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 sanitary 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.

 

Coming to America: Giulia

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Place of Origin: Merate, Italy

When did you move to America?

I came to America on August 5th, 2013. Right after I finished high school.

What’s the one thing you miss the most in Italy?

I miss the way of life and my family. Even though things are changing, in Italy, people still pay attention to having a balanced life. People still cook with good quality food, they walk a lot, they simply enjoy hanging out in a park or on a bench in the main square. The contact with nature in most of the country is still very important. Moreover, my entire family is still there: my mom, dad, sister, niece, brother, everyone! During holidays and festivities is when I miss them the most, but I also miss even just having a good chat with my sister on a regular day.

What were some challenges, if any, that you faced?

My family’s disapproval. I was in the country completely alone and I was lacking of their support.They were not thrilled of the fact that I was going to leave for the U.S. for an entire year, and when I extended for an additional 12 months they were very upset.

What’s the one thing you like the most about America?

I like the intercultural exchange the most. I love that I can meet people from all over the world, get to know their stories and their culture, and, if I’m lucky, a little bit of their language. I think it makes me richer as a person and teaches me on so many different levels. I also like that, at least in my experience, everyone seems approachable. For example, if you are introduced to a person that has quite an important job or is a “big shot,” and you later send them an email, you have pretty good chances that they answer. It does not really work like that in Italy.

What do you dislike the most about America?

I don’t like the falsity with which people tell you, you have all the opportunities in front of you. I have been looking, and it has not been easy, especially for an immigrant, to see all the opportunities they are talking about. The American dream is just a dream, unless you have a couple of degrees, no students loans, and quite some money already. There are opportunities if you are willing to work for free mostly. Sometimes I really understand why people decide to come here illegally or just work under the table. Sometimes it is the only way you can have some of those opportunities.
 
Due to your situation, if you had the choice, would you rather live in America or Italy?
 
I think I will want to live in Italy, and this is why I think I am moving back. I just enjoy the lifestyle better there. Also, for me to get another visa or to start the application for the green card costs just way too much money. I do not have the resources now to stay here.

Blended: Ace

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What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

My dad is Filipino, Italian, and German but was born in America. My mom is from the Philippines.

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

I feel tied to the Filipino culture but not fully connected to it. I have always wanted to learn the language but because I was born here it was hard for me to have the opportunity to learn it.
Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

I actually refer to myself as an American. Although I am very proud to be Filipino I feel my roots are very grounded in this country. I speak English, I eat more of the foods from this country, and am more exposed to its culture and history. When it comes to my values I guess I could say I am a little more reserved and find more influence from the Filipino culture and even Italian.

Do you feel like you’re part of one ethnic group more than the other?

I actually find myself more connected to the Italian culture right now, mainly because I am more involved in it. Speaking the language, knowing the culture, and knowing more of its history makes me feel as if it is more a part of me. I think the language is what makes me feel more of a connection to it. When I was younger I really wanted to learn Tagalog, the Filipino language, but unfortunately I was rejected from the language. Not purposely, but because I was born in America and it was easier for my mom to teach me English and apply it.

Italian however, I had a more welcoming introduction and find myself more surrounded by those who are Italian and who speak it. In a sense that gave me a sort of community. I will always consider Filipino as a part of me, and I do have many friends and those who I am close to who are Filipino. But I feel there is a bit of a distance between me and being Filipino.

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

I feel tied to being Filipino but not connected to it.

 

Blended: Deanna

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What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

My dad is African American and my mom is Ukrainian (Russian).

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

When I was growing up, especially in middle school, I struggled internally with fitting into a specific group of friends. I was always accepted, but I always felt that I didn’t quite fit in. I probably felt this way because I wasn’t honest with myself at the time about my identity. It wasn’t until later in high school where I felt more comfortable and confident with my background.

Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

I consider myself mixed in terms of my skin color, but when it comes to my identity, I consider myself Russian.

Do you feel like you’re part of one ethnic group more than the other?

Yes, on my Russian side. I learned to speak the language at a very young age through my mother and grandparents, I continued to learn how to read and write it in college, and I know the history and stuff. But, I don’t really know much about my African American side.

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

Yes, at times I felt that I can’t identify with either group. For instance, when I go to Brooklyn, specifically Brighton beach where nearly everyone is Russian, they often talk about me and are even rude to me. They make me feel like I don’t belong and in the past I had let that bother me. Now what I do is say something politely back to them in Russian and totally catch them off guard. I have never quite felt like I fit in the African American community completely because I’m always told, to this day, I’m “too white” or that I “talk like a white girl” and I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

Blended: Lucas

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What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

My father is German and Russian and was born in New Jersey. My mother is Filipino and Chinese and was born in the Philippines. Both of my parents have many other ethnicities, but those are the most prevalent.

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

I would occasionally be made fun of for having tan skin and being tall. In grade school race didn’t matter. I had friends from all ethnic backgrounds and we all got along. Maybe it was because it was a small catholic school, but there was never any racial issues.

High school was a different story. One instance, when I was a freshman, a classmate called me a “gook.” I didn’t really know what it meant so it didn’t really bother me. Unfortunately, I started calling other kids that word until I found out what it actually meant. Interestingly enough, that same kid went on to marry a Filipina and they have a son that looks a lot like I did when I was young. I’m still friends with him, and he’s a really great guy. It’s just a memory that stands out.

Later in high school I was nicknamed “The Samoan,” which I didn’t take offense to at all. It didn’t seem derogatory to me, and I didn’t think it was meant to be. It was likely attributed to my size and skin color, but I never considered myself fat or overweight. My weight has always fluctuated. My first year of college I weighed 250 pounds and by my last year of veterinary school I was 190lbs. It all depended on how active I was and what sport I was playing. I always played football in grade school and high school. I played volleyball during my undergraduate and graduate studies.

As I got older, I really appreciated my mixed heritage and I’m fortunate for it. I was over 6 feet tall by the time I was 16, and always athletic. Tanning is pretty easy for me and I love basking in the sun. My alcohol tolerance is pretty high too (must be the German). I have been told I’m pretty good looking, at least my wife would agree!

Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

I’d have to say both. When people ask me my background, I don’t say, “I’m white” or “I’m Filipino,” my typical response is, “I’m half Filipino.” Alternately, I would check the box for “white” on a questionnaire or form. Socially, I typically identify as mixed race but for documents and forms it’s one race, mainly to simplify things.

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

Not really. My sisters and I grew up in the Filipino-American culture. We thoroughly enjoyed the culture and especially the cuisine. I understand a little bit of Tagalog, but not nearly enough to feel like I can take part in a conversation.

Growing up I never felt like an outcast, my closest friends that I grew up with are primarily of Irish descent. We always made fun of each other growing up, but it was never about race. In closing, I never felt like I was unwelcome to any particular group because of my ethnicity. I’ve always felt that I could belong anywhere.

Blended: Kimmy and Sammy

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Kimberly (Left) Samantha (Right)

What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?

Our dad is black and our mom is Chinese.

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

 K: When I was younger, my mom always brushed out my curly hair, which if you don’t know, it’s a big “NO-NO.” I don’t blame her because she and everyone else in her family have straight hair. She didn’t know how to take care of curly hair. I remember not liking my frizzy big hair and wanting to have straight hair like everyone else. I felt bad about my hair and through out middle school I got my hair chemically straightened. Now, I appreciate and love my curly hair because it’s different. I know how to take care of it and people complement me for it.

S: Externally, I never had any issues growing up. All of our classmates treated us with respect and no one discriminated. Since our town is mostly white, our friends said we were their exposure as the “one black person they knew.” Internally I felt, and still feel, a little guilty since I felt and I identified more as Asian than I did black. Growing up we were exposed more to the Asian culture since we saw our mom’s side of the family more than our dad’s side.

Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?

 K: I identify as both black and Asian, or as my friends call it “blasian”, but I know more about the Chinese culture than the Bajan culture.

S: Despite the problem mentioned above, I still like to identify as both black and Chinese. I’d like to embody the best of both cultures and show how being multicultural is something to embrace.

 

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

K: Even though I look more black than Asian, I sometimes feel distanced from my Bajan heritage. I have visited Barbados, but I don’t see my dad’s side of the family as often as I do my mom’s. I miss out on family stories of my grandparents and great aunts/uncles.

S: Around my family I feel as if I do belong to both cultures. However, in public places, such as the city, I sometimes feel as if I don’t belong to the black culture. Seeing other black students in my school and observing them in public places makes me uncomfortable because I can’t identify with them. I wish I could learn more about their culture and be able to confidently say I belong.

 

Coming to America: Armando

Armando

Place of Origin: Lima, Peru

When and why did you come to America?

“When? Uh… Lets see… 1980, March 1980 I came to the US [At 20 years old]. Why? To pursue a better future. Like most immigrants do. I came with my whole family, my brothers, my mother, and father. My parents decided to emigrate from Peru to the US.”

What kind of struggles, if any, did you face when you first moved here?

“Language. The language was the main barrier, at the beginning, and uh… it was difficult in the beginning, of course, like for everyone else. To learn English, understand it, and speak it. In Peru they teach you English in the school system, but it was very basic. Like the alphabet and that’s it. So when I came here, I realized that I didn’t know any English. So I took ESL courses, English as a Second Language, for a year and in the meantime I was practically going into college. Luckily for me they took me a year after I came into the US. So I started going to college, NJIT, but I didn’t know a lot of English and It was a little bit of a struggle in the beginning, trying to perform well in engineering and then at the same time struggling with the language. But you manage.”

What do you miss the most about Peru?

“At the beginning it was friends, cousins, but once you get used to living here you make friends and you meet other people. Then that’s it. You don’t really miss it that much. Well, I don’t miss it that much.”

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned since moving here?

“Well, one thing is for sure. There is no other country like the United States. It’s all up to the individual to get ahead or to stay at the bottom. I  stood at the bottom, to be honest, but you fight, you work hard, and you stay focused on what you want to do and where you want to go. And luckily for me, I managed to get ahead. So that’s a big lesson for me, it’s all up to you to get ahead, contrary to other countries where it’s harder.”

Do you keep in touch with your roots? Are there certain things you do, like follow traditions?

“I do keep some tradition, my mother just came back from Peru and she brought some goodies from Peru, which I like, but other than that… I do keep some traditions, in Peru on midnight on New Years, you grab 12 grapes, 1 for every month, and you eat them quick. It’s supposed to be good fortune. All the people run around with a piece of luggage, it’s supposed to bring you luck so you can travel the world. I don’t follow that tradition, I just eat the grapes.”

How would you feel if your son moved to Peru?

“He wouldn’t make it. He could not make it. If he wanted to move, I would feel fine, hey that’s his choice, but I know that he’s too used to the United States. It’s all a matter of adapting. I know some people who come here when they’re older and then they go back. But I’m not like that, I’m too used to the United States, I adapted already. But, you know, it varies.”

So what do you identify yourself as?

“Well… I identify myself as both, to be honest, I like the culture that Peru, that I learned in Peru, a lot of history and I’m proud of that. But at the same time I’m thankful to the United States, because this is where I’m getting my opportunity to get ahead, which I didn’t have in Peru, I mean I was going to college in Peru, don’t take me wrong, but the opportunity to get a job over there are very slim. And back then, you also had terrorism, so it would’ve been a lot harder for me to get to where I am now. So in that sense, I am very thankful to the United States.”