Coming to America: An unexpected opportunity
Let me tell you my story of living here in America. Those who know me have seen me being towered over by my three tall boys, including my husband, Swen. We are not difficult to spot in a crowd. When I walk along with them, it’s like hiking through the Redwood Forest gazing up at giant sequoias.
I grew up in the town of San Juan back in Manila, and when I was a young teenager, travel shows were one of those favorites I’d watch on TV which I have seen more than a dozen times over the years and each time my desire to see the world grew. However, each time I came to a fork in the road my natural approach was to take the faster and safer route and never ventured too far. Instead, I focused more on those questions many people would ask themselves, like “Who will I marry?” and “What kind of a job should I take?”
But as often happens along life’s journey, an unexpected trip came for me in 1992, and little did I know what awaited during that blustery cold visit to Indiana. Turns out I was about to meet a young man I was destined to marry. We had two beautiful weddings, a simple one on a hill with a white church and steeple, and the other, back in the Philippines, with all the fiesta trimmings and Pinoy fanfare.
Living in a different part of the world was quite challenging. I had to go through several stages to get adjusted to this American culture and lifestyle, not the least of which is realizing that the trip I took was no longer just an extended vacation. There was a new level of commitment with the man I met, and I chose to be with him, leaving my friends and family behind, half a day ahead and halfway across the globe — though we did make it a priority to take occasional vacation trips to the Philippines to see my family. Putting my roots down in a new land, I saw the sights, explored the national parks and even tried camping, something strange and new since I never could imagine sleeping under the stars in the Philippines in a pitched tent.
Getting accustomed to my new surroundings while living in our compact apartment in a small Indiana town made this place start feeling like home. The once familiar sounds of the city — blasting radios, honking jeeps, cries of ambulant vendors and roosters crowing at the break of dawn were soon replaced by the deafening silence of a suburban neighborhood.
At some point, I knew I was beginning to feel disconnected from my former life. I became accustomed to American food and following new traditions like Thanksgiving, serving a huge turkey with stuffing as the main course followed by the quintessential dessert, pumpkin pie. I’ve also tried a variety of summer barbecues but still prefer the savory taste of our Filipino barbeque. Even my husband likes it.
It’s not hard to find a Filipino in the grocery store or at the malls. We are all over the place, working hard and building that dream for our families, but at what cost? I’ve met moms and dads who have left the rest of their family in order to send money back home. I try to give special attention to these beloved folks of ours and try to make them feel like they still have family they can turn to here.
There are so many good Filipino folks here in the Washington, DC area. I belong to Fil-Am Community Church and that has become our adopted family. We comfort each other, and we share our pains, our longings, our desire to be with our loved ones back home. As we conquer fears, frustrations and insecurities, we can be restored to become a significant part of a strong Filipino-American community. We build bonds with each other, turning to each other for help when we need it. This also inspires us to share what we have here with the ones less fortunate in the Philippines.
They say we can live the American Dream in the land of opportunity. But we also live in a society that constantly bombards us with enticing images of wealth. People feel the need to project this image of success and socially compare material belongings. It’s been a challenge for me to learn to be content with my life here in the States. Living in this culture of consumption entices us to give in to the temptation of buying without considering the consequences. There are other ways to enjoy life here in America without having to give in to all the temptations of materialism around us. It starts by being kind and generous. Wherever my family goes, it feels good to be thoughtful with the people we meet, to give compliments and be appreciative of other Filipinos living here. What we say and do have a lasting impact on each other’s lives.
I know God has placed us Filipinos here in this country for a purpose. Whatever your circumstance may be, never give up. God has designed a special plan for each one of us. Life is short so live each day with a thankful heart.