The following interview was conducted at the Day Worker Center of Mountain View by Castilleja School students, Aimee An and Heejin Hahn.
RICHARD: My name is Richard. My mom—she is from Sweden, Stockholm and my dad is from Samoa. Do you know Samoa?
HH: I think so. A little bit.
RICHARD: I will bring the map to show you. I’m a mixture of European and Polynesian. So I’m just still trying to rebuild how the European lady met with a Polynesian guy. They have me. [laughs] My mom is from Sweden and she traveled a long long long long long long long way and she met with my dad up in Samoa.
RICHARD: And my mom, she was born in Sweden. Her father was a civil engineer during European Aid – have you heard about European Aid? So they were funding the Pacific to build the dam. Have you heard about the dam?
HH: I don’t think so.
RICHARD: The one they built to store the water for the electricity.
HH: Oh okay.
RICHARD: So my grandfather was going to Samoa with his daughter to take his daughter for a vacation. Then they stayed in Samoa and my dad met with my mom. Then they had us, so I grew up in the island and New Zealand. Right now I’m turning thirty years old and I’m a marine engineer.
HH and AA: Oh!
RICHARD: So the reason why I am here. I wasn’t…was not supposed to be here. But I was ..my ship came from here [pointing to the globe] because I travel a lot in Europe. They drove me into Port of Oakland. So I came here to meet someone. But it didn’t work out and my ship went back, so that is what brought me to America. The reason why I am here is to get a job, save the money and to pay my fare to go back.
AA: So how long have you been here?
RICHARD: I arrived here on May the thirteenth.
AA: So you told us about you grew up in Samoa. So was there something – a special memory of your childhood or something that you remember from the time you grew up in Samoa?
RICHARD: Yeah. Family. Families get together and have families from the kids to the parents. Everyday you have school. You don’t miss school. Because where I grew up is not the same as American life. Here there is a law against beating kids, beating students. In my homeland, there is no law. The teacher can beat the kids. Do you know what I mean? What kind of beat? Beat to learn. You know. If our teacher wasn’t strict to us the students, I’m not going to be like this right now. Achieved my chief engineer. Not really, not yet chief engineer. Three more steps. My third engineer right now. But I grew up with parents who were really strict. Everything. How you talk. How you look. How you dress. Everything. Strict. You know. The reason why my parents treat us like that is so that we will have a better future. Finish school, set a goal, and aim high for it. My career right now, this is what I wanted since I was a young boy and I wanted to be a marine engineer. Work on ships, diesel boats. I have two professions, automotive mechanic, and also marine engineer. I work on—you know those big engines?
AA: Yeah. Maybe we can ask another question. So as a marine engineer, do you travel around a lot? And is that how you came to the United States, like the Port of Oakland?
RICHARD: I graduated from university in 2000. Here it is called high school. Where we lived it was called college. So the high school and college, it’s combined together.
AA: Oh I see.
RICHARD: So after I graduated from college, I went straight to university. So I graduated from college in 2003, then I moved to university in 2004. I take my two years for my automotive mechanic. After that then I moved to become a marine engineer. Then I graduated in 2007 so I started sailing in 2008. So all over Europe. I traveled all over Europe. I’ve been all over Europe, to Korea, Shanghai in China, and Japan. That’s the only Asian countries I’ve been to and also the whole bottom of Australia, South Africa. So I’ve been all over the world. I travel a lot. Many countries in the world because my contract is one year. So for one year my family is on board the ship. You live there for one year. After one year, you go back home, take a rest, like two months or one month. Depends on what you want. You know? Then go back to the ships.
AA: Yeah. So do you have any family? Mother or father or do you have any siblings?
RICHARD: My family is, well, my dad is upstairs in heaven right now. My dad passed away. My dad passed away when I was on my first contract. It’s really sad. My first month on board since I left home and I received a telex that my dad pass away. You know. So right now my mom. We are four of us. One sister and three brothers. So two of brothers are in Australia and my other brother is at home with my mom and my sister.
AA: So what was the most difficult part? So when you are staying in the United States. What is one aspect? What are some difficulties that you have experienced? Is anything difficult or something that is different?
RICHARD: Here in America?
RICHARD: Well. The only difference difficulty here is I have no family. I have no relatives here and to be in a relationship it’s really difficult. I’m gonna be a dad right now, like in three more months. So I’m gonna have a daughter because that’s what I always wanted when I was. I like a daughter rather than a boy. [laughs] I’m sorry. So right now she’s pregnant but she’s in a hospital right now. She’s kind of—how to say in English—there are problems with the pregnancy. The doctors say that she might have the baby before the right month.
AA: Yeah. Premature birth.
RICHARD: So that’s the kind of stress that I’m carrying right now, because I don’t want her to give birth before her time.
AA: No. Do you make phone calls to your family?
RICHARD: The last time I was talking with my mom was last month. Not like all the times because I don’t have my own telephone. It’s a friend telephone that I am using.
RICHARD: Most of the time I really want to just throw it down. Like the last month, I was talking to my mom. She’s okay and she missed me because I’m a momma’s boy. [HH and AA laughs]. This is my own belief. I have a debt. I have a debt that I need to pay to my parents. That debt is from when you were a baby, your mom always gave you everything: care for you, clothes for you, buy whatever you wanted. So for me that’s my debt. So it’s my time. I’m stronger. I get a job. It’s not pay back but it’s the love that shows it back to her [starts crying].You know that’s why for me, there’s nothing other happiness thing in the world. I’m sorry to see me crying. Because that I’m so emotional. There’s nothing else more important to me rather than my mom. No matter how if I have a wife. My mom always inspires me. She’s…. you know. She’s my flower. Without her I wouldn’t be here. You know. That’s why… I’m sorry [still crying]. You know. But it’s a different thing. But you see me. Wow.
AA: Have you ever felt—I don’t know if this would apply to you or not—but have you ever felt that you were discriminated against or that people treated you differently just because you’re not an American citizen?
RICHARD: Immigration in the United States is really difficult. Too many rules, you know. When people look at me they think I’m European but for me everybody’s the same—different in color but we are all the same.
AA: So how has the day worker’s center helped you?
RICHARD: Well, before I came to the States I had no money. Remember like I told you the ship went back with all my stuff—my car and everything. So a friend showed me the center and since I’m here I have money right now. Even though it’s not enough—like the biggest money I’ve ever had since I came here it’s $150—well you know it’s enough to buy the stuff you need. Like food you know, stuff like that, you know. But the other thing I’m so happy about—in here I meet people, many people. Lots of people are in here right now, also families. Even though that—for example this one close at five o clock, but if I call home and the family need a help around 6 or 7 in the night, they will call me. So it’s like I have clients right now—I tell them if you need my help I’m free, whatever time you guys want help just call me. But to be honest with you girls, I want to do something like this in the future, but for the homeless. I want to do a center like this so then the homeless can come eat, shower, you know just like a home for them you know.
And I want—I hope that a couple men can change the immigration rules to make it easier, because right now it’s really difficult to go through immigration stuff. But overall, these donations from stores, shops, and the people, they donate stuff like food and everything for us. Like I told you—for me, here at the Day Worker Center, it’s like a family—it’s like a family here.