Coming To America – Philippines

 bY Kathleen S. Roos Ph.D.

 

Editor’s note: In this installment, Kathleen S. Roos Ph.D. interviews Marilyn Tolosa, originally from the Philippines on July 29, 2021

 

Marilyn: tell me a little bit about the Philippines and your life there.

  I came from a large family with 8 children, very common in the Philippines. My mom was a homemaker and she had a business on the side selling general merchandise. It was like a little convenient store located downstairs where we lived upstairs in the house. The eight kids would help in the convenience store and assigned daily chores. My dad was a self-employed liaison officer who assisted government retiree applicants preparing their paper works and submitting it to designated government agencies that will process their applications. This is common in the Philippines as well. People who didn’t track themselves for retirement or were not knowledgeable in the retirement process. “My dad would help pull strings to get their retirement benefits fast tracked and processed half the time required. He really helped people collect their retirement benefits and shorten the process of legally doing it”. 

People would actually pay my dad to get their retirement on a timely manner. He knew a lot of people who worked in government agencies and was very well networked. He would do all the paperwork required for processing each of his retiree clients. Letting my dad do the preparation and submitting their paper works to government agencies that process retirement application shorten the time of retirees waiting. My dad’s clients bypass the long process and waiting in line to government agencies that is in charge of approving retiree applicants. Standing and waiting in slow moving line in the Philippines is very common and you had to pay bribes at each level to get any paperwork done. My dad would help them cut through this paperwork and through all the bureaucracy so they would have to pay less and fewer bribes. If there were five levels of bribes, my dad might get it down to two levels. It’s sad but it’s common.

 

I am the youngest of eight children and the oldest is 16 years older. My grandparents on my dad’s side lived in the same compound where we grew up. They provided care for the children while my parents were working.

 

Another experience growing up in the Philippines is going about daily lives routine. Public transportation is the only mode of travel. Only the rich people have private cars. You don’t drive around in your car. I experienced everything in transportation from ferries to little b boats being paddled around where you would pay $0.01 or 1 peso. We used buses or what we called the jeepneys. An extended jeep where you would all line up and rows for seating. Taxis were also a luxury.

 

 Tell me about your schooling and childhood

 

All of us went to Public Schools from elementary through high school. Five of my older siblings graduated and got their college degree from public State University. The remaining 3 younger ones, including my self-attended and graduated from a private college in Manila. I attended the Centro Escolar University in Manila, located near the Presidential Palace that is called Malacañang Palace. I went to college for three and a half years and studied Mathematics and minored in Behavioral Science. I always wanted to use my secondary degree as it interested me more. My minor just seems more enjoyable to me.

 

What did you do for work while studying in school?

 

 I worked part-time doing research as an intern for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for about 2 and 1/2 years. I had to move to Los Banos in Laguna for work where I worked up to 4 years after I graduated from college. I had to move from my hometown which was in the province of Bulacan.

 

 How did you meet your husband and when did you become a U.S. citizen?

 

Marilyn and Nick’s Wedding Photo

 I was a maid of honor at one of my friend’s weddings and the groom’s first cousin knew Nick. I met Nick at this wedding just by accident. My husband to be, Nick said it was love at first sight and it was for both of us. Nick was in the U.S. Navy. He originally came from the Philippines and left and joined the Navy in 1969. We dated for a while. We carried on a long-distance relationship for a couple years. You have to understand it took two to three weeks to get a letter from Rota Spain where Nick was stationed overseas, to the Philippines. It’s truly a romantic story. We continued to share our letters every year on our anniversary. We would read our letters to each other ever since we married in June 1st 1985. My daughter Christina shares in our anniversaries and she reads our love letters now.

I arrived in the states in 1986 I was fast-tracked as a naturalized citizen as Nick was with the U.S. Navy. I had studied English and didn’t have any problems with the test.  I also took American history in the Philippines and I studied everything so in the interview I passed easily. The interview was conducted in Hawaii and I was naturalized in Honolulu.

This is where my adventure living in the US started that I compared to day and night. The Healthcare System in the Philippines is very difficult. You have to pay cash and carry. There is no such thing as health care insurance. If you don’t have the cash, you don’t get the medical care. You have to give the money up front for a doctor’s visit or in hospital emergency room.  If you need to go to a hospital for emergency case, they will ask for a deposit before they admit you, but without that deposit you don’t get the necessary medical care.

 My adventure in the United States was pure culture shock. Americans have everything. I was studying about American culture but I grew up in a rural province in the Philippines where life is very simple and we don’t have modern amenities to enjoy. Lifestyle in the Philippines is very different than the US. From Honolulu we traveled to Brunswick. Georgia. We were stationed at Brunswick, Georgia for two and a half years. I really enjoyed the Healthcare System offered by the Navy. We benefited greatly being with the Navy. It was very different than Healthcare in the Philippines. In addition to the culture shock from the benefits in the healthcare system was the luxuries offer in US. We had no luxuries growing up. You have everything here; flowing water from a tap, electricity, and sewer system. You don’t have to wait for electricity. We had no flowing water. Fetching and collecting water is a daily task. Electricity was intermittent at times. We would actually collect rainwater and stored in water tank depot for drinking, cooking, bathing, everything.  The power would be out often, it was intermittent and you would never know when power outage will occur. We often did our homework with candles. I didn’t even use a calculator till I was in college.

My grandparents raised livestock and because of lack of refrigeration was very sparse. We actually salted the meat to maintain it for as long as we could. Thus, everything we had and ate really was organic. There were no pesticides. We ate mainly veggies and rice that we grew. I would collect the eggs from the chickens and then when the chickens were too old to lay the eggs, we would use as food.

When you’re born in the US you get scheduled for immunization as required for medical care, not so in the Philippines. I wasn’t vaccinated until I started grade school. 

 

Religion in the Philippines

 

I’m a practicing Catholic and it’s a little bit different in the Philippines. It is more Orthodox and they use all the old traditions.  80% of the Philippines is Catholic and the Muslims are not treated well in the Philippines. I don’t like how Muslims are treated.

 

Did you see racism in U.S. when you came to the U.S.?

 

Yes, I would say there was racism here when we went to Georgia especially. They would call us the yellow people. It was not bad on base where we assimilated, were well-liked and got along well with everyone. Going off base could be a bit of a challenge. We were looked at a lot but I would say there is more racism in the Philippines against the Muslims.

 

People did warn us when we came to the US, especially to the south what we would face. There was some racism, it was just the experience of the day and I think some prejudice is part of human nature. Things were much different when we moved to California but it still exists. My daughter and I still see racism a bit today. My daughter just got married and her husband is part white German, Native American and black and he calls himself ‘half-breed’. That’s something he calls and described himself. I don’t think anybody calls him that but that is his terminology for himself.

 

I agree there has been some cultural shock and some prejudice but I have nothing but gratitude for my time in the U.S. and for the chances given to me by being here. My husband Nick truly embraced the US Navy. He loved his life with the Navy, it was his life, it was his career. This life was not available to us in the Philippines or to him. Even if with my education, I had a career in the Philippines, I would not have the life that I have in the United States. As crazy as politics are in the U.S., I would not trade it at all for my earlier life experience living in the Philippines. You do not understand how very corrupt the Philippine government is and has always bee. It is ruled by nepotism, by two family dynasties passed down over generations. They rule everything and nothing has changed.

 

What kind of government exist in the Philippines?

 

The government in the Philippines is a republic with a presidential form of government. Wherein power is equally divided among its three branches: Executive, legislative, and judicial. We elect the president by popular vote. This actually is not as good as it sounds. It’s popular vote and you can have a president from one party or believe one way and a vice president in an opposing party that is total opposite in political thinking. Obviously, you can see this would be very difficult to get anything done in your government. For example, you could have a Democrat president with the Republican vice president which is the current situation. This is why our government in the Philippines is so chaotic. 

 

Currently, there is a dictator and brutal president. Our president term last for six years as compared to the US 4 years term. In his first year our President promised to control illegal drugs which is a serious problem in the Philippines. Illegal drugs use is very rampant and there are all kinds of drug dependents and users going on in the Philippines. The problem is he went after the low-hanging fruit, the people that were using drugs and not the Distributors or dealers. Those caught are not imprisoned or go through any justice system as one would in US, they’re killed with no due process. They are just executed, tortured, shot whatever. It is scary. I worry about my family there. Once arrested the Philippines you don’t return to your family unless you can pay people off.

 

What about pharmacies and access to medicine/s?

 

 Yes, we have pharmacies and you can get medication. You have to be able to pay cash and you can get any meds you want except for habitual narcotics. You don’t have to have a prescription. It’s pretty amazing that you can buy medicines without a written prescription and you can get them when needed and its necessary.

 

How is shopping and access to merchandise?

 

It’s funny but the malls in the Philippines are fancier than anything you have here in the US. It’s amazing. We have the Mall of Asia which is just beautiful. I don’t think you have anything like it here. It’s like one huge Rodeo Drive of all the most expensive commodities in the world in one mall. Privately owned and run by the Chinese corporation and not by the government. Majority of businesses in the Philippines is totally run by Chinese business tycoons. They own the Mall of Asia, and other majority of shopping malls all throughout the Philippines. The Chinese own a lot of businesses in the Philippines. Originally when the Chinese came to the Philippines, they were not allowed to be citizens and run a business. Now majority of businesses really is run by the Chinese capitalists and investors. They actually help run our government business sectors and support anyone running for government office that will patronize and protect their business interest.

 

Tell me about eating out in the Philippines

 

Our restaurants and food ranges from street vendors two very high-end restaurants. You will find it all in the Philippines. Food is important. It’s like an island community and the type of food you would find there, like in Hawaii or Thailand or somewhere like that where all types of food are available.

 

What are your perspectives coming from the Philippines to becoming a U.S. citizen?

When I came to the U.S. my perception changed. As I mentioned to you, I studied American history and I knew English quiet well. Opportunities given to legal immigrants and Americans are just amazing. You know where you’re given talent is going. You can get an education; you can build on your skills and in doing so you know you’re going to progress. You will succeed progress and succeed if you work hard using your areas of expertise. That’s not the case in the Philippines. This is what Nick taught me; if you have skills and you have a very good work ethic you can get ahead in the US.  I needed something to do when he was deployed. I was bored because I’m used to working. I got a job working at the Navy Exchange. I was in Customer Service and I worked myself up to supervisor. I took online classes paid by the Navy to get my degree. I wanted to use my background in Behavioral Science and it has been very worthwhile. I never felt held back in any way. People would ask me if I was Chinese, Japanese, Thai whatever, they just didn’t know. They would comment on how good my English was. I learned English and Japanese in the Philippines. I spoke it well and I didn’t have a strong accent so they never actually asked me if I was Filipino. I took four years of English in college and I studied English all through High School. Most of the Filipinos know how to speak English. Often Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese are actually trying to catch up speaking English. I think the Philippines was way ahead when it comes to proficiency in English.

 

Our dream was to move to California and become homeowners. To work and live away from the base. We first lived in San Diego and bought some property in La Jolla in 1991. My daughter Christina had already been born. Then we moved from San Diego to Port Hueneme/Oxnard area where we live today. We fell in love with the area and with the weather. We bought a second home here the one we live in now. We both worked our tails off to be able to pay for the down payments and mortgages. We wanted to enjoy and work to share our American dream with each other. We truly feel like we are living the American dream and are so happy that we accomplished all this. In 1994 Nick retired and went back to school. With the Navy he was a chief financial petty officer and was in charge of the Navy’s payroll so he had a lot of responsibility and a really great position. He used his GI Bill to go back to school and studied accountancy and then he worked for the local IRS. He received a second retirement in October 2010 and passed on, in December 15th 2014, one of the saddest days of my life.

 

The other very sad day in our lives was 9/11. I was getting ready for work in Oxnard. I could not believe it as it is happening and watching it on television. I could not believe anybody could attack the United States like that. An act of terror! Nick was already retired when this happened.  It was the saddest moment in my life experience. I recall our daughter Christina asked us if we are watching a movie when she saw the plane hit the towers.

 

Nick and I lived our American dream. Christina, our daughter and I still read our love letters to each other on our anniversary. I feel blessed to be an American citizen and thankful for all this country has given to both me, Nick and our daughter Christina. I am still sad he is no longer with me.

 

 

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Marilyn

Very good read & nostalgic