CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Who She Is: Toya

Listen to my interview with Toya!

Her real name is Santas Victoria Coto, but we call her “Toya.” She lived in Honduras until she came to New York twenty-odd years ago. She came in her early 40s, to accompany her younger sister, who was working as a housekeeper in Brooklyn. She too acquired a job as a housekeeper.

Toya has no formal education of the English language. After twenty years in this country, she has a decent grasp of English, though she still speaks with a certain hesitance. She is much more comfortable with her native tongue and prefers to speak Spanish even to the English-speaking family she works for. When asked where she learned English, her answer is “no cahmin’ en my hair – no viene en mi cabessa.”

Maybe that’s why many of her answers are simplistic. ‘Muy bueno’ seems to be one of her favorites. She says she walked to school as a child because it was “muy cerca.” Her family was “muy bueno.”  When asked about the dynamics of her neighborhood, she answered, “everybody in my neighborhood was from the same place.”

Toya has no recollection of any “crimen” nor of any “prejuicios” in Honduras. When asked about either, she says “nunca” – never. Maybe she lived in somewhat of a bubble?

I was curious to know what she thinks of American culture and how it is different from the Central American culture in which she was raised. Her answer? “El religión.” She says that in America, religion is “confudida”, whereas in Honduras it was strictly Catholic. She found it difficult to explain further the differences she sees between the two cultures, mostly because she lives with a Jewish family, so she cannot comment on the culture of America as a whole. What I found interesting is that she herself seems to have grown up with more than just the Catholic faith. Apparently, her father had a religion but “no se cual era”. I asked, was it a secret? She told me, “he had the Old Testiment.” Apparently, it was a secret; no one knew anything about it, but her father was secretly Jewish.

Toya is funny. She can’t point at any time in her life that is a turning point. Though an obvious one exists—her move to America. I asked her “what was your initial vision of America?” and she responds, “the airport was so big!”

Of course, her life is different now from what it used to be. She says she is “muy feliz” because she “no speekee anybody.” “Now my life is more quier.” She firmly believes she is living the American dream. She works but she earns money. “Es más fácil de ganar [dinero].”

Toya ended off by telling me a really exciting piece of information—“soon come mis papeles!” Her papers! She is working on citizenship and that is really exciting for her.

I love Toya.


1 sbrodetskiy { 12.09.10 at 4:50 pm }

Wow, this fantastic. I actually used my Spanish classes from high school. I can imagine me doing this interview with my grandma. It would have went very much the same way. The laughter was natural and the whole piece flowed well.

2 chiub92 { 12.11.10 at 4:33 am }

Your interview with Toya was very enjoyable to listen to. I agree with Professor Bernstein that this interview is essentially a cultural encounter. Although it must have been a little frustrating trying to explain to Toya every question, I liked how you and Toya got along throughout the interview. I laughed when I listened to your Google translations of certain questions because they did not make sense grammatically haha 🙂

3 choyeonkim { 12.13.10 at 6:05 am }

I love Toya too! 😀

4 Catalina Flores { 12.13.10 at 5:12 pm }

Great interview! Promise I didn’t laugh at your Spanish, I hear/speak Spanglish all the time at home… it’s a great mixture of languages

5 Wen Bo Xie { 12.14.10 at 9:09 am }

The interview was warm and engaging, and the different languages being spoken and understood enhanced the overall experience of the project. You have done a fantastic job intertwining history and culture. Splendid!

6 taid2292 { 12.17.10 at 7:18 am }

I enjoyed listening to both of your interactions. There seems to be a great and relaxed form of talking.

7 sannel { 12.22.10 at 3:31 pm }

This was such a funny interview! Toya seems adorable :).