the other until all of us came here.


LT- Tell me about your house, how was it?

CT- Oh the house was pretty. One, two, three, four rooms. We had water, electricity. We were fine. Television. In that time, not everyone had a television.


LT- Oh you had a television?


CT- Yeah. In that time not everyone had a television. People would rent it from others so they could see it. People would come to the house and pay one cent (un centavo) or two cents so they could watch television.


LT- Did you like school?

CT- Yes I liked school a lot.


LT - Who did you live with? Family?

CT- Oh we’re (counting) four..five...six…seven. Three brothers and four sisters and one that died. We would have been eight.


LT - And your parents?
CT- Yes my mother and father and yes, everyone was together.


LT - And grandparents?

CT- My grandmother. I was raised with her too.


LT - Did she live with you?
CT- She lived separately, with my Uncle Victor. In my uncle’s house. That’s where she lived.


LT - So she also..

CT- She raised me too. I was raised more with her than my mother or father.


LT - And did your mother work at home?

CT- She worked in a home or in a restaurant.


LT - So she wasn’t at home.

CT- No.


LT - So you were mostly with your grandmother.

CT- Yes my grandmother.


LT - What was her name?

CT- Maria Perez de (of)…she was a Mendosa.


LT - Tell me what your grandmother was like.

CT- Oh she was a very good woman. She would correct me. She would give me..what would I say..she raised me and she gave me a lot of advice (teach me?). What was good  and what was bad. How one should act with their mother and father. How one should be. And the hour you should eat. You had to be on time. Never too early or too late. You should always be ready.


LT - So she was strict about those things?

CT- Yes she was very punctual…very punctual.

I remember my uncle would come on his bicycle. He would eat lunch then go to work. I would stay with my grandmother.


LT - At what age was that?

CT- That was until I was 12, 13 years old.


LT - So she raised you a long time?

CT- Yes


LT - So after age 12, before you came here what do you remember?

CT- We kept going to school. My father and mother would send money to different people so they would raise us, but we were always going from one to another. There was one person, Herlindo, he was like family but he wasn’t anything of ours. He would take care of us. They would send money for us.


LT - So how old were you when your parents..were they still in Guatemala or they had already left? 

CT- They had already left. I was like 12 or 13.


LT - Did they go together?

CT- No my mother went first.


LT - Was she the first to leave?

CT- No the first was my sister, the oldest. The second was Isabel, “la Toya”. After that my mother. Then my father and “la Lorena”. She was..


LT - How old was she?

CT- She was 4, 5 or 6 years old. She was young.


LT - Was she the youngest?

CT- Yes the youngest.


LT - So you were living with different families.

CT- Yes. I lived in Huehuetenango…Quetzaltenango. My mother and father would send money for us. I lived with my aunt too. I went to the school in Zone 2. I liked that school very much. I lived with her for a while because they would send her money so we would sleep there. We lived there a while with my aunt.


LT - You say “we”. Did you stay with someone else? With other siblings?

CT- My sister, my brother Oscar, my brother Luiz, and Edward. He was still alive then.


LT - Edward was a brother?

CT- He was my half brother but he was my sister’s son but we called him brother.


LT - Because he was young?

CT- Yes. We were all raised together.


LT - So you were all together when you moved from one place to another? You were always together?

CT- Just me, my brother with Don Carlos, and with my uncle, and my aunt. So we lived in three places. In Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and Zone 13 [Guatemala City] near the airport. My aunt lived there. I lived there a while too. Then my mother came back and said we were going to go to the United States and we needed to fill out the papers. I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention to it all.


LT - You didn’t?

CT- No but they did. “Oh we have to go to the lawyer and fill out the paperwork! Let’s go! Let’s go!” We would go by bus. The lawyer would ask us questions and we’d fill out papers to come here. In a month or two months he had sent the papers to my mother for us to sign them. The passport. Everything. She sent all the paperwork. [The information on] the grandparents, and all the paperwork for the residency. My mother. Then she came to get us, me and my brother Luiz. Only my brother, “la Toya” and my little brother stayed.


LT - In Guatemala?

CT- Yes they stayed in Guatemala.


LT - What did you think when your mother would tell you that you were going to the United States? What did they tell you about?

CT- Oh they would tell me all the pretty and great things about the United States. That one had a good time, that you lived well.


LT - What did you imagine?

CT- I didn’t imagine anything. I imagined a place that was…when I got here..because of the color of the people, I was shocked. In my mind in Guatemala they were all white. There weren’t “frijoles”, there weren’t blacks. When I got here I found out that wasn’t true. And that life the way people described it wasn’t...yes you worked. They paid you alright. They paid you well. But you had to work to survive. For what you had. Yes you could make more than in Guatemala. You lived better than in Guate. Yes. You could find better things with less money. In Guatemala we didn’t have that much but we were satisfied with what we had.  Here it was a big change. We lived in an apartment with my older sister. We lived there a while. I went to work cleaning offices I remember. I went to school but I didn’t speak English.


LT - How old were you when you came here?

CT- Fifteen.


LT - And you went to work at fifteen?

CT- At fifteen. Three or four days after getting here they had me working. My sister said she needed the money for gasoline and stuff. There I was.


LT - Did you work in Guatemala too?

CT- No. I studied. I just studied.


LT - What did you think of school? What was the transition like?

CT- From there to here? Oh the language. The language was a very big thing. I was hard. It wasn’t easy to learn it quickly, at that moment. You had no idea how you were going to learn it, unless you went to school.  But how were we all going to go? In part I was afraid. People would talk to me in another language I would get scared. When I went to school I got scared. I would go sit by myself in a room because I felt alone. Everyone spoke English but I didn’t. 


LT - Were there other Latinos?

CT- There were but they spoke only English.  They could speak Spanish but they only wanted to speak English.  I remember I moved to another school in Georgetown to learn to speak English for like a year, year and a half. That’s where I learned to speak English.  Then they sent me to Woodrow Wilson High School, five to six months before we were graduating. I had to learn everything in five to six months to graduate.


LT - You graduated from there.

CT- From Wilson yes.


LT - When you first lived here where did you live?

CT- On Connecticut (Avenue). In an apartment.


LT - The whole family?

CT- Yes the whole family lived there. My sister, my brother in law, her daughter and my mother, my father, me, my brother who came with me.  In a short time my older sister moved. She moved to Virginia. So we were there with my mother, father, brother and me. The rest went to Virginia.


LT - How long did you live there?

CT- About four or five years. Around there.


LT - Did you have a girlfriend in school?

CT- Well there I did but I was more concerned with school than in running around with girls.


LT - Here or Guatemala?

CT- In Guatemala.  Her name was Gloria. She was a good person. But the next day I came here.


LT - My brother told me she had asked about me and how I was. I asked my cousin too. CT- They called them “Las Brujas” the witches. They were eleven girls and a boy. All from different fathers. Their mother worked in a bar. But they were decent.  They went to school.  The mother, no. She had her job. They would visit us. When she was at home she was like any other person, but at night she’d go to work.


LT - Did your family know you went out with her?

CT- They lived across the street from my aunt. Right across the street is where they lived. They lived across from her. That’s how I met them because I started to go eat at my aunt’s house. She’s the one who would give us lunch and our meals.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have met them.  I finished sixth grade. Then I came here.  We forgot about all that, the past. It was all about starting here and being here. What could I do? How was I going to learn a new language? How was I going to make friends? It was different. It wasn’t like Guatemala. That was easy. It was hard here.


LT - Hard because of the language?

CT- The language and people had their way of being. Their manners and ways. Different way of expressing themselves and sayings. It was all different. It wasn’t easy.


LT - Who were your friends when you first came here?

CT- Oh my friend named Pedro. “Civil rights”. We met in school. We became good friends. We worked together cleaning offices.


LT - So they were mostly Latinos?

CT- Yes Latinos.


LT - So you started working cleaning offices, that was when you were 15.

CT- Yes 15/ 16 years old.


LT - Did you keep working after that while you went to school?

CT- I started working with my sisters, cleaning offices. Then I went to school, to high school I got that job cleaning offices with my friend Pedro. I was there about one or two years. Then everything changed.


LT - What other types of jobs did you do?

CT- Painting. Picking up trash. To make money you know. I didn’t speak the language so I took the easiest jobs.


LT - And that money was for you or the family?

CT- For the family.


LT - And did everyone work?

CT- I worked. My brother didn’t work. Lorena didn’t work. They never worked. They were in school. I’m the one that went to work.


LT - Were you going to school at the same time as well?

CT- No. One or two months. I was in Gordon Junior High School. They stuck me there for two to three months until they started to complain that I wasn’t doing the work because I didn’t know the language. So they threw me out of there and sent me to a school in Georgetown. That’s where I learned English. From there I went back to school. Everything started differently. Then I started to get everything…that’s where I started to feel better in part. I still didn’t have everything but I made do with my situation. I didn’t dream about anything. I just wanted to work that’s all. And study. From there, that’s how things went and I went into the service.


LT - How old were you when you went into the service?

CT- Twenty two, twenty one or twenty two.


LT - Between the time you finished high school and went into the service, were you working?

CT- I was working.


LT - And how did you decide to go into the service?

CT- I saw a friend of mine. He was in another school but he spoke more English. He went into the Navy. When he came back he brought back a lot of money. He came back speaking big things and this and the other and money…everything is money you know. Like he liked it. At the same time he didn’t like it but… Also when I saw the air show, then I had a greater desire to go into the service. That’s when it really started to think about it. I went to take the exam and I went into the service.


LT - Which branch?

CT- Navy


LT - Why Navy instead of another branch?

CT- I never imagined… I thought there would be just one service. I never imagined there would be separate branches. It wasn’t what I wanted.  But I was already in so I had to see how I managed.  Study or whatever else. There was no option. It wasn’t like the Army or Marines where it was mostly calisthenics and doing exercises. That was easier. They didn’t have to study or take exams. It wasn’t what I wanted but I got used to it. Once I decided what I wanted to do, I liked it.


LT - What did you decide to do?
CT- Work with electricity. Construction electrician. Electrician’s mate. Same thing. Work on motors, electrical boxes, refrigeration, washing machines, all that in general.


LT - What did you think when you first went into the Navy?

CT- It was hard. I got really scared. I remember they left us at an airport. Atlanta. From there we had to get another flight to Orlando. But the plane for some reason didn’t arrive. It was late. We had to stay there all night. All sleeping on the floor. From there they took us at dawn on a bus to Orlando to boot camp.  I remember I just got there. I was in a bunk. I had just gone to bed and boom! They threw me out of bed. Everyone was yelling at us. The CC’s (company commanders). A lot of people were crying.  They were freaked out because they didn’t know what was going on. I was freaked out. I had to get used to it because there was no other option. Everything was about being careful, about learning and following rules and following orders. That’s what counted. Following orders and doing your job the way you were told.


LT - Was it hard to get used to?

CT- At first yes. Later I liked it because I was working in what I liked.


LT - How did you decide what you wanted to do?

CT- I’d always liked electricity (the electrical field?). I’d never had a chance until I got there.

At first I was a fireman. For 8 weeks I was learning about machinery, electricity, hydraulics, steam, communications. Different ways of communicating and the rules, how to speak.


LT - Did you have a chance to do this before? At any job? Maybe with your father?

CT- No. My father worked in construction. I never worked in construction.  That was the only way.. well maybe not the only way but at that time it was the only way I could get in there. I didn’t have a guide for anything. I had to do it by myself.


LT - How long were you in the Navy?

CT- Twenty years.


LT - So you liked it?

CT- Yes I liked it. In the end I liked it.


LT - Did you get to travel?

CT- Oh yes a lot. I went to many countries.  The Caribbean. Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, all of that.


LT - Did you live anywhere else?

CT- At first I lived on the ship. I lived on the ship, later I had apartments but at first I lived on the ship. When I wasn’t there I had an apartment. I lived there because you get there new. They took care of you at first but then they throw you to the lions.


LT - Do you have any favorite places or experiences?

CT- Oh yes. I liked Israel a lot. Italy. All of those pretty countries. France, Spain, Greece, Pakistan. All different parts of the world. But I liked it. I liked to travel. We would go out and see things.


LT - Who were your friends in the Navy?

CT- Well at that moment…I didn’t have friend friends. We were all co-workers.   We would call ourselves friends but we were co-workers. Because after a while everyone goes their own way.  In the Navy you’re there for a while then you either get out or they transfer you so you don’t see your friends for long. Sometimes you keep in touch but the majority don’t.


LT - Was it hard to be a Latino in the Navy? Were there a lot of Latinos in the Navy?
CT- Yeah. Yes it was harder. Being Latino…things were harder I felt.


LT: In what way?

CT: Maybe not in orders but among co-workers.  Everyone would try to get you to get you to do the least important, the lesser work. The reality is we all had to do it not just one or two. “No send him,” they would say. Since they were White, “Send him!” That’s how it was at first.


LT - Did it change?

CT- Once I became and electrician it changed because I liked what I was doing. If I could do the work then I’d go. If I had to share it with others then they’d sent two or three, the same way they’d send one. It was the same. That’s how I thought. That’s how it had to be. You just followed the orders.


LT - Are you proud of having been in the Navy?

CT- Yes I’m proud of having been in the Navy. Oh yeah. I liked it a lot. I did my time but at the same time I wanted to stay longer. But I hurt my back, my jaw and my knee.


LT - How did that happen? When did that happen?

CT- That happened in ’91. On board the ship. There was an explosion in the boiler, the “fire room”. One of the boilers exploded. It expanded and exploded and it caught fire under the machine room. I was working nearby. I was the first one to get the hose to put out the fire. At the time I was doing it. I remember I had the hose, I was holding the nozzle.  At the same time, I was scared because fire…you can’t…it’s very treacherous.  It’s easy for it to get you from behind and burn you.  Even if you’ve put the fire out, you’re supposed walk backwards slowly, facing the accident with the hose in your hands. When I was walking back up the stairs like that I fell. I hurt my back, my knee and my jaw. For a while I played it off. I said I was ok but I wasn’t. My back hurt. I couldn’t stand up for long periods of time in the machine shop. After a while they complained because I couldn’t do my job. I told my boss, the engineer, that I had a problem with my back.  I went to the doctor. They checked me out and told me what the problems were. They sent me to a hospital in Naples. I remember I had a lot of operations in my knee, a varicose vein, my nose because it bled a lot.  Then time passed and by the time I realized I was in medical hold.


LT - What is “medical hold?”

CT- Medical hold is when you’re under any kind of care for physical problems. I wasn’t the same anymore. I wasn’t the same person. It was another problem for me. I didn’t want to accept it at first but at last, I got what I wanted. Now I am how I am here, with my wife and my “four-legged child”. Now everything goes well.

LT - How is your life now?
CT- My life is quiet. I’m retired. We get along well with my wife. We live a good life in this house, with my wife, and my pet. We don’t fight or complain. Everything is good. Everything is better now. Everything has changed for the better.


LT - How do you feel now after so much time in this society?

CT- Oh I feel good. Yeah, I feel good. With everything that’s going on now with the service and the wars.  Having been a veteran, there’s a value to that, great value.  I’m happy to be a veteran because that’s the best part of having been a part of military service, to serve the American service. And as the citizen that I am going to become, I looked at that and I liked it.


LT - So you’re not a citizen yet?

CT- No I’m a resident.


LT - Were you in any war?

CT- Yes the Gulf War. That’s where I got hurt.


LT - What do you remember about being in a war?

CT- Being nervous. Being tense. Always thinking about what can happen in any minute. You don’t know if a bomb is going to hit and destroy the ship.  I remember a lot of guys would be crying and looking scared. Some would call their families to get them out or move them to protect them. A few would try to get out and they didn’t want to serve in war but everyone would end up staying there because its part of being in military service. 


LT - Are you ever sorry you joined?

CT- No no. I’m not sorry.  Once when I got hurt but everything is good now.


LT - Do you feel like an American or Guatemalan?

CT- Being in the service I felt like an American because that’s what I was doing. But at the same time a lot of people are different. Many had their own little groups, their race – the Blacks, Puerto Ricans or Whites. They had their groups and wouldn’t mix. There was a lot of racism, especially in the Navy because everything there is about studying and passing exams. Anyone who passed felt like they were the boss. They had their stripes and they could give orders. It was nice too. You could order people to do work regardless of their race. Sometimes they didn’t like it and they’d do it with a bad attitude. I’d say, “If you don’t like it take it up with the boss. The work is going to get done whether you like it or not.” That’s what I’d say. They would complain and the boss would say an order is an order. Do what you’re told. Go do your work. Just like I told them. They couldn’t get out of doing the work.


LT - Do you still experience racism?

CT- Oh yeah. I still do. Being out of the service now. There you lived with it. There were always problems with it. People would end up on report. But that’s how it was. You had to follow orders. Its part of the contract. You do it 100 percent. It was another kind of life. Everything was in English. We’d speak Spanish but not much because you worked with so many divisions. You’d still find people that spoke Spanish but where I worked I was the only Latino. I felt ok with it though.


The thing is you have to be able to prove that someone is calling you names or treating you badly. You have to have proof, written or some other proof to show that someone was doing something to have a case or its invalid. There was a lot of that but no one would ever bring a case. The chiefs would take care of things and punish them.


[36:58 – 37:31  general conversation about how hard it is to give orders to friends]


LT - Do you see more Latinos now than before in the service?

CT- In the Navy, not many. You see them in electronics, electricians…Some Puerto Ricans,Tex-Mex. Once in a while you’d see a Central American.


[37: 15 – 37: 54 Dog barks]


LT - Do you send money home at all?

CT- Yes when I can to my brother. I call him or write him. He calls. He’s sent me photos. He’s the only family I have left. I don’t have family here. My sisters are all…they are very..how should I say…they are all very…they want to be what they are not. They want to pretend to be what they’re not. No matter what they say I know where they came from, how they are, who they were. But now no one helps anyone in Guatemala. No nobody.  “I had nothing to do with that.  I’ve always had this life and lived here with this life here, with money, all pretty. This is how I grew up. That’s how they are, my sisters. Not me. On the contrary.


LT - If I say the word “home” what do you think of?
CT- I have a home now with my wife and my little animal. A place to come home and rest and joke and cook, go out and see things.


LT - So is this country home now?

CT- This country is my home now. Guatemala isn’t any longer.


LT - What do you think about immigration and immigrants now. Everything that’s said and talked about now. When people talk about the “immigrant problem”. How do you see it having been an immigrant?

CT- I understand them. Even though I came with papers, I came to do the same thing, to work.  What else?


LT - Any other thoughts you have on immigration?

CT- Poor guys. I understand them. I went through a lot of the same things but I had papers. I feel for them because not all of them are all bad or all good. Most of them come to work hard to send money home to help their families. Now they’re all afraid because they can arrest them or someone can report them.  People are here that need to work. A lot of jobs that people don’t take, the Americans, so they [the immigrants] take those jobs. The Americans say they’re taking their jobs. That’s a lie. They’re not going to do those jobs. They’re going to get someone else to do them. If they have people to do it why do they want to throw them out if they need someone to do the jobs. Poor guys. Its hard for those that want to stay. (pause) But I do understand them. Even though I came with papers.




Life Histories Project

Interviewee:  Pankaj Sheth

Interviewed by Gail Thakur

Date:  June 3, 2008  


Beginning of tape is setting-up interview  --- irrelevant.


Gail:  Thank you for doing this.  I appreciate it. 


0:01:39;27  Image of Pankaj Could USE as STILL SHOT


Gail:  Could you just begin by first telling us when you first came to the United States?


0:01:43;15  I came ‘86, ‘85 January --‘85 December.  So ‘86 January I was here. 


Gail:  From what place did you come from?


Gail:  Which part?

Western part, Gujurat. 

Gail:  Where did you grow up in Gujurat?


Gail Ahmadabad?

Near, Baroda it is called.

Gail:  I know Baroda.  There are Indians that are Jewish, and they have a cemetery in Baroda.

Oh really.  I didn’t know.  I must know.  But I may not be visited or whatever.

Gail:  And there is a synaogogue in Ahmedabad.

Gail:  So you grew up there, in Baroda?



0:02:43;15  Gail:  And what caused you to consider coming here?

Ah, actually I came on initiation by my wife.  She..my brother-in-law was citizen here and he filed for everybody.  That’s the reason we came there.

Gail:  You got married?

Right.  After marriage.


0:03:07;19  Gail:  What was life like in Baroda, before you came?


Gail:  What was your life like in Baroda?

Oh, I was business man over there, and it was good life.  Yap.

Gail:  The same kind of business that you are doing now?

Bulk one. Ya, same kind.

Gail:  Bulk meaning?

Bulk means wholesale, not retail.


0:03:28;07  Gail:  So does that mean you had to deliver, ship things to different places?

No, inside the country, only within the country.  Not outside the country.  But different state’s we supplied, ya, defininitely.

Gail:  How?

By trucking, by railway.  Umhmm.


0:03:45;19  Gail:  So, when you got married, what happened to your business?

Oh, my elder, elder brothers was there, my father was there, so they handled it.  I was just helping them.  I was part of that.


0:04:06; 24  Gail:  Were they happy to have you…?

Oh ya, definitely.


0-14-12;12  Gail:  How were you able to keep in communication with them after you moved here?

I, generally by mail, post, in the beginning.  Then by phone.

Gail:  And today?

Today, same way.  Same way.  By phone mostly.  No mail, no computer.  I don’t use it. (4:53)  No, full-time I am here so I don’t have time to be on the computer.


0:04:49;02  Gail:  Do you get to go to visit?

Oh ya, usually once a year, at least.

Gail:  What time of year?

January, January.  I prefer in January. 

Gail:  What’s the weather like then?

At that time, it is ah beautiful.  It is like uh, 60s. 70s, here.  Ya.


0:05:12;12  Gail:  When you got married, was it part of the arrangement that you would be coming to the United States? (5:39)

Uh, not because of that.  But we had the marriage before.  Then they filed, then the file came. (0:05:30;03)



0:05:34; 12  Ya.

Gail:  Which place in the United States?

New York.  I was in New York.

Gail:  How long did you spend in New York then?

One year.  Ya.  In uh, ’87 I was here, in Maryland. (0:05:50;10)


0:05:51;23  Gail:  What brought you to Maryland from New York?

0:05:54;28  Ah, actually where I was working first in New York was a, a warehouse of Indian stuff.  So they are just delivering the stuff, almost Maryland, Pennsylvania.  So I get to know where the demand is, where the stuff going.  So we just thinking to move here and make, start a business.  Ya.


0:06:21;23  Gail:  So then, when you moved here and started a business did you use that same company that was delivering from New York to here?


0:06:31;17  Ya, I got, ya I was mean I get stuff, ya, I was gotting stuff from theres.  Ya, that people.  Right.  Hmmhmm.

0:06:40; 03  Gail:  And was that a good relationship? 

Yap. Good relationship, yup.  0:06:45;05


0:06:47; 15  Gail:  How did you – it was only after one year, right?

Ya, humm, mmm.

Gail:  (7:12)  How did you have the funds to start the business?

Uh, actually, this one, um, fully supported by my friend in New York.  He owned same business in New York, in Jackson Heights.  So he just pushed me to go and find some good location and start the business. (7:39) Because they were in the business since, at that time, since 20 years.  They had a few stores around the States, I mean the United States.  Mostly New York, Texas, Chicago.  So they just, we are good friends, so he just support me.  He do everything.  Just I, just I came in and start, handle the register, handle the cash register. That’s it.  (80:07:49;15)  I didn’t put any money or nothing.  He do everthing.  He did everything.  (0:07:54;03)

Gail:  What a good friend.

Ya, good friends.

Gail:  You still friends?

Still friends! (0:07:58;06)


0:07:59;0?  Gail:  What, how did you know him?

Oh just, just, it was excellent, I was just yes, we made actually first while I was supplying the stuff from that wholesaler where I started the job.  So I supply from that wholesaler to this guy, retailer.  So we just kept in contact.


0:08:321;18  Gail:  So it wasn’t a contact from India?

No, no, no, no.

Gail:  Was he Indian?

Ya. Ya, ya.

Gail:  From the same background as you?  Same state?

No, he’s from different, ya same state, but ah from different part of the state.

Gail:  From Gujurat?

Ya, from Gujurat.  He was from ah, near, ah, Baroda, Near Ahmedabad.  So  we had a distance of several hundred miles.  Ya.


0:08:52;22    Gail:  And how does this relate to what you did in India?   You were saying that in India you were helping with the business.

Ya, huh.

Gail:  Was this very similar work?

0:09:01;11   Uh, not similar work.  But I know the things what I’m selling here, over there also.  Ya, like beans and lentils and stuff.  We know from there.  Lentils, rice patty. 


0:09:19;15  Gail:  What does that mean – that you know how to choose the, ah, or you know who the distributors are?

Oh, no, no, no, no, nothing like that.  We never have the idea that I’m, I’m when I go to US, or if I go to the US, I have to do this kind of thing.  No, no.  Not in mind at all.  It’s just coincidence, that I got here and I got same kind of business.  Ya.


0:09:43;18  Gail:  Did any, did your, did anyone else from your wife’s family, or your family, come after you came?  (0:09:54;12)

Ya, after I came, my little brother came after a few years.  (0:09:59;16)  He also came like same, immigration through his wife.

Gail:  Through his wife?

Hmmhmm, ya.

0:10:09;22  Gail:  So you didn’t sponsor him?

No, no, no.  I didn’t do anything.  Because at that time I was not planning, and I was not able to, so we didn’t ya.


0:10:21;02  Gail:  Does anyone else from your family live here?

Ah, then after my sister came, but that also came due to their immigration, I mean her husband was filed by his mother and they came.  Ya, but not due to me.  No.


0:10:40;22  Gail:  Was that something that your family wanted in a marriage, for that to happen?

Ah, no. No.  It just ah, when they each came and suddenly it arranged like that.  But not pre-arranged or pre-condition, or nothing, no.

0:11:00;12  Gail:  It wasn’t planned,  it just happened.

It just happened.  Right, right, right.  I had also same thing. 


Gail:  Your parents.  Do they stay in Gujurat?


0:11:10;23  When I came here?  Ya, they were there.

Gail:  So they never came?

No they came.  My father, my parents came about, at least ah five times.  Five, six times.  Then my father expired two years back.  My mother is with me.  Here. Ya.  Ya.

0:11:35;25  Gail:  How was it for her to come, easy or was it difficult to get her to come – in terms of the government?

No, no.  Easy.  No harassment, nothing.  No, no, no.  She has a green card too.  But she gave up, you know, because, due to age and stuff she has to go to visa and stuff, so she gave up the green card.  But this ah, US they gave them long-time visa, so they can come anytime and go. 

0:12:02;17  Gail:  But then she became a citizen?

No, she can not.  Because she gave up green card.  Because she has to go for visa and stuff, that is tough too.  Ya.  And this government gave them long-time visa, so it’s the same thing. 

Gail:  Does she live in your home?



Gail:  Are you married?  Do you have family?

0:112:26;07  Ya, ya, ya.  I have two daughters.

Gail:  Two daughters:

Hm, mm.

Gail:  What type of relationship do they have with your mother?

Good, very good relation.  Ya.  Ya. Ya.


0:12:40;29  Gail:  What language do you speak at home?

Uh, mostly our mother-tongue, Gujurati

Gail:  So your children know it?

Ya, very well.  Ya, we, we good habit like that, let me tell you.  Ya.


0:12:56; 07  Gail:  And when you moved here from New York, did you move right to this area, in PG County?

0:13:07; 07  Ah, no I, nearby.  Nearby my location.  It was on New Hampshire Avenue, It was, I think it comes in Montgomery County.  But my business was in PG county, correct.


0:13:22;27  Gail:  ??

Yes, after two years I moved further down, in Silver Spring. 

Gail:  Further, further away.

Hm, mm.

Gail:  So you commute every day?


0:13:37;22  Gail:  But it’s nor far.

No.  Not that far, about 25 minutes drive. 


0:13:44;04  Gail:  Do you have other stores as well? 

Ya, I have four stores now.  So one is my younger brother, one is my cousin’s brother, and one is my nephew. 


0:14:02;22  Gail:  Those are the ones that came with your…

Not with my relations, no.  They came with themselves.  Not through me.   No nobody came.  They came after me, but with themselves.  Suppose they marry to the citizen of US girl, and then they come.  And one, my nephewas, his mother and my wife were sisters, they are sisters, so they came that way.


0:14:45;04  Gail:  Where are the other stores located?

I have one in Rockville, one in Baltimore, and one in Faifax Virginia…hm, mmm.  Gail:  So not that close? 

It’s the same drive, 35, 45 mintues drive.


0:15:00;06  Gail:  Do you have a connection to a Gujarati community in the area?

Ahh, not like connection, but ah, if they have function, I do attend.  Ya.  They have Gujarati organization, they used to have two programs every year.  They bringing some entertainment programs for.  We used to see that here.

0:15:28;14  Gail:  Is there a particular meeting place, a community center for instance?

Ah, not any, we don’t have any community center but they just gather in any school, public school here.  

Gail:  So someone will organize it?

0:15:46;11  Ah, they have a, ward kinds, not presidents and secretaries, just maybe a gathering, and some drama. 

0:16:04;11  Gail:  They have an organization but it just doesn’t have a building?

No, they don’t have any building [of our own].

Gail:  Then do people, do they live in a certain area?  Is there any area with a large population of Gujuratis?

0:16:17;24  Not in particular, actually.  Before I can say a lot of Gujaratis living nearby in Silver Spring, but now all spreading. 

Gail:  Since when do you think they started spreading?

0:16:31;24  I can say, ah, ten, twelve years ago.  Ya, moved further down, better place, bigger house or whatever. 


0:16:50;08  Gail:  And what about your children.  Would you like them to have arranged marriages like you had? 

0:16:59;08  Ah, not forcefully, but I wish, I wish that but their choice.  No force, nothing.

Gail:  If they agreed, would they get to know them first, or would it just have to be w/o them getting to meet first to see?

Of course, they first see.  I must know by that.  My presence should be there.  Ya, their choice, but definitely they’re going to ask me, definitely.

Gail:  How old are your daughters?

0:17:46;06  One is 24, another one is 18. 

Gail:  Have you talked about marriage? 

Oh yes, definitely, it’s time.  So we talked, with elder one.  Definitely, it’s time. We talked, definitely about it.

0:18:02;18  Gail:  How does she feel about it?

Definitely, because she know our culture, our customs.  So she is aware of it.  So no argument or nothing.  She’s ready.

0:18:20;29  Gail:  So she’s looking forward to having an arranged marriage.

0:18:23;10  Definitely. Hmm, mmm.

Gail:  Generally would it be someone who lives in India or someone who lives here?

Ah, no no.  Not that preference with her. If she starts looking from whatever or wherever from.  Whether from India or from here, definitely.  But, ya, she prefer from here.  She prefer from here.


0:18:51;00  Gail:  Could you tell me what it was like for you when you first came to the United States.  Like, how the adjustment period was in the beginning, if you think back to that time? 0:19:07;22  Was it difficult because it was your first time away from home?

Definitely.  It was very sad way.  Means, ah, homesickness, not much knowledge of New York.  It was, in the beginning, few weeks it was a tough time, but then it was easy --- once we got into all the system.  Hm,mm. 

0:19:45;18  Gail:  Just a few weeks?

Hmm, mm.  A few weeks, four or 5 weeks, that’s it.  Then I got everything, riding the bus and train and everything, then it’s no problem.  But it was in the beginning, it was very , very homesickness first.  Hmmmm. Ya.


0:20:08;12  Gail:  And did you ever think you might want to return, during the time you were adjusting?

0:20:16;12  That days, we definitely decided that after some time we’ll go  back home.  Definitely we decided.  But then time passed and its better. 


0:20:31;16  Gail:  How would you say it is right now?

Oh, it’s good.

Gail:  Then you don’t want to leave?

No, no.

Gail:  Retirement?

No.  Retirement? Maybe we can stay longer than now. (0:20:44;16) but now not permanently.  No, no.  Because kids are settled here.  We have to stay for them also.  But we like., anyway here.  No, no, nothing wrong.


0:21:00;14  Gail:  Have you ever experienced discrimination?

Ah, no, never. 

Gail:  Never?

No, I didn’t find it.  I mean, I never had experience, such experience, no.


0:21:17;08  Gail:  Are there some things you see, you know when you go to one place you like some things from one place, and some things from another place.  Things that you may prefer that is an India way and in Indian culture, vs somethings here – something in each of the countries that you prefer?

0:21:41;15  No, to be honest.  I actually don’t know much other countries,  I mean culture and stuff.  Because, I didn’t get much time actually, let me tell you.  Because I start, I got one year job, then I got my business, I give full time over here.  So never….  Actually, in beginning didn’t even know my neighbors.  So I don’t have much knowledge about it.

Gail:  What about India? Or here, some things you like better one place or the other, about the cultures?


0:22:32;11  In some respect we can tell in India, I like it.  But, I mean, because I born there, I grow there, that’s the only reason I like it. (23:26)  Otherwise, nothing else. 


Gail:  So what are those things?

0:22:58;05  I mean, I have my own people:  my own people means my relatives, my friends, school friends.  Due to that only.  Otherwise, nothing special.


0:23:16;05  Gail:  You know in India you can come and go to see people anytime?

Right, ya, ya.  Over there anytime, anywhere you can go, you can call anybody, can sit there.  Entertain, fun.  Here it’s difficult. Appointment.  Kept away.  You know, people I think, looks like.  But in India, whenever you wish, you can just call them.  Ya.


0:24:05;17  Gail:  Can I ask you about your shirt.  That looks like it was made in India. 

Definitely. (laughs)

Gail:  I love the material, it is really lovely. 


Gail:  So how does that happen?

0:24:17;03  I like that particular material, its’ from …Kadi. (2426)  So I like to wear in summer, particular.  That is better, in hot weather it is cool.  And I always bring it from India, a few shirts at least, for summer.  Every summer.

Gail:  So when you go you get it?  Nobody sends it for you? 

Oh, I can ask, I can get it.  But I generally go once a year.  So I’ve got more than a few bunches, so it runs whole year.

0:24:56;09  Gail:  In the winter is it also the same, same style but different material.  Same style?

No, ah, material may be different.    But then I can buy, generally we are getting from here also.  I don’t have any preference.  In summer I feel comfortable for that kind of material.

0:25:27;07  Gail:  It’s stunning.

Ya (laughs).

Gail:  I should have asked also what type of items he brings from US to India, and what other items he likes to bring back from India to here.


Gail: Is there anything you might want to share with me about your experience?

0:25:37;27  Experience, experience is good here, that’s what I can say.  It’s ah, I don’t know, how can I explain.  But it is, I find it really good here.

Gail:  And your wife?

Oh, she is very happy too.


Gail:  Do you belong to a temple? 

0:26:04;19  Not belong to, but we used to visit.  One is in ah, on New Hampshire Avenue.  I live close to that.  And one is big temple, what we believe, that is in Pennsylvania.  We visit at least once in 2, 3 months – 2 months

0:26:38;25  Gail:  What do you mean, ‘we believe’?

I suppose believe in particular G-d, that is Krishna.  There they have a big temple over there, so I visit there.  I like it more. 

Gail: ??

Here all G-ds, all different, different G-ds.  That is also good.  But that particular what I worship in India then I found here, so I did that. 

Gail:  Mostly from Gujurat over there?

No, no, no.  Different, different people.  But it is mostly from Gujurat…near Philadelphia Heights, called…near Hersey Park and stuff.


0:28:02;01  Gail:  Do your daughters go to the temple?  How often?

Ya, the like to, they love to. 

Gail:  How often?

A least 4 to 5 times a year – in Pennsylvania.

Gail:  What about the other temple?

My elder daughter she regularly visits.  She go almost once a week. 

Gail:  On her own?

Yes, she goes regularly

Gail:  What has caused her to have that feeling to go?

Ah I think she got that feeling herself.  She also is reading books.  Might have inspired that.  But, she she got herself.  Not my force or not my teaching.  Nothing. 

0:29:10;09  Gail:  Other child?

Younger one is not that.  Sometimes.  But the elder one is, says particular.


****Here good camera shot of him without speaking****

Gail:  something about if I forgot to ask you something, and Pankaj replies:

You can call me, and I can…definitely, definitely.


Did I ask you when you came?

1986, at that time when I came it was 22. 


Pankaj:  I was graduated, postgraduated in India.  So that benefited me. 


In Boroda.  Big University.  I graduated from there.  I did Masters from there, and I married, and entered the business.

0:30:55;15  Gail:  What did you major in? 


Gail:  That helped?

Definitely, that helped me a lot.  Accounting, and language, and everything.


Thank you.

Your welcome.

0:31:19;04  Do you mind singing something, something that gives us permission….