Zooming In

From Chinameca, With Love – Part 2

A story across two generations – from Chinameca, El Salvador, to Perth, Australia.

Zooming In is a podcast that tells stories of 2020, but it’s not a COVID podcast. It’s about how life keeps going, even through a global pandemic. A story across two generations – from Chinameca, El Salvador, to Perth, Australia.

This episode continues the journey from Part 1 of From Chinameca, With Love. Now, we learn about Rafael Gonzalez’s story.

This podcast collection was made possible with funding from Lotterywest.

Special thanks to our storytellers for this episode, Rafael, Tadeo and Marta, and to our production team: executive producer Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, audio engineer Mason Vellios, scripting and interviewing by Sisonke Msimang and Claudia Mancini.

Copyright © 2022 Rafael Gonzalez.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storytellers. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

View Story Transcript

Sisonke: In part one of this story, we heard about how Marta and Tadeo grew up, fell in love, got married, and started a family in Chinameca, El Salvador. All of this before the Salvadoran Civil War broke out in late 1979, and which eventually saw the family leave their beloved home country for the further possible place – Perth, Australia.

In part two, we’ll hear from Raf. The baby of the family who was still in his mum’s tummy when the family left El Salvador. He’s Australian born and raised, with strong Salvadoran roots.

Rafael: I think my earliest memory was about, I was at about two or three, I think that’s when, I think as far as I can remember. I know that there was a lady named Barbara who passed away a few years back, but she was very kind to my family and like she offered to, cos the rent that my parents were paying was like, “Oh, well I can lend you one of my houses in Palmyra.” Okay, we can live there for a bit.” But the earliest memories of me waking up in the mornings and I think I was like probably having my early sugar highs ‘cos I think back then I was allowed to have like cocoa pops or rice bubbles. I don’t think, I think my mom was okay with those, but fruit loops was like out of the question, but I think my earliest memories as well was Fremantle. Like somewhere my, because I think that was the area that my mum would or my dad when, ‘cos he didn’t have a work job at the time, he would take me to spend the day in Fremantle. Even I just remember, even a song, sometimes music I associate to, cos it helps me remember. It was a cover of Casey and the Sunshine Bands’ Give It Up, but made from the band Cut and Move, cos it was very Eurodance and all. But that song I always associate to my earliest memories

 

Sisonke: Like many migrants, Raf’s parents – his dad especially – left his career behind in his home country.

 

Rafael: My dad, he couldn’t, he struggled because he, unlike my mum, he had a struggle with his language barrier, cos he struggled the most. I mean he tried. I mean these days he’s fine, but back then it was a big struggle because while I was born, I think back and forth, my parents had to also take up English classes. So, my dad, he even had this one job as a gardener at Ardross Primary, but it wasn’t for him. So, he went back and forth up until I was a teenager and then he got a job as a carer.

 

Sisonke: When we asked Tadeo about this, he told us sat the exam to practice as a doctor here in Australia three times, but because of his English, he failed all of them. Eventually, he decided that he needed a new plan – he still wanted to be productive and contribute to the new country he was in – so he tried work as a gardener. He was fired from this job for being so bad at gardening, something he and Marta laugh about now. As Raf said, he went on to be a carer for people living with disability, which is an admirable job and one that Tadeo enjoyed, but I can’t help but think about how much he gave up.

 

Language played a pretty big role across the family’s story.

 

Rafael: I struggled a lot because it was both my language barrier, but at the same time, I didn’t know about what my autism was like. I didn’t know. I think, but in terms of socially, I was social around a lot of people, but I was sus about some people, but also I also did my own thing and a lot of people who know me, who knew, if they’re hearing this, is that I had a habit of talking to myself a lot. Like I was alone, if there was a movie, I remember I loved watching, I’d be re-quoting it back, like throughout the whole day, like spending time on my own. A lot of people were concerned, but because I, at the time, I didn’t know about what I was, but that’s again, because most of my childhood has become a bit fuzzy to me because it’s only the only things that whatever songs were on at the time, whatever movies I went to see or anything that specifically important that I would know so well.

 

Sisonke: The family mainly spoke Spanish at home.

 

Rafael: The reason why most, so much childhood was a bit fuzzy was because I think I was like three and a half going to four, that’s when I think I started to struggle with both languages. ‘Cos before I was actually fluent, I was fluent in both languages. Like I’d even do this prayer like before dinner. Like that’s why my dad does it because they thought it was cute because like my Spanish wasn’t that good. Cause I was still learning. Then at some point it was like for some weird reason, it’s like I stopped, like I was starting to regress. I was regressing and to a point of mutism, like I didn’t speak anything. It was like I couldn’t speak properly. And so they, around that time they found out about my speech problem was probably around the same time they found out about my autism.

 

Sisonke: Raf started seeing speech pathologists and psychologists. The professional recommendations were that the family communicate with him in English, in case the mix of Spanish and English was confusing. Over time, Raf started speaking again, and even though his Spanish isn’t as fluent as it once was, he still makes an effort to use his mother tongue.

 

Raf spent primary school in a separate class where he could get some extra support. He’d made a lot of friends. When he moved to a mainstream high school, it was harder to make friends at first. But Raf found a way of getting through.

 

Rafael: I remember this one particular memory. It was in year nine. It was the first period health class. So, I don’t remember what we were learning that day, but I think we got too side-tracked. I think there was something that people have known, was that I had a penchant for making, changing my voice a little bit. This is a trick that I learned from my sisters was that I could do this to my voice, and then when I did this particular laugh and it was for some reason the kids, one kid said, “Hey, that sounds like Krusty the Clown laugh!” And, so I thought, “Okay, I can see if I can pull this off. And then I did the “Hey kids! [Krusty the Clown laugh].”

 

I remembered that when I did that the first time, every kid in my class was like laughing their heads off. And I was like, “Oh wow.” And they were like, “Do it again.” And it was like, I did it. I think it was by recess, I think it was like, “Oh my god, Raf! It’s Raf!” Like everyone’s rushing to me. It was like, “What?” “Like do it again! My friend hasn’t heard it yet! Do it again!” And I was like, I think it was ever since I did that, it has been well, mostly bullying free for me. Like I got, like my ride around high school was like very easy, well, not easy, but at least there was less of the, you know, like, you know, like people being dicks to me.

 

I don’t think I really had many best friends. I had mostly acquaintances and maybe because I don’t know what it was, but there were people I hanged out with. But in terms of, I mean there have been times that some would, you know, hang out with me at some point, but maybe at some point they must have thought I was a bit of a weirdo or something, they’re thinking I’m more of a freak in some ways. Though, if they are, that’s cool, that’s fine. I remembered though that at graduation, they hosted our graduation at UWA, and I remember that when my name came up, I heard like this big applause or something, and I was like, “Wait, me?” And I was like, “Okay, thank you.” I was like, I was completely thrown off by that. I was like, I didn’t think, I thought I was just, just that one kid who could do that one voice. And it like, it turns out I was a little bit popular than I thought.

 

Sisonke: Outside of school, Raf would often spend time with his sisters. They’ve always been close.

 

Rafael: Anna is eleven years older than me and Raquel, she’s eight years older than me. Yeah, so those two have been very have been there for me since ever since I was born. I always remember what my sisters were like when I was growing up, ‘cos like when I was in the nineties, both my sisters taste in music kind of influenced me. Like all my oldest sister Anna’s side, you would, I would remember seeing posters of like The Doors and Jeff Buckley, all the indie. My other sister, she had like a Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Michael Jackson and Salt n Pepa. And like they had different tastes. And also, in terms of clothing like Raquel, she was the fly girl, like sort of like a b-girl type. My other sister, she was like, Darlene from Roseanne.

 

Sisonke: They were a close family, and even though they loved life in Australia, they still kept their Salvador traditions alive.

 

Rafael: My dad has a little shrine, an altar. He always, especially when he is concerned for us or he’s trying make sure that we’re safe. He always likes a candle. Also like if something’s good or big is happening for us, like if we’re going into a job interview, it’s like hoping, praying for luck or praying for, you know, like for good outcomes. He would always light a candle for the altar, to make sure either we are okay or that we are safe.

 

Sisonke: You can probably see why it was such a big deal when Raf moved out of home. He was the baby of the family, and everyone was protective of him. Home was his refuge too. His family have been settled in Atwell for a long time now. This is the house Raf moved out of in 2020, right before Perth went into its first lockdown. He moved into an apartment in a suburb close by. It’s been a bittersweet experience.

 

Rafael: I think for me it was different because, I mean, if it was for some people would be like, “Oh yeah, moving out, it’s like great. It’s like, I get to do whatever I want. Blah, blah, blah.” I think for me, it was because maybe it wasn’t mixture of a few things. I mean, yes, there was the backdrop of the pandemic, but I think it’s because it’s something I remember from what my dad pointed out.  He told this story one time when he used to be a gardener at Ardross. I think the person he was working under, like they said, because another family friend of ours, both men were working there under some guy who was Aussie and they were talking about, “Oh, my kids like moving out.” But our family friend, he said, “Oh, my oldest daughter is still with us.” He was like, “Why are you, why didn’t you kick them out yet?” And he was like, “Well, we don’t do that. That’s not what we do.” So, I think that’s, so getting back to that question, is that I think it’s, that’s the one thing that made us different was that we don’t force our kids out. We actually just let them, get them a chance to, you know, as long as they have, ‘cos they have a security blanket. So, I think that’s why I probably was reluctant about going out yet.

 

Here’s the thing, with the apartment, I only call it my apartment or my flat ‘cos the thing is Atwell is my home that’s… I always call it my home. So, even if I’m saying, “Oh, I’m just gonna go to Mum and Dad’s but it’s…I’m just saying “going home” because that’s home to me, ‘cos that’s been home to me since I was 13. So, it’s, that’s important to me and it’s been a little longest home that I remember, and I don’t know why I’m getting teary about that, but I think it’s just, it’s weird because I think yeah, Atwell, like that’s how I identify where I’m from, because I didn’t really have many a permanent address up until I was 13. So, even if one day, if I ever get kicked outta my apartment, ‘cos it’s a strata home, I always know that at least I’m not gonna be without a roof over my head because I know my parents are nearby so I can go home.

 

Sisonke: From Chinameca, El Salvador, to Perth, Western Australia. Raf’s family has covered a lot of ground from the time it was just Marta and Tadeo, little Anna and Raquel, and Raf still in his mum’s tummy. Although the family is a lot bigger now, with a few extra members, one thing remains the same. Home for the Gonzalez family will always be wherever each other is.

 

This podcast was produced by the Centre for Stories with funding from Lotterywest. Centre for Stories is an organisation based on Whadjuk Noongar land in Western Australia that believes in storytelling as a way to build more inclusive communities. Head to centreforstories.com to listen to more stories, or to make a tax-deductible donation.

Special thanks to our storytellers for this episode, Rafael, Tadeo and Marta, and to our production team: executive producer Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, audio engineer Mason Vellios, scripting and interviewing by Sisonke Msimang and Claudia Mancini.