Maria S. Zamar & Clemen Montero - Story Recording
Homeland Memories

Interview(s)
  • Title: Clemen Montero and Sheila Zamar Story Recording
    Description: Recording of Clemen Montero and Maria Sheila Zamar. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this story do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Interviewee Maria S. Zamar and Clemen Montero
Interviewer(s)
  • Trinity Medellin : Field Museum of Natural History - Anthropology
  • Marina Labarthe : Field Museum of Natural History - Department of Geology
  • Froilan Fabro
Location(s)
  • Field Museum of Natural History
Date(s)
  • 15 Jul 2017
Personal Statement / Transcription:

Maria Sheila Zamar and Clemen Montero

Medellin: Could you please read that disclaimer before we begin?

Zamar: Okay, Ate Montero read.

Montero: Ok- Oh both of us at the same time?

Medellin: It doesn’t matter. We just need to have it on record, you know.

Montero: Ok so any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this story do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Medellin: Thank you. Now, could you both state your names and then spell your last name for me.

Montero: Clemen Montero. M o n t e r o.

Zamar: Zamar Zamar. Z a m a r.

Fabro: Ok well let’s see… W-when did you come to the US?

Zamar: So I'll start- Clem is talking. So I first came to the US in 1997 to be a grad student at the Northern Illinois University. It wasn’t planned- I was invited to help them set up a website, which will be a resource site for learning Southeast Asian languages. And I was hired to work on the Filipino language part of the website. So I had to write a grammar reference for them, and write lessons to put it up online for teachers and students of Filipino to use in their classes. But then since it was an institution of learning I figured well, I might as well go to school, so I did a master's there in English. But after two years I got the masters, I was invited by a friend who runs the Filipino program at the University of Hawai’i to teach with them so I moved to Hawai’i and I stayed there for ten years, and eight years teaching Filipino...and then I moved to Riverside to teach Filipino also. And then I went back to the Midwest to teach at the University of Wisconsin. I also teach Filipino there. And then decided to go back to graduate school five years ago so I'm finishing my dissertation in ancient languages and cultures this year, hopefully at the end of the year I’m done.

Montero: So, gosh, long story. So we moved to Hawai’i when I was 14 years old and it was 1979 but prior to that in 1965 when my parents applied to come to the United States- they were already approved- but I believe my parents thought that well, life is still good, we should - we were still ok with things in the Philippines so they said oh, we won’t go. Then, not until 1978 like I think that one of my grand uncles came, visited to the Philippines and said you should really work on the paperwork to go. So my parents were both given professional visas. My father is a doctor, a dentist, doctor of medical dentistry, my mom is a nurse. So when they were both approved for that in 1979 said ok, we’ll go. So we went. We came to Hawai’i and lived there. My siblings are all over the continental United States also. But that’s how I came to the United States. Yeah. I started after graduation I started teaching at the University of Hawai’i also in Manoa.  That’s where I met Maria. And I think about 8 years ago she invited me and said you know there’s a Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute at UW Madison and said that if you’re interested you know there’s a position and that’s how we started- how I started teaching Filipino. But back in the University of Hawai’i I teach Ilocano language, where Froilan was my student before I think one- two semesters. So there I teach Ilocano language and at the community colleges I’m teaching Filipino or Tagalog. A long time ago.

Labarthe: Do you guys have any anecdotes, from like the first few years of living in the United States?

Zamar: My first week, yeah! So my first week I was looking for housing, I was a graduate student, I was i guess I had a host mom for the first week, she was helping me out with looking for housing and getting me to know people on campus. So she said well, I’d like to introduce you to American culture. So she brought me to a football game. I guess it was a homecoming game for the Northern Illinois University football team. So I went there, there were other graduate students from Southeast Asia because my host mom was working for the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and so she had a lot of students that she was helping out from Southeast Asia. So she said “oh why don’t you go with this group, to a football game.” So “ok”, i said. So there was a - what do you call that when they open their trunks and they have food and stuff?

Medellin: A tailgate?

Zamar: A tailgate! Ok my first tailgate. So, I didn’t drink any alcohol, but there was a lot I remember. I ate chili and hot dogs and lots of other stuff. And so that was really interesting for me, that it was, to my host mom, an introduction to American culture for someone from Southeast Asia. So then I- we go into the stadium and then we watched the game and the people next to me would just tell me “ok when we do the wave you do the wave with us”- ok, sure. And so at different points during the game, we would stand up and do the wave.

Montero: Did you feel funny, like what the heck am I doing?

Zamar: Yeah, and I was looking at the game-

Labarthe: Everybody’s so weird!

Zamar: Yeah, because right after that I, I had no idea what american football was and how it was played and to this day I still don’t know, I tried asking a friend to explain to me what the rules of the games are, but he said well, I could tell you but there’s about two thousand something rules. So, nevermind. So yeah, I just - sometimes I still watch with people who invite me to their football parties during the Superbowl. So... very interesting.

Labarthe: That is so funny, I love that.

Zamar: But it was funny because I like I was with people from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and I guess an Indonesian girl was there with us also. So we were all- we had no idea what was going on in the field but we were just watching people run back and forth. Like oh, ok, really interesting. I thought that they would bring me to a basketball game or something. Basketball is big in the Philippines. It's like the national game. It's on tv, there’s lots of leagues, professional and amateur. So I was thinking oh, maybe they’ll take me to a basketball game. Back then Michael Jordan I think was on his last year or was retiring soon, and so my brother in the Philippines called me one day and said “you should go watch Michael Jordan”. I said, “ok I’m gonna try and go to a game”- oh my god! The tickets are so expensive! So I said “ok, no more basketball, let’s just go to the home game for football”. Yeah, I thought it was funny. The first week she takes me to a football game.

Labarthe: It is very American though.

Zamar: It is, yes. The tailgate...yeah

Labarthe: My first American experience was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A friend of mine, my first friend was like here, this is American food. And I was like - I immediately threw up. I like them now. But I was so shocked, like why would you put those two together! But what about you? Do you have any anecdotes?

Montero: I don’t remember any, except the first morning, when we arrived at night and they had a party for us but then the next morning, one of my grand aunts said “oh, let's go to Mcdonalds”! And we’ve only heard of Mcdonald’s. At that time we didn’t even have Mcdonald’s. So we went to Mcdonald’s expecting like, huge hamburgers, you know, huge fries, etc. because when we were in the Philippines we actually had like big burgers, big fries. And they kept telling us, when you go to the United States the burgers are bigger. And then we go to Mcdonald’s like what the heck? They're this big, like, is there actually even meat in here? So that was like a disappointment because you were thinking like- cause it was one of the ways my dad would make us think that okay we’re gonna be ok, cause we didn’t want to leave. We were ok there, you know, so coming here he kept telling us “oh, when you get there everything will be bigger”- well it’s not like Texas!

Zamar: Yes it’s very funny that- your expectations coming from the Philippines to the US. I remember, I think I flew into Chicago but I had to go to this small university town in Dekalb, Illinois. So my host mother arranged a limo service for me. She said “oh, there will be a limo service to pick you up at your hotel”. Because I had a friend who booked me a hotel at the airport, so I stayed overnight and then the next day the limo service was supposed to come. So I was expecting a limo, but no it's a regular car. With a driver that takes you to wherever you want to go.

Montero: Why would you call it a limo if it's not a limo!

Zamar: I guess they call it a limo service around here. So then I said, “oh ok, this is the limo”. So I get in this car, I’m so excited because it was my first trip to the US and I was, touching down I was looking at the city, the skyline of Chicago, beautiful. But you know, oh my god, [11:09 - you know what they say,] this is a really exciting city. So the next day the limo service person comes to pick me up to take me to my university town, so when we get outside city limits, he tells me “oh you know you can take a nap, because this is gonna be a long drive, and there's nothing but corn all the way to Iowa”. So he said “I’ll wake you up when we get to the interstate part”. So yeah, he was right it was just cornfields and cornfields to the left, and the right, and I was thinking-

Montero : This is America?

Zamar: Oh, I left the Philippines for cornfields! It was so funny because I remember writing my first letter to my brother and I had to mention that. There’s like, as far as the eye could see, nothing but corn. It was cornfields to the right and cornfields to the left.

Montero: And they give it away too!

Zamar: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! I remember my first corn boil so they close off the downtown area of the small town where I lived for maybe three or four blocks and it’s nothing but corn boils in the middle of the street. And then you can take as much corn as you like, and you can get butter and whatever. Free! For the entire weekend. And yeah it’s really interesting. I wondered if they do that in areas in the Philippines where they produce a lot of corn. But yeah, it was really interesting.

Montero: From when we first got there like right after from the airport we arrived during the summer, so we were looking around and they took us to [Nimitz?] highway, where it's like under, and I said, “oh my god this is Hawai’i it's so like, plain, there's nothing in”- so anyway, so summer finished, it was going into fall and winter, we were waiting for snow. Let it snow in Hawai’i....I said because snow is associated to America, there’s no snow in Hawai’i. And of course, you have to go to a different island, right, to see snow - the big island, so it's like ok, that was a disappointing thing. “What? What do you mean there’s no snow, were in America!”

Zamar: Yeah that's when I discovered, oh ok! The US is this huge country with so many different people, and places, and cultures, and it’s different in different parts…

Labarthe: What was the most shocking thing culturally that you experienced when you first moved here? Because like cultural shock, I guess.

Zamar: Not so much a shock but to me, I guess maybe adjustment because here, especially in the Midwest everyone drives. In the Philippines you can get to anywhere - you can get anywhere without your own vehicle. There’s lots of different modes of transportation there. There’s a tricycle, there’s a jeepney, there are buses, there's ferries and stuff. But here, in many parts of the US, it's a driving culture. But it’s interesting that I never learned to drive until I moved to California. Because I was fine in the Midwest. You know, people were happy to take you to wherever you needed to go. Or there’s a local bus that goes around the city and you’re ok. In Hawai’i too, I took the bus all the time. But when I moved to California, I lived in a small town. I taught at UC Riverside and so it’s not that big and, you know, we can get around. There was a local bus, but everyone drove so I had to go and get my licence and that was the only time I drove. When I lived in California. But to me it was a big adjustment, because I’m not used to driving to places just to get basic stuff.

Montero: For me, it might sound vain but we did have the luxury of having maids. Because we are a big family. There’s five of us and my mom and dad, and my grandmother was staying with us and we had hired help. But they’re not just hired help because every time we hired someone, my parents would make a deal that if they’d come and work for us in the family, they have to go and study too. Whatever they wanted to study, it could be a tech school or a small college or anything, but they have to do that. But anyway, moving here I had to learn how to do like for myself and for my younger siblings because I’m the oldest of two- I’m the second of the oldest and there were three other after me and so it was like, “what, I have to do this now”? Like cook the rice, make something or cook something but that was the shock for me because like, I don’t want to do this, I want to go home. So my father kept reminding us that like, oh.. I’m telling stories now like for the first two years I think my oldest sister and myself kept saying “I want to go home! Just send us home, we’ll just go to college there and then we’ll figure it out”. Here it was so difficult, you have to do everything. So I’m saying it sounds vain because, you know, we had that luxury. You don’t have to do anything. If you don’t want to bathe, somebody will bathe you- you know, that kind of thing. And then I learned for myself and I really would rather live on my own. So it was a shock at first but it made me who I am now - a very independent person. I’m really happy that that happened for us. So my siblings are the same, so we’re all over the place but they are all professionals. And so that to me was a shocker but it was still good. It turned out okay. But at that moment! Cook rice, how do you cook rice?! You put your fing- hand in there to figure out how much water it is, or when you fry the egg you put the oil first, or the butter first. Things like that, like simple things, how come I didn’t know how to do that, but you quickly learn so… and you have to eat whatever you make. With peanut butter and jelly- we don’t put jelly in ours because our peanut butter in the Philippines is already sweet. Cause they put sugar or honey. So I didn’t like peanut butter and jelly too. I still almost don’t, I just eat mine with just peanut butter, if I want to, just peanut butter.

Labarthe: In Peru it’s just jelly, OR peanut butter!


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