Coming to America: Carla

DSC_0008_01.2.jpgTranslated by me.

Edited by Marta Russoniello.

Place of Origin: Milan, Italy

When and why did you come to America?

I’m from Milan, Italy. I came to America for the first time on October 2011 thanks to an internship for educators with a J1 VISA. I was in Minnesota for three months working as a youth counselor in a juvenile center and three months in Massachusetts in a center for disability services. Then I moved to New Jersey, indefinitely, in 2012 thanks to my husband’s job.

What is your favorite thing about America?

I always dreamed of living in America, it has always been “fascinating” to me, different, I mean everything is good; I admire the politeness of people, the courtesy, because in Italy no one greets you while walking down the street, but here they do! The feeling of community, the civic feeling, and the patience when dealing with respecting the rules or the lines at the post office!

America is a cross-cultural country, there’s a heavy gathering of cultures, I’m part of it and I find it great, it makes you feel like you’re part of something that looks towards progression, towards the future.

What is something you dislike about America?

The first thing that comes to mind is the healthcare system but I’ve come to live with it. Other than this, up to now I don’t really know of something that I actually dislike about America, but I believe that coming from another place you tend to make comparisons often with the country of origin and you find things that you preferred before and other things that you now prefer.

Did you face any challenges while living here? If so, what were they?

Yes, learning English was a challenge; I consider the knowledge of the local language as the first step towards integration, therefore the sooner you learn it, the better. Because the feeling you get when people around you don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs is horrible, but obviously it’s the key to learning it. It’s exhausting not being able to communicate; your emotions are especially tested. Your true personality struggles to come out. I seemed shy, when in fact I wasn’t really at all! When one immigrates to a foreign country the link with the previous place is nonexistent and loneliness is inevitable. But, if you make the first step towards integration, every door opens and you’re embraced well. But building a new network of friendships, getting to know people takes time and willpower and yet nothing would be able to replace the relationships that you left back home.

Do you consider yourself ‘American’? If so, why?

I consider myself Italian more than anything else, but part of me also feels American, especially since my daughter was born here and it ties me even closer to this place.

 

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Blended: Michael

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*Photo submitted by Michael*

What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

My father is 3rd generation Italian-American (his parents: Italian-American + Italian-American from Italian + Italian). My mother is Korean (I do not know her family to any extent).

Did you have any struggles growing up mixed race, such as any internal or external issues?

I’m not sure how to answer this. I don’t think being mixed brought on any real struggles. Perhaps it was a little difficult growing up not feeling like you are apart of an inherit community. I think growing up is already a difficult thing for a young adult— we face huge internal and external issues at every stage of growing up— and I think it may be easy to pass some of these normal struggles off onto being mixed. So I am apprehensive to do so right now.

Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

I spent most of my very young years with my Korean mother, but I think I was too young for the culture to really take root. I then spent the rest of my life (probably after 1st grade?) with my Italian-American side of the family (my father and his parents). I would say all of my childhood memories are very Italian-American-New Jersey, if you will.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and is the reason for the shift in environment.My Father also re-married to another Korean woman when I was in around 4th grade. She was 1st generation Korean also, so she had a very strong Korean culture in her everyday life. But she did not spend much time with the family. So again I did not have a very close tie to Korean culture.

I think because of my situation and exposure, I never really identified as Korean, or even Asian. I did not have many Asian friends growing up (although my high school maybe had a no more than 5% Asian population…). When someone asks me “what are you?” (as ignorant as it is, that is almost always how it is phrased…) I usually respond with “I’m half Korean half Italian.” I usually feel silly after I respond, almost like specifying “Italian” is obnoxious. I know many people who are half something and half “white”— which to them is easier because of the extensive mix of various Caucasian ethnicities. But my fathers parents are full blown Italian—back as many generations as I know. So I guess I think there is merit in the distinction, but I still feel awkward specifying in public.

Although I have a very high interest in Italian language and culture, it did not start until I was in my early 20’s (I am 29 now.) My father never spoke Italian or even knew the culture, and my grandparents spoke broken English and broken Italian and were born here as well. So I never had the language around me or a real authentic Italian culture around me either.

I cannot explain the connection I felt when I first started exploring all things Italian… but there is something magical about it that one cannot ignore!

Do you feel, or have you felt, like you didn’t belong to either one of your ethnic groups?

For sure. I never felt like I belonged in any Asian group or European group. Any Asian groups I knew were very into their culture— they would freely speak in their Asian language and were very closed to allowing others in (or at least that was how it was perceived by me). My group of friends growing up were always very mixed. For example my high school best friends were African American, Ukrainian, Irish, and American.

I’ve visited Italy twice in my life so far, and I never felt like I was looked at as an insider. Not only was I a tourist, but I always had it in the back of my mind that the locals saw me as an “Asian tourist.” I’ve seen videos of Italian groups rallying together protesting the growing Asian population in Italy. I’ve seen the huge hordes of Asian tourists clogging the streets of Florence, gathering looks of hatred and annoyance. I’ve seen huge racism in my own country towards growing Asian populations and assimilation. I think these experiences together, over the years, always created an insecurity that I will be lumped into these terrible stereotypes just because of the way I look.

Coming to America: Carlo

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Place of Origin: Milan, Italy

Where are you from?

“I was originally born in Milan, Italy. I came to the United States when I was 3 years old. I grew up in predominately-Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. I attended school there until my sophomore year of high school. I then moved to Florida with my godparents because it gave me the opportunity to play baseball year round. After High school stayed in Florida, I went on to play college baseball and then played minor league baseball. All together, I lived there for 8 years then came back to NY.”

What do you like the most about America?

“I guess the freedoms you have here … uh… I also like football, I like the sports that they have [laughs] No seriously, I like that you have a mixture of different cultures, especially in the north east, where you have the opportunity to experience these different cultures. A little different from other countries including Italy. You have a great diversity of people and culture here in America. I like the fact that it’s a melting pot and you have the freedom to do whatever you want and be whatever you want with hard work.”

What do you hate the most about America?

“What do I hate? Politics. Politics suck everywhere. It’s not any worse than Italy, Italy has far worse problems in regards to politics and the political system that is broken. I don’t like how much it has become ‘I’m on the left side’, ‘I’m on the right side’, and we can’t come together, and compromise on what is best for the people of this country instead of the special interest groups. I’m hoping that changes soon.”

What are some challenges you faced growing up?

“I didn’t really have many challenges that I faced growing up. I mean we came here when I was very young. My parents spoke English and so did I, my dad was actually here for a job, he’s was in banking, and he worked in banking in Italy and they asked him to come here on a three year contract but they then decided to stay. I feel that I am more America than Italian.”

Did you have problems adapting to the culture?

“I think since we had moved to Brooklyn, where just about everyone was of Italian descent or practically right off the boat, it made things easier. Again I was very young but I’m sure it was more difficult for my parents. For me it was just very easy to ‘mesh’. Everybody came from the same background, I had many things in common with people around me, my parents spoke Italian and English, and everybody in my neighborhood spoke English or Italian so that helped. So I didn’t really have many challenges adapting. I can’t complain, my parents worked hard and provided us with whatever they could, it wasn’t a lot, but we were happy with what we had. I had a great childhood. Sometimes I feel like we get away from that happiness of the simply things in life – instead we want more, more, and more things – When is ‘too much’ too much?”

Would you ever move back to Italy with your family?

“Absolutely, I just love the Italian culture, architecture, the warmth of the people, and of course the food. My whole extended family is there. My brothers, sister and parents are the only relative I have in America. I’m one of 6 kids. I would definitely move back and I would take my parents with me… [Laughs] ‘Cause they probably wouldn’t like it if I moved back there, they would miss us. My daughter is four and I plan to try to take her to Italy every summer to visit. Even though, right now, she does not want to speak Italian. She tells me, ‘I wanna speak Spanish’ and I’m like, ‘really? why?’ and she says, ‘Cause I love Dora and Diego’ come on seriously!? I’m Italian and has the opportunity to learn to speak Italian’. I try to speak to her but she just does not want to learn yet. I will have to keep trying.

It is funny thing in my family, there are six of us siblings and none of us speaks Italian to each other, we all speak English when we are together. That is just the way we grew up. Nevertheless, when we are around my parents, we speak only to them in Italian, within the same conversation my siblings will speak to each other in English. We have this awkward thing where we do not speak Italian to each other. Seems awkward to me now. We are so used to speaking English to each other. Must be that when we were young, my parents wanted us to speak English to assimilate better and wanted us to speak as much English as she could at home. She didn’t want us to fall behind and it helped out a lot, I guess.”

Coming to America: Swadeep

Swadeep_GB

Place of origin: Madurai, India

When did you move to America and why?

“Well, the reason I came here was because my dad got a job in the US. He actually finished his Ph.D. in India and he couldn’t get a job there so he was able to get one here. I came here when I was 4 so around 1998, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Was it hard for you to adapt?

“It was a big change and I didn’t know anyone and neither did my family, so it was just us three and I didn’t know how to speak English. It was hard to adapt and since you don’t go to school here until you’re about 5 years old, so I had a year here where I would just watch TV and that’s technically how I learned to speak English. Other than that, I had a few friends that would live in the same building as me in the apartment, but other than that I didn’t really know anybody, so the first year was hard, just getting used to the weather, the people, and the culture.

What do you like most about America?

“The opportunities, like you can do whatever you want to do. Like if you want to be a pilot or you want to be the president of the United States [you are only eligible if you’re a natural born citizen — I explained this to him after the interview], like if you work for it there’s no dreams that can’t go without being validate. Um… The girls are hot [laughs]…. I don’t know the people are just more lively and more friendly, they’re more open, so it’s more of a fun environment and it’s not stressful. The weather is also nice, it’s not humid or hot.”

What don’t you like about living in America?

“What don’t I like? Um… taxes. Cause in India you can like not do your taxes and still get by, but here there’s so many rules and regulations cause you have to follow. There’s not much that I hate about the US.”

Since you came here at a very young age, do you feel like a foreigner whenever you visit your home country?

“I do, just because I don’t personally remember too many occurrences of like — I have a few memories here and there of my childhood, but like I always considered the US home cause I was raised here. So all of my childhood memories, teenage memories, adult memories are pretty much in the US. So I always considered it home, the US is always going to be my primary home.”

Coming to America: Marta

Marta_GB

Place of Origin: Verona, Italy

When did you come to America and why?

“2002 in June, my father works for the U.S. government and was transferred to the U.S. he works with sports for children, but also adults. So, his contract expired in Italy and needed a renewal so he took a job in New York. My father moved in 6 months before my whole family did and we lived with my grandmother. She left us the house after she passed away.”

Was it hard for you to adapt?

“Yes and no, because there were Americans in Italy on the base I lived on. I had experience with American culture and I celebrated American holidays. It was more adapting to the language than the culture. My spelling would always be wrong, because in Italian you spell things the way you would say it. I was in ESL more for the grammar and spelling. And sometimes, even now, words for objects come to me in Italian first instead of English.”

What do you like most about America?

“There is so much to see and its so accessible. The food, the diversity of it, and how accessible they are because Italian markets are hardly open. They take un aperitivo [breakfast], then they have the siesta, they take a nap, and then they have to go for a passeggiata [go for a walk]; I’m surprised they’re even open [laughs].”

What don’t you like about living in America?

“It’s expensive and there’s a lot of people, at least in New Jersey, we’re very densely populated. And going for walks isn’t easy because you can’t take a stroll to the park or go in piazza [public squares and market places in Italy] to meet your friends because everything is so far away. From where I used to live everything was so close and of walking distance you could even take public transportation, which isn’t bad, and you have more of a chance to be social.”