Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #10

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.

(10th installment)

Chapter 9

Living in America is like being what we call back home, an atsay or atsoy (a female and male household helper). In this so-called “land of milk and honey,” one does everything—wash clothes, cook, drive, buy groceries, etc… to survive, unless one belongs to the few rich and famous caste who can afford to pay a an atsay or atsoy.

Back home, I have someone do these chores for me. Nevertheless, I still do some house chores even if I have someone to do that for me. Early in our lives, our parents taught my siblings and I how to do house chores and I am thankful for that because in this “land of milk and honey,” I am not someone who could afford the luxury of a household help. I am not a paparazzi-hunted celebrity or someone who is big time.

Today, doing household chores is part of my life. I wash my clothes in a coin-operated laundromat or washiteria nearby where Latinos and some Filipinos also do their laundry. I do my grocery and clean my home.

* * *

Apple had a problem with his new job. His employer wanted him on the payroll even if his petition had not been processed yet. He was told to secure a fake social security number and a green card so that when the INS comes checking, the company wouldn’t be in trouble. What an absurd idea!

His employer said they will tell the INS he’d given them his social security number and presented his green card when they hired him. Moreover, he was advised to secure a social security and green cards in Alvarado, especially in the MacArthur Park area.

Yes, in Alvarado, the State of Alvarado— possibly the 51st state of America. This is a part of LA. where an invisible government run by the crooks exists. It where one could get a fake driver’s license, a California ID, a work permit, a social security card and even a green card, all for a fee, of course.

Alvarado Boulevard is the Philippines’ counterpart of Morayta (Claro M. Recto Avenue) and the callejons of Quiapo in Manila where fraudulent documents—license, diploma, identification cards and even a court order—could be secured.

An acquaintance once told me that sometime in the past, they had been printing I-94 (a document provided to tourists by stewardess while on board the plane before coming in to the United States) in a sleazy office in Quiapo and transports them to Alvarado where it was sold.

Of course, the documents are fake, but in many instances they served the very purpose for what they were needed. An unsuspecting person could easily be fooled. I advised my friend to disengage from that line of work. He admitted he was about to go alone with that illegal work since he badly needed a source of income but after talking with me, he decided not to and eventually he found a legal job.

* * *

It was a bright summertime Sunday. I woke up early and went with my colleagues to the beach. Kristina drove a white Toyota. Her mother arrived two months earlier from the Lithuania for a visit and she came with us. I joined Bob and his girlfriend in their car. Apple had his wife and two children with him.

The beach at Santa Monica is a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. The sand looks like brown sugar, unlike in Boracay, Limasawa or Mindanao where tourists frolic in white sand beaches.

Nevertheless, the sand in the mile-long Santa Monica, which faces the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, is free of broken bottles or any kind debris. Unfortunately, there were no for rent cottages, shades or tables on the beach. Lifeguards, however, were stationed every 500 yards, always on the lookout for people in distress in the water or on the beach.

There are still a few people when we arrived at nine in the morning. The sun is still low, the water is cool and there were occasional big rolling waves enough to attract surfers.

Kristina waded into the water while Bob and his girlfriend, in shorts and in T-shirt, followed. Apple and his wife stayed on dry sands while their children played on the shoreline.

I changed into a brown short, lied down on the sands and enjoyed the sight of people coming in that day. The scene flashed back memories of my juvenile years when some of my friends will motor to Matabunkay beach in Batangas province to escape the scorching summer heat in the city.

The heat of the sun was becoming stronger and more intense and as if on cue, as the sun shines brightly, people started trickling onto the beach. Soon the long stretch of Santa Monica beach, which moments earlier was a huge empty space, is now teeming with people. Beach umbrellas pop like mushrooms. Some people hang blankets for shade on makeshift hangers while most beach goers either lay on the sand or sit in their chairs to sunbathe.

A little further behind us are people playing volleyball. On a concrete road near the parking lot are some youngsters and adults on bikes, skateboards and roller blades. On the further end, on my left facing the ocean was the boardwalk.

When we arrived, there were only a handful of people on the boardwalk but after a couple of hours, it seems like the entire population of Santa Monica had moved onto it. It is swamped with people and very much alive.

Visitors are treated to a fiesta-like scene, their eyes feasting on all kinds of body curves of giggling girls in slinky bikinis and tongs. What a gorgeous day at Santa Monica Beach!

* * *

Chito and I were supposed to go fishing with another of his friend one glorious Wednesday but he called it off. Instead, he said we’ll just be having lunch with the same friend but whose name he didn’t say until the moment we met him. That is how secretive Chito could be—he’ll wait until the last possible moment to tell who the friend was.

To my amazement, the friend he is referring to is Nick Sagmit, a former photographer of the Manila Bulletin, who left the Philippines in 1995 and an old acquiantance. I wanted to meet him since I arrived in Los Angeles.

Even if the Philippines is composed of 7,100 islands and has a population then of 80 million or so, and even if Nick and I were not that close, our world as journalists in the Philippines is not that wide apart.

It was Chito and Nick who are close friends having both worked for the Bulletin. I came to know Chito only here in the US. when I saw him at Abramowitz’s office. Nick and I knew each other but we saw each other only during news coverage—I was a reporter and he was a photographer.

Chito’s wife drove us to the Operetta French Cafe at the flower market on Maple Street in downtown LA. that Nick’s wife was operating. Maple is sandwiched between 7th and 8th Streets.

Nick’s wealthy Persian son-in- law, Charlie Dardasti, helped them advanced the franchise fee for the store. It was a small cafe and had been doing well, according to Nick. Because of good business, they were able to slowly repay Charlie, who is married to Nick’s only daughter.

Nick would open the cafe as early as 1 am. because flower buyers do their shopping early in the morning. His wife would close the store about eleven in the morning.

Nick would report for work at eight in the morning in an antique furniture shop that filed a petition for him to work legally. He came to America on a journalist visa with his daughter. Charlie met his daughter, and soon the two got married in Hawaii.

Nick’s wife and his son would join them on an H-4 visa, which is given to immediate family members and dependents below 21 years old.

I told Nick about my situation with the Baltic publication. Nick knew Thalia too. Without hiding his disgust for the Lithuanian publisher, he said he was offered a $500 a month salary but was told to get advertisement to augment his pay.

Nick advised me though to stay put with Thalia until he could help. He plans to have an antique restoration shop. I found what he said to be encouraging and it made me smile, even if he couldn’t help me right away. Nick exemplifies the people you seldom meet in America.

As we parted, he extended his hand: “Let’s keep in touch.”

* * *

Carlos drove from Stockton to LA. to pick me up and then drove back to San Jose and Stockton. A long drive, indeed! And what a sacrifice for him to do just to accommodate me. His eyes would close involuntarily once in a while as he drove. To fight it off, he made short stopovers now and then along the way. On reaching his house in Stockton, he slept for an hour before we headed to San Jose.

I was to treat out the Casabar family to a seafood lunch before I move to Arizona to face another challenge. I hadn’t seen them for eight months since I started working for the Baltic Publication. I want to show how grateful I was for their hospitality. I always have a space in their house whenever I was with them.

After sundown, Carlos saw me off at the Greyhound Station in San Francisco. I took the 11:45 pm. express trip to LA, arriving the next morning in Alameda. I wanted to take a taxicab to Eagle Rock but had only $70 left with me. The fare could be more than $50, my money just would not be enough. I just walked all the way to Spring Street on 7th to catch a bus home.

I remember walking one early morning in 1992, the long stretch of road from 7th Street to Alameda. It was along this street where I first saw bums, homeless people, thugs, gays and probably prostitutes. They were everywhere—on the side streets, sidewalks, and on the road. I walked quickly and nervously away from them to the Greyhound station.

This time, my fear is all gone as I walk the same street although in the opposite direction but at almost the same time of day. I am more undaunted now. I had become used to seeing those dregs. The streets hadn’t changed, still dirty, littered with rejects. As I walk the road, there was still somebody trying to get my attention, but I was no longer intimidated. I walk, walk, and walk up to Spring Street. I board a bus and for only $1.35, I was home.

* * *

Some media people here in the US. are not that much different from their counterparts in the Philippines, they are also mean.

For example, author Gore Vidal was so blunt when he said “Bush does not have the necessary intelligence that makes a president as he does not know the English language.” A New York Times columnist Nicholas Krisof even followed it up with a statement that Bush is “a man who sometimes tortures the English language as his subjects and verbs often disagree.”

What they are saying about Bush reminds me of the media people in the Philippines and how they describe actor Joseph Estrada when he ran for president.

They expressed fear that Estrada might not be able to represent the country in the international community because of his poor grasp of the English language. To ridicule him, jokes about him were concocted and he indeed became the butt of jokes in coffee shops, stores, offices, and everywhere where people gather.

Estrada, however, turned the tables on them when he compiled his own jokes and published it as a book entitled “How to Speak English Without a Trial.” The book helped Estrada win the election.

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