Me: What country are you originally from?
S: I was born in Argentina.
Me: Why did you leave this country?
S: Because I left in the middle of my college studies, I volunteered to a war in Israel to work in place of reserve soldiers who had to go to the front and there were no men left in the fields, so I volunteered to work in the fields during that period and then I just stayed and completed my undergraduate studies in Israel and then I came to America for graduate school.
Me: When did you leave? How old were you at the time?
S: I was 20 years old when I left.
Me: And what is your family background? Where did your parents come from? What did they do?
S: On my mother’s side, my grandparents were from Germany and Lithuania. And they were in the textile industry. And from my father’s side, my grandparents were from Czechoslovakia and they were also in the textile industry.
Me: And what did you do in your country before you moved here?
S: I went to high school, and I did part of my college studies there.
Me: What were you studying?
Me: What were the conditions of Argentina at the time of your departure?
S: Argentina was in a military dictatorship. Freedom for people like myself was limited. Young people were suspects all the time. They, just being young, was reason to be suspected of activities, of left wing activities, just being young was enough to be suspected. I was stopped by the police many times. Just because I was walking around and I had a beard.
Me: I didn’t know you had a beard. What are some of your memories of living in Argentina?
S: I remember in the last years the lack of freedom and the, and I remember my parents being more scared of the police than of thieves because of the level of repression that existed at the time there.
Me: And how did you get to the United States? Did you stay somewhere else before arriving here?
S: I spent, I went back to Argentina, my sister was getting married and I spent some time there. I traveled. All of that took about a year between the time when I left Israel and came to the United States.
Me: Um why did you choose the United States? Why not some other country?
S: I… um… I wanted to come for the best schools for the graduate studies that I wanted to do were in the United States. So I applied to the schools in the United States and I got in, and I then stayed here. But at the time I just wanted to go to graduate school.
Me: What did you go to graduate school in?
S: Operations research, which is a conversation stopper. It was applied mathematics to engineering and other types of models. It was, it’s a mix between engineering, statistics, modeling, and all kinds of other things that was developed during World War Two as an aid to military operations hence the name operations research.
Me: Did you want to leave Argentina?
Me: Where did you first settle when you came to this country? Did you know English when you came here? What other languages did you speak?
S: When I came to this country I already spoke English; I had studied English in Argentina in school and I also spoke Hebrew at the time, and Spanish of course was my first language, I knew some Portuguese, I had very, very basic knowledge of German but that was about it in terms of languages. And my first place where I settled in the United States was Northern California; I went to the San Francisco bay area.
Me: And what did you do when you arrived in the United States?
S: I went to school. Graduate school.
Me: And what was your first impression of the United States?
S: Very organized place.
Me: Compared to Argentina or in general?
S: In general, very well organized. We found it rather funny that there was a drought in California. One of my professors from Israel came to the same school at the same time as I did. It was his sabbatical in the United States, and I came for graduate school. So we would get together and chat, and we thought it was really funny that during a drought the big deal was not watering the lawn and flushing every second time in the public bathrooms. We thought that there was no consciousness of what a drought really was, living in Israel where you live actually in a desert, we were somewhat more conscious of the value of water.
Me: Has your initial impression of the United States changed over time?
S: Yeah, it changes all the time.
Me: How so?
S: Well, it’s hard to say, this is too general a question, I think it’s a good country, but it has its issues. Indecisive on many international matters that are clear-cut in my view, and very political in domestic matters that should be resolved. A country has rich as this one should not have worse health care then third world countries in South America.
Me: Um what are some of your favorite parts of the United States?
S: New York is my favorite place in the United States. I liked the bay area when I lived there but not interested in going back. I like New York. I like Aspen, Colorado. I just like the mountains. And I like New York.
Me: And what are some of the differences and similarities you’ve noticed in the cultures here and in your home country?
S: Too many. Um this is a country that was colonialized versus a country that was conquered. The Spanish and the Portuguese conquered countries. They plundered them, raped, pillaged, and took advantage of the people. In this country, the main immigration was a colonializing immigration that tried to work their way, had a work ethic, tried to work their way into having a better life as a family rather than as male conquerors… That makes a huge difference in the result of that invasion. Both are invasions, but one is much harsher, the conquering one, much harsher than the other one.
Me: And one type of connections do you maintain with your families and friends in Argentina?
S: Well my parents passed. And I have an on and off relationship with my sister. And that’s about it, but I don’t have much of a relationship with Argentina anymore.
Me: How often do you return?
S: I used to go back often. I don’t go back anymore.
Me: Are you aware of the political on goings in Argentina?
S: Yes. It’s a mess.
Me: Do you think your experience with migrating and coming to the United States have shaped your children’s lives?
S: Of course, yes. Being an immigrant or being a first generation immigrant changes your life dramatically. And your children being the first ones born in the country obviously are affected by that. You’re all the time adapting to something that is changing, so not only do you have to adapt to something that is different to what you are used to, but you also have to adapt to a changing environment that is different from what you are used to.
Me: Tell me what it was like to grow up and to live in Argentina during the Dirty War?
S: Uh was tough, as I mentioned before, you were suspect just because of the age group you belonged to. On top of that I had a beard, which made it even worse.
Me: Why didn’t you shave your beard?
S: Oh because I liked my beard.
Me: Ok go on.
S: But from time to time I had to shave my beard in order to get a passport because the picture in the passport could not be with a beard, which is already a way of repression. Friends of mine disappeared during the dirty war by some counts 30,000 young people disappeared during the dirty war. Women of that age group that had children or were pregnant, their children were either killed or stolen by the military or given up, given to adoption to friends of the military that could not have children. So it was all really terrible. Nevertheless, I left because of an outside pull rather than an inside push because I decided to go to Israel to help. But being during that during that time in the military meant that you had to be very careful where you went, how you went, how you dressed, how you looked because it was just a very, very repressive regime.
Me: And when you first arrived in the United States, tell me a little about your experience?
S: Well I came to graduate school, and it was, I felt very welcome. I didn’t feel any differences being made between American students and foreign students. It was very open. I quickly became a T.A. I did speak English, so that was not a problem, but it was, I didn’t feel that there was any differentiation between being a foreign student and being an American student. The only difference was that as a foreign student I had a student visa so I could only work on campus or work in jobs where the recruiter was trying to get a student so I was getting paid through the University anyway but whoever, wherever I was doing the job would pay the University and the University would pay me which was the right way to do it. At the time, I also soon even during my last years of graduate school, I started, I applied for a visa to stay in the country as a permanent resident, and I, you know, I got it very quickly. Back then it was easier to get than now. And so, since everything I had done was legal, and I came as a student, I was a student, and then when I finished graduate school, I applied for permanent residence, and within a year I was a permanent resident. It was much easier back then, and I think the country was more welcome to immigrants than it is today. There was a better understanding of what immigrants bring to the table. Anybody who is willing to leave their country and leave all their familiar and comfortable, leave their comfort zone to move into a different country, they are obviously a different kind of person that is willing to do a lot more and is therefore, and should be therefore welcome because they are certainly going to add value and pay taxes.
Me: When did you become a citizen?
S: As a permanent resident, within 5 years you had the right to apply for citizenship. And I immediately applied for citizenship and became a citizen.
Me: And was it an easy process?
S: Yeah, it was almost automatic with 5 years of residence, permanent residency.
Me: And um why did you move from California to New York?
S: Job opportunity. I was working in California, and one of my clients in New York offered me a job and I left the place where I was working and came to work in New York. Besides, there weren’t enough women in California who I liked so I had to come to New York to find women.
Me: And you met Mami in New York?
Me: Who is also from Argentina?
S: Who is also from Argentina, but if you want to interview her you can.
Me: Did you feel that you were like you met a lot of people from Argentina or that you had a connection with people from Argentina or were your friends from all over?
S: I had friends from Argentina, obviously there is a connection because you have some things in common, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to Argentines over other nationalities and certainly not over Americans.
Me: What was the community that you grew up in in Argentina like?
S: Uh well the community was upper-middle, upper-middle class. Um you know homes were usually in the suburbs. Most of the social activities were downtown so there was all the time commuting back and forth into the city. But we lived in the suburbs.
Me: And what’s the community that you live in now?
S: Now I live also upper-middle class community in the city of New York. And most of the social life occurs at homes and in restaurants near by so it’s less commuting. Less need of a car.
Me: And what kind of jobs did you hold in Argentina?
S: Oh I left Argentina when I was 20 years old so most of the jobs were not big jobs. I was a camp counselor. I did other part time jobs from time to time nothing significant. That was it.
Me: How about in Israel?
S: Well in Israel, I at first worked as a volunteer so the only thing that we got as volunteers was housing and food. But we worked long hours. I worked in a shoe factory for many days. I also worked in the orange and grapefruit plantations where we collected the fruit. I also worked, they had a farm, fish pools, so we farmed there and fished. And I also worked in taking the fish out of the pool, which was very, very hard work. We were like wearing boots that reached to our bottom. You know full body boots and we were under, in the mud pulling nets to bring out the fish. It was the hardest job I ever did in my life. And it started at 4 o’clock in the morning before breakfast. And then we came back for breakfast; of course we couldn’t have much breakfast. We were covered with mud. That was in the kibbutz. So it was mainly the shoe factory, the citrus plantation, and the fish. Then I went to college to do the second half of my undergraduate. There I had odd jobs of different kinds. I cleaned bathrooms for money. I worked as a waiter. I worked… what else did I do… Oh I was a T.A. eventually, eventually I made it up the ladder, and I became a T.A. in my last year of college. That was it for Israel.
Me: And what kind of jobs did you hold in the United States?
S: Well the United States. When I was in graduate school I had different research assistantship jobs. First I was, first jobs I got was as T.A. – teaching assistant. Then I got research assistant jobs, and those partly paid for my education. Mainly T.A. and R.A. in the universities that I attended. Then in my last year I got a job as a consultant in a financial modeling company. And then once I graduated I stayed with the company. The company arranged for my citizenship, well basically my permanent resident then eventually my citizenship. And I worked for that company full time once I graduated in California. Then I moved to New York. Got jobs in different Wall Street firms over time who had been my clients when I worked in California and knew me from there and offered me jobs and I moved to New York. And then I eventually started my own business, and lately I’ve been doing basically, trying to work on individual deals without necessarily doing it within a company or within my own company. Just self-employed.
Me: How did your parents get to Argentina?
S: This is a very long story.
Me: That’s great.
S: They came to Argentina separately, and they met in Argentina. They came very young, and the decision of going to Argentina was my grandparent’s not my parents, my parents were children. On my mother’s side, my mother was born in Berlin, Germany. And her father was born in Berlin and her mother was Lithuanian. They, I don’t know how they met, but in Europe people just moved around a lot. So the, my grandfather in 1933, when Hitler got power in Germany decided that it wasn’t a place to be in. He moved the family to Lithuania where my grandmother was from, so it was easy for them to settle there. He kept doing business with Germany so he would go back and forth from Lithuania to Germany while the family was settling in Lithuania. They lived in Lithuania for about 7 or 8 years. And my grandfather in one of his trips to Germany was caught in the beginning of the war when Germany started invading Poland. And he being Jewish decided that he needed to leave Germany as quickly as possible. Got on a boat that was going to London, and as the boat was departing the port in Germany he realized that if he got to London and all out war broke in Europe, he would not be able to come back to his family. He jumped off the boat and swam back. I mean the boat hadn’t gone far. So he swam back to the port and basically started walking across Europe from Germany to Lithuania. And it took him a long time. The family didn’t know where he was, had no news from him, until one day he appeared back in Lithuania. He then realized that Europe was going to be a holocaust for his family, so he started to look for ways of getting out of Europe for the whole family. He was one of the, my grandparents, and my mother, and my uncle’s family were one of the few families that were saved from Lithuania. They lived in a city called Kaunas, that was the provisional capital of Lithuania at the time, so there was a Japanese consul at the time called Sugi Hara who gave out visas to non-Lithuanians. So the irony is that the way they could get a visa, a temporary visa through Japan, was because my grandfather was German. They couldn’t give Visas to Lithuanians. So what had been a problem before – being German – now became rather helpful because he was able to get this visa for his whole family to leave Lithuania through Siberia and then by ship to Japan. And he saved his family that way. And he really did because fast forward many years after the war, he went back, they went back to Lithuania and to Germany to see if there were any survivors and there were none. My grandfather, my grandmother sorry, had a twin sister, she survived and none of the people who had been directly saved by my grandfather really survived. Some of his family did go to Scandinavian countries, and they did survive. But the vast majority of that side of the family was killed by the Nazis.
Then on my father’s side. My father was born in Prague, in Czechoslovakia. And my grandmother was from Prague, and my grandfather was from a part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland, which was a German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. So his first language was German. Also the Sudetenland was the reason Germany invaded Czechoslovakia because they considered the Sudetenland part of Germany, or German territory because it was mainly German. As the Germans were invading Czechoslovakia, my grandfather had arranged exit from Czechoslovakia to Argentina. So they managed to immigrate to Argentina in the nick of time. I think it was a question of days where they would not be able to leave. By the way going back to my mother. They did live in Japan for a while and then they managed to get permanent visas to Argentina later on, within the year, I think. And they went to Argentina. So back to my father’s side, they went directly to Argentina from Czechoslovakia. My grandfather knew one name of one person who gave him his first job in Argentina. And he started working in a textile company. He had a degree in Chemistry, I don’t know how you call these things, the coloring section of the textile. What do you call that?
Me: Like dying?
S: Yes, dying. So that was all done through chemical processes. So having a degree in Chemistry helped him get that job. So that’s how they all got to Argentina. After the war they went back to Europe to see if there were any survivors, and there were none. In Lithuania there were no survivors and some of the Germans that were on my mother’s father’s side of the family, many of them left to Scandinavian countries and survived. On the Czech side of the family there were no survivors.
Me: You mentioned that your grandfather went to Argentina only knowing of one person, right?
Me: When you went to the United States did you know of anyone there? Did you have any sort of network?
S: Well I knew some people that moved to the United States around the same time as I did. We graduated, we had just graduated college, and we moved to the United States to work or to get a graduate degree. But all different cities. I was the only one in California of the people I knew. There were some in Chicago, some in Princeton… One in Princeton. And that was it. So I didn’t know anyone. In California I didn’t know anybody.
Me: Was it easy to meet people and get to know people?
S: Oh no I knew somebody. There was a friend of my mother’s who lived in California, but I didn’t like her very much.
Me: But was it easy to meet people your age? I mean you were in college, or graduate school.
S: Well I was in college I only met people my age. Yeah I was in graduate school, I know realize in seeing my children going to college, how much I missed, because once you are a graduate student it is not as much fun.
Me: Hi. Thank you for doing another interview with me.
S: Oh well you know I really enjoy this because it reminds me of my days when I was younger and making important decisions for my life. And I like talking about it because some of the things that come out I didn’t know were there, so I think it is very interesting for me as well to do this introspection of my life back then.
Me: I’m so glad you’re enjoying it because I’m enjoying it too.
S: Oh that’s good, so if we are both enjoying it we should do it more often.
Me: yes so, one of the questions I had for you today is you spoke in an earlier interview we had about going back to Argentina and I was wondering what that experience is like for you when you go back.
S: Well the experience changes over time because one thing was going back to Argentina when I had big family and my parents were there and my sister and my sister was starting to have children. I mean it was very enjoyable all that family time back then. But you know as time goes on there are fewer people left. My mother passed, and then my father. So it changes. It changes over time what you experience when you go down there. I also did some business there, and its always very difficult to go back and do things when you are used to working in a different environment. And all my working life I was in different places. I was not in Argentina, and there they work different. And so it was always a little difficult for me to go back and try to do those things. I enjoyed the family time, but that also changed significantly when both my parents passed.
Me: When you go back does it feel in anyway that you are going home or do you really consider America to be your home?
S: My home is America. My children were born here, so my home is where my children were born.
Me: Do you like showing your daughters Argentina?
S: I may have liked it for a while. Argentina became a very difficult place to like. Or to be proud. I am not proud at all about Argentina or about that fact that I am from Argentina. I think the country has deteriorated a lot. You know as bad as it was when I left, I think it got a lot worse. Because now not only do they have the history of autocratic repressive government – they’ll have to live with that forever – but then they had levels of corruption that have never been seen since before that. And now they also have that. The proud owner of the worst military government and the most corrupt civilian government. So you know that’s the claim to fame Argentina has.
S: Worst military government, most repressive government, and most corrupt civilian government. You can’t beat that.
Me: Parts of the country are pretty though.
S: Yeah. I mean there are pretty places everywhere. That’s not enough. I think that in order to be proud of a place – you are not proud of a place because it has a pretty lake. You are proud of a place because you respect their values.
Me: That is a fair point.
S: We will have to stop now because I have to walk into a place, and I won’t have service. But I hope this helped, and we can do the rest of the interview at another time.
Me: That sounds great! Thank you for speaking with me. I hope you have a lovely evening.
S: Thank you!