Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Laura Gomez, February 21, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:04 - Introductions / Childhood

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Partial Transcript: My name is Colleen Dougherty. I'm here with Laura Gomez at her apartment in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer introduces herself to Laura Gomez and states the location and purpose of the interview. The interviewer thanks Laura Gomez for the invitation to her apartment in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Gomez recalls growing up in the city of Bogota, Columbia for ten years before moving to the United States. During the ten years, she lived with her paternal grandparents while her father was in the United States, having a poor relationship with her biological mother.

Keywords: Bogota, Columbia; Childhood; Early life; Grandparents; Migration; Parents; West Chester, Pennsylvania

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:01:24 - Colombian traditions during childhood / Reasons to leave Columbia

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Partial Transcript: And what were some of the traditions you celebrated back home in Columbia?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recounts the traditions she grew up with while in Columbia, such as celebrating Christmas on the 24th of December and Asado, a barbecue festivity celebrated in South America on December 25th. Also, Gomez notes that she left Columbia because her father wanted her to live in the United States and experience "The American Dream," a cultural notion in the United States that hard work and study will grant success, with him. He believed that going to the United States will make him a responsible father as a United States resident and thus moved to Philadelphia where part of his family resided.

Keywords: "American Dream"; Asado; Christmas; Fathers; Immigration; New Years; Traditions

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

GPS: Bogota, Colombia
Map Coordinates: 4.640081382617693, -74.12154165805782
00:03:52 - Father's first days in Philadelphia / Gomez arriving to the United States

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Partial Transcript: And when he moved here, he moved directly to Philadelphia? Was there any place else he considered moving?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez remembers that her father moved directly to Philadelphia where parts of his family resided. During his first days, he didn't know much about living in the United States, including how to drive. Gomez comments that cars in Colombia were for the wealthier individuals and so her father never learned until coming to the United States. Gomez arrived to the United State alone, with only the "azafata" or flight attendant supervising and caring for her.

Keywords: Adjustments; Driving; Family; Migration

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:05:20 - Expectations of the United States

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Partial Transcript: So, you travel by yourself, you're getting ready to go to America at a very young age. Um, what were some of your expectations of America?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez, when she arrived in the United States, expected the nation or "USA" as a kingdom where anybody can go find wealth and prosperity. She imagined her life in the United States to be beautiful, not the townhouse her father lived in. She wanted to live in a house disconnected from others, thus she found living in the United States as initially disappointing. However, the United States met Gomez' expectations with its sizable living standards, such as larger living spaces and cleanliness, and diverse population including Mexicans and Vietnamese-Americans, which felt strange. She also comments that the traffic in the United States cuts driving time from an hour and a half to twenty minutes.

Keywords: Diversity; Expectations; Idealism; Immigration; National advantages; Traffic

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:08:47 - First day in the United States

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Partial Transcript: So, you mentioned it a little bit, when you got off the plane you wanted to see your dad's house.

Segment Synopsis: Gomez remembers her first day in the United States and meeting her father and his new family. Despite her nervousness, the family embraced her and accepted her into the group. Gomez notes that her step-mother advised Gomez in adjusting to the United States, easing her into Philadelphia life. Later that day, the family went to a Chinese buffet restaurant, surprising Gomez with a cuisine she had no knowledge of. This stimulating venture into new cuisines provoked Gomez into a "culture shock" or realization of how different East Asian culture was to her own Colombian culture. After the meal, the family went to their townhouse then to an aunt's house to celebrate her brother's birthday.

Keywords: Arrival; Family; First day; Half-siblings; Marriage; Step-mothers

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:11:07 - Parental occupations / Adjusting to the United States

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Partial Transcript: So, you mentioned your parents, what do they do now?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez explains that her father owns a restaurant in Malvern, Pennsylvania, selling Colombian cuisine, while her mother is a government worker. She notes that, in the interview, she will refer to her step-mother as her mother as she helped the most in her adjustment to living in the United States, never expecting her step-mother's friendship. For example, she sat down with Gomez, helping with her homework, helping her understand how education works in the United States, including general information on topics like financial aid. Even in 2019, Gomez calls her for help whenever she needs it.

Keywords: Adjustment; Jobs; Maryland; Mi Pais; Occupations

Subjects: Careers.; Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Occupations.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Professions.

00:12:53 - Early education in Columbia and the United States

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned it a little bit so I'm going to kind of switch gears into the education system.

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recounts that despite her attendance in a private school, she never retained information from her education in Colombia, commenting that she never was taught simple mathematics like addition and subtraction. She found difficulty adjusting to her lessons in the United States as her education in Columbia never prepared her for learning a new language quickly while balancing other school subjects. Gomez notes how, initially, she wasn't able to write a paragraph in Spanish.

Keywords: Childhood; Education; Language barriers; Private schooling; Spanish (Language)

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:14:29 - Strategies for learning English and math

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Partial Transcript: So you mentioned a little bit with your mom, but, um, can you tell me about some of the strategies you losed when try--you used while trying to learn English?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recalls that, whenever she went home after school, she reviewed her written copies of her daily lessons with her mother. With a dictionary nearby, they worked together, accelerating Gomez' comprehension and writing skills in English by translating and re-translating the copied English words. Alongside reading books and listening to music from "P!NK" or "Lady Gaga" she had partial assistance from Dominican and Puerto Rican Spanish speakers; although they spoke Spanish, their translations were different due to cultural differences. When learning mathematics, Gomez had to teach herself to solve issues or called her mother for help.

Keywords: Education; English (Language); English as a second language; Lady Gaga (Artist); Language barriers; Mathematics; P!nk (Artist); Spanish (Language)

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:16:34 - Moving from one grade school to another

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Partial Transcript: So, where did you go to grade school and high school?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez remembers attending multiple grade schools in both Colombia and the United States. In Colombia, Gomez attended a new school each year. In the United States, she first attended a bilingual school in the March of the same year she came. However, both Gomez and her family didn't like that she was not learning or speaking English. After the school year ended, she went to Mayfair Elementary School for two years and learned how to speak English. In eighth grade, she attended Great Valley Middle School and graduated at Great Valley High School.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Colombia; Education; Great Valley High School; Great Valley Middle School; Mayfair Elementary School; Moving; Schools; Social life

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:18:06 - Picking a college

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Partial Transcript: And then, of course, senior year comes around, it's time to pick a, a college.

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recounts that picking out a college was difficult as growing up learning a new language led to her education lagging behind her peers. This prevented access to classes in high school in advanced placement and honor classes like math. Gomez saw this as unfair as the school never tested her and thus removed her from pursuing advanced classes. As a result, Gomez picked out a college with a handicapped grade, applying to Lehigh, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore under the advisement of her mother. These schools did not accept Gomez because she lacked experience with advanced classes, despite excelling in her grades and swimming experience in high school. She instead decided on West Chester University, an affordable school with a good computer science program.

Keywords: Advanced Placement; Bryn Mawr College; Colleges; Education; Honors programs; Language barriers; Lehigh University; Swarthmore College; West Chester University

Subjects: Childhood; College choice; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

GPS: West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.95240764092936, -75.59782550137048
00:20:25 - Reasons to study computer science / Choosing a major and career path

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you just mentioned computer science. Can you tell me how you came to decide that you wanted to study computer science?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez decided to enter college as a psychology major, but changed her major due to the amount of reading and writing involved with the subject. She thought of majoring in Special Education, but refused due to the amount of work required in the career. Gomez wanted to pursue her "American Dream," finding a trade that pays her enough to enjoy life. She also tried to attend the Coast Guard Academy, but couldn't due her lack of American citizenship. One day, Gomez encountered the Code Academy, a free code programming education website, pushing her interest in computer programs like Python, an open source code accessible to the public domain.

Keywords: "American Dream"; Aversion; Citizenship; Coast Guard; Coast Guard Academy; Code Academy; Computer languages; Computer science; Psychology; Python (Programming language); Special education; West Chester University; Writing

Subjects: College majors; College students.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

00:23:00 - Choosing a different major / Reasons for choosing West Chester University

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Partial Transcript: So, if you could pick any other major, what would it be?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez explains that she would choose to practice medicine over computer science or another high paying profession that will achieve her "American Dream." Gomez never chose West Chester University as her first college pick, but because she came from a low income family, she applied to Ursinus College as she couldn't afford other colleges. Accepted into its computer science program, Gomez received a $25,000 scholarship, covering most of the tuition and room and board. When financial aid retracted her scholarship, Gomez applied to West Chester as a second option, which accepted her quickly, allowing her to pay its state tuition rates.

Keywords: Affordability; Computer science; Education; Financial aid; Lower class; Medicine; Programming; Scholarships; Ursinus College; West Chester University

Subjects: College majors; College students.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

GPS: Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.19409060974804, -75.45646267622998
00:26:11 - Expectations of West Chester University

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Partial Transcript: So, what were your--since West Chester wasn't your first school, what were some of your expectations about West Chester?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez notes that going to West Chester University ruined the pursuit of her "American Dream" and thus she had to rebuild a new "American Dream." Overall, her expectations of the university were as a place where she will quickly get her computer science degree and leave. After spending time in West Chester University, her expectations were still not met as she had to attend large, general education classes over advanced curriculum courses found in Ursinus College's honors program. She learned to like West Chester University through her adjustment to the university.

Keywords: "American Dream"; Expectations; Goals; West Chester University

Subjects: College students.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

GPS: West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.95240764092936, -75.59782550137048
00:28:32 - Challenges at West Chester University

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Partial Transcript: So, what were some of the challenges you faced your first year in West Chester?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recounts the challenges she met while attending West Chester University. As a commuter from Malvern, Gomez sees the parking at the university as a detriment, as she has to arrive early in the morning to get a spot. This affected her course schedule as she considered her parking time with her job and courses. Adjusting to college life also provoked change in Gomez' lifestyle as she had to fit her schedule as effectively as possible.

Keywords: Challenges; Commuting; West Chester University

Subjects: College students.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

00:29:57 - The first person that helped her at West Chester University

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Partial Transcript: So, who was the first person you met and helped you at West Chester?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez explains that she had high school friends that went to West Chester University who helped her adjust to college life. Her adviser also helped Gomez whenever she didn't understand an aspect of the university. Although she didn't talk to many people on the campus in her first two years, she developed friendships during her stay at West Chester University.

Keywords: Help; Public transportation; West Chester University

Subjects: College students.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

00:30:53 - Campus diversity and activities

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Partial Transcript: And with those friends, were there any activities maybe you joined to help you become accustomed?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez remembers attending West Chester University and recognizing the diversity found on the campus. From Central and South Americans to Asian Americans, she found clubs dedicated to each culture and joined the Latino American Student Organization, a student advocate group that strives to maintain a supportive atmosphere on the West Chester campus. As a part of their dance team, she organized and practiced Latin dance routines to perform in front of audiences.

Keywords: Art; Culture; Culture clubs; Diversity; Latin dance; Latinos American Student Organization (LASO); West Chester University

Subjects: College environment; College students--Social conditions; College students.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

00:31:55 - Differences between Colombian and United States school cultures

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Partial Transcript: So, what did you--I would say, what did you--what's the cultural difference between where you maybe went to grade school and high school and then West Chester?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez recounts attending school in Colombia as a time where she wore a uniform, with the school year starting in February, and ending in November. She had mandatory classes in religion due to the country's strong Catholic values. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Gomez had to adjust to an entirely new education system. Although the city and schools were diverse, Gomez thought that the quality of education in the city was less than the Malvern suburb's Great Valley Middle and High Schools, despite needing to adjust to a new school system for the second time.

Keywords: Colombia; Cultural norms; Education; Great Valley High School; Great Valley Middle School; Malvern, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Schooling; Suburbs

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:34:01 - Choosing a different university / How West Chester University influenced her career

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Partial Transcript: If you could choose any other school, what would it be?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez explains that she wanted to enter Lehigh University due to its computer science program and swimming team/club opportunities, however, she was not accepted. Despite never attending Ursinus College, Gomez recognizes that she still gained experience in computer science in West Chester University. She knows that the time spent attending WCU shaped her to live independently from her parents and manage her own time. Now, her "American Dream" is to finish college and get a high paying job to financially provide her future family more than what her parents were able to, noting her "American Dream" changed to a realistic plan rather than ideal.

Keywords: "American Dream"; Clubs; Computer science; Idealism; Influences; Lehigh University; Realism; Swimming; Ursinus College; West Chester University

Subjects: College choice; College students.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.

00:37:22 - West Chester as home / Traveling in Colombia

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Partial Transcript: And how do you view West Chester in terms of home?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez views West Chester as her home after living in the municipality for two years. However, her view of Colombia has never changed and she desires to return to the country when she is old and retired with money earned from her job. When living in Colombia, Gomez wants to travel the country, experiencing the cultures, foods, and customs of its regions.

Keywords: Colombia; Home; Homeland; Malvern, Pennsylvania; West Chester, Pennsylvania

Subjects: Bogotá (Colombia); Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Malvern (Pa.); Philadelphia (Pa.); West Chester (Pa.)

00:39:35 - Looking ahead / Interview conclusion

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Partial Transcript: So, you're, you're a junior, graduate soon. Where do you--what do you see yourself doing in the future?

Segment Synopsis: Gomez sees herself graduating with her master's degree in the next two years. Afterwards, she will accept a job with anyone willing to hire her and pay what she deems appropriate. She plans to work her remaining time at West Chester University to achieve that goal to have secure finances and pursue happiness. The interviewer thanks Gomez and ends the recording.

Keywords: Computer science; Employment; Future opportunities; Graduation; Jobs; Master's degree in computer science; Plans; West Chester University

Subjects: Careers.; College students.; Occupations.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Professions.; Universities and colleges.