Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #18

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.

(18 installment)

Chapter 17

I moved to another place again. This time, it’s a two-bedroom apartment on Coringa Drive in Los Angeles with a fridge and a stove included for US$630 a month.

I have Emilio as my roommate to share the rent.

Emilio is an El Salvadoran, who had crossed the border by paying a Coyote – the term for a human smuggler – to help him sneak into the U.S. Once in LA., he got a job as a snake handler in a pet clinic owned by a distant relative, who filed a labor certification for him before the April 30, 2001 deadline of the application for adjustment of status (Section 245(i) provision of the LIFE Act).

Not content with that, he had a younger sister, who is a U.S. citizen, also file a petition for him, just in time before the deadline of the reenacted immigration law.

In short, Emilio have the “best of both worlds”—an employment-relative based petitions. In the event he would adjust status, he wouldn’t have to go back to El Salvador to get the green card.

Nevertheless, he still had a third plan, which is much faster than his current options – that is to marry a citizen. Marriage will also allow him to petition his 11 year old daughter, who is still with his wife in El Salvador. With his sweet tongue, he was able to convince his wife that they divorce for the sake of their daughter. Once his daughter becomes a citizen, she could then petition her mother.

Kind of similar to the famous Annie Batungbakal, Emilio, at night, is a ballroom dance instructor and by day he works in his relative’s pet clinic. Annie Batungbakal is a song of the famous 70’s Filipino band Hotdog. The song is about a lady who works hard so she could go and be the Queen of the disco floor.

On the dance floor, he’d danced with women of any age, young and old, especially those who’d asked him for a one-on-one tutoring or a more private lesson for these, most of the time, eventually ended in the bedroom.

During this time, he maintains two women – one a 45-year old green cardholder, who had recently applied for U.S. citizenship; the other a fifty year old U.S. citizen. He considers both as keys to his “legalization.”

Emilio slept with them, one after the other. He made them believe that they were the only ones in his life, that he was faithful. To him, he had this obligation to accommodate, not only these two, but all who would want his service, be it on the dance floor or in bed.

There are no bad eggs in the basket,” he often bragged. One would easily consider him an opportunist, a sucker, but it’s his way of getting what he wants in life.

Emilio and I equally split the expenses in the apartment, from gas to electric consumption, telephone use (no cellphone then) and even the food. I wash the dishes, he cooks. There is no real problem between us, except he once in a while brings his women from the dance floor to the house and “noisily” slept with them.

One time, his fifty-year-old sugar momma, who I assume is in love with him, got wind of his amorous liaison with a younger woman. His momma discreetly follows him wherever he went. One early morning, she came to our place and parks her car nearby, making sure that she has constant view of our place. She saw who came in and out of our apartment.

Suddenly, Emilio, with me tugging at the back, walks one of his “guest” from the apartment to her car, obviously after spending the night with her. This apparently confirms the worse fear of Emilio’s 50-year old momma.

To my surprise, Emilio saw his stalkers’ car and immediately pulls me with him as he jumps into our car, leaving his wide-eyed guest wondering what happened. He then steps hard on the gas and we’re out into the road.

Emilio’s guest is only now getting into her car and she was surprised to see us sped away. She is unaware that we are being pursued by Emilio’s other paramour, and she tries to catch up with us but through Emilio’s good driving, we are able to lose her leaving only her Momma on out rail. But soon thereafter, with patience, good driving and little luck, Emilio also manages to lose her.

What the two women didn’t know is that we almost had an accident.

At the intersection of Avenue 50 on York Boulevard, the traffic light suddenly flashes red but as we are speeding along York Boulevard we were not able to stop. Outright, we saw a collision is about to happen, either with the cars making left turn on York from Avenue 50 or from those coming from York making left turn to Avenue 50, but Emilio’s quick reflex and luck saves us.

Seeing the coming crash, Emilio decisively makes a fast right turn to Avenue 50, throwing our screeching car a little to the left center lane of the crossroads. It is so fast yet so slow at the same time that I saw the motorists around us and nearby pedestrians holding their breath while seeming to wait for a loud crash but nothing of the sort happens.

We heard the screeching of other cars, as their drivers also steps on their brakes while approaching the intersection. I also saw the cars behind us almost hit us but we are just lucky they were able to stop on time. Moreover, had the car on the right junction not moved closer to the gutter, we could have collided with it.

Everything is like a Hollywood movie car chase scene.

Emilio drove furiously at high-speed not knowing where he is heading. Despite our near mishap, he continue to sprint thinking that his 50-year old paramour is still tailing us. Finally, we end in Figueroa with our “balls high up to our neck.”

That afternoon we didn’t go home for fear that the enraged ladies are out there waiting. Instead we went to a birthday party in Arcadia where there is plenty of food and only a few guests. The birthday party is a family affair. So almost everyone, who dropped by, had taken home something to go. We were no exception.

Still Emilio didn’t want to go home. He knew both women will be calling him at our landline phone. There is also the possibility that they are still waiting for us so we went to a Quinceañera party, as the Mexicans call it, in Los Angeles.

A female Mexican Quinceañera at age 15 is similar to our tradition of a debut party when a Filipina comes into age at 18.

A quinceañera is like a wedding but without a groom. The Mexican teen coming into age wears a formal gown, in white or pink, and tossed a doll instead of a bunch of flower or a garter. Then the father dances with her daughter.

I was the only Filipino in the party. Emilio knew the mother of the celebrant.

From the time we arrived until we left, the dancing never seemed to stop. We have Tecate beers until the party ended shortly after midnight. Only then did we go home.

* * *

It was Tuesday, September 11. I had an appointment interview with Julian Sulio of the Law Offices of Craig S. Walkon. He is a judge in the Philippines who now specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, discrimination, product liability and immigration here in the states.

Some- time last year, I answered an advertisement in a Filipino community newspaper for a paralegal but for whatever reason, it is only now that Sulio sent notice for me to come for an interview. I decided I’d see him in the afternoon after working in the morning. I left home at 8:30 in the morning, but the bus I took suddenly slowed down as it reached Chinatown. The traffic on Spring Street is at a snail’s pace. I am used to riding buses, but this is the only time I got caught in heavy traffic, and in the heart of Los Angeles.

Passing on a bridge on Spring Street overlooking the freeway, I saw that the thoroughfare’s both directions are also moving at a a very slow pace.

Something must have gone wrong somewhere, I thought. Police officers are on the sidewalks guarding the Ronald Reagan building. Patrol cars are on the sidewalks too, not on the street, as if providing cover for the building. Ahead of me, further down the road, I didn’t see any collision or vehicular accident that could have stalled the traffic. The presence of a large number of policemen is quite alarming.

At the corner of 5th and Spring Street, policemen had stopped two or three buses and emptied them of passengers. I didn’t wait for my bus to be stopped. I got out and walked past them and headed towards the corner of 6th where I waited for the 460 bus so I could reach my place of work in Paramount. I waited and waited until I realized that 460 is not coming. I instead decided to take 362 bound for Cerritos, Norwalk, Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens, hoping to recover the lost time.

I opted not to go to Paramount anymore, instead I went directly to Sulio’s office. More than an hour later I am in his office. Sulio’s law firm is on Pioneer in Artesia.

Come in and grab a seat and let’s watch the news,” Sulio said as he motioned me to a chair.

There are three office tables inside; the first one is in front of the door, it probably belong to his secretary. An accordion divider separated him from his secretary. The other two tables, I supposed belong to Sulio and Walkon. There are filing shelves around, making the small office crowded.

Size wise, this office is no match compared to Tanyu’s. I had an instant feeling I didn’t want to work here, aside from the fact that the law firm is not so much engaged in immigration but rather more on personal injury cases. However, I decided to push through to see what was in store for me.

* * *

AMERICA UNDER ATTACK,” screams the flashed news on the TV.

Sulio, his secretary and another guy are very much focused on the unfolding events on the idiot box. They all seemed to have been glued on their seats and they are not talking. At first, I thought it was a movie they are watching. I saw two passenger plane slamming into a building, something which doesn’t happen in real life. The building, however, is familiar to me. I’ve seen it before…ah it is Twin Towers in New York City. I had been there in 1998.

The news is showing a passenger plane as it went through the 110-storey building, and immediately the affected area burst into flame. Thick smoke billows from the towers and when the camera zoomed in to the building, I saw people waving and hanging from the windows. Some jumped or fell to their death.

Seconds later, another plane rammed the other tower in its midsection. I was speechless and not long after, the building exploded and crumbled.

Next came in the news about another passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon building while another crashed into an open field in Pittsburgh. It was only after sometime that I was able to connect the heavy traffic I experienced in downtown LA. with the hijacking of four US passenger planes by terrorists and their crashing into the symbols of American power – the World Trade Tower and the Pentagon.

* * *

So, you have an extensive experience in law offices,” Sulio said as he went over my resume after turning off the television.

Are you an immigrant?” he asked.

No sir,” I said.

Do you have a work permit?”

My employer filed a 245(i) labor certification,” I said.

You know it would be illegal for us to hire people without working permit. Are you under their payroll,” he asked again as if I was being cross-examined.

No.”

Ok, as soon as you get your work permit, come back and we’ll try to work it out.”

Glancing again at my resume, he spoke: “Looks like you’re familiar with labor certification. I used to have my labor certification worked out by Eli Rich. How much will it cost if you do it for me?”

I have no idea.”

How much does Tanyu charge for a labor certification?”

Around US$2,500.”

That’s too cheap. I paid Rich US$3,500. I’m interested in this aspect. Will you do it for me?”

Why not?” I answered.

Before I left, he asked for my number and gave me his calling card.

* * *

The terrorists’ attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon left thousands dead and scores injured.

The morning attack on prominent symbols of American power wiped out any remaining illusions that America was safe from mass organized violence.” (David S. Cloud, 2001) The 2,300 death toll surpassed those suffered at Pearl Harbor.

Accusing fingers pointed to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group for the deadly attack. US President George Bush declared the attack on WTT and the Pentagon an attack on American democracy and freedom.

Such attacks “were acts of war” he said, and vowed to wipe out the enemy.

The sales of American flags of all sizes across the nation sky-rocketed as the people used it to drape their buildings, cars, trucks, buses and houses. There is a surge of patriotism among the people as they also lit candles and donate blood. The rise in the number of blood donors is unprecedented prompting the American Red Cross to stop receiving blood donations.

As the images of the assaults are replayed 24/7, emotions ran high to the point that the Americans now wanted revenge, something Bush immediately promised to do.

We’ve never seen this kind of evil before. But the evildoers have never seen the United States in action before and that they’re about to find out.” (Bush, 2001)

As expected, Congress gave Bush the green light and the funds to bomb Afghanistan to the stone age.

* * *

A Saudi national, Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11, 2001 attack. Ironically, he is an American creation. Trained to fight the Russians in Afghanistan in the nine year Soviet-Afghan war, bin Laden fought with the Taliban against the Russians. This is a classic example of an artificially created monster turning against its creator. Bin Laden is now America’s number one enemy.

Twenty-six days aftr September 11, bombs are dropped on Afghanistan, where Osama is said to be hiding with a number of terrorists, and America invaded Afghanistan.

While the bombings are going on, the US went on a frenzied public relations campaign. A number of C-17 cargo planes dropped 37,000 units of medical supplies and food to Afghan civilians. Leaflets found on food packets explained the attack is not directed on the Afghan civilians or Islam (Herbert A. Friedman, 2001) but on the Taliban in particular and the foreign terrorists in Afghanistan in general.

In defiance, Osama released a videotaped message (McCalla, 2011): “I swear to God that Americans will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels departs the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

Bush countered in a televised statement: “The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”

No doubt, a propaganda war is on.

* * *

I don’t know if today is my lucky day or not. I slept at three in the morning and woke up early at six o’clock. I didn’t have a good night sleep. Regular time had been moved an hour late as part of the government’s daylight saving time program. This probably explains why it took me long to find sleep as the time adjustment disturbed my biological clock and disrupted my sleeping habit.

I caught up the 9:30 a.m. bus for Disneyland in downtown Los Angeles on my way to Paramount. As the bus approached the Paramount Exit at 5 south, the driver missed it forcing him to exit at Lakewood. The driver assured us he will turn back.

Coming out from the intersection of Brookhurst on Florence Avenue, I pulled the “stop request” cord so hard that it snapped, yet the bus didn’t stop. It went straight five blocks, to the intersection of Lakewood and Florence where I managed to get off. I was so disgusted. I had to walk five blocks back to Tanyu’s office in Paramount.

The office is closed when I arrived. I didn’t see any of the staff. I waited and waited some more and, according to my wristwatch, it is now 1:30 pm. I am already waiting for more than an hour and now my stomach is grumbling. I only had a cup of coffee for breakfast so I went out and walked across the street, to a doughnut store. A doughnut and a cup of coffee, again, solved my lunch problem.

Yoyoy is in the office when I came back, but I quickly sensed that something is wrong. The door leading to Tanyu’s room is closed. I usually shared that space with him. Even more surprising is that Yoyoy would not let me in and he didn’t say anything, which is really weird.

Two hours later, Yoyoy finally talked with me and said Tanyu is mad because I did not report for work Saturday. After learning that, I really want to talk with Tanyu and explain my side so I decided to wait It is four in the afternoon when Tanyu showed up and upon seeing me, he gestured for me to follow him, not to his room but to where another lawyer hold office.

I get it, Tanyu didn’t want me in his office.

I thought you were coming in on Saturday,” he growled. “I told you a client is coming and that we needed to work on her papers. Instead of you attending to her, I did all the paperwork.”

Attorney, I impressed on you I can’t come on that day,” I explained. “I prepared all the papers the client would need before I left Friday.”

No,” he insisted.

I told you to come. You see, I’m lenient on you, you asked for a Saturday day-off, I gave it to you, now when I requested that you come on that day you ignored me.”

Attorney, I told you I cannot come. I do my laundry on a Saturday and it was also my only time to go to the bank to send money for my family in the Philippines.”

And what was that evaluation request you asked me to sign last Friday?” Tanyu suddenly asked changing the topic, trying to pin me down for whatever reason.

It’s for my H-1B.”

I don’t know about that. You haven’t told me about it.”

I thought, here we go again, the same old story. The same problem I had with Crisologo is unfolding before me, this time with Tanyu. I am really wondering why when it came to filing a petition, these people seem to forget what they said.

The reason I began working for Tanyu is because he promised to file a petition for me. I left Crisologo because when I brought up the issue of filing a petition for me, he didn’t want to do it.

Before we can start processing the H-1B petition, we must first have an evaluation of my educational credentials. You know that.”

No, you did it because you have another employer in mind.”

That’s not true. The evaluation is for you. You signed the request, you issued a check, and how could I use it with another employer? I wouldn’t surely do that.”

That’s how I felt.”

I never thought of using that for another employer.”

That’s how I felt. That’s what my former staff did to me.”

I don’t know about that. If that’s how you felt, I can’t do anything about it. I don’t want to argue with you, I’m clean, that’s the truth.”

Then there is silence between us, a deafening silence. I think he just realized how he wrong was but that he wouldn’t admit. As for me, I am frustrated at having to start at the beginning again. He stood up and went to the door and said: “Anyway, since we don’t have much to do, and I will be away for about 15 days, you may just as well go on leave. I’ll call you. It’s only 15 days. Give me your telephone number.”

Why is it whenever people are showing me the door, they’re still asking for my phone number? It’s crazy! They don’t really want me to go.

Attorney, I don’t have a telephone,” I lied. I thought how many more times will I lie about having no telephone.

Ok, your address? So, I can contact you.”

At this point, the telephone in his room rang. He went to answer it. His room is now wide opened. Taking the opportunity to leave, I waved good-bye to him. Yoyoy followed me asking for my phone number. I didn’t give it to him either.

* * *

Jaime, my Mexican-American neighbor at Eagle Rock and uncle of singer Christina Aguillera woke me up one early morning by throwing guavas on my door. He had a guava tree in the backyard. Earlier, a day before, we agreed to walk again on the cement-lined flood channel that snaked parallel to Harbor freeway 110.

As we have done before, we started at the Sycamore Park along Figueroa Street. We passed through a short tunnel, climbed up a bridge overlooking the freeway 110 and made a sharp right turn, heading downward to a wide ramp leading to the aqueduct. There are no fogs at this time despite the day being chilly. Two guys, who were also “Eme’s”, joined us.

Eme is a Filipino slang for Mexican, as the letter M in the Spanish alphabet is pronounced as “eme,” just like “Pinoy” is slang for Filipinos

Jaime knew the two Emes. Walking briskly, Jaime shouted on top of his voice as he introduced the two, “This is Juanito and that’s Mauro.”

The two guys appeared in their early late 40s. They are regular walkers in the water channel. On my left, as we ventured on, was the freeway and just above us on the right are bushes, trees and the mountains. We walked against the flow of water coming from the mountains in San Gabriel and Santa Monica. The water flows freely to the Pacific Ocean via the aqueducts of Los Angeles.

Dried leaves, dried twigs and branches, some already brittle, are scattered on some part of the paved road. Empty soda cans and plastic bottles also littered the pavement. Jaime is the most talkative of the four of us. He kept talking and that made the morning walk lively. The three of them spoke mostly in Spanish. Jaime would throw a glance at me once in a while as we walked on. I was walking behind him. Juanito is some three feet away from us. Mauro was pacing with me.

Ro-meo, what’s up?” Jaime hollered.

I’m still here.”

You better be.”

We passed a number of bridges above us. On the fifth bridge, we made a detour upward, passed by an old horses’ stable then went down again the channel. We passed by a golf driving range.

We’ll pick up golf balls later,” Jaime shouted loud enough for me to hear.

How’s the cable?”

* * *

Two evenings ago, he introduced a guy, who had been tapping cables for a fee. He is Marco, a 5’8″ untidy white American. He also smelled beer and cigarette.

I know, especially those who smoke, because I had developed an allergy because of it. As soon as my nostril picks up the smoke, I will be coughing.

Marco fixed my cable for a “onetime fee” of US$20. He climbed the electric post in the backyard and with a screwdriver he tapped the cable box. It didn’t take him long to do it.

It’s ok, I have it now,” I shouted back.

Did you watch poom-poom?”

Naaah,” I answered with emphasis. Although, I did look for the channel, I didn’t find it.

Watch after 12, you’ll get it and be ready with your f…cream, Ro-meo!”

We stopped on reaching the 14th bridge. It took us an hour to reach that bridge. Making a complete turn-around, we headed back from where we started.

Back at Sycamore Park, Jaime and I went straight to a van parked along the road that sells Mexican seafood.

This is on me, Jaime. I’ll buy you tostada mixtiada and shark energy drink.”

No, no…Romeo, I’ll pay.”

I insisted I’ll treat him. He obliged.

For US$12, we have jaiva, pulpo, camaron abulon, chile slices of avocado and lemon and three shark energy drinks. Jaime got two drinks. Since I am now slowly becoming at ease with the Spanish- speaking people, I took the opportunity to further expand my friendship using my sense of humor.

One morning, while I was at Denny’s for an early breakfast, I thought of cracking a joke out of the blue. So when the waiter, who I would later learn to be a Nicaraguan married to a Filipina, approached me with his customary gesture of “Good morning, amigo,” immediately I wanted to be funny, friendly and answered “Bien!”

So, you’re Mexican?” he asked, smiling.

I am used to being mistaken always for a Mexican.

Si,” I said, nodding my head.

Then, he asked again, “Are you really a Mexican?”

My accent betrayed me. “What do you think?” now he heard me right as I enunciated every word I said.

Ok, my Filipino friend, what do you want for breakfast?”

He is so smart, he knew who I am.

American. I want to eat this American!”

He smiled again. “How do you like your eggs?”

Oh, I loved my eggs very much!”

What?” he asked to see if he heard me right.

I said I loved my eggs very much.”

He went into laughter.

No, no, what I mean, you want your eggs scrambled, sunny side up or whatever?”

Now you want to mess up my eggs?”

This time he burst into laughter again, with some customers throwing glances at us not having the slightest idea why we are laughing, but just the same, they too are also smiling.

Ok, scramble it,” I gave in finally. The more he rolled into laughter.

You’re one kind of a Filipino.”

Thank you.”

I enjoyed my breakfast and I guess I won another Spanish-speaking friend.

At another time, a Mexican bartender tried to humor me. I was in a bar in Malinda at Lakewood when the bartender thought of carrying a conversation with me while he mixed drinks. He asked if I were a Filipino.

I was on my third bottles of Corona beer, when I thought of shooting back, “Si.”

He beamed, turned his back, grabbed a bottle of wine from the racks, spins around and hollered at my face: “La migra! La migra!”

I stared at him without smiling nor did I move from my seat. He released a friendly grin, saying: “Amigo, I’m trying to see if you’re still awake.”

I’m,” I said. “Give me two more Coronas.”

Why two, Amigo?” He knew I was all alone, sitting by myself.

One for the road and one for the freeway.”

That’s cool, man, cool!” He extended his hand, “Javier!”

I knew I won another friend.

* * *

It is the 40th day of Jean’s nephew’s death.

Alex died from a gunshot wound in the nape. His body was found along the shoreline of Marina Del Rey the following morning after he went to the beach. Nobody knew why he was there, but his family suspected he went there apparently to get away from the problems bugging him.

Alex kept his personal problems to himself.

The police said it is a case of suicide. But Jean’s family believed otherwise. It is impossible for Alex to shoot himself in the nape, they said.

No witness is ever found.

* * *

Three aging World War II Filipino veterans and five other more habitués of McDonald’s at the corner of Temple and Alvarado came to the death anniversary of Alex at Jean’s house.

The McDo habitués are Jean’s regular clients, whom she pick up at the hamburger stores and market them to health providers for medical check-ups. She got referral fees from the health providers that she shared with her clients, the very reason they submitted themselves for medical examination.

Where in the world would one undergoing medical check-up gets paid instead of that one paying for his/her medical examination? Only here in America!

The veterans, who idle their time at that hamburger joint usually present themselves for medical examination as a way to augment their social security benefits. The practice is illegal but they couldn’t care less. For a first time medical check-up, the health provider paid Jean US$120, who in turn shared the amount to the supposed patient and the driver, who drove the patient to the health provider.

She gave US$80 to a patient, US$10 to her driver and the rest she pocketed.

A second check-up for the same patient, she got US$60 from the health provider, US$30 of which she shared with the patient and US$10 again for her driver. The rest, she kept as her share. In one trip in a day, she delivered about 14 patients to different health providers, all cramped in her used Dodge Ram van.

Easily, she makes US$280 to US$420 or even US$500 a day, much better than a white-collar employee makes.

With two vans on the road, a thousand dollar a day is “peanuts” to Jean. She had been in the “business” for two years. About 31 others like her are were operating just in the Los Angeles alone.

The McDo regulars had coined a term for this scam as ‘dugo-dugo’ meaning blood money. If a police officer intercepts them on the road and finds them packed like sardines inside the van, nobody ever admits they were going to a health provider – an instruction they were taught to protect their marketer and their own skin from being busted.

* * *

One evening while surfing the Internet, I came across a news report about a group of ranchers along the Arizona-Sonora-Mexico border, who called themselves Neighbor-hood Ranch Watch. The group is said to be hunting indocumentados, mostly Hispanics, who are trying to cross the border.

Armed with long guns, cell phones, and dogs, they gunned down 23-year old Cipriano Ramirez from the central Mexican state of Morelos as he was passing through a ranch after crossing the border. The ranchers thought he is a dog and shoot him. Ramirez suffered perforated intestines.

This reminded me of a similar incident at the perimeter fence of the US military base in the Philippines. A Filipino kid is mistaken for a wild boar and was shot while scavenging trash.

The Mexican and Filipino’s only sin is their desire to survive this cruel world.

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