Angelica G.

By Maya B., Emily V., Aico T., & Yaretzi M.

 

She was covered in burns and scratches after rolling out of the speeding car, but the pain wasn’t as bad as knowing she had left her 1-year-old daughter and husband behind.

Angelica was born in the small town of Aljojuca, Puebla, Mexico. It was a very dry and dusty place. Her house was made of cement. It was one big room divided by curtains. The living room and dining room only had a couch and a small table where they would eat. Outside of her home, there was some land where her mom would plant seeds and she and her siblings would play. She was the only girl out of five kids. Her parents did not make enough money to buy enough food for all of them, so most days they would only eat salt tacos. On good days, they would eat beans. Her dad worked in the fields and her mom sold tortillas. With the money they made, they tried to pay for their children’s education. But, no matter how hard they worked, they were never quite able to make enough money, and Angelica only made it to 9th grade before dropping out. “Siempre mis padres trataban de mejorar un poco nuestra vida…siempre hubo enfermedades nunca había suficiente dinero para educar no… era bastante dinero.” (My parents always tried to improve our life a bit.. there were always challenges…there was never enough money to educate us… it was too much money).

After dropping out of school, Angelica got a job in making and selling tortillas. Around this time, her father left for America in search of opportunities. Three years passed before her father finally returned. Throughout those three years, she and her siblings worked in order to buy clothes and food. Her dad would send them the little amount of money he would make. Even with that, they were still in poverty. Angelica thought of America as an amazing place with several opportunities and a great place to start a family. All the people she saw coming back from America were always wearing nice clothes and would bring their children toys she could have never dreamed of having.

In time, Angelica got married and was pregnant with her first child. She lived with her mother-in-law, who was also in extreme poverty. At times, they didn’t make enough money to feed themselves or their new baby. Her daughter grew up and craved more, but Angelica was unable to provide for her. She would often have to drag her sobbing child out of the store because she couldn’t afford an apple. Her daughter never asked for candy or junk food, or toys, all the little girl wanted was a piece of fruit. This caused her immense pain. She soon came to the decision that she would work in America. Her husband begged her to stay, but she had already made up her mind. She would go to America and buy her daughter the apple she always wanted.

Angelica and her sister-in-law made a plan to go to the United States. Angelica wanted to support her family with the money she’d earn in America. Her sister-in-law wanted to unite with her husband who had moved to the U.S. before her. Angelica’s two brothers who had immigrated to the United States helped pay for coyotes, smugglers who would help them cross the border. The smugglers gave them a piece of advice: do not bring any items, this includes food, water, and clothes. The coyotes were not responsible for any of the items lost or damaged.

In March of 2000, Angelica and her sister-in-law left their homes in Aljojuca to go to the dream land, America. Angelica’s heart ached as she left her family behind. Angelica and her sister-in-law got into a white van that drove them to Mexicali. It was nighttime; the coyotes told her and her sister-in-law to hide in some bushes nearby. The two of them squatted behind the bushes trying to make as little sound as possible. They waited patiently until a bright light shone upon them. It was an immigration officer’s car. The officer saw Angelica hiding behind the bushes and immediately arrested her. But, the officer did not see her sister-in-law who was hiding nearby. When asked for her name and address, Angelica gave the immigration officers false information. At the station, she was given a sandwich and apple juice. After a while, she was released from the police station and she flagged down a taxi to take her to a hotel. She stayed at the hotel until the coyotes came and drove her to a house. That was Angelica’s first attempt. The next day, Angelica heard word that her sister-in-law had arrived in America safely. She was motivated and determined to get across the border and support her family from America. Hearing that her sister-in-law made it across reassured her that she could make it if she persisted. She continued her journey with the guidance of the coyotes on the same day. She attempted a second and third time but she still failed.

On Angelica’s fourth attempt, she succeeded. It was early in the morning when she began her last attempt. When she got to the border, the coyote was there to help her get over the tall fence. She climbed onto his shoulders and made her way up the fence. There was an empty immigration truck on the other side. The coyotes told her to hide at the back of the truck and wait for further instructions. Twenty minutes passed, then forty minutes, then an hour. She became anxious as she heard footsteps coming towards her. Two immigration officers got into the truck and the car started to move. Angelica panicked. “A lejos nomás oír un grito baja cuando puedas.” (From afar all I heard was, “Get off when you can!”) She rolled off of the moving truck. She felt a burning sensation as she desperately hid behind the parked cars along the road. She was in so much pain, she wanted to cry. When the area was clear, Angelica stood up and walked slowly towards a car. She looked into the car’s wing mirror and noticed all the burns and scratches she had obtained from her escape. She walked towards a Carl’s Jr., and looked through her pockets to find coins given to her from the smugglers. She inserted the coins into the payphone and dialed the coyotes’ number. The coyote picked Angelica up from Carl’s Jr.. They told her she was extremely lucky to have made it. The driver was able to successfully drop Angelica in front of her brothers’ apartment building. Angelica had made it to America.

She was finally here. Relieved, she walked into her brothers’ home. It was a crowded, one room apartment she shared with her two brothers; it was the first home she had in this new world. Having to adjust to the weather, food, culture, and language was extremely difficult, but the biggest hardship was language. “Era muy difícil hablar inglés. All we want to do is come here to work.”

After a few moves, she landed a job and a home. She became a live-in helper for a nice, supportive family; they gave her food and shelter and were empathetic about her situation. The little money she made was enough to both support herself and send some back to Mexico for her family. She was extremely thankful for this family and continued to work for them for a few years.

Eventually, Angelica’s husband finally came to America to stay with her; however, they had to leave their now 2-year-old daughter in Mexico. This pained them, but did not discourage them. They both continued to work hard. After five years, Angelica and her husband had another child. America was their home now. They eventually brought their now 6-year-old daughter to America. Finally reunited, the Garcia family was complete and ready to live new lives in America.

It is now 2019, Angelica is a 42-year-old woman and a mother of three girls and one boy. She often thinks about what’s happening with immigrants in the United States. She listens carefully to what is happening in our government. “Pienso directamente que siempre nos está afectando.” (I believe that politics are always directly affecting us. Especially being an immigrant. Politics have a greater impact on me, for I have a daughter that’s only supported by DACA. We know that we have committed a crime and have broken laws but all we want to do is work and reunite with our family.) She is constantly reminded that she could be deported with her oldest daughter and husband back to Mexico, leaving the rest of her family behind.

As an undocumented immigrant from the poor town of Aljojuca, she often feels homesick. Although she desires to spend time with the rest of her family back in Mexico, she fears that she will not be able to come back to her other family in the United States. It’s an endless battle of desire. As much as she wants to visit Mexico, she doesn’t want to risk losing all that she sacrificed for, being able to raise her family in America.

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Minh Huynh & Hung Huynh

By Billy H., Brian M., Kurt K., & Dylan S.

 

In 1939, on the South side of Viet Nam, Minh Huynh was born. He lived in a small household, surrounded by greenery and rice fields, with his parents, four younger brothers, and two younger sisters. “Living with six younger siblings was more than just a struggle, but I still loved and endeared them more than anything in the world,” said Minh. They didn’t have a shower, and so when they wanted to cleanse themselves, they would use a bucket of water and poorly fashioned homemade soap. When he turned 19 in 1958, Minh began working as a tailor, cutting cloth and fashioning clothes for others, but just five years later, he was forced into the military and was immediately sent into combat.

The Vietnam war had been raging for years, and with the Vietcong as their enemy, it would be a difficult battle. Fighting alongside the South Vietnamese and American troops, Minh was deeply and truly frightened. “It was absolutely traumatizing, and just the mere sound of gunshots shocked me. It was even further distressing when I saw so many of my comrades die right before my eyes.” The war continued for a decade, until the Vietcong won and all South Vietnamese troops were captured.

Around this time, Minh and his wife adopted a child, Hung Huynh, who they loved dearly. Minh, a capitalist, was mainly targeted as a prisoner of war, for he had fought against the Vietcong, who were communists. He was immediately captured and sent to prison. Working for the Vietcong in prison was tiring, laborious, slave work; he was forced to plant and harvest rice crops for hours a day. This lasted two years until he was released from prison in 1978. After he was released, a program called Amerasian started to help kids that were half Asian and half American, by sending them to the United States if they wanted to go. Minh and Hung both had various reasons for leaving Viet Nam. When asked if he wanted to go, Minh did not hesitate and he soon flew out of Viet Nam, heading to the Philippines.

Hung had a lifelong dream of going to college and would do anything to attend a college, even if it meant leaving his home country and leaving behind friends and family. Due to being half African American and half Vietnamese, Hung was unable to attend college; the Vietnamese government had decreed that anyone of mixed race was unable to attend college. Hung was heartbroken; all he wanted to do was go to school and get an education. “My parents and I all wanted to leave Viet Nam, but I especially wanted to leave so I could go to college and get smarter. When they told me I could go to America for free and go to college at no cost, I was already ready to say yes. I wanted that more than anything in the world.”

Before arriving in the United States, Hung was sent to the Batans, a section of the Philippines; it was a rocky, mountainous area, with plenty of flourishing, green vegetation. “The area was not that different from Viet Nam. “There was a lot of greenery, the weather was nice and hot, and it was near the beach, so I felt right at home.” There, he spent a seemingly everlasting six months mastering the English language and discovering the aspects of American culture.

As time passed, Hung was eventually nearing his lengthy, 13-hour journey to the United States. “Finally,” he thought, “the liberty and freedom I’ve been longing. I can have it at last!” He embarked on the airplane, along with all the other American Vietnamese who he had stayed within the Philippines. Looking out the window, he recalled his departure from Viet Nam, and although he was indeed eager to arrive in the United States, he felt a sad wistfulness; he would dearly miss his home country, the only place he had ever known. As if on cue, the pilot started the engine, rumbling the plane and shocking Hung back to reality. Soon afterward, the plane took off, leaving the Philippines behind and leaving Hung to look forward to his new future.

In the meantime, Hung’s parents, Minh Huynh and Lan Tran, sat in their small, one bedroom home, dearly missing their son. His temporary loss brought them an unbearable melancholy. “Coming to America would be an absolute blessing to us; the land of the free is full of opportunity and is the savior to our burdened, harsh lives,” said Minh and his wife.

Soon after Hung arrived in the United States in 1990, he felt as if a loaded barbell had been lifted off his shoulders; he had finally had the weight of dependence and captivity lifted off of him. He was elated to arrive in a country of freedom, a country of independence and liberty, contrary to Viet Nam. Hung was dispatched to Mobile, Alabama, where he would stay for about two years. He lived in a small apartment, stuffed in with another family he had never met; it was cramped with all his belongings and furniture, along with the others’ property. Being on his own, he had to work multiple jobs to sustain a stable income and pay his bills. Every morning, he would wake up at 4 AM and work at a crab meat factory for four hours. He would then make his way home and prepare to go to school on little to no sleep. After school, which ended at 2 PM, he would continue to work at a very crowded and busy Burger King joint until sometimes 12 AM, leaving him with four hours of sleep until the next laborious day. As time passed and Hung continued to labor tirelessly, Amerasian contacted him once more; they were preparing to bring his parents to the United States legally! The second he received the news, Hung was beyond elated.

Once Minh and his wife arrived in the United States, they were also flown to Mobile, Alabama, where they were immediately presented with a small, one bedroom apartment. It was heavily constricted in terms of size; nonetheless, it was far more luxurious than Minh’s previous home, and so they all gladly moved in. Minh, a tailor in Viet Nam, continued his career in the United States. He would work as a tailor in one shop from 8-5 and then walk to his next job at a  dry cleaner, where he would continue to work until 9 PM. His wife, Lan Tran, worked with him in the same tailor shop.

As time passed, Hung and his family grew morose over their living situation; there was only one minuscule bedroom, which Minh and his wife shared, and Hung slept on the ancient, battered couch, so they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Minh wanted to move because he had a relative there. However, to Minh’s disappointment, Minh and his family soon found out after two years that the winters of Pennsylvania brought icy, biting weather that they could not bear. “Pennsylvania’s winters were the one thing I could not stand, and so I just didn’t want to stay there anymore,” said Minh. Once again, the family moved, this time to California, where they reside to this day. During this time, Hung had gone to five different colleges, for he wanted to become as educated as he could.

Minh is now retired with his wife, and his main priority is to pick up his grandson from school. He says, “To be free, able to enjoy life with family, and safe, is more than enough to keep me happy. Having the ability to see my grandkids grow up in a free country and not to have the worries which I had is amazing.” Hung is working as a resource manager at Cadence Design Systems. He says, “I have a wife and two kids, both of which I am beyond proud of fathering.” Both Minh and Hung are extremely grateful to be able to live a stress-free life in the United States.

Ted Nguyen

By Karthik M., Timothy N., Michael P., & Ethan P.

Through the harsh seas and rough air, Ted Nguyen survived through the terrors of Vietnam. When having his home and his clinic taken away, his family persevered. When alone without a true home in a new country, Ted Nguyen created a home.

Ted Nguyen was born in February of 1974 in the small city of Binh Duong, Vietnam. During Ted’s early life, he had an easy childhood. He had caring, laid-back parents. Economically, they did well and would have been considered middle class, as his father was a doctor. However, splitting the money with eight kids was not easy. “You had limited resources because of the big family. You had fewer clothes, toys, attention, etc.” His school life was rather boring. He was filled with work from the inside of rooms. He longed to go outside. In fact, his most vivid memory of school was when he left to visit the wild. “I went on a great camping trip, it rarely happened, but it was a gift to go out.” If only he had known that he would be traveling across countries in just a few years.

Communism spread like a disease across Vietnam with the south suffering the most. The south, who had fought against the Communists now felt the full might of a ruling Socialist Regime. Anyone associated with the southern government was harshly discriminated against. Southern Vietnamese soldiers were detained in concentration camps and worked to death. Southern Vietnamese families were forced out of the city and into the poor rural countryside. A small family in the city of Binh Duong lost their house and clinic to the government for “Collectivisation,” which meant the property was “shared.” “They took privately owned property for the ‘public’ so the government could have all the profit from it.” Although Ted’s family didn’t fight in the war, they were still discriminated against for being Southern Vietnamese. “In school, they favored kids whose parents worked for the government.” Kids of government officials had better chances of going to college and getting a good education. Ted’s parents knew that even though they lived in their small house in the countryside, at any time government officials could take someone from the family to work in their labor camps or the whole property could be taken for “public” benefit. With their children’s futures so uncertain, Ted’s father, Hay Quan, knew it was time to leave.

Hay Quan, father of eight, planned a daring escape in 1982. Paying for seats in a smuggler’s boat, they would sail with almost 200 other people to the Philippines. Tan, now known as Ted, would be rushed onto the overcrowded boat not having a clue of what the occasion was. All he was told by his father was that they were moving somewhere. Ted didn’t know why there were so many other people crammed in a little boat. He didn’t know why they were all rushing and being so secretive. Ted’s father, mother, and seven other siblings huddled in their own respective area of the boat as it set sail. As they sailed, great waves rocked their boat, causing them to slam into others. This would continue for several hours until their boat was illuminated by a bright light. It was the Vietnamese Coast Guard! They were all forcefully arrested without resistance and taken to a prison called Xuyen Moc. Fortunately, in Xuyen Moc Prison, the family was interviewed by the warden and only had to stay in jail for one day. The warden was more lenient on families with many children. But, this was not the end of their journey.

Ted’s father had to plan another escape, but this time only Ted’s older siblings would go. Three years later, the escape plan was initiated. Ted was ten at the time and the details of the escape were unknown to him. A few months later, he found out from his father that the escape was a total success and his three older siblings Tuyen, Tri, and Thi had made it to the United States. Now, at the age of 13, it was Ted’s turn with his two other siblings, Thuy and Thach. Since he was older, he was told all the details of his father’s plan. They would leave on a smuggler’s boat the same way they had tried before, destination — Philippines. The journey would take less than a week if everything went according to plan.

In late 1988, Ted, Thuy, and Thach boarded in the pitch black of night with only lamps revealing the crammed boat they would again be riding on. They huddled with absolutely no room between them, surrounded by strangers. “It was just a regular fishing boat crammed with people so there was hardly any space to move, we were all squeezed in.” The condition on the boat became considerably worse day by day. Excrement slowly lined the boat as there was no room to go to the bathroom and going on the edge of the boat was too risky. Everyone’s clothes were damp by the continuous splashing of waves. Many people were starting to show signs of hypothermia and others vomited at the horrific smell of human waste, making the smell even worse.

It was the seventh day of their trip, and the fear of running out of food rations had become a reality. Ted had no idea how far they were from the Philippines, but with 200 other people on the boat, he knew their food supplies wouldn’t last another day. The boat condition itself had also become dire. There was always the fear of capsizing, and they had no lifeboats or life vests to help. Throughout the seven days, damage to the hull from the waves had severely lowered their chances of survival. The boat was on life support and could sink at a moment’s notice. Luckily, they were rescued by the Philippines Coast Guard.

Those on the boat were given medical care and emergency food for the children and then moved to a refugee camp on an isolated beach. The conditions at the camp were decent compared to Vietnam, with huts made out of tree leaves and wood. They would get daily rations of fish and fruits from nearby villages. Thuy was the only one who knew how to cook, so Ted and Thach relied on her to cook all their meals and take care of them. There was nothing to do at the camp and there was nothing to play with, as they were on a barren beach. Swimming wasn’t an option because of the chances of getting sick. He lived this dull life in the refugee camp for about eight months until delegates from several nations came to interview the refugees. Each family was interviewed together to determine which nation they would go to. Most refugees were looking to go to America, but it was not their choice to make. “The refugees there would be interviewed by government delegates from different countries but most preferred to go to America, and we were interviewed by the American Government and got accepted.” With this, their fate was decided. They were going to the United States!

They were driven to Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Ted was excited to ride an airplane for the first time. As the plane lifted, Ted felt the rush in his ears and the sight outside the window was magnificent. As it was nighttime, the city shined bright next to a vast blue ocean. When he awoke after the 12 hour flight, he found himself in a totally new world.

He felt isolated in this new land. Every step felt like a new planet, causing awe to arise at a force beyond his control. The immense buildings made him feel like he was in a futuristic world. “You got big modern buildings, everything seemed bigger than in Vietnam, you know it’s the first time you are on an airplane, and all the technology, and the roads, and everything is so massive.” Eventually, he enrolled in school and was a decent student, mostly sticking with the same group of friends. Looking back on his time, he said, “You’re mainly on your own and you just had to figure things out on your own.” In college, he worked as a Great America food server and a support engineer, yet was also on welfare for a time. After graduating, he became a software engineer.  Nobody had any idea that he would come this far. When asked if he is happy now, it is clear that he is. “You start a new place, you gotta [have a] better future, and get kinda get used to the place, you come alive, you grow up here, you went to college, graduated, got a job, your life is stable and more secure than if you compare it with the conditions with Vietnam.”

Today, Ted has a wife, Cindy Nguyen, and two children, Timothy and Andy. As his children grow, Ted is thrilled to see that all of his efforts were not for nothing. When Ted looks back on his past, he is very grateful that he is in America now.

If there is one thing to take away from this journey, it is that Ted persevered constantly. And because he did, he has given his children an opportunity greater than they could have imagined if they had stayed in Vietnam.

Marisela Sanchez: “Hope Against Hope”

by Jennalyn B, Princess I., Galilea S., & Mi N.

 

Whoosh whoosh, the early morning breeze ruffled through my hair. From the tree, I could see my neighborhood stretch before me as far as the eye could see. The sun was just rising, casting a golden glow across Mexico’s streets. My two older brothers and sisters came pouring out of the house. “Come on, Marisela! Time for school,” they called up to me.

I was born in Zitacuaro, Mexico. My mother passed away when I was five. I barely have any memory of her, only traces of her kind voice. Although this left a hole in my heart, my father, siblings, and I led a fairly ordinary life. At the age of eight, I quit school to help my father work. Everyday I would go to the market, selling avocados from morning to noon. Although I loved Zitacuaro, it was not a safe place. Gangs of thieves lurked in all corners, waiting to single someone out to rob and then kill. There was a particular gang, known especially for making sure that their victims’ bodies were never found again. The leader was a drug dealer who made it his custom to rape a young virgin whenever it was his birthday. Chaos ran rampant all around Zitacuaro.

My family and I had managed to avoid this criminal…until my ninth birthday.

I was walking past a dark alley when, from the shadows, the drug dealer appeared. He walked up to me, a menacing smile on his face, his breath reeking of drugs. “Come here child,” he rasped. He tried to wrap his arm around me, but I already understood what was happening. I quickly darted away from him and yelled from the top of my lungs, “HELP! HELP! HE’S TRYING TO RAPE ME!” Fortunately, some policemen were walking by when they heard my cry for help and quickly arrested the drug dealer. But, my problems were far from over.

Weeks later, a gang of people dressed in black arrived at my house. They pulled out a gun and threatened to kill my family if we didn’t release the charges against the drug dealer. My parents did the only reasonable thing they could do, they released the charges against the drug dealer.

Weeks later, the drug dealer came up to my family and threatened to kill them if I didn’t leave Michoacan. Fear and confusion shot through my body, What is going to happen to me?, I thought to myself. My dad tried to keep me with him, but three years later I had to leave. Pain and sadness shattered my heart at the thought of leaving my family. Leaving everything I knew behind was frightening. I cried a river, “No Papa, don’t leave me,” I said. Deep down I knew that I had to leave, for the better of my family and my future. All I could do was hope against hope that someday I would see them again.

It was 1988. I was 12 years old. I boarded multiple planes to get to Tijuana, Mexico. At first, I was excited; it was my first time on a plane. But reality began to sink in, and it felt like a punch in the stomach. During the flights, I became terrified about leaving home. How in the world is a 12-year old supposed to cross the border alone? I wondered.

When I landed in Tijuana, there was a woman eyeing me. The woman said that she was going to help me cross the border to America. Her name was Erene. “So, where are we going to exactly?” I asked, happily walking along with her. She didn’t reply. Why isn’t she talking? I thought. She took me to a house near the freeway and tossed me inside like an old rag. I looked around the mysterious room. I was surrounded by other girls near my age or older. There were no windows and one exit. Who are these people? Why am I here? WAIT…No…No. Trusting that woman was a big mistake! I felt betrayed. Being so gullible wasn’t going to fly in a world like this. I had to get out of here. I tried to talk to the other girls. “What are you all doing here? What happened?” No response. I knew what was happening, there was no point in asking.

We survived solely on tortillas and were drugged to fall asleep. The silence was ominous and eerie. There was no chance of escaping this place. My picture was taken, and I was on a list to be sold.  After fifteen days, while Erene was out, we all heard a loud BOOM! and CRASH! Suddenly, the one exit out of the house opened! I saw the gleaming light of the sun.

A man stood in the doorway motioning everyone to go outside and get away from there. Stepping outside, I saw that the loud noises were from a car crash on the freeway. Okay, now where do I go from here?… Aha! There’s a bus right there! I thought to myself as I formed a plan to escape. I ran back inside to get change and a blanket for the bus ride and ran out the door. I sprinted up a hill at top speed to the bus stop. I boarded the bus and was off to a hotel close to the border. Later that day, I met an older lady named Lorena. We talked, and she convinced me to stay in Mexico with her. We lived together happily for six years.

Then, Lorena finally decided that it was time to move to America. She rented a hotel room in a town close to Los Angeles. Never had I ever laid my eyes on such a beautiful building. It was nothing like the buildings in Michoacan, everything here was so much cleaner. A couple of days later, we took a plane to San Jose. There, we lived in an apartment. It was during this time that I met my first husband and we decided to have a kid. I was in America and in love. I thought my life was finally better, I thought my life was finally perfect…Until something bad happened.

Lorena was forced to leave San Jose in order to take care of her sick husband in Mexico, and my husband was in jail for reasons I prefer not to mention. This left me pregnant and living on the streets. All I could think about were the dangers of living on the streets. My future looked bleak and grim, nothing like I expected. My head constantly hurt from dehydration, my stomach rumbled from being underfed. All I had to survive on were scraps from trash bins and the kindness of others. Under the pressure, I cried out, “God, what have I done to deserve this!”

I was beginning to have suicidal thoughts. What is there to live for anymore? was all I thought about. I tried to cut myself, hoping to lose blood and die. I drank overdoses of medicine, hoping to kill myself. But it didn’t work. Weeks in, I finally gave birth to my first son, Aulian, on the streets. Hearing him cry for milk that I couldn’t provide broke my heart. With renewed energy, I knew I had to survive for my son. I began asking around for more food and water, I tried to look for a job, I prayed to God and the Blessed Mother. I knew I had to do everything to let my son live. Despite the difficulties, I believed that one day it would be alright, I believed that God was going to help me.

Two months later, my prayers were answered. At the park where I slept, I met Josephine Rodriguez. One day, she asked me, “Hola, como es tu dia (Hello, how was your day)?”  I broke down and cried, pouring out my entire story to her. She listened and said that I could temporarily live in her house. I was overjoyed! “Gracias (thank you), Josephina,” I cried. And I truly meant it from the bottom of my heart.

For the next couple of months, while I looked for a job, Josephina took care of Aulian. “It feels good to know that my son is in safe hands,” I told her. One day, I met Rosa at a bus stop. She offered me a job. Soon, I was cleaning and singing at a Mexican restaurant. Over time, Josephina grew attached to me and my son, she treated us as if we were her own family. But, I wanted to find my own place in America, so with great difficulty I parted from Josephina. “I need to be independent, Josephina. I’m sorry, I need to leave,” I told her through tears.

I had to find a new home and job. I soon found a job cleaning at Lucky’s and also people’s houses. I met my second husband when I was hired to clean his house. The more we talked, the more we connected, and our relationship grew. Now, I’m the proud mother of three children. I work as a house cleaner and my husband works in construction.

It is a miracle how my life has turned out. During the darkest times, I never thought that I would survive, yet with hope and determination, and against all odds, I have given my children a brighter future.

Heroism Without Recognition

by Henry Sengelmann

When I first heard of this interview project for my Literature of Witness class, I approached it the same way that I did all school projects: unenthusiastically, but also with a desire to succeed.  To begin my project, I asked both of my parents if they knew any veterans, former refugees, victims of genocide, a victim of any horrible event in general, literally anyone who could possibly fit the description for this project.  The only candidate that either of them could generate was my maternal grandfather, a veteran who served in Korea; however, due to his dementia, interviewing him would be quite impossible. This was not the start to the project that I was hoping for.

A few days later, as time continued to pass, I knew I had to find an interviewee pronto.  My only option was to use one of the resources that Ms. Gonzalez had provided for us to find interview subjects, and I decided to use the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  I called and was quickly connected with a veteran who served in Vietnam, Leo. Leo answered the phone kindly and warmly and was interested in partaking in my interview.  We coordinated a time and date, and the interview was set.

I arrived at his house at 5 pm on Monday, February 26th.  Although I only drove for nine minutes, I was filled with anxiety the entire ride.  I had never truly spoken with a veteran, and the idea of it frightened me to death. So many horrible scenarios began flooding my brain: hat if Leo is an angry man who is irritated with my questions?  What if I ask too many personal questions and trigger a post-traumatic episode? What if instead there isn’t enough to talk about and we sit in awkward silence? I could only imagine the worst possible situations.  

As I approached the door, I passed Leo’s truck out front.  I knew it was his truck because it had three separate bumper stickers all commemorating his service in Vietnam.  This was the first of many clues that Leo took a lot of pride in his service, and it wasn’t the harrowing, hellish experience that I expected it to be.  I then passed the truck and rang the doorbell. Rather than seeing an old man slowly open the door to greet me, a dog ran out and began jumping on me. An older woman came out and retrieved the dog, apologizing for its eccentric behavior.  I learned that the dog’s name was Delilah, and it wasn’t even their dog; they adopted it for the owner while they were out of town. As an animal lover, the situation didn’t bother me, but instead relaxed me because I realized that this man had both a family and a loving dog.  Leo’s home was small; there were only a few rooms in the house, and my head was very close to the ceiling when I stood up. It was also dark, as I was visiting him during winter and there weren’t many lights. However, the atmosphere wasn’t scary or repelling. Instead, I felt safe and comfortable in Leo’s small home.  After I greeted the woman, she retrieved Leo and we sat together in Leo’s living room. I asked him if I could record the interview, and the answer was a definitive yes. This string of events gave me the confidence to commence my interview.

I began the interview with basic questions, knowing that the interview would progress and become more insightful and meaningful.  I first asked him when he served.

Leo answered, “I was in Vietnam in 1966-1967, and then again in 1968-1969.  I had one year of separation, and then I was asked to go back. I had a critical M.O.S., or military occupational specialty.  I was a refrigeration and air conditioning repairman.”

I had never even considered the possibility that someone could’ve served in Vietnam twice.  Although his job seemed pretty menial in his second term of service, I was still surprised that he had the courage to go back to Vietnam after a year of freedom.  I asked how old he was when he initially enrolled in 1966; he replied: 21 years old.

Leo then elaborated on his position at Vietnam.  He said that refrigeration was so vital because the soldiers needed both food, but also a place to store and maintain the corpses.  

As the interview continued, I reached the more impactful questions.  I asked, “What were some of your most memorable moments in your two terms serving in Vietnam?”

I could tell that the answer was clear to him, but he paused for a few moments.  As he gazed off it was obvious that he was positively reminiscing because he had a small grin.  He then responded, “On my second tour in Vietnam, I was running a refrigerated transport outfit.  I liked the first sergeant and we had access to good food.” He paused to let out a laugh, but returned to his story.  “So when we used to go over and load the food trailers up, and we found something good in there, we would take a little bit extra for us.  I would take it back and cook it for the guys…and we ate steak a little bit more often than some guys did…and we ate nice barbecue chicken…so my second tour for me was uneventful.  Like everyone else, we had a few bad times in there, nothing too bad. My first tour of duty was tough.”

I anticipated this story to be completely about bloodshed and violence, and I could not have been more wrong.  Rather than focusing on the brutality of war, Leo chose instead to tell this story. He emphasized the camaraderie that the war built as opposed to the lives it ruined, and I think this is when I began to see why Leo was so proud and open about his military service.  

I decided to then ask whether or not he believed the United States’ cause for fighting in Vietnam was justified.  Once again, Leo did not fail to surprise me.

He replied, “Yes, I did.  And unfortunately, we would’ve definitely won the war, no question about it.  Except, back home, with all of the anti-war sentiment that was going on, they kind of made us lose.  North Vietnam was just about to roll over and surrender to us.”

I would have never suspected that a veteran living in the Bay Area could’ve agreed with the cause, and would’ve advocated for the continuation of the war; the interview that I foresaw was completely the opposite.  Although I didn’t personally agree with Leo’s position, his patriotism and love for this country were inspirational. His passion was infectious.

I later asked about his return to the United States.  He said that his return wasn’t too tough; however, he did avoid certain cities due to ongoing demonstrations.  

“The activity in San Francisco and Berkeley — that’s where all the demonstrations were really going on.  People were treating you pretty bad. Here in the Peninsula, you didn’t really talk about it, and nobody asked.  You just stayed away from it.”

I had never known that demonstrators during the Vietnam War were both verbally and physically attacking soldiers.  Leo opened my eyes to a new perspective that isn’t often seen in Silicon Valley, and I appreciated him for it. I also felt disappointment on behalf of the soldiers who were risking their lives on behalf of this country only to be slandered for it.  

Leo then began discussing how he was currently still involved in the military.  Although I found it to be very honorable, I still asked him why now.

He answered, “For the kinship.  A veteran is a brother or a sister.  We are related that way.” He got choked up at the very end, and it reminded me of something: no matter the cause, soldiers are fighting for the lives of each other, and that’s what makes them heroes.  

Before I left Leo’s house, he showed me some of his many books in his collection.  On the cover of one of them was a medal of honor winner, and before I left, Leo told me that a medal of honor winner would never tell you they won the award.  As I left, Delilah tried to come with me, but Leo’s wife was able to control her just until I was gone.

My interview with Leo was both eye-opening and life-changing.  He taught me about courage, and how it is not only about doing dangerous acts but also about doing what one believes is right in the face of adversity.  He also demonstrated to me the camaraderie of service, and how soldiers love and fight mainly for one another as opposed to for their country. Lastly, he revealed what unbelievable heroes soldiers are.  He showed me not only their bravery but also their modesty. Celebrities and superstar athletes are inspirational, but Leo has now given me a far superior role model and hero: a soldier.