First Person Immigrant Stories
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Vanessa Agovida

Vanessa Agovida, Filipino, American

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When I grew up my dad would talk about America in really, really, glowing terms...
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[I] feel proud to be able to take part in the Women’s March or anything that has to do with you know making your voice heard.

Vanessa:  Vanessa Agovida take one.

Interviewer: When did your family first move to America?

Vanessa: My parents came from the Philippines from two different parts of the Philippines so they didn't know each other. And my father arrived in America in New Jersey, in October 1988, and my mom arrived in March 1989, and they were both hired to work at the same hospital as nurses and that's where they met and that's where he started courting her and they got married. They got married in October 1989 so several months after meeting each other.

 Interviewer: Where did you grow up?

Vanessa:  I grew up in South Jersey just 10 minutes from Atlantic City, ten minutes from Ocean City, so by the shore. My parents actually were given a choice of where they could go to work as nurses. Hiring agencies were hiring North nurses because there was a shortage of them in America at the time. So, for some reason they both chose New Jersey - my dad says that he chose New Jersey because he thought Atlantic City had a lot of boxing going on - so he just chose New Jersey, but he could very easily have chosen Saudi Arabia or some other country and not America, but they both chose the same state – so that's how they met. And I always think that's kind of weird that they both chose that because I could have very well be living in New York or California or not even America right now.

Interviewer:  Why did your mom decide to come to America instead of those other countries?

Vanessa:  My mom graduated as a nurse, but didn't work as a nurse for several years because she felt some sort of crisis of self-doubt about it. Her grandfather had passed away when she was a young adult and she was at his bedside. So for a long time she kind of carried that and for some reason put it on herself, so she don't work as a nurse for several years. She did a lot of other interesting things [partial statement removed by editor for privacy], working as a clerk in a storefront or a bank front. She got mugged in the bank once, but stop the robber from getting all the way in because she locked the door - she sold clothes in a market. And then finally after some time I think she decided she wanted something for herself maybe something more than that, so she I decided to come back to nursing - she knew that America was hiring, so she walked into an agency and decided to get back into it.

Interviewer: Is there a specific memory that you have especially coming from an immigrant parents first generation that really made you feel proud to be American?

Vanessa: it's a good question when I grew up my dad would talk about America in really, really, glowing terms and like over breakfast every morning there was some kind of lecture about any topic and a lot of times about America being so great because of democracy and because of, you know, our government allowing us to do - I mean my parents grew up under the Marcos, the dictator in the Philippines regime. So, they're kind of familiar with living in a country where people are suppressed and freedom of thought and political thought is suppressed. You know there were young adults at the time that the people took back the government in the Philippines. So, I feel like that gives them a greater appreciation of being able to live in America and certainly makes me feel proud to be able to take part in the Women's March or anything that has to do with you know making your voice heard.

Interviewer: What is one thing that your family brought with them so your parents each obviously grew up in a different culture than here, or something they brought with them that you're very proud to also have within you that you're able to pass on to people around you a trait or sort of approach to life?

Vanessa:  Well, the first thing I thought - my parents didn't really bring a lot from the Philippines to America which is always made me very sad because I know there must be a historical record of what they were like when they were younger photos or notes and letters - but I don't have any of that. And for my dad specifically he thought he came from a very sort of rural underdeveloped area of the Philippines and they didn't really have cameras. So, you know, I don't have any way of knowing what my dad really looked like at my age which is why I think that's why I really enjoy photography and video and movies because…. because I don't know what my parents stories look like from they were growing up. So, yeah that's why I'm really happy to participate in the project that is documentary in nature.

Interviewer: So, how would you define the word American?

For me right now the word American means to be loud. I feel like my parents culture and maybe other Asian cultures are stereotyped as being modest and keeping your head down. But being in America and being raised as an American makes me feel a lot more comfortable talking about what I believe in and expressing myself a lot more truly than if I had grown up in a different culture.

Interviewer: One more question, how do you define an immigrant?

Vanessa: An immigrant is an idealist who is searching for something better.