Dara kept a file with the arrival stories, interview notes that she’d translated, edited, or in some way participated. The loose-leaf papers were arranged in alphabetical order with first names on a separate page so that they were anonymous. After a few months, she stopped taking notes but she placed the papers in a binder with the conference notes and other employment information from her first months. Years later Dara read through interviews and name lists. And she wondered:
Which paragraph was Ana’s, which story was Anh’s?
“I took my first plane ride when I came to USA. My father and cousin and many members of my family were waiting for me with a big welcome sign and loud voices. There was a party when we got to my father’s place with lots of food. The day before I came there was also a big party. They made a cake in the shape of an airplane. My father sponsored me and I started to work one month later. Now I will stay."
“I came by plane. Our mother was finally able to sponsor us. My cousins saw my brother Henry and I off at the airport. Henry had tried eight times before to come to the United States. I was sad to say goodbye to my grandmother. That was the last time that I saw any of my family. We have my mother and other family here. Before I left home, I was scared. When we got here, I became happy and excited.”
Was this Hang or Hilda’s story?
“When I crossed the river, I wore a life belt or preserver because I didn’t swim. My sister and I made the voyage which took several weeks. My brother gave us the address to go to for the entry ID and where to stay along the way. People helped us out when we had no money.”
Did Kim tell me?
“I came on a visitor’s visa to San Francisco where I had family. I met my husband in school. After a few years we were able to stay. I worked at McDonalds and had a baby. Then my cousins in Arlington said that they had work for my husband in construction. I am surprised by the rivers and bridges here.”
Was Karen describing this?
“I separated from my husband when my baby was five years old. My mama took the baby and I went to the US. I took many buses to get to Houston and then I flew to Washington DC. When I arrived, my friend found me two jobs. I was able to sponsor my whole family – my parents, brother, sister and my baby. Now my son has finished high school here and I want to apply for citizenship.”
Were these notes from Linh?
“First, we went to Los Angeles. I saw snow for the first time when we got to Baltimore. When I looked out the window of the airplane, I saw ice on the river and it was beautiful. I left because there was political instability in my home. I like it here better than Los Angeles.”
Was this Linda’s story?
“After the bus ride, I walked for six days to get to my sister-in-law’s house in Los Angeles. She thought life would be better for me in the US. I stayed with her for two months. Then I flew to Baltimore to be with my husband. He is working very hard.”
Was one of these Maria’s and the other Mariella’s story?
“When I was eighteen, my husband and I made it to the big river on the back of a farm truck. The truck was stopped and searched. We were discovered with no papers. We waited outside in the rain while the authorities discussed our case. Instead of putting us in jail they took all of our money and left us in the rain. A truck took us to a house in the town. There we were given a room out back. I cleaned inside the house and my husband worked out in the man’s metal factory. I would get water from the well and wash all day long. My hands got bloody and my husband cried looking at my hands.”
“When I was eighteen, my mother sent for me. She had come to the U.S. when I was nine and married. I was living with my stepmother who was nice and my father who was strict. I was shocked when I arrived in the United States. I was shocked to see my mother. I was surprised by everything. We went to the laundromat. I never saw a laundry machine before. I never saw a vacuum.”
by Ruth Ticktin
Ruth Ticktin coordinated international programs, advised and taught English in D.C. and Maryland since 1977. Writing and sharing stories, she is author: Was Am Going, Recollections Poetry & Flash (NewBayBooks 2022;) co-editor: Psalms (PoeticaPublishing 2020;) co-author: What's Ahead? (ProLinguaLearning 2013;) & contributor: BendingGenresAnth. 2018-19; Art/Covid-19 (SanFedelePress) WWPHWrites#4;PressPaus Press#6; MarylandBards 2023. Read more at https://rticktindc.wixsite.com/ruth.