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Interview with Elena Torricella

Torricella, Elena
Edwards, Velma
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relatioships with people and places; Cultural identification; Then and now
Elena Torricella talks about her home in Costa Rica and compares the country to America.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Velma Edwards interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
VE (Velma Edwards): Good morning. This is Velma Edwards and Elen, Elena Torricella, and we are both teachers at Collingswood Elementary. And thank you very much Elena for, um, agreeing to be interviewed. I appreciate it. And I would like to ask you-, since you were born in Costa Rica, I would like for you to describe your home, or the city or the town that you grew up in.
ET (Elena Torricella): OK. OK, good morning. Uh, my name is Elena Torricella . I would like to say, um, I live in Costa Rica, I was born in Costa Rica and I live for 43 years and then I come here to United States. And I can tell you that, uh, I live in a house where we were seven brothers and sisters and my daddy and my mom. We have a lot of people in my house. Um, we have three rooms in our house and we divided one for my parents and the other two, we need to divide everybody because we were seven children. Um, I live in a, in a little town, eh, in the, close to the capitol of the \\ Republica. \\
VE: \\ What is the \\ the name of the uh, the town \\ that you lived in? \\
ET: \\ The town is \\ Guadalupe.
VE: Guadalupe.
ET: The name is Guadalupe, yes. It's a \\ little town. \\
VE: \\ Uh-huh. \\ And the capitol of Costa Rica?
ET: Is San Jose.
VE: San Jose?
ET: San Jose. And Guadalupe is in San Jose. It is one little town that belonged to, eh, San Jose. And when we go to the school we take the bus every day, but the public bus. We never use, we never had a bus from our school.
VE: The \\ school. \\
ET: \\ Eh, all \\ the children use the public bus. And that was very fine with us because we go with our friends to our school every day. And our, town is a little town like in all our Hispanic countries, that you have a park and you have the church in front of the park and you have a lot of stores around the park.
VE: That sounds pretty.
ET: Yes.
VE: I like that. That sounds very pretty.
ET: It's pretty and in the afternoon, the children go to play in the park and they go with their bicycles or with their balls and everything. They play and while we, the children were playing, the parents are talking together, they share times together. Um, that is the way that, I, I grow up in my country. Very close to our neighborhoods, very close to our families.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And always we have time, eh, we have a special activity that we, eh, drink coffee in the \\ afternoon \\ with all the family.
VE: \\ Hmm. \\
ET: And everybody sit down at the table and everybody, eh, eat, eh, bread with butter and coffee, sometimes, ah, black coffee, sometimes milk and, eh, and coffee together. So in that time it was very important for the family because we share all our experiences in the day.
VE: It sounds very nice. And when you were speaking I was thinking of how I grew up. And, uh, it sounds very similar in the sense that we were very close also, in my family.
ET: \\ In your family \\ too.
VE: \\ When we \\ when we were living together, you know, when I was little, all my brothers and sisters, all my aunts and uncles, everyone was together, \\ very \\ close.
ET: \\ Together. \\ Uh-huh.
VE: That's very nice. Now, as a, as someone who has lived outside of the United States, I, I would like for you to tell me some differences that when you came here that you noticed about the United States and Puerto Rico. How things are done. I'm sure they're done differently.
ET: Yes, of course. We have a big, a lot of big difference. Um, for me, was a, a big change when I came here, I think so, because I don't came, I didn't come very young.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: But, I think that for everybody it's a big change. For example, the first thing for us that is a big difference is that you don't have, eh, any relation, or you have just the relation to say good morning to your neighbor.
VE: \\ Oh. \\
ET: \\ In your \\ eh, \\ with your neighbor. \\
VE: \\ Yes. \\
ET: \\ In your, where you live. \\ Um, that was for us a very big difference because in our country, our neighbor is like our family.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And if you need something, you go and just say ring the bell and you talk every day with them, you share your food, you share conversations, and everything and that was a big change for us. Another change was, uh, em, the, the freeways, the roads.
VE: Oh, \\ yes. \\
ET: \\ That was \\ a big change because in our country, it's a little country that we have some freeways, but it's not like the freeway that we have here. And I was very scared when I came here because, eh, I feel, I fell all the time that the cars around a lot and I was very scared. In our country it was very different. Um, there is more, um, um, I don't know what to say, the, the word, I forgot the word, that is not wide?
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: You say.
VE: Narrow?
ET: \\Narrow.\\
VE: \\ Narrow, uh-huh. \\
ET: Narrow, eh, roads, and that is a big difference. And the cars, too. Because in our country, we use, eh, old cars. We can't, we can't afford, um, eh, cars from the year, for example.
VE: Uh-huh, \\ oh. \\
ET: \\ Not all the \\ people can do it. And in our country, a lot of people use, eh, the bus.
VE: Yes, uh-huh.
ET: Nobody, it's not necessary to have car, like here.
VE: I see. So they rely on the transport, on public \\ transportation to, to. \\
ET: \\ Public transportation, yes. \\ And, um, um, that is the way that everybody go to this, your work, to their work, in bus, in transportation, public transportation. It's a big difference. And we found out like, and the other was the language.
VE: The \\ language, \\ uh-huh, the language.
ET: \\ Yes. \\ It was very hard when we came here because I thought, I thought that I studied English in my country and I did it. But when I came here, I can't talk, I can't understand, I can't, uh, communicate with every, everybody, anybody and it was very hard.
VE: Uh-huh. See, that's the way I think, that if I were to go and live in Mexico or Costa Rica or Puerto Rico that my Spanish would not be enough. I would be lost, too.
ET: \\ Uh-huh. \\
VE: \\ So that, \\ that's \\ how I feel. \\
ET: \\ That is. \\ Yes.
VE: Even though I grew up speaking Spanish, it, I would still feel that way.
ET: That way.
VE: That I don't know enough.
ET: Uh-huh.
VE: Enough of Spanish to, to live or to do the things that I would need to do, you know, to communicate.
ET: \\ Yes. \\
VE: \\ Because \\ it would be, I think it would be very different from what I have studied [laugh] in the books-.
ET: Yes [laugh].
VE: -Too.
ET: What's very different-.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: I can give you one, eh, one sample, that is, when we, eh, learn English, we eh, we learn from the book that we say, "Good morning, how are you?" And when we I came here, the people, the people say, "How you doing?" And I say, "What are you talking about? I don't understand." That is \\ one \\ sample.
VE: \\ How. \\ That's right. And I think that, yes, you are right. I think that that's, um, also probably where we live here in, in, in North Carolina.
ET: Yes.
VE: Uh, I think that different parts of the country have different ways of saying, "Good morning."
ET: Uh-huh.
VE: It's all English, but it's different.
ET: It's different.
VE: It's different.
ET: And you need to learn that way.
VE: And I think that the same thing for Spanish.
ET: \\ Uh-huh. \\
VE: \\ It's all Spanish, \\ but there are different ways of saying hello-.
ET: Yes.
VE: -And goodbye and-.
[INTERCOM ANNOUNCEMENTS] ET: Um, you know, eh, I felt very alone, in that time.
VE: \\ I'm sure you did. \\
ET: \\ When I can't, \\ eh, speak with the people and when I can't express my feeling, I want, I, I am a person that I like to talk, I like to express my feelings and I can't do it like, for three years.
VE: That was hard. \\ I know it was very hard. \\
ET: \\ Yeah, it was very hard. \\
VE: You feel very isolated.
ET: Yes.
VE: From, from people.
ET: \\ Yes, \\ yes, but that motivate me to, to study English and to learn and to decide to, to, learn the English, the language.
VE: Now, now tell me, you, you studied in Puerto Rico, \\ in the summer. \\
ET: \\ In Costa Rica. \\
VE: \\ Or I'm sorry, \\ in Costa Rica, and you, did you study there. Uh, what university did you go to?
ET: OK. Eh, we have in Costa Rica a lot of private universities.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: But we have from, two from the States. It's like paid. It's to-, eh, university and I went, the name is Universidad de Costa Rica.
VE: Oh. \\ I see. \\
ET: \\ And \\ this is a good university and I study Education over there. I study for five years.
VE: Wow.
ET: And I have my, eh, Bachelor degree.
VE: Yes.
ET: I have that in education and my, my emphasis is in preschool-kindergarten.
VE: Oh.
ET: Especially in kindergarten. Yes.
VE: Wonderful.
ET: Yes. And, and then this university, you want to study, any career that you study, you need to study English. And I studied for two years, English in the university, but was not enough to come here [laugh].
VE: Oh.
ET: Yes.
VE: Now, tell me, do, can you think of a, a funny or a scary story to tell about, about you or your family when you first came here to the United States?
ET: Yes, I have one that I can tell you. I don't know if it's a scary, if it's sad, if it's funny. [Laugh]. But was a, one experience that we have, like family. When we came here, our two childrens, they were, they were, eh, seven and six years old, they never speak English. They never learned anything like my husband and me. They, they ask, we came, just came here and we live with our older daughter that she married with American \\ guy. \\
VE: \\ Uh-huh. \\
ET: And we lived in their house for nine months. And when we came, we came in, in June 4 and the children started school like, eh, two weeks after we came here. They were very excited because we went and we buy the book bags and Barbie's and everything that \\ they wanted. \\
VE: [Laugh] \\ Yes. \\
ET: And they were very excited. Um, the first day that they went to the school, they were, they go very excited because they go to the school. And that day when they come back, one of my girls told me, "Mom, I don't like the school." And I ask, "Why? You were very excited in the morning." "Because I don't understand what the people are talking about. I didn't understand anything. I don't want to go to this school," and she start to cry.
VE: Oh.
ET: And when she start to cry, the other girl that was six years old, she came and say, "What happened, Sis-, eh, Maria?" That's my other girl. And she say, "I don't want to go to this school because I don't understand any English and I'm scared to go to the school." And the other girl start to cry and she say, "Oh, don't cry. That happened to me, the same. I didn't understand. Mom, I don't want to go to this school." And when I saw both of them cry, I didn't now what to do, and I start to \\ cry \\ with them.
VE: \\ Oh. \\ Yes. \\ He told me \\ you feel bad for them.
ET: \\ And I. \\ Yes. And I told them, "You know what, girls? That happened to me at my work."
VE: \\ Oh. \\
ET: \\ "I'm going to my work \\ and I don't understand anything. We will, we, we try to do our best and we will, we can do it." And we pray together and then my husband came and he said, "Why everybody's crying here? What's wrong here?"
VE: [Laugh]
ET: And when I, we explain it, he just turned around and left.
VE: Oh, my goodness. Elena that is so sad about your daughters and yourself crying, but I know that that was very, very hard. I'm sure that it was very hard for you to come here, in a, to a different place. Completely different. I know I would find it very hard to go and live in another country.
ET: Yes.
VE: I know that it would be very hard for me. Learning a new culture and a new way of doing things.
ET: Yes.
VE: And, and the language, wow.
ET: But I was very excited all the time when I think, I think I support my girls-.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: -Very well all the time because I told them, "We can do it. We can do it." And we did it. \\ We did it. \\ Yes.
VE: \\ And you did it. \\ And you did it because you have been very successful I know, in your teaching career here and your daughters have been very, very \\ successful \\ in school, too.
ET: \\ Uh-huh. \\ Yes, I feel very proud of our family-.
VE: Yes.
ET: -For that because it was hard time, but we did it and we, we can, eh, come to do something.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And we can learn, eh, how dice, eh, eh, how you say, how, sociedad?
VE: The society?
ET: The society work and we can incorporate them together.
VE: Wow. That's wonderful, Elena. Now, um, when, um, when you were going to school, do you remember any books from your childhood?
ET: Oh yes. \\ I remember. \\
VE: \\ You remember. \\
ET: Oh yes. I have, we learned to, to read and write-.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: -With the book. All the children in Costa Rica learn with the books and the name is Paco y Lola.
VE: Paco y Lola [laughs]. Oh, that's sounds neat.
ET: Paco is a boy and Lola is a girl.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And all the books talk about different things that happen to Paco and Lola. And we enjoyed the, the book a lot. Everybody know that book.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And some person a little bit, they know what I'm talking about 'cause Paco y Lola was a famous book to learn.
VE: So everybody \\ learned. \\
ET: \\ Everybody, \\ yes.
VE: \\ From Paco y Lola. \\
ET: Yes, \\from Paco y Lola, \\ yes.
VE: See, and it reminds me of when I was a child, we had Dick and Jane. [Laughter] Dick, \\ the boy. \\ And Jane, the little girl and they, you know, "See Dick run."
ET: \\ And Jane. \\ Uh-huh.
VE: \\ "See Jane run." \\ Very simple.
ET: \\ Uh-huh. \\ Very similar.
VE: Very simple books, but it, it helped us, you know, to learn to read.
ET: Yes. And I remember another that the name is Mi Hogar y Mi Pueblo. That means, my home and my town.
VE: And my town.
ET: And that, it talk a lot, a lot, about a lot of situation that happen in your town when you are growing up. And, um, that I have a lot of stories that I remember.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: And we enjoyed that a lot. And I try to talk with my daughters and talk about that because I want that they remember that too.
VE: That's wonderful. Do, do you, you were telling me about differences in the United States, what about holidays? Is Christmas celebrated differently or how?
ET: Yes, I think so. The Christmas is, one eh, eh, celebration very different from here because the base our celebration, our Christmas celebration is because, eh, Jesus was born.
VE: Right. Yes.
ET: And that is the most important thing for us and all, everything is about the Jesus. And we sings a lot of, eh, ( ) we say ( ) songs about, and all the ( ) is about Jesus and the Virgin Mary, Mary and all about them. And the most important thing, for example, is not the Christmas tree, is the, we, we say the nacimiento.
VE: Nativity.
ET: Nativity. Everybody put in your, the house, in, in your own house, put the nativity. But you doing that like, for example, in my house was a big tradition that we put the nativity, we, eh, a little town that we made with boxes and, eh, different boxes and different kind of papers. And we are doing like a little town, eh, try to remind that when Jesus, eh, was born.
VE: Well, that's wonderful. \\ That is. \\
ET: \\ And that is, \\ that is our celebration and we celebrate the-, eh, we go to different houses-.
VE: Uh-huh.
ET: -And sings about Jesus and, eh-.
VE: So you don't really have Santa Claus?
ET: No. \\ No, we don't have Santa Claus. \\
VE: \\ Like Santa Claus is not the \\ big part \\ like here in the United States? \\
ET: \\ No, our, yes. \\ No, it's different and, eh, for Christmas for the children, we teach them that Jesus bring the presents for them.
VE: Oh. Jesus brings the presents instead of like here, Santa Claus \\ brings the presents. \\
ET: \\ Jesus brings, yes, yes. \\ And we celebrate the, like you celebrate the Eve, Eve, Eve?
VE: Christmas \\ Eve? \\ Yes.
ET: \\ Eve. \\ We celebrate the, that day. We have a big dinner and everything and then the children go to sleep and then we put the presents for them \\ that day. \\
VE: \\ How nice. \\ Well, Elena, I want to thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed and I appreciate everything that you have shared, all the information. And I'm sure if anybody else listens to this tape they will really enjoy it. Thank you very much.
ET: Thank you for eh, giving me the opportunity to do it. Thank you very much.