Pg. 01 .....“I Don’t Belong” (Mexico)
Pg. 02 .....“People Come from long roads” (Samoa)
Pg. 04 .....“Would you like to go out sometime?” (China) Pg. 05 .....“My people don’t belong in jail.” (Portugal) Pg. 06 .....“It was the spirit”(Brazil)
Pg. 08 .....“You can buy both!” (Mexico) Pg. 09 .....“I gave you the world” (India) Pg. 09 .....“Don’t Worry Son” (Mexico)
Pg. 10 .....“The world needs a kingpin” (Colombia) Pg. 11 .....“We can’t die here” (Mexico)
Pg. 12 .....“I only had two pairs of clothes” (India) Pg. 13 .....“Eat a cookie, I have a gun” (Italy) Note to Reader: ilicon Valley is the destination of families from all over the world. And oftentimes, Silicon Valley immigrant families live in two realities here – the intimate, familial one lived in the language of their homeland, and the public, American one. Our immigrant cities of the Valley exist in a uniquely isolated diversity – many ethnicities and communities living amongst each other, yet not fully knowing of each other’s experiences, memories, hopes, and fears. Surely, our neighborhoods are full of families who speak different languages, eat different foods, pray to different gods – yet share the same bus, and take the same roads when walking their children to school. Yet they are translators, moments of understanding which seep out to bridge worlds, and even create new ones. Ironically, they are located in the same places where sometimes the widest distances are found – the space between immigrant elders and the youth they live with, work with, momentarily cross paths with. It happens in the words shared in passing from grandfather to granddaughter at the dinner table, or at a workplace during a short break between an older worker connecting with the new employee, or even in the loneliness of a jail cell. You will read these stories in this publication – some are in a single family, some are exchanges amongst strangers, some leap across ethnicities.
There may not be a useful way to quantify the integration of immigrant communities in Silicon Valley, but there are stories – the experiences that help shape our perception of ourselves, others, and our shared space. This publication is a display of those exchanges. We asked young people to write about the sentence, phrase, or one-liner from an immigrant elder that they would always remember. The stories are illuminating, touching, hilarious, and awe-inspiring. And they are happening in every moment of everyday in our evolving valley. Our hope is that in reading this offering, you may reflect as well on the exchanges you’ve had with someone who walked a very different road than your own, yet shaped yours, if only through a few words. This project is part of a larger multi-media endeavor called “Arriving and Becoming,” which allows young media producers to profile the lives and roles of immigrant elders in Silicon Valley. The cover shot is from a video segment of our project -- it is of one our reporters, Malcolm Lee, a young African-American, as he interviews Khiet, a Vietnamese immigrant who is sharing the story of his first days in America. They are both representative of today’s Silicon Valley in their own way, and in their conversation, they too are emblematic of the Silicon Valley we are becoming.
“No Me Hallo” - By Melissa Vargas
came here at seven years old from Mexico. My tia, (aunt) and tio (uncle) were the ones to lend a hand while we settled down. My tia and tio had a nine year head start here in “el otro lado”, the other side, and were already pretty much settled down. She lived in a one bedroom apartment, she didn’t have to work because her husband made enough money to support his family of five. Her three kids went to school, wore nice clothes, and spoke the language. I remember my aunt mentioning a holiday coming up, she was planning a Thanksgiving dinner. She said it was “el dia del turkey”the day of the turkey. We all got together and ate a lot, and so as the year went by my tia introduced us to many other American Holidays; Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, and others. I wondered why other Holidays like “El Dia de Los Muerto”s- Day of the Dead was not quite as important to celebrate, or why Mothers day was on the eleventh here but the tenth in Mexico. My tia, being from Michoacan, I’d expect for her to celebrate those important Mexican Holidays as much as Halloween and Fourth of July. Never questioning her or anyone else on why we ate turkey on Nov. 24 or taking Martin Luther King’s day off school, I too accommodated to the American culture, like my tia and her family did. One day, at a weekly Sunday family meeting at our house we were all eating Little Cesar’s Pizza and watching soccer games,I asked, what I felt was an innocent question. “Dad, how was life back in Michoacan?” The
simple question flowed around the room to my mom and uncle and family friend. Al of them had immigrated to the U.S years ago. Everyone shared a quick story about their hard but worthwhile story of arriving and adapting. My tia remained silent. I stood back taking in all the stories and comments being made, my tio was talking about how this was his home now and he would never ever go back to his land. “We are better off here, right hun?”, my uncle asked my tia. That exact moment, my tia’s eyes became watery and she looked away, not answering. After a long silence, the words I’d never expect to hear from her came out, “No me hallo,” meaning, “I don’t belong here”. Everyone stood silent. My tia had spent her last twenty years in a place where I’d thought she was comfortable, but instead she was a total stranger to her surroundings. My tia for the first time went on talking about how she never wanted to be here in the first place, but did it for her kids’ future. “No me hallo.” I can hear her voice break at the verge of tears. After those three little words all I could think of was our many Thanksgiving dinners together and our many Fourth of July BBQ’s at the park, all of a sudden they seemed to be a show – one she made for the kids. I always wondered what made her hide this emptiness for twenty years. Maybe it was fear, perhaps she didn’t want her family to worry. Whatever it was, it must be a very good reason to stay put in a place where you don’t feel you belong.
y father was born of my grandmother Melesaine Elia and my grandfather Tito Leasiolagi in a small countryside village of Solani Falealili. My grandfather was a songwriter and it is rumored that he wrote a popular song about that village, one that is still sung today. Someone once told me that writers are always players. I believe that,sometimes. Love makes people hap-
py, does something to your dopamine cells thatâ€™s uncontrollable and my grandmother fell in love with that guy. While pregnant she found out my grandfather had a family, kids, a wife in the next village. This nearly left her crazy literally and she sent my father to her brother in Hawaii. My father tried to join the military but because of his education level he didnâ€™t pass the test, so he went perusing the
island of Hawaii with his older cousins. My father, a young brown islander with a sculpted face was a hot commodity in Hawaii. He said he almost moved to Oregon one time with a woman who was a painter from the University of Hawaii. Somewhere out there is a painting of my young father. Instead he moved to the Bay Area, Oakland specifically. He met my mother in San Francisco and they moved to Los Angeles where they had my older brother who passed away a couple of months into his life. My mother flew him back home so he can take his last breath on the island. They left the city that took my mother’s first son away and came to the bay. In California, my father had a typical immigrant experience starting fresh in America, working in the kitchen for a $1.50 an hour, Jack in A Box, Denny’s, Red Lyon, and other similar restaurants. My parents always lived in apartment complexes where other immigrants lived. They found comfort in strangers that were like them, who also were still uncomfortable with the place they called home. When I was born we were living in a place called Kollmar on the East Side of San Jose. During that time there was a wave of immigrant families that were moving with my parents, though different cultures and languages were spoken, it was easier for my parents to be around people who understood their struggle. My father at the time was working at two places, my mother was doing random jobs because she had no green card. My parents were friends with the manager of Kollmar, who at the time must of been a writer because he was having women problems. My mother had witnessed him get shot by a girlfriend and it was time to leave. So we left and my father remained in the food industry. I would wait up for my father who would sometimes come home around two in the morning because he would always make me something before he left work.
On those days, I waited to eat. My father was happy once, in America. His friends who he had a language barrier with made him feel comfortable for their collective lack of English. My father’s cousin, who’d he lived with when he was young in Hawaii offered my father job in the Mormon church as a janitor. It was more money for our expanding family. When my father started cleaning the churches he had two co-workers who didn’t go to the Mormon church. I went to work with him in all summer so I could play on the basketball courts. Along my time in the church the two folks who worked with my father was a Eritrean man and a 70 year old Mexican man. They were like the ultimate immigrant trio, men who came to America cleaning a church they didn’t attend. It was when I remember my dad was the happiest. At lunchtime all three of them would get their lunches ready and talk about random life. It was beautiful to me. All of them coming from these long roads of migration ending up in a church kitchen talking about how eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches were a step closer to tasting the American dream. I remember my father telling me while we driving home from work that “people come from long roads just to meet for significant things.” He told me this with his first experience of tasting a peanut butter and banana sandwich from his co-workers. thinking, maybe that’s why he came to America. For me, his line in the car is about understanding my father and who he doesn’t see himself as, his potential, his dreams that still remain. It was when he had no one that he lost his self. That he forgot that he’d come a long way to do something more. And maybe, if possible I’ve been living his dream out. Remembering his story before the American dream ate away at him. And although my father cannot even read the story I’m writing, it is the main reason why I write,unlike his father.
ust a couple months back, I worked at a Pizza Hut. It was like a mini United Nations in the back – people from all different backgrounds and cultures putting together those pies. There were these two brothers named Muhammad from Africa, one was older and a lil’ bigger than the other. Then there was Tai, the Vietnamese pizza delivery driver, Braulio, from Mexico who trained me when I first started, and then there was Shu, the elder Chinese man who didn’t say much. Shu had been working at Pizza Hut for quite a while. He had a wife from China too, and they were both raising two kids in San Jose. He
was about 5’6, slender, with these bi-focal type glasses, and always had a smile on his face. If you did something wrong, he would look around to make sure the boss wasn’t looking and he would help with what he could. He would always ask how my day was just to start conversation, while we would clean the dishes. He moved at a fast pace all the time. I used to talk with Braulio about going to different countries to sell music, and meeting women of that country -- you know the general dreams of a young hip hop artist. One day, before I started my shift, Shu, put me on game. Shu had over
heard my conversation with Braulio of our ambitions of becoming international gentlemen. He leaned over and told me, “In my country you would make a good man.” I just stared at him, not understanding what he had meant. He could tell I didn’t follow, and he explained, “You are a hard worker and tall. Girls from where I’m from would like you.” I appreciated the encouragement, but then a practical question came to mind. “But, how would I talk to them? Cause I don’t know any Chinese.” He said, “If you meet a nice girl, tell her ‘Knee how mah pee-ow leeang’, and they will respond to you.” I asked her what it meant, because I wasn’t trying to get slapped. He said, “It means, “Would you like to go out sometime?’” he said. That was really the first time I felt I received a bit of wordly culture, plus one that may come in handy one day. Shu would talk little of his past, and we would all get in trouble if the manager saw us talking, but I appreciated that he thought well of me. It made me wonder about him as a young man – that despite being in a different country, in a different moment in time – maybe we were similar at some point. I used to see Shu as an older Chinese man who I had nothing in common with, but really, when he was my age, he was doing what me and my friends do. Talking to his friends about how to talk to the girl he likes, and dreaming of adventures in different countries.
was sitting on my bunk in the county jail when I heard the words, “Eu nao pertenco aqui”, which in English equates to, “My people don’t come to jail.” I’ve heard many women say something to this effect, but this older Portugese woman said it with tears streaming down her face. “Your people?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, and before I could even finish she said, “I’m Portuguese.” She went on to explain that as a member of the Portuguese community, it is most important to refrain from acts that would reflect poorly on the community as a whole. With there being such a tight nit community here in the Silicon Valley, she expressed how she would have to tell people she went on vacation in order avoid to save the reputation of her family. As she talked more about her community, she shared a feeling of home away from home -- the one her migrated community built here in San Jose. As she spoke, for a moment, the tears were no longer rolling to escape her eyes. She remembered her people on the outside. After getting to
know us over a period of a couple months, she invited the girls who she shared living quarters with to come over to her house for a nice traditional meal once we were out. At that time, we could only imagine what a homemade Portugese meal would taste like. A year later, we connected again. Both of us were free and living our paths that I guess you could say were meant to be crossed again. I took her up on the offer she once shared. It is now a tradition to meet once a week to eat traditional meals as a family. She is now one of my most cherished friends. One time, I asked if she would ever think about going back to Portugal. She said no, and that for better of worse, her life is here in the United States. She said, “You make your bed and you lay in it.” Plus, she raised a child here in San Jose and the life in Portugal would no longer be familiar for either of them. Reflecting back, the words she first said were true, she never belonged in jail.
love Capoeira, pushing my body past my perceived limits of dexterity. I’ve played American sports my whole life, and have always appreciated my America rhythms in music and dance – but in Afro-Brazilian capoeira, I find something different – I find invincibility. Learning the music of the Afro Brazilian, and being a part of the whole culture has changed by life. It is a blessing being able to meet and pick the brains of other capoeira Mestre’s and professors who have brought their worlds to San Jose. And a conversation with Professor Bae, a Capoeira master from Baiah, Brazil, even changed my perception of how I see American culture. At one of our biggest gatherings of the year, my group “Capoeira Irmandade” held a drumming workshop with Professor Bae. By the afternoon an hour or two after the drum workshop, we had a full house in our small Santa Clara dance studio. Almost 30 capoeristas accompanied with about 20 spectators, made for an energetic atmosphere. In Capoeira we play in pairs, similar to sparring in other martial arts. All of the capoeiristas sit in a circle where the two players play. At the head is the Bateria or band, which may consist of six capoeiristas playing different instruments. While my anxiety was building up to get a chance to play, I saw Professor Bae preparing to buy in the game. I became excited to see how he maneuvered his 5ft 10inch rather round frame throughout the Roda (circle). Instantly as soon the game started, he let out a frenzy of lightning fast kicks and embellishments. One of which being a no handed cartwheel, that in the context of the game was so smooth he received many ooo’s and aaaah’s throughout the packed house. Afterwards, I remember trying to butter him up by making a mention to his no handed cartwheel earlier in the day. He looked at me in disbelief, because he had never done the move before. “Nah man, I don’t do flips, are you sure?” he asked me. I was positive
he had done the flip but I could see he had no recollection of it. Nonetheless, I assured him he pulled off the move earlier during Roda. He smiled and said, “ I didn’t do that move,” he told me, “foi o axe” – meaning, it was the “axe”. The term “axe” is the energy that we tap into while training capoeira. Bae’s statement resonated so much within me that I began to relate it to my everyday life. There have been many times where I was lost in the axe while writing, making music, and in fact there have been entire days where I felt I was operating from a higher frequency. I just never had a term that could describe what I was feeling. The Bahian(bahia philosophy of axe created another plane for me to operate in my Bay Area life. Now, I see axe all around me, not just with capaoeritas, as it is a shared energy which I see the most in cyphers, or enclosed circles constructed of people. Bboy’s, MC’s, even street fights have ciphers, where the axe can be cultivated and tapped into. Within the coming weeks of my conversation with Professor Bae, it dawned on me how universal the idea of axe really is especially comparing between the two bays – Bahia and here. I am a musician, when I play my Berimbau ,a brazilian instrument, I tend to blank out; my eyes focus upwards with my eyelids shut. I have been known to even make faces, which friends poke fun at. I understand now, that my actions are not only natural but necessary for me to express myself through the instrument. One of the best MC’s I know loves to freestyle, I’ve noticed when he’s on his “A” game he’s focused upwards as if his rhymes were written in the sky. The axe is invincibility, it will guide you to your spirit. I feel blessed that this concept was shared with me and I thank Professor Bae for his philosophies. The Bay Area has always been known for its calm, cool and collected culture, but who would have thought it was the language of Brazil that would have given our energy a name.
must admit, I am not the richest girl. But I bust my ass everyday; from scrubbing dishes to having to swallow my pride, with tennis ball gulps when my manager throws a bag of napkins at my face when the banquet isn’t going his way. I am definitely underpaid, but with the little money I make, I make sure I spend it wisely – and usually with my mom. So every time both my mother and I have days off together, we head straight to the tienditas -- thrift shops. My mother is one of the few patient people whom I can go shopping with because I am always trying to haggle down the price. One day, in particular, I wanted to buy the most perfect dress because that weekend I was going to go watch Kevin Hart at the Improv. With $20 in my pocket I was determined to find that perfect dress. At the teindas, I found two beautiful dresses, but I just couldn’t choose. I remember standing in the dressing room doorway looking at my mom, as if I needed her to make a decision. And she did. She said, “Agara los dos! Mija, la vida es unica. Quien sabe si vas a vivir manana. Nada es por sierto” (Get them both! You only live once, who knows if you get to see tomorrow. Nothing is set a stone.) “I can’t get them both! I can’t afford them,” was what I initially blurted out. “Yo te los compro los dos!” (I’ll buy you both!) I eventually picked a dress, and thanked my Mom for the sweet gesture of offering to pay for my dress, but told her to keep the money and she can buy me a coffee instead. I’ve heard similar sayings before, yet this time was different. I started really thinking about those words and the life experience it came from. The gesture meant so much because it was a generosity from a woman who had so little when it came to money. It came from a woman who wakes up at 5 in the morning, runs to the make the trolley, just to then transfer to the bus, to make her 9am start for work. I swear my mother is the richest, poor
woman working at Safeway – if you used a more meaningful standard for rich. You can catch her in the floral department, always with at least one article of fur on. Many consider Norma the floral guru of Safeway. But my mother didn’t always make colorful arrangements or make sure every young man has a matching buttoner and perfect corsage for his prom date. Back in Mexico my mother was a respectable registered nurse. People came to her for life-threatening advice, now they come to her for plant life advice. She went from hopping into cars of the year making her way to the hospital, to hopping on the 23 bus, sitting next to the guy who wreaks of urine and dirt all the way to Safeway. I can only imagine how hard it was for my mother to adjust to the transition of different living standards. My Mother came into this country in pursue of the american dream for her children, and found herself as a single mother of four, working three jobs, just to survive. In my my mother’s American experience she has stood-up to domestic violence, survived 18 hours work days, and strived and sacrificed for a better quality of life. The exchange at the doorway of the tienda stayed in my mind because it represented my mother’s American Dream – not to own luxury cars, or a huge home, but rather to be able to put a smile on her daughter’s face. It made me think of the concept of happiness differently – that contrary to what is assumed, struggle and poverty do not dictate its terms.
It must have been when I was about 10 years old when I’d rush out of my house at the sound of the ice cream truck, nearly losing my balance going down the stairs every single time. We lived in an almost exclusively Mexican immigrant apartment complex, and word would spread quickly of the Indian ice cream man’s arrival. You can just hear my brother calling “lla llego! lla llego! he is here!, he is here!”, as we rushed out trying to beat our neighbors across the hallway. My goal was always to get the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (WWF) ice cream bar with the random collectible card they came with, that I’d get my favorite wrestler, the heartbreak kid Shawn Michaels. I remember practicing for hours the “sweet chin music” move all the time in hopes it would come in handy at some point in my life. The ice cream man
was a very nice man, always happy, giving us kids ice cream for whatever amount of change we had. I always came at least 25 cents short for a bar that cost a dollar, and every single time he would let it slide. The ice cream man’s signature move was to look at the change in your hand, give you a skeptical look, shrugging his bushy eyebrows together folding the wrinkles around his eyes making you think that he wasn’t going to take what you had for the ice cream, followed with a genuine smile while he handed you the ice cream. The ice cream man had a long beard, the longest I have ever seen. We always thought it was a mysterious thing to have a beard that long. The beard went along with his accent, it was like nothing we had ever heard, so at times it was hard to understand him but we got used to it. My neighborhood was and still is full with kids running around, this is probably
the reason why street vendors love my neighborhood. Street vending is very common in Mexico as well as in India – us kids, the children of Mexico, and he, the man from India – were made for each other. In the more impoverished areas of both our original countries, you can buy just about anything on the streets without having to step in an actual store. And in my Californian home, my neighborhood was on a street that all sorts of ethnicities meet through street vending. The ice cream man always stood out to me because he was the one who always tried to talk to us and knew just about all the neighborhood kids by names or nickname, he was even learning spanish from talking to us all the time. This sort of treatment only came from other migrants. The other ice cream truck guy, the American one, stopped coming by my neighborhood because he wasn’t friendly, and seemed to hate his job. I still don’t know why I never asked the Indian Ice Cream man his name. One day I asked why he would always let us get away with paying less than what the ice cream cost. His response was, “If you saw where I came from, I just gave you the world.” At that age, I didn’t understand what he meant. Now, I am guessing that he, like my own family, grew up in a place and time of poverty and struggle. And that it is a joy to be in a time and place that he can give a young boy his favorite ice cream.
’m 23-years-old, and to this day, I still go to my mom for any and all advice. And since I was a child, the words are always the same: “no te preocupes mijo.” To the English speaker, this might translate to the iconic Bobby MacFeron song, “don’t worry, be happy.” My mother migrated to the United States 24 years ago from Mexico. She left a life of leisure in the medical field to assure that I would have a good life. She is living a very different life now working multiple jobs to get by, and constantly under the pressure of survival. Growing up, I always thought to myself, why is my mom being so calm in a situation where I was feeling that I would probably die from fear? She would remain calm when anyone else who would be in the same situation would flip out. I remember one day seeing her at the table writing down numbers and adding them, totaling nothing close to the rent amount we had to reach. I would feel so bad that I was too young to help. Yet, literally, within the next minute, she took a look at me with a great big smile on her face. We walked to the store after me and I remember looking at her, hidden between the isles, looking for some sort of grief from her, but nothing. She still had the same smile on her face. Despite my mom’s optimism, I usually disregarded all that she said about my own American life because of her repetitive and vague answer to my questions and concerns – “no te preocupes” didn’t feel like enough. Later, I saw that it was not that she was being dismissive, she just knew that at the end,
everything comes out ok, based on her own extraordinary life journey here. She learned that although things might not come out the way we hoped, in the end of it all, at least we are still alive and breathing, with plenty of other opportunities awaiting us. Her response to problems though seemed naive for my complex American teen problems at the time. Instead of listening to her, I would draw out plans, and continue to stress out. But the more I worried I got about things, the worse the outcome would be. One day, three years back, I became frantic because I thought I messed up my body with all the drugs I did throughout my teens. I was scared of what the consequence would come to be for my future. I came to my mother to advice and she told me -- at the end of my hour-long rant at four in the morning -- “no te preocupes mijo.” This time I took her advice to heart, because I had exhausted every other problemsolving option I could think of. I just focused on other things, while keeping in mind what outcome I hoped for -- which would be for my back to stop hurting. In the end, without worrying and losing sleep as was my usual way, the outcome turned out the way I wanted – and I also was able to make a healthy change in my life. My mother is a woman of a thousand words, with conversations that could last for days, yet she has stuck with,“ no te preocupes mijo.” Now that I’m older, I see everyday how right she has always been and continues to be. I can’t wait to the day I could tell my children the same.
By Adrian Avila
few years back I made a friend by the name of Luis, a 74 year-old Colombian immigrant. At the time that our paths crossed, Luis had been homeless for about four years. At first glance you wouldn’t think Luis was homeless, he comes off as a clean-cut stylish 5-foot silver haired man. I think it was his style that drew me to him, simple yet it had a certain sense of class to it. Luis had a lot to deal with in his everyday life; besides being homeless he also was undocumented and aging in a country that is not all too fond of it’s elderly. On top of that, Luis had been showing some signs of mental illness, an illness that had him paranoid and in constant fear of his safety. Up until we met, Luis had found a safe haven at a 24 hour McDonalds parking lot, using his 1969 2-door Ford Maverick as a hotel room. Night after night Luis would sleep in the passengers seat of car battling the cold and lack of room. But to him sleeping in his car was not the problem, it was fear of being messed with and kicked out of his spot that he feared. Since I had an open driveway I asked him to move in and he did. The next day, he pulled up to my driveway in his “Ford Hotel” with a smile on his face. Luis and I would hang out, have conversations about life back home and how different things are living in the U.S. One night Luis and I were watching a documentary film about the Pablo Escobar days in Medellin, Colombia. Back home Luis held many jobs from a
young age. He worked the fields, became a police officer and a truck driver. It was his job as a truck driver that landed him a job moving a load from Medellin to a small town 50 miles away. Luis recalled not wanting to take the job because he knew what the load might be, and Luis wanted nothing to do with any wrong doing, but money makes you do things you would normally not do. Luis did the job and got paid, “I didn’t want to do it but I had no choice, Pablo does a lot for our people here, so I am helping our people.” Luis told me He explained to me how poor his town was before the day of Pablo, and how by becoming a Robin Hood type figure he had gained respect from his people, and how much the town had come up. “The world needs a little bit of everything, even a kingpin,” Luis said to me, which has stuck with me even to this day because I understood what he meant. Good and bad are all around us all day everyday, but one has to keep on keeping on, or as they say in the states -- you have to do what you have to do. Judgment can be reserved for those who have the privilege to do so. Luis left one morning, inexplicably. His paranoia was starting to consume him. I think of him often though. In some random parking lot, passerby’s may see him through the windown of a car, napping. They may be annoyed, even disgusted, by the homeless man who is a fixture in front of their store or restaurant. But Luis is a person in America, just doing what he has to do, as we all are.
s a kid I would always be reminded that I wasn’t from here, meaning the United States. It came from not knowing the language, being in “special” classes, being called a “wetback” by the other kids in school, and an over all feeling of not fitting in no matter how hard I tried. I knew my parents had to be carrying the same feelings as I was in their adult world, but I never asked. One day I overheard a conversation my mom was having with my uncle in Mexico over the phone that let me know how they felt as immigrants making a life in America. She said “we can’t die here,” and at that moment I knew we both shared mutual feelings. My parents are hard workers that decided to come over from Mexico, my dad came three years before we did. Our life wasn’t bad back home, but my parents knew that barely making it wasn’t going to be enough when my brother and I got older. Poverty in Mexico is true poverty, the kind of poverty that doesn’t exist in the United States, and that was the fire burning my parents feet to go north. To my parents, living in the USA is a sacrifice they were willing to make for us, but the thought that they would spend eternity stuck in this situation of never feeling accepted is one they can’t stomach. That is the difference of “we can’t live here” and “we can’t die here.” They can carry on the struggle if they know at some point it will end, that there is a finish line. That is what my mother meant when she was talking to my Uncle back in Mexico. Their decision to live here had already paid-off in their eyes. My brother and I had a great upbringing with an amazing opportunity at higher education and options that we would not have back in Mexico. But to them, if they aren’t able to enjoy the country they’ll move in order to provide for their children, they want to at least end up in their native land eventually. I knew my parents never felt comfortable here in the States, and while they live here for my brother and I, I know they dream of going home. They are constantly working on the house we are remodeling in Mexico,
with high hopes of making it back to a place that no matter how hard life is, it would welcome them with open arms. That welcoming spirit is one that has eluded them here. I have seen my dad do construction work on a house only to be told by the owner to “get the fuck out of here before I call immigration,” when it was time to pay for the work. He worked for free under another person to learn how to do landscaping, construction, cement work, fences, and so on just so that he can start his own business. Having to make their own trail when they were told to no longer use the already made trails that have been their existence in the United States. The truth is, it’s hard to call a place home when just about everything you do is looked down upon, having to lie to others in order to get through life and having to always live in fear. I understand my parents feeling of not wanting to die here. I also understand that acceptance is something that many people don’t have, but once you find it, it’s the only place you want to end up in, even if it only means dying there.
ike countless other Asian immigrants in Silicon Valley, my father immigrated after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from a prestigious science and engineering college in Bombay, India. In 1978, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to complete his graduate studies. An enterprising young man, he taught himself to cook Indian meals: after looking up all of the Gujurati families in the phonebook, he would call and ask aunties for cooking help, and graciously accept when they instead invited him over for dinner. After being recruited for his first job, he married my mother in the fall of 1980. My mother followed him to California a few months later. And like many other South Asian immigrants starting a new life in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents began with next to nothing. “I had two dresses,” my mother told me. “Each day I would wear one and wash it, leaving it to dry. The next day, I
would wear the other dress and wash it. Like that, I only needed two pairs of clothes.” While my father built his career in the tech industry, between startups and large companies, my mother finished her education, became a teacher, and had two children. My parents supported family in India and raised my brother and me. Hearing these stories from before I was born is still incredibly humbling. My parents’ stories reflect a particular set of values distinct from American pop culture. While corporations fuel a mentality of lack (unless we buy, buy, buy) in order to make profits, my mother’s attitude is somewhere between minimalism and gratitude. The everyday experiences that we share in common as immigrants and children of immigrants are matched, if not outweighed by the depth, complexity, and variety of experience and situation, even within just South Asian American communities.
’ve never met anyone who was as insistent that I eat a cookie. But my father’s friend, an older Italian man named Tony, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When I was at his house, and wouldn’t take his cookies, he told me, “Eat a cookie, I have a gun.” He was joking of course, but that was the way Tony is, true to his Italian hospitality until you partake in some of it. The gun part of his joke came from him sharing his stories of being a police officer in Italy. I’ve known Tony for as long as I can remember. He owned an Italian deli and restaurant close to my house. He was neighbors with my Nonno and Nonna (grandma and grandpa in Italian) and he had ties to my Nonno back when they both were in Italy. Tony’s deli was rich with Italian culture; meats hanging, smelling like pasta, all sorts of Italian candy, ice cream, and sodas, and of course the groups of Italians in there. It was similar to what someone foreign to the Italian culture might picture after watching a mafia movie. Tony, and his deli, always represented my Italian culture in a city that just saw me as a white boy. Coming up as an Italian youth in San Jose, to my friends and everyone else of different ethnicities, I was just white. But after going home from school, and on the weekends, I lived the life of an Italian American, an immigrant household. My Nonno immigrated to America after World War II, and my
Nonna and grandma on my mother’s side were first and second generation Americans themselves. My Nonno fought in World War II, but for Italy. So while friends of mine were allowed dual identities, the American one we were building, and the cultural one of their immigrant parents – mine was just watered down to white. This happens to people from a lot of cultures, inside our homes we keep our heritage alive but when we walk out the door into the American streets it dies. I’ve never been to Italy, but I want to go so I can be closer to the culture I was raised in and understand my roots better. The world is so big and America has immigrants from all over, yet most people here just see shades. Most of us are categorized by our color, but there’s a lot more than that. Tony’s Italian deli is the space that allowed me to learn what it means to be Italian. Today, his deli is no longer running. He lost the property to the bank and it has since been turned into a Starbucks. It’s sad to see a place that brought so much culture to a small San Jose neighborhood be over run by a bank and an American corporation. But what won’t show up is the culture that was being lost when they tore down Tony’s deli. I will always be grateful for what he gave me, an identity to hold on to based on family and tradition, rather then skin color.
Silicon Valley is the destination of families from all over the world. And oftentimes, Silicon Valley immigrant families live in two realiti...
Published on Jan 31, 2012
Silicon Valley is the destination of families from all over the world. And oftentimes, Silicon Valley immigrant families live in two realiti...