Portrait of Syrja Baci

“After the first shots I managed to get away through the back window, and later that day I learned that my father was shot in the leg.”

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Syrja with his wife Albana, Syrja’s parents Hysni and Rubiko, and two daughters Xhena and Lorena

Syrja Baci runs Baci Brothers, a home renovation company, along with his brothers.

I was born in 1969 in Albania. In 1998 I came here. It was a hard time in Albania. We were democrats and they tried to kill us. Like many other families, our family had been hit hard by the reforms that the harsh communist regime was applying. In the early 1950s, my family was branded “kulak,” and its properties were confiscated. The communist regime sent my family to a labor camp in Kosove, Lushnje. My mother’s family was sent to the same labor camp.

In 1952 my grandfather on my father’s side was executed after a failed attempt to escape from prison where he was serving a long sentence for political reasons. In 1956 my father Hysni Baci was sentenced to five years in prison for agitation and propaganda against the government. In 1961 our family returned to our hometown, and settled with some relatives because all of our properties were confiscated. From 1961 to 1990 our family was the object of harsh persecution and humiliation. The same persecution was applied to us, the children. My parents and grandparents worked hard in low-paying jobs, enduring humiliation and isolation the whole time.

I went to work at a local mine in terrible conditions at the age of seventeen. I became permanently sick in my lungs and hospitalized many times. I worked there from 1986 to 1988. My brothers llir and Arjet and I decided to escape to Yugoslavia.

On January 28, 1990, we began our trek to the Yugoslavian border, walking away from the national road in fear of being detected. The weather was cold with rain. On the night of January 28th, the border guards unfortunately caught all of us. After being badly beaten there we were taken to the police station in Pogradec. After being tortured and formally tried, I was sentenced to five years in prison. So were my brothers. In 1991, I was released from prison after a government amnesty released political prisoners.

On February 20th, 1991, my brothers and I participated in the overthrowing of the dictator’s Enver Hoxha statue in the center of Tirana. On the same day we supported the student’s hunger strike to remove the dictator’s name from the University of Tirana. The police and the army intervened. My brothers and I were among those arrested. We were beaten with rubber sticks and kicked in the face by the police. After 12 hours of torture I was released and sent to the hospital where I stayed for a few days being treated for my wounds.

In March 1991, I became a member of the Democratic Party. During that time I agitated and explained the party’s program to the people. I was threatened by the communists, and in March 1991, as a result of election manipulations, they managed to stay in power. But on March 22, 1992 in the next election, which came about due to our protests, the Democratic Party was elected. My family and I have always supported the Democratic Party and its leader Sali Berisha because we were promised freedom and that our properties would be returned.

However, we never got our properties back. As a result of this, my father, brothers, and I had no choice but to enter the hunger strike, organized by the Former Political Prisoners of Albania, in August 1994, to request the return of our properties. The police arrested the strike’s leader and others. We continued the strike from August 15th–18th, 1994, in three different houses of three different villages, from which we were once again forced out.

In March 1997 the communists came to our house and wanted us to transport arms for them to overthrow the democratic government. At first under pressure and fearing for our lives, we pretended to accept so they would go away. Later my father advised us to go into hiding and not obey their orders, and that is what we did.

On May 16, 1998, I was attacked by the communists in the village of Dunice, where my father and I were hiding. After the first shots I managed to get away through the back window, and later that day I learned that my father was shot in the leg. I went to Tirana where I stayed a few days until I found the necessary passport in the black market to enter the United States.

I flew to Amsterdam and then to Detroit. I spent three months in a detention center in New Jersey for refugees. In the refugee camp, I had a first hearing with the judge. The judge says that she couldn’t wait to give our family asylum, and see our whole family here together. My wife came three years later.

It was very hard to learn English, but we got some support. We took classes at DCCC (Delaware County Community College). My wife is a manager at Whole Foods. My wife’s parents came here too.

Here I feel happy, comfortable and safe. Three of my brothers and I have a business called Baci Brothers. We do home renovations. We are happy to live in this country. It is our dream come true. Our parents came here too. My father is so happy to be here, he keeps an American flag on a pole in his yard.

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Syrja with his brothers (L to R) Arjet, Syrja, Ilir, and Avni, after a soccer game in Swarthmore.              Photo by Jennifer Baker

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Marion Ramirez

“As Puerto Ricans we have American passports but I feel we are third class Americans.”

Marion Ramirez is a dancer and choreographer.

37. IMG_2107I was born in Puerto Rico. At nineteen I knew I was ready to be somewhere else for a while. I was a dancer doing flamenco, ballet, salsa, modern dance, and everything in between. In the summers I often went to Cuba with a group of dancers. I saw people there who didn’t have anything and they did so much with what they had.

One of my dance teachers who I loved a lot took me as an apprentice when I was fifteen. I learned about experimental dance and choreography. I wanted to learn more about the world. I ended up in London for university study at the Laban Center Dance. It was the biggest cultural shock. I was treated like an exotic fruit. I felt discrimination and saw how people from all over discriminate against each other as well as celebrate and respect each other. It was all more complicated than what I had seen so far. I had a teacher who called me Miss Brazil and would call me out for assuming I thought I was in a daily carnival. I was in school for three years in London and then toured for three years in Europe. For graduation, no one from my family was there. I felt like a ghost. We do everything as family and I was alone. I had friends who became like family but the feeling of isolation never went away.

I thought about how do others see me and how do I see myself and my people, the Puerto Ricans? When I got to New York it felt more like home—there are so many Puerto Ricans in New York. I started to shift my British accent and speak more Spanglish.

As Puerto Ricans we have American passports but I feel we are third class Americans, we get the leftovers. Puerto Ricans are looked at as foreigners. We have a weird sense of inferiority in the island. It is part of the colonial condition. Puerto Rico is in a condition of dependency. That becomes part of one’s identity as an individual if you don’t learn to resist it and grow out of it. I am a Puerto Rican person from the Caribbean. I identify with the culture that has developed in Puerto Rico. The America we imagine in Puerto Rico is often not real. We have images from movies and TV. The country supports and crushes us at the same time.

My parents moved here to be near our new baby. I am going back home to visit my 103-year-old grandmother this summer. I do miss the island culture, the island people. My first impression was that life here was rough and angry. Island life is chill, slow, not aggressive. People are hospitable and relaxed, not workaholics. I miss island friends, singing songs as part of our conversation. I don’t have to feel at the edge with them, it feels like family. With them I feel more comfortable. If I am separated from those things that make me feel at home for too long, I judge myself too much and lose my ground.

I feel my husband and I have opened paths for our family members. My husbands’ niece from Korea came to stay with us, and we helped her to meet people and to try to speak English. I lived in Korea for one and a half years. I went to language school there for wives of Koreans. For young people I was treated as a celebrity—they thought I was American. I said I was Puerto Rican, not American. To the older people, I looked like someone challenging their culture by marrying a Korean man. It was at times very hard to be there. I spoke Korean at the level of a kindergarten child. But I developed a lot as a person, out of my comfort zone getting to know what I really liked and what I didn’t.

My farewell party was also my birthday party. I remember feeling very beautiful, an adventurer, celebrating something many of my friends wanted to do. My ballet teacher came to my party and said, “I’m so proud of you. You are doing this at the perfect moment.” I said goodbye to my long time caregiver/ family friend who saw me growing up and who I had many good talks with. She was kind of like my aunt. We had a goodbye party and my mom tried cooking recipes from all different places, not Puerto Rican food. I was given the blessings of people I love.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Misha Azizov

“I played professional soccer in Russia for ten years . . . they pay you, but there is no contract. If you win they pay you, if you tie they pay you bonuses, if you lose, nothing.”

Misha Azizov works in construction and is a former professional soccer player.

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I came here in 1993 from Armenia. My sister invited us. She came in 1987. There were ten of us, two other sisters and their families, and my mother and me. We came as refugees. We passed the interview in Moscow and were accepted as refugees. Many of the small nationalities move from Armenia to the US. After some time they gave us a green card. After five years I became a citizen, in 1999. I never think I’ll go back.

Armenia was very bad economically, no electricity, no nothing. I worked in Russia doing construction. We paved roads, blacktop. I worked with my brother and we would go back to Armenia in the wintertime when we didn’t have much work in Russia. Many people move from Armenia to Russia and to Europe for jobs. The economy was so bad in 1991.

My brother-in-law had a big barbecue party when we arrived. I had been here once before as a tourist for three months to visit my sister, so I was not surprised at life in the US. When we came here I lived in Upper Darby—my sister has an apartment building there.

My older sister still lives in Armenia and I have gone back to visit two times. Most of my family moved to Russia—my cousins, all my relatives live in the southern part of Russia, and I have gone there to visit in the summer a few times. One sister lives in LA now.

I do miss the culture, the food, and the language. But there was a big difference between Russia and Armenia too, and I was used to going back and forth. I miss the mountains of Armenia, but not the people. The food we can get here too. There are many Armenians in LA—not as many here. When I go to California I bring back Armenian food. Smoked beef, lavash bread, shish kabob, kielbasa.

It was worth it, but in the beginning it was very difficult. You change your culture and your language. It was very difficult for me to learn English. I was twenty-seven years old. I went to school for six months to learn. I lived in Russia and all the time go back and forth, but there I speak Russian so language was no problem. We learn Russian in school; I grew up speaking Armenian and Russian. But learning a new language was really hard.

I played professional soccer in Russia for ten years from the 1970s to 1980s until I got injured and had to stop playing. They pay you, but there is no contract. If you win they pay you, if you tie they pay you bonuses, if you lose, nothing. Not professional, but like professional. Some factory, they have my name, I go there and they gave me my salary. I played soccer but got paid as if I worked in the factory—that was my job. The system is different here. My mother didn’t want me playing soccer, and would not come to watch. I started when I was six or seven. My father died early when I was nine years old. She never washed my jerseys; but she knew she couldn’t stop me. In Europe everyone plays soccer.

I married a woman from Russia whom I met here. My son was born here, he is American. My ex-wife and son live with my mother-in-law who speaks Russian. He speaks only a little Russian, but understands more. If he didn’t live with my mother-in-law he wouldn’t speak Russian at all. He does not speak Armenian. He is eighteen and goes to Boston University, studying marketing and business. My son plays soccer in high school, now in college.

I work construction, paving roads. I’d like to move to California, but for now I stay here to be near my son.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Angie

“We lived in fear of deportation so I didn’t talk about it in my high school—I didn’t know who I could talk about it with.”

Angie works in customer service at a bank and has an internship in business development.

31. IMG_0413When I was little and my parents left, I don’t remember them leaving; I was five. I was a happy child, but sad too. Special events at school were the saddest days because my parents weren’t there. There was always another kid without parents. My uncles and grandparents were always there, they were a great support, but I still missed my parents. I remember waking up at night to talk to them on the phone.

I was scared to see my parents after so long when they came back. I was afraid we wouldn’t have a connection that we should have, worried what we would talk about. I was eight when they came back.

Leaving Ecuador to come to the US was very sad and exciting at the same time. I was leaving my Grandma who I was very close with because she was like my second mom. But I was so excited to come here and to be with my parents. I had a picture in my head of what America would be like because of the movies. The simplest thing was so exciting. I had so many ideas about what I pictured it would be.

The day we left was so hot. My mom made us wear overalls and sweaters in June. I didn’t know we’d stay for a long time. I thought it was short term. It was hard not being with my grandmother, I had been with her every day. We called her all the time and ran up a huge phone bill. I didn’t see her for twelve years. When she finally came to visit for three weeks, I was so scared about what we’d talk about, worried about what she’d think about me. But then she came and she was exactly the same. I wanted to be next to her the whole time, even to sleep next to her. When she left, I asked for her PJ shirt, it had her smell. I wore it every day.

When Dad left—he went back to Ecuador for a year—the cycle of leaving began again. Sometimes it was scary being alone when mom was at work. Maria and I had to grow up fast and take care of ourselves while our mom was at work.

My status really started impacting my life when I was a junior in high school. We didn’t grow up talking about it. We lived in fear of deportation so I didn’t talk about it in my high school—I didn’t know who I could talk about it with or not. It really affected me when everyone started applying to college. I got college mail and I threw it all out. I could only go to one school. Neumann University had given my sister a scholarship and they offered me the same. I was very discouraged because I had no options of where I could go and what I wanted to do. I was discouraged about working at a pizza job. I didn’t see a future or anything that was going to help us. Once there was hope I started caring about school and doing well, because all my work that I was putting into it could turn into something. When deferred action (DACA) passed, I got a work permit and the same day went out and looked for a job.

About a month later I found a job. I work for a bank as customer service associate/teller. I am motivated; I see how hard my parents work, and that keeps me going. I see how far they’ve gotten and seeing that has helped to build me up to the person I am today. I do double major, taking six classes/eighteen credits each semester. I took summer classes as well and always worked since my junior year of high school. I also teach Spanish to first and second graders in the mornings before school. And I have an internship in business development. I am hardworking because my parents motivated me to do well in school and work hard.

I was scared when Maria went to Ecuador that she wouldn’t be able to come back. I applied to go to Ecuador for humanitarian reasons, because my grandmother is sick. My travel application is pending. I was devastated, but it may still get approved. I have to submit more papers. A friend from Ecuador met my grandparents and I thought, “Why does he get to see them and I don’t?” It felt so unfair. Last year, Dani went to Ecuador. I missed her; it was her first time away by herself. At first she didn’t want to go and by the end she said, can I stay longer? If my application gets accepted, Dani can go with me.

If I had to do it again, I would. It is worth it. When I was little I didn’t understand why my parents left and why they came here. I am not resentful. I know it is hard to give up being with your own children for years—to give them that opportunity. They gave me something I would not have had, they opened so many doors for us. My parents sent cool stuff that other kids didn’t have, but I would have given that up to be with them. My little sister Dani was born here, so she is a citizen. She lucked out but she is still part of the cycle. We lack the status she has but I always try to tell her that when I was little I didn’t have my parents—they were not with me every day like you are able to have, so you have to respect them. I understand why they came and I am grateful for that.

When I leave in the morning, I go to my internship, I go to class, to work. I leave at 8:00 AM and come back at 8:00 at night. I am very dedicated, ambitious, and hardworking. I see my parents and how they do things and why. That motivates me to keep trying and never give up. We’ve had to learn to manage multiple things.

In the past we couldn’t do the things we can now. An internship needs a social security number. I want to take advantage of each opportunity that I didn’t have before. We are given the chance to do what we can now because of DACA. If DACA does not continue everything will get taken away from me. I am doing things that I never thought possible. I never thought I could come this far.

Photo by Jennifer Baker

Spanish Translation by Elizabeth Pascual


No recuerdo cuando se fueron mis padres, era pequeña, tenía cinco años. Yo era una niña feliz, pero triste también. Los eventos especiales en la escuela fueron los días más tristes porque mis padres no estaban allí. Siempre había otro niño sin padres también. Mis tíos y abuelos siempre estaban allí, eran un gran apoyo, pero todavía extrañaba a mis padres. Recuerdo despertarme por la noche para hablar con ellos por teléfono.

Cuando volvieron mis padres tenía miedo de verlos después de tanto tiempo. Temía que no tuviéramos una conexión, me preocupaba de lo que hablaríamos. Tenía ocho años cuando volvieron.

Dejar Ecuador para venir a los Estados Unidos fue muy triste y emocionante al mismo tiempo. Estaba dejando a mi abuela con la que tenía una gran conexión porque ella era como mi segunda madre. Estaba tan emocionada de venir aquí y estar con mis padres. Yo tenía una imagen en mente de como los Estados Unidos serían por lo que he visto en las películas. Lo más simple se me hizo tan emocionante. Tenía tantas ideas sobre lo que imaginé que sería.

Fue un día muy caluroso cuando nos fuimos. Mi mamá nos hizo usar overoles y suéteres en junio. No sabía que nos quedaríamos mucho tiempo. Pensé que era a corto plazo. Fue difícil no estar con mi abuela, yo había estado con ella todos los días. La llamábamos todo el tiempo y nos encontramos con una enorme factura de teléfono. Cuando finalmente vino a visitarme por 3 semanas, me asustaba pensar de lo que hablaríamos, me preocupaba por lo que ella pensaría de mí. No la había visto desde hace 12 años pero entonces ella vino y era exactamente la misma como la recordé. Quería estar junto a ella todo el tiempo, incluso para dormir junto a ella. Cuando se fue, le pedí que me regalara su camisa de pijama, tenía su olor. La usé todos los días.

Cuando papá se fue – regresó a Ecuador por un año – el ciclo de irse comenzó de nuevo. A veces me daba miedo estar sola cuando mamá estaba en el trabajo. María y yo tuvimos que crecer rápido y cuidar de nosotras mismas mientras que nuestra madre estaba trabajando.

Mi estatus realmente empezó a impactar mi vida cuando yo era estudiante de secundaria. No crecimos hablando de eso. Vivíamos con miedo a la deportación, así que no hablé de ello en mi escuela secundaria – no sabía con quién podía hablar. Realmente me afectó cuando todos comenzaron a aplicar a la Universidad. Recibí correo de las Universidades y lo tiré todo a la basura. Sólo podía ir a una escuela. La Universidad de Neumann le dio una beca a mi hermana y me ofrecieron lo mismo. Yo estaba muy desanimada porque no tenía opciones de donde podía ir a estudiar y no sabía lo que quería hacer. Mi trabajo en una pizzería me desanimaba. No vi un futuro ni nada que nos ayudara. Cuando comencé a sentir que había esperanza, comencé a preocuparme por la escuela y de hacer bien porque todo mi trabajo y esfuerzo podría convertirse en algo. Cuando la Acción Diferida (DACA) se aprobó, me dieron un permiso de trabajo y ese mismo día salí a buscar un trabajo.

Un mes después encontré un trabajo. Ahora trabajo para un banco como asociada de servicio al cliente/cajera. Estoy motivada; veo lo duro que trabajan mis padres y eso me mantiene en marcha. Veo lo lejos que han llegado y verlos me ha ayudado a convertirme en la persona que soy hoy. Hago doble especialización, tomo 6 clases/18 créditos cada semestre. También tomé clases de verano y siempre trabajé desde mi primer año de secundaria. Por las mañanas, antes de irme a la escuela, les enseño español a los estudiantes de primer y segundo grado y también tengo una pasantía en desarrollo de negocios. Soy trabajadora porque mis padres me motivaron a sacar buenas notas en la escuela y trabajar duro.

Yo estaba asustada cuando María fue a Ecuador de que ella no podría volver. Solicité ir a Ecuador por razones humanitarias porque mi abuela está enferma. Mi solicitud de viaje está pendiente. Estaba devastada pero aún mi solicitud puede ser aprobada. Tengo que enviar más documentos. Un amigo de Ecuador conoció a mis abuelos y pensé, “¿por qué él los puede ver y yo no?” Se sintió tan injusto. El año pasado, Dani fue a Ecuador. La extrañé, era su primera vez viajando sola. Al principio no quería ir y al final dijo, ¿puedo quedarme más tiempo? Si mi solicitud es aceptada, Dani puede ir conmigo.

Si tuviera que hacerlo de nuevo, lo haría. Valió la pena. Cuando era pequeña no entendía por qué mis padres se habían ido y por qué vinieron aquí. No estoy resentida. Sé que es difícil tener que dejar a tus hijos por muchos años – para darles esa oportunidad. Me dieron algo que no hubiera tenido, abrieron tantas puertas para nosotras. Mis padres nos enviaban cosas chéveres que otros niños no tenían, pero yo hubiera dado cualquier cosa para estar con ellos. Mi hermanita Dani nació aquí, así que es ciudadana. Ella tuvo suerte pero todavía es parte del ciclo. Nos falta el estatus que ella tiene pero siempre trato de decirle que cuando yo era pequeña no tenía a mis padres – no estaban conmigo todos los días como están contigo, así que tienes que respetarlos. Entiendo por qué vinieron y estoy agradecida por eso.

Cuando me levanto por la mañana, voy a mi pasantía, voy a clase, y al trabajo. Me voy a las 8 de la mañana y vuelvo a las 8 de la noche. Soy muy dedicada, ambiciosa y trabajadora. Veo a mis padres y cómo hacen las cosas y por qué. Eso me motiva a seguir esforzándome y nunca rendirme. Veo lo duro que trabajan mis padres. Hemos tenido que aprender a manejar varias cosas.

En el pasado no podíamos hacer las cosas que ahora podemos hacer. Una pasantía requiere un número de seguro social. Quiero aprovechar cada oportunidad que no tenía antes. Se nos da la oportunidad de hacer lo que aspiramos ahora debido a DACA. Si DACA no continúa, me quitarían todo. Estoy haciendo cosas que nunca creí posible. Nunca pensé que podría llegar tan lejos.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.


Portrait of Maria Jose

“In Ecuador I was a friend with everyone the first day, I was really loud. Here I spent years in silence at school.”

Maria Jose works for the Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition.

I rememb30. IMG_0404er saying goodbye to my dad in Ecuador, my aunt driving like crazy and hugging dad goodbye. He said, “Be good, listen to your mom, do your homework.” He kisses me, gives me a big bear hug, and says, “I love you with my soul, my life, and my heart.” I was five. My mom left six months later. I remember crying and getting in the car and going home without Mom. Before that I went to my grandma’s on weekends but now I went to live with her. My grandmother switched roles to being a parent. I developed a deep connection to her. I remember phone calls from my parents in the middle of the night, 4:00 AM, before they would leave for work they would call. They sent us presents; they tried to send stuff home, stickers, clothes, letters. I copied Mom’s style and wrote letters back. Angie says, “Why did they leave us here?” It was hard being a little kid away from your parents.

I remember being in school and making a lie to myself that my parents would walk through the door. At school kids would run to their parents and there would be a small group of kids standing to the side. There were many kids in the same situation. We had a good childhood, even without our parents, but it takes forever to heal from family separation. After my dad left, when he returned the first time, I hid. I was concerned I wouldn’t be the daughter he expected.

When my parents came back, I thought it was a lie. I was also afraid I wouldn’t measure up. They came for my first communion—everyone was there. The next thing I know, I was telling my friends I was going to leave. My friends gave us a goodbye parties, and the next thing we are leaving. The first month I came here, I talked to my grandmother every day. My parents had an $800 phone bill.

I have been most fortunate because of the executive order, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), I was able to apply for a permit called Advance Parole, which allows travel for education, work, or if you have a family member that is ill or has passed away. The organization I have been part of for many years has close relationships with organizations in Ecuador. I went back to train staff on how to do self-care and how to deal with children with trauma, something I am very passionate about. It was for 2½ weeks. It was an opportunity to go to Ecuador and see my family. I got to see my country in a new way because I was a kid when I left. It was very scary. When we were landing they handed us a paper, saying this is for immigration. What am I going to do, what am I going to say? Are they going to understand why I am here? I was hoping immigration in Ecuador wouldn’t detain me—I haven’t been in the US legally and now I am coming back home. There is a risk even with this permit that you might not be able to come back to the US.

Waking up in my country—it was like a dream that I had for so long. I just want to be home and to hug my grandma. But to be there without my parents and sisters was heartbreaking. I felt like a stranger in my own country. The people would say, you are from another country, you dress differently and you have an accent. Loja is a bigger city than when I left. I walked around and didn’t know anyone. And there were political changes that I certainly didn’t understand as a child. But I do now, I am involved in politics. There was an election while I was there. I was in the capitol, during election day. I walked by a park where they were setting up for the President’s party celebration. I heard of people trying to buy votes. He lost in all the major cities and I was really happy about that. I was curious to understand life there and talk to many people. I talked to many people who wanted to go to the U.S. The stories repeat.

Growing up in the US, being a young child, you feel like you don’t belong, and back home I don’t really belong either. Neither here nor there. Listening to my dad and mother talk, I realized your parents will do anything for you. The sacrifices are really hard but it is worth it. It bothers me how people have treated my parents.

When we came here we didn’t know English. We’d watch TV shows, some shows we had seen in Spanish and now we were seeing in English. Angie and I decided to talk in English so we would learn faster. I don’t know when we started crossing over with the languages, but we’d make up so many words. People at school thought I couldn’t speak. I was nervous that people were going to make fun of me or that I’d sound stupid. It was a different me here. In Ecuador I was a friend with everyone the first day, I was really loud. Here I spent years in silence at school, it was much harder here.

I work for the PICC (Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition). We do immigration advocacy and work for immigration reform, and we work with partners around the state. We also work to educate people about these issues.

Once Dreamers started to come out and be vocal, I thought I was not alone. I remember when DACA happened. My mom called me, and we watched the announcement when Obama said we could get work permits and be able to travel. I called my grandma and said we’ll be able to see you. The president’s announcement was on June 15, 2012. Because of DACA, Angie and I have been able to change our lives. I worked as a waitress since I was fifteen and after I had worked so hard and graduated from college, I really wondered what I’d be able to do. Growing up undocumented, without papers, I didn’t know if I would have to be a waitress for the rest of my life. Now I have a permit and am able to work. Policy changes lives.

Every day you go out, you hope your parents aren’t being caught by immigration. People come here for different reasons—economic, running to save their lives, to reunite with family, to start over. What people don’t understand are the mistreatment and the sacrifice of being away from the people you love. People pass away and you don’t get to say a final goodbye. It’s been a hard experience but it’s made me a strong person. We work hard. But the system breaks families apart and doesn’t allow you to go to college, to have health insurance, to do an internship. My parents are great role models. They make me realize I can accomplish whatever I want as long as I work hard. I can go as far as I want, regardless of my status here. I want to do everything for them and to protect our family.

Photo by Jennifer Baker

Spanish translation by Elizabeth Pascual

Maria Jose

Recuerdo haberle dicho adiós a mi papá en Ecuador, mi tía conduciendo como loca y abrazando a papá. “Se buena, escucha a tu mamá, haz tu tarea.” Él me besa, me da un gran abrazo de oso, y dice “te amo con toda mi alma, mi vida y mi corazón.” Yo tenía cinco años. Mi mamá se fue seis meses después. Recuerdo haber llorado al subirme al auto y volver a casa sin mamá. Antes iba a la casa de mi abuela los fines de semana, pero ahora me fui a vivir con ella. Mi abuela cambió de roles a ser padre. Desarrollé una profunda conexión con ella. Recuerdo las llamadas telefónicas de mis padres muy de noche, 4 AM, llamaban antes de irse a trabajar. Nos enviaban regalos; intentaban enviar cosas a casa como pegatinas, ropa, cartas. Copié el ejemplo de mamá y le escribí cartas de vuelta. Angie decía, “¿por qué nos han dejado aquí?” Fue difícil ser un niñito lejos de tus padres.

Recuerdo estar en la escuela y mentirme a mí misma creyendo que mis padres regresarían por la puerta. En la escuela muchos niños corrían tras sus padres y a un lado de ellos había un pequeño grupo de niños de pie. Había muchos niños en la misma situación. Tuvimos una buena niñez, incluso sin nuestros padres, pero se tarda una eternidad en sanar de la separación familiar. Después de que mi padre se fue y había regresado la primera vez, me escondí. Me preocupaba que no sería la hija que esperaba.

Cuando volvieron mis padres, pensé que era una mentira. También temía no estar a la altura. Vinieron para mi primera comunión – todos estaban allí. Lo siguiente que sé, es que les decía a mis amigos que me iba a ir. Mis amigos nos hicieron una fiesta de despedida, y de repente nos íbamos. Durante el primer mes en el que llegue, hablaba con mi abuela todos los días. Mis padres tenían una factura de teléfono de $800.

He sido muy afortunada debido a la orden ejecutiva, Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (DACA, por su sigla en inglés). Pude solicitar un permiso llamado Advance Parole, que permite viajar por razones educativas, el trabajo, o si un miembro de la familia está enfermo o ha fallecido. La organización de la que he sido involucrada desde hace muchos años tiene estrechas relaciones con organizaciones en Ecuador. Regrese a Ecuador a entrenar al personal sobre cómo cuidar de sí mismo y cómo lidiar con niños traumados, algo que me apasiona mucho. Fui por 2 semanas y media. Fue una oportunidad para ir y ver a mi familia. Llegué a ver a mi país de una manera nueva porque era una niña cuando me fui. Fue muy aterrador. Cuando estábamos aterrizando nos dieron un papel, diciéndonos que esto era para la inmigración. ¿Qué voy a hacer? ¿qué voy a decir? ¿Van a entender por qué estoy aquí? Esperaba que la inmigración en Ecuador no me detuviera – no había estado en los Estados Unidos legalmente y ahora estoy volviendo a casa. Existe un riesgo incluso con este permiso de que uno no pueda volver a los Estados Unidos.

Despertar en mi país fue como un sueño que tuve durante tanto tiempo. Sólo quería estar en casa y abrazar a mi abuela. Pero estar allí sin mis padres y hermanas fue desgarrador. Me sentí como un extraño en mi propio país. La gente decía, eres de otro país, te vistes diferente y tienes un acento. Loja es una ciudad más grande de lo que recordaba. Caminé por las callesy no conocía a nadie. Hubo cambios políticos que ciertamente no entendía de niña. Pero ahora sí, estoy involucrada en la política. Hubo una elección mientras estuve allí. Estuve en el Capitolio durante el día de las elecciones. Caminé por un parque donde se estaban preparando para la celebración del partido del presidente. He oído de gente tratando de comprar votos. Él perdió en todas las ciudades principales y yo estaba muy contenta con eso. Tenía curiosidad por entender la vida allí y hablé con mucha gente. Hablé con muchas personas que querían irse a los EE.UU. Las historias se repetían.

Al crecer en los Estados Unidos, siendo una niña pequeña, sentí que no pertenecía, y de vuelta a casa tampoco pertenecía. Ni de aquí ni de allá. Escuchando a mi padre y a mi madre hablar, me di cuenta de que los padres harían cualquier cosa por los hijos. Los sacrificios son muy duros, pero valen la pena. Me molesta cómo la gente ha tratado a mis padres.

Cuando vinimos aquí no sabíamos hablar inglés. Nos gustaba ver programas de televisión, algunos espectáculos que habíamos visto en español ahora estábamos viendo en inglés. Angie y yo decidimos hablar en inglés para aprender más rápido. No sé cuándo empezamos a cruzar con los idiomas, pero nos gustaba inventar muchas palabras. La gente en la escuela pensaba que no podía hablar. Estaba nerviosa de que la gente se burlara de mí o que sonara estúpida. Yo era otra persona aquí. En Ecuador me hice amiga de todos en el primer día, yo era muy ruidosa. Aquí pasé años en silencio en la escuela, era mucho más difícil aquí.

Trabajo para PICC (Coalición de inmigración y ciudadanía de Pensilvania). Hacemos abogacía de inmigrantes y trabajamos para la reforma migratoria. Trabajamos con socios alrededor del estado. También trabajamos para educar a la gente sobre estos temas.

Una vez que los soñadores empezaron a salir y ser vocales, sentí que no estaba sola. Recuerdo cuando sucedió DACA. Mi mamá me llamó y vimos el anuncio cuando el presidente Obama dijo que podíamos conseguir permisos de trabajo y poder viajar. Llamé a mi abuela para decirle que podríamos ir a verla. El anuncio del presidente fue el 15 de junio de 2012. Gracias a DACA, Angie y yo hemos podido cambiar nuestras vidas. Trabajé como mesera desde que tenía quince años y después de haber trabajado tan duro y graduarme de la Universidad, me pregunté realmente qué sería capaz de hacer. Creciendo indocumentada y sin papeles, no sabía si tendría que ser mesera por el resto de mi vida. Ahora tengo un permiso y puedo trabajar. La política cambia vidas.

Cada día que sales, esperas que tus padres no sean atrapados por inmigración. La gente viene aquí por diferentes razones – económicas, huyendo para salvar sus vidas, reunirse con su familia, para volver a empezar. Lo que la gente no entiende son los malos tratos y el sacrificio de estar lejos de las personas que amas. La gente fallece y no puedes decir un adiós final. Ha sido una experiencia difícil pero me ha hecho una persona fuerte. Trabajamos duro pero el sistema separa a las familias y no nos permite ir a la universidad, tener seguro médico, o hacer una pasantía. Mis padres son grandes modelos de conducta. Me hacen darme cuenta de que yo puedo lograr lo que quiera, siempre y cuando trabaje duro. Puedo ir tan lejos como quiera, sin importar mi estatus aquí. Quiero hacer todo por ellos y proteger a nuestra familia.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.


Portrait of Kamau Kanyi

“The decision to stay here was not a straight line. I still ask myself where I am most helpful.”

Kamau Kanyi works in foster care and adoption services.

23. KKPrior to coming to America in 1997, I was enjoying working in public relations at a college in Nairobi, Kenya. Coming to America was an opportunity for academic and professional credentials.

Also, my girlfriend came to Philadelphia area in 1996. I came to go to school and to be with her. I moved to New Jersey and went to Rowan University. I graduated in 1999 with a masters degree in public relations. My girlfriend and I went back to Kenya at the end of 1999 to get married and then came back together to gain professional experience. I decided to go back to school again to keep legal status and continue gaining professional experience.

I went to the doctoral program at Rowan University in 2000 where I also worked as a research assistant, and graduated in 2009. In 2003, I got a job with a non-profit organization doing community relations. I am still at the same organization, which provides foster care and adoption services for children and families in the Philadelphia area. My wife and I first had work visas, then applied for green cards. We are now beginning the application for citizenship, which takes five years after getting the green card.

Do I feel pulled by two different cultures? I had an open mind to going back to Kenya, but the experience of settling here was difficult and lengthy. The process of maintaining legal status on a work visa before the green card was also long and expensive. The decision to stay here was not a straight line. I still ask myself where I am most helpful. Being in both cultures is a balancing act—living here and being of help back home. I try to help organizations and individuals back home, especially with fund raising. It is a healthy tension.

I remember the day I left home very clearly—imprinting the memory of my family.  Coming here, I was leaving my mum, dad, older sister, older and younger brothers, as well as my extended family. I was also leaving my many friends, beloved country and life as I knew it. That was very difficult and heart-throbbing.  My last day before leaving home was quite hectic. Farewells to family, following up on last minute packing and details, etc. and then be at the airport for a 3am flight. On the other hand, I was going to see my girlfriend that I had not seen for a year. There was also opportunity to grow together academically, professionally, and to begin a family together.

My wife and I have two kids now, nine and thirteen. We went back home last summer with our kids. As always, it was awesome to reconnect with family again. Yes, coming to America was worth it. For me this has been one of God’s many miracles. And this story is not finished yet—I am full of hopefulness for the future.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Andrew Stewart

“When I’m there, it’s like I never left. It’s a nice thing to have.”

Andrew Stewart is the director of marketing and communications at the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art

47. IMG_0504Photo by Jennifer Baker

I think I had wanderlust from an early age. I came here from Linlithgow, a small town near Edinburgh, Scotland. Linlithgow’s main claim to fame is that Mary Queen of Scots was born there. It’s a gorgeous little town. My father was a mechanic, my mother was trained as a nurse, but stayed home with four children. My dad dreamed of going somewhere different like me but my mother didn’t want to go anywhere. I grew up thinking, I wish something would happen, something exciting. I have two brothers and one sister. They’re all still in Scotland. I had an unremarkable childhood. I always felt Scotland wasn’t right for me. I graduated high school in 1978 when there was a terrible collapse of the economy and a prolonged recession. Thatcher was elected in 1979, she was hated in Scotland, and she pretty much dismantled the traditional industries in Scotland, so there was very high unemployment.

I was training to be an electrician. I went through an apprenticeship, but there was no work so I was unemployed for a while after I finished up my training. Eventually, I ended up finding a job, working in power plants. It was pretty interesting. I worked in the Shetland Islands for a while. I made some friends and one of them had been to Israel. He had bought a motorcycle and taken it to Israel and sold it for enough to pay for the trip. So we bought some motorcycles in London and took them to Israel. It took about six weeks to get there. I was interested in working on a kibbutz, I liked the idea of a socialist communal farm, and I ended up staying there about ten months. It was amazing to me. We were picking avocados and bananas, things you didn’t see growing in Scotland. I loved it. About three or four months in, I met this American girl and we started getting involved with each other. After leaving the kibbutz we ended up in London. We both found jobs immediately and it was a great summer.

In the meantime, I got a well-paid job in Scotland at a nuclear power station. So at the end of the summer, she went back (to the US) and I went to Scotland. I really missed my girlfriend. I had been at this new job three or four months and I asked for a leave of absence and I went to visit my girlfriend. She was at Barnard College in Manhattan, living in a dorm. I never left. I never went back to Scotland. I came over for a vacation and I just never went back. So that’s how I came to America. I came on a tourist visa.

I had to sneak into the dorms every single day. A friend got me a job with two Greek brothers who were installing siding on houses in Westchester County just outside New York City and we’d go up there every day to work. After my girlfriend graduated, we got an old car and drove across the country to Santa Cruz, California, where we both found work. Nobody cared about your work papers at that point, especially if you were white. They weren’t asking where you were from. I think I made up a social security number. The thing that scared me was the Selective Service. They got my address and started sending me letters asking why I had not registered with them and I eventually got a letter in an FBI envelope which I didn’t open. I was paying taxes. I just kept on working illegally until we decided to get married. After that, I came clean with the government and got a green card. Subsequently I became a citizen, when my first child was born. I decided I was here for good, I might as well participate and vote. I’ve lived here now more than half my life.

There was a big earthquake close to where we lived in 1989 which freaked out my wife to the point that she stopped sleeping. Then her dad, who had heart bypass surgery about ten years before, dropped dead one day. Shortly after that, her mother had a recurrence of cancer. So we moved back to New Jersey and lived with her mother until she passed. It was a good opportunity for me to go back to school. I went to Rutgers. I studied history and political science. Very useful. I got a job working in advertising and after that I worked for the Franklin Mint, from 1995 to 2000. I got really interested in museums and ended up working for the Barnes Foundation.

I go back to Scotland once or twice a year. It’s always been a priority of mine to go back. I feel like I didn’t ever really say goodbye. And I love going there in the summer. When I was married and the kids were young, we’d all go over. The first thing we did when the babies got home from hospital was to get them passports.

I loved coming to the US. My first impression of New York? It reminded me of TV from my childhood. Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, Taxi. I remember coming here and realizing that car tires here made squeely noises. I used to think it was just sound effects on the American TV and movies I watched as a kid, but it really happens. You come here, and there are giant cars everywhere, and big roads, and all those people in Manhattan, millions upon millions. There are more people in New York than in my whole country. So just the feeling of being around all those people all the time was so different and so interesting for me. I used to question everything here for about the first year. Then I stopped doing that, or at least I learned to keep it to myself. I questioned the politics, and lots of silly stuff, like why are people driving automatic cars instead of stick-shifts. I remember people saying why do you question everything. When I first came over people would realize I was not long here and more than a few times people said to me that I must be so glad to be here and be free. I’d just laugh.

I feel very American at this point. I mean, I do think of myself as Scottish and obviously with the current political situation in Scotland, I’m very interested in what goes on there, but culturally I definitely feel more American than Scottish. Although being from Scotland does give me a different point of view. The whole debate in this country about having medical care available for everyone is an example. For me it was like, huh? You have to have a job to get medical insurance? We just had access to medical care for everyone in Scotland and my generation never gave it a second thought.

Could I have made a life in Scotland? Sure. I look back at the time when I was unemployed and I remember that I really felt hopeless. It was a dreadful time in Scotland. I go back now and it feels very different. Many of my friends have successful careers and have moved back to Linlithgow because it’s really an ideal town. My parents still live there and when I go back I stay with them. My two brothers are there also and my sister lives in Glasgow which is nearby. It’s really wonderful to go back. And lots of my friends are around. Two very close friends, one was the best man at my wedding, live a five minute walk from my parent’s house. I go back and it’s just all there. I love it. When I go home, I’m very much at peace. When I’m there, it’s like I never left. It’s a nice thing to have.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of J.C.

“The most important thing to do in my life is to stay with my family.”

28 and 29. IMG_0402Photo by Jennifer Baker

The first time I came to the US, the travel part was easy. That was 13 years ago. The first year in America was very difficult. I came here in 1998, like everyone, looking for opportunity. I had a brother here, and he helped me to find a job. I got a tourist visa and flew to New Jersey from Ecuador. My first impression: it was very exciting but I was also afraid. The buildings, the construction of houses, were so beautiful. I thought I would stay here for one year, maybe two. I missed my daughter and my wife. When my wife came a few months later, I was very happy to have her with me.

Just before I left home, I played soccer with my friends. My best friend stopped playing, called all my friends so I could say goodbye to them. At night, I had dinner with my parents and got everything ready for travel. At 10am, I took a bus to the airport. My daughter and wife came to see me off.

After four years in the US I went back home to renew the visa. They told me I could renew it after six months. I prepared the visa paperwork and then they say no. I waited another six months. I went back again and again they said no. That was one year in Ecuador. I needed to go to the US—my family was there.

A friend convinced me to start looking for contact for coyote. Somebody says, take this phone number, call it, one person says it will be ten grand, the other person says it will be $5,000. Go to Mexico City then call again. It was $5,000. I don’t know how the system is, I don’t know how to travel through Honduras, Guatemala, into Mexico. So I go to the Mexican consulate, apply for a visa and get approved. I fly from Ecuador safely into Mexico. I was a very lucky man.

The next week I flew to Mexico City. I was afraid; this was very risky. I had a reservation in a hotel. I called the coyote. He picked me up and we went to a big house. There were twenty people waiting, everyone afraid. I had opened up the seam in my shoe and hid my money inside. The coyote said it would be 1,000 dollars.

I take one change of clothes and gave away everything else. We travel by bus with the old guy (the coyote). Army guys pull over our bus and ask the driver if there is anyone suspicious. My heart is pounding; it was 11 or 12 at night. He lets us go. At 2am we are stopped again, everyone is sleeping. Another three or four hours, one more stop. In the morning at 10 or 11, immigration control stops the bus again and asks for identification. I tried to stay asleep. The old guy says, “He’s sleeping, he’s got a stomach ache.” I pretend to be really sleepy and get down my bag. He says, “It’s ok don’t bother.” That was good luck. The old guy says, “This is my job.”

There are five of us, we cross the river at night, it is very dark. There’s an inner tube just for the girl. We each have trash a bag to carry our shoes and everything. It is maybe 30 meters across. We are told, “Be very quiet, put on your shoes and do what I say.” We stop, see the lights of a police car, go a different way, across fields. Then crawl through bushes for a couple of hours. We are told someone will pick you up in two or three hours.

We finished crawling through the bushes at dawn. We see a patrol car. We stop at a gas station. The guy tried to use his phone but there is no reception. Nobody had American coins, only pesos. When the gas station opens, we can buy something to get change to use the payphone. We stay in bushes to wait for day. I was not going to take my money out of my sneaker to make a phone call. Finally he is able to call and we are told the car will be here in ten minutes. We get in the car and are told to stay down. They leave me and one other guy in a house. There is no food. We are hungry and want to take showers. I tell him to bring me food. Next day again, there’s no food. I go out myself this time and find a store to buy food and bring it back to share with the other guy.

After two days, they pick us up to go to a big house where there were about 30 people mostly from Central America and Mexico. At night, we all get in pickup trucks and lie down so no one can see. They stop outside of the city and everyone gets out. They say, this is the coyote, do what he says. We try to walk around the police stations. We walked early morning and very late, in the daytime we stayed still. We each have one water bottle, a little container with sweet potato, corn and beans—that’s it. Everyone was very tired. After walking for two or three days, another truck picks us up and takes us to a bus station. We all bought tickets to different places. I bought a ticket to Philadelphia and I was here in two days.

It was quite an experience. I had good luck. I was outside the house. I go to the back door and looked through the window. I saw my daughter, and my niece too. They knew I was coming but not when. They were afraid. I said, “It’s dad, open up.” My heart was so happy.

I try to find a job. I don’t have many contacts, not like the first time. I find a job working in a pizza shop. I work cleaning banks at night, and I work construction. I do construction 8 to 4 in Philadelphia, then go back home to take a shower. At 5pm I go to my pizza job. At 11pm I go to a different place for my cleaning job. I get home at 2am. Next day is the same. Children are asleep. Sunday I have more time. Sunday I work in the pizza shop, but only one job that day. After one year I just did the pizza shop and construction work. I try to stay under the radar.

My daughters grew up very fast. They finished high school and college too. I might want to go back someday. But the most important thing to do in my life is to stay with my family.

J.C., de Ecuador

La primera vez que vine a los Estados Unidos, la parte del viaje fue fácil. El primer año fue muy difícil. Llegué en 1998, como todos, buscando una oportunidad. Tenía un hermano acá y él me ayudo a conseguir un trabajo. Obtuve una visa de turista y volé de Ecuador a Nueva Jersey. Mi primera impresión fue que todo era muy emocionante, pero también estaba asustado. Los edificios, las construcciones de las casas, todo era hermoso. Pensé que me quedaría un año, tal vez dos. Extrañaba a mi hija y a mi esposa. Cuando mi esposa llegó, un par de meses después, estaba muy contento de tenerla conmigo.

Antes de irme de mi hogar, jugaba fútbol con mis amigos. Mi mejor amigo dejó de jugar, y llamó a los demás para que yo pudiera despedirme. A la noche, cené con mis padres y preparé todo para viajar. A las 10 de la mañana, tomé el autobús hacia el aeropuerto. Mi hija y esposa vinieron a despedirme.

Luego de 4 años en los Estados Unidos, volví a casa a renovar la visa. Me dijeron que podría renovarla luego de seis meses. Preparé el papeleo para la visa y me la rechazaron. Esperé otros seis meses más. Volví a ir y la volvieron a rechazar. Ese fue un año en Ecuador. Tenía que volver a los Estados Unidos, mi familia estaba allí.

Un amigo me convenció de empezar a buscar el contacto de un “coyote”. Alguien me dio un número y me dijo que llamara. “Algunos dicen que cuesta 10 mil, y otros, 5 mil”. Ve a Ciudad de México y vuelve a llamar. Fueron $5.000. No sé cómo es el sistema. No se cómo viajar por Honduras y Guatemala hasta México. Así que voy al consulado mexicano, aplico para una visa y me la aprueban. Volé desde Ecuador de manera segura hasta México. Tuve mucha suerte realmente.

A la semana siguiente, volé hasta Ciudad de México. Tenía miedo, era muy riesgoso. Tenía una reserva en un hotel. Llamé al “coyote”. Pasó a buscarme y fuimos a una gran casa. Allí había 20 personas esperando, todas asustadas. Había abierto la costura en mi zapato y escondí mi dinero adentro. El “coyote” dijo que serían $1,000.

Tomé una muda de ropa y regalé todo lo demás. Viajamos en autobús con el viejo (el “coyote”). Los tipos del ejército detuvieron el autobús y le preguntaron al conductor si alguien allí era sospechoso. Mi corazón latía fuerte; eran las 11 o 12 de la noche. Nos dejó ir. A las 2 de la mañana paramos nuevamente, todos dormían. Otras dos o tres horas, y otra parada. A la mañana, a las 10 u 11, el control de inmigraciones detiene el autobús nuevamente y pide identificaciones. Intenté quedarme dormido. El viejo dice: “Él está durmiendo, tiene dolor de estómago”. Fingí estar muy somnoliento y bajé mi bolso. Él dijo: “Está bien, no te preocupes”. Eso fue buena suerte. El viejo me dijo: “Este es mi trabajo”.

Éramos cinco cruzando el río de noche, estaba muy oscuro. Había un tubo interno solo para la chica. Cada uno tenía una bolsa de basura para llevar nuestros zapatos y todo lo que teníamos. Habíamos cruzado unos 30 metros. Nos dijo: “Sean muy silenciosos. Pónganse sus zapatos y hagan lo que les digo”. Nos detuvimos cuando vimos las luces de un auto de policía, y fuimos hacia otro lado, a través de campos. Luego nos arrastramos a través de los arbustos durante algunas horas. Nos dicen que alguien vendrá a buscarnos en dos o tres horas.

Nos arrastramos a través de los arbustos hasta el amanecer. Cuando logramos salir de los arbustos, vimos una patrulla. Decidimos parar una estación de servicio. El tipo intentaba usar su teléfono, pero no había señal. Nadie tenía monedas americanas, solo pesos. Cuando abrió la estación de servicio, logramos comprar algo para tener cambio y usarlo en la cabina telefónica. Esperamos escondidos en los arbustos durante el resto del día. No iba a sacar los $100 que tenía en mis zapatillas por una llamada telefónica. Finalmente, él logró hacer la llamada y nos avisó que el auto llegaría en 10 minutos. Nos metimos en el auto y nos pidieron que nos agacháramos. Me dejaron a mí y a otro tipo en una casa. No había comida. Teníamos hambre y queríamos tomar una ducha. Le pedí que trajera comida. Al día siguiente, aún no teníamos nada para comer. Esta vez salgo yo mismo y encuentro una tienda para comprar comida y llevarla a la casa para compartirla con el otro chico.

Dos días después, nos recogieron para ir a una casa grande donde había unas 30 personas, la mayoría de América Central y México. A la noche, nos metieron a todos en camionetas y nos hicieron recostar para que nadie pudiera ver. Ellos paraban en las afueras de la ciudad y todos se bajaban. Nos dijeron: “Este es el ‘coyote’, hagan lo que les dice”. Intentábamos evitar las estaciones de policía. Caminábamos temprano por la mañana o por la noche, y durante el día nos quedábamos quietos. Cada uno de nosotros tenía una botella de agua, un pequeño recipiente con batata, maíz y frijoles… y eso era todo. Todos estábamos muy cansados. Después de caminar durante dos o tres días, otro camión nos recogió y nos llevó a una estación de autobuses. Todos compramos boletos a lugares distintos. Yo compré un boleto a Filadelfia y me quedé allí por dos días.

Fue toda una experiencia. Tuve buena suerte. Estaba afuera de la casa. Me acerqué a la puerta trasera y miré por la ventana. Estaba mi hija, y también a mi sobrina. Sabían que volvería, pero no sabían cuándo. Estaban asustadas. Dije: “Es papá, abre”. Mi corazón saltaba de alegría.

Intenté buscar un trabajo. Pero no es como la primera vez, porque ya no tengo muchos contactos. Encontré trabajo en una pizzería. Trabajo limpiando bancos por la noche, y trabajo en la construcción. Trabajo en la construcción de 8 a 4 p. m. en Filadelfia, y luego vuelvo a casa para tomar una ducha. A las 5 p. m., voy a la pizzería. A las 11 p.m., salgo y voy a otro lugar para mi trabajo de limpieza.  Vuelvo a casa a las 2 de la mañana. Todos los días son iguales. Los niños duermen. Los domingos tengo más tiempo. Los domingos trabajo en la pizzería, pero solo hago ese trabajo. Intento pasar desapercibido. Mis hijas crecieron muy rápido. Terminaron la escuela secundaria, y también la universidad. Tal vez quiera volver algún día. Pero lo más importante para mí es quedarme con mi familia.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Maria

“I was going to be a doctor at home. Here I clean houses. But if you allow yourself to be depressed you will be.”

28 and 29. IMG_0402

Photo by Jennifer Baker

I was in college studying medicine in Ecuador. My first daughter had been born prematurely, and when I was pregnant with my second daughter the doctor said I had to stay in bed for one and a half months. Two weeks before she was born, I suffered facial paralysis that lasted for seven months. I lost a lot of time not being in classes.

The next year I tried to go back to college but they had changed from a traditional system to a modular system. I had 5 years of study, but I would have to go back to the second module. I could move to a different city with a university with a traditional system, or start over where I was. I thought of starting a business, and applied for jobs. I knew how to use a computer so I ended up working as a secretary for five years. That was when my husband decided to come here. The idea was to have a house one day, to earn money for one or two years and return.

Six months later I decided to come join him. I came here April 24, 1999, a Saturday. My daughters stayed with my mother in Ecuador for three years. When I entered the US I was given six months to stay. I got a job in a box factory, cutting sponge for packaging. I worked four days the first week and was paid $200. It was more than I would have made in a month back home. I lived in an apartment with my husband and my brother and sister in law. It took two weeks work to earn our living expenses, rent and food, and then the rest we could save. I worked there only two weeks. My sister-in-law was cleaning houses and schools. She was leaving to go back to Ecuador and told her boss that I would take over her job. But she lied to me—I thought it was a full time job, but it was only two houses.

The people I worked for thought I didn’t know any English at all because I didn’t talk much. For two months I listened to the husband calling me stupid idiot and saying why do you pay her so much? The woman made me coffee one day and was trying to teach me to say “su-gar,” talking to me like a small child. One day I was tired and the husband dropped me off. I say, “thank you so much have a nice weekend,” and he was shocked. Why don’t you tell me you speak English? Your sister-in-law said you only know how to say hello. I explained that I know more but when you are learning a new language you are afraid to speak. They were very sorry, and after that they were really nice with me and with my daughters when they came, and helped me find more jobs.

In 2002 we went back for our daughter’s first communion. We got both our daughters visas and decided to bring them back to the U.S. with us. We tried to enroll our daughters in school. We brought the papers to the school district. They took our passports. We will let you know which school and which grades your daughters will be in. They were assigned to second and fourth grade. In my country they were in fifth grade and seventh grade. I was asked to go talk to someone at the school district. The lady had noticed my daughters had a visitor’s visa, she became angry, screamed at us and said your daughters don’t have the right to be here. I was told by her, “If you try to have them in this school, I will call immigration.” And she would not give us our papers back. That was the only time I thought that we should go back to my country. So we tried a Catholic school. The first one would not take them because they didn’t have a teacher who could teach them English. So we tried another school, and they said they could take them. They would spend the first year just to learn English, and they would be in grades 3 and 5. The principle said that to put them in the grades that they were in at home would be like putting lambs in a pack of wolves. This turned out to be the right decision. The culture is different here and girls that age in Ecuador are still children.

We had a party when I was leaving, with food and family. My mother’s family had a big barbecue with friends, aunts, and cousins. We had barbecue meat, corn on the cob, potatoes, and yucca. My friends brought chicken and rice. There was lots of food, lots of meat, and lots of friends. We were celebrating because I was going to be with my husband. My girls called my sister’s house at 5am to say goodbye. My father-in-law came with me to the airport. I flew to Newark and took a train to Philadelphia.

While my husband was away in my country (he went back to renew visa) I couldn’t pay anyone to take care of the girls while I was at work, so they stayed alone. They had to grow up fast. One would cook. The other would clean. They were 9 and 10. I got home from work at midnight. They made dinner and left it for me each night. They cooked rice with eggs and cheese. I was afraid for them to cook. I had to buy cell phones. They called me and asked me how to cook soup, and I had to explain potato soup over the phone. This was in the summer and they were all day at home. One thing I will never forget, on my birthday they made brownies for me in a Daisy Bake Oven. They went to the supermarket and made a cake and brought it to me at 5 am before I went to work.

Work here is difficult. Everyone comes, wants a good job, good luck, and someone to help. I can’t say anything bad. It’s hard work but I can help my daughters. The girls have made opportunities here.

I was going to be a doctor at home. Here I clean houses. But if you allow yourself to be depressed you will be. I belong to an organization, Centre de Apoyo Communitarios. We work with Villanova students to help community members open ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and file taxes; we also help people with ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. We hope to hold trainings about domestic abuse very soon. Helping others makes me feel more worthwhile.


Yo estaba en la universidad estudiando medicina en Ecuador. Mi primera hija había nacido prematura, y cuando estaba embarazada de la segunda, el doctor me dijo que tenía que hacer reposo durante un mes y medio. Dos semanas antes de que naciera, sufrí una parálisis facial que duró siete meses. Pasé mucho tiempo sin ir a clases.

Al año, intenté volver a la universidad, pero habían cambiado el sistema tradicional por uno modular. Tenía 5 años de estudios, pero tendría que regresar al segundo módulo. Podía mudarme a una ciudad distinta con alguna universidad con un sistema tradicional, o volver a empezar en donde estaba. Pensé en comenzar un negocio y me postulé a distintos trabajos. Sabía cómo usar una computadora, así que termine trabajando de secretaria durante cinco años. Ahí fue cuando mi esposo decidió venir aquí. La idea era conseguir una casa, ganar dinero por uno o dos años y volver.

Seis meses después, decidí venir con él. Llegué aquí el 24 de abril de 1999, un sábado. Mis hijas se quedaron con mi madre en Ecuador durante tres años. Cuando entré a los Estados Unidos, me dieron seis meses para quedarme. Conseguí un trabajo en una fábrica de cajas, cortando esponjas para empacar. Trabajé cuatro días en la primera semana y me pagaron $200. Era más de lo que hubiese ganado en un mes allá en casa. Vivía en un departamento con mi esposo, mi hermano y mi cuñada. En dos semanas de trabajo, ganábamos para nuestros gastos de subsistencia, alquiler y comida, y luego el resto podíamos ahorrarlo. Trabajé allí solamente dos semanas. Mi cuñada trabajaba limpiando casas y escuelas. Ella se marchaba para regresar a Ecuador y le dijo a su jefe que yo tomaría su puesto. Pero me mintió. Yo creía que era un trabajo de tiempo completo, pero eran solo dos casas.

La gente para la que trabajaba pensaba que yo no sabía nada de inglés porque no hablaba mucho. Durante dos meses escuché al esposo llamarme “estúpida idiota” y preguntándole a su esposa: “¿Por qué le pagas tanto?”. La mujer me hizo café un día e intentó enseñarme a decir “su-gar”, hablándome como a una niña pequeña. Un día estaba agotada, y el esposo me llevó a casa. Le dije: “Muchas gracias. Que tenga un buen fin de semana” en inglés y se quedó muy sorprendido. “¿Por qué no me dijiste que hablas inglés? Tu cuñada dijo que solo sabías saludar”. Le expliqué que sabía decir más cosas, pero que cuando uno aprende un nuevo idioma le da miedo hablar. Se sintieron horrible, y después de eso fueron muy amables conmigo y con mis hijas cuando vinieron, y me ayudaron a encontrar más trabajos.

En 2002, volvimos para la primera comunión de nuestra hija. Les conseguimos visas a nuestras hijas y decidimos traerlas a los Estados Unidos con nosotros. Intentamos anotarlas en la escuela. Llevamos los documentos al distrito escolar. Y se quedaron con nuestros pasaportes. “Les informaremos la escuela y a qué grado irán sus hijas”. Las colocaron en segundo y cuarto grado. En nuestro país, ellas estaban en quinto y séptimo grado. Me pidieron que fuera a hablar con alguien en el distrito escolar. La señora se dio cuenta de que mis hijas tenían visas de turista. Se enojó y grito: “¡Sus hijas no tienen derecho de estar aquí!”. Me dijo: “Si intentan traerlas a esta escuela, llamaré a Migraciones”. Y no nos devolvía nuestros papeles. Esa fue la única vez que pensé que deberíamos volver a nuestro país. Así que intentamos en una escuela católica. La primera no las tomaría porque no tenían un maestro que pudiera enseñarles inglés. Así que intentamos en otra, y nos dijeron que las tomarían. Pasarían el primer año solamente para aprender inglés y estarían en tercero y quinto grado. El director dijo que ponerlas en los grados en los que estaban en casa sería como poner corderos en una manada de lobos. Terminó siendo la decisión correcta. La cultura es distinta aquí, y las niñas de esa edad en Ecuador siguen siendo solo niñas.

Tuvimos una fiesta cuando me iba, una comida en familia. La familia de mi madre tuvo una gran barbacoa con amigos, tías y primos. Comimos carne asada, maíz en mazorca, patatas y yuca. Mis amigos trajeron pollo y arroz. Había mucha comida, mucha carne y muchos amigos. Estábamos celebrando que finalmente estaría con mi esposo. Mis hijas llamaron a la casa de mi hermana a las 5 de la mañana para despedirse. Mi suegro me acompañó al aeropuerto. Volé a Newark y tomé un tren a Filadelfia.

Como mi esposo estaba afuera, en mi país (para renovar la visa), y no podía pagarle a nadie para que cuidara a las niñas mientras yo estaba en el trabajo, se quedaron solas. Tuvieron que crecer rápido. La mayor cocinaba, y la menor limpiaba. Tenían 9 y 10 años. Yo llegaba del trabajo a casa a medianoche. Ellas preparaban la cena cada noche, y me dejaban un plato para que yo comiera. Cocinaban arroz con huevos y queso. Me daba miedo que cocinaran. Tuve que comprarles teléfonos celulares. Me llamaban y me preguntaban cómo preparar sopa, y yo tenía que darles por teléfono la receta para hacer sopa de papas. Esto fue en el verano y se quedaron todo el día en casa. Algo que nunca olvidaré es que en mi cumpleaños me prepararon unos brownies en su horno para niños. Fueron al supermercado, me hicieron un pastel y lo me lo trajeron a las 5 de la mañana antes de que partiera para el trabajo.

Es difícil el trabajo aquí. Todo el mundo viene, quiere un buen trabajo, buena suerte y alguien para ayudar. No puedo quejarme. El trabajo es duro pero me permite ayudar a mis hijas. Las niñas han tenido oportunidades aquí.

En mi país, yo iba a ser médica. Aquí limpio casas. Pero si le das lugar a la depresión, ahí te quedarás.Pertenezco a la organización Centro de Apoyo Comunitario. Trabajamos con estudiantes de Villanova para ayudar a los miembros de la comunidad a sacar sus ITIN (es decir, su número de identificación individual del contribuyente) y declarar impuestos; y también ayudamos a la gente con sus clases de inglés como idioma extranjero. Esperamos realizar capacitaciones sobre abuso doméstico muy pronto. Ayudar a los demás me hace sentir más valiosa.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Jungwoong Kim

“She went in the water and picked up shells on the beach. It was wonderful to see my mother touching the water.”

Jungwoong Kim is a dancer and choreographer from South Korea.

36. IMG_0431Photo by Jennifer Baker

In 2005 I got a grant to visit another country to study. I chose to go to New York City for six months. I was interested in contact improvisation. New York is the center for cultural exchange and I had access to learn about contact improvisation. At that time, I didn’t speak any English at all. I only knew the word yes. I am a good dancer and people want to know about me but I could only say yes. By dancing, I get to know people.

Before coming to New York, I went to the Korea National University of Art in Seoul and studied choreography. But I wanted to see bigger space and learn about other cultures. I wanted to find my own way and figure out what I needed to say as an artist. I knew this chance was going to be a life change.

During those six months in New York, I found my future. I found what I like and what I want to continue doing. The second important thing is that I met my wife. Language was really challenging but my brain continued working even though I couldn’t talk with anyone. That place made me more creative. I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to get there.

One of my teachers in New York would have us do an exercise with closed eyes, everyone solo, and then we would touch everyone and dance together. I feel like I know this woman I was dancing with very well—we travel from earth to sky. Then we separate from our partner and open our eyes. I looked for who I was dancing with and saw a woman also looking around. We became friends.

A year later we performed together for a month in Korea and decided to live there for a year and a half. We also traveled in Europe together and I really liked that she wasn’t uncomfortable in different places. My wife studied Korean so she could speak to my mother. My mother was 69 years old. She lived in the same town, same house, her whole life and does not change easily. We helped her be more open to see new cultures and accept our relationship.

Marion suggested before we left that we have a dinner with friends. We rented a beautiful space near the mountains and had traditional dinner with friends and family and we took a picture all together. We had a Korean dinner with many small dishes, chicken bulgogi, spicy foods. Instead of fork and knife we ate with stainless steal chopsticks and spoons. We kept the memory of the community we had created which was a mix of my family and other foreigners (Japanese, American, Colombian). During that year, these people were very important as we all learn how to bridge our cultures with Korean families.

We moved here in 2008, first to New York and then to Philadelphia. That year we invited my mother to come to Puerto Rico where we planned to have our wedding. On December 24 we got married. We invited my mother, my sister, and my sister’s daughter. It was a beautiful wedding next to the beach. It was her first time in another country. She came to New York first and it was the first time she saw so much snow. There was lots of snow that winter. Then we went to Puerto Rico. Summer in winter. It was her first time wearing a bathing suit. She went in the water and picked up shells on the beach. It was wonderful to see my mother touching the water. She was like a teenager. She had a new experience. It was a gift for her. We went back to New York and took her to the airport and she cried, “When will I see you again?” One year later our son Ari was born. My mother wanted to see him so we all went to Korea.

It was a difficult time in Korea when my mother was born in 1948. If you could eat, that is good. Every day was just survival. Our choices are so different. She tries to keep an open mind when she is with us and we try to learn from her.

When I came here my first impression was that I felt lost. But I feel more free to do my work here. An immigrant can figure out every day, “What is my identity?” I cannot go back to Korea, my life has changed. Asking this question makes me stronger as a person and as an artist. But I continue to question if I can live here all my life. When I die, where do I go? I am Korean but I am not Korean. My son is half and half, what is his identity? I need to put my anchor here so my son’s identity will be more stable. I figure out how to teach him Korean language and culture and wish for him to grow in his curiosity of my heritage.

A few times I think I will go back. I miss my friends and family. It is hard to have a baby with no family around. I reach out to connect with Korean friends but continuity sometimes becomes difficult as I have moved several times. Marion and I work together. I teach her Korean, she teaches me Spanish, we have a trilingual home in Philadelphia. For some people it is strange to hear us talking in all three languages in every conversation but that is our support system and we are comfortable with this multicultural daily experience. We never know all about the other, always new things to learn, this is interesting. We’re getting older but we continue to develop together. In the US, I follow my heart to make friendships and extended family, it doesn’t matter where they are from.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.