This interview was conducted by Christine Nile Auguste on March 4, 2017 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2007 class.
My father Aurelio Auguste was born in October 9,1955 in Panama City, Republic of Panama, Panama. He has five other siblings in his family. Two brothers, and three sisters. His parents Vida Hall and Arthur Auguste are both from Panama. He was the second youngest of his siblings, but always looked out for them whenever they needed something. Aurelio from the age of 17 knew he wanted to come to the United States. He had an opportunity when his mother sent for him in 1970. He joined the Navy for six months and then left after the six months was up. Aurelio met his wife Anita White at a friends wedding. They got married on May 23 , 1980 . They had two children a son named Christian and a daughter named Christine. In 1995 they moved to San Antonio, Texas where they currently live today.
What was your childhood like?
Well I had a normal childhood growing up with a mom and dad, two brothers and three sisters. Panama City Panama, I went to elementary school about five blocks away from my house, and then highschool, and about the time I was 18 years old I started working, and doing things for myself .Helping out the family, doing a little work at the side washing cars, selling newspapers, and shining shoes doing things like that and that’s what I did.
What was every day life for you in Panama?
Well, every day life for me in Panama was just routine I guess, as a young man going to school coming from school, hanging out with friends, playing basketball, and playing all different kinds of sports especially boxing. I use to love boxing, and sometimes the kids just use to like play fighting. We use to have a ring and get some gloves , and just box. When I started to get a little bit older I played a little basketball and you had your girlfriend. You would go to the movies with your girlfriend, and go to dances which we called” Night Of Fun”! That’s when somebody just get the music, and you invite a couple of girls and guys, and you have a party.
Who were your friends?
My friends I remember that one of my friends name was Lucho Hall. I had several friends you know and they were good friend of mine. I was very close with them we use to do things together, and we use to go places together like parties, and usually got in trouble together like that, but like I said I had a quit a few friends that even now till today we are in different geographical location, but were still friends up till now.
What did you like to do as a child ?
I always like to make money. I use to like to earn some money because in those days money was hard to come by and things was difficult, but you learn to make ends meat, and I use to like to have money in my pocket. Like I said I sold newspapers, wash cars, and shine shoes. I use to make some pretty good money, and when I needed some clothing I use to go to the store and buy me a pants in material to make me a pants. I use to get all most of my clothes tailored made because back in the days in Panama we didn’t go and buy no clothing off of the rack. You’d go to the cloth store to buy material for pants, cut material or a shirt material, and go to the talior. They would make you a pants and a shirt. (” And you would do this yourself…”) No I use to have to go to my tailor. Well a friend that was a tailor, and they would do that.
What role did you play in your family?
Well, being middle child in the boys I was basically what you call middle child, stuck in the middle, not the oldest, and not the youngest. Stuck in the middle and when you are stuck in the middle you have to have a little bit of wisdom because you are the younger brother to the older one, and then you are the older brother to the younger one and usually the younger one look up to the older one so the one in the middle has to be a little bit more intuitive in that he has to know how deal with the older one and the younger one. My role was basically the middle child, but I really was like the oldest one because I thought as the oldest one, and I did a lot of things differently then both my older brother , and younger brother . I think I used a little bit more wisdom in that I became more of a father figure for both of them even though my older brother was older than me, and my younger brother was younger than me. I just carry myself in a different way, not that I wanted to be like that, but I guess just my personality was that I was like a father figure.
Did you get into any trouble as a kid? If so why ,and what made you do it?
Well, you know as a young man I didn’t really get into the type of trouble you would think that it will be really something delierately. The kind of trouble I got into was in Panama back in the day, I’m talking about the late 60’s, early 70’s they had what they called a curfew at 10:00. If you was under the age of 18 they would blow a horn, and when that horn went off anybody under the age of 18 had to be in there home, other wise the police would do like a raid and pick you up. They would ask you for your ID, and if you didn’t have an ID that could say that you was 18, and above then they would lock you up. So basically I was picked up a couple of times because I was shining shoes. I was about 16 years old. I was shining shoes, you know late at night like 10:00. Thats when things get good, I’m shining shoes making some money and when that horn blow, and I was still out there I started to run to try to go to my little village, and by the time I kept on running, running the patrol car just kind of chase me and they grabbed me. So they locked me up in the juvinel detention till the following day. My mom went and pick me up, and I got me a whipping for that so thats the kind of trouble I got into.
As a teenager what were you focused on ? What were your goals?
As a teenager I had no focus at all. My focus was basically get up in the morning go walk the streets try to make some money, and have some food to eat, have a happy life, and survive because from time to time you know people make bad decisions about themselves. Many young people they became outlaws, robbers, and thief, all that kinds of stuff. They just made bad decisions. All i wanted to do was make good decisions that would keep me out of trouble with the law, and I did that. I never had any problems with the law because of willful disregard with the law. What I did basically as a teenager was try to survive from day to day. I did that pretty good. Yes one of my goals, well I didn’t know it was One of my goals. One of my ambition was to come to the United States and probably join military, make a career of it and at the age of 19 actually 20 years old I was given the opportunity to come to the United States and I did. I came and I joined the Navy. I stayed in military for 6 months, and I really did like the Navy, I wanted to go in the army really, but my test was a little bit to low for the army so I went into the Navy, I didn’t really like it so I got a honorable nary discharge at 6 months, and I forgot about the military after that.
Did you have a job ? What kind of job did you have?
Well the kind of job I had, what you called a formal job when i was about 17, no 18 1/2 years old. I use to work as a gas station attendant. I use to dispense gasoline. I did that for about 7 or 8 months. I was working like the night shift, but being young I never understood how people could stay up late at night especially working because to me I would get sleepy. One time I was doing my job and I kind of fell asleep, and somebody that was working with me they was pumping gas, but then they stole the money so you know. So that was something that I learn and stayed at the job for a little bit, and they lay me off, but I basically went back to hustling .By hustling I mean like shining shoes, washing cars. I use to go to the American base in Panama called Fort Kobbe. I use to go to Fort Kobe and shine shoes and boots. Shine the Americans boots at the end of the month when they would get paid, and when they would come from their jungle training. They would have their boots all muddy and everything like that. We would just go ahead, like there was a group of us like ten kids. We would go to the port and shine the boots for about $ 2.50 a pair, then we would wash their cars for about $ 5.00 or so. In a good day I would make about $ 75.00 or $ 60.00 in a good day . So thats what I did.
Did you go to highschool , and did you like it ? Why?
No, unfortunately I was not disciplined enough to stay in school in Panama. Again that has to do with discipline, that has to do with your family background too. My mother uses to be traveling back and forth to the United States and my father was working. I sort of lost interest in school because I though I was smart, and I was so smart that I though I didn’t need school, but the fact remains that everybody thinks that they are smart when there young, when they get older they realize that if they was really smart they would have stayed in school and complete their education while they are young and not do it while they are middle age because thats really what I’m trying to do right now. I’m completing my University studies, and now that I am looking back if I was smart I would of stayed in school when I was 17 , 18 years old, and do college, university back then I think I would of done better off today.
What age did you decide to leave Panama , and why?
Well, I wanted to leave Panama for as long as I could. I would say from the time I was 17 years old my focus was on going to the United States, and hopefully make a better for myself. I didn’t really have a plan on how I would achieve that, but the desire, and drive to do such thing was there. One thing that happen was my mother, she traveled very often back and forth to the United States, and the last time that she traveled to the United States she was there and she decided to send for me. To help me come to the United States I went to the American Embassy I apply for a Visa. I was denied and then I had to go back again because the council for whatever reason did not believe I was going to come back to Panama. I had to do a little bit of convincing job to them saying no that yes I was coming back then they offered me a 90 day Visa to New York, and I never came back until five years later. ” Why did your mom travel so much?” Well my mother is one of those ladies that she wanted to make a better life for herself, and it was afforded to her to be able to come to the United States without no problems. So what she did was traveled back and forth from Panama to the United States in about 3 different occasions before she came permantely, but she never got her green card while she traveled back and forth. She just came on a Tourist Visa for a year or so and went back, make some money, and then went back again. When I came up in 1975 I was able to get my US citizenship and then I was able to put in for her papers for her residency. She got it, and my sisters and brothers also got their residency because of me.
What were you expecting when you got to America?
I was expecting to find a pie in the sky. To walk, and eat off the street. I was expecting to find the land of fariy tale. I landed at night and got up in the morning, I say Oh No! Brooklyn is dirty, very dirty, I was disinchanted when I saw the United States of America. Broklyn New York look like that at least the part I was living at. You know it was just it a little bit had litter all over the place and i didn’t understand how this great city in America looks like that, but then agin not all great cities look the same. It depends on the population that the people are living in the area that actually can make it good or bad. So I really was not impressed, but I was impressed mostly impressed with the high building, and all that situation, but the cleaness and the way people looked. The people looked weird back then. They look like if they was from outer space. I guess I look like that to them too, but I though they was weird.
How did you get to the states? Did you know anybody in America like family, or friends?
My mother send me the money to be able to come to America and my god mother, which is a citizen
Did you know any English?
I was very limited in my english. I was able to speak a little bit but not a lot, and also what I did is the that I use the ability of my spanish language to be able to use Spanish to learn english because alot of words translate pretty evenly to spanish to english. I use to sort of engage the English of a point to take language , and sort of a learned it to my reading ability in the spanish languge by looking up words in the Dictonary to understand english words better.
Why did you decide to go to New York? Yes, well you know I didn’t know anyone besides my mom. My mom was the one who wanted me to come. So when I came I had cousins and aunts that were living in Brooklyn, New York too, but I came to be with my mom. We tried to work with one another, and try to pay bills. I was kind of hard some times, but we still try to find ways to get it done.
Did any events happen to you when you got yo America?
Yeah, things happen to me in the sense that when I just guess arrived some people that i knew even from Panama were telling me you can do it all like drugs, but i didn’t go for that, I didn’t believe in that. Also, I was homeless for three days in the subway station when my friend of mine that i was staying with went on vaction to vist his family back home. Man that was sure three cold night ! It was 20 degree weather out there. To pass the time i rode the subway. After the third day my friend came back, I was sure glad to be out of there!
Besides New york did you live any where else?
I was in Chicago, Illinois for traing in the Navy, but I lived in New York for the most time. Then when you guys came along after a while I decided to move to San Antonio, Texas because i that it would be a better opprotunity for the family to be in a different enviorment.
How did you plan on getting your citizenship?
Well, when I got out of the Navy I took my discharge papers and I went to the US Immigration. I told them that I was a veteran and that I needed to get a Green Card. When the person at immagration told me well you cannot get a Green Card . You can get a citizanship, I said that is even better! They gave me the paper work, and i was able to fill it out. Later I was able to get my citizenship within like 8 months to a year.
Why did you decide on going to the navy?
I was as I said interested in the Army was I was young. When I though of the military I though of seeing many places and traveling. Thats really what every kid dreams of doing. Well the score that I did on the test it is called Aptitude Test. I scored a little lower that I wanted to, and basically the requirement to go into the Army , a certain percentage that you have to score and I came a bit under that percentage. I was not able to go into the army, but I was able to go into the Navy with my score.
What did you do after the navy?
After the Navy I started working as a security gaurd for a company. A company that use to be basically they use to be protected building, and we use to be protecting buildings, and the residents of the buildings from vandels. I did that for about 8 – 9 months. I also worked for different buisnesses. I use to work for an Orange Jouleus were they sold the Devils Drink. It was located on 42nd street on Broadway in New York. I started out as a security guard once I came out of the navy, and I started progressing from there.
What do you think your life would have been like if you had never taken the chance to come to America?
Well my life probably have been I think I would have still been successful. When I say successful I mean that I would have been blesssed to be able to accomplish something good with my life because that my character is one that is always considering others. I consider god above myself and I consider others too. I always believe in respect, do good by other, and be a good neighbor to others. I’m thinking that I had a good perspective in the way that I carry myself when it comes with dealing with others. I think I would have been good because the way my character would have just always stirred me in the right direction.
What does the american dream mean to you?
The American dream? The American dream to me is living a good life. A life that your family and friends can say well he is a responsible man towards himself, his family, and community. I want my community to succedde and to do better in everything that we try to do.
By doing this interview i have learned a lot about my dad as a young man, and the journey he had to go throught to get to America, and what impact it would have on his life as person coing to a foriegn country other than his own.The most important points made in the interview were how he was as a child, how he did jobs to earn money for him and his family ,what he did to come to america, and what challenges did he face in america. I learned that my dad as a child had more responsibilities put on him then his other brothers and sisters. My dad Aurelio was very happy to share with my some of his memories in Panama. He usually laughed a little during the interview as he recalled things that he did as a child. His stories taught me that immagration doesn’t have to be about how the person got to the US, but what there life was like in their country.