Knowing that I would start a new life, my mind and heart continued to push me forward, making me actually do it while my feet were trying to stop. Which led me to today, knowing that if I had never come here, I would never be who I am right now.
My name is Sylvia Wolfgramm and I was born in Vava’u, Tonga — a place where the cool air would flow and the beautiful blue ocean would slowly bring the shells closer to me. It was a very beautiful and nice place that was in the South Pacific.
I loved my childhood. My life was good but hard at the same time. I had fun because I would dance around in the sand with my puletaha (a little skirt) in the beautiful soft, brown warm sand. Every time I would play, it would always smell like fresh coconut and oranges. I had a huge family, there were about five of us that lived together.
I lived with my mom, grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. It was hard because there weren’t that many jobs here, but my family and I managed to share a house with a lot of people, because here in Vava’u, our money would always double, meaning that if you had 100 dollars, then it’s 200. Even though the money was double, it was hard to find jobs that had really good money. But we all helped one another by putting in all our money, so we could pay rent, buy food, and etc.
Since it was hard, my family and I would pray to the Lord above to guide us and help us. We all would say, “Ko e lotu ‘a e ‘eiki” ko’emau tamai ‘oku ‘i Hevani, Ke tapuha Ho huafa, Ke a’u mai Ho’o pule, Ke fai ho finangalo; Hange ko ia ‘i he langi ke pehe foki ‘i mamani. Ke foaki mai he ‘aho ni ha’amau me’akai ki he ‘anai. Pea fakamolemole ‘emau ngahi angahala; Hange ko ‘emau fakamolemole ‘a kinautolu fuape ‘oku mo’ua mai. Pea ‘oua na’a ke fakahu kimautolu ki he ‘ahi’ahi; ka ke fakahaofi ‘a kimautolu mei he fili, He ‘oku O’ou ‘a e pule, pea mo e malohi, Mo e kololia, ‘O ta’engata pea ta’engata. ‘E……. meni.” Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Every time we would say this to our Father in Heaven, we would sometimes cry because we knew that he is hearing our prayers and will continue our plans for the future. I felt safe talking to him in my prayers and letting my emotions out to him, so that he can help me become stronger everyday. I was a very religious person. My family and I were Methodist.
I left the island of Vava’u and moved to the island of Tongatabu, where I met the love of my life. Tonga, Nuku’alofa, was the main island that connected Eua, Ha’apai, Niuas, Tongatapu, and Vava’u together. The main Island was Tongatapu, where I had moved to before heading to the US.
This was the first time I had went to Tonga and met the man that I knew would love me forever. He was a very handsome and nice man. His name was Loloma, he lived with his dad and grandparents.
When we met, we fell deep in love and then he later asked if I wanted to marry him. I felt really happy, so I said yes. I was full of joy because I can start a new life and have kids and see all my grandkids grow up. But at the same time, it was hard because I was going to leave everything and everyone behind.
When I had told my mother the news that I would be leaving Vava’u , it was hard because she was sad that she might never see me again. But she also knew that I would find a job and have a big family. My mom also knew that I would always come back and let her meet my kids and their kids.
Before coming to the US, he said, “Hiki ki US.” Move to the US. I felt scared coming to the US because I wasn’t a US citizen. But my Husband said, “Don’t worry, oua teke ho haa tue mau iku ae pe Green card pe au e amenika o taengata.” Don’t worry I will get your green card and we will live in America forever.
Before coming to the US, we had to go to Tonga, Nuku’alofa, to Samoa, to Hawaii, and then to San Jose. But my husband had to go to the US before me, in order for both of us to travel. My husband was able to come because his brother, who lived in the US, was able to have all his papers done and get him a green card. So then my husband went to the US and did my paperwork, and was also able to come with a green card for me.
He said, “Nae fuu fai ngataa ke gaue ke hoku mali ke ai eku green card. ” It was very hard and I needed to work everyday so that I can pay for your green card.
I arrived at the age of 23, in 1978. When I had arrived to the US, I heard birds chirping, the blue sky shining on my colorful clothes. It made me feel so wonderful because I had a green card that allowed me to have a permit to stay in the US.When I got here it was beautiful, it had nice weather.
Till we had to find a job to pay rent, food, and etc. It was hard to find a job, but I ended up working in a hotel. It was hard because I didn’t know how to make the beds, clean the bathroom, and didn’t even know how to use a dryer or washer.
As days went by, I was able to teach myself how to do the things I was not able to do. It was difficult, but I knew that our father was above, guiding me through the hard times I had and showing me that I should never give up. I just need to keep pushing and not letting anything come between me and my goal to help me understand the things in the US.
At first I had lived in San Jose, but I moved here to East Palo Alto with my 6 grandkids and my daughter and her husband. Being able to live here, knowing that I am able to watch all my grandkids grow and see them succeed in life, has been a blessing.
It was also hard because I had lost my husband in 2003, but I knew that he was always watching over us and guiding us to the right path. I have lately not been working because of the pain I am having in my leg. But that didn’t stop me from walking and helping out my grandkids and their parents by watching over them while their parents go to work.
My hope for the future is that all my grandkids will continue to go to school and reach for all their dreams and goals. And that I don’t want them to go through the things I had to go through in order to fit in. My biggest life lesson was that I should cherish every second because you will never know what will happen to you as you grow older and older.
This story was written by the immigrant’s granddaughter, Mele Mataele, a student in the Bay Area.