I was an adult when I came to America to fulfill a dream. My dream consisted of personal independence, liberty, and freedom of expression and speech, and was hopeful to fix an unhappy marriage.
At 35 years of age, I’d never worked. I possessed the requisite education to work at any office, but I’d never seen an office environment in my entire life other than the doctor’s and dental offices. My world was small. My life revolved around family, home, church, and markets. Little did I know about the world outside of the four corners of our family home.
When the plane landed in Honolulu, our port of entry, the fear I felt was overwhelming. The buildings were much bigger, the cars fast and big, but houses were surprisingly small in comparison to what we had back home. The refrigerators were huge and there was plenty of food in them. There were additional freezers in the garage full of frozen meat. I’d never seen so much meat in my entire life! Everything seemed excessive. I was in total awe about the volume of food stored in the house. When we left our homeland, there was turmoil and food in grocery stores was either limited, gone or hoarded. People lined up to buy food, and oftentimes, by the time one got in the store, the main staples were gone.
Seeing the bountiful food supplies, I immediately fell in love with this country, but my excitement was clouded by the fear of being in a totally new setting. For a moment, I was ecstatic. Weeks went by and reality set it. We needed jobs to support ourselves. We could not rely on our old folks to feed a family of five.
I set out to apply for any jobs available. One bank was looking for a clerk typist. “I can type,” I told myself, “I shouldn’t have a problem getting this job.” In I went and filled out an application form. The manager liked it that I could spell American names. That comment boosted my confidence. Then came the typing test. I’d never seen a typewriter with a screen which they called a computer. The keyboard looked familiar. I was given a sheet of paper to copy. It looked like a contract. The manager said I had 15 minutes to copy the form. I sat up, placed my fingers on the keyboard, and typed the first letter which was a “T.” That first letter became TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT….. all the way down to the second line, it somewhat resembled a wood fence! It startled me when the letter T just kept on going until I released the key. And when I realized I didn’t know how to get rid of the extra letters so I could proceed typing the contract, it dawned on me I wasn’t going to get the job. I was surprised how little I knew. It was an ego-deflating moment.
Months went by and still no luck in job-hunting. I simply didn’t know how to interview nor take office tests. Desperation was setting in – “I can clean hotel rooms,” I thought. Even that required training and experience. I’d never made beds. We had maids who made our beds, cooked our meals, cleaned the house, washed our dishes and clothes. I didn’t qualify for the position even when I was willing to learn. The hotel wanted someone who could do the job immediately without training. Once more I felt so inadequate in a foreign country. “What is wrong with me?” “Why don’t I know anything?” These questions reverberated in my thoughts each time I was disqualified for a position.
Marital relationship was getting worse and it didn’t help that we lived with other people in their house. Help came unexpectedly. My sister and her husband offered to pay for our airfare and help us get started in California by letting us stay in their house while we established ourselves. We took the offer. In one of the little bedrooms, the kids and I stayed while I got some office training in a refugee center. The kids went to school which was walking distance from the house. My 11-year old was in charge of walking all three of them to school and making sure the little ones were bathed before going to bed. My training was from 3 o’clock to 11 o’clock in the evening. The two older ones, 11 and 9, learned independence and responsibility quickly. The youngest, at 5, was his old happy self, no cares; all he wanted was eat and play.
Within two months I had a temporary job with the county, and on the third month, I had a permanent job with a law enforcement agency. Being inexperienced, I was more determined to learn. I willingly accepted workload from the other employees. I realized they were dumping their work on me, but it did not deter me from doing my best and learning as much as I could. I was managing the workload well until the supervisor noticed I was overloaded with work while everyone else was taking things in stride, taking long lunches, and again, dumping more work on my inbox. A meeting was held and everyone got a written reprimand except me. I got a commendation!
It was a blessing in disguise that the other workers made me do their work. I learned the many facets of that office. My confidence soared. The supervisors noticed I would proofread and make corrections on memos I’d been tasked to type. As months went by, promotional tests were announced and I participated in every position I qualified on, based on my education alone. Hard work paid off. Those I’d worked for recognized my skills and dedication and there began my climb to better jobs. I did not have to look for jobs. As long as my name was on the eligibility list, I got offers for jobs. It felt good to work.
In time, I had saved enough down-payment for a modest home. I picked one across an elementary school to ensure my children didn’t have far to walk. For years we stayed in that house planting our own vegetables and harvesting from the fruit trees. Life was turning out better than I had planned. The lifestyle awakened another passion I didn’t know I had…. I loved gardening!
Despite all efforts, when my marriage finally ended, a new sense of independence further fueled my ambitions and a new force of survival instinct emerged. It was a challenge waiting to be overcome. I wasn’t about to give up. The failure of my marriage brought about a new recognition of what I was capable of achieving. I knew I had become a valuable person and employee. I was confident that I could make it on my own.
One job after another propelled my career to a contract administrative job of providing law enforcement services to the courts. Although I hated Math when I was in school, I immersed myself in numbers and dollars and percentages. I began liking Math as well as I mastered my most highly responsible job which generated millions of dollars in revenue. Those were proud moments.
Another feat was achieved when my youngest finally finished college. It was an exhilarating experience knowing I’d done what I came to this country for. I had achieved every dream, simple as they might have been. I was a proud mother!
After my son’s graduation, I began focusing on myself. It was time to slow down and take care of myself. I had remarried and felt like getting older. Retirement became my new goal. “I don’t need much,” I thought. I could make it with less and start enjoying life without the stress of commute, deadlines, projects, and everything associated with work. Inasmuch as I knew I would be missing my co-workers, I happily submitted my retirement papers. Goodbye, working world!
Being now retired, I’m loving every minute of it. I busy myself with people-watching, walking, taking pictures of just about anything, visiting our local casinos (playing some, of course) and learning to navigate Facebook. Facebook reconnected me with Laura Perez whose passion for journalism inspired her to create this magazine for our fellow Pinoys to enjoy. What a noble idea to encourage expatriates to share their experiences and their love for writing – way to go, Laura!
I would like to dedicate this, my first article, to my children, GG, Lala, & En, and to my sister, Engie, her husband, Cesar, my other sister, Lud, for their unending support, when we needed it the most. We couldn’t have made it without them. I must not forget my husband, Ken, for his patience in trying to adjust to a Filipino wife who does not cook American food. Thanks to my best friend, Carrie, too, whose encouragement and own success further helped fuel my ambition to survive in America.