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Land of Our Dreams

Spring 2007 concert

Click here to go to Home Page for Concert Program

Reflections by members of the
Pennsylvania Immigrant & Refugee Women's Network

The program consisted of songs performed by the chorus,
interspersed with these spoken reflections by members of PAIRWN.

Copyright PAIRWN and its member women who wrote these reflections.
All rights reserved by the copyright owners.
Used here with their permission, for which we are deeply grateful.

Reflections of Childhood

Nelsy Acosta from Columbia

Childhood?  Mami, papi, sisters, brothers, friend, home. I can say many things about it... those are the most important. I think everybody has a particular childhood;  mine was just incredible. I was a child full of happiness with a great mom and dad and also a big house with many fruit trees and animals. I think that sometimes it was too much.

I remember a mango tree. We used to climb it and play on top of  it and take the green ones. They were so sour, we cut the mango in pieces and ate it with salt; still I have the taste in my mouth.

Friends... oh what wonderful memories about them. We played for hours beisbol, a las escondidas , el quemado. My home has something special — everybody wants to go and stay there for ever. Now I know it was the gift that not only the family but the house itself had. We were inspired for something bigger than us who reunited in harmony and did my home a warm lovely space in Cartagena, Colombia.

Thoughts of Leaving Home

Sarla Goel from India

When I left my country thirty some years ago, getting married to an immigrant in four days, not knowing each other, my parents—trusting him and his family—agreed to marry me to him.  At that time I had no knowledge of anything, like what a woman’s rights are and of equality, her own individuality.

Also as I was leaving my country to join my husband here in the States, I picked up some soil from the airport, not knowing the real meaning of my emotion, except being emotional as a patriot.  Even today I remember the time of my departure, how the waves of my mixed emotions were rising in my heart.  On one side, I was excited and looking forward to join my life partner, but at the same time I was sad for leaving behind my parents, brothers, and sisters.  The memories of my childhood games played with my friends, at that moment feeling like a stranger to myself, I couldn’t differentiate who was the stranger, me or them. 

Feeling those feelings in my heart, not knowing where my destiny will take me, I left my country, my homeland, to start the second segment of my married life.  Upon my arrival here in the States I had a culture shock.  Living in the dual culture, being dependent as well as independent, performing my duties as a traditional wife and a mother, but having no rights, my life’s journey took so many twists and turns and the burden to carry on my duties became so difficult that a wave of liberation started rising in the mute silence of my heart, body, mind and soul.  Making me to understand the real meaning of freedom, to know myself who I am, feeling feelings of my roots, uprooted from my dear ones by the distance not only geographically by emotionally as well.  Not being able to share the happiness and sorrows of my dear ones in time and them of mine.  Realization of the feelings of loneliness and disparity, feelings of not belonging to anyone, of not being intimate in a real sense.  Feelings of emptiness, of a void so deep.  Feelings of not having an identity, to be recognized as who I am.

In this dark night of my soul I remember the last words of my father, telling me at the time of my departure thirty some years ago, a verse which he himself wrote on a calendar he gave me at the airport.  On that calendar a newly wed bride was sitting in front of a lighted candle, underneath in Hindi was written:


            Aa shama teri jindgi

            Hai ek raat ki, tu hans

            Kar gujar de ya ro kar gujar de


I English he saying to me, dear daughter like the light of this candle will diminish over night so is life: 
Life doesn’t give you peace and happiness; it is up to you to will it.
Live gives you time and space; it is up to you to fill it.

 His voice has been a surviving force for me on this foreign land for the last thirty five years and tell you the truth that now being so long on this land I have seen and understood your country, I don’t know why it seems so familiar to me like my homeland. 

Same are the mornings so are evenings, same blue skies scattered its rainbow on this planet Earth.  Like an umbrella, so are the sunrays turning into gold your land and my land.  Still no matter what, my soul is always longing forever to go back home, where it started, to end.

Big Dreams

Belgica A. Jones from Ecuador

Since I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. I was an elementary school teacher in my homeland and I loved it! Then, in a matter of months, my parents got me a resident visa to come here.  The thought of joining my family made me very happy, but I also worry about whether this new world will be like I have seen in movies.  It was difficult to leave my country, my beloved little school and those adorable little ones that I came to love as if they were my own.

I canceled my trip twice, once, because I wanted to end the school year and then because of carnival. Carnival was my favorite celebration in my country.  I had to stay to enjoy one more carnival!  I thought, perhaps over there they won’t celebrate carnival.  While I was preparing for the trip, I thought, I know that life in another country could be difficult, but I am a teacher, I have education and I know English (well, I knew how to write). There will be plenty of good opportunity for me.  People usually tell you, yes, there is plenty of work, but they don’t tell you, yes, plenty of work doing dishes or cleaning toilets!!

Once I arrived here, I was in touch with reality, a reality that made me want to go back to my homeland.  There were too many barriers that I did not realize when back home. The weather, the food, the language and culture, I knew English, but I could not speak it.

Most of us immigrants are embarrassed to go back to our countries without some financial wealth or education, or at least a good knowledge of the English language.So, I stayed, fell in love, and married a wonderful gringo, the best way to get a crash course in English (joke).  After I learned to speak English, I went back to college here to kind of repeat my education. I was advised that since I have a heavy accent when I speak, it won’t be a good idea to be a teacher here. I insisted that I love to be a teacher and that I cry every time I see a school with kids. The advisor told me that will be better if I teach my own language in high school or college.

I live here 28 years and swam through many setbacks such as, learning the language and culture, fighting discrimination, trying to fit in, raising a family, washing dishes and cleaning toilets  etc, etc.   It took me about 18 years to get another degree here, then another 2 years to find a job that I like, maybe teaching?  At the present time, I teach part time in two colleges.  Did I fulfill my American Dream?

Excerpts from “The Path of No Return: A Refugee Story”

read by author Marica Prozo from Bosnia, between verses of Ja Sam Tvoy Svjedok
(this book can be purchased from your friendly local bookseller, or here at Amazon.com)

Their smile is no match to fully withstand betrayal, to withstand a knife in the back, and then not to bleed afterward. They cannot withstand being crucified by fear in their holy places. Ask them if they can forgive the extinguished torches on their holidays; if they can forgive the freedom of young eyes and the children's childhood carved into neighboring woods, dull pencils, wooden sleighs, and old shoes? Can they withstand bloddy borders within their gut and the hatred of other frightened children? Many young hearts were beating with hope, but the tanks arrived and leveled the meadows, leveled their beds, shot at their souls--into small hands, which could not withstand it. Many a bird died before the dawn, before the first shot, and thus found peace. Hatred, how long are you going to wake them up? How long are you going to tear the winged dreams? How long are you going to wash the white linen and punish them? Do not shove your hands into their gut because that hurts them. Do not tear the wings from a poem; they are their friends. The war is raging and the flames are reaching too far. There is no end to the suffering, pain, letters without a response, people without an address, people without a head. Intelligence does not reach that far; it does not have the power in the ninth circle. Hell is hell, and intelligence does not help there. A normal brain cannot explain the extremes of human madness that shock us.

People are standing in rows, being ruined. Someone raises his head and utters a condemnation but the voice cannot be heard. Hell is deep; it has firm walls of dangerous hatred; corspes with rifles and maimed unborn children as guards. I know well that you did not hate anybody. I will be your witness through time. I will testify at the horrible court of history that your murder was premeditated. They shot at your dream, at your song with which they grew up. They shoot at your children that they bore themselves. They mutiliated the monuments with knives and cursed the dead. They growled like dogs at the eternal pastures of your creators. They butcherd your womb even though you gave them birth. They demolished the bridges of your love; they made fences so they could more easily catch each other. They dug your eyes out so you would not recognize them, the cowards. One more "PIT" is being composed with a thousand chapters. A grave cannot be marked, only the woods remember--a bunch of flowers--that a brother killed a brother there. The highlands remember how the angels lifted off with burned wings and left the young ones. Then for a long time they flew over and cursed. In the hands of despair and malice, the torn out heart was still beating. Claws of hatred were shooting with the deadliest weapons and they were indestructible. Time did not step on them, and they did not grow old. People died without a heart and with crippled souls. The victims traveled down the rivers in paper boats; the mornings recognized them by stiff fingers and white eyes without memories. The waters hid them in their womb and gave them peace since they died suffering. Hills and woods became green overnight to hide a mountain of sadness and to prevent hatred, but their insides could not take it--the innocent bodies with open eyes and long fingers that scartched and begged the heavens for the punishment of the murderers.    

Poverty is spreading over them like white leaves of paper which tremble on the wings of the wind and in the bosom of the clouds. There is rain on the white hands of the plain and the trail of their handwriting disappears. They are torn by the snowstorm of a mad, foreign sky for which no one prepared them. Pressed into the traces of departure, they see only the changes of night and day. They are too old for what is in between. Thier time is calling, unknown people and events. The young ones are there, but they are not participating. Words and promises carry them, things they hide in their old pants. They are dreaming of their lives and little things make them happy. Loneliness and non-childhood caress them. Will they ever write poetry and become optimisits? Like framed portraits they tell of events, motionless. The painter has forgotten the mouth and the depth of a galnce. Evil is piling up, time is passing and they are just breathing. They waved with their wings behind poor, closed doors, and they practiced how to take off. They cried yet did not know that they had eyes. They touched their tears and broke their arms in order to protect their little hearts. No one ever remembered them when wars and attacks were contracted and agreements broken. The grown-ups had their private war with alot of hatred and revenge. The children were somewhere at the end of the column, and no one wondered whether they could endure that journey. Food was given first to the children. They thought that they were doing great things and were humane. The column moved slowly down the steep slopes of life. Behind it remained a white trace of rain on leaves of paper which stuck to the ground and died halfway down the road, somewhere between a promise and deceit. Little blank, white papers will forever flutter in the bundle of time. They will always be a strict reminder of hate and of the men who led the column.

A Refugee’s Story

Ho-Thanh Nguyen from Vietnam

I came to the United States of America on June 1, 1975 as a refugee from war-torn Vietnam, with my five younger siblings - the youngest was four years old.  Suddenly, at the age of twenty, I was not a sister anymore but a mother and father.   This was the turning point in my life, but I took it in stride to take care of my younger siblings.  I learned a new language, culture, and job. I worked hard to make sure my brothers and sisters had an education. 

In 1977, I married my husband. Bang is the great man in my life. He helped me to take care of my siblings, while at the same time we nurtured our own little family: MaryAnn Thien-Nhi and Michael Thien-Phuc.

The accomplishments for me were to see the blossom of education and achievement in life for my brothers, sisters and both of my children.  I am blessed and thank God for what He has done for my family and me.  Every day is a new day for me and I try to live it to the fullest.  Thank you the United States of America for giving my family an opportunity to succeed. 

Thoughts on the Future

Eun Young Won from Korea

My educational experience in the United States has been a journey that I am very proud of. I'll be graduating next Saturday, May12th, with my BA in psychology with a minor in art. Being a non-traditional student from Korea, I have had many challenging experiences. However, because of the challenges, I was able to learn and develop new ways of looking at the world around me. I came to realize that challenges such as language and the cultural differences I have struggled with for many years are not just barriers that disconnect me from people but they are also the strengths that help me create bridges with people. It was these bridges that enabled me to work through my educational experience.

This fall, I'll begin my new and exciting journey to earn my Masters' degree in art therapy. By making art, I constantly re-define my identity, my work as an immigrant woman, and most of all my way of seeing the world around me. The strength gained through this process provided me with the confidence to face challenges and allowed me to create images of people with beautiful stories, stories like we have heard during this concert. Through my education, I have become more willing to face challenges which has inspired me to see more and create more wonderful bridges with people.

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