I Am An Immigrant

This is not political.

This is just my story.

Back in the mid-70s, my Dad and his friend were out for a stroll during lunch and happened to pass the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.  They had nothing better to do during that particular lunchtime so they decided to apply for a green card.  Seriously.

In the mid-70s, the U.S. was actually recruiting professionals from Asia; my Dad was an accountant at Prudential. Next thing he knew, he had a green card.  At this point, the story of why my Dad stayed varied– depending on whether you talked to him or my Mom and who was present during the conversation.  But 10 years later, my Dad received a letter from the U.S. Embassy basically stating use it or lose it.  He received the letter in the mid-1980s when a revolution was just starting– a popular senator was just assassinated which became the impetus to oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, known to many as Imelda Marcos’ husband (you know her as the woman with A LOT of shoes).  Although my Dad had a good job at Prudential, because of the turmoil in the country, he took a risk and packed for the U.S.

I was nine years old at the time.  My Mom, siblings, and I lived with my grandmother.  I did not fully absorb what was happening.  All I knew was that my Dad suddenly had to leave, there were protests going on in the streets, black outs, and the adults were nervous.  Whatever was going on, I knew enough that it was so things could get better.

Just a little over a year later, my Mom told me that we were going to move to Colorado.  I knew where California was (Disneyland, Hollywood) but did not know anything about Colorado.  All I cared about was that my family would all be together again. Things progressed very quickly in the next few months: we went to the U.S. Embassy and were interviewed, got our passports, and packed to move the family to a new country.  My Mom had to move us– herself plus 5 kids– to the U.S., to be with our Dad and to start a new life.  We left our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 30+ cousins– our roots.  We left our friends and everything and everyone we knew.  As a kid, it was exciting; in retrospect, that was pretty crazy.

What I did not realize until I was older was how we were extremely lucky.

Although immigration was easier back then than it is now, it was still an arduous process that took at least a few years.  My parents knew this and were prepared for the long separation.  But a year after my Dad had been in the U.S., a friend of his at work– a regular guy and an immigrant himself– wrote a U.S. Senator about my family. U.S. Senator William Armstrong– a Republican– expedited the process.  On April 27, 1986, we were reunited with my Dad, two years to the exact date when he first arrived in the U.S.

One of my brothers reminded our family– via Facebook status update– that this year marks our 25th anniversary in the U.S.  Now as a grown-up and reflecting upon the process and the present, it’s pretty incredible.  I am amazed and thankful for the generosity of people who have surrounded my family– from my parents’ co-workers, to the people at church, my classmates, and even their parents.  They helped us adjust to our new lives that included a new environment and a huge cultural shift, without our extended family members.  People embraced us.  This is why I so much believe in people and the kindness of strangers.

In 1985, I was in the Philippines just watching “The Price Is Right” on television; on July 21, 1997, I kissed Bob Barker on stage and won a dining room.  My little brother who used to run around the streets in the fishing town where we grew up is now a councilman for the second-fastest growing city in Colorado.  My other brother is a police officer.  One sister is a financial analyst, another is a web developer (also a MENSA member), and the “baby” is a college student and a journalist (published in  national zine when she was in high school; contributor to a popular local paper).  We are still fairly young and just starting out.

When you see or hear me running around town, playing kickball, going to events, golfing, pub crawling, volunteering,  you probably don’t think of me as one. But I am an immigrant.


My Dad retired from the State of Colorado and now “works” at a church (in quotes because he really enjoys it- actually started as a volunteer– and happy that he gets to go to mass every day and hang out with religious people).  My Mom recently retired from the State of Colorado’s Department of Public Health. I work for a public agency and previously served as a park commissioner, my brother was a councilman and now leads efforts in his county relating to homelessness and equity, my other brother is a lawyer with the State of Colorado Attorney General’s Office working on higher education issues, one sister works for a nonprofit and also in school to get her masters in chaplaincy, and another sister is a programmer (yay STEM!). Sadly, my sister Paz passed away from breast cancer in 2015. When she was alive, she was by far the most generous.  #immigrants #immigrantcontribution

Ma, Pa, and Kids
Me and my parents, with my 2011 NextGen Leadership Award from the Liberty Hill Foundation.

2 thoughts on “I Am An Immigrant

  1. Anonymous

    P, I thought I knew almost everything about you but I did not know that you weren’t in the states until you were 9 years old! Wow. Great story.

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