My name is Veronica Pitbladdo.
INTERVIEWED BY Indigo Mudbhary x 2


DEPARTED FROM
Buenos Aires, Argentina

ARRIVED IN
Miami, Florida

YEAR
1987

AGE
19

So, my first question for you is what do you remember from your first days in the United States when you arrived?

Okay, so one of the things that always stuck with me was the first time that I went to a supermarket and I passed by where the cheese is and I thought, "Oh my god, what’s the soap doing in the refrigerator?" I had never seen cheese that was square and yellow. I was, you know, I was not used to that. Usually cheese comes round, more artisanal — I was not used to these really rectangular, yellow bricks. Strolling down the aisles of the supermarket was really “wow.” Salad dressings—we always used vinegar, olive oils, salt and pepper, so I was not acquainted with salad dressings and there were aisles and aisles of salad dressings. You know, with foods, there was really a lot of variety of things I had not seen before. That was one thing. Big cars—that was another thing that caught my attention. So, it was many of the visual differences of what surrounded me.

So, how did you get to the U.S.? Was it by a plane? And if you were at an airport, who picked you up and how was that?

Okay, so how was it? Yeah, I came by plane because Argentina is a 17 hour flight. I first went to Miami because my aunt lived in Miami so we went to visit her as a family with my parents. And then my cousin who lived in Santa Barbara also went to Miami to meet us. And then she invited me to come to Santa Barbara. She said, “Why don’t you come to Santa Barbara?” And I’m like, “Yes!” You know, I was 19, so I decided to come with her, and then I’m like, "Okay, maybe I’ll stay a month and take a class at city college, like English as a second language." And then I’m like, "Oh, I don’t want to return; it’s too early. No, I want to stay a little more." And then I stayed more, and then I stayed more, and then my parents told me, “Okay, you need to come back. Or you need to get a job.” And I got a job! And I got a great job, and I was able to support myself while taking care of a little kid. So this was all in Santa Barbara. That’s how I ended up here in Santa Barbara. Then, with time, I fell in love with who became my first husband, not Marcelo, but my youth first love. We were both 19. Then he was also going to Santa Barbara City College, then he got into UC Berkeley and that’s how I ended up coming to San Francisco.

Okay, wow. And, this might be-

Many lives ago.

Yeah, many lives in one life I find.

Yeah.

In terms of like… this might be details you don’t remember, but do you remember anything that you did during your first week here when you first got here?

I remember perfectly what happened when I first got to San Francisco—

Oh, okay.

Because it was the earthquake of… what was it, 1997? No, no… 1989. October 17, 1989. Let me double check.

That sounds right.

89 earthquake… Yep.

Wow.

So I had just gotten a job—that was my first week in San Francisco. I got a job at a restaurant on Lombard and Van Ness. I forget the name of the place. I took the bus; I lived in Russian Hill. I took the bus and got off on Van Ness and I started walking and all of a sudden: earthquake. It was my first earthquake and it was a strong earthquake. Started trembling, and I didn’t understand what was happening. I saw plant pots coming from balconies and I swear, like in my mind, I remember that the pavement was kind of waving and I was like, “Oh my god!” And it lasted what seemed like minutes but it was just seconds. And then everyone was looking like [surprised expression]. And then I kept walking and I got to the restaurant and when I got there, they told me, “Oh no, no. You need to go back home: earthquake.” It was like oh my god. So, yeah.

Wow. What a thing to happen in the first week.

What a thing to happen in the first week, yes. And it was scary because then I went back home and there wasn’t any electricity and my husband was at Berkeley and at that time he was supposed to be in BART back to the city. But that predated cell phones, of course, so I didn’t have any way to communicate. And it was scary because I was like, “Oh my god, what if?” I also remember the aftershocks because that night there were tons of aftershocks and I was really scared.

Oh wow. Wow. It’s hard to transition to the next question I have from that, but what are some of the biggest cultural differences or cultural similarities that you noted during your first period of time here?

Well, you know, cultural differences were subtle—you know, Argentina is a Western culture so it’s not a big gap culturally speaking. But one thing was the humor but maybe that’s because I have English as a second language. Like you learn the language but it takes a lot more to understand the humor. So humor was pretty hard and someone would make a joke or something and it would be really uncomfortable. Because you know how like you want to laugh but you don’t want to be caught laughing at something that you didn’t understand?

I feel that, yeah.

So that happened quite a bit. Like for example, at like the supermarket, checking out and maybe the cashier like making a joke and me going like, “Ahaha!” and I didn’t know if that was appropriate or not. So that was hard.

Makes sense.

Another thing is, you know, in Argentina we’re a Latin country, we’re very touchy, hugging and kissing, and here is more like personal space is a lot more defined. Like, this is my space and maybe you know you give someone your hand but I missed or I had a bit of a difficult time adjusting to a culture that was less physical.

Makes sense, yeah.

And one more thing. And this is because you know, there are certain things that you don’t realize until certain other things happen in life. Like, for example, one thing that I had never really experienced during my first years here, I experienced when I had kids and they went to preschool, Wind in the Willows.

Wind in the Willows! Yes.

Which was a charming little school with really beautiful people.

It really was.

But I had a bit of a culture shock when I first went to pick up my kids and I would try to have eye contact with other moms and they would not look at me and then they would come and go, “Oh hi!” when someone introduced us, like, “Oh, this is so-and-so.” And then they would look at you. That was really not a good feeling and something that I didn’t realize until years later that culturally I had those differences.

I see. Interesting.

Yeah.

Yeah, Wind in the Willows, the reason why we’re doing this interview, our connection.

Yes, yes. And I have very good memories of Wind in the Willows. But I also remember feeling like, “What? You know, I’m here to pick up my kid, you’re here to pick up your kid, and you don’t even look at me when I’m trying to establish eye contact?” So that was strange. But, you know.

Definitely. Are there any specific memories that you associate, like the earthquake for example, with your first days, first weeks, or first years here? If there isn’t anything other than that, that’s okay. But is there any particular memories that you associate with, like, first days?

Oh no, yeah. Acceleration—like this feeling of wanting to explore it all because you know, San Francisco is such a beautiful city and you know, I wanted to take it all in. So this excitement about like I want to go here, and I want to go there, and I want to meet this, so that curiosity and desire to explore, that overtime, when you live in a place, you lose. Now, I live in the Mission and I barely get out of the Mission. And then when someone comes to visit me, I’m like, rediscovering the city. It’s like oh my god, it’s great to be a tourist and the city has changed so much. And what else? I can’t think of anything else right—oh, well the earthquake, you know that definitely left a print but not a print of terror. But you know, over the years experiencing earthquakes I think that that kind of cured me from the get go, because you know it was such a strong thing that then after that—I mean, of course, it’s always startling when you feel an earthquake but it’s kind of like you get used to it. Interestingly—

Uh…

Oh, go ahead, then I’ll tell you.

No no, you go ahead, it’s a follow-up question.

Many, many years later I moved to New York and after a while, I also experienced 9/11. Like I saw what happened, I saw the second plane and all of that. So in my family they have this joke of like, “Oh, let’s not go with you to a new place because we’re going to experience something!” [laughs] So the earthquake, for some reason, also connects to 9/11 not because they’re connected but because I happened to be present when it happened.

Oh my goodness. Wow, what a coincidence.

What a coincidence, yes!

I was just going to ask if they have earthquakes in Argentina or not.

Yeah, in Argentina they have earthquakes but not in Buenos Aires, which is where I’m from. But more toward the Andes mountains, there’s earthquakes there. And there was one earthquake that I experienced as a child, like a movement, in Buenos Aires but it was one time and I remember it was a night and the entire 18-story building we came all out and looked from the street, like oh my god. But other than that, I had never experienced that.

What a transition.

Yeah.

Those were all the questions I had to ask you but is there anything else you’d like to share about your first days, first weeks, first years, anything at all?

Well, you know, I guess I have to be thankful that as an immigrant I had always felt really welcome in places and was very lucky to not feel discrimination or bad experiences as a result of being an immigrant which is something that did happen, for example, in Spain. I was once told, “sudaca,” which is a derogatory term for a South American person. So I’ve always felt very welcome and of course, I’ve lived more time here than there, than in Argentina, so I will always be Argentine in spirit because my formative years, childhood and all of that, are what define your identity a lot. I have only words of gratefulness for a country that really welcomed me.


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