Activity 3: Interpreting Oral History - Zulka Dozier
In the last activity, you learned that oral history interviews provide insights into the experiences of ordinary individuals who lived through historical events. They open up our understanding of the attitudes and perceptions that shaped people's lives, providing a glimpse into the spirit of a time and place. The first-hand accounts are especially valuable when we might be missing a perspective.
In this interview, you will learn about Zulka Dozier, a woman from Eastern Poland. She was born in 1939, during World War II, and immigrated amidst the Cold War and Soviet oppression. She regarded her immigration as a choice, however, because she chose to marry her husband and never believed her experience in Poland was unlivable.
Zulka’s interview offers insights into women’s experiences before and after immigration. It also sheds light on what female companionship meant to some immigrant women who were uprooted from their families.
Listen to this excerpt where Zulka talks about gender roles in both Poland and the U.S. and answer the questions at the end. A transcript is provided.
WEDEGAERTNER: Okay, well I was going to say as far as who had the most responsibility. But it was all your mother.
DOZIER: Well, responsibility, yes. Because my father, he comes from a very high class of people. He always thought unfortunate he was born in the wrong place. Because he was born in Russia. When he was born, there was no Poland, so it didn’t make a difference that he’s 100% Polish. But he was spoiled. His father had lots of land in Russia. And the men in my father’s family, they were very cruel toward women. They just ignored women completely. They thought women are there to have children and take care of them. And they wanted to just play and have good time. Go and hunt and play cards. Drink with other women, but not their wives.
WEDEGAERTNER: So they probably had no responsibilities for the children at home.
DOZIER: No. He thought . . . he has nothing to do. He gave him [ ]. But I think I would be very happy to help him.
WEDEGAERTNER: Also, it was probably your mother for your older brothers and sisters who would have made any decisions for their dating or things like that.
WEDEGAERTNER: You said you didn’t particularly care to go out with the boys. Were there any rules or anything about dating in your family?
DOZIER: Well, I was not permitted to date. My mother was quite strict. She got married my age. She was 22 when she got married. So she was born in 1900. And when a woman, when a girl was 20 years old, it was considered as an old maid. So she was older. And she didn’t date when she was young, she told me. Why? Because she was living in a village and had to help her family support. There were seven of them, and she was the oldest. So you see, in her family, there were sons and daughters. There were three daughters. None of them were sent. The sons were sent to school. But we are talking, this is way back. It’s not like that anymore.
- What did Zulka Dozier think about her father's and his family’s influence on her family?
- How did she regard women’s opportunities in Poland?
- What restrictions did women face because they were women?
Now listen as Zulka describes her work experiences as a girl in Poland.
WEDEGAERTNER: Did you have any particular chores or jobs around the house, as far as cooking or sewing or cleaning?
DOZIER: When we were just after the war and we were living in Western Poland. First, we lived in a small city. A very tiny, 5,000 population. A beautiful German, clean town. But we couldn’t survive. We didn’t have any food. So we moved to the country, and we had land. So then I and my mother had a cow. And I always loved animals, so I wanted to have my own. So I had a goat. Now, my mother said, “I have enough work with cows and working the fields. If you want a goat, you have to take care of it.” So I went to feed her. Get up early in the morning, take her by the road so she would eat. Or during the summers spent in the forest with her, picking mushrooms or picking blueberries. And then in the spring, I had to go with my mother together on the field, and we had sugar beets. And you know, if you plant sugar beets, the beets became about that big. You have to [ ] them. And so that was my job. And then we had no horse. So we had to do it all by hand. We were digging, piling the soil. And when the harvest came, I had to go and pick up. My mother would cut the wheat or oats, and I would have to go and roll it and tie it.
WEDEGAERTNER: You worked very hard!
DOZIER: And I was young. I was nine, ten, eleven.
- What kind of work did young girls do in Poland (and much of Europe) after World War II?
- Although Zulka did not have paid employment in Poland or after immigrating to the U.S., how would you answer a question about whether or not Polish immigrant women worked?
Like many female immigrants, Dozier expressed longing for female family members left behind. Listen to this excerpt about her family.
WEDEGAERTNER: Right. What were some of the things that you missed most about your country, that you knew you’d be leaving?
DOZIER: My parents. My parents mostly. And of course my family. My mother. And I mentioned to you earlier that I was raised by my brother-in-law and my sister. And they had a daughter, whom I took care of during the summer vacation. And I wanted make her a ballerina. So when she was three years old, I took her three times a week to ballet school. And then I signed her to an art school. And she was very little. And she was like my daughter. So I was very attached to Grazyna. Besides my mother, she's the other one who I'm very close to.
- What were Zulka’s feelings about leaving her family behind?
- Which family members did she seem to miss most?
Her initial loneliness was compounded by meeting women who seemed very different from those she had known in Poland. Listen to her describe her in-laws and initial companions.
DOZIER: And my sister-in-law was trying to be friendly with me, but we couldn’t communicate, but she had a girlfriend who could speak Russian. And I could speak Russian. But Shirley... Well, Bill had no money when he married. And Shirley, my sister-in-law, already had some money. And very well-established. So they went and took me to the store downtown, and I bought the first bra and paid ten dollars.
...two tables. So they took me, and I had lunch. I went with several women. With several American women. Who wanted... Who eats all the time in the afternoon? Even they had small children, but they had babysitters. Because they had money. And they got together and ate lunch and laughed and talk about clothes. And I couldn’t fit with them, because I brought my own clothes that my mother and I sewed. And I thought clothes was not that important to talk about. And so gradually, I was very unhappy.
WEDEGAERTNER: You were unhappy from your standpoint, but did you feel discriminated against at all?
DOZIER: No. I wasn’t discriminated against. They took me everywhere. But I knew that that’s not me over there. I just felt uncomfortable, because I never paid any attention on clothes. Even I had one dress. I always put on makeup. I maybe did something with my hair. Something I did that maybe didn’t cost anything. But here, women bought slacks with matching shoes, and they keep changing their clothes. And I thought, knowing that Bill is not making that much money, and besides, he spent all his money on his campaign. In his bank he was on red. So he was paying. I knew I was not able. And I thought it’s silly that you just talk about clothes all the time. And I was very unhappy. I didn’t meet the right women. And Bill was occupied with himself, and of course, he had his son too. He saw his son every day. His son was twelve. He needed that attention. And I was jealous. I wasn’t thinking that he was going to see his son. I thought he’s seeing his wife. Because she’s there always. So it was very uncomfortable for me. I was very unhappy.
Finally, she met an older Polish woman with whom she bonded.
WEDEGAERTNER: During that period when you sort of pulled away from your sister-and-law and her friends, you had this one – Luba, that’s her name?
DOZIER: That’s right.
WEDEGAERTNER: Was she your main friend during this time?
DOZIER: Yes. And she’s older. She’s 15, 16 years older than I am. But til this day, we’re like sisters.
WEDEGAERTNER: Did she take you shopping, grocery shopping, and things?
DOZIER: Yes. Even she worked. She worked very hard. Every Thursday. Thursday night, in Stockton, downtown, the shops were open. So every Thursday night, we went shopping, and then we stopped and had a donut and a cup of coffee. It was a big thrill. I enjoyed it more than going to Stockton Hotel for lunch and see those modeling dresses or something. And she had a hard life. There was no money in her family. But oh, we had fun. We still do. We go sometimes to Lake Tahoe. Or she likes to... Whoever comes from Poland, we take them to Big Trees or Yosemite. Make a picnic. And she’ll go with me any place. And so would I. The difference between us is just religious.
WEDEGAERTNER: Are you Catholic?
DOZIER: I’m Catholic. But you see, she comes and celebrate my Christmas, and I come and celebrate her Hanukkah.
WEDEGAERTNER: That’s wonderful that you had someone like that to relate to during those years.
DOZIER: I’m sure if Luba wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be in Stockton. Because I’m very sensitive. I’m maybe... I don’t know why. People should study me. Bill says I shouldn’t be like that. But I felt like I’m not secure. I wasn’t secure. I always felt like somebody wants to attack me or wants to be very nasty to me.
- In what ways did U.S. women reach out to Zulka?
- What factors made it difficult for her to connect to women in the U.S.?
- Did her understanding of femininity make a difference in who she felt comfortable with?
- What did the friendship with Luba mean to Zulka? Why do you think it was so important?
Zulka came to the United States in 1958. Listen to her discuss the decision of Poles to come to the U.S. and how those choices changed before World War II and after.
WEDEGAERTNER: Can you see some differences between all of the new immigrants that are coming into Stockton and, say, the time you arrived? Can you see there are similar problems, or different problems?
DOZIER: No. There are different problems maybe because they are coming with their families. Like I’ve known many Jewish Russians who came. But they came with their whole families. And they came because they had to. Because you see, I didn’t have to come. I choose to. Because I didn’t have to marry Bill. There was nobody forced to. I would marry Bill even if he would be in Poland. And tell the truth, in the beginning, I would prefer living with Bill in Poland. It would be better for me. But right now, I’ve been living half of my lifetime here, and I feel like I’m putting – even not having any children – but I put roots into my garden. So I’m feeling more American. The new people that come... They are more materialistic people. But maybe because I’m not materialistic. Probably if I would be materialistic, I would have the same mentality what they have. I don’t know, but you see, things for me have no value.
WEDEGAERTNER: There are other people like that, but I think that’s a rare quality.
DOZIER: Those Russians, they were lucky that they were escaping Russia. Because they didn’t have a good life. Even they were educated people. Life in Russia, it’s different than in Poland. It’s much different. More difficult. Poland is still country that... You know, it’s communist country, but it still has more prestige.
- What drove Zulka's decision to leave Poland?
- Did she believe she was a Cold War refugee? Why or why not?
Beyond the Academic Report
Oral history can help us understand stories that reports can't include. In this final activity, read the excerpt from the proceedings of a conference sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Migration Policy Institute on women immigrants to the United States (2002). Explain how oral history (such as Zulka Dozier's interview) elaborates on the patterns described.
"Female immigration has become an increasingly prominent feature of contemporary immigration. Since 1993, the share of women as a proportion of total immigration has varied from 53 percent to 55 percent, which is much higher than in the past. Table 1 shows the steadily increasing share of female immigrants admitted to the United States in 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2000. By 2000, close to 60 percent of immigrants from Mexico, China, the Philippines and Vietnam were female. As in the past, female immigrants today are more likely to be married than are male immigrants. What is different, however, is that today’s female migrants are more diverse in type, including not only family-sponsor migrants but also independent labor migrants, refugees and asylees, as well as undocumented migrants."
- What kinds of work did women do?
- In what ways did gender shape Zulka's experience with work and with relationships?
- How did the Cold War shape Zulka's experience?