Don’t cry for me Argentina, I’m a U.S. citizen now!
Gary Hauben’s 1957 quest from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Los Angeles, California
essay written by Matt Hoffer
Gary Hauben left Argentina with the hopes of finding a better life. In the United States he would find a life better than he could have ever imagined. From growing up a lower middle class boy in Buenos Aires, to immigrating to Los Angles, to becoming an American citizen, to gaining wealth through his own perseverance, this is a true story of achieving the “American Dream.”
Gary Hauben was born in Buenos Aires Argentina to Polish immigrants who had escaped the turmoil of Nazi Germany only to see much of their family murdered in the Holocaust. Born to immigrants, Mr. Hauben would immigrate to America in 1957 at the age of twenty. In a time when foreigners “dream[t] about Hollywood”1 Mr. Hauben went to Los Angeles to live with his aunt who had come to the United States earlier. From there he began to pursue the “American Dream”, a dream which he would live to its fullest potential.
After the World War II, Argentina was a country on the rise. By selling goods to both sides in the war, Argentina became “a rich country” where the “people lived pretty good.”2 Especially in Buenos Aires, the capital city, industrialization had become one of the key concerns of the government. Buenos Aires swelled to become the biggest city in Argentina and had about 30% (twelve million) of Argentina’s 40 million people living within its borders. Referring to the whether Hauben remarked, Buenos Aires is like New England the “only difference is there is no snow.”3 Buenos Aires’ climate is very similar to much of the Argentinean climate, which extends to the humid grasslands of the Pampas to the cold mountainous regions in the north, to the freezing, almost Antarctic Patagonia in the far south.
After the war, many flocked to Argentina, including both Jews escaping from Europe and Nazis escaping from the Allied powers. As Mr. Hauben called it “Argentina is an immigrant country like the United States.”4 Although Argentina is a Latin American, Spanish speaking country, many of its citizens come from elsewhere. The demographic breakdown of Argentina is “40% Italian, 40% Spanish descent, and then the rest from Germany Russia, Poland, Romania”5 and elsewhere in Europe. In the late 1920s and 1930s, when Mr. Hauben was growing up, Buenos Aires was divided up into ethnic neighborhoods. Each different immigrant group had their own neighborhood – similar to parts of Los Angeles are today. This atmosphere allowed many immigrant groups to maintain their own ethnic traditions. Mr. Hauben recalled a trip to a primarily Italian neighborhood called La Boca (the mouth) where “they talk[ed] to you in Italian and expect[ed] you to understand”6 He compared it to the primarily Latin section of Los Angeles where it is expected that one speak Spanish.
Argentina has been, and often continues to be, a country in one kind political upheaval or another. In that time, the country was controlled by Peron who “was a dictator”7 and whose wife Evita was extremely popular and even visited Mr. Hauben’s elementary school to give them toys. Peron brought fascism to Argentina and his wife brought a new kind of charity. Evita took from the poor to give to the poor. Although heralded as a savior to solve the recession Argentina was experiencing, Peron took from the workers to put money in his charity, which then gave out toys and other things to the worker’s children, while keeping a little for the government. Peron’s rise led many to flee the country including Mr. Hauben’s aunt who would later help him immigrate to America.
Daily life, for Mr. Hauben, consisted of many things similar to daily life in the United States. At a young age he walked to and from school and in his free time he would “play in the street . . . with small toys”8 His parents owned a general store where they “made a living, [though] not a great living.”9 Mr. Hauben worked in the store while attending high school and attaining his Public Accountant degree, which would later allow him to find work in America.
The main reason Mr. Hauben immigrated to the United States can be summed up in one sentence: “I was single, young, [and had] no obligations.”10 Mr. Hauben wasn’t escaping political turmoil, war, or even economic problems; he came to live the American dream, to gain riches from almost nothing. He didn’t believe he had a good future in Argentina and he had an aunt living in Los Angele who agreed to help him come and get established in America.
Like many immigrants, Mr. Hauben expected Los Angeles, especially Hollywood, to be filled with movie stars and celebrities. This expectation was, of course, was false and, as Mr. Hauben said, “you think you go [to Hollywood] and you see movie stars [but] you see nothing there, people walking, that’s all.”11 He didn’t really expect much difficulty out of the American people he recalls that they were all “real nice to me. . . I never had real problems here with Americans.12
Mr. Hauben’s first step in coming to the United States was acquiring a visa and an affidavit which he got from his aunt living in Los Angeles. Three weeks later, he came to the United States by “three airplanes” taking “48 hours . . . Tuesday morning to Thursday.”13 In Brownsville, Texas he turned in his papers and was allowed entrance, and from there flew into Los Angeles where he moved in with his aunt.
Mr. Hauben came to the United States with “a lot of money, about sixty five or seventy dollars”14 but because he was moving in with his aunt he was not in any huge financial crisis. From his first few days in America, Mr. Hauben attended classes to learn English so that he could find work. In his first few days in the United States his aunt felt the need to Americanize his name and so Samuel Hauben became Gary Hauben, Gary came from a dead uncle named Gershel. When Mr. Hauben applied for Social Security Gary stuck and he has been using it from then on. At first, he was homesick but soon things turned around and he embraced the United States as his new home.
Mr. Hauben soon looked for work, but the language barrier was an obstacle. He applied for a job at Bank of America, but was told to “come back when you speak English”15 He was able to get a job working at a shoe store doing general labor. Later, he applied to the Jewish employment agency to try to find a bookkeeping job, the job that he had been trained in Argentina to do. Soon he found work at a place called Wilson’s Shoes where he did bookkeeping. He began by working part time but soon started to work “60 hours a week, working full time and overtime.”16 He quickly progressed to become the manager. So in a short time he worked his way from doing labor in a shoe store to keeping the books for another. Although he was not making much money Mr. Hauben recalled, “When you’re an immigrant you enjoy working a lot of hours”17
In 1959 his brother came to the United States and then they got an apartment “paying seventy-five dollars rent in a one bedroom appartment.”18 It was during this time that Mr. Hauben became a great fan of Los Angeles’ many sports teams. In the early sixties, Mr. Hauben began watching the Dodgers, especially his favorite pitcher Sandy Koufax. He also became a Lakers basketball fan and used to have season tickets. Apart from the new teams, Mr. Hauben also maintained a deep love for soccer and his favorite team, Boca Jr. His love of soccer mixed with his new passions for baseball and basketball, and now satellite television allows him to watch all three from the comfort of his home.
In 1963 Mr. Hauben became a U.S. citizen. His explanation as to why he became a citizen is that he “was here and . . . wanted to vote.”19 His first opportunity to vote would be the next year when Kennedy became the president of the United States. He became a citizen as soon as possible after his six years of required residence had finished. Originally, Mr. Hauben did not care much for politics when he came “I just tried to make a living.”20 In his free time, Mr. Hauben “played poker . . . went to dances . . . and went to games or baseball.”21 It was at one of the dances that he met Martha, whom he later married in 1965. Martha was an immigrant who came from Ecuador. This marriage really cemented his life in the United States. When asked about moving back after his marriage, Mr. Hauben said, “no, never, my wife would kill me if we went back . . . I was making it real good.”22 Soon they would have their first child, Sandra Jacqueline Hauben, whom he named after his favorite pitcher Sandy Koufax. The birth of his first child and the expectation of a second prompted him to move out of Los Angeles and into the suburbs.
It was at this time when Mr. Hauben experienced one of his greatest breaks in his new life. While working at the Wilson’s Shoes as a bookkeeper, Mr. Hauben was introduced to Sam Cohen, who was looking for a book keeper to work at his company Service Packing. At his interview, Mr. Hauben showed that he didn’t need an extensive knowledge of English to work as a bookkeeper and was soon hired and continued to work there for the next 42 years. During this time Mr. Hauben was the controller and helped allow the company to grow immensely, he said, “it was crazy [Service Packing] was sold 3 years ago (2007) for about three hundred million dollars, when Sam Cohen started he started with thirty thousand dollars.”23 Working at Service Packing, Mr. Hauben truly made his money and began to realize that the “American Dream” was beginning to become true. He was able him to move to the suburban community of Downy where he could raise his children.
Soon Mr. Hauben and his wife chose Downey because they had been referred by a fellow worker at Service Packing who said that Downey “is real nice and real close . . . and [has] real nice houses.”24 Mr. Hauben and his wife eventually had four children who all grew up in Downey. Living in Downey allowed their children to befriend many Americans, leading them being more American than South American. Although their first language was Spanish they soon became “100% American.”25 This also happened a little to Mr. Hauben himself and he commented, “When I am with Americans I am an American, when I’m with South Americans I am South American”26 Moving to the suburbs really changed the lives of Mr. Hauben, his wife and their children.
No matter where he was, however, Mr. Hauben still practiced his Judaism. His children had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, just like he had much earlier. To him the two ceremonies were “like day and night . . . it was really different.”27 In Argentina Bar Mitzvahs were mostly in Yiddish, not Hebrew like in America. His children’s Bar Mitzvah’s allowed a bridge between the two generations that would later extend to some of his grandchildren. Coincidentally, Mr. Hauben would also attend the Bar Mitzvah of David Hoffer, who would eventually marry his daughter. Also all of his children went to college and graduated with degrees, and one of his sons even became a doctor.
Around this time Mr. Hauben would begin his many travels, including several visits to Argentina. He and his children visited both Ecuador and Argentina. But going back is really just a vacation. Now that he has the means, he has been able to travel as he wasn’t able to when he was younger. To him Argentina is a lot of fun: “we go there, meet the friends, go to the places, and see the soccer games.”28 Also, with the Argentine economy the way that it has been recently, it is much cheaper to buy things there, making his many trips much more enjoyable. He also has gone to Europe, but never to Poland, where his family origionally came from. On his many trips to Europe, he’s visited “Spain, Italy and all over the inside”29 and now with the fall of communism he plans on seeing some of the Eastern European countries that were previously unavailable to westerners. Also, like many Jews, Mr. Hauben wants to visit Israel.
Mr. Hauben has been living his life just like any other citizen of the United States. He has retired and now collects social security and can be seen cruising the streets of Downey in his Cadillac. Now he does “income taxes three months a year”30 which he’s been doing part time since 1967. He is often on the computer emailing his sister in Argentina “pictures of [his] grandchildren.”31 New links such as the Internet allow him to read about his country and see what is going on while at the same time allowing him to connect with friends and family in a way that he was unable to do previously. He believes that coming to America was a great decision. He said “well I am here fifty two years . . . it was not a good, it was a great decision, and I have a real nice wife, great children, and great grandchildren.”32
Mr. Hauben feels that evidence of him living the “American Dream” is shown through his four children. When he was younger he spoke to his wife and he said, “I am going to work hard and send all the kids to colleges, and we’re glad we did it.”33 Sandra, his oldest, became a social worker, working mostly with a bilingual caseload of immigrant families with disabled children. Mr. Hauben always stressed how people need more help when they don’t speak the language of the country they live in as he found with many of his former employees. After marrying and having children, Sandra now stays home to raise them, but still participates in philanthropic organizations. Mr. Hauben’s oldest son, Steven, is a pediatrician in Arizona, where he has a large, bilingual group of patients. Steven lived his experience South America while attending medical school and applies it to interactions with his patients. Mr. Hauben’s second son, Robert, commonly known as Mike, has spent the last ten years working in California government, first as a community liaison for former governor Gray Davis and more recently he has held positions with the state insurance commissioner’s office. Currently he serves under the Lieutenant Governor, John Garamendi. Mr. Hauben’s youngest son Larry currently works as a senior sales representative with a major pharmaceutical company mostly working with bilingual doctors, and is married to a school teacher who specializes in an English second language program.
If his children’s achievements don’t prove that the “American Dream” is true, then his own experiences do. A couple years ago he met President Clinton: “we were in a restaurant on Olvera Street [in Los Angeles] . . . he [shook] my hand and we took a picture.”34 if you were to tell an immigrant now that one ay they would meet the president of the United States, they would probably laugh at you, but for Mr. Hauben, this became a reality.
In summation, Mr. Hauben came from a lower middle class family in Argentina and through his own perseverance became an upper middle class man with a great family, a house, and a nice car. As he put it best: “Well, I can see from my case. . . I came here with sixty or seventy dollars, now I have more, I can’t complain. I have a house, car, social security, I travel, all my children [have gone] to school [and] graduated, that’s my dream and I am thankful to the United States for what they gave me”35
1. Hauben, Gary. Personal interview. 24 May 2009. 3.
2. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 1.
3. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 32.
4. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 30.
5. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 30.
6. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 28.
7. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 2.
8. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 2.
9. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 17.
10. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 3.
11. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 5.
12. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 5.
13. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 5.
14. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 6.
15. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 6.
16. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 8.
17. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 8.
18. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 9.
19. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 10.
20. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 9.
21. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 10.
22. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 34.
23. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 12.
24. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 11.
25. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 13 .
26. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 13.
27. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 18.
28. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 21.
29. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 28.
30. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 36.
31. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 38.
32. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 33.
33. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 34.
34. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 34.
35. Hauben, 24 May 2009, 39.