Understanding Others

Throughout life, people encounter challenges or transformations that influence them to make a change. In some cases, people decide to leave their home countries and move to foreign places in hopes of reaching their desired outcomes. There are a variety of possible factors for this change, such as politics, family, better schooling, or the hope for a new beginning with better opportunities. Mass immigration to the United States has been prevalent throughout the past few years (pages 1-7 and 13 are most relevant to the interview topic). Because of this, it is important to understand some of the factors that may influence people to come to America.

Migrationpolicy.org presents more current statistics stating, “U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 43.3 million, or 13.5 percent, of the total U.S. population of 321.4 million in 2015… In 2015, 1.38 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, a 2 percent increase from 1.36 million in 2014.” However, what we need to understand is that these are not just adults. These statistics represent families, including children, that often attend our schools. It is important for us to understand their stories in order to better serve them as teachers. It is our responsibility to give every student equal education and provide them with strategies to succeed.

 The situations that influence people to immigrate are realistic for anyone. That being said, the overarching question I am posing is: when do the benefits of leaving one’s country outweigh the costs?

Maria Rosa Russo came to America from Argentina in 1968. With her husband, Alberto, already in the new country, Maria Rosa took her two children, 3-years-old and one-year-old, to a country she had never been before. Knowing only Spanish language and Argentine culture, she was determined to give her children a good life. She believed America had better educational opportunities and people had the capacity to reach their goals as long as they worked hard. She appreciated this work ethic and wanted to present these opportunities to her children. In the end, she would have done anything for the future of her family.

“When I talk to the teacher I had a dictionary in my hand and a pen and pencil. I look and I write down what I wanted to tell her and then she write it down for me, and that is how I communicated. But I want always to be present for my children’s education because I tell the teacher ‘I don’t speak English’ but to help him but if he needs help we can get it from someone else because he didn’t speak any English at that time.”

I have known my boyfriends family for as long as I have known him. I met his Nona, Maria Rosa, one week into our relationship. Since then, she has been a grandma figure in my life. To her, I was part of her family from the moment I walked through the door in November 2011. Every time I see her she offers to make me food or invites me over to her house. I decided to take her up on her offer.

On Saturday, March 4, 2017, my boyfriend and I were greeted at the door to a one-story, two-bedroom home in Mission Viejo, California. A lingering hug and a kiss on the cheek were waiting for us from a short, black-haired latino woman. This was something I had gotten used to after the five years of knowing Nona. With her came the sweet smell of pastries and rose potpourri. Before I could get both feet through the door she was already asking me if I wanted Mate tea. However, she quickly remembered I didn’t like Mate tea and offered me water. Her husband had gotten up from the leather, reclinable couch to greet us. He, their son, and their grandson were watching a soccer game narrated in Spanish. Nona ran around to get everything that her guests needed; making sure we were all taken care of. She was always the hostess. This was the typical scene of every Saturday morning, a house alive with the hustle and bustle of people.

Argentina, Family, and the Move

“Like I say, you go as far as you are willing to work here.”

 Bailey: Can you describe the day you left? Do you remember?

Nona (Maria Rosa): When I left Argentina? Yes. It was November… 12th. I went to Buenos Ares, the city, our capital of the county. And talked to the council, the American council. He give me the visa, and I have a medical report from them, and I was with my mom. From then November 13 I get in the plane with my two kids and arrive here in America on November 14th.

B: So it was a few day process?

N: Yes. It is because I wanted to do it all at once. I remember exactly the days and everything you know, I remember my mom just seeing me good-bye. That was hard. That was the harder part, but I choose my destiny, and my destiny is my kids. Kids first. When you are a mom, nothing else is better than just do what it best for your kids.

B: Was all of your stuff over in America already or did you have to take it on the plane with you?

N: No, no, no. I just get only clothes. We just leave the house empty over there just in case. But we sold the car, the furniture, everything. We sold everything because you cannot bring everything. You are limited in the plane and that’s it.

B: I did some research about Argentina and about the political stuff that was happening, did that effect your move…

N: No. No. Not at that time. No. No. Not at that, no. But it took us two years to make all the papers to be able just to come here.

B: Did that [the politics] reinforce your choice to move?

N: No, not really. At that point it wasn’t really bad. Sometimes the news makes things worse than what they really are.

B: Why did it take so long [to move]?

N: Well, because just to come legally and be part of the country that’s what it takes. Because what they did is they just research if you are communist or you know…

B: Was it easy to come into America during that time? You said it took you two years?

N: To make the papers, yes.

B: What was that process like?

N: Well, a lot of, they did a lot of investigation about if you don’t have any ties with communists, especially since my grandparents were from Europe so they investigated all of us and our work and everything. If you don’t have any illegal things over there, if you are not part of the military, or at that time there were some rebellions so if you were part of that. That’s what they just checked the most. Then we had to translate in English every paper that we did by a legal agency.

B: What was your, did you have one main reason that you wanted to come or was it just time to leave?

N: No, just the reason, just to see the opportunity this country [United States] have to offer and we realized that here you can go as far as you are willing to work for it.

B: And that was different than Argentina you thought?

N: Ya. Yes. We were more limited.

B: Did you have a goal when you came to America? Like you wanted to do something or accomplish something?

N: Yes. Of course. We wanted to have a better house because we owned a house over there and a little business and a car. But then here it was going to be much better. And of course learn another language and let our children explore it you know, in another culture, other peoples… Be able to educate our kids, pay for their college, have a home, a business, be free. That is what the main goal. Just to see them well educated. And we succeeded in that because we are well off and the children are well educated. And the grandkids, now with the grandkids. The 7 grandkids.

B: And you were willing to work.

N: Yes, yes. To reach our goal, and we did.

B: So you had a big picture in mind.

N: Yes, yes. Now we have a family again, but it was hard.

B: Was it hard making the decision to take yours kids away from Argentina?

N: Um, not really. Not really. Because, like I say, we just was looking for the better future for them. We just was checking Australia and other places just to go. And then we just see that this is the best, the best move and the best place just to be.

B: How did you feel leaving your friends and family?

N: Oh very sad. Sad. But, I never knew that it was going to be that hard. Just to leave the family because we were much attached to family and my mother living across the street, my mother in law, you know, and my cousin, my brothers, everybody there. I was just thinking about the kids. And we didn’t see any future for them over there as much as we just saw it in this country.…When I was leaving my mom told me “what about Christmas” because we always spend Christmas together, and I said “Oh mom, don’t just think about Christmas, of course I will be here for Christmas.” It was a month. You see when you are 20 you don’t see things and reality.

B: Remember in Christmas time you told me the story of your first Christmas in America, can you tell me that again?

N: Well, ya. It was very sad because I thought that I was going back home for Christmas, but that time, that was home to me. We didn’t have much at that point. Then I just had for a Christmas tree a branch. It was a branch that I just put in a can with some soil and then I put the branch in there, and it was the Christmas tree for the kids with 6 bulbs. 6 ornaments only, but at least they have a Christmas tree.But then we went to bed at 10:00. We always wait until 12 o’clock over there, in Argentina, the Christmas Eve and then we wait for Christmas day, but then we didn’t here. It was very, very hard. But it was worth it.

B: Did your kids miss your family from Argentina?

N: Well, Fabian was the only one because he was 3-years-old. Mariana was just a year and a half. But, Fabian used to cry to go to grandma’s house. He just keeps asking me “let’s go to grandma’s house.” I say “It’s raining.” “Well, Nona’s going to get a taxi.” And he is the one that just really missed it.

B: Did they ever come visit you here?

N: Some of them, but not often and not many of them. It is a lot of money to come here, it is expensive.

B: Did you ever want a job?

N: No, no, no. I wanted to stay with my kids. I didn’t want to leave my kids with anybody. I just babysit. Babysit at home and I did sewing, but at home. Always at home with the kids.

B: You guys just came.

N: Yes. He [Alberto, her husband] has a friend over here because he was working over there in John Deere, it’s an American company, and most them were just coming over here. And in all the facilities in that company it was American, so that’s why we see through that what we expect here. So he came first and one of the friends, when he arrived, that friend took him to his apartment, and then the next day he get the social security and just, I think it was a few days after that he started working. Because at that time the job that he was doing, it was needed in this country. At that time is when the people were able to just make the papers to come over here to the job. If the job is needed in the country then they can just come.

B: How long was that he was here without you?

N: Um, well it was supposed to be 30 days, but then the papers get more complicated and it took me 6 months.

B: Was that hard? Because you had to raise your kids by yourself when he was here?

N: Well, but over there I had my mom across the street, my mother in law next door, my brothers, my cousin. Everybody was around, so it wasn’t that bad, but something that we never expect to happen because we had never apart from each other since I was 15 years old.

B: Was it ever difficult to stay in the United States?

N: Yes and no because when we have friends, and then we buy a house three years after we just been here we buy a house in American neighborhood. I have never lived in a Spanish neighborhood because I want to learn the language and be part of the country. I told Alberto if not then I go home. Then we have all very nice neighbors, they knew I didn’t speak English well so they would come over and help me. The children were part of the neighborhood in age. We were the only one who had the pool. The swimming pool so everyone come to our home. Of course, that made it easier for me to live here.

B: That probably made the move easier.

N: Yes, of course. They come and ask me to go with them to take the childrens to school because we just have a walk about four blocks just for the children to go to school. Then it was nice because I didn’t understood what they were talking all the time, but it was nice because they pushed me to go out and go with the kids, really nice memories from that neighborhood. We were there for 21 years. Then our children graduate from the university. That is what I just, my big concern not to move again. Just settle there in that home.

B: Where was this? What city?

N: Buena Park… It was 20… I lived in that house so 26 years.

B: Did you ever doubt, like was there ever a really hard time where you though “I made the wrong decision”?

N: No. Not ever. No. No. No. No. Because we always work and have what we need, ok. Then we always use common sense. We budget our money and our way of living was very easy.

The Kids

“Welcome every one of their friends, like make it family.”

B: How old were they [the kids] at that time [of the move]?

N: Um, Fabian, our son, was 3. Um, Mariana was a year and a half.

B: Did that affect your move even more? Now that you were going to have 2 kids you knew you had to go

N: No, we didn’t think in that. You know when you are 20-years-old you don’t think much

Nona’s house decor. Photo by Bailey Blair.

about that, you know. You look at the opportunity and you just use the resource the country offer and that’s what we decided to do the move.

B: Did they see their home then in America rather than Argentina?

N: Oh here, definitely.

B: So it would have been hard for you to take them away.

N: Yes. They speak the language and they love the family over there and really found out what family is really all about when we just spend that much time. But they had other opportunities and what they want for their life. There is no better place in the world where you can make a real living. Like I say, you go as far as you are willing to work here. Not in other places because the country limits you. No matter how much, how hard you work. Like in Argentina and other places the country limits you because you don’t have everything at your hands like here.

B: Did you try really hard to keep the Argentina culture in your family and around your house? How did you do that?

N: Well, speaking the language, open our home to their friends, and with the food. I keep all the food. Welcome every one of their friends, like make it family.

B: And that’s very like culture in Argentina.

N: Yes, yes. Just to get together and to have tea, what we call Mate, and just conversation, get around the table and talk.

B: Does the food keep you connected to Argentina?

N: Yes. I love to cook, but mostly my food. My kids love it, and their kids and now their girlfriend and boyfriends, the spouse.

B: I love it! Did you know English at that time [of the move]?

N: No. That was the worst part.

B: Really. What was the hardest, like do you remember a specific moment that was really difficult?

N: The hard thing is just going out or going to the store and not knowing what to buy because you don’t know anything. You don’t know what is on the shelf and then people talk to you and you don’t understand, you cannot communicate. That is hard. Then especially when we have a neighbor with two little kids like Fabian and Mariana, and Fabian come one day and says “Mom, this girl don’t understand what I say. I want to play with her and I talk and then she just looks at me.” And that was hard, that was very, very hard. Then he started kindergarten, and I have to talk to the teacher because I don’t want to just leave my kid and don’t speak English and stay at home. When I talk to the teacher I had a dictionary in my hand and a pen and pencil. I look and I write down what I wanted to tell her and then she write it down for me, and that is how I communicated. But I want always to be present for my children’s education because I tell the teacher “I don’t speak English” but to help him but if he needs help we can get it from someone else because he didn’t speak any English at that time. He went to the kindergarten with no English. He absorbed everything. He just learned fast.

B: Did he learn before you did?

N: More kinda the same, but he learned better and more than me. I learned through television because I never watched TV in Spanish or any Spanish radio, nothing. It was only English. That was very hard. It made me cry many times because you don’t know what they’re saying but I just said, “I have to learn English.” That is the way that I did it. Watching the show I Love Lucy. That is what I watched all the time with the kids… Speaking Spanish only at home. But then after their friends come over, no that’s alright.

B: Did you ever ask them to help you learn English or did you do it without?

N: No because they were so little then no way they can. They just repeat. The learning was repeating and for what they seen on TV or the kids around, but that’s it.

B: How do you feel about the kids now with their jobs and families?

N: Oh just so, I just feel blessed. I feel blessed every day.

B: Did you ever want to have more kids when you came to America?

N: Well before we were really plan our family of having 4 kids, 4 or 5, but then I wasn’t able to have more than 2…  We was going to adopt over there in Argentina, but not here because we were very limit in our budget. We didn’t have enough just to adopt more kids and give them a good life.

B: Did you think it would ever end up this way or is it better than expected?

N: It is better than what I expected because when I thought when they get married they just will move, and then we plan just to back to Argentina four months of the year and sometime here. We planned to have houses in both places and go back and forth. Then my kids they both move, leave, marry and they just stay close to use. Then I start having the grandkids. I adore to have the grandkids over all the time. So I don’t have nothing to miss from over there. Just my mom and my dad, but I went just to see them when they were alive. But then what I had, I still have friends from my youngest year but then I realized that after a while the only thing we have in common is the past. Because the present we’re different. The future it doesn’t even the same for them and us because we just grow in different countries, different place, different mentality. But it is nice to go back home once in a while.…We succeeded in that because we can’t ask for more. They just clean, they were a good student, good kids, never getting into any trouble. They are clean kids. And the grandkids, 7 of them, they still the same. They are very much family oriented. They all like to come over here, like you today. Just like I say, I count my blessings every day.

The Grandkids

“He is tesoro.”

Nona’s house decor. Photo by Bailey Blair.

 B: You said your mom was a big part in the kid’s lives, did you want to be that part in your grandkids lives also?

N: Oh yes, yes, yes. And I did because I always have them with me. I remember getting the four of them and taking to the park, to the lake. Take them to different places. Then we have vacations, family vacations, to Argentina and going and then have family vacations all together. Different places in the world.

B: Did you want to make sure the grandkids went to Argentina? Have they all gone?

N: Yes. We went all together. The 13 of us we went all over there. Then we just rent a ranch. We just get all, most of the family, we have family all over Argentina, but most of them they make there and they were over there.

B: So you have a big family over there?

N: About 200 people.

B: What was it like when Thomas was born?

N: Just having heaven in my arms. Oh wow, it was just really, really good. Experience and feeling I cannot express but I adore that kid, oh my. Mariana has C section and she lived in Buena park and we live in Mission Viejo, so I had to get up at 4 o clock and go over there before her husband go to work and stay with her and Thomas. So I pamper him all the time.

B: Well now you have 7 more and then you will have 7 extra. So once everyone else is married you will double again.

N: Yes. That is what the kids they used to, all of them always with me, they were in the car and talking about this and that. Then they were talking, Thomas and Victoria, the oldest ones, were talking about how many we are already and he say “Well when we get married,” think, Thomas talking about money, and says “when we get married we are going to be 14. Then if we have 2 kids each we are going to be 28, 34, almost 40 people. Then my brother are going to be a famous baseball player,” for David and then Nicholas too, “then I will manage their money and I will buy a ranch where we all can get together once a year for the holidays. Then I will buy a house in the same neighborhood for each one of you. So we all are going to live in the same neighborhood.” Because they were little, only 4 before the other ones were born, and they always have those stories. Planning always just to be together because they always together in my home. I always want that they think as family they have to spend time together with our things I make some Argentinian churros or muellos and they all come over. Then they make those with me, and then they drink our tea.

B: Do you think they will all stay here when they grow up? What do you think all the grandkids will do?

N: I think they very much stay around. See, Thomas is married and he is already here. So he could be having another opportunity but he stay. I think most of them will stay around. Like they do now, they always come over here when they have the chance they come over here and visit Nona.


“Sometimes you guys since you are born here you don’t see how much you have or appreciate it. We do.”

 B: When you were younger did you think you would stay in Argentina your whole life? Or did you want to move away?

N: I never thought of that. No. But I always liked in my English book, because we were always studying English over there, I always admired the houses here, the way, I always had that in my mind. But I never thought to just leave it. Especially, after I had the kids and the family there, but then when you are 20-years-old you dream a lot.

B: Did you ever think you would go back to Argentina?

N: We did and 10 years after because we come here reaching out for 10 years. Just make the move, a better life, get the children educated then more economically. Then 10 years after we just back over there for visiting we spent 3 month travel all over the country where we just found better opportunity for the kids and we didn’t see it so we just back here, back home because we have a home and everything, the business back here, we left it for 3 month but then we just make a decision, the 4 of us, with the kids. Fabian was 16, almost 16, and Mariana 14. So the 4 of us made the decision just to stay here forever. It was a good decision…  No, just like what I say I feel blessed for what I have, happy with our decision 50 something years ago to come over here because we get more than what we expect, honestly. We work more, I work more than I expect. Anyhow we just reach our goals.

B: Well unless you have anything else to say…

N: No, just the only thing that I want to say is I am glad. I am glad that I came here and see all the opportunities. Sometimes you guys since you are born here you don’t see how much you have or appreciate it. We do.

“We do.”

Photo by Bailey Blair.

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