First Person Immigrant Stories

Vincent Alvarado

Vincent Alvarado, Puerto Rican, American

I grew up in a very small town where there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me, so even though I didn’t have the first-hand experience of coming here from a different country it kind of felt like I was coming from a different country because people didn’t really know Spanish and you know people didn’t know culture at all.
And now that I’m living here in New York I really appreciate those experiences because it’s made me a better person and it shows me the sacrifices that two generations made for me that they didn’t even have for themselves.

Vincent: My name is Vincent Alvarado.

Interviewer: When did your family first came to America?

Vincent: My grandparents were lined up on the island of Puerto Rico for a really good opportunity to come to New York City. They were probably 18, 19, 20 years old - it was kind of like their college experience. “Let's go to New York, let's go make some money, let's have a good time and let's build a future for ourselves.” My grandparents moved to New York probably with the early 50s, mid 50s. They had my parents in the Bronx, New York, and my parents had myself in the Bronx, New York.

Interviewer: Why do you think they want to come to America?

Vincent: America represents a ton of different ideals for a ton of different people. I think my grandparents being on this beautiful island and having this lifestyle they really needed some sort of adventure in a place just to build their own. During these times I mean money was pretty hard to come by, education was also pretty hard to come by. And New York and this embodiment of having all these resources and this education and this future that they wanted to provide their children - was something that just really enticed them. Not only that, but a lot of Puerto Ricans were coming to New York during this time and, you know, the whole Puerto Rican movement was building, people knew Spanish here already. So, it was just an easy transition for them just to come and build upon what other people in the island were already doing.

Interviewer: What did they do once they got here?

Vincent: One of the earliest memories I have is, you know, both of my parents were born in the South Bronx and during that time it was really, really, impoverished and you know this was during the time where the Bronx was kind of burning. So, you know my parents have stories of my mom playing hopscotch and abandoning buildings with needles and the drug epidemics that was going on. And my dad being young and getting a carton milk for my grandmother who couldn't speak English and shining shoes in Midtown. And just my parents always telling me the stories of my grandparents coming home from work from the factories. My grandmother especially she worked at an ink Factory so every time she'd come home she'd just be covered with ink. She still found a way to cook dinner and to serve a plate of food for my family and during this time again  Puerto Rico was a great place but at the same time it gave him the resources to fight for what they wanted and to build a new generation. And my parents always instilled that within myself: it's just to always work hard and to defeat the odds and the obstacles. My grandparents always make a sacrifice to give this world to my parents and my parents also had to fight through those same obstacles even though they weren't immigrants - they had to fight through those same type of obstacles with me. I was actually raised in Central Florida. My parents had the same American dream that a lot of people had growing up here, the white picket fence, the nice yard, the house. Being in the Bronx that's not really viable unless you do have a lot of money. My mom she got her associate's degree during this time, my dad was more blue-collar they decided to move to Florida and they kind of emigrated to Florida in the sense that there were not a lot of Hispanics in Central Florida during this time. I grew up in a very small town where there weren't a lot of people that looked like me, so even though I didn't have the first-hand experience of coming here from a different country it kind of felt like I was coming from a different country because people didn't really know Spanish and you know people didn't know culture at all. So, a lot of times I would be made fun of because of my skin tone because I spoke a different language and I got to really see firsthand of things that were happening to my grandparents and things were happening to my parents. For me it was a little bit more surreal because in New York there's so many different types of people and different types of languages whereas in Florida there wasn't at that time. So, they could sympathize with a lot of the struggles that I was facing but then they couldn't as well because they're from New York City, they're from the melting pot and me being born there and raised in Florida was a different experience for me. And now that I'm living here in New York I really appreciate those experiences because it's made me a better person and it shows me the sacrifices that two generations made for me that they didn't even have for themselves.

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

Vincent: The word American, the true definition came to me when I first started traveling outside of the US. It dawned to me I went to Tokyo, Japan for the first time two years ago and I just noticed how much more freeing and thought I was and in the way I spoke to people and the energy I gave to people, whereas it looks like in Asia and especially in Tokyo you know it's a lot about conformity, it's all about following the rules and staying in line. And you know that type of culture comes from generations and generations from where they're from, whereas you know being in America you know I am into different types of music the way I dress the way I am. And I think just being an American just means the freedom of choice, the freedom to speak what I want and to say how I want and to be whoever I want to be. I mean my parents made the sacrifice for me to have the education that I do have and the ability to move around and be free and you know I'm one of the first people in my family to have a passport and it's just the freedom to move around and to speak my mind whereas other people are just so suppressed. And even in our own country people are now being more suppressed you know with the attacks going on, with the journalists and people being scared and not knowing what's happened is the trust. But being an American really you know in the truest sense you do have the freedom of choice to figure out what's believable what's not and we could be whoever we want to be.

Interviewer: If there is one thing you could say is your hope for America what would you say that is?

Vincent: I really hope that the next generation of Americans really find it in themselves to give it forward and to pay it forward. A lot of Americans now they're being raised to kind of be kind of selfish and a lot of people are saying oh the US first and this is our land and we need to take care of it first and you know forget about the immigrants, you know, our people are dying our veterans need help. I think if people don't pay it forward then our generation is just going to feel like they're entitled to things and no one's entitled to anything. I mean people have the right to come to this country and build the freedoms because you know that's how this country started that's how it's built on. And I think it's very important to realize that you know it comes with education. Technology is growing exponentially we're going to be faced with the generation where you know our current generation in my age and people in our 20s we're fighting for the rights of people of the same gender to get married to one another but as we get older it's going to be you know much more futuristic in the sense that we could have robots and robots might want to marry humans and you know who's to say that that can't be in place, who's to say that you know androids and life-forms can't live in the same environment that we could? I mean right now we're fighting against racial discrimination but eventually the generations are going to see that I think that comes with education and just knowing the difference between what's right and what's wrong and I think that that's going to have a huge effect on us. But paying it forward and just realizing that you know nothing's really entitled to you that so many people from different cultures they fought so hard to give what you have and you always need to pay it forward because if you don't then the system will just be against this.