Laura’s Immigration Story – Quevedo, Ecuador to Houston, Texas

“I feel like Ecuador is one of those countries you don’t really hear about, but it has so much to offer. Some people call it the country of “four worlds” because every region is so different – the Galapagos, the Coast, the Sierra, and the Oriente.”


Laura was born in Quevedo – “a little city where everybody knows everybody.” Her best childhood memories are of running around with her cousins on her grandfather’s land.

“We would eat in the morning, get lost, and when we got hungry, we would crack watermelons open.” (audio below)

Laura’s dad worked with computers, and her mom stayed home with Laura and her older brother. Her dad was the type of man everyone knew in town. At the time, cars weren’t as accessible. For practical reasons, her dad opted for a motorcycle. Laura dreamed of one day having her own turquoise Yamaha Passola moped.


When Laura’s parents left Ecuador for the United States in 1998, she and her older brother moved to Guayaquil to live with their paternal grandmother. The goal was for Laura and her brother to eventually join their parents. Laura’s parents lived at her paternal grandfather’s house in Houston until they had enough to move out on their own.

Laura knew very little about the United States, aside from how everyone wanted to go there. After her parents left Ecuador, Laura went to school and told her teacher that she would be moving to “Washington” soon. She has no idea why she thought they were going to Washington! (audio below)

In 1999, a year after her parents left, Laura, age seven, and her brother flew to the United States. When she thinks of that day, she remembers chewing gum, wearing Winnie the Pooh overalls, enjoying her first plane ride, and smuggling soup. Her father had such a craving for grandma’s soup that the family had Laura bring a concealed jar of grandma’s frozen soup in her backpack. (audio below)

 Above: Laura at Mission West Elementary in Houston, the second elementary she attended and where she became fluent in English


“Meeting my parents in the US was like the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Laura felt lonely and out of place after the move. Although she noticed the streets were cleaner in the US, she could run around her grandfather’s land unsupervised in Ecuador. In Houston, Laura lived in an apartment complex. She had to always be supervised and the only kid Laura played with was her brother. She didn’t like this new life. 

“I kept telling my mom I wanted to go back to Ecuador.”

When Laura started first grade, she couldn’t believe it when another student talked back to the teacher and didn’t get hit. She had never seen a lack of respect like this in Ecuador. Making friends didn’t come easy at school. In Ecuador, Laura loved playing soccer at recess. When she tried playing in the US, all the girls called her a boy and teased her. Even though some of the kids in her class were Spanish speakers, Laura couldn’t understand some of their words. Nobody had ever told her there were different dialects and ways of speaking her language. When her parents finally bought a house, Laura transferred to the school where her cousins went, so she became friends with their friends.

Audio: Laura reading her poem “English as a Second Language”


Trying to fit in was a predominant theme of Laura’s adolescence. She went through all sorts of stages – lots of makeup, dyed hair, colored contacts, and at one point, an emo look. (audio below)

It took Laura until freshman year at George Bush High School to adapt to American culture. She became part of the dance team and found it to be a “gateway into self-expression.”  It’s also where she made friends.

Above: Senior year photo from George Bush High School

Body Art

When Laura got her first tattoo as a teenager, she knew her parents wouldn’t approve, so she didn’t tell them. 

“They thought tattoos are only for criminals and gangsters, and here I was getting flowers and all these colorful things!”

Eventually, Laura’s mom spotted her tattoo. Although she did cry when she saw it, Laura thinks her mom and dad have grown to understand and appreciate that body art is part of their daughter’s creative side. 

“I see my body as a canvas – a visual narration of my story.” 

Family Business

Laura’s dad worked in insurance, and her mom’s first job in the US was at Popeye’s and then McDonald’s. Her parents were continually sending money back to Ecuador to help the family. 

Laura’s mom missed being at home with her children like she was in Ecuador. When Laura was in middle school, her mom came up with the idea to start a dog grooming business. It was surprising, as they had never owned a dog before. Still, she took a dog grooming training course, got a loan from the bank, and opened Norma Petcare in 2007. They have since expanded and now offer boarding services as well. 

It has truly become a family business – Laura, her older brother, and sometimes even her grandma help out.

Working with dogs inspired Laura to get one of her own. Clutch is a “little fluffy guy” who has stolen a large chunk of Laura’s heart. She explains how her dog was a little worried when she started helping out at her mom’s business.

“Why are you coming home smelling like all these other dogs? Now he’s used to it. He loves going to mom’s shop and looking at the girl dogs.”  (audio below)


In 2009, Laura’s senior year of high school, she found herself unsure of what she wanted to do next. When her school held a career day, Laura had forgotten to sign up for a presentation, so they sent her to learn about the military. As Laura remembers, they showed a video with all these people doing cool things, and by the end of the presentation, she had signed herself up to join. Laura didn’t want to tell her parents, but as a 17 year old, she needed their signature. Her mom surprised Laura by signing the form right away.  

After graduation, Laura left for basic training, and then to military police school. She graduated in 2010, as a 31 Bravo (military police). After graduation, she joined the National Guard and prepared to go to college. When she reported to her assigned unit, they informed Laura, “You are on the list to go to Africa.” Laura put college on hold and started a year of training to go overseas.


As a part of Task Force Raptor, Laura was deployed in 2012 to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti [see the above photo] and then to Camp Simba in Kenya. As the Military Police, her unit’s job was to provide security patrolling and guard the bases.

On Laura’s days-off, she often went to volunteer at an orphanage.  

“Anything where I could interact with the locals I did. I want to be able to say that I didn’t just come here and stay on base. I wanted to see what else is out there. I’m just curious about the rest of the world.”

Above: Art that hangs in her home in Houston, that she purchased while deployed in Africa

Laura never thought she would spend her 20th birthday in Africa. 

“There were a couple of moments where I was like, ‘what am I doing here? I was born in Ecuador, moved to the US. I’m here in Africa? What is going on?’” (audio below)


Laura spent six years in the military and overall considered it a positive experience. The military is where Laura matured and learned that she could depend on herself. 

“I was so far from home, and ya, my ‘battle buddies’ were my friends, but at the end of the day, I had to depend on myself.”

Before the military, Laura didn’t see herself as “American”. She learned to feel proud of the flag, wearing the uniform, and the US Army name tape. 

“It allowed me to connect with a society that I felt rejected me before then. I’m part of the one percent of the US population that decides to join the military, and on top of that, I’m part of the one percent who are women. As an immigrant, a woman, and small – the military allowed me to gain confidence in myself. I can do as much as the six-foot guys!” (audio below)


Laura appreciates Houston’s diversity, especially the variety of Latin foods – Cuban, Colombian, Peruvian. She isn’t a fan of Mexican food because she doesn’t like spice, and she especially can’t stand Tex-Mex

In 2017 when Hurricane Harvey left Laura stuck for two weeks, surrounded by flooding. She loved how people from all over the US came to help people get out of their flooded homes. She feels like this tragedy highlighted what a great city Houston is.

“The hurricane did bring the city together. Houstonians helped out each other more than the government did. #HOUSTONSTRONG, you see that everywhere now.” (audio below)


Laura grew up surrounded by books because her father has always loved to read. She started writing in her youth as a way to vent her frustration.  At community college, Laura took a creative writing class, received positive feedback from her professor, and decided to pursue this path further. When a friend texted Laura to thank her for something she had written, she knew she had to keep working on this craft. Before Laura was writing for herself, but after that, she saw how writing could be a way to connect with and inspire others. (audio below)

“The country is so divided because of politics, and writing is an opportunity to bring people together. I owe this to the world. I love to read, and I love to write, so why not use that for the good of humanity.”

Laura writes mostly non-fiction about immigration, being Latina, and self-love: “I like taking the facts and making them pretty.” In 2017, Laura transferred from her community college to the University of Houston where she studies English with a concentration on creative writing.

Above: From 1947 until 1989, the U of H had a live cougar as their mascot named Sasta. “Before an exam or before finals they say it’s good luck to high five the cougar.”


Today, Laura’s experiences as an immigrant, soldier, student, and woman influence her writing. The #MeToo movement has had an enormous impact on Laura and made her reflect on her own experiences. While she remembers the military fondly, she admits that at times she experienced sexism and sexual harassment. At the time, she treated the harassment like it was just part of the job, but now realizes she shouldn’t have accepted it. She always felt like she “needed to suck it up”. 

“I wanted to be a part of the military, a soldier, and I didn’t want to be soft. If I said, ‘you were offending me’ they would say, ‘this is why we can’t have women in the military. You have to toughen up.’” 


Making a lot of money in the future doesn’t interest Laura- she considers herself a minimalist – but she is ambitious.

“I want to make something out of myself and impact my community. What good is money going to do when I’m dead? A work of literature can stay long before I’m gone.”

Audio: Laura reading her poetry

After graduating from university, Laura plans to take some time off and go to Ecuador as a graduation present to herself. She wants to “soak in spending time with family”. 

Jorge Carrera Andrade, the Ecuadorian poet, whose writing focused mainly on nature, inspires Laura. She dreams of one day being in Ecuador, staying on her grandpa’s land, detached from all technology, writing her first collection of poetry. 

Montañita is a coastal town in Ecuador, full of Americans who have immigrated there as retirees. Someday Laura would love to spend time in Montañita and write about the experience of these American immigrants in her country. 

*Update: Laura graduated from the University of Houston and is now focusing on finishing her poetry manuscript centered around identity. You can find her work at


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes are edited for clarity and brevity.

Bomi’s Immigration Story – Chungju, South Korea to St. Louis, Missouri


Chungju, where Bomi grew up, is a small city surrounded by mountains. If you drive 15 minutes away, it is entirely rural. Bomi and her father spent a lot of time hiking in nature – memories she cherishes. Bomi’s extended family lived close by, and there were many family gatherings.

Above: Bomi (in green pants) with her cousins

She has good memories of karaoke with her friends and going out to eat street food. Mostly though, her memories are of school.

“A lot of my memories from being a student in Korea are of studying and after school mentoring. It is an intense competitive education. A hobby was something I never got to have in Korea because I was so focused on school. It’s kind of sad.” (audio below)

Bomi was a top student through middle school, but once she got to high school, she didn’t shine anymore. This realization affected her self-esteem, as she discovered for the first time that many people were smarter than she was. Her high school was “extreme” running from eight in the morning until ten at night with no weekends and no summer breaks. It was exhausting, but at the same time, it was normal – all the other students were in the same situation.

“I didn’t know American students get out of high school at three o’clock or that extracurricular activities even exist. You do what you are told to do and don’t know better. I didn’t think it was abnormal. Looking back, I think it is absolutely crazy.”

Above: Bomi’s mother was the breadwinner, so, growing up, she spent a lot of time with her father

Growing up, Bomi had an uncommon household situation in Korea, as her mother was the ‘breadwinner’ and she is older than her father. She showed Bomi that she could be whoever she wanted to be. 

For her time, my mom is a superwoman – a very strong character. “

Bomi’s parents are “outgoing, crazy, super fun, and like to dance.” Her father loves to play the chopstick drums. Bomi is an only child, so it was very hard on her parents when at 16, their daughter left to the US.

“I thought it would be super glamorous like Hollywood parties and people on the beach. You don’t have a movie showing central Illinois; you see San Francisco or New York City.” (audio below)

International Student

Bomi first came to the US in 2008. She wanted to learn English, so the first thing she did was go to California to study at a language school. She figured all of the US would be like California, but that wasn’t the case when she arrived in Illinois.

Bomi signed up for a one year exchange to attend Mater Dei High School in Breese, a town in rural Illinois. Her host family, who lived in nearby Trenton, hadn’t hosted before. They chose to host Bomi after reading in her application about how she could make delicious Korean food. They didn’t have children, and Bomi became their adopted Korean daughter.

 “I was terrified for the first time being away from family in a totally different country. I always enjoyed meeting people and telling them about Korea – being an ambassador for Korean culture. When you’re in Korea, you don’t think about being Korean.” (audio below)

It was the first time the high school in Breese had exchange students. Bomi was surprised and impressed with how friendly everyone was towards her and the other three exchange students. Breese isn’t a diverse community, but luckily the other students thought it was cool to hang out with someone different.

“I like that people know each other. It helped me feel welcome. Everybody was so friendly and helpful. I have never experienced any racism or discrimination that I was really afraid of before I came here. What if they make fun of me or are mean? I was afraid of being bullied, but people are just curious about my story – people ask questions to get to know me.” (audio below)

She tried a lot of things she would never have done in Korea, like: play Ski pong (beer pong but using the local soda, Ski), go fishing, ride four-wheelers, milk a cow, or eat at Dairy King (not Dairy Queen). The first restaurant she went to was Steak N Shake; she was expecting something fancy. (audio below)

Bomi returned to Korea after her exchange year was over, but she felt a huge sense of loss leaving her host family. Luckily, they reached out and told Bomi that if she wanted to come back to the US and continue going to high school and college, they would love to host her again. When Bomi returned to Illinois, she excelled and went on to be her high school’s Prom Queen.

“I was prom queen – so that’s crazy. I’m not used to that kind of attention. I think I just didn’t have enemies.” (audio below)

After high school, Bomi attended McKendree University, a small private school in Lebanon, Illinois, where she received a lot of attention as an international student.

Bomi followed in her mother’s footsteps and majored in Education, but had a change of heart and switched to Psychology.  She graduated in 2015 but didn’t want to leave the US. To remain in the country legally, Bomi needed to either start grad school right away or find a job. Grad school would be a lot of money, and she didn’t even know what she wanted to study next. She had a job lined up at the university for when she graduated as the international admission counselor and advisor. This would be her best opportunity to stay, so she took the job, thinking they would sponsor her visa. They didn’t. Bomi felt betrayed and knew that her time in America was running out.

Meeting Adam

Bomi and Adam met online in 2016, right before she was going to need to leave for Korea. Adam was born in Canada’s capital Ottawa and moved to the US in 2000. Adam remembers their first date. 

“I got out of the car to go up to the door to meet her, and I could immediately tell she was very uncomfortable. She was avoiding eye contact. I was trying to be as disarming as possible. I have a radar detector set up in my car, and I don’t think that helped her feel more comfortable.” (audio below)

Neither of them was ready for a serious relationship when they met. Bomi, primarily because she knew she was going to need to return to Korea soon. Still, they found themselves spending every weekend together hiking. She kept hoping some miracle would happen and she would be able to stay, but that never materialized. She was devastated to leave Adam, but they also weren’t at the stage of their relationship where they were ready for marriage. Bomi returned to Seoul and taught English, but she and Adam were always in touch. It didn’t take long for Adam to decide to fly to Korea to meet Bomi and her family. Adam had never been to Asia and knew little about the region, but he was ready to broaden his horizons.

For his first night in Korea, the family had prepared a six-course sashimi dinner. Adam was intimidated, nervous, but Bomi’s parents seemed to like him. Adam remembers the moment when he realized the seriousness of their relationship.

“The turning point was when we went to climb this mountain – it was brutal but incredibly beautiful. After that, I think I knew I was in love.” (audio below)

When Bomi and Adam discussed the idea of her returning to St Louis to live, Bomi was surprised that her parents seemed okay with that.

“I thought they were going to tell me I was crazy. They saw something in Adam and trusted him.” 

If her parents had been against their relationship, Bomi doesn’t think she would have returned to marry Adam.


Bomi returned to the US on a three-month tourist visa, and she and Adam decided to get married. They had barely known each other for a year – and most of that year, they spent apart – so, in hindsight, they think it was “a pretty crazy decision.” 

Bomi’s father created an enormous banner [see the above photo] for their reception that reads, “This moment is more precious because it is shared with you.” They love that the only English words on it are “wedding, day and Adam.” (audio below)

It was a strange experience for Bomi, being in the US, and waiting for work authorization. She was used to being active and involved – working and making money. She spent her days stuck at home, cleaning, and cooking.


Bomi likes the fact that St. Louis isn’t too big – it’s just big enough, affordable, and it has a small-town feel. She likes how it is a place where you can make your mark, and “everybody knows each other through somebody.”

“It is my second home. As long as I’ve been in the States, this is what I know. It is weird to say you like the Midwest, but I like the Midwest. I feel more at home here than I do in Korea now.” 

Bomi feels like it was in the US, where she started thinking for herself. 

“A lot of the things I have strong opinions about are from the influence of living here. Things I wouldn’t have been exposed to or thought about in Korea, I got to have an opinion about here. I’m not an American, but I feel like I’m not super Korean either.” (audio below)

Above: Bomi describes this as the “most Korean picture I could find.”


Sometimes Bomi feels guilty for not being more connected to her Korean roots.

“I feel like I’m a bad Korean. I’m not involved in the Korean community and I don’t go to the Korean church. I really don’t do Korean stuff, and don’t hang out with a lot of Korean people. I think I am very integrated with everybody else here.”

Looking at Korea from the outside, Bomi realizes the country’s issues around sexism, patriarchy, and lack of freedoms. Before coming to the US, for example, she had never thought about same-sex marriage.

“Same-sex marriage is not something we talk about in Korea. Growing up, I thought Korea didn’t have any gay people. We don’t talk about sex or sexuality. I know one gay person in the entire country, and he isn’t my personal friend – he’s a celebrity.”

Social justice issues that she wouldn’t have contemplated or cared about in Korea are now the things she cares about thanks to her exposure to them in the United States. 

Bomi loves her pet dog and cat. Jet is an old rescue from a greyhound race track in Tennessee that Adam adopted. Bomi describes Jet as a “super whiny, anxious, couch potato, very dumb, and loves going on W-A-L-K (can’t say that word).”

Lion, the cat, is high energy, curious, and always hungry for odd things like flour and white mushrooms. He loves sucking on fleece blankets to sleep. Lion, in line with his peculiar personality, started joining Bomi and Jet for walks. Neighbors with kids will come out to watch as Bomi, her dog, and her cat, walk by.

“Everyone knows I’m the one with a greyhound and a ginger cat following.” 

St. Louis Mosaic Project

Bomi works as the assistant project manager at the St. Louis Mosaic Project run out of the World Trade Center St. Louis. The Mosaic Project is a regional initiative to attract people born outside of the US to the area and retain them. As an immigrant herself, Bomi feels a personal connection to the project.

It is heartwarming to see people having a great experience in St. Louis, like I have.

Before they employed her, she had been volunteering for the project. She loves that her work is rewarding, and she gets to meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds.

I feel like I’m a small part of something big.

One project that Bomi is particularly proud of is the International Mentoring Program Meetup Group. Many families that move to St. Louis have one partner (usually the husband) who has the job/routine/friends. In this case, the spouse (most often the wife) feels left out and doesn’t know where to go or what to do. This meetup group matches the lost spouse with a local woman in St. Louis. This project grew to involve 60 local women and is advantageous for them, too; it connects them to a person from a different background.

This project is personal for Bomi since she has been in their shoes before. Bomi remembers how “unsuccessful, useless, isolated, defeated” she felt after she had first applied for her green card. Bomi, unlike most of these women, had the advantage of already having been in the US for a decade. When they have events and invite their husbands, Bomi can see these women glow as they introduce their partners to their network of friends.

The whole family has to be happy to stay in St. Louis, and this is what retains people.

Adam is keen on learning Korean. He finds it very hard, but fascinating how there are so many customs embedded in the language. “In Korean, there are four or five ways of saying everything, depending on who you are talking to.”

Bomi loves her life in Missouri and feels like she has many people to thank – like her host family and the people at Mater Dei High School and McKendree University who saw something in her.

“They gave me a sense of belonging – something people always struggle with.”


She has felt valued and appreciated here. She would like to return to university eventually, and “be a master of something,” but she doesn’t know what yet. For now, she enjoys her job. Her dream is to have her family in St Louis with her.

“I’m an only child, so I think about what I am going to do. I don’t see myself living in Korea. The older I get, the more I think about how I want my parents to be around. When Adam and I have children of our own, I want my parents to be around.”

Adam and Bomi are in the process of deciding whether or not to put roots in St Louis – a place neither of them is from originally. It is the place both of them have lived the longest as adults. 


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.

Riho’s Immigration Story – Tokyo, Japan to Elk Point, South Dakota


Riho grew up in a quieter part of Tokyo, riding bicycles, running, hiking, and doesn’t consider herself a “city girl.” 

When Riho was ten years old, her parents divorced. Her mother, who works in landscaping, raised Riho and her two siblings. Before the divorce, she thought her mother was weak, but afterward, she realized how strong her mother is.

“I respect her so much. She is the best mom ever.”

Riho went to university in Japan to study childcare. She had been volunteering at a nursery since she was ten years old, so it made sense to study something with which she was familiar. After graduating from university, instead of working in childcare, she accepted an office job, which she quickly realized she wasn’t going to enjoy. 


When her sister went to the United States to study English, Riho’s mom encouraged her to do the same. Riho wanted a change so this seemed like a great opportunity. In 2017 she came to Hawaii to study English at an international language school. She loved how her fellow students were from so many different countries. Riho also loved Hawaii’s warmth, the beaches, shopping malls, and art. She couldn’t believe how many Japanese tourists there were in Hawaii.

Meeting Steven

It was in Hawaii where Riho unexpectedly met her future husband, Steven, who had only been out of the Marines for a couple of years. Steven had returned to Hawaii for a vacation, a place where he was stationed as a Marine. He was looking for people to hang out with while his friends were working and connected with Riho online. Riho was looking for a friend with whom to practice her English skills.

Steven was worried that Riho might hate that he had been in the military and had served in Okinawa, Japan. That wasn’t the case. When they met, Riho felt that there was something special about Steven. Even though she was still struggling with English, she was impressed that he understood her. (audio below)

After that first meeting, they hung out every day until Steven had to return to South Dakota. 

Before Steven left, he told Riho that if she wanted to, he would like to make this relationship work. From that day on, they texted and called each other every day. Two months later, he asked Riho to come to live with him in Elk Point. He told her how there was a University where she could continue her studies in English. Riho asked her mom if she could go.

“My mom was surprised but said, ‘if you want to go, you should go.’ I don’t have regrets. I came here for him.”

South Dakota

Steven tried to warn Riho about how cold it can be in South Dakota compared to Hawaii. But when she arrived on Christmas day 2017, it was snowing, and much colder than she was prepared for. (audio below)

“The first week we just spent inside as I adjusted to the cold. I missed Japanese food so much. Steven only has pizza, chicken, and super American food. I need rice! The first month was super hard for me regarding food. We worked out how to get Japanese food. Now almost every day, I cook Japanese food for him. I get it online.” (audio below)

The closest sushi restaurant is in Sioux Falls, which is about an hour’s drive from Elk Point and the nearest store to buy Asian groceries is two hours away.

Riho continues to study English at a nearby university. There are only two other students in her class: one from Korea and one from China. Elk Point is in South Dakota, but only five minutes from the border of Iowa. Riho describes it as having a big sky, lots of farms, a few houses, lots of cornfields, and is a place where everyone knows each other.

“If a car drives by, everyone says hi.”

Steven describes the area as rolling plains where you can experience four seasons in one day.

“Just about everyone is nice and respectful. Lots of outdoor partying, four wheeling, and fishing. That basically sums it up.”

Steven’s family home is on a corn farm, and he works on another corn farm. 


After arriving in South Dakota, they were trying to figure out how Riho could stay in the United States. She thought about going back to Japan, and maybe they could see each other a few times a year. But they didn’t want to be physically apart. The options seemed to be either she finds a job, gets into a school, or they get married. They chose to get married. Steven is a quiet person, and Riho says a lot of his friends didn’t even know they got married. 

Overall she has found the people in South Dakota she has met to be friendly.

“People look at me – ‘oh, she’s Asian! She’s Japanese; it’s so cool!’ Everyone asks me where I am from and how I find South Dakota? It’s not difficult to fit in here.” (audio below)

Steven was worried about what his mother would think of their relationship, but when he told her they were getting married, she was happy for him. His mom picks up Riho in the morning and drives her to the university for her classes.

It is hard for Steven to communicate with Riho’s family. He doesn’t speak Japanese, and they don’t speak English.

“I’m teaching him Japanese, but he only remembers crazy words!”

Typical Day

On a typical day, when Riho isn’t in school, she wakes up Steven at 5:45 in the morning so he can leave for work. She then goes back to sleep and wakes up around ten. She spends much of the day outside in the garden, and feeding and walking the animals. (audio below)

Because she doesn’t have a car, Riho cannot go anywhere, so she spends the rest of her day listening to music, playing with the cats, or playing the piano.

Steven says it feels like they have been together for longer than they have. He’s been a lot busier with her around, which he says isn’t a bad thing. There are many things Steven loves about Riho.

“Her smile, laugh, she doesn’t think about it, but every time I see her makeup on or off, she looks like a princess or queen to me. More beautiful than anyone I’ve seen. She makes my life a lot easier. She keeps me a lot more calm than I used to be.” (audio below)


They haven’t had an actual wedding yet, but are hoping to have one soon. Steven plans on going to university so that he can be a better provider in the future. He is paying off debt and wants to get a new, more reliable car. He jokes how his current car usually has three different parts break every single day. 

They are currently renting a home from Steven’s brother and dream of owning their own home in South Dakota. They are looking forward to getting the “immigration thing” over with, as it has been a strain. After Riho receives her green card, she will be able to get a job. She knows her childcare qualifications won’t be recognized here, and she doesn’t want to study for another degree, so she isn’t sure what she will do. Someday Steven would like to visit Riho’s family in Japan.

“I like being here. Since moving to Hawaii, I haven’t wanted to go back to Japan. Here everyone doesn’t care about time. In Japan, everyone cares about the time. I can’t be in Japan anymore because time is so fast”. (audio below)

*Update: Since the interview, Riho and Steven did have a wedding at the farm, and they moved to Missouri so Steven can study Engineering. Riho is still waiting on her green card.


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.