Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America

by Storyteller Pippa White

Story Summary

Someone once called her a humanitarian. “I’m not a humanitarian,” she replied. “I’m a hell-raiser!” And she was. She was over fifty years old, she weighed one hundred pounds, and she was under five feet tall. And yet she was called by the United States Government, “the Most Dangerous Woman in America.” Come and hear what she has to say. Come and hear how she changed the world.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Mother Jones-The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Discussion Questions:

  1. We hear a lot today about resistance. Was what Mother Jones did “resistance?” Why or why not?
  2. One hundred years ago, many children worked ten and twelve hour days, seven days a week. And they worked for pennies.  Think back to when you were seven, eight or nine years old.  How would work like this have affected you?  How might you be different today if that had been your fate?
  3. Child Labor was a scourge. How do you think it happened?  Why would people stand by and allow little children to do hours and hours of monotonous, dangerous work day in and day out? (Hints: pay, immigration, ignorance)

Resources:

  • Autobiography of Mother Jones—Charles Kerr and Co. Publishers, Chicago, IL
  • Speeches and Writings of Mother Jones – University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA
  • You can visit Mother Jones grave and memorial in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri, not far from St. Louis. In 1898, eleven miners had been gunned down in nearby Virden, Illinois during a riot that broke out during a strike.  The Union Miners’ Cemetery was created to honor those men, and other hardworking people who fought for workers’ rights.

Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Pippa White and I’m a storyteller. And the story I have for you today goes back about 100 years, give or take. It’s the story of a woman whom I consider to be a heroine and in her day, many people considered her a heroine. But in her day, many people also considered her a troublemaker. And that is a label she would have been completely happy with. What I have for you, is a little bit of her autobiography. So, I’m going to speak her words. But before I do that, I want to tell you a little bit about her. Because and I think that little bit from her autobiography will be richer for you.

She was born Mary Harris, in 1837, in Ireland. Her father, as was the case often back then, emigrated to the United States. And when he had enough money, and a job, and citizenship, he sent for his family. So, Mary Harris got to the United States when she was about 10. And she said of her American citizenship, she had always been proud. She grew up. She married a man named Mr. Jones. He was an iron molder and he worked in Tennessee. So, they moved to Tennessee. They started a family. All went well until, in the 1860s, a terrible epidemic of yellow fever swept through that part of Tennessee, and she lost them all. She lost her family of four children and her husband. She said she sat through nights of grief. No one could come to her, she said, because other families were stricken as she was.

She moved to Chicago and began a new life as a dressmaker. She was successful but, unfortunately, she was in Chicago for the Great Fire of 1871. That fire burned her establishment, her apartment, and again, she was left with nothing. She wandered the streets of the city as the fire burned and she came to St. Mary’s Church, which was taking in refugees. And there she stayed because she had nowhere else to go. She was there for quite some time.

She said, next door there was a rickety, old building where the Knights of Labor would hold their meetings. And she would go over there. Now the Knights of Labor were a fledgling union. Back then, ‘round the turn of the last century, millions of immigrants were coming to the United States, literally, every year from all over the world, but mostly, at that time, from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia but also from all over the world. And employers took advantage of them. They worked for pennies. They worked long, long hours. And they worked in terrible conditions and sometimes dangerous conditions. So, they joined together to form unions so that they could have a voice. So, this rickety, old building, next to the church, was called the Hall of the Knights of Labor. And Mary Harris Jones would go there. And she said, she would listen to their inspiring speakers and her life took a completely new change. It went in a completely new direction. She became that troublemaker. She became a labor activist.

So, let me get my hat here and my glasses. And I’m going to become that lady. But while you listen to the words from her autobiography, keep this in mind. She was about five feet tall. She was no more than 100 pounds. She didn’t even get into this line of work, a labor activist, until she was over 50. And she was not even well known until she was probably over 60. Yet the government of our country, the United States government, called Mary Harris Jones, for a good decade or so, the most dangerous woman in America. So, as you listen to her words, I want you to think about whether that title, The Most Dangerous Woman in America, is right for Mother Jones.

When the railway strike ended, I went down to Cottondale. I wanted to see if the gruesome stories I had heard of little children working in the mills were true. I applied for a job but the manager said he didn’t have anything for me unless I had a family that could work also. “Oh,” I said, “I have a family. There are six of us.”

“You have children?” he said.

“Well, yeah. Yeah.” Well, he was so happy he took me with him to find a house to let. The house he brought me to was a kind of two-story plank shanty. All the windows were broken. The door hung loose. The latch was broken. Inside there was one room, with a big, fireplace and a kind of open air aloft above. Holes in the roof had let the rainwater in, which had rotted the flooring in front of the fireplace. There were big holes, two big holes, big enough to drop a brick through. I said, “The wind and the cold is going to come in through those holes.”

He said, “Oh, summer is coming. Where are you at, a hotel? What are you talking about?”

I said, “I’m not sure this is big enough for all of us, six of us.”

He said, “It’ll do.” And so, I took the house with the understanding that my family would join me at the end of the month, when work was finished up on the farm.

And I started working in the factory. And there I saw them little children working. The most heartbreaking spectacle in all of life! There were times I couldn’t look at those bodies, those little bodies. I wanted to be back in the Rocky Mountain camps or the grim coal fields where at least the labor fight was fought by grown men! Little children working. Running up and down the rows of spindles. Putting a little hand in to repair a snapped thread. Putting, um, crawling under the machinery to oil it.

Hands got crushed. Fingers got snapped off. Children of six with faces of 60 worked a 10-hour day, for ten cents a day. When they fell asleep on the job, cold water was splashed in their faces. Toddling chaps of four went along with Big Brother or Sister. Oh, but their work was not paid. Machines were built in the north. Built low for little hands.

Every morning at 5:30 these children came in from the gray dawn, into the factory, into the pounding noise and the lint filled rooms. They’d fall asleep over their lunches of fat pork and cornbread. Sleep to these children was what play was to a normal child. But the manager would shake them awake and it was back to the grind.

Well, my family, not joining me at the end of the month, a manager got suspicious and I left. I went up to Lexington, Pennsylvania where fully ten thousand workers, textile workers, were on strike and half of them were children. They’d come into our, our union office. They were stooped, round shouldered little things. Some of them had a thumb missing, others a finger off at the joint. Most of them were under 10, even though there was a law in Pennsylvania saying children couldn’t work under the age of 12. I asked the newspaper boys, “Why don’t you fellows write something about child labor in Pennsylvania?” Oooh. They said they couldn’t. The mill owners had stock in the papers.

“Well,” I said. “I’ve got stock in these children and I’ll just make a little news!”

And that’s how it began, my children’s march on Washington. I asked the parents if I couldn’t borrow their children as they were all striking, they agreed. A lot of adults came with us. A man named Sweeney, agreed to be our Army captain. Each child carried a knapsack with a plate, a cup, a fork, and a spoon. I had a big wash tub with me so that I could make food along the way. And we carried signs saying, “We want to play.” “We want to go to school.”

In every town, I got into the town square and I brought those children up onto the platform and I showed the people their mangled bodies. I said, “The mansions of Pennsylvania are built on the backs of these children!” Well, at this point, I decided we would not go to Washington, but rather to Oyster Bay where President Theodore Roosevelt was vacationing with his family. I thought, perhaps, he might like to compare these children to his own. I thought he might like to know who wove the carpets he walked on, the drapes that hung in his window.

Do you know that recently they passed a law in Georgia for the protection of songbirds? When Labor asked for protection for these children, they don’t hear. I was in Washington D.C. recently and I saw our legislators passed three bills, in one hour, for relief of the railways. When Labor asks for relief for these children, they turn a deaf ear. I was in a prison recently. I asked a man how he came to be there. He said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he’d stolen a railway, he’d be a United States senator.

Well, we got to Oyster Bay. But President Roosevelt refused to see us nor would he answer my letters. But our march had done its work. Preachers were preaching about us. Teachers were teaching about us. Two newspapers got in a fight about us. And although the strikers lost the strike and had to return to work, one year later, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law saying no child could work under the age of 14. Thousands were sent home from the mills and thousands more never had to go. Our march had done its work.

Mother Jones died in 1930 at about the age of 94. She is buried in the Union Miners’ cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri. She asked to be laid to rest there. There had been a riot that had left some protesting miners dead. The mining company had brought in detectives with rifles who shot them. And that was the beginning of the Union Miners’ cemetery. And that is where Mother Jones wanted to be buried. There still is child labor on this planet, most especially, in countries like India, China, Bangladesh, and South American countries. In our country, still a little bit. Agriculture, sometimes meat packing, but, mostly, the trouble has been taken care of thanks to Mother Jones and many others like her.

Thank you for listening.

Culture Shock: An Israeli Immigrant Learns America

By Storyteller Noa Baum

Story Summary

Noa arrived from Israel to America in 1990 the month Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel. She arrived from a place where everyone walked around with boxes of gas masks in case they were attacked with mustard gas, to the quiet peaceful college town of Davis, California. To call it culture shock would not do it justice…

Here is the story of crossing over and learning to live in a culture where the perceptions of time, space and values are completely different from your own.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Culture Shock-An Israeli Immigrant Learns America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was there a time when you felt like an alien in a culture you didn’t understand? Have you felt misunderstood in a new/different place?
  2. What are the things we take for granted in our culture – what do we call ‘normal’?
  3. How do you respond when you meet someone from another culture who behaves in ways that seem ‘weird’ or ‘strange’? Do you ‘write them off’? Try to avoid them? Are you curious to get to know more or wonder why they are so different?
  4. What are the things we can do to make someone who is a stranger feel more welcome?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Living and Travel Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Noa Baum.

In August of 1990, I left Israel to come to America. It wasn’t the first time I came to America. The first time, I was in fifth grade, didn’t know a word of English, but I learned very fast. Second time, I went to graduate school in New York City. But in August of 1990, I followed my American husband to the University of California-Davis, where he wanted to study. And that month Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Israel.

And so, I came from a place where everyone was walking around with little black boxes holding gas masks, in case Saddam Hussein attacked us with mustard gas. My friends were making a lot of cynical jokes to try and cover up their panic as they practiced to get their babies into strange collapsible plastic contraptions. And everyone wondered, “Can this flimsy thing actually protect my baby from the lethal gas?”

So, I left the war threats, new and old. I left that hectic pace of Tel Aviv with the relentless humidity and unbearable heat. I left the drivers, aggressive and impatient, honking at every turn. The demonstrations that continued for and against the diplomatic solution with the Palestinians, for and against the preemptive strike on Iraq. I left a brother still wrestling with hallucinations and voices that began after the 1982 war. A grandmother who raised me but no longer recognized me. A sister recently married like me. And my aging parents, anxiously following loud step-By-step TV instructions on how to prepare a safe room. I came from all that to the stillness and static home of cicadas in Davis, California.

To call it culture shock would not do it justice. Davis is a small college town in the middle of California’s Central Valley. It is a place where the biggest political struggle in its entire history has been to save the toads from being squashed when they crossed the highway. I was sure it was a joke at first but they actually built a tunnel so that the toads could get to their ancestral wetlands, on the other side of the highway. It almost hurt to think that I come from a place where protecting the lives of humans was not as successful as preserving the rights of toads in Davis.

Well, the weather was somewhat familiar, a relentless heat, 100 Fahrenheit in the summer. But other than that I was surrounded by strange phenomenon. People were actually standing in line and not pushing into the elevator or the bus. People like you talk and not interrupt you, mid-sentence. Drivers were actually patiently waiting in the light when it was green, for all the cars to come through before making a left turn. Oh, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that on that first week of August 1990, on flat roads of Davis, only one person was heard honking the horn of their car. And that person, was me.

No gas masks, no sirens, no bombs in the marketplace, no wars. America was peaceful and safe but I was an alien. Suddenly, interrupting others mid-sentence to and impatiently finished their thought, what I knew as signs of participation, showing that you’re interested and invested in their concern, was looked upon as rude. Where I come from, listening without interrupting means you are bored and that’s rude. Or, or talking with determination and urgency, obvious of your marks of leadership, dedication, showing that you’re here getting ready to get things done; was considered having an attitude. Well, having an attitude of what? No one ever finished that sentence, just…having an attitude. Or talking with a loud, dramatic voice and big, hand gestures;

what in Israel is considered clear indications of passion and enthusiasm, were described as too intense. Me, a deeply caring person, rude, with an attitude, too intense?

I just couldn’t get it and I couldn’t understand the subtext in conversations or the nuances of non-verbal language. To me, Americans were cold and uncaring. They send cards instead of picking up the phone. I mean, where I come from, writing instead of talking in person, means you don’t care enough.

And Americans are hypocrites. They say please and thank you and smile to everyone. We Israelis we’re warm, we’re loving, we’re honest. Smiling means you’re like someone. Smiling to somebody you’ve never met before? That’s pretending.

And Americans, they are uptight and not generous. They have to make phone appointments for everything. They never just spontaneously show up at your door and you can’t go to their house without calling. And if they happen to come by, after dropping the kids from a play date and you invite them in to eat, they look so uncomfortable. It’s like you can only invite somebody to eat if it’s an official dinner invitation. Whoever heard of such a thing. Where I come from, somebody is at the door, you instantly offer coffee and food whether it’s dinner time or not.

And Americans are so superficial. A few weeks after we arrived in that August, my husband took me to an event at the University. And he was smiling and talking to so many people. I thought, “Wow. He has so many friends.” But when we came home and I said, “So what’s the name of that friend of…”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what you are talking about? That that guy?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, what were you talking about?”

“Just chit chat.” Chit chat? Networking? Let’s do lunch sometime? But no one ever says when or where. Oh, I was an alien.

And for many years I just stayed close to Israelis and other foreigners. And it took many years to learn to understand the culture that I had moved into. And even longer to learn how to communicate who I was to the Americans without scaring them away. It took time to begin to identify that so much of what felt normal to me, was actually reactions to the world that came from growing up with a lot of anxiety. It took time to realize my own assumptions and stop judging, comparing, or labeling, “them.”

And I learned that Americans write because talking on the phone may interfere with your day and they don’t want to intrude. You see privacy is a big thing, which is why they don’t push into the bus or the elevator. Because giving you personal, physical space is a sign of respecting your privacy. And that is also why they don’t just show up at the door without being invited. They don’t want to intrude on your privacy unless, I discovered, you happened to come from the South. And they show kindness and generosity in so many ways, thousands of ways, that are different but just as heartwarming and big. Like the complete stranger from across the street who mowed the lawn when we moved into our house. I don’t know an Israeli that would have done that for a complete stranger.

And I discovered that Americans say please and thank you because being polite is a cultural value. And smiling…smiling puts the other at ease. It says welcome. Because, you see, at the heart of this culture, there is a large, green woman up in New York City standing with a torch held up high, welcoming. Welcoming the stranger, regardless of where you come from, your color of skin, or your religious, or your religion. Welcoming the stranger. Welcoming me. Welcoming everyone.

Every Day is Basil Houpis Day: Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

By Storyteller Robin Bady

Story Summary

Robin was in middle school.  Basil Houpis had just moved to the U.S. from Greece, and he was different. He barely spoke English, wore mismatched clothes and smelled funny. Everyone picked on him mercilessly.  It was not until Robin went to her 30th high school reunion that she was able to take a stand.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Every Day is Basil Houpis Day-Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied?  Did anyone help you?  How did you feel?
  2. Have you ever been a person who bullied another?  Why?  For how long? How did you feel? What did or could have stopped you?
  3. Have you ever been a bystander to bullying? What did you do? Why? How did you feel?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking Theme

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Robin Bady. I wonder, have you ever felt like you’ve done something that you wish that you could have done again and done over? Well, this story takes place when I’m in middle school in 1963, in the small town I grew up in on the New Jersey Shore.

So, my hometown teacher is standing in front of the class. And standing right next to her is this geeky looking guy. His hair was uncombed and it looked greasy. He was… had a funny smile on his face and his clothes were, were mismatched and wrinkled. And he was shifting side to side. And my teacher, she looked at him and looked at us and then smiled painfully and said, (very slowly), “Class, this is Basil Houpis. And he is new to our school and new to America. And he doesn’t speak English very well. Help me welcome Basil Houpis.”

Silence. And then from the guys in the back, “Hoo, Hoo, Houpis! Basil Houpis! He’s got the cooties! He’s got the cooties!” You remember the cooties. That horrible childhood disease that gets you. The one that you have because someone says you have it. That nobody wants to go near you. Well, Basil had the cooties. And I remember him walking down the hallway with a pained smile on his face. And, ah, we split like the sea in front of him. And he would walk there all by himself, desperately looking for somebody to smile or somebody to talk. And the mean boys, they would go, (in mean grumbling voice), “Oh, yeah. There’s Basil Houpis.”

And the cool girls and the girls who wanted to be cool, they’d say, “There’s Basil Houpis. He’s so weird.” And there was me. And there was, in truth, lots of people like me, who’s pushing up against the wall, wishing I could disappear into it. Where were the teachers, you might ask? I don’t know.

High school comes and puff, he disappears and nobody knows where he’s gone. But, in truth, Basil was never gone. Because once a year, in March, whispers would begin, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget. Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” Basil Houpis Day, that was a day when lots of kids would dress up with dirty hair and bad clothes that didn’t match, weren’t ironed, they’d smell. (The teachers… where were the teachers?) And they’d act just like Basil Houpis, which meant crazy and weird and didn’t speak their English well. Kids like me… you know, wished I could say something but I was too afraid. You know how it is. I did not want to be the next Basil Houpis.

Well, thirty years later, I am, thank God, out of high school. And I am now living my life and I’m happy, with a family. And I get a phone call from my old friend Stephanie. We had grown up next door to each other. We were one month apart. And she said, “So, Robin, why aren’t you going to the 30th high school reunion?” I didn’t even know about it. She goes, “You got to come! Everyone is coming. Why not?” So, I agree.

And on a very hot day in July, me and my husband… Well, you know, high school reunions are?… Well, you dress really well because you want to impress all the kids that you possibly didn’t impress in the past. I was very thin. I had a long, black, silky dress…slinky. I wore a jean jacket and statement jewelry because I was from Brooklyn now and I wanted to impress. Oh, high strappy heels.

And I walked to where the reunion is happening in our high school. I walk in and there’s the gym. The gym is decorated with, well, like it’s a prom. Not that I wouldn’t know. I never went there, to prom. But there it is. It is… something else. All the high school bands have reunited and they’re playing. There are kids doing skits. And I walk through. Everybody’s really friendly.

Then I go to the cafeteria. And the food they were serving, it’s exactly the same old sloppy joes that we had when we were in high school served by the same…the SAME cafeteria ladies wearing the SAME hairnet for the same price–thirty-five cents.

Well, I look around. There are a lot of people there. Everyone was there with their spouse or their partner. And even though there were nametags, I didn’t recognize anyone. Because… well, the truth was that if they were not standing in the group that they had inhabited while they were in high school, I just didn’t know them individually. And so, I spoke to people but it kept going past me. Who they were and why they were saying things to me about things I had said and done.

I had a pretty nice time. And when I went home, the following weeks, in the following months, the class reunion listserv was buzzing.

“Oh, do you remember going to the beach?”

“Oh, that party!”

“The diner.”

“The night after the play.”

“The night after the baseball game.”

“The night after the football game.”

And on and on and on. And then March came. And landing smack dab on my computer, in my email was the message… sent by a friend of mine, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day! Houp, Houp, Houpis!” And all sorts of emails came in response.

“Oh, yeah! I can’t wait to do it.”

“Oh, yeah! Know just what I’m gonna do!”

“Oh, that sounds cool!”

And I’m just looking and watching. And I can’t stop reading because I can’t believe it. This is, well, we haven’t seen him in probably thirty-four years, since middle school. What is this about? We’re not in middle school anymore. And then I felt, whap, the same fears that I used to feel when I was smack up against that puke green, cement walls of our school. And I’m watching Basil Houpis go by and I am wondering, “What I should do? I can’t do anything, right?”

I don’t want to stand up against them. I mean, those are the popular kids and the cool kids. And I got so mad. So mad that I think, “Wait a minute! I don’t even know these people anymore! Why do I care?” And then I go back and forth between tremendous fear and tremendous anger until I settle into rage. My fingers go onto the keyboard and I start writing. “Who the…What the…How the…Why the…” And I decide I shouldn’t write anything. My husband comes in. He’s been watching me and he says, “Close the computer. Go, do it tomorrow.”

And tomorrow I tried to write and the next day I tried to write and the next day and the next day. I think it took me a whole month before I found something that felt okay. And that Tom, my husband, and I agreed was reasonable yet powerful. Because I was not a kid anymore. And I wouldn’t stand for this today. So, I write something that goes like this: (Dear Robin, it’s wonderful, I mean, excuse me, let me start that again.)

Dear Classmates,

How wonderful it was to see you all at the reunion. I forgot how much fun we’d had in high school and how difficult it was too. You know, we are all successful people in one way or another. We have families. We have friends. We are doing well with our lives. Some of us are very successful. Some of us are just getting along. But we’re all adults. And that’s why I was surprised when I got that email from you. Well, first the one that said, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” And then everybody writing about it. You know, if that happened to your child, what would you do? What would you say? Would you stop it or would you let your child do it? What if your child was doing it? Was the bully?

We are better than that. I know that from spending time in your presence and remembering you from our time together. Let’s stand up to the worst in ourselves. Let’s stop picking on a poor defenseless kid, who could barely speak our language, who’s no longer around.

With Love,
Robin

Pfush, off to cyberspace. I closed the computer. I didn’t really want to see if anyone responded. But the next day, I looked. How could I not? And I heard, I read but it was if they standing right in the room.

“Who do you think you are, Robin? I always thought you were a conceited, stuck-up person!”

“Well, who are you to be preaching at us?”

“What do you think you are?”

“Do you think you know better? We’re just having fun. What’s your problem, babe?”

And a lot of bad words and a lot of other things and a lot of meanness. Oh, and I love this one: “Your father would be so ashamed of you!” That one took me aback. And when I was about to give up completely, a couple of other emails came.

“Thank you, Robin. When I was a kid, I wished so much that I could have stood up and taken care of Basil. I would have hated that to happen to me, which is why I didn’t do it.”

“If that had happened to my child, I would be fighting mad. Thank you.”

“Thank you for reaching out to the best of us. We forget when we get all into that group think. Thank you. Thank you.”

“Thank you. It’s about time.”

And I think it’s about time I stood up for that kid. And I think about what my father would have said. He’d have quoted his favorite quotation to me from Hillel, the rabbi, who said many wonderful things from a hundred years before the common era. Hillel said, “If I’m not for myself, who am I? If I’m not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? When?”

On the Train to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

Brenda recounts a story that was told to her by a woman who was a nurse and who, along with 120,000 of other Japanese Americans, was forced to leave her home and all she and her husband owned to be imprisoned in Incarceration Camps during WWII. A baby who should have been in the hospital is placed on board the train to the camps with her mother. The nurse does all she can to help the mother and baby but the end-result is out of her hands.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  On the Train to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had to suddenly leave everything you owned and loved behind and could only take one suitcase with you, what would you take?
  2. How was it that American citizens could suddenly lose their citizenship rights to own their homes, their businesses and receive due process before being imprisoned? Do you think it could ever happen again?
  3. How was the propaganda against Japanese American citizens during WWII like the fear and prejudices against Muslim American citizens we see today?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Brenda Wong Aoki. This year, 2017, is the 70th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066, which was responsible for putting 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were United States citizens, in incarceration camps throughout the country. Now these people, two thirds of them were United States citizens, they lost everything. They lost their jobs. Their bank accounts were frozen. They never got ’em back. Their homes, their businesses, they had to sell for, for, for peanuts because they only had a week to sell everything. And they could only bring what you could carry, which was usually a suitcase and a small child. And some of these people were in these incarceration camps for up to five years, three to five years.

So, recently, uh, my sister-in-law said there was a woman she knew, an Issei woman, second generation Japanese, who had a story that she wanted to tell me, Brenda Wong Aoki, because I am the official, in her mind, Japanese storyteller. And she wanted me to have this story because she wanted me to tell it to the world. It goes like this.

I am a United States citizen, born right here on Grady Avenue. My father fought in World War I. My two brothers were drafted and fought in World War II. I am a nurse. Still am. This year we’ve helped so many friends die. Ne papa? My husband, he is 87. I am 84, so we think it’s time we told this story. It’s about the train ride.

It was 1942. We were newlyweds with a week-old baby and a houseful of brand new furniture. Birds eye maple bedroom set, new refrigerator, sofa. We had one week to sell everything. We had 50 bucks. We ran down to the train station with mainly just the clothes on our backs and baby stuff. We didn’t know we would be there for five years. When we got to the train station, there were soldiers everywhere. They separated the men from the women. They put me on the train with all the mothers and babies, and this is what I wanna tell you.

I see my friend Michi. She and I had just had our babies together over at General (Hospital), only Michi’s baby was so sick. The doctor said it would die if it left the hospital. So, Michi got on the train without her baby. But just as we’re about to pull out of the station, some soldiers come and throw a baby in one of the empty seats.
All the mothers are, “Whose baby, whose baby?”

Do you know, it was Michi’s baby! Those soldiers had gone into the hospital and taken the baby out of ICU against doctor’s orders and just dumped it on the seat. So Michi sat next to me because, as I told you, I am a nurse. I took one look at that baby. Its cry was so weak. But Dr. Takeshita, the doctor I worked for, he told me he was gonna be on the train, just one car ahead of us. And if anything should happen to any of the mothers or the babies, just go get him. So, at the first stop, I get off the train and a soldier points a bayonet at me. I said, “A baby is sick! A baby may be dying!”

He said, “The next one goes right through you!”

I got back on the train. It was so hot in there because they nailed the windows shut and painted them black. And the ride took almost three days, and they only fed us one time. But I remember the food. Spoiled milk and green bologna, left on the platform like we were animals or something. With nothing to drink, my breast milk was drying up, and my baby was crying and crying. (Wooo!) Everybody’s baby was crying and crying. But Michi’s baby was so quiet. Then I noticed… it was dead. But Michi didn’t seem to know. I mean, she knew, but she just… (rocks and sings, ooh, ooh…)
When we finally arrived, we were in the middle of nowhere, nothing. We are city people. We never been to a place like this, the desert.

In all the commotion, Michi slipped away. They couldn’t find her for hours. They had to get a jeep to go get her! There she was, walking through the desert with her dead baby in her arms. She was still trying to find a hospital!

My breast milk never came back and my daughter would have died too because all she had to eat the first two weeks in camp was sugar water. But Mac, the Hakugin pharmacist back home, a white guy, he heard about our situation and he sent us formula the whole time. Never charged us nothing!

Decades, decades have come and gone since the train ride. My daughter has had health problems her whole life because of those first few weeks in camp, but she survived. My husband, he married into Michi’s family, so he sees her from time to time. But me, I can’t come. She won’t see me … because my face reminds her of the train ride.

The Brownlee’s Migration

By Storyteller Kucha Brownlee

 

Story Summary

Kucha’s Grandfather had a marketable skill and a spiritual home in the South after the Civil War. With a large family and plenty of hard work, life was good in Mississippi. But, one incident changed everything.  Suddenly the whole family became immigrants – packing up and moving out of Mississippi.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The Brownlees Migration

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you pack up and move in hopes of a better life?
  2. Would you move quickly if you thought that you might be in danger?
  3. What would it take for your family to suddenly move out of state with no job offer or place to live already secured?
  4. Is there a bully in this story? If so, who? Is it the wealthy land owner? The renter? The ‘white sheets’? Someone else?
  5. Why do you think the whole family moved and not just Paw and Mama Ella?

Resources:

  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells and Alfreda M. Duster

Themes:

  • African American
  • Bullying
  • Family
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

My name is Kucha Brownlee.

When I was younger, we spent our summers in the South. When we were there, my father’s brother and sister-in-law, uncle Phil and Aunt Viola Brownlee, they would pick us up and they would take us to visit all of the aunts and uncles on the Brownlee side. My father was from a big family. Seventeen children to be exact. Well, I knew that the Brownlee family had all been born in Senatobia, Mississippi. We lived in Chicago. But all of my father’s siblings lived in Tennessee. None of them had moved to Chicago. and I was thinking about that and I was curious, so I asked. How it happened if all of the Brownlee’s were born in Mississippi, they all live in Tennessee now? And this was answer.

My grandpa was born in 1862. That was a few years before the end of the Civil War. Now Mr. Brownlee, he thought he owned people, so he had purchased some people to work his fields. And one of them was Susie…Susie, and by default, her children. And one of those children was my grandfather, Richard, or as we affectionately called him Paw Brownlee.

This is the story. See, the Brownlee’s were renters, not sharecroppers. Now at the end of the Civil War, many, many of the workers who were now newly freed, ended up working at this, on the same plantation. I mean, they had nowhere to go, nothing to do. They needed a job. They knew farming. And so, they took the chance and worked on this plantation. In Mr. Brownlee’s case, he encouraged his children to stay, when in fact, he was not allowing them to be taken away. Now, he did teach his black children to read. But unlike his white children, they did have to work the fields. Good thing was he taught my grandfather carpentry. So, my grandfather had a marketable skill.

Once he was grown, and he moved out, he became a renter, because he had a marketable skill. Having this skill was great because he could rent. He also was the head carpenter building the black church that he went to. And because he could read, he used to teach reading in that church while the watchers from the church pretended to work in the fields. This is important to me. Because, you see, the reason, he had, they had to have watchers, even though slavery was over, the Jim Crow laws had set in. And so, it became dangerous to teach reading. So, the watchers would watch and if anyone white was coming, they would make it back to the church and that reading class would become a Bible study. So, my grandfather, (the teacher), met Ella McKinney, (the watcher), and they became husband and wife.

Anyway, they were renters. And they rented a huge, huge farm. And as the children got to be adults, they would give them a big sus… section of the farm to work. Well, there’s a difference between renters and sharecroppers. Renters own everything. They just rent. So, their livestock they bought. Their seeds they bought, their clothes, their furniture. They own everything. On the other hand, if you’re sharecropper, you have purchased everything on credit. And you don’t own any of it. The way you find out what you can own, is at the end of the harvest, there’s a reckoning. And they tally up everything you’ve made and put it against everything you owe. Now if during that season while you working that land, you have a cow that is, um, has a calf. The owner still owns that cow, so he can come and take that calf.

So, here’s what happened. Brownlees are renters. Their cow babed a calf and this white man, not a Brownlee, that they were renting from, came and tried to take that cow. Like Paw was a sharecropper.

Paw said, “Na, no! You’re not going to take that cow.”

And he said, “Watch me.”

Paw said, “Boys!” There were plenty of grown Brownlee men living on that farm. And they start appearing from everywhere. And all that man heard was chee, chee, the sound of shotguns. He froze.

And Paw said, “Now you can take calf if you want to but I don’t think you’re gonna too far.”

So, he let that calf alone, and he backed out, and left the farm empty handed. Yes. But later Paw and his sons, they had a talk about this. And they decided that before he had a chance to round up the white sheets, they better leave. You see, the KKK was still active in Mississippi. And that’s what they did. They packed up everything and they moved to Tennessee. Because in Tennessee, it was a little bit better for black families then it was in Mississippi. Then my father moved north to Chicago.

But that’s a different story.

Loss and Acceptance

By Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary:

Karin had been a practical Asian woman and everything, such as “going to America by age 24”, “being a professional actor by 31”, “finding a partner from match.com by age 37”, “getting pregnant by age 40”, had been happening exactly as she planned. A sudden stillbirth of her baby boy changed her view, and she overcame the grief through the help of storytelling at a support group, workplace, and in her Japanese blog.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Loss and Acceptance

Discussion Questions:

  1. If an unfortunate life event happened to you, how would you react to it? What is the best way to cope with emotions such as grief or anger?
  2. What do you think would be the best way to express sympathy to the person who just lost her unborn baby?
  3. How does storytelling help to heal people?

Resources:

  • Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death by Sherokee Ilse
  • Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha W. Hickman
  • Something Happened: A Book for Children and Parents Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss by Cathy Blanford

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

 

Hi, my name is Karin Amano. Well, I had been a very practical Asian woman who plans out every aspect of her life, such as going to America by age of 24, and being a professional actor by age 31, finding a partner from Match.com from age 37. And getting married and pregnant with a baby girl by the age of 40, and keep my full-time job, saving money and purchasing a house by age of 43.

So, in order to find my Mr. Right, uh, I had to write down 12 criteria that I was looking for my future partner. And after being on Match.com for three years, I finally found my partner who met all my requirements in my list. He was a college professor so we exchanged, uh, term paper-like emails for two weeks and two-hour telephone interview. And, finally, we decided to meet at the fancy Japanese restaurant. And we immediately fell in love with each other and we decided to marry. Yes.

Well, actually, eh, it took, you know… we, uh, dated for a year and then move in together the next year. And the test period has done, so 40 years old, we had a wedding. Ah, we did, uh, the Japanese traditional style wedding wearing kimonos and also a Jewish style wedding under chuppah, uh, wedding canopy.

And now, so we get married at age 40, and so I plan that, okay, we’re gonna have a baby, okay. In 10 months, I’ll give, uh, birth to a baby girl and then two months later, I will go back to work. Yes. And there right after our, uh, traditional Jewish wedding, I got pregnant, yes. And, yes, 20 week, weekth of pregnancy, I found that, uh, the baby was not a girl, so I was disappointed because it was not my plan. But anyway w… my husband and I decided to name the baby Kentaro, uh, which means the first healthy boy, in Japanese. And, uh, 28 week of my pregnancy, I was ready to go to, uh, take my very first maternity swimming class but I noticed that I hadn’t felt any baby kick. So, well, I al… you know, I’s… I called the doctor’s office and the nurse told me to come to the office immediately, so I did. And my doctor, who was moving the ultrasound probe, she said, “I, I cannot find a heartbeat!”

And I couldn’t figure out what she meant and she said, “I’m so sorry.” She continued, “Um, six days ago, your baby’s heartbeat was perfect. I don’t know what happened, uh, since then. I’m so sorry. Your baby didn’t make it but you have to deliver the baby tonight.”

So, I was put in a wheelchair although I was super healthy, um, carried into a beautiful hospital room with a great view of green trees and, uh, hills. And I was gonna have very happy delivery in less than a couple months. And a few hours later, my husband arrived. He looked very sad. And then, uh, the nurse started inducing me, and soon I started having a fever and shivering. I felt very, very cold and, uh, also pain whole my body and hallucinations for nine hours. And, finally, at 3:13 a.m., my baby boy Kentaro came into the world. He looked very beautiful. Of course, he was smaller than the full-term baby but cute face, fuzzy hair, long legs and arms, tiny fingers and tiny toes. He just looked like, as if he was just sleeping. And our nurse, who also had experience of stillbirth, was very sweet to us. And, uh, she dressed Kentaro in a cotton onesie and a hat. She took our, uh, family photo and got his footprint, wrote his name, birth weight and birthday on the card. And (s)he let us spend, uh, family time for several hours until she came to pick him up. And, um, that was the last chance say goodbye to Kentaro forever.

And then the next day, we came, uh, back to our home and when we saw the baby shower gifts on the table, we cried. When I looked at myself in the mirror with a flat belly, I cried. My husband and I sat together on the couch and just kept crying. And later that night, I got, uh, lots of phone calls from my friends and co-workers. And, um, I thanked them for their phone calls but I was troubled by what they said. And I played out in my mind what I really wanted to respond. It’s like this:

“Karin, you always wanted a baby girl, right, so you think about it, it’s just a rehearsal. Next one’s gonna be okay.”

“Well, you mean that the… Kentaro was just a rehearsal? Nobody can be, uh… replace Kentaro.

“Yeah, Karin, everything happens for a reason.”

“Then please give me the reason.”

“Are you coming back to work in a, a few days?”

“Well, it takes the same amount of time as the regular, uh, recovery time for the regular delivery.”

“You know, my friends and I were talking about you. I, we think that, yo… your eggs are too old. You know, you’re 40 years old, you know.”

“When did you become a medical researcher?”

“You know, uh, what are you going to do if the baby was worn… born with a big health problem. It’s gonna be so hard for you to raise him like that so it was a good thing that it happened, uh, now before he was born.”

“So, you mean that it was a good thing that he died now.”

“You know, I know that, you know, they meant well and tried to cheer me up. And I could have been one of them, you know, try to cheer up and saying the way wrong word. Uh, who could imagine, uh, you know, have to deliver the baby with very short notice knowing that the baby is coming into world without crying, without opening his eyes, uh, you know. And all the future, which was made around the baby, disappears. You know, holidays, next year, in five years, in ten years, the future suddenly disappears. So, I try to keep myself busy – next month and two months. And I remember my Japanese mother. When I called her, you know, I needed some nice words from her. She was very negative.

And she said, “Oh, I cannot believe you named the baby before he was born. You shouldn’t have done that. Ah, I, I think you worked too hard. I cannot believe you spent some time with a dead baby.”

And I said to her, calmly, “Mom, uh, could you please, um, uh, try not to say you shouldn’t have done that, something like that. You know, I was so glad that I named him. I can always talk to him in the heaven and he will like that.”

And there was a silence and then my mother said, “I, I told you this before, long time ago, I lost my baby boy right before the due date and I, I didn’t get to see him. Your dad and your grandma saw him but they was… they’re worried that if I could be devastated and in shock. But I was always wondering how he would look. Maybe I should have seen him.” Well, since then, she stopped giving me, uh, negative comments.

And, meanwhile, I started attending… my husband and I started attending a support group and the facilitator also lost a baby 30 years ago. And each of us, very diverse group, uh, Asian Jewish, Hispanic couples, British couples, American couples (there are five of us) started telling the story of our loss. And, uh, we really were helped telling our story, feeling each other. And, also, I wrote my blog and so many people gave me the comment that they are really helped to go through the grief process.

When a Japanese City Person Moves into a Small Town in America

By Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary:

Five years ago, when Karin moved to a small town in the Midwest after previously living in Tokyo, New York City and Orlando, Florida she worried at first about fitting in but was glad to find that people seemed overall friendly and open-minded. Very recently, however, she had a troubling encounter with racism and told her story to her friends (one Caucasian and two African American sisters) in town as well as her Jewish husband and got very different responses.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  When a Japanese City Person Moves into a Small Town in America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you lived in a small town in the U.S.? If so, how was the racial ratio in that town? How often did you see minorities there and what did you think about different groups? How were your parents talking about them?
  2. What would you do if your friends were making fun of people who belong to a minority group?
  3. What do you think can be done to make your community more welcoming to people from different backgrounds?

Resources:

  • Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank H. Wu
  • Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, Updated and Revised Edition by Ronald Takaki

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Travel Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Karen Amano. I grew up in the suburb of Tokyo so I was a city girl. And every time I went to my grandpa’s place in the countryside, uh, I felt lonely and, uh, scared, uh, looking at the sky melt with the stars. I wanted to go back home quickly, to the high-rise buildings and stores and the shop.

And, uh, I moved to New York City when I was, uh, 24. I had su… suitcase, you know, by myself and I didn’t feel much difference from being in Tokyo. New Yorkers walk fast like Tokyo people and there are buildings and shelters, store so, um, I really loved there. And then I stayed there for eight years until I was hired by, uh, a theme park company in Orlando, Florida and moved down there. Very first night, I couldn’t sleep in Orlando because it was so quiet. Ha, in New York City, uh, sirens and construction noise were my lullabies but I ended up, uh, staying in Orlando, Florida for 13 years. I had lots of international friends both in New York and Orlando.

And, um, 2012, my husband got a job offer in a small town in Midwest, only 2,400 people live. And, uh, it was a, uh… his position was Academic Dean at the Christian affiliated college. Uh, so, I’m Asian and he’s Jewish so, uh, he wrote the letter to the, uh, search committee, uuh, to make sure if it’s okay that he is a Jewish and his wife is Japanese and a Shinto believer. And search committee says, “Oh, no problem. They are very open-minded.”

So, after a couple telephone interviews, Skype session, both of us were invited to the campus interview, and finally he got a job. And then, um, it was gonna be a great career move for him and, uh, financially, it will help us so I should have been happier.

But I was concerned. Um, is there any racism in a small town in America because, uh, my Japanese friends told me their experiences in a small town. One of my Japanese friends said that, uh, nobody sat next to her at her local church and so she couldn’t make any friends until she moved to Orlando, Florida. So, we moved and, uh, despite my worries, everybody was open-minded and sweet, sincere and kind. So, um, yeah, I was okay for five years.

And, uh, last week, um, I was walking my chihuahua and my eight-year-old daughter. Um, I, uh, broke my ankle a couple of months ago so, uh, we took just a leisurely stroll. And we are trying to go to the local park. And there are… the swings were occupied by four teenagers, two tall boys, and two girls and a toddler they’re looking after, wandering around them. So, okay, it’s occupied.

“Well, let’s go.” Uh, we kept walking and we were at the parking lot right next to the playground.

I heard a loud voice saying, “Look at the Asians in the parking lot. Shinko shonka chango ja. Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“Are they talking about us?” I wasn’t sure but no other Asians actually in that town. I know only four other Asians who work at the Chinese restaurant. Okay. Uh, I wanted to ask them, “Are you talking about us?” But it was 6 p.m., getting darker, and three-pound chihuahua, me with broken ankle and eight-year-old girl, to approach them, I, I was not sure I could… it would safe. So, we went back home and, uh, my daughter and I are talking about racism. So, I told her, “You know, they made, uh, fun of us because we look different from them.”

And, uh, we ran into my husband who just got back from work. And I told him about what happened and he was furious. He said, “I have no tolerance for racists. Let’s go back there and talk to them.”

Now his grandpar… uh, grandparents, were, uh, jailed and exiled from Germany by Nazis. So, uh, you know, we got in a car and went back there but they’re already gone. And then the next day, my husband said, “Okay. Well, let’s hunt them down. Give me the dis, discrati… description of the teenagers, you know, and then we’ll talk to them before it’s too late.”

But I said, “Well, well, I don’t know. Maybe they’re not talking about us. It… well, if it happens again, um, we’ll talk to the principal. If they go to the same school as my daughter, go there. You know, school has K-12 in a single building and we can start from there.”

My husband said, “Are you sure?”

I said, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

And then the next day, my daughter had a playdate with a little boy at the same playground. So, uh, the boy’s father and I were chatting and I told him about what happened the day before.

And he started laughing. “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, yeah! Yeah and I… yeah, they’re good teenagers and wild teenagers in this town. You know, they could pick on me.”

And I said, “But wait, okay, you’re a Caucasian and, um, well, uh, they wouldn’t pick on you because of your skin color or the language you speak, or where you’re from, uh, you know.”

And then, he said, “Ah, okay, well, that’s right.”

“Well, they do that and, ss… influence other kids, including the toddler. They start copying their… “

“Ha, yeah.”

And then I also told the story to my neighbor who’s, uh, African-American lady. She’s, uh, around 50 years old. And her reaction was, “Um huh! Ah, they’re a lot of racism going on in this town; I didn’t want to move here. Look at the flag, Confederate flag on there, on the house, you know.”

And, uh, she also has a sister, uh, living across the street and she’s, like, a mid-40. And I also told her about this story and she said, “Yeah, yeah. I was called names at schools and, uh, you know, we have interracial marriage. My husband is, uh, white. Still, we’re walking a street, you know, teenagers make fun of us. And since I have the darkest skin, they make fun of me very loudly. I wanted to talk them back but if I do that, you know, they will stereotype me as an angry, uh, black woman. So, I just keep my mouth shut and my husband start preaching to that because he’s very religious. And, also, my daughter was bullied from the second grade to the

fourth grade. There’s a bullying group and she made fun of her not having, uh, straight hair. She cried every day. And I said, ‘I’m going to talk to the teacher and a principal.’ But she begged me not to do that because that will worsen the situation. Well, at the end, the leader of the bullying group moved to another, uh, town so it stopped. So, she’s okay.”

And so, I, I didn’t know that the racism happening in this town. And, uh, my daughter’s school has the zero-bullying policy. It looks very peaceful. Where have I been – five years? And I realized, oh, yeah, I didn’t feel fit in a small town, I, I didn’t feel like belong to here so tha… that’s why I was out of town a lot for, uh, gigs. Or going to Japan, other states, um, or staying in, working from home and barely talk to anybody else besides my, uh, husband and daughter.

But since I got the dog, I started walking in town lately. And I encountered this racism experience, um, so I thought, “What can I do? Oh, yeah. Instead of going to the other town, I, I should tell the story about, uh, my culture and, uh, Japanese folk tales at a local library and, uh, my daughter’s school. You know, because the, the parents… if the parents don’t, uh, teach their kids about other races, that they exist, who else can teach them. Uh, we need to educate each other so the children see me and they’ll start accept, oh, yeah, other race. And this type of folktale happens, yeah.”

And one more saying. I told the story to my Muslim professor friend and she said, “Yeah, well, racism often comes from ignorance so we need to educate each other.”

So, at the college, I plan to do more, uh, cultural presentations. So, that’s what I learned moving into small town life. You’ve heard my story. What was your reaction?

Exotic Food: The Legendary Origin of a Chinese American Dish

by Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

People from all over the world came to America in the 1850s in search of riches during the California Gold Rush.  Many young Chinese men immigrated to America to earn money to support their families in China.  They experienced discrimination and violence, and could only live in specially designated areas, which became locally known as Chinatown.  Chinese food was considered to be “exotic” by the Lo Fan or White people.  This story follows one of the legends surrounding the origins of a popular Chinese American dish.  No one knows when or where the dish was invented and that makes for a good myth.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Exotic Food-The Legendary Origin of a Chinese American Dish

Discussion Questions:

  1. You have just arrived in a new country by yourself and are unfamiliar with the language or culture.  You must find a place to stay, food to eat, and a job to earn money.  What do you do?
  2. What is your favorite food?  Is there a special way you like to have that dish prepared?  What country or culture did that dish come from?  What food makes you most think of home?  How does it make you feel when you eat it?
  3. When did your ancestors first immigrate to the US?  Where were your ancestors born?  What did your grandfather and grandmother do for a living?  Where did your father and mother grow up?  In what cities have you lived?
  4. Why do you think the Chinese Americans had some fun feeding the white people leftovers? How does humor help relieve stress when people are being oppressed?
  5. You have travel to another country, can not speak the language, and have become separated from your parents.  You are lost and have no money.  What do you do?  How would you like people to treat you?  What would you like them to do for you?

Resources:

  • Chinese Immigrants in America: An Interactive History Adventure by Kelley Hunsicker.  2008.  Capstone Press, Mankato, MN.
  • The Gold Rush: Chinese Immigrants Come to America (1848 – 1882) by Jeremy Thornton.  2004.  PowerKids Press, New York
  • snopes.com/food/origins/chopsuey.asp Chop Suey Origins

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. And this story, some people believe it’s true. You choose, you decide for yourself.

Hi, my name is Ming Wah. 1850’s or so, when Chinese began creating restaurants, yah, in America, Lo Fan, Westerners, white people thought, oh, Chinese food was exotic. So, I’m going to tell you this story, my restaurant friend told me about a famous Chinese American dish. Maybe true…hmm…maybe not. But, hey, good story.

I guess around 1850 Chinese can come into America in large numbers. See, in China this time is the revolution. Things, the whole country, was in ruins. Taiping Rebellion. People rising up against the government. There’s no work. And then in the South-eastern part China, all around Toisan District and ’round Canton. Lots of rain, flooding. Oh, people cannot even grow food. People starving. No chance for good life in China. Then, they hear about Gam Saan, Gold Mountain, America. See, gold was discovered in a place called Sutter’s Mill, California, 1848. People from all over the world come to America to get rich. In America, maybe chance for good life.

Whole families get together, pool money, buy one ticket, send one young man to America. One young man sail from Canton, China, cross Pacific Ocean, all the way to San Francisco, California. They hope maybe they find gold or get money. Send money back to China support the family. They think maybe work, three, maybe five years, and then come back. Some people in California, some people found gold, got rich, went back to China. Most, um, not. ‘Cause people, they had to deal with not only different culture but different language. And, also, Chinese had to pay special Foreign Miners Tax, four dollars a month. That’s about as much gold as you normally find in a month! Oh! And on top of that, people get beaten. They get, they get robbed. They get, even sometimes, killed! Oh! Some give up, go back China. Me? I stay. I still got family back in China I gotta send money to.

So, in China at this time, also, got, ah, alien land laws in the United States so Chinese cannot own land. Cannot vote. And we cannot live just about any place we like. Could only live in places specially designated, away from the Lo Fan, away from the white people. But wherever they are allowed to live, that becomes Chinatown.

Chinese, they open up stores, they open up restaurants, they open up laundries. Me? I got a job in store. We sell vegetables and fruits from nearby farms. Me, I keep the best vegetables, the best fruit for my restaurant friend. He tell me, “Oh, you guys got bess foo, best fruit, best vegetables!” He takes all that good food. He chop ’em up. He serve to his best Chinese customers entertaining special guests. Lo Fan. They like coming to Chinese restaurant because the food is exotic but for them, all too spicy.

My restaurant friend tell me, one night, almost closing, all these Lo Fan come to his restaurant. They are hungry. They want something to eat. Oh! He’s looking around. Almost no food left in the kitchen! All he has is leftover vegetables and leftover meat he wouldn’t serve his best customers! Ah! Never mind. Chop them up, put ’em in the wok. Chop up the meat, put ’em inside. Stir ’em up. Make gravy and then no spice. No, nothing. Make ’em bland. Put ’em on a plate. Serve ’em to the Lo Fan. The Lo Fan eat. “Oh! This is good! Oh, OK!” (Thumbs up.)

My friend look at them and go, “OK!” (Thumbs up.)

He go in the back, talk to all the cooks. The other cooks look at him, go, “OK.” (Thumbs up.) They start laughing. I think they’re still laughing.

See in the Toisan District, we call this dish tsap seui or leftovers. Now, white people, they cannot pronounce that so they call them Chop Suey.

Ha. My restaurant friend tell me, “You, you, you, come, come, come. You special friend. You, you, you eat free!”

I go, “Haha! OK!” (Thumbs up.) But me, never, ever order Chop Suey

Becoming a Woman of Color: Discovery in the Philippines

By Storyteller Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

Story Summary

Rebecca, a Filipino American, grew up in nearly all-white neighborhoods and schools. In 2000, she began reconnecting with her Filipino heritage and became a woman of color.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Becoming a Woman of Color-Discovery in the Philippines

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the story of your family’s immigration to North America and settlement? If your heritage is Native American, where did your tribe(s) live before colonization?
  2. Where in the world has your family lived? How are race and culture connected to those places?
  3. What are the stereotypes about your race, gender, economic status, or geographic location? Do you feel these stereotypes reflect who you are or create pressures to be something you are not?
  4. How often do you see yourself or your heritage portrayed in films? What do the main characters in these films look like and what do they have to do to succeed?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor. My mother and father left the Philippines in 1955 and met in Seattle in the Duwamish territory. When they met, it was a time of great upheaval in Seattle. There was a lot of prejudice against Filipinos and the civil rights movement was just beginning. The elders in the Filipino community told them not to teach me their languages because it would hold me back in school.

I was their American dream. So, we moved to a suburb south of Seattle. And I grew up in all white neighborhoods, attended mostly white schools, and went to a mostly white church. Growing up, I saw Filipinos as my parents, the Filipino community in Seattle, but not myself. I was an American. My parents wanted me to succeed in school and so they encouraged me to not just do better than the girls in my class but to do well and exceed the boys in my class. I did so well that I was accepted into the physics program at Washington State University. I wanted to be Carl Sagan’s assistant. The program was very difficult, and, eventually, I realized that what I really had a passion for was literature. I went to graduate school in creative writing and I met Rosanne Kanhai, an Indo-Caribbean woman. And she saw something inside me. And she asked me if I would go to a Woman of Color Conference. I was curious. I wanted to see what the women of color did as academics. After the conference, I was driving home and I realized that my internalized oppression had gone so deep that I had seen myself as a white man not a woman of color. That started me on a journey to understand what it meant to be a Filipino.

I began to research Filipino stories. I began to understand the values and worldviews of my people before colonization. Before the Americans had come. Before the Spanish had come. These stories taught me much. In 2015, I had an opportunity to visit indigenous leaders. To find out what it was like to be part of the land to be a certain people. In that time, they taught me many things. And showed me that their struggles were, very stru… very similar to the struggles of the native tribes, here in the United States. They were displaced by corporations and the military and the government. They were forgotten because they were seen as backwards and educated. They thought I was educated but I went to learn from them. I went to learn how to be part of
the land. How to be in community.

There is a story of three artisans who made a beautiful statue of a woman. And that statue came to life. And these three artisans argued over who would get to marry the beautiful woman they had created. They went to seek the judgment of the Babaylan, the Wise Woman. The carver said, “I had taken a branch of a tree and carved her so I have the right to marry her.”

The tailor said, “I clothed her and made her modest. I should marry her.”

The jeweler said, “No, I arrayed her in the most beautiful jewels and made her a queen. I deserve to marry her.”

And the Babaylan thought and looked at each man and considered their case carefully. Then she asked, “Have you asked the woman what she wants?”

And the carver looked at the tailor, and the tailor looked at the jeweler, and the jeweler looked back to the carver, and said, “Ask her what she wants?”

And the Babaylan said, “Yes.” And turned to the woman and said, “Who would you like to marry?”

And the woman turned to the carver and said, “Thank you for creating my body. And I thank you, tailor, for clothing me and making me modest. And thank you jeweler for making me a queen. But I wish to be as I have always been.” And she reached her hands to the sky and her arms became branches and her body became the trunk of a tree and her feet rooted to the ground. She became as she always had been, a tree.

The elders of those indigenous tribes; the T’boli, the Ifugao, the Magindinao, the Obo Manobo. They all taught me that what was most important was to be myself. I am Filipino and I am American. That is all I need to be. Myself.

And these teachings, their teachings, I am always grateful for. And I take their stories to other communities so they will know that Filipinos are not just one people. They are many peoples of the islands with many different traditions, many different languages, many different ways of seeing the world. And yet, we are all together a people. All tasked with taking care of this beautiful planet on which we live. For we are always in relationship, not just with each other, not with just ourselves, but with the greater world around us.

My Life as an Engrish to English Translator: Learning to Accept My Korean Immigrant Mother

 by Storyteller Elizabeth Gomez

Story Summary:

A story about Elizabeth, an “Army brat”, who must navigate the world for her Korean immigrant mother. Through this process she learns to stop being embarrassed by her mother and shifts to fighting for her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: My-Life-as-an-Engrish-to-English-Translator-Learning-to-Accept-My-Korean-Immigrant-Mother

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many of you are recent immigrants or have immigrant parents?
  2. What are the daily struggles you have or that you see your parents and other family members going through?
  3. If you have immigrant parents, are there times you are embarrassed by them? Can you share examples and reflect on from where the embarrassment comes?
  4. What steps can you take to make you and/or your parents’ transition in America easier?
  5. What do people who have been here longer need to understand and how can they be a support to new immigrants?

Resources:

Learning a New Land by Carola Suarez-Orozco
Korean Immigrants and the Challenge of Adjustment by Moon H. Jo

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Gomez. It was 1983 in Virginia. I was laying in my room in the dark with the covers over my head listening. She was yelling and I was only nine years old so I wasn’t really sure what to do. My mother and I had been here before, just listening to her struggling and screaming. I pull the covers tighter over my head when I heard, “Risa, Risa, you come here. You come here now!”

As I walked out of my sanctuary, my eyes widen and I slumped into the kitchen. She stood there in a polyester robe with a brown phone dangling from her hand.

“Risa, you speakie to him. He no understanding me.”

I stood there flushed with embarrassment, and took the phone from my mother’s hand, “Hello.”

“Hi, ma’am.”

“Could you just help us get your mom’s account number. We’d really like to help her.”

“Mom. What’s your account number?”

“Oh, you terr him, you terr him, jero-jero-sex-sex-four-eight-sex.”

“It’s 0-0-4-8-6.” (0-0-6-6-4-8-6)

“As I talked to this man, my mom walked around in the kitchen. She was pacing back and forth, getting angrier and angrier. She didn’t understand why Americans didn’t understand her when she spoke to them, especially because she’d been in this country for over a decade. I watched her pace through the kitchen, back and forth, her small Asian frame just blowing in and out, and in and out until she was rounded out like one of those monsters from Where the Wild Things Are.

After I completed the phone call, I hung up. I looked at my mom. This lady demon who was slowly morphing back into this four-foot-something Asian lady.

“Why they don’t understanding? Why don’t understanding me? I speakie good Engrish.”

I watched my mom sit at the kitchen table and I put my hand over hers. I looked at her as her face was beginning to worry and her body started to fill with self-doubt. At that moment, I decided I have… I had to stop. I had to stop running away and hiding and I had to really commit to being her English (Engrish) to Engrish (English) translator for the rest of my life. And it was always like that.

My father was a Puerto Rican-American, U.S. citizen, who served in the military. He met my mother in Seoul, Korea. They married; they had kids. Most of my mom’s life, as a military wife, was traveling abroad and she spent very little time in America. While she was here, she did okay. But when my dad was gone on duty or training missions, my mom had to make her way through and I was rela… relegated to just, basically, being her translator.

I spent tons of time just, like, watching her try to talk to sales people and clerks and merchants, just trying to get what she needed. It was like watching a Charlie Brown episode where the teacher’s talking to Charlie Brown and all Charlie Brown can hear is this muffled sound of nothingness. And I would just stand and watch my mom wave her hands around, and gesticulate, and try to convey what she needed, without being able to tell them in the way that they needed to hear it.

And every time, I’d be broken up with this sound, “Risa, Risa, you terring him, you terring him right now, Risa. You terring him, ‘Me want to buy fridgey.’”

“She wants to buy a fridge.”

“You terring him we need to move to Browning Street.”

“You mean,”

“She wants you to know that we live on Brown Street.”

“You terring him, ‘It’s too expenses’.”

“She means it’s too expensive.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, she named me Elizabeth. She doesn’t even know how to pronounce Elizabeth, so she started calling me Lisa, which she also does not know how to pronounce. In addition to that, my mom would have to go to conferences, like, parent-teacher conferences, and those were the most embarrassing, humiliating, and petrifying moments of my life. There they were, these well-articulated, ecedga… educated teachers looking at my mom with these plastered smiles, just nodding their heads, trying to understand what she was saying.

And my mom is basically screaming at them, trying to convey, “Oh, Risa, she so razy.”

In addition, I couldn’t have any friends. Anyone who came into my house, got pinched by my mother when she would say things like, “Oh, you so fat!” Or, “Oh, why your eyes so big?”

Every single friend I ever made, who came to my house, basically, never came back and I accepted that. That was my life. I was gonna be the town recluse and I always was gonna have this rude mother.

Late one night, I could hear my mom talking to someone on the phone and it was my dad’s new girlfriend. I dropped my blanket and I walked to the wall that separated my room from my mother’s. And I could hear her just softly begging this woman to let my father go. And I heard her say, “Prease, prease go way. We have kids.”

I listened for a long time, and my heart started pounding as I felt for her. And I just listened, as she kept begging and begging. And I didn’t even really like my father and, up ’til that point, I’m not sure I liked my mother that much either. But at this moment, I felt what was going on with her, and I understood that this was painful. And I pressed my head closer against the wall as I listened to her hang up the phone and sob and cry. And I wanted to go to her but I couldn’t. I could just listen. And I did. I listened until I fell asleep to the sounds of what pain was for her.

A few, a few weeks later, after months of not seeing my father, I was really surprised when he came to pick up me and my brother to go to New York and see my grandmother. Not only was I surprised to see him, I was surprised that I was allowed to leave with him.

“I don’t wanna go.”

“Risa, you take good care of Ab-e. You be good girl, okay?”

“No! I don’t want to go.”

“You go.”

As we drove up to New York, my father stopped at a rest stop. He went to go use the phone booth. And as he was in the phone booth, I could tell that he was just being himself – super charming, and laughing, and flirtatious to someone on the phone. Eventually, he started walking toward our car, and I felt a little weird. And I wasn’t sure what was going on. So, he said for us to come over and, uh, talk to this person on the phone. And I pick up the phone and, huh, I hear this voice come over.

“And she says, “Hello, Elizabeth. It’s me, Jane, your dad’s friend. How are you?”

At that moment, all the anguish I had for my mother, the loss of my father, the not understanding of what had been going on with my whole family, this whole entire time came rushing at me. My heart pounded. My ears… like sounds of, like, waves came through my ears. And I felt nothing but anger when I replied, “I know you’re not my father’s friend. You’re his girlfriend! As a matter of fact, you keep calling my house, and I hate you for hurting my mother.”

And I hung up the pho… er, I dropped the phone and I ran back to the car. And I watched as my father, like, fumbled around with this phone and he’s spewing out apologies. And then he comes back to the car, he slams the door shut, and smacks me across my face. And he starts talking, just talking about something or another, and I have no idea what he’s saying because I don’t care. I just didn’t care.

All I knew was that, at that moment, I had been able to tell this woman the things that my mom wanted to say to her. And in some small way, this 9-year-old was able to score a big point for my mother.

After our trip was over, we came home. I could hear my mom and my dad arguing out in the front porch about this or that or what the kids knew or didn’t know. And I was pretty sure as I was standing in the kitchen, that when my mom came back, she was gonna spank me or discipline me for re… disrespecting my father. Instead, she walked in with these bloodshot eyes, mascara tears dried on her cheeks. She looked at me. She made me a bowl of hot ramen noodle soup. She smiled and then she went back into her bedroom.

I still translate for her to this very day, especially with my own family. I mean, huh, we’re still not used to the idea that when you get pinched, and to be told, “You’re fat,” that that actually means, “Hey, are you hungry?”

We’ve learned to communicate in ways of, like, laughter and shared experiences and gestures. And now, when my mom asks my husband and I if we’ve bought a condom, I know she means condo.

My Names: Gender Expectations for a Taiwanese Woman

by Ada Cheng

Story Summary:

In this story, Ada Cheng explains the meanings of her Chinese name: Shu-Ju. She explains the connection between her name, her parents’ expectations for her as a daughter, and the cultural expectations for her as a daughter. She details why she chose to stay with the name Ada and what Ada means to her life and her identity.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Names-Gender-Expectations-for-a-Taiwanese

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do parents come up with names for their children in Taiwan? What do names represent?
  2. What does Ada’s original Taiwanese name tell you about gender norms in Taiwan?
  3. Why is changing her name important to Ada, her identity and her life?

Resources:

Growing Up in Three Cultures: A Personal Journey of a Taiwanese-American Woman by Dora Shu-fang Dien 
Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience by Carolyn Chen
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hi! I’m Ada Cheng. Ada Cheng. Let me start with my original name. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and I was born Chen Shu-Ju. In Taiwanese culture and some of the Asian cultures, Cheng, we put our last name in the first place so Cheng is the family name. Shu-Ju, um, that’s my given name. In Taiwanese culture, when parents give children their names, uh, it represents, uh, their expectations in terms of what they want and what they hope for their future. It can be about their life; it can be about their career. Shu-Ju. Shu, the character means like a lady.  Ju means good luck.

So, I can just imagine my mother going to a fortuneteller and trying to find the right characters for me. Um, and, eh, she would probably talk to my father. “I think it would be great if we give our daughter, uh, this wonderful name and we hope that she will be gentle and… and… and quiet and polite and respectful. Like a lady with a lot of good luck.

So, now imagine my being a little girl, like a tomboy. And then my parents’ expectation was that they wanted me to be respectful, polite, quiet and… and gentle like a lady and I didn’t like my name when I was growing up. Um, here’s the thing, this is what my mother’s… as I was growing up, this is what my mother would say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You got to wash dishes. You… you’re a girl; you have to help out in the kitchen. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Close your legs! You’re a girl! Come on, you can’t do that anymore. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You can’t beat up your brother. He’s a boy. You’re a girl! Ah, Shu-Ju, what’s going on with you? You can’t run around naked anymore. You’re a girl! Ah, you can’t play with boys. Please do not talk back!”

Let sink that, think, sink that, sinking for a while. I grew up like playing, running around, tomboy, climbing, liked to climb trees, climb things, fight with boys. And as I was growing up, I hated my name because how did you… could you convince me to love a name that I knew I was going to fail my parents’ expectations. That there was no way for me to fake it, right! Often time you fake it until you make it! There’s no way. For me to know I can fake it until I make it. And… and there’s no way for me to… when I was a little girl, I thought there… there’s no way for me to make it as a woman in this society.

And I rebelled; I refused to do anything required me as a girl. Um… which also very interesting is that I… my mother also gave me another nickname. Um, in Mandarin, it’s called Zhi Da Bien. In Taiwanese, it’s called Gay Sei. In… in English, it’s called Chicken Poop! That’s right! My mother called me Chicken Poop. Eh… and it was… so, um, I asked my mother, “Why would you call me such name?”

And she say, “Because you were so small; just like a chicken poop, right?” She thought it was very, very  endearing to call me this. Um… ah, she didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. But the thing when… as I am older and think back, would she call my brother such a name?

So, I remember when I was 8 years old and I was playing  with, uh, neighborhood children. And I was the smallest one in the neighborhood but I was the one, the strongest one with the strongest opinions. I liked to order people around and I would say, “Line up! Do this and do that!” So, often time, after school the children would just stand there and play. So I remember that day, that close to dinnertime, and I was gathering people and say, “Hey, hey, hey! Please, uh, gather up, we’re gonna play the game (whatever the game was). We’re gonna play again!”

And as I was ordering people around and, uh, I was the smallest one, my mother suddenly appear at the door and then she said, “Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien! Shi wăncān!”  So, the English translation is “Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop, it’s time for dinner!”

And I just froze! And I turn around and I look at my mother and I was exasperated. I was being authority figure, standing in front of a group calling the shot and then, I say, “Five minutes, give me five minutes!” Ah! In my back, I heard children giggling, right! And when I turn around, the kids just started to laugh at me. “Ah, Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien, right! Your name is Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop! And then I was… I just… I was so mad! I was so frustrated! And I… I just left. I ran away. I said, “You know, I’m not going to play with you guys!” and left.

And when I went home, I finished dinner and I didn’t talk to my mother. And that was pretty much the day I kind of lost my status in the neighborhood. I mean, think about it, how many boys will want to play with a girl and to be ordered around by a girl whose name is Chicken Poop, right! Um, and I realize nobody wanted to play with me. Um, when my mother saw me this small or given me this small… um, and later on, uh, you know, my mother and I, ah, my family and I – we stopped talking with each other.

And, um, because I was trying to be my own person, um, wanted to search my own life, um… And it was actually October, 1976, I was in junior high school. We… everyone started to learn English and so one day when I’m home, we have this very small dictionary. And I thought if I started to learn English, I am going to have an English name so I can immerse myself in with… into the environment so I flipped through the dictionary. I found this name list and I looked through the names. In our textbooks, we have Mary, we have Susan, we have… have all these names. I thought I got to find a name that nobody has heard. So, I looked through it and I saw the name… I saw Ada, right! Ada is for the first place, the first name listed under the alphabet A. And I looked at it and I thought, “That’s it, Ada! That’s the name for me!”

Because at the age 12, the only thing I want to be was number one. So, I thought I wanted to pick the name Ada so I could be number one then and number one forever. So, I pick that name and I stick with it, uh, forever. And I started to introduce myself to everyone as Ada and that’s the important part is that when I picked that name, I also wrote a different story for myself. Thank you.

To Prove You Are Legal: Immigration from Taiwan

 by Storyteller Ada Cheng

Story Summary:

In this story, Ada Cheng explores her experience with the U.S. citizenship ceremony. She discusses the institutionalized vulnerability that immigrants are subject to during the process of becoming Americans. She also compares her experience as a naturalized citizen with that of one of her invited guests, an older African American man.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: To-Prove-You-Are-Legal-Immigration-from-Taiwan

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this story help you understand the vulnerability immigrants face in the process of immigration and U.S. citizenship application?
  2. hy doesn’t the legalization of citizenship status necessarily help reduce the prejudice and discrimination immigrants might face?
  3. What does it mean when the storyteller says her story and her African American colleague’s story are connected yet very different? How?
  4. How does this story help you understand the citizenship process better?

Resources:

Growing Up in Three Cultures: A Personal Journey of a Taiwanese-American Woman by Dora Shu-fang Dien  
Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience by Carolyn Chen 
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Identity
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

I’m Ada Chen. So, um, after being a green card holder for 10 years, I finally decided to apply for American citizenship last year. And two weeks after I did my citizenship interview, I received a notice from the Citizenship and Immigration Services of Homeland Security (and I have to say that clearly) and notifying me that my citizenship application was approved and my swear in ceremony was on May 27th, 2015. Um, and I was excited. I was very excited! Um, I have to say, though, my citizenship application was absolutely smooth.

Uh, the only problem I had was the way the USCIS staff handle the mail. They actually mailed it out without sealing the envelope. Um, so, the notice with my legal name, social security number, green card number, uh, and address was sticking out of, the… out of the envelope in the mailbox and I was just floored. I thought, you know, what if… what if this – one of the most important documents -was lost. Um, but, uh, you know I’m just excited. So, I invited my partner… and my then partner and the chair of my department at the university where I was a faculty member to, uh, join me for this important event. Um, and on May 27th, we arrived at the USCIS building right before 1:00 p.m. Um, we got through the security check, um, took off our shoes, went through it and I, actually had to throw away my, uh, camera and recorder because they would not allow any kind of recording, uh, devices. And we went up to the third floor and there was a open waiting area and a lot of people were waiting there. And so, after half an hour I was called to stand in line… all of the people who, uh, will be sworn in that day. So, we were standing in line, standing in line and moved to a bigger, uh, ceremony hall.

Uh, and so, as we walked toward, uh, the ceremony hall, there was a long desk, uh, right at the entrance of the ceremony hall and three agents were sitting there. Um, so, the first agent took my green card and my notice. And the second agent examined the documents and threw them into the big yellow envelope, and a third agent took my name off the list.

And then my heart sank when I turned in my green card. Uh, this was, actually the only legal documentation in my possession to prove that I was documented or shall we say the term legal in this country. And I didn’t bring my alien ID with me so I didn’t have any, uh, ID that day to prove where I was. But then the thing is that it really didn’t matter because any form of ID would not prove, uh, your legal status.

So, at that moment I was without legal documentation and I became illegal in a moment! So, I started to panic when I walking to the big hall. And you have hundreds of immigrants like me…  had already been seated. None of us had any… none of us had any legal documentation. And I have to say, I was, uh… it was very, very scary to be with hundreds of people in that big room and it was as if we were waiting for our collective sentence. We’re just waiting for them to process people and, theoretically, um, without any documentation, we could be arrested. Um, locked up and deported. Right? Right there and then.

And then I started to think. Okay, deported back to where? I’m from Taiwan originally. I was born there 52 years ago. Um, I came to this country 25 years ago. The last time I went back was 17 years ago. So, my question I asked myself, “Where is home? Right?” Um, I still have family there and it hasn’t been home for more than two decades. Um, so, going back there, is not necessarily going home. It has been… I’ve been away for two decades. But then that’s what raise the question, “Then is Chicago home?”

Um, so, I was sitting there. And every time an agent walked toward me, I panic because I started to wonder, okay. “You have so many people that are undocumented in one room. Is this just a trap? Right? Is the Asian walking toward me and are they going to tell me, ‘Okay. There’s something wrong with your application. We change our mind about naturalizing you, right?’ ” is…  I would… they are going to say and did not believe me when I indicated on the application form. I told him during the interview and the list of questions that he asked, for example. Um, well, I didn’t engage in genocide. I didn’t torture anybody. I was not a Communist… Communist. I was not a terrorist. I did not intend to overthrow U.S. government. I was not a gambler. Uh, I was not an alcoholic. Uh, I did not force anyone to have sex and I did not solicit sex.

And so, these are the list of questions that, uh, the immigration, um, officers will ask you when they… during the interview. And I just started to wonder, wow, are they not going to believe me and, uh, are they going to change their mind. So, then I was starting to think, well, if that happens, uh, what is going to happen. Uh, but then after a while, I saw my friends coming and, uh, they took their seat. And the USCIS director went up to the podium and say we will start, uh, the ceremony. So, we started the ceremony.

The ceremony included, uh, watching documentaries, uh, eh, and we have to pledge loyalty to the flag. Uh, listen to speeches and, uh, then we, uh, received our certificate of naturalization. One thing I have to say, though, during the ceremony, the documentary talked about how it was that we, like generations of immigrants… that we were so fortunate to come to this country and, uh, escaped war and poverty, uh, and political and religious repression and to receive American citizenship. I actually felt very terrible that I invited, uh, the chair of my department who was 70 year-old African-American man. Um, at that time, many people were protesting the police brutality in the United States, um, and his ancestors didn’t come to this country voluntarily. And when I was thinking about this, that war is not just out of the United States… it is right here in the United States. And so, for me when I was celebrating, um, he was not necessarily celebrating with me. Um, and I feel very ambivalent about that. Um, but eventually I received a certificate, um, of naturalization and when I got home, I immediately locked it up in the safe because that was now the only legal documentation to prove I was a legitimate American citizen. And, believe it or not, a few weeks ago when I applied for affordable care health insurance, they, actually asked for numbers from that documentation, um, when I identified myself as a naturalized citizen. So, this kind of thing never ends even after you become naturalized. Um, but, regardless, I have to say I’m very excited about the process and it has been a long journey to become American.

My Parents’ Three Migrations

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

 Kiran shares the stories he heard about his parents’ three migrations from India to Uganda to England.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Parents-Three-Migrations

Discussion Questions:

  1. If a story plays a part in your identity – what is it and why do you use it to state who you are? Is there more than one story we can use to claim or identify who we are?
  2. What is your family migration story?  Does it matter or not?
  3. What are some of the challenging moments in your life? How did you handle them? Could the challenges you faced and the solutions you created be a story that you tell?
  4. Can you describe the story of a world you’d like to see and live in?

Resources:

  •  Idi Amin: Lion of Africa by Manzoor Moghal
  • Immigrants Settling in the City: Ugandan Asians in Leicester by Valerie Maret

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

So, my name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is about my parents.

How do you eat a mango? You hold a mango in your hands, you caress it, you squeeze it, and you soften the pulp from the mango, and then you suck out the juice from the middle. I know how to eat mango because my parents told me how to eat a mango. They came to Britain in 1972 from Uganda as Ugandan refugees, and I was born in England. But they told me how to eat the mango because that’s what they did in Uganda. Mangoes flourished in their garden. And we eat mangos every day. But there are so many other stories from Uganda and Kenya.

There were stories about how my mother, when she grew up, she was sitting in an elementary classroom, and, she picked… a cobra, walked into, came into the classroom, and she picked up a hockey stick and killed the cobra. And still to this day, that cobra is in a jar and in the school museum with a label on it, “Killed by Pravina Korga Tora.” There were so many other stories from East Africa, from Kenya, and Uganda, where my family grew up. Stories about how they’d make popcorn and go to the drive-in cinema. Or stories of how they would pick food from the garden and make bugga or baquarda, bagia. Or how they make African food and combine that with Indian ingredients like ugali.

There was even a story once that my mother told me that the Bisaya people used to come on trains with vegetables and fruit and sell these vegetables to the houses. And one day, a young boy was knocking at the door to sell vegetables. And my grandma opened the door and invited this young boy in. And he became a friend of the family and as he grew up with my mother.

There was a story about my grandfather that one day, he looked out and he saw so many people walking past thirsty, they had no water. So, he went out with his own hands, he built a well so they could drink fresh clean water. There are many stories such as this and I know them because my parents told them to me and I had never been to Uganda.

But in 1972, in the summertime, Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, announced on public radio, that Ugandan Asians had to leave the country in three months or they be executed. Now, you can imagine the panic. People were scared. But they had no time to fuss around. They had to pack up what they could, put their possessions into bags, and then leave the country, or obtain the visas so they could leave the country. A sociologist once described my people as the thrice migrant community. A community of people that had migrated across three continents in one lifetime. Thousands fled the borders. Some moved back into Kenya or Malawi or Tanzania. Well, my family were kind of lucky because they were born as British citizens. Originally, my grandparents came from India to East Africa to build the railroads from Mombasa to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The British needed the British railroads to keep control of the British Empire. They needed an access from the sea to the source of the Nile, to keep control of the Suez Canal. So, they sent for migrant Indian skilled workers to do this. And when it became an independent country, both Kenya and Uganda, the Ugandan Asians, they stayed and they settled and made Uganda their home.

On route to Britain, though, in the winter of 1972, things weren’t all that rosy. When the plane tried to land at Luton Airport, the airport was stormed by far right fascist groups that tried to stop the immigrants from coming into the country. And this was spurred by Enoch Powell’s “The Rivers of Blood” speech. Enoch Powell was a politician that talked about the blood of migrants is going to ruin our country. Many of the refugees settled in refugee camps. But my father got word, because he was a young architect in Uganda, that sister branch in a town called Eastbourne, sent word that any Ugandan refugees that were going to come to England had a promise of a job. So, my parents moved to Eastbourne.

The front page of the headline of the Eastbourne Herald Newspaper read, Uga, “Eastbourne  Welcomes Ugandan Refugees,” and there was a picture on it of my parents. A young, cool Indian couple. My father wore a bright red turban. My mum even, even bright red sari and they carried a little baby, my older brother.

Eastbourne was where they grew up. It was also where I was born. It was a town that welcomed my family in. There was so many stories about those early years. I remember, my dad told me once, when he was walking down the Eastbourne promenade, a young boy called out, “Look mum, aliens!” My dad loves to tell that story. I once asked my dad what was it like. You left Uganda at gunpoint. You came to England, you had, your plane had to reroute. You started a new life. You had no possessions, no houses, hardly any money. The only money they brought into the country was jew… wedding jewelry, stuffed into my brother’s diaper. They had to start life from scratch. Must’ve been really difficult.

And my dad was like, “No, Son, it was fun. It was an adventure. And you know why? Because we’re doing it together. We had a sense of community. We helped each other out.”

When they came to Britain, alls they had was minimal possessions but what they did have was the power of the stories that are passed on to them and the power of stories that they passed on to me. I’m so grateful for the stories that were passed on to me by my parents. And the strength and this belief that I believe. That to tell a story in this world is more than a human right. It’s actually an act of love that can change the world. And I’m grateful for the stories that have changed my world and made me realize the person I could be.

Escape to Freedom – Germany 1941

by Storyteller Judy Sima

 

Story Summary:

 Judy Sima tells the story of her mother, Elsa Mosbach. She relates the events leading to Elsa’s escape from Germany during WWII, her encounter with the Gestapo following Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, and how she used her father’s WWI medals to gain her father’s release from Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Escape-to-Freedom–Germany-1941

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What can you do to stop religious prejudice?
  2.  What would you do if a family member was imprisoned because of his or her religion?
  3.  What lessons have you gained from studying about the Holocaust?
  4.  Should America accept refugees who are persecuted for their religious beliefs? Does it make a difference what that religion is?

Resources:

 Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Judy Sima. My mother’s name was Elsa Mosbach. She was born January 5th, 1912. This is her story and I’d like to share it with you as she may have told it.

I stood on the deck of the old German steamship looking back. As we pulled away from the busy Lisbon, Portugal Harbor, tears were streaming down my cheeks and there was a lump the size of an apple in my throat. And I felt as if my heart would break even though my husband’s warm, protective arms were wrapped around me. There was no one to wave goodbye to us. We left our families behind in Nazi Germany and I didn’t know if I’d ever see my mother or my father or my younger brother again.

It was summer of 1941. I was 29 years old and I had never been more than a couple of days journey from my hometown and here I was on a ship bound for America. And I didn’t even know a word of English. My husband, Paul, and I left our home in Cologne at the beginning of the summer. We couldn’t take much with us. Nothing of value. So, I packed our suitcases full of clothing and knickknacks and photo albums. We said goodbye to our parents. I was a seamstress and I made myself all new dresses and even hats to match. We said goodbye to our parents. And we boarded the train bound for Portugal. It was a long trip and it took many days. It was a very difficult trip.

The ship we were on was called the Nyassa. It was built in 1906 and carried over 2,000 passengers, most of them are immigrants like us. We traveled for a long time and I was seasick for most of that 10-day journey. But I didn’t care. I was just glad to be out of Germany. You see, we were Jews. German Jews. Jews had been in Germany since the middle ages. My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, were born in Germany. My father earned medals fighting on the side of Germany during the Great War of 1912, 1914 to 1918. He was proud of those medals. My husband and I couldn’t wait to raise our children in Germany. We thought of ourselves as Germans first and Jews second.

But when Adolf Hitler came to power in 19, 1933 he put an end to all of that. Laws were passed that took away our ability to earn a living, our right to own property, our citizenship, and our dignity. Jewish children couldn’t go to school with Christian children. And Christian doctors could not treat Jewish patients. We couldn’t even go to public places like the movies or the theatre or a beach or a park. We, things, every day, friends and neighbors disappeared and we never saw them again. And the words “Sarah” and “Israel” were stamped on our passports identifying us as Jews. We knew we had to leave but it wasn’t easy.

We had to put our names in a lottery and when our number came up, we would be allowed to apply for exit visa. And once we had that exit visa, we would have to find a country that was willing to take us in. We wanted to go to America, so, we had to find someone who could sign an affidavit proving that they had enough money in the bank to support us, if we couldn’t earn a living, if we couldn’t take care of ourselves. It took us five years and during that time came the most terrifying nights of our lives.

November 9th and 10th, 1938, Kristallnacht. Crystal Night in English sounds pretty but it means in German, the night of the broken glass. German thugs and hoodlums went on a rampage and they destroyed over seventy-five hundred Jewish businesses, schools, cemeteries, and hospitals. Hundreds of synagogues were burned down to the ground as the police and fire stood… firefighters stood by to make sure that only the Jewish buildings were destroyed. A hundred Jews were murdered and thirty thousand more were rounded up and sent to forced labor camps and concentration camps. My husband and I, we huddled in our small apartment, listening to the screams and the gunshots and the breaking glass and the police sirens.

And then, in the middle of the night, the phone rang. It was my mother. She was hysterical. The Nazis had made her and my father and the Jews of our village watch their synagogue burn down to the ground. And then, they took my papa away. I said, “But they’re making is mistake. Papa was a war hero,” and I promised my mother that I would come as soon as I could to my hometown and find papa and bring him home.

Early the next morning, after Kristallnacht, after Crystal Night, I boarded the train and headed for my hometown of Beuthen, Germany, which was near the Polish border. And all the time I thought about my papa. He was big and strong. He was my hero and a German hero too. Kaiser Wilhelm himself had given him the medals. And as a little girl, I used to wear them around our apartment. When I got off the train, at first, I didn’t notice anything unusual, but as I walked toward my neighborhood, I began to see the devastation. There was the kosher butcher; there was nothing but a gaping hole. The same with Mr. Rubenstein’s dress shop and the bakery where I used to get cookies from Mrs. Goldberg. And now the cookies were all trampled underground. And then I came to a huge pile of smoldering rubble. Our beautiful synagogue with the twin columns and the beautiful ornate arch and the Spanish mosaics was gone. Simply gone.

When I reached my street, I could see my papa’s shoe store. The glass was broken. Counters were overturned, shoes were strewn everywhere, and on the walls, in bright yellow paint were the words “Jude, Jude, Jude,” Jew, Jew, Jew. I climbed the stairs to our apartment above the, above the shoe store and let myself in. My beautiful Mutti, my mother, was huddled in the corner, a glazed look in her eyes. I put my arms around her and said, “Mutti, I will find papa and I will bring him home. I will bring him home.”

And then I went to their bedroom and pulled out the top drawer of my father’s dresser. And there were the two boxes just where I knew they would be. Inside was the Hindenberg Cross and the Iron Cross. I put the, I put the medals in my pocket. And then I straightened my shoulders, and put on a fresh coat of lipstick, adjusted my hat, and I walked down the stairs, and marched the three blocks to the Gestapo office. I pulled open the heavy wooden door. There at the end of the hall, stood a soldier at attention and as I came closer, he clicked his heels and raised his hand and said, “Heil, Hitler.”

I said, “There’s been a mistake. They took my papa last night. Please, I must see the Commandant.” The soldier looked at me up and down, but I didn’t waver. I just stared him straight in the eye until he finally opened the door behind me and let me into the Commandant’s office.

The Commandant was writing on some papers; he didn’t even look up. I said, “There’s been a mistake. Last night they took my papa, George Lachmann. He’s a good German soldier. He won these medals. Kaiser Wilhelm gave him these medals himself.”

The Commandant didn’t even look up he just said, “Rouse, rouse,” out, out.

I said, “But I’ve got money. I’ve got money.” I took money out of my pockets and I threw them at him.

Finally, he looked up and he said, “He’s been sent to Buchenwald but I’ll see what I can do. Come back in a week.”

I left the Gestapo office but was afraid to go home. I came back day after day and waited. And I don’t know how many days I waited. And finally, just when I was about to give up hope, the door to the Gestapo office opened and out came my papa. He was stooped over, he’d lost weight, he was haggard, he hadn’t shaved in days, his clothes were torn, he had a bruise on his face. But he was safe. At least, for now.

Soon we’ll be docked in New York City. So, I got up early and took my shower and came back and put on one of the new dresses I have made. The lavender, rayon dress with white box pleats that flared out at the bottom. My husband whistled. I looked fabulous. I was going to be very fashionable in my new country. We went down to breakfast but I couldn’t eat. I had just butterflies in my stomach because I was so nervous. We went down to the third-class passenger deck and people were milling around. And the sun was blazing down on the blue-black sea. And off of the distance, off in the horizon, we could see the tops of tall buildings. And then suddenly, someone pointed and shouted. And there, coming out of the sea, was a tiny gold flame. And as we got closer, we could see that flame was held aloft in a silvery green torch held by a magnificent woman with a crown of seven spikes, a green rock gown that flowed to the pedestal below. The Statue of Liberty. Everyone cheered. The fog horns blew and the seagulls welcomed us with their piercing calls. I looked at my husband, the tears in his eyes matched the ones that were streaming down my cheeks. We didn’t know then that we would never see our parents again. But we were free. We had escaped. We were truly free. And we were ready to begin a new life in America.

Hasan’s Story: Escaping the Bosnian-Serbian War 1994

by Storyteller Sue O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 When former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, war broke out across the region. Hasan, a Muslim, was a college student in 1992 when the siege against his city, Sarajevo, began. He joined the Army of Bosnia but would do anything to escape and live in peace and freedom. A few of his many adventures are detailed in this excerpt as well as his victory in studying Islam and rediscovering his identity when he came to the United States.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hasans-Story-Escaping-the-Bosnian-Serbian-War-1994

Discussion Questions:

  1. What led to the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s?
  2. What would you do to escape a war? Could you leave your friends and family?
  3. What kept Hasan’s and his friend’s hopes alive?
  4. How has hardship helped you define who you are?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Interfaith
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sue O’Halloran. I’m going to tell you a story that’s an excerpt of a longer story. A story about the war that broke out in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. This is a story of my neighbor, Hasan. Now I’m going to say it as if Hassan were speaking to you in the first person. I do not do a Bosnian accent, believe me, but I want to get a little flavor of Hassan’s speech and most of all the spirit of my dear neighbor. So here’s a little bit of Hasan’s story.

I remember first day of siege. I was in college back then, 21 year old. It is March 4, 1992 and I wake up and I hear my father’s voice out in the living room. “What is going on?” I have to tell you, my father is the type, never late for work, never miss a day of work. He never call in to say he’s sick. I walk out to living room, sleepy and this is how my father greet me. “The whole city is blacked out. People are running around with machine gun. You can’t go anywhere.”

I sit down. I watch TV. We watch TV together. We watch our neighbors absolutely flipping out. Jus-just the night before, my friend, Christian, he was at our house. We are school friends, right. We are hanging out. And next morning he is in Serbian army whose job is to annihilate us Muslims. We listen to TV anchorperson say now our country, Bosnia, it is part of Greater Serbia and Greater Serbia must be cleansed of Muslims and Croats enemies. What, yesterday we are citizens, coworkers, neighbors, and today we are enemies? What has happened? What has changed? We still look the same. We have same skin, it is white. We have two eyes, we have mouth, we have legs, we have arms. What is different? What has changed?

Well, the shelling, it continued all day long. By us is a hospital for babies and one moment it is a hospital of dead babies. Who could do that? The children, of course, they don’t understand; to them, ah, it is day of school off, right? By us, across the street from our apartment, is a hill. The children are sledding on the hill and we hear screams. And we run to the window and there on our street is…is seven dead children in our street. The shelling, the sniper bullets could come out of nowhere. You’re standing line. Now there are lines for everything! Line to buy water, line to get some food, line to get some wood.  And all of sudden shelling or, or, or bullets come out of nowhere and suddenly the 20 people in front of you are dead. You are next in line but you, you are standing there spared, somehow. You understand, we cannot make sense of this.

It took us a while to understand what was going on. We thought it couldn’t happen to us. Finally, I join army of Bosnia. For three long winters, army of Bosnia, we, we hold our city, Sarajevo. Is mystery to me, how we hold that city. We are exhausted. We are, we are no food. We are, we are, we are hungry. We are, we are just tired.

In other unit, a story circulate. We hear a story of an unbelievable suicide. This other unit, they’re holding strategic mountain by Sarajevo. They, like us, no food, no water for days. They’re trudging up snowy mountain, getting up high in mountain. They’re covering, they’re carrying the little packs of things they have left. When a pack horse walks to the edge of the cliff and jumps. The soldiers stood there stunned. And finally, one of them say, “Even the horses can’t take it anymore.”

This is how I feel. This is what I try to tell my parents one Sunday night. I am 24 years old and I tell them my grand scheme. I am leaving. They have one comment for me. “You are out of your mind! How will you get out of here?” they say. “The whole region is at war and our own people could shoot you for deserting the army!”  “I don’t care,” I say. “I do not care. I have got to get rid of these pictures that are in my mind. These pictures that are driving me crazy. I have to leave!”

Long story, my friend, Dino, who is also in army, he leaves with me. We sneak out of tunnel. We get out of city, which is blocked. No way in, no way out. We find way out through tunnel and when we emerge from that tunnel, there before us like big, dark, black wall in the night is Mount Trebević, where just six years before Olympic athletes are skiing, the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Oh, so much joy on Mount Trebević! So much, much pride we have! The whole world is watching us host the Olympics and now Mount Trebević is surrounded by death.

Later, long in story, I tell you many more adventures. Almost caught, almost turned in, lying, hiding, cheating, whatever we can do to escape. And finally, we are crossing border.  Finally, months later, out of Bosnia into Croatia. We are trying to get to town of Split on the sea side. Maybe we can get out of area from there. We are going there at nightfall. And as we approached the city at nightfall, we see…lights…lights. We are without lights for over three years. We are without electricity. So, so, so long.  How I tell you? Speechless. Is like night stars fallen to the ground. Light exist. Light exist. I keep saying to myself, light exist. You see, it is like we are living in a cage in Sarajevo and you cannot believe. All existence has stopped outside that cage. You cannot think to yourself that out there somebody is going to eat normally in a restaurant or slept in beds or are going to the office or having a picnic in the park. But if light exists, see to me, that means if light exists that means life exists.

But the magic it start to fade, a bit. We get into Split and there are written on the buildings as graffiti, “Kill Muslims. Death to Muslims.” We are not at war anymore with Croatia but it’s still not a very safe place for us to be. But good luck. We find out that Dino, my friend, his cousin lived in Split.

We are able, long story again, to find our way to his apartment. We get there. It is covered with people. Wall to wall refugees, men, women, children. I do not care. I find a little piece of floor; I fall on it. I am going to sleep for days if I can. When this woman come next to me asked me where we been. I do not want to tell her whole story, months of escape, right? So I mumble a few words and then she asked me where we think we’re going. I don’t know where we’re going. Every step of the way, I didn’t know what comes next. I didn’t know where we were going but I say to her, “We go to United States.” Just to get rid of her, you know, so I could go to sleep. She said, “Oh, well that’s what I manage.” And I’m half asleep, now I’m thinking, what this woman manager store or something why is she telling me this? Why won’t she leave me alone? I want to sleep. And then she say, “I manage the office that sends Bosnian refugees to the United States.”

I am awake now. This is first person I meet in Split? The person who can get me legally to the United States?  And that’s how it worked. A Jewish organization sponsor me and Dino to come to America. You know, Jews and Muslims, we have had long history together. Like in 1400’s both of us pushed out of Spain. Well, during this war when the Serbian army set fire to libraries and other buildings, it is Muslims who run into the synagogue to save the sacred and priceless Jewish text. And now it is a Jewish organization sending me and Dino to America.

When I look back on it all now, over three years fighting a war, over three months escaping, I can’t say that good did not come out of it. I am here. My family is safe. We are in America and we are safe. And strangely enough, it is the haters who made me realize who I am. In Bosnia, I, I don’t know much about my village. I’m not that interested. But as the war and coming to the U.S. I start to get curious about my background. Why people hate me? Who are we anyway? And in U.S. I study Islam. And I find a mosque where I can study with other people, which is a good thing because Islam, I tell you, it is a religion of much discipline. It helps to help other people teaching, you practice with. And our mosque, our mosque join with Christian church and Jewish synagogue and we meet every week, six years now, to understand each other. We are becoming friends. And I can tell you it is better to live your life in community.

I…I am one of the lucky ones.

Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US

ahm-header

Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US
A Short Video Story

by Nancy Wang

 

Introduction:

RaceBridges pays tribute to the many Asian Americans who have helped build and enrich America. Nancy Wang paints a true life picture of her Chinese American immigrant family’s struggles and ingenuity in the Monterey, CA area. This story is a great resource for understanding the contributions of Asian American immigrants to America.

Summary:

This story follows the journey of Nance Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and the adversities encountered along the way to America. Upon arriving, Nancy’s family started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula, which proved to be lucrative but not without opposition. Both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations.

Although America was a land of opportunity, unfair regulations and restrictions caused great difficulties for the hard-working Chinese Americans. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.

The unimaginable challenges faced by Nancy’s family in this true story are thought-provoking and provide insight for us to appreciate our differences as well as make changes in how we think of others. With understanding, we can feel their pain and change our world for the better.

Classroom Applications:

  • Read literature written by Chinese Americans(see this link for some names: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American_literature)
  • Write biographies of famous Chinese Americans
  • Create a cultural food tasting day, where students bring in foods from various cultures for all to taste and learn about.

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Videos for

Asian American Month or any time of the year.

 

The Immigration Process vs. Pre-Wedding Bliss

 

Story Summary:

 Listen and move as this spoken word piece takes your mind and body through an insider’s/outsider’s understanding of immigration, identity, and family. The story began when Arianna and her now husband wanted to get married and had to prove, with evidence, that their love for each other was real. Complexity arose as they entered the immigration process better known as: K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa. As they hit barrier after barrier, they quickly learned how unpredictable the U. S. was about immigration,

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Immigration-Process

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where in your life have you had to navigate the U.S. government to solve a problem?
  2. How does Arianna manage the immigration process in the United States? What steps does Arianna take to manage the immigration process?
  3. What evidence does Arianna use to show she is “in love?” What evidence do you have that would show you love someone in your family?

Resources:

  •  http://madeintoamerica.org/  (A Collection of family stories)
  • Immigration Stories by David A. martin and Peter Schuck (Non-fiction)
  • Mama’s Nightingale: A story of Immigration and Separation, By Edwidge Danticat

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My name is Arianna Ross. It was 2006. I was watching the sunset – the sky was a wash of purple and peach. I, I turned to face my boyfriend, Alexandre. He was smiling; there was a twinkle in his eye.

Right behind him was a statue of the Madonna holding baby Jesus, awash with the same colors as the sky. He looked at me, “Você quer você orar comigo? Do you want to pray with me?” We held hands and we took a deep breath in and were silent for a moment.

When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me hesitantly. And then he said to me in a very tentative voice unlike his normal voice, “Você quer ser meu noivo? Do you want to be my fiancé?”

“ABSOLUTELY!”

For the next 24 hours, we were in pure wedding bliss. We discussed where we were going to get married. The kind of food we were going to eat, the type of music we were going to have and, of course, the most important part for both of us – the ceremony. We decided that my parents would say prayers in Hebrew and that his parents would say a few prayers in Portuguese. And we would have a master of ceremonies run the entire event.

We were excited until we sat down in front of the computer. We decided that we were going to spend the first half of our life in the United States and the second half of our life in Brazil, which meant that we had to get married in both places. We turned on the computer, we loaded the USCIS website, the Immigration Services website, for the United States.

We looked up the K-1 fiancé visa. There were nine pages of instructions.

Step number 1, fill out the I-129F document in dark ink. Step 2, gather evidence that proves that you are planning on getting married and staying married. That proves, essentially, that you are in love. Evidence that proves that we are in love?

I called Immigration Naturalization Services. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean by evidence? What kind of evidence or what form of evidence? I mean, I recognize that there are people who try to dupe the system. We’re not one of those people so I would appreciate clarification?”

And the man over the telephone calmly explained to me, “Excuse me, you need, essentially, to provide simple evidence, simple evidence that proves that you are in love and you are truly planning on getting married and staying married.”

“Sir, I get that. It states that in the document, in the instructions. But what do you mean by ‘proves that we’re go… in love’ in evidence? What kind of evidence?”

“Anything you deem necessary.”

All right, I went home to the United States and I started to gather evidence. I gathered photographs, receipts, letters from my parents, letters from his parents, letters from all of our friends. I had two hundred and fifty pages of evidence when I turned in our application. I crossed my fingers and I waited.

Six months passed and we received a letter. They were telling us we had made it to the next step. We needed to turn in more documentation and more evidence. I mailed in 150 more pages and we crossed our fingers and we waited. One year and two months later, we received our interview date in Rio. I got on a plane. I met my now fiancé there and we arrived at 7:45 am at the consular office. Our appointment was not until 11:30 but I didn’t want to be late. We sat and we waited patiently. Eleven o’clock rolled around, 11:30 rolled around, 11:45 rolled around, 12:25. All of the couples had gone in and out, in and out. There was only one consular office left in the entire room when he motioned us in. We sat down and the first thing I noticed was that he was behind a Plexiglas bulletproof window and then he smiled. He had his hand…  a stack of papers.

“Here are three hundred and fifty of your four hundred pages of documentation. I would like to return them to you because I really don’t want them clogging up my filing cabinets. If you have more evidence with you, which I’m sure you do, please don’t give it to me. I believe that you are going to get married. I believe that you are in love. I would just love to know how the two of you met.”

“Ach! How the two of us mmmet?

I was ready to screech at the man! My hands actually balled into fists! And then, suddenly, I felt my normally nonverbal husband reach down and relax my fingers. He looked at me. He looked at the man and he began to tell our story. The story that we had documented in all those photographs and all those letters. By the time he was finished, I was surprised. He knew all those details.

The consular office reached underneath his desk. He grabbed his stamp and in one fell swoop, he stamped my husband’s passport.

“Welcome to the United States. I can’t give you your passport. I need to mail it to you. Do you have the self-addressed stamped envelope?”

“Yes.” We handed it to him.

He explained to us that it would arrive in five to six days and then he hoped my husband had an excellent journey. One year and six months later, my husband got off the plane. He looked at me and he smiled – a twinkle in his eye. He was wearing my favorite T-shirt. I knew that we were ready to bring joy into our world and to start our pre-wedding bliss.

Undocumented Journey: An Educational Dream Realized for Illegal Immigrants

 

Story Summary:

In 1972, Marsha worked for the Peace Corp in Jamaica. She became friendly with a neighbor woman named Yvonne. By casually mentioning the town she lived near – Montclair, New Jersey – Marsha set in motion a dream that Yvonne would sacrifice everything to fulfill. Although some would call her an “illegal immigrant” Yvonne accomplished the impossible.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Undocumented-Journey

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Yvonne latched on to the idea of the importance of education for her children?
  2. One of Yvonne’s children went on to study medicine at Harvard. Do you think Yvonne and her husband felt their sacrifices were worth it? What did the U.S. gain by having Yvonne’s children well educated?
  3. Does the outcome of this story influence your thinking about “illegal immigration”?

Resources:

  •  One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories by Aaron Barlow
  •  The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica by Ian Thomson

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Marsha Wong.

In 1972, I was in the Peace Corps, assigned to the island of Jamaica. I lived in a town discovered by Christopher Columbus and he named the town Discovery Bay. I lived on the top of a cliff, overlooking the Caribbean, in a tiny prefab, concrete house. Most of my neighbors were Jamaican families. The couple that lived right next door to me was named Seymour and Yvonne. Yvonne and I were both 23, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. Yvonne had had a totally different life then I do. She had dropped out of high school when she was 15, when she gave birth to her first child. And now she had three children with a fourth one on its way. But nevertheless, we quickly became friends.

Yvonne and I would spend most of our time, not all of our time but most of our time, out in the yard by the concrete trough where we would wash our clothes. Now I wasn’t quite used to washing my clothes in water that wasn’t hot. So, Yvonne, kind of, schooled me in the proper method of washing clothes. And during that time, we would talk about our family and our lives. And Yvonne would tell me about how she regretted not going to high school and hopes and dreams that she had for her family. And she asked me, what was the best thing that she could do for her children? See, she believed that the United States was the answer to everything. The United States was far superior to living a life in a third world country. So, when she asked me what was the best thing she could do for her children, I told her. Since, especially, I was a teacher, the best thing that she could do for her children was to get them an education. And she thought about that as she was pounding her clothes into the concrete trough and trying to wash ’em.

And she said to me, “You know, I have always regretted my decision not to go back to school. But tell me, where is the best place I could get this education for my children?” Well, I had taught in East Orange, New Jersey, which is a town right next to Newark, New Jersey and very, very close to Montclair which was an affluent community. So, I told her being 23, that the best place in the entire United States to get an education was Montclair, New Jersey.

And she told me, “Me goin’ to go there one day, you know. Me goin’ to go there.”

Well, eventually, I married a Jamaican and I moved to Kingston. And in time, we would go up to the north coast and we would visit Yvonne and her family because we had become friends. And during that time, we would reminisce and we would talk about… in fact, she even came to my wedding. But in time, my husband and I had decided to move up to New York, where he was going to do another degree at Columbia. So, over the course of several years, I hadn’t seen Yvonne, but every time we had gone back to Jamaica to visit relatives, I would call her. In fact, there were times, not only would I call her, but we would drive up to the north coast to Discovery Bay. And I would go into the community and found out her family was still living there but that she and I, our paths never seemed to cross. So, it had been 14 years till I saw her again. And while I was up on the north coast, I called her, late one evening… really, late. And I said, “Yvonne is this you?”

And she said, “Oh, my gosh, Marsha, me can’t believe it’s you!” And we proceeded to talk about everything that had happened in the last 14 years.

And she said, “Me got a story to tell ya. Ya won’t believe this story.” And she proceeded to tell it to me. Apparently, she and Seymour had discussed, over the years, of how they can get their children this incredible opportunity to go to Montclair, New Jersey.

And Seymour and her, she said, “Seymour and me discussed, man. We over it and over it and we thought and we thought and we thought. Until one day, I said, ‘Seymour, my children must have this opportunity, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘Yvonne, there is no way, no way we’re going to do it.’ But you know what? I come up with a plan and I said, ‘Seymour I can go to the United States. Me can go and work as a domestic illegally, you know, but me can do it.’”

And so that was the plan. See, everybody that everyone knew when she got to the United States was illegal. The organization, believe it or not, was an organization that only hired illegal aliens, illegal immigrants. Her friends were all illegal. And she said to me, “You know, in time me get Seymour and him tell me all the time, ‘Yvonne, me can’t stand it you are away from me.’

And I said, “Seymour, you don’t remember what Marsha Wong told us?”

And him said, “Marsha Wong! Mystic of Marsha Wong!” But in time Seymour brought all five of his children up one at a time. All five of them, you know.”

“Well, I live in, out rent, a small, apartment; two rooms and a small, little, little kitchen. And in the kitchen, we have a hot plate and on the hot plate we cooked meals. Well, every morning me wake up, me get the children, we come on the bus, and we go to Montclair, New Jersey because all five of them are in this school in Montclair.”

“Believe it or not, I had gotten my mommy and my daddy. They came up illegally, of course. Me got my brother and my sister and their families. I got all of them up in Montclair. Except for Seymour because he has to stay back and work in Jamaica. But while we’re riding on a bus one time, the truant officers saw us. And the truant officer said, ‘What are you doing man?’”

“And I said to him, ‘Me taking my five children to school in Montclair.’ ”

“He said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t do that. If you want to go to school here, you must live here. You don’t live here. So, if you do live here, you can go to school here.’

“Me have no choice. Me have no choice. Imma call Seymour. I say, ‘Seymour, I must move into Montclair.’ ”

“And he said, “Please Yvonne, come home to me.’ ”

“And she said, ‘You know, Seymour, I can’t come home. I told you before, Marsha Wong told us the best place to go for an education is Montclair and that’s what we have to do.’ ”

“So, I rent one room, really and truly, I rent one room. I have a big bed and I have all five children lay horizontally on the bed to go to sleep. Now, I don’t sleep at night because I work at night. But all of five children, they wear ragged jeans to school. You know, it’s expensive in Montclair. They wear the ragged jeans, they wear sneakers. I can’t afford the brands that are in Montclair. I can’t. But all five of my children, they know that the best thing that’s going to happen them, is they’re going to get an education in Montclair, New Jersey. Well, believe it or not. Seymour said, ‘Please,’ him call the time. ‘Please, Yvonne, you must come home darling.’”

“And I say, ‘Seymour, Me can’t come. This is what we’re getting. All the children are going to go to school. Me want you. I’ve been away from you all these years. My children don’t have their daddy. Everybody is suffering. But we’re going to have something in the end. It would be foolish if I didn’t follow this through.’”

“Well in time, Marsha, you know what happened?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “In time, my oldest graduated from high school and then, Andrea, my second daughter my second daughter. She win a scholarship to Harvard University. Harvard man! You know, she can’t accept this scholarship if she is illegal. And I’m thinking what am I going to do? I tell everybody that she win a scholarship. I mean what am I going to do?”

“Well, I tell you at that particular time, President Clinton had an amnesty program. And if you had paid all of your taxes, which I did, or you didn’t do anything wrong, and you did everything on the list, man, everything, you could get a green card. So, I told my whole family. I told my family, I told my friends, and I told Seymore. ‘I’ve got to go down to the immigration. Nima… Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service.’”

“And he said, ‘Don’t go, Yvonne. You can’t go! You can’t go! Him to deport you. You can’t trust the government.’ ”

“And I said, ‘I have no choice. I have no choice, man. What is my choice? My child worked so hard to get into Harvard. So hard.’”

“So I kiss mommy and daddy. I kiss my children. I kiss my brother and his family. I kiss my sister. I kiss all of my friends. And I say goodbye because I don’t know if they’re going to deport me. Is this a trick? I go down to the Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service. I’m right there and I’m so frightened. Imagine the trepidation I have, Marsha. With so much trepidation, I go in there and I take a deep breath. And you know what? I pass! I get to everything, right? Man, I got everything right. And I get a green card and Andrea can go to Harvard. And she did and all my family, all my family, man, gets a green card.”

Well, just at that moment you could hear somebody coming in through the door and it must have been Seymour. And Seymour said it was really late at night. He said, “Who ya talkin’ on the phone wit?”

“Me tell him, ‘Guess, Seymour, guess who’s on the phone?’”

He said, “Yvonne, I’m too tired to guess.”

“Guess, man. Guess, who’s on the phone.

“I don’t know.”

“Guess.”

He said, “I don’t know. Marsha Wong?”

“Yes, man. Marsha Wong.”

Now regardless of what you think of whether Yvonne did the right thing by entering this country illegally and she did. I know that words are so powerful and it could set someone on a trajectory that can transform their lives. And given what is happening in our country at this particular time with illegal immigration, tell me what you think?

No Aguantara

Story Summary:

The differences were easy to see, Catholic/Jewish, Brown/White, Spanish-Speaking/English-Speaking, Mexican/American, rural/urban. When Carrie Sue and her fiancé decided to marry there were many who thought their relationship would not last long – including the representative from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico who was handling their Visa.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: No-Aguantara

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you judge people on when you first meet them? Have you ever made a judgment about a person only to realize when you get to know them better that you were completely wrong about them? If so, did you discover anything about yourself?
  2. Do you think that we learn things about ourselves when we meet people who are different from us? Why do you think that?
  3. Many people, including the American Visa Clerk objected to Carrie Sue and Facundo’s relationship. Why do you think it mattered to the other people?
  4. Why do you think many were surprised that their families did not disapprove of the relationship?

Resources:

  •  In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners by Dan Kelin – a resource for anyone working with 2nd language learners
  • The Earth Mass by Joseph Pintauro and Alicia Bay Laurel (Carrie Sue and her husband used a poem from this collection in their wedding ceremony and still try to follow its advice.)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Carrie Sue Ayvar and just after I graduated high school, I went from Pittsburgh, PA to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. (No aguantará) It’ll never last! That’s what they said! (No aguantará) It’ll never last! They were like wisps of rumors, never said to us directly but rumors that wisped around and spoken always in concerned tones, mostly to our families and friends.

It was 1973. I was only 17 when I met Facundo but there could hardly have been a more romantic setting. It was a warm, sunny day that January morning and it was on a small island just off the west coast of southern Mexico. The air was filled with (breathing in fragrance) mango and coconut oil, salt sea breezes and pheromones.

I watched as a muscular, strong young man, probably about 20 years old, carried several scuba tanks up onto the beach. Oo! The salt water and the sweat made his coppery skin glisten and his long dark hair had streaks of red and gold in it from days in the sun. Oh ho… I had never seen a more beautiful, gorgeous human being in my entire life! Like an Aztec Adonis emerging from the waters! When I could finally catch my breath again, I remember thinking, “The guy’s gotta be a jerk! I mean, no one is that good looking and nice too!”

But (como dice el dicho) as the saying goes, (caras vemos el corazón no sabemos) we see the faces but we do not know the hearts. Now on the surface, Facundo and I had very little in common. He was a Spanish-speaking, Catholic, indigenous, brown-skinned Mexican from a very small fishing village and he lived on a beach while I was a fair-haired, green-eyed, English-speaking, Jewish, white American who lived in a three-story brick building in a very large city.

And our experiences growing up were completely different. I mean, while I watched Tarzan’s adventures on TV, he lived them slicing green hanging vines for cauldrons of water, climbing tall palm trees to gather coconuts, diving off cliffs into beautiful blue tropical waters. I mean, while I went ice skating, he was free diving. From my father, I learned how to make flower arrangements. From his father, he learned how to build dugout canoes.

Para cemos conocemos! But we did get to know each other. And we got to know each other’s stories and each other’s hearts. (E descubrimos) We discovered (las dos querer) that we both loved (el mar) the ocean and the feeling of weightlessness during those underwater dives. (El savor) the taste of salt on our tongues when we came up for air. (El sonido) The sound of the waves drumming against the sands. (E también descubrimos) We also discovered (los dos querer) that we both cherished (familia y mis les) family and friends (mas que) more than everything. (Nos conocíamos) we got to know each other (e nos enamoramos) and we fell in love.

Now it was amazing how many people were there to tell us, “No aguantará, it will never last!” From both sides of the border, there were so many people who disapproved. They would say things like, “Oh, you know he’s only using you to get a green card.” Or (Ay, esos gringos de como de es sabe) You know how those gringos are, man! (rico e consentido) They are rich and spoiled, (ya sabes) you know! Or “Ah, what a shame! She couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”

But all of those things didn’t really phase us! Even when we finally announced our engagement and, to our surprise, we heard rumors of a pregnancy that we knew nothing about! But, as I said, all those doubts and criticisms didn’t really bother us. I mean, we were happy and, to the surprise of many, so were our families. I mean, Facundo had actually met my parents a year before I ever met him; they’re the ones who actually introduced us to each other there on the island. Jesus, his papa and his parents –  (madre tomas su propia hija) they treated me like their very own daughter. Dona Christina, his mother, used to say ,”(Tenemos que cuidado de ella)  We have to take good care of her.  (Sus propios padres están tan lejos) Her own parents are so far away.”

So really, what did it matter to us what other people thought? I didn’t think it mattered at all… but sometimes it does. Since it was hard for my grandparents and other elderly relatives to travel to southern Mexico where we lived, we decided that we would have the wedding in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA.

Now after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, we finally arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Under a smoggy, gray sky, we waited for hours and hours to finally speak to an American visa clerk. And when we finally did, instead of helping us, instead of telling us what kind of visas we were eligible for, this unfriendly, unhelpful, unhappy little bureaucrat of a man lied to us. Lied to us repeatedly and began to make things up. Let me ask you, do you know how hard it is to get a copy of a form that doesn’t actually exist? Oh, yeah, he knew that he controlled the information and the situation.

But much to his dismay, we did not give up and go home like he wanted us to. Ah, ah, every time we went back, he looked more put out, like, like he was sucking on sour lemons or smelled something foul in the air. I mean, he was, quite frankly, openly disapproving of us. He told us that we were too different and finally, he dismissed us with an arrogant look! “Just go back to your own kind! You are young, poor, powerless and you don’t even realize that I’m doing you a favor!”

(Sigh) Well, (pobres) We were poor; we had little money. (E jóvenes) We were young! Powerless? (Las caras vemos corazones no sabe) You see the faces but you do not know the hearts! His attitude only strengthened our determination – pulled us together! Facundo and I, we found our voices and our power! We did not give up; we went back to that embassy again and again until, at last, we found someone who would listen. Though I will admit, it did take months, a career ambassador, a 3-star general and a United States senator to finally resolve our case!

But we did get a visa and we did get married. Now maybe we were naïve, I don’t know. I know as it was pointed out to us again and again, we looked different and we sounded different. We had different religions and we came from very different cultures and experiences. And (nunca sabes) you never know; there are no guarantees in life anyways. But I do know that we just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and, yeah, we’re still happy! (Como dice el dicho) As the saying goes, “Look at the faces and see the hearts!”

Will You Please NOT Marry Me? – Adventures In Cross-Cultural Dating

 

Story Summary:

 When a single girl from Eastern Europe goes to the USA to study, she has to face certain assumptions made about green cards, marriages of convenience, and other things no one prepared her for. Culture shock comes in many shapes and sizes, and graduate school orientations never tell you what “the L word” really stands for…

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Will-You-Please-NOT-Marry-Me-Adventures-In-Cross-Cultural-Dating

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a ‘marriage of convenience’ and why do people think it is beneficial for an immigrant?
  2. How would you describe marriage in your own culture? List marriage customs and traditions from other cultures that are different from yours and speculate about the reasons for these differences.
  3. What do we find out about the definition of ‘love’ from the story? What other definitions can you think of?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Csenge Zalka. When you are an Eastern European girl studying in the USA, especially if you are single and, uh, you are in your early twenties, a lot of people automatically assume that you are here to marry an American guy for a Green Card. And they never tell you that at the orientations.

The first time I was in the United States, that was in 2007, I had to go through a series of orientations. One before I arrived (back in Hungary) and then two after I arrived. And they tell you a lot of important things at these orientations. They tell you, um, about the education system, about taxes, about driving in the USA, about drinking or not drinking in the USA and, most of all, they always, always tell you about culture shock. What they usually say is, “You are going to have it. You will go to the USA and there shall be culture shock. You are going to be there with a lot of people who speak a different language, listen to different music, eat different food. And you will feel lonely, and you will feel homesick, and you will feel depressed. And then you will know that you are having culture shock.” Everybody does, except I didn’t.

I had been studying English for about 20 years and I never had a problem with people speaking it around me. And people were listening to different music and eating different food but that was part of the fun. And I never even felt homesick. It felt like a year-long vacation that was exciting and new, and there were things to explore. And every time somebody brought up the topic of culture shock, I just said, “No, I never had it!”

And then, I started dating. They don’t tell you a lot about dating at the orientations. What they usually say is, “Use protection” and “Going Dutch means that the guy is not going to pay for your food.” And the rest, I just had to figure out for myself.

So, I had been dating this guy for about a month and then questions started coming up in conversations with people. Questions that I didn’t expect but they kept coming up over and over again. And the first one was always, “So, what’s going to happen when the semester’s over?” meaning that my visa was going to expire and my scholarship was over and I had to go back home.

“That’s what international students do” and that’s what I always answered.

And then came the second question, “But you could stay here if you married him, right?” And, at first, I just laughed at that because I’ve, I’ve never seen American students ask American students if they were going to marry their boyfriend of four weeks. But it kept happening and I always answered that legally, if I had an American husband, I would still have to go back to Hungary when my visa expires.

And then the conversations usually went on and then they circled back and came the next question, which usually was, “But do you think you would marry him if you could stay?” And that was the point when I started realizing what culture shock was. It was the feeling of being treated differently just because you were not from around here. Of course, when I go to France, they never ask these questions or, if they did once, they’d never ask again.

Um, but the situation got worse when some people started asking my boyfriend the same question. They started asking him if he would be willing to marry me so I could stay here. And imagine a guy in his early twenties having to face that question. I started to feel like those pop-up windows on the internet that say, “Find your beautiful Russian brides today,” or “Eastern European beauties waiting for rich American men.” And it just got really annoying.

But, interestingly enough, the brunt of the culture shock did not come from the Green Card questions. It came from one single word.

I had been dating this American guy for about 2 months and we were out on a date. It was a really nice day. We were happy; we were silly. And he did something romantic, I don’t even remember what it was. Maybe he bought me a flower or he said something nice. And I laughed and I just said, “See, that’s why I love you!”

And he just froze up! I watched his face go blank and I didn’t know what was wrong. And two days later, he broke up with me. And I was heartbroken and I was sad and I was upset but, most of all, I was very confused. “What have I done?”

So, a few days later, one of my friends took me out for lunch and he was a guy, so I asked him for his perspective on what just happened. And I told him about the date and about the weird reaction of my ex-boyfriend to that particular, uh, thing that I said. And my friend just froze up the same way and he said, “You said the “L” word?”

Here’s the thing. In Hungarian, “I like you” and “I love you” are the same phrase. And, of course, I’d seen American movies, romantic comedies where “I love you” is always said in pouring rain with flowers and a full orchestra playing in the background. And I always thought that was a movie cliché.

And it took my American friends a while to explain to me how “I love you” in English is a lot more serious than “szeretlek” in Hungarian. Here I was, Eastern European, in the United States. It was okay to ask me if I was going to marry the guy that I had known for a month but it was not okay for me to say that I loved him. And that was the culture shock!

So, the next time I started dating an American guy, I did two things. One, on the very first date, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Listen to me because I will only say this once. I do not need to marry you for a Green Card.” And, two, I waited ’til he said, “I love you” first.

And these days, I am one of those people doing the orientations and I still talk about the education system, and taxes, and driving in the USA. But when it comes to talking about culture shock, now I have a lot more to say.

A Voting Booth Built for Two: Election Enthusiasm from a Cuban-American Mom

 

Story Summary:

 The small Southern town where Carmen’s parents live is a-buzz with political acrimony. Carmen’s mother, Esther, a spunky octogenarian–– and Cuban refugee–– regards her right to vote a hard-won, American privilege. As she finishes casting her vote, she is more than happy to remind her husband, Carlos, of “their views” on local elections. Carlos’ reaction to his wife’s enthusiasm is a hysterical and poignant civics lesson for all who are lucky enough to be casting their vote at Rocky Springs Elementary School that day.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Voting-Booth-Built-for-Two-Election-Enthusiasm-From-a-Cuban-American-Mom

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does a family’s history contribute to their daily lives?  What made this family so interested in voting?
  2. What are some of the choices this Cuban American couple made about how to live their lives?
  3. How does the humor in the story help us think about social justice?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Carmen Agra Deedy. And this story is called “A Voting Booth Built for Two.”

The morning did not get off to a promising start. The phone rang and I answered it. Sleepy, almost knocking it off the dresser, “Hello.” “Carmita, it’s your mother.” Oh my goodness! Nobody calls me before seven o’clock in the morning! Not if they have a well-refined sense of survival …anyone except Esther, my mother.

“Mami, what’s going on? Is everything ok?”

“Everything is ok. I just want to remind you that today is voting day!” Today is voting day. How could I not know? She put it on my calendar, she called me the evening before, she sent smoke signals up like at dusk. The only thing I didn’t have were carrier pigeons!

“Mami, I know. Nine o’clock.”

“No, listen! 9 o’clock is no good for me.” And before I could say another word, my husband, (sigh) who lay beside me chuckling, plucked the phone from my hand and saved me from something I or my mother might regret. By saying, “Mami,” (oh, you should’ve heard him cooing into the phone), “No…everything…she’ll be there… no, everything’s fine…I’m making her coffee right now.” I elbowed him. “No, no…Oh…Of course…I will tell her. Love you too, Mami.” He hung up and grinned. “She said 9 o’clock no work for her. She’s going to be ready in 20 minutes. You better get moving.”

I sat bolt upright, “Twenty minutes! I haven’t even showered!”

“Come on, Sleeping Beauty, get up and save us both a heap of misery. I’ll make the coffee. Nineteen minutes.” (She snarls.)

By the time I picked up my mother, I was in a lather. They were on the front porch looking freshly washed. There’s something about that generation that just always looks so dapper. My father was wearing his best shirt, starched. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he smelled like Ammen’s, it’s a deodorant powder, and the cologne of my childhood – Old Spice. Ah, still makes me shudder. My mother, of course, looks at me and says, “You are late. You don’t got no kiss for your mama?”

“I don’t kiss people who wake me up before seven o’clock in the morning!” And then I leaned over and gave her a buss on the cheek. I can’t help it. I’m like a sucker for old ladies in polyester. Well, I walked them to the car. We made it over to their voting station, which was a local elementary school. (Sigh) And she was right. She was saying all along the drive that the line would be around the block. And, dad gummit, wasn’t she right! It was snaking along the side of the building and disappeared.

“What I say to you?”

It is not easy being the daughter of Cassandra, a Cuban Cassandra. In case you don’t remember, children, that would be the Greek goddess of myth who told the truth and no one believed her. Boy, I believed her now.

“Ay, mami, por favor. We’re gonna be here all day.”

“It does not matter. Today is voting day.”

Let me tell you something. You don’t know someone until you know their backstory. You know when you read a book, and you’re reading about a character and reading about a character and they don’t make any sense and then suddenly you get to chapter 17 and you learn the rest of the story? Well, Esther and Carlos, they were in Cuba from the time they were born, of course.

1931, 1924. They lived through Fulgencio Batista. President Batista, when faced with the re-election that he knew he was going to lose, pulled a coup. Cancelled elections indefinitely. The Cuban Revolution was not about literacy. In fact, by the 50’s, Cuba had the sixth largest literacy rate in Central and South America. It wasn’t about socialized medicine. Batista figured out that one of the things he could pacify, do anyway, to pacify people was to pass socialized medicine. It was brilliant. It worked beautifully but still no elections. And then Fidel came. Fidel Castro. A young revolutionary and he promised democracy. He promised an end to brutality and he promised elections. The country swept him into Havana on their shoulders. And the streets were strewn with flowers, many tossed by my own mother and about 90% of Cubans. Four years of brutality and no elections later, my parents decided maybe it was time to try another place. They were heart-broken when they left their country behind. But when my mother arrived here, the first thing she wanted to know was how she could vote. Well, she wasn’t a citizen. When she became a citizen, the first thing she did was vote!

This may seem very sweet. It isn’t! She drives us nuts! Any, any election, it doesn’t matter how inconsequential, the woman is there. I mean, we’re talking, we’re going through K-Mart and they want you to figure out, they want to vote on something that has nothing to do with any of us. This particular election, this day, this wasn’t a national election. She didn’t wake me up at 6:45 to vote in the president. It was some lousy, dodgy water project and a new superintendent. (Ok, maybe that was important.) She even, I’m telling you, she even worked over our postmaster.

We had a young postmaster at the time, who innocently told her that he didn’t really vote, that he hadn’t voted in years. And he became her mission. She, I’m tell’n ya, she would make trips to the post office with nothing to post.

“Oye, Frankie come here. No, we are not finished. Look you an official, ay, you work for the government and you no going to vote, honey? What’s the matter with you? Don’t… well, you see the post office, you see how few peoples are here? Nobody write letters no more. When they shut this place down, you got nothing to complain about, ok.”

He would look at me and I’m like, “You’re on your own, pal!”

Imagine the day when we walked in and old Frankie was waving, I mean from the door we saw him, waving his absentee ballot. Because one of the reasons he didn’t vote was because he usually couldn’t get away.

I tell you that so you understand what she is like but why it mattered. And as we stood in that line, that snaking line, my father with his cane because he wouldn’t bring his walker. I had given him a walker. He turned it into a tomato trellis. That’s another story; we don’t have the time. A young poll worker saw us, and among all the septuagenarians and octogenarians, my mother and father were clearly the oldest and the most frail. And she offered to walk us ahead of the line. And this group of people (almost all of them old, by the way) ‘cause I wondered, who comes to these dinky elections that nobody ever hears about. Ah…Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. That’s who goes… because they know what it means. And as they inched along, most of them waved or smiled as we went to the front of the line.

We got to the room, the voting room, and there were new machines. That’s all we needed! Throw something new at Esther. She adapts at glacial speed. “What is this? Where are the little paper things?”

I said, “Ma, give me five seconds; they’re gonna teach me how to use them. You and Dad just sit, just, just for a minute. I found two chairs. You know those plastic chairs, those ergonomically made chairs made for maximum… discomfort, I think would be the word. And then they explained how to use the machines. It was really fairly simple. It was a sliding mechanism so I left my father, figuring that my mother would be the diciest, and walked her to the little, you know, sorta, little booth with the curtains, took her inside. And she’s a quick study; in five seconds, she was confident and she shooed me out. I sat next to my pop who seemed to be enjoying the blessed silence. And then… the silence was broken. And we’re not the only ones in this room, mind you; people are voting all around us.

When we hear, “Carlos, Carmita, come here; it’s your turn!” The woman could punch a hole in an eardrum at 20 paces.

My father looked at me, “Do something!”

I jumped up (whispering), “Mami, por favor. Please, shhhh. Other people are voting.”

“What and you cannot talk?”

“Please, I’m begging you.” I hooked her by the arm and nearly took her…made her airborne as I propelled her across the room. Sat her gently down next to my father and said, “Please just stay here for like two minutes. Let me explain it to Pop, I’ll come back and sit with you.

I walked my dad across the room. I opened the curtains, I took him through the same tutorial. He looked at me and he, again, is quick as can be. He’s got a mind like a Cuban machete, it can cut through anything. He said, “I have it.” I stepped outside but to my, well, confusion, someone passed me. As I was going out, someone was pushing their way into the voting booth to join my father. I whipped around to see my mother’s face for a split second before (swish) she closed the curtains. Now other people had noticed too and were turning to look.

And the next thing we heard was, “Ok, Carlos, listen! This water project, here, we don’t like that, ok? And this superintendent we no voting for him. Better say, no. He’s a Philistine. Remember what he…”

On the word Philistine, the most remarkable and beautiful thing happened. The curtain went “swish!” My father, a little Cuban man, was bringing my mother, a little Cuban woman, who was resisting every step, out of the voting booth. He leaned over, everyone (I mean you couldn’t hear anyone breathe) watched riveted as if they were passing an incredible car accident that you want to look away from but you just can’t tear yourself from. And he said, “Estercita, I love you but I did not leave communist Cuba to come to the United States of America to have you follow me into a voting booth and tell me how to vote!” And the room broke into thunderous applause.

I love this story!

My Father the Whiz: A Cuban Refugee’s Response to Jim Crow

 

Story Summary:

 In 1964, Carmen’s father, a Cuban refugee, went to work at a steel manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. When, on the first day of work, he asked to take a bathroom break, he was faced with two choices: before him was a “white” bathroom . . . and a “colored” bathroom. Carmen’s father’s solution would foreshadow how this inventive man would ultimately teach his Cuban-American daughters that, in matters of conscience, we need not accept the only choices placed before us.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Father-the-Whiz-A-Cuban-Refugee-Response-to-Jim-Crow

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In 1964 ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’ signs designated Southern public restrooms, water fountains, etc., and these divisions were legal. When Papi confronts the signs, he doesn’t protest their legality, but chooses a creative response.  When he says, “I did what any decent man would do,” what does he mean?
  2. How do you think the factory workers viewed their new colleague before the incident and after the incident? Do you think he continued to ‘whiz’ outside?
  3. How does the use of humor in this story help us look at a difficult social issue?

 Resource:

  • Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carmen Agra Deedy. The story I’m going to tell you is called, “My Father the Whiz.”

I grew up hearing stories everywhere I went. It was inevitable, really. I grew up a Cuban refugee in a small southern town. My family came to this country when I was three years old and the little town that embraced us was called, and is called, Decatur, Georgia. Now, back then you couldn’t go three steps without stumbling into a story. You see, turned out, Cubans and Southerners were not all that different. They worship their ancestors, they gathered around food and they were unrepentant, chronic talkers. And so, the stories that I learned told me more about the people than anything I was ever taught. One of my favorite stories ever is about my own father. Now by the time I was 16 or 17 years old, I thought I‘d heard every story my father had to tell. Oh, the hubris of the young. But one afternoon my mother called me to the kitchen and said, “Carmita, take this cafecito to the men outside. They’re playing Dominoes; they’re gonna be out there for the next five hundred years. And then come back inside ‘cause you gotta help me with the dishes.” Which insured I was staying out with the men. Well, I walked out, (screech), opened the screen door, and saw all these Cuban men in their crisp guayaberas, tightly gathered in a circle around an old folding table littered with domino tiles. They were not under a banyan tree or a mango tree but a Southern Magnolia. Life is just weird when you’re a refugee.

I started to walk towards them through the miasma of cigar smoke, when I heard my father begin a story. Like I said, I thought I knew every story my papá had ever told. But you see, stories are funny. Stories are like, well, sometimes, they are like a fine wine. You don’t uncork them until the person who’s going to drink, is going to be able to really savor it and know how good it is. My dad must have decided I was ready. But first he called out, “Do I smell coffee or would it be that I am so light-headed from thirst that I am hallucinating?” Now, the Irish may have saved civilization but I assure you the Cuban gave you irony and sarcasm. I plunge towards the men and then they all said, Niña, cómo estás?” And I kissed everyone, it is the way of my people. And as the coffee was passed around, my father continued his story, as though I was not there. I wasn’t going anywhere.

I leaned into the tree, and he said, “And so you know, we had only been here for a few weeks,” less than a month, it turned out before my father finally found work. His English was cursory. He had been an accountant in Cuba. Now he came here with little understanding of the language. He was so grateful to have found work. Well, the first job he found was at a steel manufacturing plant. He was so eager the first day of work that he showed up an hour early and so nervous he drank nearly an entire carafe of coffee before he walked in. Now he was coupled with a man who was supposed to teach him welding—basic welding. (Google, figure it out. It’s a verb.) As he was learning to weld, Big D, a big African-American man, and my father found a way of communicating. Using hand signals and a few words my father knew in English. My father knew, like I said, not only little English, he knew almost no Southern black English. Big D didn’t speak Spanish. And yet, they soldiered on…or soldered on. In any event, within a small space of time, an hour or two, my father said he was starting to get the hang of things, And then, BAM! Like a hammer on an anvil, his bladder just felt like it was gonna burst—all that Cuban coffee he had! Well, he tried to ask Big D…well…This is how he said it went. “Ah, por favor, uh, please, Mr. Big D….ay….ti, ti ti…Cómo se dice? Dónde está baño?”

“What’s that you say, Mr. Carlos?”

“Ay, ay, ay…El baño?…Ah…,” my father unscrewed his thermos, and then he tipped it upside down to show it was empty now. Big D seemed relieved, “Hold on, Mr. Carlos.” And then disappeared around the corner. When he came back, he brought his own large, green thermos, which he unscrewed, and he began to pour my father another cup. “No, no, no!” My father looked like he had just been offered a live rattlesnake. And Big D, thinking that it was he that had offended him, ‘Well, if you don’t want to drink from my cup…” “No, Señor, no, no, no!” My father also increasingly frustrated being thus misunderstood, said, “No, eh, Señor, por favor,…Cómo se dice?” And then he realized, he knew just what to do. He unzipped, an imaginary zipper, fly, and then he made the international symbol, um…for emptying the male bladder. And Big D started to laugh out loud. And then he stopped. And he cocked his head, sort of like the RCA Victor dog and mumbled something to himself. Which my father said to this day that he’s not sure of the words. But it sounded something like, “not my problem, not my problem.” And finally said to my father, pulling him by the shirt, pointing, “Right there.” And he pointed down a long row of men, machinists at work at their stations. At the very end of the corridor, there was what looked like a hallway or corridor. My father thanked Big D and he gunned it. He started, at a clip, down that line of men and as he passed them,..now remember this is the first Latin man in this all black and white factory, the year was 1964, the men started shutting down their machines. And it got quieter and quieter except for the footsteps of the men behind him. Now, my poor father had only been in this country for a short amount of time. He was learning the customs. He wasn’t sure. This thing was uniformly odd. Where he came from men took care of this sort of business by themselves without spectators. When he reached the hallway, however, the crowd began to swell. And it looked like they were everything from laborers to two supervisors, black men, white men. And then he found himself confronted with a conundrum. A puzzlement. At the end of the hallway were two doors. Some of you know where this story is going. One said white and one said colored. And though his own tragic and troubled country had had many problems, this was not one that my father was familiar with, not in this way and he didn’t know what to do. And at this point he heard in the back, someone begin to laugh. And a man called out, “Hey, Mr. New Man, you pick whichever one you want but when you pick one, you stick with it.” My father looked at the men, looked at the doors. And he caught sight of Big D’s face in the very back watching him curiously, studying him. Now this the point in the story where I interrupted. Remember the tree…me leaning against it. I couldn’t stay there anymore. “Papi, what did you do?! I mean, did you quit, did you…”

“Carmen, just a moment, when you have to go you have to go. But, you know, I had come from a country where I had learned sometimes you have to follow your conscience. You cannot go left, you cannot go right. You have to find your own way.”

“Pop what does that mean…”

“Uno momento!” Now the men had leaned forward too.

“Carlos, what you did you do?”

“Can I please finish my story?” And he said, “I did the only thing a decent man with a full bladder could do. I push my way through that crowd of men, I go outside and I whiz in the woods!”… Si!

America, The Land of Miracles

 

Story Summary:

 Noa grew up in Jerusalem, where America was the most exotic place other than Mars. In the 5th grade, Noa’s family left their home in Israel. She arrived in America speaking very little English. But miracles do happen…

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: America-The-Land-of-Miracles

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever been a foreigner in a country where you didn’t speak the language? What were some of the strange or incomprehensible things you encountered? What was funny, scary or most difficult?
  2.  Do you know anyone for whom English is a second language? Can you imagine what it would feel like to not understand everyone around you?  What are some things that you can do to help them feel more connected and welcomed?
  3.  Besides words, humans use many non-verbal ways to create and convey meaning. Discuss the ways we communicate meaning other than spoken words? What impact does our tone of voice, facial expressions and attitude have on our words?
  4.  Different cultures have different communication norms. What do you think are some of the norms that we have in America? Are there certain phrases or gestures that every culture uses?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Languages
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Noa Baum but when I was a little girl growing up in Israel, my name was Noa Kohen-Raz. I grew up in Jerusalem where America…America was just about the farthest, most exotic place you could go to, other than Mars. And in the summer, before fifth grade, 1968, my father announced that he was invited to a two year sabbatical at Stanford University in a place called Palo Alto, California. Which is just another complicated way of saying America. We were going to America! America… How can I describe to you…is…it’s the land of miracles! It’s the place where my mother said everyone had cars and televisions and machines and actually washed your clothes for you and everyone there spoke English…and that’s when it hit me.

We were going to start English as a Second Language in fifth grade and I was going to go to fifth grade in America where everybody already spoke English. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go at all. But to call my panic, my father gave me a two week crash course in English, which included all the letters A, B, C, D, all the way to Z. And as we flew across that endless ocean, I chanted my entire English vocabulary over and over. “Hello. How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” And armed with this, I entered my first day of school in America, the Land of Miracles.

Well, the first thing that was evident was how strange and different everything was. I mean, my school in Jerusalem was a three story building with corridors and narrow windows and lots of stairways. We had a single little slab of concrete outside and it functioned as gymnastics, assembly court, basketball, soccer, chased the boys field, all in one. Here in America, the school was just one story high. It was shaped like an L and all the doors were green. And they, they faced an enormous playground, beyond which was an even bigger area filled with grass. I mean, it was bigger than my entire neighborhood in Jerusalem!

And then my mother deposited me in front of one of those green doors, the fifth grade. There was the teacher Mr. Frieburg. He had a bald, shiny head, big round belly and a smile that gave instant meaning to the phrase, “From ear to ear.” He said, “Hello!” and I was smitten.

“Hello. How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” He shook my hand.

“How do you do?” And he laughed so hard, the tie was bouncing on his belly. He led me to my desk. He pointed to a piece of tape on the corner, “Name.” I knew that, my father showed me. I practiced my name. I wrote it, N-O-A. I’m so proud.

The girl next to me was writing two names. My last name. My last name Kohen-Raz. My father showed me but I never practiced. What am I going to do? What am I gonna…I mean…I mean, even if I knew the words to ask…I mean…how can you ask somebody else how to write your own last name? I mean, I’m in fifth grade.  And how much stupider can you get? I wanted to evaporate and die. I prayed for a miracle. And it happened.

All of a sudden, Mr. Freiberg said my name out loud, “Noa Kohen-Raz” and somebody asked, “Uh?” And he turned around and he wrote it on the board. N-O-A, K-O-H-E-N, dash, R-A-Z! All I had to do was copy it and I was saved.

Another miracle happened when the bell rang. Recess. Everyone was rushing to me. I was never so popular in my life. I was standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by pushing eyes and bodies and they all had thousands of questions. (Sounds of gibberish talking.) What could I do? I answered with all of my English. “How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” But there was more. (Sounds of gibberish talking.)  “Yes,” and they laughed. (Sounds of gibberish talking.) “Yes,” and they laughed again. This a miracle. I was funny in English.  And to this day I have no idea what it was I said yes to.

But right after the bell rang, Mr. Freiburg wrote a word on the board, C-H-O-R-U-S, and then he clapped his hands, “Chorus!” And everybody said, “Yeah!” And they were all putting their bags… in their bags and everybody was banging their desks and rushing to the door and I figured we’re going somewhere. And so, I to… put my books in my bag and I, and I, and I got up to go to the door. By then everybody was gone and Mr Freiberg was standing there with his big smile, “Chorus,” and pointing out and I said, (nods head), and I started going out to the playground…and, and there was nobody there. They all disappeared so fast. I was facing an endless line of identical green doors. My entire class disappeared behind one of them but which one? And what was that word? Cha-What is it? The only logical conclusion I could come to was that it was some sort of a secret club only for Americans. I mean, why else would they run so fast and leave me behind? Because I’m not invited. And it was quiet. You know, the way it is after the bell rings and everybody knows where this was to be except me. And there was a lump in my throat swelling to the point of pain and… I just decided to go home.

Well, the sixth grade guards stopped me at the corner and they started to talk, and they took me by the hand, and they started to lead me back to the line of green doors. And I wanted to say I don’t want to go to this place that had things only for Americans and I’m not invited. But even if I had the words by then, I couldn’t talk; I was just crying. But they kept walking and then they opened one of the green doors. And there they were, my entire class standing around a big piano. An Asian looking teacher was sitting there reading names. She turned to me, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.”

“Oh, Israel! Chanukah!” And she waves her hand in the air and they all start to sing in Hebrew! Shalom, chaverim. Shalom, chaverim. Shalom. Shalom.

To be honest…they had a lot of work to do on their Hebrew. But for me that moment qualifies as a miracle. My third miracle in America, The Land of Miracles.

Take Me To Your Leader

 

Story Summary:

 Can you see antennas on this middle aged white woman? “Aliens” (the word used for people from other countries) come from places other than Mars. During the McCarthy witch-hunts (a period of anti-communism intensity), the Cold War and the Space Race, we all learned to “blend” our ethnic identities.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Take-Me-To-Your-Leader

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why was Yvonne’s family able to legally become naturalized citizens while other people came to the U.S. as “illegals”?
  2. How old do you think Yvonne needed to be before she understood what it meant to become a U.S. citizen?

Resource:

  •  The Irish in America by Michael Coffey

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Yvonne.  And I’m seven years old and the Pittsburgh Federal Building reaches right up to the sky, for real!  There are bars on the windows.  There may be daffodils blooming on the lawn but the entrance looms like a great, big mouth ready to swallow us up.  Awe…it looks an awful lot like the wicked fortress of the Wicked Witch of the West.  But…really… it’s the Pittsburgh Federal Building and this is the Steel City, not the Emerald City of Oz.

“Come on in.  Come along,” says Mummy.  “Let’s go.” So we go inside.  And we’re going inside the Federal Building.  Now, you see, I may be seven years old but I know what a federal building is.  We have a federal building in our own little town in Pennsylvania.  We go there, my dad and I, to mail packages back home to Ireland.  And our whole family goes there all together once a year for something special.  We go and we stand right up to the counter and then we hold our hands up, and out loud, we say the alien promise.  And then we sign our names.  Mine’s in block cursive.  And all the other people buying stamps, they’re staring at us because we’re aliens.  Well, that night we go home and watch TV and on the TV, there are the McCarthy Witch Trials.  And on that show, there are people who…who are getting yelled at and jailed because they’re aliens.

Well, I go to the mirror afterwards and I’m looking through my black hair for my antennae.  Because aliens have antenna.  I know that because I watch TV.  I watched Chiller Science Fiction Theater.  And aliens have antennae, Martians have antennae.  So I must have antennae.  The only time I see aliens is on TV because there are no other aliens in my town.  Everybody else is a real American.  But, you know, I don’t think antennae can come out.  They’re kind of stuck in there.  Because my… my teacher, Sister Camella, she likes to hit me on the head with the big, thick Geography book.  She does that whenever I accidentally use the language that we speak at home, Gaelic Irish.  She says, “Blend! Why don’t you blend?  Why don’t you speak like your friend, Star?  She’s a real American!  But you, you’re always going to be just alien!”  Star is a real American.  She speaks nicely.  And she has blonde hair and blue eyes.  And she doesn’t have to go down to the post office.  And she doesn’t cook funny food.  That’s what my friends say when they come over.

But anyway, so this is a special day!  (I don’t want to think about that.)  This is a special day.  This is the day I’m gonna be naturalized.  I didn’t know I wasn’t natural but now I know.  It’s going to be ok, ’cause today, I’m going to be naturalized.  So… I’ve been practicing my cursive.

And now Daddy and Mummy and my big sister and I are sitting in a bench right beside these big wooden doors.  One after another, our names are called in.  They go in separately because Daddy, Daddy thinks that… if Ireland declares war on the United States we’re gonna each need our own papers so we don’t get deported.  Tá mé na hÉireann agus tá mé Meiriceánach.  I’m Irish and I’m American.  Then they called my name.  And there are these black pants and a blue shirt and a yellow badge and a strange face.  And my mum pushes me.  “Go on, go on.”  I can’t believe that my mum is telling me to go with this stranger after she’s always going on about never going with strangers.  And now she’s making me go off into this big scary building with this scary man that I’ve never seen before! And he smells bad! We’re walking through those doors and we’re in a courtroom.  Only… only it’s not like the courtroom one on the TV show Perry Mason.  It’s got all the benches.  But this one’s dark and empty.  And my patent leather shoes are going, “whap, whap, whap,” as I go down the aisle following that stranger.  We get to the end, he gives me a little push.  And in front of me there’s this big, black tower of wood…I don’t want to go.  He says, “Go to the Judge’s Bench.”  …I don’t say it but I’m, like, that’s not a bench, that’s not a seat, that’s not a desk.  That’s a tower!  He gives me another push and I get a little further and I see there are little steps going up the side.  So, ok, I go up the steps.  And then it turns a corner and now I’m surrounded by black wood.  Heavy, thick, black wood.  I am all alone.  And the black wood just gets closer and closer and the air is getting squeezed out.  And I’m alone in this big black tower and then I hear, “Hey!”  And there’s a man, an old man’s face kind of poking out around the corner.  Is it the wizard?  Or the judge?   He motions to come closer.  So, he says, “Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.  I’m sure you remember the answers.”

And he says, “Who’s the president of the United States?”

I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, everybody knows that it’s the man with the shiny head.”  But I say, like a lady, I say, “General Eisenhower.”

And he says, “Who discovered America?”

And I say, “Christopher Columbus but it was named after the matchmaker, Amerigo Vespucci.”

And then he says, “Alright, this is a tricky one but you look like a smart little girl, how many states are there?”

“Forty-nine, Alaska just got in.”

“Congratulations,” he says.  “You are now an American citizen.  You may sign the book and repeat after me.”

And I hold my hand up like him, and just like you probably remember, I say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”  I sign my name in big round cursive letters.  Now, I’m an American, a real American and I’m Irish too!

Vietnamese Refugees: An American Immigration Story

 

Story Summary:

 The true story of a Vietnamese teenager who makes it to America after a harrowing boat journey and refugee camp. At a commemorative storytelling event honoring Vietnamese Americans, Sue witnesses the transformative power of story as this young man shares his American immigrant story. The community of listeners that storytelling creates makes a new country feel like home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Vietnamese-Refugees-An-American-Immigrant-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America and Canada represent a moral ideal for some people in other parts of the world. What is that ideal?
  2. Even in miserable surroundings people seek friendship; what does this say about our human need for connection? Neal and Tom were friends, yet Neal had no idea of his friend’s torment. How do we choose what to share and what to keep private from our friends?
  3. Why had Neal had not told Tom’s story before the storytelling workshop? How did it help him to share his story?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Suzanne O’Halloran and I started to learn what home could mean to people on a whole other level when I was involved in an oral history project in 2005.  April, 2005 was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War.  And I was hired by the Society of the Divine Word to collect stories from some of their brothers and priests… about 25 folks who had escaped from Vietnam after the war.  Well, the story gathering was gonna happen in the day and then in the evening, we were gonna have a public concert… part of our Just Stories-Storytelling Festival.  Now, the first man I interviewed, his name was Neil.  When Neil was 16 years old, his family helped him escape from Vietnam.  But, unfortunately, he wound up, he ended up, in a not so nice refugee camp that wasn’t run by the U.N.  Neil said that the guards were mean.  I mean, they could just throw you in the blockade, no due process whatsoever.  Neil, every night in a platform tent with 27 other people, like, lined up like sardines.  And they would just get a little bit of food… like a bowl of rice, maybe a little fish, couple of vegetables and that had to last for several days.  And most of all, you had to be really careful that nobody stole your food.  But Neil made a friend, a boy a couple years older than him named Tom.

Tom had escaped Vietnam when he was 14 years old.  And Tom and Neil met in a Bible study class.  And as they got to know each other, Tom slowly told his story to Neil.  Now, Tom escaped as well, in the bottom of a boat; 64 people hiding at the bottom of a boat.  And this captain put fishing tackle, you can imagine all the smelly things, on top of them to hide ‘em.  And they motored out this channel and they stopped.  And everybody was so scared.  They figured they must have paid off some guards, ‘cause they kept on going.  Now, they got out to sea and things were going pretty well.  It was just a day or two trip over to Thailand.  And then the motor died.  And there they sat for two days.  Now they hadn’t brought food.  People escaped with what they had on their backs.  Now luckily the captain was bringing some hot sauce to a friend of his in Thailand.  And they had that case of hot sauce.  So each day, a couple a times a day, they’d lined up to get just one little dollop of this hot sauce to lick and that was it.  No water, nothing!

Well, finally, they saw a ship.  They were so excited!  “We’re over here!  We’re over here!”  But when that ship came closer, they discovered it was pirates.  We think of pirates like, you know, Peter Pan or something.  It just means pirates at sea.  And those men just hopped on board and they took… if people have watches, if they had any money on them, any food, and they even took that motor in case they could fix it.  But worse than that, they stabbed all the people so there would be no witnesses and threw them overboard.  So Tom found himself in the middle of the ocean.  Now, he had the presence of mind, there he was stabbed and bleeding, to take off his pants; kind of like these pajama kind of pants so they had cloth to them.  So he blew air in either and tied a knot in either end of the legs and used it like an inner tube to hang on.  Now, he doesn’t know for sure ’cause he was in and out of consciousness but he knows he went through a night so he was probably hanging there for a day.

And then another day went by and he was having to fight off fish.  And finally he thought, “This is it.  I’m giving up.” And he let go, he started sinking down to the bottom.  And he heard this voice inside him say, “No.  It’s not your time.” So he kind of bobbed back up just as he saw this big, red, plastic gas can floating by. So Tom climbed up on that and he hung there for a whole other day.  And then another ship came by and this time, thank God, it wasn’t pirates.  It was Thai fisherman.  But Thai fisherman had been told that if they picked up any more Vietnamese refugees, they would be in some big trouble.  They would lose their license.

But what are you going to do if you see a kid hanging on a gas can in the middle of the ocean?  Thank God, they did the right thing.  They stopped and picked up Neil. (Tom) Now, he had hypothermia by then.  They tried to warm him up and he were trying to tell them there were 63 other people.  And they went around, they motored around, they couldn’t find.  It seemed Neil (Tom) was the only survivor.  So they got him as close to shore as they dare because they didn’t want to lose their license.  They put him back in the water and Tom, I’m saying Tom, swam back to land.  And all kinds of stories but he finally made his way to the same horrible refugee camp.

Now, when they got there, they’d be questioned.  “Are you a Communist? Are you a spy?”  Because, of course, he showed up with no ID on him.  And how you got sponsored if you got out to another country, depended on how you answered these questions and, of course, with this kinda refugee camp, if you had a little money to grease the wheels.  And Tom had neither so he had been there for 4 years already when Neil met him.

There’s this one day, right before Bible study and they were sitting there talking.  And, well, Tom was really down but that wasn’t unusual.  You can imagine, in this kinda refugee camp, people got very depressed.  And Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom.  Now the bathroom at this refugee camp was just a hole in the ground with little trees around it for a little bit of privacy.  Well, Bible study started.  Tom didn’t show up.  Neil got worried.  He went looking for his friend.  And he found him.  Tom had hung himself.  He just despaired of ever getting out of that refugee camp.

And Neil said to me, “Well, they burned his body and sent his ashes back to Vietnam.  He finally made it back home.  He was caught in limbo all those years; he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t go forward.  And Neil said to me, “When Tom died, it was like a part of me died.”  And then he looked right at me and said, “I’ve never told anybody that story before.  I have never spoken of Tom before!”

Now, this was my first interview, and like 25 more to go!  And I heard these incredible stories of escape and family sacrifice, and idealism and loss.  So we got an idea.  That night was supposed to be the professional storytelling concert.  So I asked some of these brothers and priests if they would be willing to share their stories.  So that night the professional tellers did their marvelous, usual wonderful job and then these brothers got up and shared their stories.  And I’m telling ya, they stole the show!  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  They got a standing ovation.  And afterwards, Neil came up to me and said, “You know, it was very painful to share these stories today but important.  I have been here for almost 20 years but because of the way this audience, these people, listened to our stories, I feel like I’ve finally arrived in America.  I feel like I’m finally home.”  And that is the power of sharing and listening to each other’s stories.

Spring

 

Story Summary:

 Storyteller Jim Stowell tells how an immigrant woman is faced with trials and hardships, and how she established a sense of pride and dignity for herself and her family.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Spring

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an “illegal immigrant?”
  2. Why is a first home a dream come true? How does owning a home possibly change a family? A community?
  3. What is the difference between hope and dignity? How are they the similar? How does “hope” and “dignity” show up in the story? In your life?

Resource:

  • Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jim Stowell. And the story, “Spring,” is from an evening of stories I did entitled, “Joe,” that was produced by the great American history theater.

Spring. See a woman’s face. See her face. Hmm, late 30’s early 40’s, dark skin. At one point in her life, she was an immigrant. At one point in her life, she was an illegal immigrant. Oh, illegal immigrants much maligned these days.

See her face as she looks at her first house. She’s never owned a house before. She’s never owned anything like this before. See her face as she looks at her first house and you will see joy. A joy that’s so intense it makes her cry. Now watch, as she walks up to the front door of her house and the door opens and we see the empty rooms of the house. See her face as she sees her first home.

See her face and you will see pride. But this is not the kind of pride that goes before the fall. This is the kind of pride she has earned and has every right to. When she crossed the Rio Grande, she was carrying the baby and her husband helped with the two younger children. And they crossed from Mexico into Texas, and, somehow, they ended up in Minnesota. And then, alas, as too often happens, the husband was the one that had the most trouble making the adjustments and he started to drink. He became a drunk. This was not him in Mexico. And then, he started to hit her. And he beat her, and he threatened her, and he threatened the lives of her children.

She made another decision and she left. And she went from house to house, to keep her children safe. And she was desperately poor, living in an apartment with friends, selling tortillas. And one of her friends came to her and said, “You know, there’s this place in Minneapolis called, “Project for Pride and Living,” PPL, maybe you should go there because they have a job training program. She went. She took the program. And when it was over, the people at PPL said, “Well, you know, we don’t just train you how to work. We help you get a job. How can we help you?”

And she said, “I’m going to work here.”

And the people at PPL said, “We love that, we do. We like you. But we feel there’s no jobs there. So, how can we help you?”

And she said, “I’m going to work here. If you’re putting me out the front door, I’m coming in the back. If you put me out the back door, I’m coming in the front. I’m going to keep coming in the door until you finally hire me. Because I have to work here. Because I want to help other people the way you helped me.” They hired her as the receptionist.

Now I see her face as she sees her first home. Her first home as an American citizen. See her face and you will see pride.

Now hear the voices of her children as they run past her into the empty rooms of the house, filling the rooms with life. See the face of that little boy or that little girl as they look in their own room, now no longer sleeping three to a bed. They not only have their own bed, they have their own room. See that child’s face. You’ll see joy all right. Their own room, oh, you’ll see joy all right. But…You’ll see pride there as well.

Now see that woman’s face as she sees the look on her child’s face and, oh, you’ll see joy. A joy so intense…it makes her cry again. See her face as she sees the look on her child’s face.

See her face…and you’ll know what dignity looks like.

The Bridge Collapse

 

Story Summary:

 A bridge collapses in Minneapolis and the media is there. Suddenly, watching the stories of all the heroes from that day, Kevin is aware of the great diversity in his city. Citizens of every color and creed were there to rescue and help people in the midst
of this tragedy. Another friend of Kevin’s tells him how upset he was when people from other countries showed up to work in a local factory. Then, this same friend hears his grandmother being interviewed on the radio as a “first generation” American and realizes that we are all immigrants.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Bridge-Collapse

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe as Kevin’s friend does that you can survive anything “with sense of humor and sense of self”? When have you had to use either or both to survive?
  2. What do you think are the different regional values and “senses of self” across the U.S.? Or, if you are from another country, how do regional differences show up in your country?
  3. How do tragedies bring out the best and worst in people? What causes regular people to do “heroic” actions?
  4. Why do immigrants from earlier times have prejudices against newer immigrants?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Immigration
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Kevin Kling.

My friend, Al Baker, is an Anishinaabe medicine man and he come from Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. And he said, “You can survive anything with a sense of humor or sense of self.”

Sense of humor. Ah, I think it comes from a region or, more specifically, I think it comes from weather. There’s a story that I tell when I travel. And it really tests if people have the same sense of humor.

It happened back in 1965 when seven tornadoes hit the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And I remember, everybody was outside; nobody was inside where it was safe. They’re all out trying to spot a tornado. And these tornadoes hit, and I remember, it changed my life forever. And I, I was listening a while back, you can download, off the radio station, these old broadcasts, and I was downloading one of the broadcasts. And the announcer was saying, this is before Doppler so people were just calling in reporting tornadoes, and the announcer was saying, “Yeah, call in, call in, if you’ve got a story!” And a guy calls and he says, “Yeah, I was in my car. I was driving down the road, and all of a sudden, I seen a tornado coming my way. So, I hunkered down on the floor, and a tornado came through, and blew out all my windows!”

And the announcer says, “Man, are you OK? Are you all right?”

The guy says, “Yeah, that’s not why I’m calling. The school carnival has been canceled.”

Ah, sense of self. I think a sense of self comes from family, from community. There’s a strong Midwestern sense of self, I find, in Minnesota. When a tragedy happened somewhere, you really find out what you’re made of. You find out the essence of your community.

When 9/11 happened in New York. You could just see the “New York-ness” come out of people. “We’re not going to let this get us.”

And there was a bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis on 35-W. When I grew up in Minneapolis, it was a very white community, the one I grew up in. There was no person of color in my school. And when I saw that bridge collapse, when a tragedy happens, you’re either there or not. It’s not selective. So, whoever was on that bridge got it. And when they showed the people that were on the bridge, it was such a mix of colors, such a mix of ethnicity. It really surprised me. And when the heroes, um, came into focus, they were people of all colors, of all racial backgrounds. But they were Minnesotans. ‘Cause when they tried to come and interview, the reporters tried to find them for interviews, no they weren’t there. They’d saved people, then they went home for dinner. Um, so they were hard to be found.

Ah, there was a buddy of mine, Dave. He lives in Worthington, Minnesota. He’s… his family farm is always on a plaque at the Minnesota State Fair because it goes back over 100 years. And they’re, just they’re ensconced in, in the countryside. And a while ago, the rendering plant in town threatened to go under. And so, what happened, they got people from all over the world, people from Haiti, East Africa, Mexico, to come in and save the plant. And all of a sudden, that town is full of people from other countries.

And Dave said he was listening to the radio, the other day, and they had a special show on about first-generation Americans and the problems they faced. And he’s listenin’ to the radio, all these different stories, when all of a sudden, his grandma comes on. And he forgot that she was a first generation American. And he heard her telling stories and laughing in a way he’d never heard in his life. And this one girl got on and she was talking about going on a date. And she was from Mexico, her family was from Mexico, and she went on a date with this farm kid. And their car got stuck in a ditch, buried the axles, and they couldn’t get it out. And when this kid finally got her home late, she said her dad was furious, just screaming at this kid in Spanish. All of sudden, Dave’s grandma starts cracking up. And she says, yeah, the same thing happened to her but it was a horse and buggy and her dad was screaming in Swedish.

Sense of humor. Sense of self.

STORY SHORT: The American Visa: A Saga in 3 Acts

story-short-template-brighter
THE AMERICAN VISA: A SAGA IN 3 ACTS
by Storyteller Antonio Rocha

www.storyinmotion.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 8 minutes.

______________________________________________________________________________

THEME
______________________________________________________________________________

Persistence in pursuit of a goal, along with a little kindness from strangers, can lead to success.
(more…)

CASTRO DOLLS AND FAMILIA

By Storyteller LEENY DEL SEAMONDS

 

Story Summary:

Leeny shares stories of her colorful, beloved family.  Meet her charming Cuban Dad and his zany wife, Lorraine.  Hear what happened when three-year-old Leeny receives an unusual souvenir from Cuba.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Castro-Dolls-and-Familia

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was/is your family’s opinion of Fidel Castro?
  2. Do you have any relatives living in Cuba?
  3. How do you feel about the United States working towards a closer relationship with Cuba?  Do you plan to go there?
  4. Do you know the origin and story of your surname?  Who were you named after?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos

Full Transcript:

Hola! I’m Leeny Del Seamonds and my story is called Castro Dolls and Familia.

Being Cuban American has meant a bounty of good fortune and positive experiences. My father and his relatives were born and raised in la República de Cuba. Their ancestors, having emigrated from Espána in the mid 1700’s. Our family name is DelCastillo which is Spanish for of the castle. Mi papá nació en Cienfuegos Cuba. My father was born in Cienfuegos, a harbor town on the southern shore of Cuba. His name was Wilfredo Augusto Felipé DelCastillo Icopate and his nickname has always been Del.

When Del was seventeen, he came over to Los Estados Unidos, The United States, to make a new life for himself. He was smart, likable, and extremely handsome. And once he stepped onto U.S. soil, he never looked back. Now Del was a firm believer in speaking the language of his new country. So he spoke fluent Inglés by the time he finished high school. Yet he never lost his Spanish accent, which has always been part of his charm. By 1940, most of Del’s immediate family had come over to join him in the greater Philadelphia area. There, my dad finished high school and college and then he became a U.S. citizen so he that could serve in the Army’s Flying Tigers unit during World War II. He changed his name to Wilfred DelCastillo and his nickname, Del, remained.

Now in 1946, at a party, Del was introduced by a mutual friend to a fiery redhead named Alice Lorraine Guiterman, known as Lorraine. Her parents had been performers in vaudeville. Bessie was a concert pianist and Barney was a stand-up comic who also sang in a quartet. Their youngest daughter, Lorraine, had inherited a beautiful singing voice unlike anything Del had ever heard. It was amor a primera vista, love at first sight. Within months, they were married and settled in Collingswood, New Jersey. That’s across the river from Philly. There they had two daughters. Their oldest was named Alice Lorraine. My Cuban relatives lovingly called her, “Alicita Linda,” pretty little Alice. The youngest daughter, me, was named, Eileen. No middle name, just Eileen. My Cuban relatives called me, “Eileencita,” little Eileen. Well, I didn’t mind except I thought that my first name euphonically didn’t blend with the last. Eileen DelCastillo. Thank goodness for my nickname, Leeny. It sounded better, Leeny DelCastillo. But in Collingswood, New Jersey, we were the only residents who correctly pronounced our last name. Often my dad was called Del Del Casteellio or Del Del Costello, or Del Del Castro. Daddy didn’t care what he was called as long as it wasn’t Spic.

There were times growing up I thought that I was living with Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Like Desi, my dad was handsome with a thick accent and a charm. And like Lucy, my mother, never learned how to habla español and she was a zany redhead. She tried to speak Spanish but she often confused some words. Once when my parents were newlyweds, my dad had all the relatives over for dinner. And when the dinner was ready, Mother proudly came out and announced to her new Cuban family, “Hola. La comida está ala cama. Vamonos ala cama!” Everyone stopped talking and looked up with great surprise. Daddy shot mother a look too. See she had confused two words. Instead of saying “mesa,” table, she had said “cama,” bed. So she had proudly declared the dinner is in the bed. Let’s go to bed! Through the years, this anecdote gave mi familia lots of chuckles. But no one appreciated it more than my parents.

When I was almost three years old, my two aunts, Lilia and Lordes went back to Cuba for a visit. When they returned, my grandmother whom we call, Mamá, hosted una fiesta maravilosa, a marvelous party to welcome them home. After la comida, the dinner, my aunts went and got bags of souvenirs and began doling them out. Colorful shawls and castanets for the ladies and cafė cubano and cigars for the men. And for the four young cousins, what did we get? Dolls! Fidel Castro dolls. Each doll had a plastic face with thick tufts of hair sticking up and a full beard. The doll’s body was dressed in cloth that was stuffed and it wore a khaki colored uniform with a matching Army rebel cap sewn into its head. The men cried, “Dios mio! What kinda propaganda is this, eh? Are they trying to romance the country with caca?” My aunt Lilia just ignored them and proudly presented my sister Alicita with the first Castro doll. It was a blue eyed Fidel with yellow blonde hair and a blonde beard. My cousin, Alita, received the brown eyed Fidel with orange-red hair and an orange beard. My cousin, Denise, gotta brown eyed Fidel with chocolate brown hair and a brown beard. And I, the youngest, was handed the black eyed Fidel with black wiry hair and a full black beard. I took one look at this ugly doll, “Ay miu feo!” burst out crying and ran from the room.

That was the cue for the adults to demonstrate their passion for debate and heated conversation. The men cried, “Castro is a scoundrel! He’s no better than the corrupt Batista! But at least with Batista, we know our enemy.” The women held their ground, “Ay, Fidel and his brother will bring about positive changes, si. And besides, ay eres muy guapo y simpatico, (he is handsome and nice).” The men shot back, “Está usted equivocado, you are wrong! Fidel and his brother Raul cannot be trusted. It is 1955; we know a corrupt dictator when we see one. This will be bad for Cuba.” The women held their ground, “No, he will bring about positive changes. Ver da, true.”

From my hiding room in mamá’s bedroom, I could hear the living room a buzz with arguing but I didn’t know why. All I knew was that I wanted the blonde haired Fidel not this ugly looking thing with a hideous black beard that made him look angry. I decided to give this doll an extreme make over. A few minutes later, I emerge from the bedroom, dragging my new present by the arm. My uncle, Tonio, spotted me. “Oyė, mira mira lo que Leeny! Hmm. She seems to know something about Fidel the rest of us apparently do not.”

The room hushed as they saw what I did to my Castro doll. He was buck-naked with most of his black beard torn out and all of his hair pulled out. He looked pathetic. And that’s how I got the credit in mi familia for knowing the truth about that dictator and for being a good judge of character.

I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba. I never could. I wanted to… just be in this… Cienfuegos on the waterfront. I wanted to sip mojitos and listen to ritmo, the rhythm of jazz, and watch the sunset silhouetted in the sky. But I wanted mi papá to take me. Whenever I asked him, Daddy would say, “When Fidel dies, I go.” Two years ago I asked again. “Hmm. When Fidel dies, I go.”

“But Daddy, you’re not getting any younger and Fidel is still hanging in there.”

“Hmm. So am I. When Fidel dies, I go.”

Sadly, Daddy’s passed. So my hope is on…that someday I’ll go. I will. (Said as father) “I go.” And as I stroll along Cienfuego Bay on that smooth hot sand, I will be strolling in mi papá’s beloved footsteps.

GRANDMA’S STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After her Grandmother passes, Sue searches for her Grandmother’s story. Her exploration takes her into Irish American history and, eventually, to Ireland to find her Grandmother’s childhood home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Grandmas-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever interviewed a family member to collect family stories? Is there someone in your family you wish you had talked to more who is no longer with us?
  2. How would you feel if you had to support a family who lived somewhere else?
  3. Why did the British hate the Irish? How do groups who are Insiders justify their exclusion of the Outsider?
  4. Do you think it’s a positive or negative thing that so many groups lost their culture in becoming American?

Resource:

  • The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan

Themes:

  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My grandmother never wanted to come to America. That’s the story I heard over and over again. Her older sister, Mary, was the one who should have gone. But on that early morning of departure 1887 Mary woke up sick or so she said. She took to her bed crying, moaning.  She couldn’t possibly go. Now my grandmother was just 13 years old.  Hard enough to go to bed and know that you would never see your older sister again. You got to understand, there were no airplanes back then people didn’t fly back and forth.  Hard enough to go to bed that way, but instead she was woken up and told, “No, you’re the one to leave. You’re the one who’s never going to see her family again.”  Now back then, you see, you couldn’t waste a ticket. It has taken the family years to save up enough money for one ticket. So, my grandma had to wake up, quick, hurry around pack a few things in the carpet bag suitcase her mother had made for Mary and say goodbye to her three sisters and her younger brother Patrick, her mom, and her dad.  Because somebody had to go get work in America, send money back home because the family was starving.

My grandmother set out for Dublin, a two-week journey by foot, with another aunt who was supposed to have watched Mary.  And as they went down the road, there would have been hundreds of people joining them because millions left Ireland in the 1800s.  And all the time they walked, these, these horse-drawn caravans, these carts piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, would have passed them by.  Because the British who were running Ireland at the time, were taking all the food for themselves.

Now, you may have heard of the Great Famine in Ireland.  But I found out when I went to visit Ireland, a lot of people call it the Great Starvation because there was food.  The Irish just weren’t allowed to grow the food, I mean, to eat the food they were growing.  The food they grew had to go to the British.  They would ship it over to England.  So, all the time my grandma’s walking; of course, there were no fast food restaurants back then, nor did anybody have any money if there were any restaurants. So, they started eating weeds and cabbage leaves and grass to try to stay alive. By time they got to the docks in Dublin, some British writers wrote that their faces were stained green.  Their mouths were stained green.  And this showed just how subhuman, animal-like the Irish really were.

Well, my grandma, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. She sailed in what they called coffin ships, like caskets because so many people died on those voyages. Hundreds of people were packed in the bottom of the boat.  And there were so many diseases back then… diphtheria, typhus; things like that… cholera. See, the people could only be allowed up on board for maybe an hour or so because they couldn’t let people be getting in the crew’s way. So, they had to be down below and you can imagine the stench because there were no toilets back then.  They used tin cans or buckets for chamber pots. And there was no electricity and you certainly wouldn’t want to light a candle; that would be too dangerous. So you just sat in the dark and all this stench. And then people would sleep on these little narrow bunks – three or four people to a bunk. Sometimes sleeping with somebody you didn’t know. Nobody could shower and there was lice and all that.

And I tried to imagine my grandmother just 13 years old with this, this aunt and we don’t know too many details, but we found out this aunt got sick who was supposed to be taking care of my grandmother. My grandma was taking care of her. And I just think of here sitting in dark like 23 hours a day. Sick people all around us like… six, seven, eight weeks like this. Well, she got to America. Thank goodness! And she worked day and night. And all the time she would send money back home. Now, when she left, her parents said, “Now, don’t worry we’ll save up some money. We’ll send one of the other sisters to help you out.” But no sister ever, ever came. My grandma was just alone doing all of that work. And I think about what people have gone through to get to this country, or what they’re still going through to get to this country or people who were captured and brought to this country, or people who already lived here but their lands and their way of life were taken. And I think about what a huge debt of gratitude we owe them. I know that my life could not be the way it was if it wasn’t for my grandmother’s sacrifices. So sometimes I find myself whispering a little prayer. Thank you, Grandma. Thank you.