Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.
It is payday. Apple is very upset and hurriedly left the office when he didn’t get his paycheck.
Sarah, on the other hand, only got $700 instead of $800, a hundred dollar short of what she is supposed to receive. She thought Thalia might have deducted the $100 for the error we committed but it is so soon and the deficit is so large. She then decided to confront Thalia after which she readily agrees to pay her the full amount as if nothing had happened.
Apple came back in the evening and went to talk with Thalia over the phone. As soon as he hangs up, he appears very upset. Thalia told him that he owe the company the $1,500 that was used to pay the immigration lawyer who will process his petition.
Since Apple’s salary is $600 for every two weeks of service, he still owe the publication $900. After only paying the full amount of his debt will he receive his regular paycheck. What he cannot understand, however, is how he acquires the debt when the papers to be processed are still with him and the petition hadn’t been filed.
After we were done with our jobs, Apple and I went to our favorite doughnut store. I treat him to a doughnut and an orange juice while I settle for a regular cup of coffee. He hadn’t yet taken a sip of his juice when suddenly he swear that he will not have second thoughts in getting Thalia first if she sues him.
Apple is serious this time. I try to calm him by saying Thalia might not really mean what she says and that she is just trying to scare us.
From the doughnut store, we went to Bob’s flat, which is a block away. Kristina is there and so is Sarah. Suddenly, Apple growls again releasing the suppressed anger building up in him. He rants that Thalia is making it appear that “she is sponsoring us so we could get the green card.”
Apple says that in reality, by filing the petition, “Thalia is trapping us into debt for an indefinite period and goes with it is the power to screw our chances of legalizing our status or getting the green card.”
“We’re walking on a tightrope with her,” Apple spoke in a soft voice and with the way he sighs, he sounds so crestfallen. Gradually the tone of his voice rises.
“I have had enough of this. Just ten dollars of gasoline, that’s it. I hope we don’t meet.”
It is surprising for us to hear him say those words – knowing him to be so peaceful, friendly, soft spoken and a responsible family man. We all tell him to take it easy as setting Thalia’s car on fire will not do him any good. We make it clear that if Thalia will make good of her threat, it is her who will be on the losing end, as she will unnecessarily expose her wrongdoings.
“I can’t believe she can do this to us. Does she still have any conscience left?” Kristina, who is visibly exasperated, said.
Apple discloses that he has withheld the filing of his petition adding that Thalia, however, wants him to go ahead with its filing but he changed his mind at the last minute. Without Thalia’s knowledge, he requested the immigration lawyer to defer the filing of his papers, just as I had done with my own immigration petition. So all along, Thalia thought Apple is under petition.
When Apple asked Thalia’s permission to go and visit his ailing mother in the Philippines, she became furious. Thalia didn’t want him to leave until the magazine is done. She wants him to
refund the legal fees she allegedly paid in advance to the lawyer or she and Apple will meet in court.
Thalia is known for resorting to court action whenever her employees left her or crossed her in some way.
After this point, I got in touch with an acquaintance, Omar Dostoyevsky, and talked with him hoping I could work for his law firm. I met Omar at the Anaheim Convention Center during one of the expositions there. He had left the Law Offices of Abramowitz to put up his own law firm in downtown Los Angeles. He is a Russian-American who basically grew up in New Jersey.
I told him I can be his public relations man since he wants to penetrate the Filipino market of prospective immigrants. Moreover, I said I could help him conceptualize flyers and brochures and prepare the public relations materials to be disseminated to the Filipino communities. I will give him the exposure he needs to get a slice of the Filipino market.
My plan is to bring him to Filipino gatherings, meetings, conferences etc…where he can present the scope of his legal services. We agreed to meet on a Saturday, my day off, to further discuss my proposals.
“Stay in the lobby, I’ll pick you up there. If I’m late, please wait,” he says before hanging up.
The US. Bank is on 5th Street. I got down from a bus on the 4th and leisurely walked to 5th Street on my way to the bank. It didn’t take me long to find it. As I walk towards the building, I saw a man with a beige baseball cap, wearing a gray T-shirt with collar, and with a matching brown khaki short. He is carrying three to four frames. When we came side by side, the man greeted me to my surprise.
“Hi Romy, how are you doing?”
“Fine…I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“You think I’m one of those bums,” he joked.
Indeed, I saw there are a lot of bums along 5th Street but I never thought of him as one when I saw him standing there. I just didn’t recognize him.
Omar and I took the elevator to the 10th floor. He had recently moved into the building. I then showed him the flyers I made and discussed the strategy in spreading them. For a start, we agreed that I will present him to Filipino organizations.
“If I’m going to hire you, it must be on H-1B visa. The position could be a journalist/writer. This may or may not be approved. But I’m pretty sure it will. My only concern is I cannot get you now on a full-time basis as I may not be able to sustain you.”
“That’s no problem, get me as a part-time but you now have to work on my papers to meet the quota in October 1st.”
He asked how much would be comfortable for me to survive for a while.
“Probably, fourteen to fifteen hundred?”
“Then we could raise the amount when we’re making money and pay all the difference retroactively.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said.
“Call me on Monday afternoon. I’ll see what I can do and I will go over the flyer.”
It is one of the longest weekends I’ve experienced as I have 48 hours to wait in suspense whether I clinch the job or not as a part time PR of Omar’s law firm.
I hurriedly went to a phone booth outside the office at 5 pm. that Monday afternoon, inserted 35 cents and dialed Omar’s number. As soon as I got him, he said “I want you to work with me.”
He then asked about my arrangement with Baltic Publication regarding the petition. I told him the company handled the legal fees while I took care of the filing fees. He paused for a moment and spoke again.
“OK, I’ll take care of the filing fee of $110 and we could just take off that amount from your pay. Would that be fair enough?” he asked.
“It’s okay. When do we start?”
“When can I see the corrected flyers?”
“Let’s meet on Wednesday, between 5 and 5:30 pm. in my office.”
I left the phone booth smiling and excitedly exclaimed to myself: “I got it!”
It is 9 pm. and already dark when I went to St. Dominic Church at Merton Avenue. It is a long walk from where I live in Eagle Rock Boulevard. The church is already closed so I settled down in nearby flowerpot by the church’s door and prayed.
“Lord, thank you for listening to my prayers. Omar hired me.”
I felt some relief after all my unfortunate encounters with Thalia.
Omar laid down rules he wants me to follow while I work with him. I will confine myself to marketing and public relations and avoid giving legal advice to clients. The legal aspects belonged to him. The confidentiality of whatever transpired in the office, especially those that pertains to clients has to be observed.
Should any of those rules be violated it will be enough to terminate our working relationship. I had to protect his name as it took him a great deal of effort to achieve the status he is now enjoying, Omar said.
I gave him the documents for my H-1B petition and suggested that he could petition me as a technical writer instead of a journalist/writer, which is what immigration lawyer Robert Reeves did to a friend who was working with him.
Omar shook his head and promises to go over the papers. The sun is still up when I left his office.
I went to see him again after about two weeks. He opened up by saying the month was not good to him and he was having financial problem.
He is worried that if he files my H-1B petition and gets it approved without his finances improving either by November or December, he might find it difficult to sustain me.
He is clearly implying that he didn’t want to screw up my journalist visa.
“I couldn’t afford to allow that to happen to you. It would be better if you remain on an ‘I’ visa until you can find a stable petitioner.”
If I read him well, he is releasing me when I am just beginning to feel the job.
“As soon as things improve, I would still take you in,” he said.
This time he will take me on a case-by-case basis, I will no longer work part-time as we had earlier agreed. So soon for him to change his mind. I was a little bit upset.
With respect to my compensation, I will quantify the hours I rendered service to him. He gave assurances that he will be fair and pay me accordingly after which he asked that I arrange a meeting with Filipino leaders over lunch adding that he will foot the bill. I felt I had lost steam.
We will have a dinner meeting with the businessman Armand Valino at Max’s Restaurant on Broadway in Glendale. It is what Omar wanted, to meet with Filipino community leaders.
Armand, who is now unfortunately deceased, is the former president of an organization in the Los Angeles County representing the Filipino-American employees. He has retired but still served the organization as a director. Omar and Armand discussed many things but Armand did most of the talking.
The following Sunday, Omar and I attended the first anniversary of the Lamplighter Christian Fellowship in Carson. Omar is scheduled to speak before the predominantly Filipino congregation.
The pastor, who is still in his T-shirt, met us in the doorway. He is still fixing the sound system in the backyard while the other members of the congregation were preparing the food, stage and the place of worship. He is a pastor by day and a postal worker by night.
According to the pastor, he was drawn into this non- denominational religion by God’s design. He then told us his story.
According to him, four doctors in California had diagnosed him with a cancer. He was troubled for many nights and blamed God for his misfortune. He tried to discuss his disease with his wife but before he could do so, she burst into tears. She cried so much he now didn’t have the heart to tell her anything about his ailment.
On many occasions, the pastor continued with his story, he would see a vision of people carrying unlit candles rushing to him. He had no idea what the vision meant but when he had another checkup the doctor could no longer find the disease! He hurried home. Along the way, he had another vision and saw the same people again. But this time they were walking away from him with lit candles.
That was the vision, he said, that convinced him to serve God.
Omar spoke before the congregation, detailing his services and how he could help. He spoke as briefly as he could. I was only halfway distributing the brochures and flyers when he finished talking. He could have given a much longer lecture but the occasion didn’t warrant it.
“It wasn’t the proper venue,” he later chuckled.
However, as we left the congregation, we were optimistic something will come out of our efforts.
“Give me a call,” he said as I later stepped out of his SUV. He then sped northward.
Since I started working for him, I haven’t received a single cent, not even from the flyer I conceptualized and designed. My spirit was at its lowest.
A week after I was at his office again. This time, he wants me to bring in clients instead of doing public relations. There’s a problem though, I don’t drive yet. I will have difficulty getting clients. I was noncommittal, although he saw me nodding my head. As I left, he asked me to give him a call about my decision.
I knew the new assignment ended our working relationship. I have no desire to call him anymore. And, he hadn’t paid me for any of my services. Worse, he didn’t even ask how much he owe me. He might have forgotten but it wasn’t in my character to demand payment. He knew why I was with him. He should know better.
Friends have faulted me for that attitude. I could be stubborn on that aspect but that’s who I am. I had given what was expected of me and I only expect the same from from anybody who had asked me to do something.
It began to dawn on me that being an illegal, I am prone to exploitation. People would take advantage of my vulnerability, my helplessness, which is a common experience by many illegal immigrants like me. It appears that if employers could get services for free, they will get it. Or, perhaps something is just wrong with me because I allowed them to do it.
Chito’s wife gave me a lift to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) at Glen oaks. There was a long line of applicants circling the building when we arrived.
On reaching the front desk, I became very tense. Ever since I arrived in the US, whenever I came face-to-face with any government employee—be it a post office clerk, an airport immigration officer, a police officer or, this time, a DMV staff member; I always felt nervous. I have this unfounded fear that I might be asked about my status. The thought of it always frightens me to the point that I throw up.
As soon as the clerk handed me the application for a written exam, I rushed to the washroom and vomited. I stayed there for a while trembling and perspiring. Only after I sat on a bench after coming out of the restroom did I feel relaxed.
My number was flashed on the monitor screen. I approached Window 12 and again I had a strange feeling in my legs and arms. This time, however, it is not strong enough to make me dash to the washroom again. I steadied myself behind the counter by holding on to it, all along the clerk is unaware of what I was going into.
I paid $12 and was instructed to look directly into a Polaroid camera. It took my photograph. After 10 or 15 minutes, I was done with the written exam. I didn’t find it hard. The lady checker said I had only one error. We left the DMV and only then did the chest butterflies left me.
Chito’s wife referred a driver instructor to me, whom she said is good. The guy is well-known to the Filipino community as many were taught by him how to properly drive in the US. He charges $50 for two hours of driving lessons. With him beside me on the wheels, we drove around Glendale and San Fernando. I noticed that there was a second brake pedal down below his feet in case I lost control of the car.
A mechanical engineer in the Philippines, he came to the US in 1986 on a fiance visa. His fiance was a distant relative and he admitted to me that their marriage was fixed. After only about three months or a little more, he got his green card. They didn’t even have to live together as husband and wife. Immigration then is not as strict as it is today. He said the INS even teased him to make their marriage stay for some six months more.
He made me drive only on the secondary streets and on surface roads. My speed is always at 35 mph but in some streets I slowed down to 25. We did not drive on the freeways. The DMV doesn’t allow test drivers anymore on freeways because of accidents in the past.
I had difficulty maneuvering the steering wheel, making a left or right turn. My hands always got entangled. I also stepped on the gas too hard whenever I made a turn.
Another problem I encountered was the way I applied the brakes. The driving instructor told me that I pressed it too hard causing us to jerk most of the time. We drove on the same route we took during the first lesson. We did several left and right turns and he taught me how to pull over to the gutter.
In backing, I’ve learned to look in the rear using the mirrors to see the gutter. To move closer, I had to pull the steering wheel to the right; to move further I had to pull the steering wheel to the left. We also did lanes changing. I felt more and more comfortable with his car—a four-door black 2000 year model Toyota Corolla. The second lesson costs another $50 bucks.
I am now ready to take the test. Although I am having chest butterflies, I am determined to pass.
Out of the allotted 15 errors, I made only eight, most of which were on braking. I had no problem on the main street, on changing lanes, on making left and right turn, on backing up and driving on four-way streets.
My instructor and I were at the DMV already with the test almost completed when the DMV examiner suddenly asked me to park to a vacant parking space. Instead of bringing the car inside the parallel lines of the parking lot, I parked the car perpendicular to it.
“Bring it inside!” the examiner almost shouted. From the tone of his voice I knew he was dismayed. I felt rattled. I shifted the gear to reverse, released the brake and lo and behold, the car abruptly backed up.
Instinctively, I stepped on the brake. At least it was the brake and not the gas. The car stopped. The instructor was startled. I didn’t look at him. I placed the gear on the drive mode and brought the car inside the parallel lines.
There was silence between us, very deepening silence. The examiner is not talking anymore. He was so quiet doing the evaluation report. When he was done, he spoke bringing back life inside that car.
“That was a dangerous maneuver! You lack basic control of the wheels.”
I was so disgusted I let my driving instructor drove the car back to where we came from. I screwed up the test.
I took the driving test again, and for the second time I failed—miserably. I made two major errors and nine minor ones.
During the two-hour driving sessions before the actual test, my driving instructor said my driving is becoming smooth. I had improved my turns. He even lifted my spirits and assured me that I will surely pass the test.
But during the actual driving test, as soon as the DMV examiner sat beside me on the wheel, I develop stomach bumps. After only a few minutes on the street, the Korean driving examiner directed me to drive back to the DMV compound.
I was so nervous during the actual test. My hands were shaking on the wheel and I could hardly move my foot from gas to brake. I fumbled at every turn.
I was like Mr. Bean or Jerry Lewis making a mess of everything I touched. When I tried to signal a turn, I accidentally switched on the headlights. Oh my gosh, what am I doing? A little blue light appeared on the dash in front of me. I have no idea what it was. All I knew I had touched something I shouldn’t have. And I didn’t know which button to press to turn it off.
When the examiner asked me to pull over to the right so I could show how to back up, I backed the car either too far from the gutter or too near to it.
I stepped on the brake, shifted into drive, inched forward, re positioned the car parallel to the gutter and backed up again—and drove up over the gutter. He told me to move ahead. There is no friendliness in his voice.
As I was coming close to an intersection, I was told to make a left. I did. I saw him scribbled something on the test sheet again. I kept driving and before I knew it, we were heading back too soon to the DMV.
We did not venture farther away from the DMV. In the parking lot he showed my errors: I hit the gutter in backing up and committed a lane violation when making a turn. It was also noted that I drove with the high beams on.
During the whole time we had been on the road, the examiner was constantly shaking his head. Unlike the first exam where I fumbled only as I was parking the car, this time I had made many mistakes.
My driving instructor encouraged me to practice more. He said that unless I overcome my nervousness I will never make it, and he is right. With practice and patience, I knew I could pass the test. All I need is to be confident and get rid of the chest butterflies. It is a matter of attitude.
Another driving test had been scheduled. This time it was in Arleta. My instructor recommended another place since I couldn’t make it in Glendale.
From Eagle Rock Boulevard, as soon as I took the wheel from him, he instructed me to go ahead and drive. I knew we were heading towards Arleta but I didn’t know where it was. It surprised me when he made me go 2 North. It was the freeway.
Obligingly, I drove into the freeways. I hit 60 then 70 mph. When I slowed down to 50 mph, a vehicle following us honked his horn. I accelerated to 65 mph without being rattled while he kept talking to his wife over his cell phone.
Two weeks later, I found myself again on the freeways. I asked him why he made me drove on the freeways and casually, he said.
“I know you can do it.”
While on the freeways, I was in full attention on my driving. I kept the speed at 60 to 65 mph. I never thought I could make it on the freeways.
“It’s easier to drive on the freeways than on the surface roads or a side street,” my instructor quipped.
He is right. On the freeways, all one has to do is maintain the lane and speed, and there will be few problems, if ever.
Thus, when I took my third driving tests—despite the usual jittery and butterfly lurking in me—I finally made it. I passed!
At home while watching television, “the Lakers subdued the Trail Blaizers 89-84, winning the Western Conference. Robert Horry’s free throws saved the day for his team as they struggled from behind. For the finals on Wednesday, the Lakers were to meet Indiana Pacers.”
(To be continued…)