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America, I Am Here
By Fred Natividad


I was astride my grandfather's carabao at the fields outside the town proper of Tolong. The lumbering animal grazed contentedly, blissfully unaware that the war was still going on. For one thing the town of Tolong is some eight miles south inland from the potential front line on the shores of Lingayen Gulf and there was a semblance of complete tranquility that the animal and I enjoyed.

Between other thoughts, I wondered if, when I grow up, I will wind up with my own carabao with which I will till somebody else's riceland, like my grandfather did. Or maybe I will wind up like my father who, after finishing seventh grade, shied away from sharecropping peasantry to become more "sophisticated" as a bus driver of a huge bus company.

Then again my parents had definite ideas for me as their oldest child. They want me to go beyond grade school all the way to college. The conventional thinking is that all Filipino parents want their children to go to college. (If all children will go to college who will dig ditches, drive busses, plow the fields, etc?) My mother, because she finished only third grade, was even more adamant than my father who finished seventh grade.

I was already in sixth grade and I was still wondering what I would be because my parents themselves still had no idea what I will study in college. They were probably constantly scratching their heads wondering if they could afford to send me to college. Anyway, eventually, I did finish college through their resourcefulness.

But that's another story…

It was early 1945 and the war was apparently winding down as rumors all over town had predicted the coming back of this American general named Macarthur who will drive away the hated Japanese. The latter invaded the Philippines a day after they razed Pearl Harbor back in 1941. For three years they brutalized the Philippines. Lately, however, planes with the star emblem of the American military had begun to crisscross the skies over Tolong.  

As I lazily rested on the broad back of the carabao my eyes wandered to the blue mountains west of where I was. From my geography lessons I guessed that those mountains are still part of my home province of Pangasinan and still farther southwest they become part of Zambales Province. And beyond the Zambales mountains are the eastern shores of China Sea and China Sea separates the Philippines from mainland China.

At that very moment (I was to learn later) a massive armada of American warships on the China Sea was on its way north from Mindoro to Lingayen Gulf to begin the liberation of Luzon. The ships were laden with deadly weapons and soldiers including their leader, General Macarthur.

These memories are the beginning of my infatuation with America. My awareness of this far away land was born out of reading stuff about America, about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, about singing before classes the American national anthem followed by the Philippine one, about watching the flag raising ceremony in school, the Stars and Stripes first, followed by the Philippine red, white, and blue, about learning my ABC's in English…

So it came to pass that as I grew up through high school and all the way through college I developed an infatuation with anything American. In my perception my American-oriented mindset is a microcosm of Filipino thinking. I felt that even after the Stars and Stripes came down from Philippine flagpoles after 46 years of American occupation, Filipinos, with few exceptions, appear to continue to worship anything American, from movies to foreign policy to fashion to… well, to everything else. Even in world forums like the UN the Philippine delegation toes the American line.

By 1965, two decades after that day that I grazed my grandfather's carabao, the best romantic thing that happened to me which then began the process of my immigration to America. I married a pretty nurse who returned home after a couple of years in Chicago as an exchange nurse. She felt, quite rightly so it turned out, that a brighter future for us was to immigrate to America.

Although I was naturally delighted I had feelings of insecurity. All my life I had seen tough times. I found work after college only through connections that I had to beg for, as if my degree in accounting did not really count, which, in effect was the case. And now here was the prospect of going to a foreign land with a wife and newborn son without any prospective connections. This insecure feeling gnawed at me in spite of the conventionally accepted notion that American streets are paved with gold as long as you have the talent to survive on those streets - no Philippine-style connections necessary…

As luck would come to pass, a new American law came into being that hastened my immigration to America. It used to be that although the Philippines were once an American colony, the United States, after restoring Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, limited immigration from the Philippines to only 50 persons a year. These lucky 50 were mostly dependents or other relatives of those already previously admitted. By 1965 a new law abolished immigration quotas by national origin and an exodus of a new wave of Filipinos began in unprecedented numbers since Philippine independence from the United States.

The earlier wave of Filipinos, as nationals of a then American territory, arrived in the United States without immigrant visas during the early years of American occupation. American entrepreneurs recruited Filipino laborers for sugarcane and pineapple plantations in Hawaii. Many of these early Filipino immigrants also drifted into the American west coast where they eked out a living in menial jobs such as dishwashers, farm laborers, etc.

The passing of a new immigration law in 1965 coincided (or was it by design?) with the time when there was a severe shortage of health care providers in the United States. Doctors and nurses immigrated with their spouses so this new wave of immigrants was no longer composed of just relatives of those previously admitted. Engineers, accountants and other white-collar professionals appeared on the American work force. They were significantly different from the old wave of immigrants called the Manong Generation of dishwashers and houseboys.

My wife was a former exchange nurse in Chicago. She returned home because she had only a temporary visa as a "student" nurse even if actually she was already a licensed professional nurse with a bachelor's degree in nursing in the Philippines. When she returned to the Philippines nurses were still badly needed in the United States that a recruiter from Chicago actually descended into Manila to interview former exchange nurses who may wish to immigrate permanently to the United States, to Chicago in particular.

In spite of my insecurities at the prospect of changing countries without a reliable system of looking for a job through connections I accepted my "unmanly" fate as a dependent of my wife when she filled her application to enter the United States on a permanent third preference  immigrant visa as a professional nurse. I gave up my own already approved application for entry into Canada because of the perception, right or wrong, that there is less gold on Canadian streets compared to American streets.

At the interview, my wife voiced, in my behalf, my fears about jobs and housing. I had seen too many movies and read too many literature about discrimination. I was waiting outside and the recruiter sent for me to join the interview at which she assured me that Chicago is a world-class industrial city. So jobs and housing are abundant. Chicago is a northern city and there is no frightening racism as known in the south and in California.

Of course, I learned otherwise later. Racism was still common in the America of the 1960's.

While waiting for our visas our first son was born. He was only six months old when his Mom took him with her to America leaving me in Manila to take care of family affairs. I followed a few months later. The boy grew up without knowing the ambience of life in the native land. He is as American as his brother who was born in Chicago three years later.

***


Fred Natividad
Livonia, Michigan

=Say nanlapuan lingawen pian antay arapen.
=Alamin ang pinang-galingan upang malaman ang paro-roonan.
=Know where we had been to guide us where we are going.