Raul & Jennifer

  • Raul & Jennifer, New York, NY

“Both my dad and grandfather were in carpentry in Guyana. They bought their first house in Richmond Hill, and eleven family members lived in that same house. Everybody worked full time. My dad was the super of a building on 51st Street, and my mom worked wholesale for some furniture company. They were always in the city, for them it was all about being somewhere other than the house because so many people had to live together.”

Raul’s story:

My mother is from Ecuador and my father is from Uruguay. My mom came here in 1945 and my father came in 1976. They both came for a better opportunity. They had always been curious about the United States. Both had family members who came here before and told them that this was the promised land so they decided to take the trip. My mom still loves this country to death. She’s retired now, so she doesn’t have to worry about the workforce. She still sees the opportunity for me. My father went back to Uruguay. He was just tired of this lifestyle. Me personally, I love it. I feel like there are a lot of opportunities, you just have to go out and look for them. Nothing knocks on your door anymore like it used to, we don’t have the factories like we used to, you just have to look a little harder now.

I don’t know too much about my dad’s side but my mother was one of twelve children and she was always the adventurous one. She wanted to see what else was out there and so she didn’t want to stay in Ecuador. Her cousin was already here and told her how beautiful it was, so my mom got her visa and made her way over.

In terms of passing things on, I wouldn’t say that my parents did anything in particular. There is just sort of this sense of preserving the Spanish culture – we always go to the Ecuadorian parade, my mom always makes Ecuadorian dishes, but that’s about it.

When immigrants come to this country they tend to stay within their own groups, and I feel like that sometimes holds them back from finding out about what New York has to offer. When my mom came and settled in Sunnyside, a predominantly Spanish area, it took her time to actually learn English because it wasn’t necessary since her coworkers and friends all spoke Spanish.

So again, it’s great that you can come here and be around your people but I think it’s important to mix and match, particularly in New York. So I would go to school and bring some of that American culture home. If you arrive to this country at an older age, it’s a different dynamic. I think it’s just about familiarity.

Jennifer’s story:

Both my parents are from Guyana, South America. I don’t know what year, but they came in the 1980’s. It started with my grandparents. My mom is the oldest of five sisters. My grandparents came here first, mostly because the government was going through some issues in Guyana. They came here to get out of a bad situation and look for different opportunities. They were actually the first generation of our family to come.

Both my dad and grandfather were in carpentry in Guyana. Then they bought their first house in Richmond Hill, Queens, and eleven family members lived in that same house. Everybody worked full time. My dad was the super of a building on 51st Street, and my mom worked wholesale for some furniture company. They were always in the city, for them it was all about being somewhere other than the house because so many people had to live together. Everybody just had to make ends meet until they got their own places. I definitely think that was very difficult for them, having to work and worry about how they were going to make ends meet when they first got here, especially with such a large family.

I live in a part of Queens that is heavily populated by West Indian culture. My mom is a teacher for a public high school out here. There are certain things that we keep up when it comes to the culture or religion, or what we eat or do on the weekends. For instance, I can’t drink beer out of a can, that can’t happen. Something else we carry on from our culture is our wedding ceremony, it lasts thirteen days.

Growing up it was all about working hard and saving your money and going to school. Education was very important when they came here. It wasn’t something that was really offered in Guyana so they wanted us to pursue it all the way. You can come here from any country and find your little niche.

All of our stories are a part of the American Story. What's Yours?

#IHM2016 #ImmigrantHeritageMonth