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I attend Mills College and am a psychology major. I met Valeria my second year through some psychology classes we were taking together. I got to know her a little bit better through a self-defense class that we took together.
Valeria was born in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She has one sibling and her parents are both in the psychology field. She is following in her parents’ footsteps and is currently studying biopsychology.
Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and lies near the Kyrgyz Mountains. Throughout the years, Kyrgyzstan has had many internal conflicts, primarily having to do with the structure of parliament. While Valeria and her family lived there, there where many political protests and the government was unstable.
Valeria grew up in a middle class family with her mother, aunt and cousin until she was eight years old. Her mother married when she was nine years old and her stepfather became one of her great role models until her mother and stepfather separated. She came to the United States because of two main factors.
The push factor was that while she was still in her home country, there were several internal county conflicts that caused revolutions. As Valeria explained, the first revolution that she saw was very violent. The second revolution that Valeria was still present for was in 2010; this revolution left her family in terror, seeking alternative methods of survival. They were looking to move elsewhere.
Valeria explained that the revolution was so bad that her university, American University of Central Asia, was closed several times, because it was under attack. Since then, her family was thinking of moving to Russia, in which they would be accepted as refugees. Her family also decided that this was the best time for her to come to the United States to study. This is when Valeria decided to apply for a community college, and she was accepted into Mount San Antonio College.
Education was a factor that always pulled Valeria toward the United States. Although she did not know when she would come to the United States, she always planned on coming to America because this would be the only way she could pursue higher education. During high school, she had still prepared her tests and learned English so that she would be ready when the time came. Her parents were not able to move because they could not leave their jobs and instead stood through the end of the revolution.
Valeria was overjoyed to leave her home country; she was excited to leave the poverty of it. She was excited for the newness of the United States and was extremely excited her first two weeks here. She was scared, but mainly for school and the pressure to do her best. She felt pressure because others were investing in her financially and she did not want to disappoint anyone. As time went on, Valeria’s first couple months here became difficult, because she grew homesick.
She first lived with her parents’ friends in Alto Loma, California in a wealthy neighborhood for her first two months. She then moved into the dorms to experience the college life. She is an introverted person and mostly kept to herself while living in the dorms. She also moved to Diamond Bar, and then Walnut so that she could be closer to her community college. She now resides in Oakland, California, in which less than five percent of the population is from the Middle East (Bloch and Gebeloff, 2014).
Valeria recalled being scared and excited about the diversity in the United States. She had previously only been exposed to Slavic people, Russians, and Asian people; once here she was “amazed at how beautiful people are.”
At first, Valeria felt like an “alien” and that others could detect that she was different, but when she would compare herself to other Caucasians, she saw no difference. The reason why she felt like this was because of her accent, but she later saw that people were accepting of her accent. She observed that people are not so judgmental of her accent, people were more interested and supportive and would ask where she was from; she received positive reinforcement about her accent. She was afraid that someone would judge her or mock her because this is what she was accustomed to in her home country, hearing others mock others because they could not speak well.
She feels that she witnessed less overt racism here than in her home country. During the revolution in her home country, she witnessed and heard racist comments about the Kirgiz people and also about Russians. Although she feels that racism is not as bad in the United States, she has witnessed it here. She recalled a moment that altered her image of the United States, she was with her partner, who is Pakistani, when he was stopped for no real reason other than the police profiling him. She started to be in denial because “I had a dream picture of America as not racist what so ever, […] but we cannot get fully away from racism, which is just pathetic.”
Racism and the lack of a stable government have made Valeria feel as if she is not a part of her home country. She has always felt disconnected from her home country, “It felt like the people were just lost and marginalized” and feels that she “wouldn’t be able to explain what [her] culture was.”
Valeria has always been a studious person, and feels that she is more connected to the American academic community. She likes the values here, or at least the values of the academic sphere. She feels that people are more helpful and cheerful, which at first was shocking to her. She particularly mentioned the difference in the relationship between professors and students here in the United States and her home country. In her home country, within education, there was a main emphasis on authority, “you’re supposed to figure it out yourself.” She found that professors were more encouraging and want to talk to students here. This is why school has been her favorite experience while in the United States
She feels that the cheerfulness has grown on her and states that in this sense she does feel Americanized. She realized this when she went back home, she was more cheerful and this stood out because people in her home country were staring at her weirdly; it was unusual for people to have another person randomly say hi to them and smile; “they’re living hard lives and it isn’t part of the culture.”
She misses her mother and her sister but does not miss much of her home country.
She does like it here, but does not know if she will stay here. She wants to be able to offer something back to the country she is living in. Valeria plans to finish her education here in the United States. She will major in biopsychology, and plans to attend graduate school. She would also like to take a year off to go back home, do research, and help her mother.
Valeria’s story is exemplified in the writing of Ronald Takaki. He states, “We originally come from many different shores, and our diversity has been the center of the making of America… together we inscribe a larger narrative” (428). In other words, Valeria’s story is part of a larger narrative. She is part of American history.
Bloch, Matthew and Gebeloff, Robert. “Immigration Explorer.” New York Times.01 April 2014.
“Bishkek.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/66858/Bishkek>.
“Kyrgyzstan in 2005.” Britannica Book of the Year, 2006. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1090374/Kyrgyzstan-Year-In-Review-2005>.
“Kyrgyzstan in 2010.” Britannica Book of the Year, 2011. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1732326/Kyrgyzstan-Year-In-Review-2010>.
“Kyrgyzstan Timeline.” World Atlas, 2011.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 1993.
Jazmin Romero wrote this story for Professor Maggie Hunter’s Sociology of Immigration course at Mills College.
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