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Oral History: Immigrant Essay

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2021

Interview notes

The interviewed person is a single Philippine-born woman Amihan (the name was altered due to the considerations of confidentiality). She is 40 years old, and she has been living in the US for 15 years while employed as a babysitter and paid under the table. American speaks English fairly well, but she does not have any legal immigration status, and she is worried about the prospect of being deported back to the Philippines. The following are the notes that I made during the interview, and also some of the interviewee’s most notable responses to the ten open-ended questions:

  • Amihan pointed out that she never felt sorry about her decision to move to the The US, in search of some better life.
  • Amihan expressed her lack of comfortableness with the fact that many native-born Americans are obsessed with enrichment while paying very little attention to spiritual matters.
  • According to Amihan, the foremost challenge she experienced while trying to adapt to living in America was being required to overcome the language barrier. What made things even more difficult, in this respect, is that throughout her stay in the US, the interviewee remained strongly affiliated with the Filipino community.
  • After having been asked to expound on how come she never considered marriage, as the mean of becoming legalized in the US, Amihan said that she is not at liberty to make any particularly drastic life-altering steps – all because she must pay on a monthly basis to the ‘people who brought me here’.
  • During the interview, Amihan positioned herself as a strongly apolitical person. Even though the interviewee lived in the US for 15 years, she never experienced any desire to learn about the functioning of the country’s governmental/social institutions.

Personalized narrative

Amihan’s story

In light of the conducted interview and the earlier provided notes, Amihan’s immigration-related experiences appear somewhat formulaic. After having reached the age of 25, Amihan realized that if continuing to live in one of the most impoverished rural regions of the Philippines, she would be doomed to suffer from poverty for the rest of her life. Moreover, she would never be able to help her divorced mother and three younger sisters. In its turn, this prompted the interviewee to consider moving to the US – the country where a few of her childhood friends were rumored to have succeeded in finding a well-paid job. Because of her lack of education and money, Amihan did not have even a slight chance to qualify for legal immigration to America. Therefore, she did not have any other choice but to strike a deal with local gangsters, specialized in smuggling people in Canada and the US. In return for being brought to Mexico on a fishing boat, helped to cross the US border, and aided in finding the job as a babysitter, Amihan pledged to pay 50% of whatever the money she makes to these gangsters’ American-based affiliates, throughout the entirety of her stay in the country. As the mean of ensuring Amihan’s full compliance, she was stripped of all of her IDs on the American side of the border.

Amihan’s attitudes

The main reason why Amihan decided to move to the US is that while in the Philippines she was barely able to meet the ends, because of the virtual absence of any employment in one of the country’s rural areas, where the interviewee used to reside prior to coming to live in America. In other words, it was the opportunity to make much more money than she could have ever dreamed of in her native country, which prompted Amihan to join the ranks of illegal immigrants in the US. At the same time, however, the interviewee appears rather alienated from the highly consumerist lifestyle of most people in this country. When asked what she thinks about the Americans, in general, Amihan replied: “Most Americans believe that one’s worth, as an individual, is reflective of the amount of money that he or she happened to have in the bank”.

This, in turn, can be seen as the subtle indication of the interviewee’s endowment with the holistic (collectivist) mindedness – something that makes perfectly good sense, given the specifics of the person’s rural upbringing. Apparently, the ‘rural’ workings of Amihan’s psyche did contribute rather substantially towards making it quite impossible for her to be able to socialize with the native-born Americans at ease. The interviewee indicated that, because of being employed as a babysitter, she can support her numerous relatives in the Philippines, and that she is not going to risk a chance of impeding these people’s well-being by trying to become legalized. This implies the person’s deep-seated fatalistic outlook on life, which is again quite consistent with the overall ‘rural’ quality of her mentality.

Amihan’s ethnographic evaluation as an immigrant

Once in America, it did not take too long for the interviewee to secure a babysitting job – despite the fact that upon having arrived in the country, she could only speak basics in English. As it appears from the obtained responses, those in charge of providing the essentially illegal ‘Filipino babysitting services’ are commonly in cahoots with the ICE and police – something that makes it possible for the concerned business to thrive.

Because of her industriousness and her willingness to keep a low profile, it did not prove too challenging to Amihan to make a comparatively good living in the US and to spare her Philippines-based relatives from having to cope with hunger on a daily basis. At the same time, however, Amihan has failed at assimilating within the society, as its integral part. It is understood, of course, that the interviewee’s illegal status did play a strong role in predetermining such her inability. This, however, does not seem to have been the most decisive incapacitating factor – the main reason as to why Amihan was never able to become fully adjusted to the American way of life had to do with the innate workings of her mentality, which reflect the particulars of the interviewee’s rural upbringing.

For example, throughout the interview, Amihan exhibited her strong adherence to the so-called ‘traditional values’, suggestive of the affiliated people’s tendency to address life-challenges in the highly ritualistic (or ‘magic’) manner, which has always been deemed the indication of existential primitiveness in individuals. In this respect, we can refer to the Trobriander Islanders – the people whose daily lives never cease revolving around a number of the continually recurring ‘magical’ rituals, perceived representing the value of ‘things-in-themselves’: “Trobrianders believe that… the magic only becomes effective when the words are chanted again and again throughout the night or for several days” (Weiner 71).

However, one’s tendency to indulge in practicing ‘magical rituals’ (which in Amihan’s case sublimated in her strong sense of half-animistic/half-Catholic religiosity) is essentially archetypal – while relying on growing crops/hunting-gathering as the survival-enabling activities, people naturally grow to revere/rear weather. However, being unable to control the weather, they strive to ‘appease’ is – something that predetermines the emergence of quasi-religious rituals all over the planet (Weiner 87). This, in turn, implies that the holistically minded immigrants are naturally inclined to have trouble while trying to adapt to the highly urbanized realities of contemporary living in America.

Another notable motif, which defined the discursive sounding of many of Amihan’s responses, extrapolates the interviewee’s belief that it is thoroughly natural for men to enjoy dominance over women, and that one’s willingness to act in the politically active manner is pointless since nothing depends on a single individual. This can be interpreted as a yet additional clue that the interviewed person was bound to find the task of integrating into American society rather challenging. After all, the concerned psychological trait, on Amihan’s part, points out to the fact that as in the case with most rural-dwellers, the workings of her mind continued to remain largely ‘biological’ (as opposed ‘societal’) – the person’s American experiences did not seem to have had much effect on Amihan’s perception of the surrounding social reality. We can again make reference to the person’s rurally based upbringing, as such that helps to explain the observation’s phenomenological subtleties.

In rural areas, people rely on the sheer strength of their biological instincts while striving to ensure that they have plenty of food and proving themselves socially fit. This explains why the world’s highest rate of fertility has traditionally been associated with the most impoverished rural regions in the ‘developing’ countries – children represent much of a utilitarian asset as agricultural helpers. However, the sheer ‘biologicalness’ of rural-dwellers presupposes that the societies they form cannot be anything else but extremely patriarchal/male-chauvinistic (Ong 388). The reason for this is apparent – the dynamics in the strongly ‘biological’ (rural) human societies are fundamentally the same as those in the societies of primates. And, as biologists are well aware of, in time free from looking for food, aspiring for dominance, and mating, alfa-males preoccupy themselves with humiliating/abusing much physically weaker females.

One of the possible reasons why the change of social environment did not cause Amihan to reconsider its adherence to the dubious values of ‘female submissiveness’ may have to do with the morphogenetic subtleties of her brain wiring, as a person whose female-ancestors have been subjected to the societally induced ‘cerebral sorting’ throughout the centuries. In fact, this clue may also explain why, as practice indicates, even the representatives of the third and fourth generations of ethnic immigrants to the US tend to exhibit a number of clearly defined atavistic psychological traits, commonly associated with the survivalist realities of rural living.

What has been said earlier suggests that, apart from her illegal status, there were indeed some objective reasons for Amihan to experience certain difficulties while adapting to the American way of life. This, however, does not mean that she is ‘unfit’ for living in this country – just as happened to be the case with the rest of the recently arrived legal and illegal ethnic immigrants.

Works Cited

Ong, Aihwa. “Japanese Factories, Malay Workers: Class and Sexual Metaphors in West Malaysia.” Power and Difference: Gender in Island Southeast Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. 385-422. Print.

Weiner, Annette. “Marriage and the Politics of Yams.” The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. 81-96. Print.

“Youth and Sexuality.” The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. 65-79. Print.

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