Posts by Romy:

    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #18

    June 26th, 2018

    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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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #17

    April 23rd, 2018

    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.

    (17th installment)

    CHAPTER 16

    I finally contacted the Law Offices of Francis Tanyu. A filing clerk named Yoyoy, whom I learned later had just arrived from the Philippines, answers the phone.

    Yoyoy came in the US as a landed immigrant having married his American citizen high school sweetheart whose family had earlier emigrated. Tanyu took him in his law office since his wife’s family is a friend of his.

    The dutiful Yoyoy helped in answering phones, filing the paperwork, and doing errands for the office. With his thick Visayan accent, it is like he hardly learned the English language. He sounded funny to me especially when he is taking in phone calls.

    Every time he picks up the phone, it sounds like he is sending a telegram…“Ello…Attornee Tanyu izz still on the outside with INS. Call in thirty minutes.”

    “Yes, Mester Mo…ra…les?” he greeted me, clearly pronouncing every syllable of my name after I had introduced myself.

    “I want to talk to Attorney Tanyu. I don’t know where we’ve met but I have his calling card with me.”

    “Yes, Mr. Morales,” Tanyu butted in. It turned out he is on the other line listening to the phone conversation.

    “I have your card with me, Sir. I can’t remember where we’ve met but I’m pretty sure it was in the Philippines. Have you by any chance been to the National Press Club?”

    “Yes, I remember I was with this Mr. Malinao.”

    “That’s it!” I exclaimed, as if I had suddenly hit the casino jackpot.

    “We’ve met through Alito Malinao. He was a colleague from the Manila Standard.”

    “Why don’t you come over to my office? I’ll see you on Saturday, after lunch…Why not make it before lunch, so we can have lunch together and then dinner and breakfast maybe?” he joked.

    Tanyu had a great sense of humor. He would always crack jokes whenever he could.

    “Ok, I’ll be there. I’ll be taking the bus.”

    “My place is close to the intersection of Paramount and Florence Avenue.”

    * * *

    Crisologo is grinning from ear to ear when he came to the office one morning. It is unusual for him to smile after a court hearing.

    “What’s the big smile for?” I asked.

    “The hearing turned out okay. After the judge read the charges against Samson one by one, he asked if I had anything to say. I said, ‘with all humility, they are true, your honor.’ The judge asked what relief I want. I told him that Samson’s wife was scheduled for an adjustment of status; that I would like to request for a cancellation of removal against Samson. The judge threw a glance at the INS officer, who also said there were other reliefs available. I conferred with the INS officer. I did not avail of the relief shown to me; I insisted on the adjustment of status of Samson’s wife.”

    With that, Crisologo said the judge reset the hearing for December, telling him to come to the court only when he could show Samson’s wife has adjusted status.

    “That made Samson very happy. If I had contested the charges, it might have spelled further trouble for him.”

    * * *

    Marilyn, who at this point is now undergoing dialysis, gave me another source of extra income. She had referred me to Anthony Arroyo, a real estate broker, saying I could approach him for an extra job.

    Anthony is a nephew of Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and I immediately scheduled an appointment with him. Outright, he said over the phone that he wanted me to do a feature article on his company, Premier Properties – a real estate firm in Glendale.

    * * *

    From Eagle Rock, I took a bus to Glendale. I had an hour and a half to make the appointment. From where I was, the bus stop in Glendale, I couldn’t see any bus coming that would take me to Stocker. I waited for quite sometime and still there is no bus. I am getting fidgety. I didn’t know exactly where Stocker is but since time is running out I decided to walk towards the direction where I believe the street is.

    I thought Stocker is just a few blocks away. I walked slowly, continually looking back to see if a bus is coming. There is none so I continued walking until…first it started to drizzle and then it rained. I have a hooded jacket but just the same, the strong downpour got me wet, very wet.

    Finally, after about an hour of walking, I reached Stocker. Prime Properties is at the corner of North Pacific and Stocker. I am soaking wet when Anthony met me by the door. He then walked me to the washroom so I could dry up.

    * * *

    The interview with Anthony and his wife May is more like a light conversation of old friends after which they offered to pay US$75 for the feature article. I accepted their offer.

    Upon reaching home, I felt so tired and my legs hurt from the long walk. I removed my footwear, which I bought from a Payless outlet a year ago. Its rubber soles are already worn out and I needed a new pair…all the more reason to write.

    The next day, I did not report for work. I worked on the article at home so I could get paid early. After lunch, I am done writing the article. I hurried down the street, got a bus to Glendale, and from Broadway and South Central, I again walked the long stretch of road to Stocker because I couldn’t wait for the bus to come and I am so eager to get paid for the article, remember I need a new pair of footwear.

    Anthony is so glad with my work that he paid me USD80 instead of USD75 we agreed with. We are both satisfied.

    * * *

    It is Saturday and I am meeting Tanyu. I put on a light blue polo shirt and matched it with black pants. I want to impress him.

    Tanyu is with a client when I arrive in his office and there are more waiting – an Armenian, two Latinos, probably Mexican, and a Vietnamese. The client he is with is a Filipino.

    When Tanyu emerged from his room, he flashed a friendly smile and I easily felt at home. He is an average- sized Filipino, about 5’7” tall with salt and pepper hair, and nice shoulders and back. He reminds me of Tom Cruise in the movie “A Few Good Men.”

    Tanyu is wearing a black blazer over a white polo shirt complimented by a striped tie. I stood up and introduced myself. He placed his arm around my shoulder while he led me to his room.

    “So, what’s up?”

    “I work with the law firm of Crisologo,” I told him.

    Tanyu handed me some files to go over while he answered several phone calls.

    It was past six in the evening when he stood up from his swivel chair, and invited me to join him in the dining room. Yoyoy and Oliver Narvaez followed.

    Narvaez is a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officer. Although seventy and balding, he appears strong, young for his age, healthy and with a good physique.

    Narvaez, was a policeman in the Philippines before immigrating to the US, had worked for two years with the Employment Development Department and five years with the INS. When he retired from the INS, Narvaez worked part- time with Tanyu doing paralegal jobs.

    For dinner, we had tinolang manok and longganisa (Filipino chorizo) and cold orange juice.

    In a nutshell during dinner I told him about my job, my employer (Crisologo) and his being new in the immigration industry, having just passed the California bar exam on his second attempt. I also told him that his law practice is picking up.

    I also explained to Tanyu that my main concern about him is if working for him, I could take advantage of the 245(i) immigration law since Crisologo himself is not in a position to file a petition or an application for labor certification on my behalf.

    He asked me point-blank: “How much does he pays you?”

    It would have been embarrassing if had told him that I get US$500 a month; although, lately Crisologo gave me an additional US$200 so that I could rent a room.

    “A thousand dollars,” I lied.

    Tanyu raised his hand in the air and instinctively, I did the same. Our hands met, the way people give ‘high fives,’ and he suddenly said “deal.”

    I am caught off guard. Did it mean I’ll get a thousand dollar a month if I work for him – US$300 more than what Crisologo is paying me? But, still it is to my consolation to know that Tanyu would also file an H-1B petition and an application for labor certification so that I could take advantage of Section 245(i) to preserve my eligibility, should I adjust my status in the future. With the 245(i) umbrella, I wouldn’t have to go back to the Philippines to be eligible for the green card.

    “You can start tomorrow. You can even sleep in my house as long as you wouldn’t mind sleeping with my grandchildren,” he said.

    Tanyu had two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, from his youngest son.

    “I’ll have to tell Crisologo about this first. I would like to start in March.”

    “You have to call me Monday, to acquaint yourself with the job. You will help me with the correspondence,” he countered.

    “I’ll see you Saturday again,” I said, feeling elated from my meeting with him.

    * * *

    Oliver and I took the 460 bus to Los Angeles. He is staying in a US$200 studio-type apartment on 8th Street subsidized by the government for senior U.S. citizens. His wife, a caregiver, lives with him. All five of their children didn’t like to live in America, they all prefer living in the Philippines.

    We reached Spring Street at past nine in the evening. From downtown L.A., Oliver walked to his apartment while I took another bus to Eagle Rock Boulevard. It would like this for the duration I worked with Tanyu.

    * * *

    Whenever I arrived late in downtown Spring Street from Paramount and the bus had already passed, I have to wait another hour for the next bus. Often times I would be the only one waiting for a bus ride at the corner of 7th and Spring Street. Sometimes there will be a drizzle, if not outright downpour, and it would be so cold that I really pray hard that the bus would come soon.

    Once in a while, a homeless guy or a thug or a reject who probably resides in the nearby skid row will come and ask me for a quarter or a cigarette. When I have an extra quarter to spare, I gave it away. Most of the time, however, I didn’t. I fear that if I do, they might ask for more, which I think is an invitation for trouble.

    Being approached by a bum, for me, is really a very frightening experience. It scares me to the bone.

    Another scary instance are the rare times when the police’s black and white car will stop in front of me while its occupants visually seizes me up trying to determine whether I am a menace to society or not.

    If only they knew that I am, out of fear, breaking down deep inside into pieces not because of their penetrating look but due to the possibility of them starting to ask questions about my status. I constantly pray that that won’t happen, especially during the unholy hours at night when I am alone in that lonely and scary place in downtown Los Angeles.

    Thank God, my luck stayed with me and I always arrived home unscathed even after that harrowing times when I wait for a bus ride.

    * * *

    It was my last day with Crisologo. I worked on as many cases as I could. I finished a few family-based petitions and about three labor certifications. He didn’t seem upset when I told him I am looking for another employer. He even encouraged me to go ahead reiterating that he is really not ready to sponsor me.

    “You are a fast learner. You can easily find a job. All you need is a break,” he said.

    Crisologo handed me my last salary, which he said could tide me over while looking for a job. I got US$175, half of US$350 which I am supposed to get if I stayed for a week more.

    “Thank you,” I said.

    “Sure, come back whenever you like,” he said as we part ways.

    * * *

    My first day with Tanyu is a real working day. At ten in the morning, the office is already teeming with clients.

    Unlike in Crisologo’s office where I did everything, Tanyu had several people helping him.

    There is Lisa, who helped him with secretarial tasks. She was a nurse in the Philippines and had yet to pass the nursing board exam here in California so she could be petitioned as an immigrant worker.

    Oliver processed family based petitions. Then there is another lawyer, David Concepcion, who had a successful law practice in the Philippines but strangely decided not to take the bar exam in California. At his current age, I doubted if he is still inclined to take the state bar.

    Concepcion is good at research and presentation, especially in deportation cases. The best I could say. It was he who handled almost all of Tanyu’s deportation cases, many of which had been approved in favor of the client.

    Initially, I found myself doing the secretary’s job, directing traffic in the office for new or walk-in clients and the regular ones who came for consultation or follow-ups. Once in a while, I would take dictations from him. More often than not, Tanyu would just give me a recorded dictation to transcribe.

    There were two computers in the office, one for Tanyu, and one for Lisa and I.

    It was past seven when my first day at work ended. Tanyu treated me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Before I went home, he gave me a hundred dollar. He said he would pay me US$1,400 a month and the US$100 is reward for a job well done that day.

    I am on cloud nine after hearing about my salary. Imagine, after starting out at US$500 a month with my former employer, I will now earn triple that amount. I couldn’t believe the blessings I got. I am weeping in the bus while on my way home.

    * * *

    After a week, I am totally immersed in work at the office. I got some immigration cases from Oliver and helped him with them, although Tanyu had instructed me to concentrate on labor certifications.

    In between processing petitions and labor certifications, I helped Lisa transcribe correspondence into the computer, took down information from new clients and once in a while answered queries from clients over the phone.

    Initially, everything is moving along right on track, or maybe that only seems to be since I am new. As the days passed by, problems start to appear one after the other.

    The filing system at the office isn’t working well. When a particular case file is needed, we had to search the entire office to find it and yet this unbelievable system or “non-system” didn’t diminish Tanyu a bit. He is so good that clients kept coming to him.

    To give satisfactory answers to clients who are doing follow ups, either by calling or coming to the office, we had to refer to their case files.

    Nevertheless, there are times when, after flipping randomly through some folders, we will find out that that particular cases had not been acted on either because the client had not pursued it, or that the clients hadn’t provided the necessary information or document, or maybe their folder had been shelved unintentionally, or simply because there is no progress on the case and that there is nothing to report about. In these instances, we have to be creative enough to come up with every imaginable explanation short of admitting that the paper had yet to be filed with the immigration office or had been inadvertently overlooked (which is very rare) due to the volume of cases being handled by the law firm.

    Yes, Tanyu had enough staff to make the office operations run smooth enough to prevent anything from getting out of control.

    According to some of my friends from other immigration law offices, serious problems usually occur when there are only one or two employees doing all the work. This is so because the employer is saving money and does not want to hire enough people to do the job. Unfortunately, the savings come at the expense of the clients, who, most of the time, had put their lives into the hands of what they hoped is a responsible law firm.

    Understandably Tanyu would not want to talk with clients who were following up by phone, especially when there is nothing substantial going on their particular case. But some clients never accept “no” for an answer.

    There are clients who peppered the office with calls and Tanyu would instruct his secretary to tell them that he is attending a court hearing, in a meeting, or busy with a client. Whenever Tanyu’s evasion becomes obvious, clients get angry and vent their anger to whoever they are talking with on the line.

    Slowly, I am not only learning about the immigration industry but also how to make excuses to clients in my bid to protect Tanyu, the office and my job.

    * * *

    When Lisa went back to the Philippines and Oliver was told to stop reporting for work for a while, I was left alone to do almost everything in the office. I didn’t mind being left alone for it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot. Indeed, I learned how to process family-based petitions, file application for extension of stay, file application for naturalization, and file for employment authorization, not to mention the processing of labor certifications on which I had been instructed to concentrate. I also learned how to prepare affidavits of support.

    Apart from these varied responsibilities, I am asked to write follow-up letters, correspondence and occasional feature articles for publication. In short, I became a jack-of-all-trades or someone who does an an all-around job.

    Actually, I am not surprised to be a Jack of all trades for this is normal anywhere in L.A., in fact in all of California if not the entire United States. It is normal for an office, a department store, or even a donut store to have only one or two employees doing almost everything.

    In a way, this practice helped fostering the image that labor is expensive in America. But, in another way, this is also where the exploitation of an employee or worker starts, especially if the hired labor is working without legal papers.

    * * *

    Once, Tanyu asked me to go with him to a court hearing in San Diego. His driver, a Mexican, drove the Nissan Pathfinder which my lawyer-boss purchased a few weeks prior. He told me to bring along a box of folders containing labor certification cases.

    Along the way, we discuss the contents of the folders individually, analyzing what should be done, what papers are missing, how it should be processed, etc. The work etiquette that Tanyu showed during this time is another the thing that I had learned from him, one that I treasured most.

    It is noontime when we arrived in San Diego. We headed straight to Anthony’s Restaurant along the Harbor Drive where I settled on a chopped salmon burger and a soda. I am and didn’t even bother asking Tanyu and the driver what they had.

    For about an hour, the Mexican driver and I waited by the door of the courthouse on the 8th floor of the First National Bank before Tanyu came back. On our way home, we passed a checkpoint and it is hard not to notice that on both sides of the road are big spotlights and the several white and green-striped border patrol cars and vans.

    Drivers as well as the passengers are subjected to random inspections. As instructed, we stopped right where the border patrol officer was standing.

    I am sitting in the back of the van. The officer glanced at the three of us. There is only silence. I had my California ID with me so I know I had nothing to worry about, albeit I am a little nervous. The one thing that gave me courage is the thought that I am in the hands of a good immigration lawyer. The officer motioned to us to move ahead.

    On another trip, we went to the Lancaster Immigration Prison with the Mexican driver at the wheels again. Very seldom did Tanyu drive. The Mexican is a steady driver and I felt safer with him than with Tanyu behind the wheels. As usual, along the way, Tanyu and I would tackle labor certifications cases one by one.

    The prison compound is called the Mira Loma Facility, a detention center for illegal immigrants. Tanyu didn’t take me with him inside the compound. He joked that I might not be able to get out afterwards, which is probably true. The driver and I waited patiently in the van.

    Mira Loma is more like a desert. There are few houses and it is summer time. The vast tract of land looked like it is burning from the intense heat. I could almost feel how hot it is out in the middle of that empty stretch of land before us. I then imagined the terrible heat that the migrants endure while crossing to the US border via the desert. In my mind, I could see them with the mirages in the distance.

    Due to the long wait aggravated by the heat, we, the driver and I, fell asleep. After an hour or so, Tanyu came back. He informed us that there are several Filipinos in the detention cell, although he had gone there to represent Alfonso Trinidad, a Nicaraguan, who had been detained by the INS for having physically abused his U.S. citizen wife.

    * * *

    One hot summer in July, on my way to the office in Paramount, the driver of one of the Metro buses plying the Los Angeles-Disneyland route overcharged me by a dollar.

    Normally, when a Metro bus passes the freeways, passengers are charged an extra dollar for the trip. It is my second time to have boarded his bus in a week. When I got into the bus, the driver told me to pay two dollars instead of the usual one.

    “Why should I pay two dollars?”

    “Because I say so,” the driver stared at me threateningly.

    “I pay only a dollar for the express,” I said as I stood on the stairwell beside him while he drove.

    “No, you pay two dollars,” throwing a pointed glance at me again.

    “If I ride again tomorrow, how much will I pay?”

    “Two. And it will never change,” he said with finality.

    I knew I was being bullied but in Metro buses, drivers are King. The bus is their Kingdom and their rules prevail. I inserted US$2 into the box against my will and settled on a seat where I could have a good look at the driver.

    Nobody heard me say a word after I left the driver on his throne. I got off at Paramount before the bus went on its usual route to Disneyland.

    At home, I couldn’t forget what the driver had done to me. I felt he had put one over me. I am so pissed that the next morning, I purposely waited for that particular bus to get its driver’s badge number.

    I intend to write a letter of complaint to the Metro Transit Authority, the most civilized thing I could do even if I had this urge to puncture his tires or do anything drastic just to get even.

    However, I knew I couldn’t do what I had in mind because of the unwelcome consequences it will bring me, given my current status in the country. So I consoled myself with this thought: “If only you were in my country, you would get the trouble you are asking for.”

    He pulled over right at the bus stop on the corner of 6th and Broadway. It is 9:20 in the morning. I boarded his bus. He noticed that I was staring at his badge number stitched on his uniform, obviously memorizing it. When I was placing two dollar bills in the fare box, he stopped me.

    “How much are you going to pay?” he asked.

    “Two dollars,” I replied without smiling.

    “How’d you know, you’re going to pay two?”

    “You said so.” I was making direct eye contact with him and much as I wanted to punch him in the face I restrained myself.

    “No,” he began to explain. “First time you took the bus, you said you’re going to Disneyland.”

    “I didn’t say that. You did.”

    “No,” he said with authority.

    Didn’t I say drivers were Kings in their buses? I refrained from further argument.

    “So, when you took my bus, I asked you to pay two dollars. Now, since you’ve paid two dollars more than you should have paid, the next time you’re going to Paramount, and you take my bus, don’t pay. And when you take my bus again the next time, don’t pay either, okay?”

    I took my seat with self-satisfaction. He probably thought I am lucky that he setup this arrangement. Actually, it is he who is lucky for resolving the situation before I could file a complaint. I am pretty sure it will be trouble for him somehow, knowing the MTA will act on my complaint.

    * * *

    Juozapas already had a triple bypass. When he started having chest pains, his good friend, Ronnie thought it might be more of a heart problem again and drove him to the hospital. Ronnie didn’t have a driver’s license then and he admitted later that he took the risk because the life of someone very close to him is at stake.

    It was Juozapas who helped him get a job. It turned out the chest pains is not due to a heart attack but a stroke that has already paralyzed half of his body.

    Juozapas’ life was been saved though his speech became slurred. He got his green card after eight long years of hard labor at night at the Baltic Publication. But now that he is disabled, I couldn’t see how the green card could make him happy.

    * * *

    I reported for work on Memorial Day, mainly to get my salary and to turn over the US$1,500 that I made while Tanyu was in the Philippines.

    On handing me my salary, which is always in cash, Tanyu asked if the amount was right? He had never asked that question before. Maybe he thought that he’d made a mistake, but I knew that he never made mistakes about money. I didn’t answer. I counted the cash and there is an extra US$100.

    Knowing him to be generous for a good work done, I surmised that the extra amount is a reward for taking care of the office while he was way. I think he just want me to know that he gave me an extra hundred dollars. He had a hell of way taking care of his staff.

    “Don’t leave early,” he hollered from his desk.

    “We’ll watch Pearl Harbor at four.”

    Tanyu loved to see movies. Whenever he wanted to get out of he monotony of the daily grind and the pressure of his work, he will invite us to see a movie.

    One time, we went to see the movie Swordfish which stars John Travolta and Halle Berry.

    While watching the movie, I realized that I have seen a segment of the film while it was being filmed. The scene is about a Metro bus being airlifted by helicopter from a busy street in downtown L.A.

    Perhaps I am wrong and instead I am remembering one morning when I read in the paper that an Angel’s Flight car was lifted off its track and transported to a storage area while an investigation of its fatal crash was underway.

    The airlifting of the bus may not have been part of the Swordfish but the incident did have some resemblance to the scenes in the movie. Still I thought that I’d really seen a bus.

    I am on my way to Paramount at that time but the road leading to the bus stop is closed and I had to find a different route. I saw the usual motorcycle policemen directing traffic as they are assigned to movie productions in Los Angeles. Several roads are closed to the commuting public. There are a number of 20 or 40-footer vans parked along the road. These vans contained movie equipment and other things needed for movie-making. Up in the sky, I heard the distant whirring of the helicopter rotors.

    Los Angeles is Hollywood. Everywhere, at almost any time of the day, one could see movies, advertisements or documentaries being filmed. Traffic could be rerouted anytime, buildings draped with cloth – white, blue, black or what have you – sidewalks or a whole block transformed to be covered with snow or water, or suddenly filled with classic and vintage cars, or converted into a slum, or anything one could think of.

    If there are complaints from the neighborhood where filming is going on, I’m pretty sure the problems are addressed.

    That’s Hollywood. That’s the way in here for how else could Hollywood be dubbed as the movie capital of the world if not for these privileges?

    * * *

    After seeing Swordfish at Bell Gardens, we went to Huntington Park where I had a taste of Mexico.

    Huntington is basically a Hispanic community with 95 percent of the population made up of Latinos, mostly of Mexican origin. It used to be a predominantly white community but by the mid-1990s, the whites left and the Latinos filled up the vacuum.

    We went to El Galo Giro. The ambiance is very Mexican due to the music and its predominantly Hispanic customers. Most people coming in and out of the restaurant are obviously Mexicans, judging from their boots, denim pants, printed polo shirts, cowboy hats and wide, fancy leather belts with big buckles on them.

    We ordered aros, tortillas, cueritos menudo, and caldos y guisados plus slices of jalapeno, which were handed to us on tissue paper.

    At least in Huntington Park, I am basically safe – but not if I were to venture down to Tijuana in Mexico for a more authentic Mexican atmosphere. If I did that, I might not be able to reenter the U.S. territory again. It will be then Adios amigo! for me.

    Early in the morning, I read that emerging scientists have a consensus that “Sigmund Freud had been wrong in almost all-important aspects of his notions. The scientists said his notion of Oedipus complex is wrong, that dreams have hidden meanings is also wrong, and that only a fraction of neuroses are directly related to sex, contrary to his thesis that nearly all neuroses stem from sexual maladjustment and repressed perversions.”

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #16

    March 11th, 2018

    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.

    (16th installment)

    CHAPTER 15

    Pasadena County extends its New Year celebration through the annual Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl. Now on its 112th year – 52 floral floats, 24 marching bands and 27 equestrian units joins the world famous celebration. The colorful parade starts at eight in the morning and trudges along the stretch of Colorado Boulevard, exciting both the march participants and sidewalk onlookers.

    Hoping to have a good view of the parade, Bob, Anna and I went up to the ninth floor of 2 North Lake Building, which the Law Offices of Robert Reeves and Associates occupies. But when we got there, the windows facing the parade route were already filled up with people, mostly staff members of the immigration law firm.

    Reeves suggests that we go down the second floor, assuring us that we would have a much better view than what his office could offer. Finding the windows of the second floor offices also occupied, we join the street crowd instead. Surprisingly, it gave us a closer feel of the parade and the people.

    The Rose Parade grew from an idea of Charles F. Holder in 1890, (Wikipedia, 2012), that California is a better place to dwell in than the states in the east coast where people had to struggle with severe winter. Holder was then president of the Tournament of Roses Association in Pasadena.

    “With California’s beautiful weather, fruits and flowers grow in abundance. The Rose Parade is actually a harvest festival.”

    * * *

    I agreed to meet Serg in his San Fernando Valley home to edit his thesis.

    Serg is a chemical engineer but devoted much of his life teaching mathematics, chemistry, physics and chemical engineering principles. He taught in the Republic of South Africa, Ethiopia, and Zambia before migrating to California and was president of Lions International Club of the Los Angeles district.

    Once inside his four-room gated townhouse, Serg broke the news that our friend Marilyn is in the hospital.

    “She’s now in the ICU due to renal failure.”

    I just shook my head in sympathy for I can’t say anything out of my sadness for our friend. We went upstairs to his room on the second floor. Books and other reading material are strewn all over the room. There are two computers and a printer beside the bed.

    As Serg left, I settle to work and is done by three in the morning. When Serg returns, he hands me USD$200. Not bad for a ten hour work.

    * * *

    January 7 is quite memorable.

    Susan calls while I was in the office to say that my brother-in-law, Adoy, husband of my second elder sister, is in the hospital. He had a stroke. Unfortunately, that was all Susan knew. She does not know whether my brother-in-law is still alive at that time.

    “It’s an overseas call from Susan,” I told Crisologo, who overheard me talking on the phone.

    “My brother-in- law had a stroke.”

    “I’m sorry,” he said.

    “Is the room you want to rent still available?”

    I stared at him in disbelief. I didn’t think he would bring up the matter again. I told him a couple of months ago that a room is available for rent and that it is a short walk to our office. He knew what that means and said outright he couldn’t afford to give me a raise. He is clear that he can only pay USD$500 a month.

    “What changed your mind?”

    He smile without replying so I said, “I will see if it is still available.”

    But then he spoke again.

    “You can start paying rent next month. You can also use the computer in the office. I’m sorry about what I said last time that you couldn’t use the computer. I’m sorry.”

    I must admit I was surprised by Crisologo’s sudden change of heart. But even as I wonder what is going on in his mind, I told myself that he is still human after all.

    * * *

    It rains the whole day. A winter storm is drenching Southern California. It is the biggest storm of the season with LA. getting 3.84 inches of rain.

    From the bus stop, I ran across the street, braving the chilling rain. Panting hard and out of breath, I reach the doorstep of Bob and Anna’s apartment shivering so I start rubbing my hands together. The rain is all over me.

    For a moment, I stood by the gate and recall my earlier conversation with Crisologo. I smile and I look up to the sky thinking God is with me today.

    * * *

    Bob’s second extension of stay is going to expire in February. There is no way he could get a third extension. Anna, his girlfriend, is on an H-1B petition and the only way to save him from going out of status is to marry her so he can be on H-4 visa, as her dependent. That’s exactly what he did.

    * * *

    I went to Las Vegas with them. On a short stopover at Barstow, Bob and Anna rushed to a jewelry store. They were shown a handful of wedding rings, found what they like and bought it without hesitation. It cost them no more than a hundred dollars after which we are back on the road to Las Vegas. As we travel, we saw snow covered mountaintops.

    “This is America!” Anna suddenly blurted.

    “This isn’t LA anymore.”

    Her remark sent us laughing.

    Anna is right – snow is somehow synonymous with America. At the same time, her out of the blue remark also reminds me how I imagine America when I am still a child, the US is a country with lots of snow. It is my dream that if I ever set foot in America, I will walk, roll and play on snow. That is my childhood fantasy. Unfortunately, whenever I came here, I always land on the West Coast where it doesn’t snow except in the mountains.

    It is a common joke among Filipinos that LA is not America because it does not snow here. It is the states in the east coast that’s America because it snows there.

    * * *

    We arrive in Vegas in the mid-afternoon. A number of roads leading to the City Hall are impassable because of an on-going parade. It was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We are forced to take a detour along the side streets to be able to get to the parking lot of Binion’s Horseshoe building, the Clark County Courthouse where marriage licenses are issued.

    Once inside the courthouse, we are greeted with a long line of couples wanting to get married. To our relief, the long line is slowly inching its way to the building. As a particular number of couples came out of the building, an equal number or maybe a little bit more arrive to join the queue. I think this is what the “Law of Equivalent Exchange” is.

    The couples emerging from the building have their marriage permits in hand. They were all smiles. A marriage license cost USD35.

    No wonder Vegas is the wedding capital of the world.

    * * *

    Bob and Anna came out of the courthouse and I followed them down the road. Stopping at a bank’s automated teller machine, Anna withdrew a few hundred dollars after which they start walking toward the nearby Marriage Bureau building. Although Bob and Anna want a serious church wedding in the Philippines, as they had earlier intimated to me, they opted for a simple civil marriage in Vegas to save Bob from going out of status.

    “You’re a few steps from getting married,” I half-jokingly said.

    At the marriage bureau, we login our names in the registry ledger following the instruction of a security guard. Moments later, Deputy Commissioner Judith Caplinger-White enthusiastically bade us in.

    “Come in, come in.”

    White wears a black robe like those worn by judges in a court session but she is not holding court. Rather, she is officiating wedding ceremonies.

    Anna is in a cream blouse that is too tight for her and a comfortable brown slacks. She has obviously gained weight over the last few months. With her five-foot frame, her “healthy” appearance didn’t please her that she decides put on a black overcoat.

    Bob is in cream pants, a light blue polo shirt and a darker blue jacket. He is much taller than Anna, bulkier and heavier.

    From the smiles on their faces, there is no doubt they are in love with each other.

    “So, you’re getting married…nice. And you, what’s your name, Sir?” White asked, glancing at me and the camera I was holding.

    “Romeo.”

    “Rommeoo! I want you to print your name on this paper as you’ll be their witness. You can take pictures as many as you want.”

    Soon after the deputy commissioner started solemnizing the wedding. It didn’t take long for Bob and Anna to say their ‘I do’s’ after which Ms. White said “you may now kiss the bride.”

    The wedding is over in about ten minutes.

    It takes only 30 minutes or less from the time they got their marriage license up to when they were wed. What a wedding! It takes us almost four hours to reach Vegas for a ceremony that is over in just half an hour.

    The newly wed spent a total of USD170 for their Las Vegas style marriage, including the USD35 wedding ceremony fee and the cost of their wedding rings.

    * * *

    The clock said it is two-thirty in the afternoon, indicating that there is plenty of time to go around the Sin City. Nobody wants to go back to LA. yet. The newly-weds want to celebrate. Bob got us two rooms at Circus-Circus Hotel. He gave me a room adjacent to theirs..

    In the evening, I went out on my own. I went to the card tables and play my favorite card game – blackjack. I gave myself the usual one hour of play time limit. Win or lose I will have go back to my room.

    However, I am already playing for more than an hour because my USD100 is still not making much. There are times when I am down to only USD40 or USD25, I will bet it all and wins. The table beckons for I want to recoup my losses, even as I break my self imposed time limitation.

    I am staying longer than I should. I began betting in smaller amounts – USD20, USD15 and slowly my money grew. I am now in luck – winning five or six times in a row.

    The winning streak continues until it was almost four in the morning, way past my time limit deadline. I started counting my money and found out that I am ahead by USD1,300. I decided to quit the game and went up to my room to sleep until the sun shone into the 21st floor of the hotel, directly on my face. Time to go!

    At the lobby, Anna carries a big Snoopy stuffed toy while Bob mills around. The couple is waiting for me. Anna beams with pride as she breaks the good news that she won.

    “I made it too at the card game. Let me buy you lunch…anywhere,” I said with pride.

    After lunch at Excalibur, we hit the road again towards LA. We were all smiles as everybody is a winner.

    * * *

    My brother-in-law dies after being released from the hospital. My second elder sister Carmen calls from Manila and relays the sad news.

    Adoy is taking his morning coffee and cigarette ritual when he suffers a stroke. A loud thud is heard as he slumps on the floor. His son rushes him to the hospital not realizing his father suffers a stroke. Neither did my brother-in-law knew what happen. He got eight stitches for a cut on the forehead.

    Regaining consciousness, he told his son he is fine. The attending physician wants him to stay in the hospital for further observation but my Adoy insists on going home.

    I knew my brother-in-law is stubborn and hardheaded and always want to prevail. But I understand him at that moment. He knew they didn’t have money for the hospital bills and he surely didn’t want to burden them. He got his way. They went home as soon as his son signed a waiver releasing the hospital from any responsibility.

    My sister Carmen recounts: “Once at home, he called his friends, telling them he is all right…that he didn’t feel anything. I thought he is okay. In the afternoon, while he is in the front yard, he again collapsed. I didn’t hear anything. I later find him lying face down on the ground. Again we went to the hospital but this time he is already gone. Had he stayed in the hospital, where the doctors could have further examined him, he still will be alive today.”

    “I am sorry,” I said.

    I then changed the topic and ask “how’s your papers?”

    “They sent me a biographic data form to fill up. In two months, maybe, I could leave for the U.S. and join my children,” Carmen said.

    “That’s good. Will you still have time to visit Mother while you’re still there? Please tell Mother and Zeny to see that Stephanie takes her medicine for primary complex.”

    “I’ll tell them.”

    * * *

    Just the other day, the peso-dollar exchange rates went up to PhP53 to a USD$1. Back home it will definitely be much higher, perhaps PhP54 to a dollar or possibly more, especially in the black market.

    On January 19, the exchange rate suddenly changes. It became PhP47 to a dollar.

    News reports discloses “that President Joseph Estrada’s cabinet members, except Edgardo Angara and Ernesto Maceda, resigned from their posts. Even Estrada’s most trusted police officer, Philippine National Police chief Panfilo Lacson, abandons him. The military is also reported to have withdrawn their support for Estrada.”

    A half hour later, the peso became stronger further dropping to PhP45 to a USD1, the same time while it is being reported that Estrada’s Vice President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is about to be sworn in as the country’s new president.

    The Senate, voting 11-10, decided to keep the seal of the documents which could prove or disprove that Estrada owns the PhP3.3 billion bribe money deposited under the fictitious Jose Velarde bank account. The Senate’s decision keeping the document sealed amounts to the acquittal of Estrada in the impeachment trial.

    Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and all the 11 prosecutors from the House of Representatives resigned after the voting. The anti-Estrada movement led by the late former president Corazon Aquino, former president Fidel V. Ramos and the late Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, for their part, went to the street to pressure Estrada to step down.

    Incidentally, the time when Estrada bowed to the people’s pressure coincides with the time when President-elect George W. Bush is sworn into office.

    Estrada is the second highest elected official to leave in disgrace after the late former dictator President Ferdinand E. Marcos is banished to Hawaii in 1986.

    A popular action-movie star, Estrada wins the presidential elections in 1998 with a very large mandate from the poor or the so-called Bakya crowd. He is the first Asian leader to be impeached after Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson, his drinking buddy, accuses him of accepting PhP220 million (USD4.5 million) in illegal gambling profits and PhP130 million (USD2.6 million) in kickbacks from cigarette tax revenues1.

    Curiously, Estrada and Marcos were deposed in almost identical fashion.

    However, whether it was people’s power or a military coup that oust Estrada as later alleged, “it sets a dangerous precedent which will serve to undermine the foundation of Philippine society as a constitutional democracy,” (Sandoval, 2001) especially when people power is used while Congress is still determining whether Estrada should be removed or not.

    In countries like Indonesia, South Korea, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia, heads of government are removed with the use of people power. In 1986, the Philippines did the same when it ousted Marcos. The same people power is used again against Estrada.

    In a Los Angeles Times article, writer Jim Mann quoted Stephen J. Solarz – former Democratic chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia – as saying that the way Estrada is booted out could have been greatly preferable had it been “through the constitutional process of impeachment and conviction.” He further writes the method used is highly unusual for a democratic country like the Philippines.

    Thus, in Mann’s “A Risky Move by Filipinos,” he wrote “we are witnessing the use of people power against a leader who was a winner of a legitimate democratic election. No matter how understandable it was, this outbreak of people power doesn’t seem like an advance for the cause of democracy; quite the opposite.”

    By stopping the impeachment proceedings, the Filipino people will never know whether Estrada is guilty of the charges or not. In the same way that when the United States Supreme Court stopped the recounting of votes in Florida for the 2000 presidential election, it guarantees that the true winner of the election between Al Gore and George Bush Jr. will never be known to the American people, at least not in the foreseeable future.

    Removing Estrada by people power instead of through the constitutional process meant that democratic rule had bogged down. It is no different from a mob rule.2

    “An elected official that becomes unpopular and who had been perceived to have lost the support of the people is booted out.”

    On the other hand if Estrada had been overthrown by a military coup, it wouldn’t also speak well of the Philippines – a democratic country.

    “By a coup d’état, the military may have embarked on a wrong notion of removing any elected official who had become unpopular. If such were the mind- set of the military, no elective official can be as confident or as independent as they can be—there will always be the military to please.”

    Thus, when Macapagal Arroyo is allegedly offered the presidency, her reluctance is reportedly met with the blunt statement, “It’s either you or someone else.”

    Arroyo desired and got the highest position but it came with the cost of always pleasing the military establishment.

    * * *

    Teri Red is in Los Angeles all this time. Since I came here, I hope to find her or any of her two closest friends and former colleagues – Cecil Castaneda and Beng Marquez.

    My niece Teresa Hernandez Plapp, who works at Loma Linda Hospital in Riverside, became a friend of Cecil Castaneda. During one of their conversations, my name is mentioned and one thing led to another, and it led me to Teri.

    Teri and her friends used to be reporters of People’s Taliba, one of the bestselling Filipino language based tabloid newspapers published by the PJI. They obtained their tourist visas in 1990s. One after the other, they left for the US. never to return. Teri is the last to leave among the three.

    Before their departure, I, the Tres Marias, as I affectionately call them; and two-other fellow PJI reporters – Janet Rebusio and Anne S. Tiangco – usually cap a day’s hard work by going to karaoke bars and nightclubs in Metro Manila where we sing our heart’s out.

    Our karaoke sessions made us close to one another to the point that Teri, in times of financial distress, would come to me. I am always there for all of them to extend a helping hand.

    Teri, before she left for the U.S. is able to get her husband hired by PJI.

    * * *

    I have no idea where to start looking for them in California but with the “Tres Marias” always in my mind, I have this gut feeling that if I could just locate one of them, I will find the rest.

    One mid-afternoon, my niece asked me if I knew a certain Cecil Castaneda from PJI. She narrated a conversation where Cecil asked her if she knew me. Of course, I said, I know Cecil and she knew me. With that turn of events, reconnecting with the rest of the Tres Marias became a possibility. I immediately contacted Cecil, who already works with the San Bernardino Police. She marries a U.S. citizen and is the first in the group to legalize her status.

    After we talk and catch up with each other, Cecil gave me Teri’s number.

    Soon Teri and I met. I gave her a box of chocolates and she treated me to a dinner at a famous Thai BBQ Restaurant at Third and Normandie. She hasn’t changed, except that she aged a little. She is still petite and slim, and still smokes a lot too. Her hair is still shoulder-length, the same as when she before left the Philippines.

    She says she expects her green card sometime in October as her application for political asylum is approved. She says she sweat out a two-hour interview with an immigration officer who grills her to determine if she is telling the truth.

    “It’s good I am able to remember everything. I told him about the death threats I received from the military due to the articles I wrote. I am interviewed on my fifth year of stay here in the US. I am already feeling hopeless and thinking of trying a fixed marriage with a Filipino-US citizen when I got the interview. Luckily, I made it through and the fixed marriage isn’t an option anymore. Had it pushed through, I don’t know what could have happened since my church is very much against divorce.”

    Teri is a devout member of Iglesia ni Cristo, a religious sect that prohibits its members from marrying a non-member and having a divorce. But I have known a number of them, who defied the teachings of their church for the simple reason that it’s a choice between being deported and being able to legalize their status.

    Teri works in the jewelry business in downtown LA. She has changed her employers a number of times but remains in the jewelry business.

    St. Vincent Jewelry is her fifth job until retrenched. She survives on unemployment benefits. On the side, she operates a cargo (balikbayan box) business that also saw her through. Now, she is into care giving.

    Beng is married too but is not able to fix her status. She now has two children and lives in San Jose. She hopes that someday, one of her US. citizen children will bring her out of the dark so to speak and legalize her immigration status.

    * * *

    It has been three days since I felt a discomfort in my left arm, near the elbow. Whenever I am pressing it hard, I feel tremendous pain, like it is coming from a torn or pulled ligament. I haven’t had any accidents involving my left arm thus the cause of the intermittent pain, which is sometimes unbearable, is a mystery to me and it frightens me.

    When one is getting old, we experience pain without knowing it’s cause. Since I lost my job from the Baltic Publication, I no longer have a life insurance. Now, I thought of getting a life insurance because I don’t want to die without leaving anything to my love ones. That’s the main reason I want a life insurance.

    * * *

    I thought of following up with Crisologo, the labor certification I ask him to file so I can benefit from the 245(i) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act which has been revived. The revived law allows the grandfathering of those who have either worked illegally, jumped ship, sneaked across the border or used fictitious name in coming to the country.

    Although I came here legally on a journalist visa, I knew I may need the 245(i) protection someday.

    “Would you want me to prepare the papers for my labor certification now?” I ask when there are no more clients in the office. He smile, a half-forced smile, which I interpreted as bad news.

    “We haven’t discussed that,” Crisologo said.

    But we did thus his reluctance sticks like a knife into my heart. We the matter two or three weeks ago and I was just following it up now, lest he forget. Although he was noncommittal when we first talked about it, he gave me enough reason to hope when he said “let’s see.” Maybe I just didn’t fully understand what he meant by it.

    Anyway, it now appears that he really isn’t interested in filing a labor certification for me. I am his only employee and I am of tremendous help to him. Maybe he just didn’t recognize it or probably he thought I should just be thankful that he gave me a job despite my illegal status. That is the same way Thalia felt about us illegals in the Baltic Publication.

    Yes, when Crisologo hired me, filing a labor certification had never been part of our agreement, although we discussed the possibility of him filing one for me.

    “I can’t afford to sponsor you. I’ve read that if I file a labor certification, it would mean I would pay you the right salary.”

    So that was it, he just didn’t want to pay the right wage!

    “But there’s a way to go about it,” I said, still hoping to encourage him.

    Although what I was implying is a violation of immigration rules, which in some aspects could lead to a denial, it is a common practice in the industry. Many employees under petition are not actually paid the prevailing wage despite what it says in their applications. On paper and for immigration purposes, they are being paid but that is just an arraignment. In some cases, employers even ask to be paid for filing a petition on behalf of the poor wannabe immigrant.

    “That means I would be lying in our application?”

    That made me realize it is useless convincing him. It would equally be pointless to continue working for him when I cannot expect to legalize my status. I should do something to avail myself of the benefits of 245(i) immigration law before the window of opportunity lapses.

    From the stack of business cards I have, I fished out one that bore the name of Francis Tanyu.

    The office address is in Paramount City. I cannot recall how I came to possess his calling card and was further intrigued when I saw his office’s advertisement in some Filipino community newspapers. My desire to get a possible employer-petitioner and avail of the 245(i) is that strong that I thought I must see Tanyu soon.

    * * *

    While having coffee at Starbucks, I read an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which says coffee may help prevent Parkinson’s disease. It suggests that heavy coffee drinkers have brain compositions that may make them resistant to Parkinson’s. The article further stated that the benefits maybe due to caffeine.

    More caffeine the better.”

    1 Dr. James Putzel, A Muddled Democracy-“People Power” Philippine Style, November 2001. Retrieved from http://www2.lse.oc.uk/ internationalDevelopment/pdf/wp14.pdf

    2 William Overholt, Hong Kong-based economist described the ousting of President Joseph Estrada as a mob rule. Edsa Revolution of 2001, Wikepedia, the Free Encyclopedia, April 2009. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EDSA_Revolution_of_2001

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #15

    January 29th, 2018

    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.

    (15th installment)

    CHAPTER 14

    Marilyn is talking this time. This is new as she seldom say a word ever since I first met her. She is also very selective with her friends and oftentimes prefer to be by herself.

    After almost a year with the Baltic Publication, I could count in my fingers how many times I heard her speak. Nevertheless, although she did not talk much, Marilyn excelled in her job as an account executive.

    Marilyn had been in the US for almost 13 years, five of which had been spent with Baltic Publication. Her mother had petitioned her but unfortunately the petition “perished” so to speak as her mother died while her papers are still “in the process.” She kept and hide her status from her co-workers by constantly saying that she would soon go home to the Philippines and retire.

    “I don’t like the way they are treating us here, making us look so small,” Marilyn opens up, revealing her disgust with the management of Baltic Publication. There was an incident, she said, that almost made her leave the company had not Thalia intervened.

    “There was this advertisement which I was working on. The company called up, I was not around and Thalia’s sidekick got the call. The next thing I knew, he closed the ad contract under his name. I learned of it only when my contact person reprimanded me for not returning his call. I told him, I didn’t get his call.

    “I talked to the owner with whom I was negotiating the deal. She says somebody from the Baltic got the advertisement. I confronted Thalia’s sidekick, telling him I didn’t mind the advertisement going to him, but he should have at least told me. As if he had done nothing inappropriate, he had the nerve to proceed and ask what I wanted. A sudden rush of adrenaline shot up to my head and I exploded. ‘You can get the ad, it’s all yours,’ I banged his table with my fist. Thalia pacified me when I handed her my resignation, assuring me she would thresh out the matter with her sidekick.”

    * * *

    Several days later, Marilyn calls me up. She became sick after Christmas and had been in bed for three days. She is sharing a house with a friend and other tenants but has her own room. She requested if I could bring her a gallon of water to which I gladly said yes.

    As I entered her room, I saw that she is still very ill. Marilyn says she has flu. She appears to have aged so fast. Five more years and she would be sixty but with her unkempt hair, and face with no make up, she looks several years older than sixty.

    Before I arrived, she threw up on the carpet but was able to partially clean the mess. The smell of vomit still lingers in the room and some regurgitated food particles are visible on the carpet. She says her landlord will clean the room the next day.

    I hand her a glass of water after which she threw a few tablets into her mouth and immediately wash it down with water. I place the gallon of water on the table near her. She took out a few dollars from her purse but I shove it back to her.

    “You need the water,” I told her.

    “You don’t have a job.”

    “That’s nothing. We need help. It’s hard to live in America, when you’re alone. You have nobody to turn to. We can’t afford to get sick and we must not. We don’t have medical insurance. Keep that money with you.”

    “I’m alone in the evening most of the time. You can sleep in my room. I don’t want you to leave me. I’m afraid,” Marilyn begged, coughing profusely as she talk.

    “No, I have to go home,” I said firmly. “I can’t sleep here.”

    “Just let me fall sleep…then you can go. Don’t turn off the television…you can watch it while I sleep.”

    Seeing her in that situation, I felt so sorry for her. I pitied her. I then thought “what if I were on her shoe?”

    She is already falling asleep when the phone rang. She grabs the phone and puts it against her ear.

    “He is here,” Marilyn said, excitedly handing the phone to me.

    “Hello.”

    “Romy,” the voice on the other line said.

    “Marilyn says you’re a good writer. Probably, you can help me with my thesis. You know, I’m not good in English. You can help me straighten the grammar.”

    “Why not,” I answered.

    “Let’s meet tomorrow. Where do you want us to meet?”

    “Do you know Red Dragon?”

    “Shoot. We’ll meet there tomorrow at five. My name is Serg.”

    “Call.”

    Marilyn is already asleep when I left at about ten in the evening. I slowly closed the door behind me. There is still nobody in the house, except her. I got out, closing the front door and then the gate. It is dark outside but not totally dark as there are Christmas lights in some of the neighborhood houses. Marilyn’s had none. It is gloomy, maybe as gloomy as she is. Once in a while a car or two would pass by and Marilyn’s house would be lit up only to be enveloped again by darkness once the passing cars disappeared.

    * * *

    Bob’s apartment is four blocks down the road. I didn’t tell Marilyn exactly where I live when she asked. I told her I stay in downtown LA. and that a friend usually picked me up at Vinnies Donut. I lied but I thought that’s much better. If she knew I just lived nearby, she will insist that I stay longer.

    I walked down the sidewalks, away from her home towards mine. December nights are cool. I put my arms around myself as the cold winter night is getting into my body.

    * * *

    Apple reported to Sequel Communications, Inc. on the 18th floor of One Wilshire building for a night shift assignment on the 23rd of December, from ten o’clock in the evening to ten o’clock the following morning. By then it is already Christmas in the Philippines.

    As a communication analyst at Sequel, Apple mans and monitors telephone calls all over the world that ran through the IPX machine on that particular day. Alone in his job, he asked me to go with him on his tour of duty. He didn’t want to be solitary in a small room much more in a big building.

    We laid down empty computer boxes on the floor to be our sleeping mats and used pieces of Styrofoam as pillows. Apple would wake up now and then to see if there are problems in the equipment while I remain fast asleep.

    I learned the next morning the machine had been swamped with calls and emails, and that he had to reset it to make sure the calls are being connected. Christmas is usually a busy day as overseas workers around the world call their love ones.

    Before we left, Apple handed me $20 for having gone with him even when I slept through it. Not bad, especially when what I was earning from my employer was just a pittance of a share. Any amount would make a difference.

    * * *

    The following day we had a Christmas get-together at Bob’s apartment. Kristina was there and so was Sarah, with yet another boyfriend. Apple also came. We exchanged gifts and food is plenty; we had fun. It was my first decent Christmas party, unlike the ones I attended during my initial years here in America.

    After much singing and while we literally bring ourselves closer for a picture taking, it just dawned on us that when we came to the publication, Kristina is already there welcoming us. Sarah came next, followed by Bob. Then I came to be followed by Apple. All of us came to the US as visitors, although my visa is different from them. I have a journalist visa.

    One by one we left the Baltic Publication until Kristina is alone again, waiting for another batch of tourist job-seekers to come and work with Thalia.

    Kristina is a “cry woman.” She easily cries when her emotion is touched. She wants to cry that night but we prevailed on her not to. We hugged her, lifted her spirits, cajoled her, and perked her up. We sang Christmas songs until she had no choice but to join us.

    * * *

    On the last day of the month, just before New Year’s day, Apple asked me again to keep him company at Sequel Communications.

    “Of course,” I told him.

    “If it would mean twenty dollars for sleeping, why should I not?”

    * * *

    “George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States on December 18th after the Electoral College gave him 271 electoral votes. Gore got only 266. The Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount ruling that manual recounts were unconstitutional. Ironically, by popularity votes, Gore got 50,996,064 while Bush garnered only 50,456,167, making Gore ahead by 539,897 votes.”

    Supreme Court Justice John Paul Steven in a dissenting opinion wrote: “We may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election.16

    16 US. Supreme Court rules manual vote recounts unconstitutional, December 13, 2000. Retrieved from http://articles.cnn.com/2000-12- 13/justice

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    Another Pinoy bag’s Readers’ Choice Award

    January 16th, 2018

    Arshan Bucatcat

    THIRTEEN year old Arshan Bucatcat bagged the Readers’ Choice Award in the annual literary journal contest of the Ilisagvik College in the northern end town of the United States, Barrow, Alaska making her the third Filipino to win the prestigious award since its inception in 2012.

    Arshan Bucatcat got 76 percent of the votes for her non-fiction story “Best Friend” for the 2017 spring edition of the Aglaun journal.

    A Readers’ Choice Award is given every year to a published material that merits enough votes from the readers. Aglaun is read in eight villages in the North Slope Borough of Barrow and elsewhere in the world where the Internet is available.

    Arshan joins the ranks of two other Filipinos who earlier won the Readers’ Choice Award – Pamela Balanza who won it in 2015 for her article “The Role of Women in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” and the first Filipino who became the Reader’s Choice Awardee for his 2014 essay “Living in the Cold,” former foreign affairs reporter of the Philippine based People’s Journal Romeo Morales.

    Arshan, a six grader of the Hopson Middle School is a voracious reader. Just last year, the Heritage Library in Barrow (now Utqiagvik) awarded her the Reader’s Award for having read 90 books in a span of one year. A multi-talented student—she plays the piano, saxophone, the ukulele, and sings in the church choir. She also plays hockey

    However, She loves reading and writing the most, wherein her likely potentials are expected to grow and develop.

    She was born in Sta. Rita, Samar in the Philippines and moved with her parents to the United States when she was nine. Her mother was once a policewoman assigned at the Police Station 4 in Novaliches before becoming one of the government accountants at the North Slope Borough in Alaska.

    Paul Douglas McNeill, a writer and English professor edits the Aglaun, a journal that allows writers, authors, and artists from all races and of all ages a place to publish their works. He is assisted by Moema Umann, a filmmaker from Brazil, who has an M.F.A. in directing she earned in New York. Myrna Loy Sarren, a Native American is the publication editor.

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #14

    December 28th, 2017

    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.

    (14th installment)

    CHAPTER 13

    It was my first day with the law firm of Jonathan Crisologo. The office is basically an immigration firm, although once in a while it handles personal injury, bankruptcy, divorce, and loan mortgage cases.

    Crisologo is relatively new in the industry, having passed the bar two years ago. He still feels his way around, focusing on cases that doesn’t require much court appearances.

    Immigration is paper work oriented and when court appearances become inevitable, he always sent a lawyer for hire in his stead. He could appear in court if he so desires – with his six-foot frame, good physique, handsome face and a deep-baritone voice, all of these working in his favor as an intimidating figure in court – but for whatever reason, he always keep a low-key perch.

    After having been briefed about my job, Crisologo handed some letters to be mailed to the INS. He also asked me to write cover letters, organize the files, which was a mess; and prepare summaries for some of the active cases.

    You’ll like it here. When you have fully adjusted, you could even do notary to increase your income, although you’d have to pass the exam first,” he said.

    I signed up with him for my vehicular injury claim. For the medical treatment, he told me to see Dr. Odette Yu.

    You don’t have to spend anything on this. This is a no recovery—no fee agreement. Whatever amount you’ll get, it will be divided among the three of us—the doctor, me and you,” he explained.

    * * *

    Dr. Yu’s clinic was a block away from 3rd Street in the Koreatown but most of her clients were Latinos. She spoke their language. Of course, she also had Korean patients and some Filipinos, who sought her, too. She was a general practitioner with pediatrics as her specialization which makes me wonder how a pediatrician could be treating personal injuries.

    She took my BP, a normal procedure, then she raised my affected right arm, moved it up and down, and rotated it.

    Does it hurt?” she asked.

    A little.”

    She pressed her fingers on my shoulder.

    Does it hurt?”

    Not much.”

    The muscles in your shoulder are too stiff. Does it hurt?”

    Nope.”

    She noticed I was having dry cough. I’d had it almost a week, since the morning after the cold evening when I accompanied Charlie to his car on the street. I caught the bug but Charlie didn’t, who was wearing only a T-shirt then.

    Dr. Yu handed some tablets.

    These are $2 each, but I’m giving them to you free. Don’t tell anybody.”

    She also gave tablets for pain to relieve the discomfort in my right arm.

    Her medical assistant, a Filipina, treated my right arm with a muscle stimulator, the Chronosonomic ultrasound, a heat-wave device that was pressed onto the skin. By moving the stimulator repeatedly over the affected area, the heat wave went through my skin.

    The ultrasound machine produced heat waves of about 117 watts. After the ultrasound treatment, she placed a hot-compressed towel on my arms and on the right side of my back where I complained of pain.

    You have to come here every day for two weeks for continuous treatment,” the medical assistant said.

    I don’t think that was necessary, the pain is not really that bad.

    * * *

    After the accident, there was pain in my right arm and knee, the parts that got hit when the car crashed into the side of the SUV. But the pain had subsided.

    Since I was filing an injury claim, I was told the medical visits had to be substantiated. That’s how people make money—in insurance, litigation, accidents, and so on. Many things have to be settled in court. Now, I know why America’s other name is “Sue.”

    Filipinos call this particular therapy treatment “pera fee” meaning money derived from undergoing medical treatment, which actually could be done away with if not for the claim that was being made.

    Now, I remember the Spanish-speaking guy, who gave me a card and said after the accident that I could get money.

    * * *

    It was seven in the evening when I came back to the Eagle Rock Boulevard from the clinic. I took a cup of coffee at Vinnies Donut to while away the time. Two-and- a-half-hours later, Apple came by. I was sitting on a plastic chair outside the doughnut store. It was cold, really cold that night. I raised the hood of my jacket preventing the cold wind from hitting my head as I still have the cold bug. I am suffering due to the cold.

    Don’t stay there, you’ll get sick,” Apple said while making his way to the doughnut store.

    I followed him. He ordered me another cup of coffee. As we settled down on one of the tables, he shoved a USD$20 bill to me.

    I promise I will not let you down.”

    Since I had been out of work, Apple had already given me USD$36 in all. Every time we came together, he would shell out a few bucks from his not-so-deep pocket.

    Count them as blessings.” We talked mostly of nothing significant. We were there just to meet and talk. Before he left, he hollered, “I’ll see you again.”

    It was thirty minutes past ten when the Vietnamese owner of Vinnies Donut announced she is closing. I was the only one inside the store waiting for nothing. I started walking home.

    It was foggy and the fog is so dense. Had it not been for the lighted posts on the streets, the entire length of Eagle Rock Boulevard would have been in darkness. Road visibility is almost zero.

    * * *

    A week quickly passed and Crisologo and his wife were to go on a two-week vacation to the Philippines.

    Crisologo is from Vigan, a town in Ilocos Sur province in northern Philippines where his family name is identified with the town. Just mention Vigan to old timers and surely the Crisologo’s will come to mind. It is as if Vigan and Crisologo are identical twins.

    Crisologo is a member of the Crisologo political dynasty and it won’t be surprising that if in the not so distant future he makes good in his law practice here in the US., he would throw his hat in the political arena of Vigan.

    As the folks from the Philippine north, especially Ilocanos, are known to be tightwads, Crisologo could easily save a fortune to finance his splurge on the political arena.

    Crisologo is confident he could entrust the office to me even though I had been with him for only a week.

    I’ll try to call you to determine whether there are pressing problems that need my attention.”

    He handed me USD$250.

    I know you will need this while I’m away, this will take care of your two weeks’ salary. Should you decide to go back to Arizona to work with Desmond, just leave the keys. If you stick with me, we’ll do something about your papers when I come back.”

    * * *

    One cold evening, I walked all the way to St. Dominic’s Parish Church, some 12 or 13 blocks from where I live. I didn’t mind the cold the night for I want to go to church. I had gone to this church on several occasions before and always find it closed, probably because I come at the wrong time.

    When there is no mass or any kind of activity inside the church, it is usually closed.

    When I arrived, thinking it is closed, I stayed by the side door to pray, as I had done many times before. But this time, I am lucky. There are people in the church. It is a Wednesday and the parish priest is at the confessional and the choir members are there rehearsing. I settled myself in the last pew and looked up to an image of the crucified Christ.

    Tears began rolling down my face as I pray. I tried to wipe the tears but I found myself weeping profusely that I just let go.

    At that moment, I went into self-pity. I felt so sorry for myself. At my age, I couldn’t believe I am still struggling the way I did when I was young and this time I was doing it while alone in a foreign country.

    I gave up my job, left my family hoping I could have a better paying job with American firms. However, with no legal work papers, I instead landed working for unscrupulous employers, who in a way gave me a chance but at the same time took advantage of my helplessness giving me only meager pay with no overtime and holiday pay, or even a holiday off. I have no medical insurance or any other benefits.

    The sad truth is that it would almost take a miracle to find an employer who wouldn’t take advantage of an undocumented migrant.

    Take the case of a girl from Cebu, who came in 1967 on a diplomatic passport, only to find herself abused and treated like a slave in the residence of her supposed benefactor, a Commercial Attaché, who was newly posted in the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles and later transferred to Chicago.

    The Commercial Attaché was responsible for bringing her here in the United States. She was loaded in a ship together with the Commercial Attaché’s personal belongings.

    The young lass, who was only 14 years old then, had virtually been robbed of her childhood when she was made to work as domestic helper for a USD$10 a month pittance pay. She received that wage for seven agonizing years. She was not given any day off nor was she allowed to make friends with their neighbors or even go out with her employers.

    She was kept in the house and sometimes moved from one prominent family to another to serve them as their domestic helper.

    In trying to ingratiate himself to the child so she would not leave or escape, the Filipino government official who is from the Philippine province of Bulacan had inculcated in the innocent mind of his captive house help that had it not been for him, she would have not made it to America.

    When she had mustered enough courage to free herself from enslavement, she made her move, eloped with a Puerto Rican guy, only to find herself more in a losing end—used and abused again.

    * * *

    Relaying the tragic experience of my own people to a Vietnamese lady friend, she told me some of her countrymen had also undergone an almost similar experience. And this saddened me further. With problems high above my neck, one could only hope to turn to family or relatives for help but I didn’t think of going to them even if I had one or two relatives in another state. Instead, I sought my friends.

    It has been the experience of many who have been here for some time that it is better to turn to friends rather than to family or relatives. Most of my friends were newfound friends yet surprisingly, they never let me down. It was they who helped me get through, especially when problems seemed insurmountable. If not for their kindness and understanding, I would have fallen apart a long time ago.

    A friend of mine had unselfishly provided me food and a place to sleep, which I could hardly afford with the salary I was earning at the moment. So as not to abuse his kindness, I would come home only after he and his girlfriend had their dinner—or if I did come home early I would pretend I had already eaten.

    So many times, I slept with an empty stomach. The space provided me to sleep was more than enough generosity for one night. And yet, he had allowed me to stay for as long as I couldn’t afford a room.

    His kindness made me better than the bums and the homeless, who spend the nights on sidewalks or on the grasses enduring the cold evenings. At least I could claim the comfort of a clean couch and a roof over my head. I didn’t scavenge the streets, the garbage cans, the restaurants and burger joints for leftover food. There was always food for me in the house, though it is only bread or fruits.

    However, like the bums, I also walked the street a lot. I walked to the office, to the mom and pop stores, to grocery stores, to the mall and to places where I had to keep appointments, bearing the cold weather and hunger that sometimes haunted my stomach even when in sleep.

    I also took the Metro bus when destinations were miles and miles away. Walking and taking the bus had made me familiar with the Los Angeles inner city as well as the suburbia. And it had made me stronger. When it is time to retire, I rested my tired back on the softness of a sofa that was my bed for the night.

    * * *

    Walking back home from the church, a van pulled over at my side. It was Juozapas. I immediately hopped in when he invited me for a cup of coffee. We went to a nearby fast food joint.

    I should be paying this,” I told him. “It’s my birthday, you know. We should be having beer, even just a bottle or two.”

    Juozapas drew a few dollar bills from his pocket. He insisted on giving them to me.

    Take it. If I weren’t leaving tonight for Lithuania, I could have joined you. I still have to fetch my wife.”

    He had just gotten his green card after eight long years and he wanted to go home right away. He was going home tonight after years of hardship and sufferings.

    Happy birthday,” he said. “I’ll see you when I come back.”

    For the first time, I had an envious feeling—not because he had his green card, but because he was going home—to his country. I wanted to go home, too. Yet I couldn’t, I had already acquired an unlawful status. If I go home, I couldn’t come back to this country anymore. I would be barred entering America again, for ten years at least. That would be bad for me.

    * * *

    It was almost eleven when I arrived home. As usual, smoke fills the room. Bob was chain-smoking. I started coughing.

    Lately, I had become allergic to cigarette smoke. I would cough profusely the instant my nostrils picked up smoke.

    There were other people in the house seated around the dining table. There was Kristina, Sarah, and another guy, obviously Sarah’s boyfriend. Bob’s girlfriend Anna was there too.

    Bob and Anna came to LA. as tourists and stayed working. They were trying to see if they could make it in the United States, although they had already made up their minds to go to Canada. Bob got a job with the Baltic Publication while Anna worked as a paralegal with an immigration law firm.

    C’mon, join us.” Bob said. They had finished their dinner; they were offering me was their company rather than their food.

    Thanks. I’ve taken my dinner,” I said, although I hadn’t eaten anything except the apple I had for lunch and coffee in between. I didn’t even tell them it was my birthday.

    Bob glanced at me. My eyes met his, and he said, “Oh, I haven’t told you…or have I?”

    What?”

    I’m quitting. I’ll get my paycheck Monday and then disappear.”

    You just filed your papers, and you’re quitting?”

    It was only recently that Bob had filed his H-1B petition. He had kept it hanging since he started working with the Baltic Publication a year ago. All he’d done was extend his stay. He’d done it twice already and soon he would be out of status.

    With prodding from all of us, he finally agreed to file his papers before the December 17 fee increase from $600 to $1100. With barely four days left Bob approached Thalia, but to his surprise he was told to wait. He realized that Thalia would be sitting down on his petition.

    Ma’am, the deadline is on the 17th,” he told Thalia.

    I’ll give you the $200, but you have to wait.”

    Bob couldn’t understand why he had to wait. Filing the petition would legalize his employment. If approved, Baltic Publication would benefit as he would be working legally. Of course, Thalia was unaware that it was Bob who delayed filing of the petition. He just continued working for her without filing the petition.

    Now he wanted the petition filed, but Thalia was asking for a little more time. There was no more time left. Bob didn’t understand why he has to wait. Did Thalia know he had stalled the filing of the petition? Or was Thalia giving Bob a dose of his own medicine? Was Thalia making a statement—that she was the boss and could do whatever she wanted? Not knowing what was on Thalia’s mind only made Bob angrier.

    I can no longer allow her to screw me up!” Bob fumed. “I’m getting out.”

    In the four months since September, Thalia had lost four good staff members—Apple, Bob, Sarah, and me.

    But of the four, only Sarah got the upper hand when getting out. She really had put one over Thalia.

    When Sarah quit, it caught Thalia off-guard. There was no one else she could pull in to replace Sarah. Even if she advertised, it would take some time to get her a replacement. Without Sarah, she was powerless to get her three newspapers out on time. She had folded the news magazine when Apple left and convinced Sarah to stay until she could replace her.

    For the first time in her life Thalia was at the mercy of her employee. She gave in to Sarah’s demand. Although Sarah was already working with another publication, Thalia agreed to pay her the same salary she used to receive even when she reported only in the evening.

    Ironically, the H-1B petition that Sarah had wanted so much but thought would never come as she suspect that Thalia might have overlooked following it up with the lawyer, had been approved.

    It was the seeming inaction on her petition that made her seek another job. As soon as she learned the INS had mailed the approval notice, she searched through all the mail slots in the company but she couldn’t find it. She suspected Thalia might have kept it.

    A defiant Sarah confronted her, “I can’t come in the evening anymore, the DMV wants to see the original copy of my approved petition before they’ll renew my driver’s license.”

    It checkmated Thalia. She produced the document and told Sarah to finish her work, which she did. Two weeks later, Thalia found a replacement; Sarah stopped reporting.

    With Bob out, Thalia had only Kristina to handle all the three newspapers. She complained that she couldn’t do the job alone. She was feeling the terrible pressure now resting on her shoulder and said she was on the verge of breaking down. She cried.

    Kristina wanted to give up but she is stuck. She couldn’t leave even if she wanted to. Even if somebody is willing to sponsor her again, she still couldn’t leave—she had stayed too long and was too close to her goal to walk away now.

    After six long years of untold anguish, depression, and submission, Kristina isn’t going to let the opportunity slip away. She is in the homestretch. Changing jobs would not only be very impractical but stupid too. The green card was almost within reach and with her labor certification approved, an immigrant petition was the next step. She couldn’t afford to bungle it.

    But with the demoralizing turn of events in the company and the extent of the problems before her, she had no idea if she could “weather the storm.” She is losing her peace of mind.

    Thalia had no idea why her staff was leaving her. Or maybe, she pretends not to know. Maybe she also thought that whoever abandoned her was just being ungrateful, that they were only thinking of themselves rather than of what she had done for them—providing jobs and allowing them to work even when they were not allowed to work.

    Although their departure had affected her business, Thalia seemed unaffected. To her, they were dispensable, just part of a passing scene. There would always be another tourist at her door, ready to work.

    What Thalia may have been unaware of was that she could have had the most talented workforce in Southern California and could have produced the best newspaper had she not treated her staff like slaves and pawns.

    Bob isn’t reporting today,” Kristina told Thalia.

    He’s not reporting anymore. When you deferred the filing of his petition, he said there’s no more point why he should continue working.”

    Thalia explained that she still had to go over it. Anybody who had worked with her knew she was lying. They knew she might sit on it.

    He’s getting married,” Kristina added, trying to convince Thalia that Bob didn’t need the petition anymore.

    Thalia seemed to be at loss for words after with what she had heard. She became unusually worried. For hours she closeted herself in her room, probably trying to figure out how to address another dissenter; where to get a replacement in such a short a time. It was Monday, four days before Christmas. She had to get out the Christmas edition of the newspapers.

    Thalia sent for Kristina to her office. She spoke in her usual soft voice as her eyes grew bigger than the rims of her eyeglasses. She told Kristina to get in touch with Bob so that he could finish his job.

    Thalia pointed out that if Bob had any intention of disrupting the publication of newspapers, she would not hesitate to meet him in court. She also instructed Kristina to let Bob know that even if his H-1B petition hadn’t been filed yet, he has to pay her the lawyer’s fee that she had advanced.

    Kristina emailed Bob about Thalia’s threat. It easily rattled Bob, who was not used to this kind of confrontation. Though he’d expected Thalia to resort to her usual tactics of settling things in court, he hoped the threat would only be an empty threat.

    We have discussed many times what Bob should do if he was sued. He would counter it with a lawsuit that would expose Thalia’s many labor and immigration violations. A class suit was also thought about, by contacting all the people who had worked for her.

    Quite a number of people started working for her was without the authority to work until they had been petitioned. A few got their work permit and one or two got green cards; others got fired. And there were many, who got disgusted with the intolerable work schedules and conditions and,—just left. We counted four or five aliens unauthorized to work that were currently on her payroll.

    * * *

    Usually, the following day after the electorates cast their votes the American people already knew who could have won the presidential election. Yet, in the morning of November 8, although they had elected their 43rd president, still they didn’t know who it was.

    Election tally showed a divided electorate. The way voters rallied behind each candidate resulted in almost a dead heat. By popular votes, Gore got more than 49 million votes while Bush garnered 48 million plus. In electoral votes, which the US. uses to determine the winner in the election, Gore took 260, short of just ten more electoral votes to make him the winner while Bush received 246.

    Election returns in Florida had Bush ahead by 25 electoral votes, which could have made him the winner since it would have given him 271 votes.” But the difference between the two candidates was slim, less than one half of a percent, state law mandated a recount.15 Expectedly, “proclaiming a winner was held in abeyance that may take on for several days.”

    15 George W. Bush, et al., Petitioners v. Albert Gore, Jr., et al on writ of certiorari to the Florida Supreme Court. December 12, 2000. Retrieved from http://caselaw,lp. Findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #13

    November 14th, 2017

    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.

    (13th installment)

    CHAPTER 12

    For the weeks I stayed unpaid in Bullhead. When Desmond came back, I bitterly told him that I would rather die in LA. than in Bullhead.

    As I poured out my sentiments, a dam in me exploded and I found myself teary eyed. As I have no where to go for I have given up the room that I rent at York Boulevard, Desmond, without any show of emotion, said I could stay in his house while I look for a job. It is now obvious that he has no intention to hire me in his hotel.

    * * *

    Upon reaching LA., I called my buddy Nick and told him what happened. He automatically offered his house for which I am so grateful and I took his offer.

    The following day, Nick picked me up at Albertsons. I only had a knapsack full of clothing with me.

    Nick lived in Gardena with his family. He said I could stay with them for as long as it would take me to find a job.

    There would be no problem with food as I would eat with them. He gave me a futon bed to sleep on but I chose to slumber on the couch, so as not to mess up the living room, especially during the early morning when everybody is awake.

    There were two bedrooms in the apartment, one used by his youngest son while the other is used by Nick and his wife.

    To keep me away from brooding, Nick encouraged me to work on a semi-antique study desk in the garage so I could have some money to send to my family. He said he would pay me like how he paid anyone else for restoring an antique furniture. Having no experience in restoration, he promised to guide me every step of the way to do the job. His gesture of generosity is unbelievable. It deeply touched me.

    Nick showed me how to remove the varnish from the study desk with an F-33 paint and varnish remover. With a paint-brush, I removed the varnish from all the compartments. It took me three days to take off the varnish.

    On the fourth day, I applied thinner lacquer paint to stop the varnish remover from penetrating the wood. The area that I brushed with lacquer, I repeatedly wiped with a piece of cloth. It would take three more days before all the compartments and surfaces are stained with a walnut color.

    * * *

    The mass transit strike was on its 72nd day, greatly limiting my mobility and with it, my ability to look for a job.

    Except for restoring antiques, I had been idle most of the time praying that the strike would be over soon. News reports said negotiations had been nonstop during the three week-long strike.

    On October 18, exactly after 32 days when the negotiations began, the bus and rail operators accepted a new contract with higher wages and benefits. It took a southern preacher, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to convince another Southern Baptist leader, Chairman James Williams, to end the strike.

    As the days go by, I continuously worked on the antique desk. I painted the stained surface with a semi-gloss wood finish, sanded it with no. 320-sandpaper, and painted it again with a semi-gloss wood finish.

    I will repeat the whole procedures several times until the veins on the wood surface couldn’t be felt anymore. With a clean cloth and a wax, I rubbed the semi-antique desk over and over again.

    After 15 days of labor, the work is done. I’d never done restoration or carpentry in my life and the sense of accomplishment I felt is a welcome change.

    * * *

    There was this time when Nick and his wife went on a shopping spree. Between them, my buddy is more exuberant buying whatever he fancied, especially if it is for his tennis and biking hobbies.

    Nick bought items with known expensive brand named like Adidas, Nike, Fred Perry, Wilson, etc… as if money is not a problem at all.

    Whenever I am with them, I do a lot of window shopping since I don’t have any money to spend. However, I told myself that even if I could afford to buy something, I won’t buy the branded items. I never dreamed of buying them for my needs are simple.

    I have no problem buying a knockoff polo shirt or an unbranded jacket. They are fine as long as it fit and look good on me. I have no cravings for luxurious goods.

    However, I always thought of buying something for my family but being broke and jobless, I couldn’t do so. My Adam’s apple would go up and down every time in frustration as I cannot buy the goods that I want for them.

    It is ironic that here in America, the land of plenty, I couldn’t even pamper myself with what I need or want much more buy something for my love ones.

    * * *

    The Sagmits are the kindest people I’ve known. Their generosity is unquestionable. To return their kindness, I helped in the household chores like washing the dishes, emptying the garbage cans, cleaning the toilet, mopping the kitchen floor and helping his wife bring in to the house the groceries and laundry.

    Being a freeloader is the last thing in my mind.

    * * *

    Nick lived up to his promise to provide the necessary support while I look for a job. Interestingly, Nick and I are not close when we are still the in Philippines. We just happened to know each other since we were in the same profession. It was America that brought us together, like we had been friends for a long time.

    Offering his house and help was something I had never expected. He taught me how to restore antique furniture, so I could earn money. He gave me my share as soon as he got paid for a job done…gave me a ride when there was an appointment to meet, and even let me drive his Toyota Tacoma pickup so I could practice driving.

    There is nothing more I could have asked from him.

    * * *

    I told Chito, another buddy of mine, about my job hunting predicament and he suggested that apply with Rhony Laigo’s Diaryo Pilipino as an account executive, a job that entails soliciting advertisements for the newspaper.

    Rhony had a short stint in Saipan before he moved to Southern California. Luck fell on his lap when friends turned over to him the ownership of Diaryo Pilipino for a token amount.

    Diaryo Pilipino could sponsor me, but that does not interest me. Not being able to drive, the same problem I had with Omar Dostoyevsky, will surely hamper my efforts to solicit advertisements for Rhony’s newspaper.

    Account executives who take the bus have less time looking for advertisers.

    Nick also did his share in looking a job for me by talking with his Persian-Jewish boss at Fine Arts Gallery, thinking he might hire me as as assistant restorer but he was turned down.

    He was told that the business is not doing good. In fact, the gallery is planning to let go some employees in a couple of months.

    Nick also asked another friend, Charlie, if I could have a job with the Page Computer. Again, he was turned down as Page Computer is already “overstaffed.” I have a feeling though that the real reason for the rejection is my lack of computer knowledge.

    Despite the number of people trying to help me, my prognosis is on the downside.

    * * *

    With the little knowledge I learned in restoring antique furniture, I thought of turning to an acquaintance in Toronto, Canada who is in the furniture business. He previously offered me a job when I was in Canada but wanted me to wait until he returned from the Philippines.

    However, I left for the US. before he could arrive. With the experience I gained in antique restoration, I thought I might be ready to work for him. I wrote him a letter asking if the offer is still good. I sounded desperate because I was.

    As I lay in bed, close to breaking down, I wonder why life is so tough on me. I don’t understand why I have to suffer so much. Worse, the trials never seem to stop. Why is it that some guys have all the luck and breaks while there is none for me? It’s unfair. I don’t mind being poor, but why am I so marginalized?

    My physical disability seems to have limited my ability to be productive. It makes me feel alienated, inferior and I don’t like it. There are times I am taunted because of my disability and it hurts.

    Thus it is not surprising that in gatherings like a church service or party, I would often stay in the back and play everything low-key. If I notice people prying on me with their curious look, I feel like melting. I resent being stared.

    I also feel that I don’t have the same opportunity compared to other job seekers.

    * * *

    However, in a way, my “disability” made me stronger and broad minded. It taught me how to stand my ground and ignore the ridicule.

    Yes, I was able to fight my way up later. But it’s a hard struggle. Really hard! Along the way, there have been a lot of disappointments and rejections. Even the very idea of trying to overcome my infirmity has been a tall order. Sometimes, I wished I’d never existed at all.

    I was five years old when I broke my back from a fall in a flight of stairs. For some time, I wasn’t able to stand up or walk. I had to crawl to move.

    Had my parents not brought me to a hospital where I was confined for two years, I wouldn’t have walked again. In fact, many thought I will never walk again or even stand up without being aided.

    The accident broke my spine, distorted my body, in a way that I had to bear of it forever. I hated it so much. Some people thought my physical infirmity was inborn. Thanks to my desire to live and survive, I braved it all – the ridicule, scrutiny and the unpleasant impressions.

    Through sheer determination, I gained some level of achievement in school and the work place, where I also earned a degree of respect from my peers and colleagues.

    My job as a journalist took me to countries I never imagined I could visit. I hobnobbed with ambassadors, dignitaries and even chatted with some world leaders. At the same time, I met interesting underworld characters.

    In love, I won a few and lost some, just like anybody else. Life is a continuing struggle and I’m still struggling today. Had I been a physically able, I wouldn’t mind the struggle. I know I could have done a lot better. But as it is, life is tough and survival is difficult.

    * * *

    In an overseas call, my younger sister told me that my house in Kawit, Cavite came underwater because of tropical storm Reming. This is the first time that flood waters reached the subdivision, Villa Canacao, where my house is located. The subdivision was built on a high ground.

    Before I bought the place, I was told that layers of gravel and sand were piled on the rice paddies where the subdivision was built. Many residents believed that if Villa Canacao was flooded, then more so the main road. It would surely be like the sea out there we all thought.

    The floodwater, I was told, went into the house and soaked the carpet, and everything on the floor. They even have to replace the door to my library room as the flood damaged it and termites finished it off.

    I only had USD$230 with me when I got the news. I had been saving that money and trying to stretch it so it could tide me over while I am looking for a job. But now, I’ll just have to send it to my mother.

    I had the money sent and converted to Philippine peso. From that small amount, I told my sister to give our mother PhP1,300.00, my birthday gift to her, and use the rest to pay for the door’s repair.

    With the destruction brought about by typhoon Reming and the news of another impending storm, I doubt whether mother would still hold her usual get-together on All Saints’ Day.

    * * *

    Days went by and I was still jobless. I was getting edgy again. I picked up a tennis racket in the house, headed to a tennis court that was within walking distance from Nick’s apartment and I played against the wall.

    I hit the ball as hard as I could to release the tension in me. I easily got tired running after the ball and now I know for certain that age is catching up with me.

    * * *

    Chito got his green card.

    As expected, he will go home to see his mother. It is customary for Filipinos who get the “green card” to immediately go home. The waiting period for the card is a long time and that is a long time to be out of the Philippines.

    You come with me, I might get you a job,” he said as we boarded his silver metallic Nissan Pathfinder Sports Utility Vehicle.

    I had my resume’ sandwiched between the pages of a Watchtower pamphlet, the first time I had kept a religious reading material.

    Apple, who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witness, gave me the pamphlet the cover article of which reads “Does Praying Do Any Good?”

    Along the way, Chito picked up a young lady whom he would bring to Mary Ann Pagsibugan of the Adult Health Care where she will work as a certified nursing attendant while she try to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)-RN for nurses.

    The NCLEX-RN examination is taken by nurses who wish to practice their profession in the State of California. The young lady is a Philippine nursing school graduate.

    Later, we decided to go to Fountain View—a convalescent for the elderly—to see if there was a job for me there. I took the front seat with my friend while our nurse companion settled in the backseat.

    Chito positioned his SUV in the center lane of the road upon reaching the Melrose and Normandie intersections in Los Angeles. Traffic was moving slow on both sides of the road.

    As the traffic light turned yellow, Chito tried to beat the light but the slowly moving traffic got him stuck in the intersection. As soon as an opening appeared, he quickly swerved to the left just as the light turned red and bang!

    An old black Chevy car hit the passenger side of our SUV. The SUV’s right side door slammed into the exterior side of my right knee and elbow as the black car slammed into us and I felt like I have absorbed most of the impact.

    Motionless for a while, it seemed that I have lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes, I saw people looking down at me. From where I was, I saw the left side portion of the black car’s hood became a crumpled steel.

    Chito, meanwhile, was not moving as he was in a state of shock. Our woman companion in the backseat was also speechless. She too appears to have been shaken.

    The driver of the Chevy car, a black guy, went right away to Chito’s side yelling:

    It was red! Don’t you know it was red? Why did you go?” Still dazed, Chito didn’t respond. He whispered to me to get Larry from Page Computer, a block away.

    I cannot open the door on my side as it was stuck so I went over to Chito’s side and got out from his door while he remained on his seat. I staggered to the Page Computer and Larry came back with me to the car.

    The Chevy car is gone. The driver left in a hurry to supposedly renew his expired insurance but before he went away, he gave his name and address to Chito.

    A man speaking Spanish and English at the same time came up, in effect telling me to pretend I was in pain. He gave a business card, assuring I could have money.

    Within 15 minutes, a fire truck came but finding nobody seriously hurt, the firemen left as quickly as they came. Next a police patrol car pulled over. The officer talked with us, one at a time.

    What happened?” the officer asked.

    As we were making a left turn, a black car hit us hard,” I told him.

    What was the light?”

    Yellow,” I said.

    Chito and our lady passenger also gave the same answer.

    While the SUV was being towed, I saw that its suspension spring was cut in two. There was also a large and deep dent on the lower portion of the right door.

    The SUV was a total wreck. Had we been driving a car instead of an SUV, God only knows what could have happened. Now I suddenly wonder if God saved us because of the religious pamphlet I had with me.

    When Charlie heard about the accident, he said, “You journalists are lucky!”

    I couldn’t tell whether Charlie’s remark is a compliment or not.

    * * *

    It’s Thanksgiving Day and I am thankful for all the blessings that came my way. As a non-paying guest of the Sagmit family, I tried my best to repay their kindness in whatever way I could.

    On this particular early morning, I scrubbed the toilet bowl with a scrubbing tissue and a 409 detergent. With gloves on, I dipped my hands into the toilet bowl cleaning the crevices underneath. I scrubbed the lavatory, the bathtub, and the floor. I also did the kitchen sink and floor, then emptied the garbage cans.

    Afterwards, while having lunch with them, Nick spoke.

    I want to tell you this but I don’t know how to begin. I hope you won’t hold it against me. I wanted to tell you this, two or three days ago, but I didn’t have the heart. You know my brother-in-law had resigned from his job. He is going to stay with us while we are negotiating with another restaurant. I guess you know what I mean. He needs a room in this house. I’m not trying to get rid of you. I just want you to know he’ll have to stay here. He used to sleep on the couch you’re using now as your bed.”

    Ouch, it was as if somebody hit me on the head. The food I was eating seemed to have been stuck down my throat. I covered my mouth with my hands and took a deep breath without showing them.

    Slowly I said, “I understand…can you give me a little time to look for a place?”

    The eating suddenly stopped, punctuated by an unusual momentary silence rarely found when people are having lunch or dinner together and then as if on cue life came back on that table when eating resumed.

    Right after lunch, I wasted no time. I took the Metro bus to downtown LA. From there, I transferred to bus 84 to Eagle Rock Boulevard where Atty. Jonathan Crisologo’s law firm was.

    I told the lawyer about my problem. Surprisingly, he was accommodating. He offered to take me for $500 a month to organize his work, write letters and make errands for him. The pay was too damn low but he said it was what he could afford. I had no paper, I was begging for a job and like beggars, I cannot be choosy.

    The salary would sustain me for a while.

    Jonathan, stressing that he just want me to keep going, also said that he wouldn’t mind me leaving if ever I got a good offer from another employer. What a consolation!!!

    That evening, Roger called. He said the only available slot in the Asian Journal was on sales. He would keep my resume on file. That was a diplomatic no.

    Two days later, late in the afternoon, I bade good-bye to Nick and his wife. His brother-in-law was there.

    Thank you for everything,” my voice cracking.

    My timing surprised my friend. He didn’t expect me to leave so soon, barely two days after telling me they needed the space I was using.

    Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Why only now? It’s already late!”

    No problem,” I said. “I can manage.”

    No, I’ll drive you. You have so many things to carry. Wait for me. I’ll just change to something.”

    On the road, Nick tried his best to appease me.

    I hope there is no problem. We’re still friends?”

    Of course. I came as a friend and I’ll leave as a friend.”

    He apologized for not having been able to get me a job. I knew he tried. He talked to his son-in-law to get me into their company but he said “there’s no place for you there, except in the warehouse where you will have to lift things.”

    Nick continued, trying his best to make me understand what he did.

    It’s not that I’m belittling you, but that’s hard work, man. Hard work!”

    The same reason his boss at Fine Gallery had rejected me, as most of the job in the warehouse involved lifting antique furniture.

    I felt bad,” he said.

    Just forget it,” I quipped.

    As I got down from his pick-up truck, he extended his hand and said “we should still be friends despite everything.”

    We should be,” I replied.

    I walked away from him towards Apple’s apartment, who took me reluctantly.

    Apple wanted to help but didn’t want me to stay in his apartment for long. He is so concerned with his family’s privacy.

    They were all early risers. His children went to school while he and his wife worked. He oversee the household’s bathroom schedule and with me in the house, that schedule will surely be disrupted.

    Apple is a friendly guy, approachable and helpful. He had always been a friend, extending a helping hand whenever he could. If he could only find a place for me, he would foot the bill himself, he said.

    He made me stay for two nights though. I slept on the couch.

    On the third day, he sent me down to Bob’s flat, who was on the first floor. He was willing enough to take me in. I felt so embarrassed. I had nowhere to go. It is a dead end. The situation is pushing me against the wall.

    * * *

    I fished out two quarters from my pocket and dropped them in a newspaper box on the street.

    The Los Angeles Times’ Richard Boudreaux and Robyn Dixon reported that after a week of ineptitude by the Russian government to save the crew of Kurst, the Norwegian and British divers pried open the rear escape hatch of the submarine14 lying 350 feet below the sea and found no survivors. The tragedy exposed the inability of the Russian navy to cope with the disaster.

    Konstantin Argelade, a civilian deep-sea diving expert said: “The rescue was doomed because there were no divers in the navy or in Russia capable of descending to the 354-foot depth of the sunken submarine. (Robyn Dixon and Alexei V. Kuznetsov, 2000) The navy command knew it and should have called in foreign divers immediately.”

    Argelade said that the Russian navy having no professional deep-sea divers to carry out rescues is unacceptable.

    It is like sending people to fly planes without parachutes.”

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #12

    September 27th, 2017

    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.

    (12th installment)

    Chapter 11

    We arrived at Mammoth Lakes at two in the afternoon.

    Mammoth is part of the Inyo National Forest that stretches for 165 miles from California to Nevada, between Los Angeles and Reno, and attracts five million visitors every year. It has 1.9 million acres of clean lakes, meadows, rugged Sierra Nevada peaks and arid Great Basin Mountains.(12) The temperature here is a cold, almost freezing, 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The elevation where we were to spend the next two nights was 9,000 feet. That evening, we have beers and tequila, with plenty of appetizers to make us warm. Yet, I wasn’t in a drinking mood. After just downing a bottle of beer, I got a terrible headache and it stayed with me the whole night. I followed it up with another round but I barely finished it.

    I didn’t know whether the heater in the cottage, which had been turned too high, or the beer that triggered my headache.

    * * *

    Charlie got a chalet with three rooms, two on the ground floor and one on the second floor. Nick and his wife occupied the upper floor while another couple and their two children, as well as the Dardastis stayed in the other two rooms. Chito, his wife and I settled on the coach in the living room fronting the fireplace.

    In the morning, we explored Mammoth Lake. We went up the Minaret Vista where we had a good view of the Ritter Range as well as the Inyo White Range.

    Chito and Nick went fishing on Lake Mary. They came back late in the afternoon albeit without a single catch. On the other hand, the group I went with rode the cabled gondolas up the dormant Mammoth Mountain, the elevation of which is 11,053 feet.

    As the gondola climbed higher, Charlie’s wife becomes sick as she apparently could not stand the height.

    I have this fear of vertigo,” she suddenly exclaimed. Her outburst caught us off guard.

    When the gondola reached the first drop, she went out of the gondola and abandoned the trip. She started walking down through the mountain trail to go back to the chalet with her one-year old daughter in her arms.

    Charlie could only shake his head in disapproval. Left with no choice, he reluctantly joined his wife and dsaughter in negotiating the trail unaware that the sun was burning their daughter’s face. The sunburn will cause the baby discomfort later in the evening.

    Mammoth Mountain is a popular downhill ski area during wintertime. In summer, “bike enthusiasts would negotiate the downhill trail as if racing the Tour de France.”

    It is summer but the mountain top is snow capped. The temperature is now a freezing 26 degrees Farenheit (32 degree Farenheit is water’s freezing point) and the wind chill is 45 mph. As we reach the top, the temperature drops further and, despite my jacket, it makes me shiver. Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me. I was just overwhelmed by the spectacular panoramic view of the ski resort. The sight of snow mesmerized me.

    I remember longing to see and experience snow. Now, like a dream come true, snow is all around me.

    Being from the west coast, I thought I’d never see snow, not in the west coast anyway. But surprisingly the mountain here before me is capped with it. I played in the snow like a child. I grabbed a handful with my bare hands and threw them in the air. I also took photographs of whatever I saw around me. I make the camera work nonstop.

    Indeed, I was having a grand time. Soon my hands were numbed from the bitter cold and I had difficulty holding, much more operating my camera. But I was determined to take as many shots as I could—I couldn’t let such an awesome view escape me.

    As the sun rose an hour after, the temperature rose to a still freezing 32 degrees Farenheit but the snow starts melting fast. Gradually, the feeling from my numbed hands returned.

    Chito, his wife and I left for home as early as six in the morning the following day. It was still dark and cold. Going home took us only about five hours to reach Los Angeles. I was now jobless.

    * * *

    Since losing my job, I had locked myself in the room, going out only when I had to buy something I need or make important phone calls in a nearby payphone. I lost the urge to socialize with friends. For about two weeks, the lonesome me stayed in my room. My only company was a laptop, a television set across the bed, and the radio for some occasional soft music. Most of the time, I slept.

    Today, however, I woke up early and took the Metro bus to Spring Street and 7th Street. From there, I walked to the flower market on Maple Street to see Nick’s wife so I could hand her the pictures I took in Mammoth.

    Nick’s wife was excited to see me, but not as excited as she saw our pictures of Mammoth Lakes.

    My gosh, they’re nice,” she said as she went over the pictures one by one.

    I’ll have this one enlarged, this one, too. I think I’ll have them all enlarged!”

    She was so happy to see herself on top of Mammoth Mountain playing with snow for the first time.

    Nick had earlier promised to bring her to Utah in the winter to experience an even bigger snowfall but she said she is “already satisfied” with the snow on Mammoth Mountain.

    There’s no more need to go to Utah.”

    I gave her all the pictures along with a framed 8X10 one of Charlie, his wife and their baby.

    I will tell my daughter to reimburse you for these,” she said.

    There’s no need. It’s for them.”

    It was at this point that I asked her to convince Charlie to help me find a job.

    Page Computer is a multi-million-dollar company in LA. that supplies computers to Best Buy, Circuit City (now closed) and other big electronics and computer stores.

    Yes, yes, Nick and I will ask him. He has helped several of Nick’s friends,” she said.

    While she prepared to close the coffee shop, I helped her by mopping the floor.

    When we were done, she hand me a plastic bag with a foot-long roll stuffed with ham, cheese, mayonnaise and jalapeno, a muffin, and a bottle of mineral water. She offered a ride but I said I preferred walking this time.

    * * *

    I had an appointment with Jun Camacho, the vice president of Lifestyle Magazine, for an article about the growth of Filipino community newspapers in Los Angeles, which, as of this writing, had ballooned to 30 different newspapers.

    The scheduled interview is at three but it was only mid-afternoon so I decided to walk up to Normandie.

    I walked the long stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, walking leisurely; thinking Normandie was just a few blocks away from 7th Street. Then I realized I had been walking for 45 minutes already.

    I approached a woman tending a sidewalk store for some directions and I asked: “Do you understand English.”

    Poquito.”

    Is Normandie in this direction and how far?” I spoke slowly so she could understand me.

    Si…quatro…sinco…bloques,” she said gesturing with her fingers.

    Tu agarrar el autobus.” She pointed to a bus that had just passed by.

    Gracias, I’ll just walk,” I said.

    An hour and 15 minutes later, I reached Normandie. I never thought it would be that far. Jun’s office was at the corner of Wilshire and Normandie.

    The interview started on time and it was over in an hour. Going home, I took the bus. As soon as I settled into a seat, I felt tired all over…I was bone tired and felt like sleeping. Even my feet want to sleep too.

    * * *

    Nick had extended an invitation for the birthday party of his brother-in-law in San Diego. I was to meet them at the Café in the flower market. He would, however, fetch Joseph Valenciano first in Monrovia before meeting me. Joseph was a photographer at the Journal way back in Manila and we worked together before covering a beat.

    Just like me, he resigned from the publication and was trying his luck here in America. Unlike me who came alone, however, he came with his wife. Later he would go back to the Philippines to get his children and bring them all here in the states.

    It was past nine in the morning when I noticed only a Hispanic and I are waiting for a ride at a bus stop. I think my “bus stop mate” is a Mexican based on his accent. He talks to me in Spanish every now and then, not having the slightest idea that I don’t speak his language. He obviously mistook me as a Hispanic too probably because of my brown complexion, thick mustache, and black hair. I cannot remember anymore how many times I had been mistaken for an “eme” – Filipinos slang for Mexican.

    I tried to humor him by making short replies using the few Spanish words I know, which I think is why he never stopped talking to me.

    Suddenly, a car pulled over in front of us and the driver, who is another Hispanic, offered us a lift. He said there is no bus coming. I didn’t fully understand what he meant. He insisted on giving us a lift but I politely turned down the gesture because if I went with them, my bus stop mate, who by now had climbed in that bloke’s car; would continue talking to me in Spanish. I wouldn’t be able to stand that and I might freak out so I stayed behind.

    Still no bus came. It was already 11:00 am. Then I belatedly realized that the metro bus drivers are on strike!

    As I was figuring out how I could get to Nick’s place, a white van driven by Fred pulled over. He was delivering Thalia’s newspapers to mom-and- pop stores.

    There are no buses coming,” Fred shouted as he rolled down the right-side window.

    Yeah, I know. I’ve been here more than an hour. Can you bring me to 7th Street? I’ve an appointment there. Please…I’m almost late.”

    I knew he wouldn’t refuse me. He knew I was jobless.

    C’mon,” he said.

    * * *

    Nick drove us to Mira Misa in San Diego with Joseph already with us.

    Along the way, Nick pointed to the border patrols along the highway trying to spot illegal immigrants crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. The movie “Born in East LA.” crossed my mind and a smile glistened on my face. I am reminded of the movie’s ending with the entire population of Mexico appearing from the mountain, surging down to cross the border. I knew when that happens the border patrols would be helpless to prevent the deluge of border crosser.

    Nick joked that if I didn’t have my passport with me I might be left behind, as cars exiting San Diego are being randomly checked. I took note of what he said even if it was only a joke. I have nothing to worry as I had my California ID to show.

    We went around San Diego, took photographs of the port, walked on the Colorado Ferry, visited the Sea World, explored the farmlands of Ramona Valley, and spent the night there. Before heading home the following day, Nick bought Dudley’s date nut raisin bread at Dudley’s store and gave Joseph and I a piece. The bread is something special he wants us to take home and try.

    * * *

    I had been out of work for over three weeks now. I hadn’t made a serious move to look for a job since I am expecting the Arizona job anytime.

    Jun offered to pay me for any article that I will write for Lifestyle. I felt no need to rush a decision. I also thought of going back to the Asian Journal if the Arizona offer didn’t come to fruition.

    Desmond said the deal is almost in the bag with the needed documents already sent. The only thing lacking is the appraiser’s report. It is just a matter of time and Desmond will take over the hotel. However, if the take over took another month more, I am afraid I could no longer sustain myself and my family in the Philippines.

    Since I lost my job, I had been subsisting on bread, hard-boiled eggs, instant noodles and canned food. I didn’t know how to cook so I had to contend myself with what is readily available to eat.

    I am lucky if, on weekends, a friend will invite me to lunch or dinner for that is the only time I could have a decent meal. I don’t have enough money for myself, much more send anything to my family. I am afraid that if this dire situation continues, I will just take any job that will come along and forget that I have a commitment with Desmond.

    I realized loyalty to my commitment will make me hungry. I suddenly remember what an old friend once said “there are times one has to eat his principle.”

    Yes, I have committed myself to work for Desmond but I didn’t know it will take this long and I think I could no longer wait. With no one to turn to, I am now having second thoughts about my commitment. I am already thinking of applying to the Asian Journal. There are times when one is pressed against the wall and hunger is knocking, one’s principle flies out of the window.

    * * *

    I will never forget September 21, 1972. It was the date when freedom died in my country. For it was the date when the late Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law. It was also the date when a lot of my friends in college went to the mountains or underground to become freedom fighters. (When one goes underground in the Philippines—we say he went to the mountains). Unfortunately, some of them were later caught while others were killed in one sided encounters or just summarily executed by the military.

    In my case, I didn’t see any reason to leave. I stayed put and continue teaching at the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC). However, there were some who didn’t wish me to be there and started maliciously accusing me of so many things behind my back that I have no way to rebut it.

    At that time, you could be anything and not be able to do anything. The dictator installed school administration “encouraged” us to resign because of the derogatory rumors started by some unidentified individuals, who obviously have vested interest, or members of groups that are inherently unfriendly with me and the progressive members of the college faculty.

    I ignored the directives and continue reporting for work because there is no truth to the circulating rumors. This prompted the school management to summarily dismiss me from my job.

    Nevertheless, the “witch-hunt” didn’t stop with my termination. The school administration, also “removed” from my academic records the units I earned from the fifth year of my Political Science course and the six units I earned in my Masters in Business Administration. It also purged from my record, the number of years I taught in college.

    I am still wondering today why they left my college degree alone. Perhaps it is because if they took away my college degree, that would most likely earn me a spot at the Guinness World of Records as someone who taught in college with only a high school degree as credential.

    After martial law, the PCC was renamed Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

    * * *

    By chance, September 21 is also Desmond’s birthday. Thus it is easy for me to remember his natal day since I associated it with the day Martial Law was declared.

    We had a birthday bash at the Red Dragon, a bar on Eagle Rock Boulevard. A lawyer friend from Sacramento came and so did Crisologo. We started with several rounds of beer and a whole order of roasted chicken as appetizers. Just as when we had enough, Desmond’s mobile phone rang. It was Tracy, the real estate broker.

    Desmond’s eyes gleamed. Tracy wanted him to take over the hotel as soon as possible. The only remaining hitch is the final word from the private lender. Desmond’s grin is from ear to ear. I felt excited as I saw my job is on the way.

    * * *

    I moved out of the room I was renting and stored my things at Desmond’s house. I was to travel with him the following day to Bullhead City to finally take control of the hotel.

    Desmond’s friend and former business colleague Rommel Burgos at Wells Fargo joined us in our trip to Arizona. They had worked together in the same collection department of the bank.

    Rommel ‘s job is to take a look at the accounting books to see how it performed during the time of the Cagneys.

    In a later meeting attended by James and Barbara, their son Jesse and Ramon; Tracy, Desmond, Rommel and I; the Cagneys agreed to transfer the property to Desmond as soon as the lender releases the money.

    But actually, the Cagneys, in principle, have already agreed to turn over the hotel management to Desmond even without the lender’s money yet. They badly wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility of managing the hotel, since by now both of them are becomig sickly.

    The Cagneys consented to Desmond’s proposal to have me stay at the hotel while they waited for the money so I could learn the mechanics of its operation and thus insure a smooth transition. I got a room on the first floor.

    As earlier planned by Desmond, once the transfer of the hotel’s ownership became official, he will submit a proposal to the US Department of Health and Human Services seeking the conversion of the entire ground floor into an assisted-retirement hotel.

    * * *

    While the three of us were drinking beer one cool evening, a heated discussion erupted between Desmond and Rommel. That meeting revealed to me what kind of a business operator Desmond is – suspicious, irritable and coarse. He is like someone lacking in human-relation skills.

    During that exchange, Desmond often flares up and raises his voice even if it was only the three of us in the hallway.

    Nobody is indispensable to me. The more reason to fire Allan,” he yelled after I mentioned that James, in an earlier meeting, said we might be sorry if we let Allan go.

    Allan was the maintenance man whom the Cagneys had trusted for years. He could fix almost anything—air conditioners, boiler machines, washing machines, vending machines, lighting systems and even cars. It is only when Allan couldn’t do the job that someone from the outside will be called.

    Desmond’s attitude towards Allan made it clear to me that he didn’t like him, although they have not met yet. He seems furious every time Allan was referred to by us as a “Jack-of-all-trades.”

    You see the cigarette butts in this ashtray…it has never been disposed of. This is his duty…he’s not doing his job. I would call the manager’s attention if this ashtray is not cleaned.” Desmond said with an air of sarcasm.

    You’ll involve yourself on this little thing. Why not delegate that to your men, instead of you bullshitting your manager. It only shows you don’t trust your people, your manager,” Rommel argued.

    That’s the way I am.”

    That only shows you are a dictator,” Rommel retorted.

    It angered Desmond once more and further raises his voice.

    Rommel fires back.

    There are only three of us here, why you have to shout? If the guests hear us, they’ll never come back to this hotel. You asked me to observe. I’m giving my opinion and you’re getting mad. I’m saying this, because I want to help,” Rommel said as he started humming a song to change the mood of the discussion.

    But Desmond continue to argue. He wants to be proven right, that he is on top of the situation.

    Rommel pretended not hear anything. He just kept on humming.

    When Desmond threw a question at him, Rommel childishly shot back, “No comment.”

    We retreated to our respective rooms at four in the morning.

    A moment later, Rommel knocked on my door. He didn’t want to stay in his room, saying he was disappointed with Desmond’s attitude. With two beds in my room, he slept in the other one.

    In the morning, Desmond and Rommel drove back to Los Angeles and I was left alone learning the ropes of the hotel operation.

    James and Barbara individually took turns briefing me about the hotel’s operation. However, they requested that I go slow or play low-key as the staff might not be ready for a new management.

    They know you’re here for a reason, but they don’t know what. Play it low-key. If they learn we’re selling the property they might do something rash and then we’d be in a bind. You know what I mean,” James said.

    Barbara expressed similar concern, although with less ease.

    She said, “I don’t want to say this and I don’t want to lie to you or to them. But you know Linda had just resigned and Therese had suddenly gone on a long vacation. We don’t want to lose people. Somehow, we have to tell them that you’re only here for a specific purpose.”

    James briefed me on their vendors. Showing me a file of business cards, he told me how they were to be contacted and who shall I deal with. He also promised to get me acquainted with the keys to the building, assuring me that even when they have formally turned over the property, they would still make themselves available until the hotel was successful.

    Barbara, for her part, enlightened me about the telephone systems—how to answer and relay calls, how to lock and unlock the telephone in every room. She explained how the phone color coding works and how they are coded for the different rooms – red for two queen beds, yellow for one queen bed, pink for weekly and green for nightly, which could be anywhere from two to four nights.

    She also said advance payment is asked on check-in along with a $5 key deposit. A deposit of $10 for use of the telephone is also required. The money is stapled on the guest’s card and returned to the guest if not used.

    The rule of thumb is to get people who walked in to stay—except for young residents of Bullhead, who are diplomatically denied admissions. For tax purposes they add $10.75 in taxes, Barbara said.

    Policy on weekends is flexible to maintain guests instead of having none. For transients, we encourage weekly instead of monthly. There are no refunds for unused days when guest decides to leave earlier,” she further said.

    For cash, the clerk on duty prepares a daily report of cash count and places it in a bag provided for the purpose. The bag is dropped in a box before the clerk leaves the post. In the morning, Barbara retrieves all three bags.

    If the money doesn’t tally with the report prepared by the clerk, the difference will be deducted from the clerk’s salary if the amount cannot be produced on the spot,” Barbara said adding, however, that there had been no such incidents.

    The clerk on duty reports 15 minutes ahead of time for a smooth shift turnover. A $300 petty cash fund is maintained in the cash register. No amount, however small, is taken from the register without her authorization. If she authorizes it, her initials will appear on the paper.

    Barbara said the TV monitors are kept out of sights so guests won’t be aware they are being monitored. She also briefed me on how telephone charges are added to the bill, which are higher than average. Such method discourages guests from using the phone. If they do, the use of the phone becomes profitable.

    I walked over to the Golden Nuggets Leisure Living one afternoon—an assisted living retirement apartment—some two blocks away from the Bullhead Hotel, along Highway 95 to get as much information I could on how a retirement facility operates.

    The sun is burning hot. I guess the temperature is over a hundred degree. I could hardly stand the heat, I dashed inside the facility.

    I met and talk with Donald Fester, the administrator of Golden Nuggets, I pretended to be looking for a place for my parents. He said my parents would have to undergo medical examination, including x-ray exam to see if they were free from tuberculosis. The x-ray results would determine whether they could be admitted or not.

    * * *

    Desmond’s constant calls to check on what I had been doing easily irked me. Suddenly, I no longer have the reason to stay on this job. Worse, I didn’t have any money as Desmond and Rommel left for Los Angeles without leaving me any cash, only some food bought at a nearby Wal-Mart.

    Bullhead is terribly hot. It is like a ghost town. There are very few people I could see on the street. I was not enjoying my stay or my job. Had it not been for the air-conditioner in the room, I would have been burning like hell.

    * * *

    Monday, I saw on television the news of the Kursk submarine going down the sea. It was reportedly the most advanced submarines in the Russian fleet.(13)

    Reports disclosed that “the likely causes of the sinking of the Russian sub could be due to an internal explosion or the submarine may have hit an object near the surface, plunged to the bottom of the sea and exploded. The fate of the 118 crew reported all trapped was still unknown.”

    (12) Wildernet-everything outdoors. Inyo National Forest-General Information. Retrieved from http://wildernet.com/pages/area.cfm?area

    (13) Moscow finally accepts fuel leak sparked Kursk disaster by Ian Traynor in Moscow, The Guardian-World News, July 1, 2002.

    Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/jul/02/ kursk.russia

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #11

    August 30th, 2017

    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.

    (11th installment)

    Chapter 10

    My adventure in search of a better and stable job in America brought me to the not so famous Bullhead City—a small and quiet but thriving community in Arizona’s Mojave County—the southern gateway to Lake Mojave.

    Before it became prosperous, Bullhead City was originally a construction camp for workers building the Davis Dam in the 1940’s.

    On a warm summer day, temperature on Bullhead City could easily shoot up to 118 degrees in minutes although the normal temperature is around 80 to 90 degrees.

    From October to December, strong winds, which the locals call “sandstorm,” would, once in a while, come around especially when the winds are really really strong. But this is a seldom occurrence even if Arizona is a state in the middle of a desert.

    In winter, people from as far as the east coast move to Bullhead. Residents call them snow-birds after the fowls that migrate west during the cold season. When the snowbirds arrive, the small quiet city of Bullhead becomes abuzz and very much alive with people from everywhere.

    Arizona is an ideal place to retire thus many seniors choose to stay. Bullhead City is one of those many places in Arizona that retirees love and prefer.

    Bullhead has the desert landscapes of Nevada and Arizona. It is a starting point to many attractions like the Grand Canyon, the Ghost Town of Calico and the blue waters of the Colorado River, where people can swim, cruise on boats, ride a jet-ski or simply fish.

    Not far from Bullhead are the Laughlin casinos, located on the west bank of the Colorado River. It is a five-minute drive from the Bullhead Hotel. Visitors can enjoy the 11 casino resorts and the many restaurants and hotels in Laughlin.

    Golf is another popular outdoor past time in Bullhead.

    * * *

    Desmond wanted me to see for myself the hotel he’s been boasting to take over. The Bullhead Hotel was perched on top of a hill overlooking Bullhead City. I went with him to see what I was getting into, since he wanted me to work for him. He said he would make me vice president for administration and operation.

    I remember the last time we talked, he said I would be his administrator. It seems to me that I’m always getting promoted whenever we have a chat. He also promised to work on my immigration papers by directly going through the labor certification process.

    “As long as there is a US. company willing to take you in, you’ll have no problem,” he assured.

    I found out that the Bullhead Hotel was a three-story 81-room hotel sitting on a hill along Highway 95 and Arcadia Boulevard in Bullhead City.

    The couple James and Barbara Cagney have been running the hotel for almost 12 years. Well kept, the Bullhead Hotel still looks new despite its being more than a decade old. The Cagneys wanted to get rid of it because they could no longer attend to its daily operation.

    James had been plagued by a four-month hip surgery that had gone wrong after the doctor the totally forgot to bolt his new hip before sewing him back. Due to the negligence, James suffered unbearable pains whenever he moved. Thus he had to undergo another surgery to have his hips taken cared of so the pain would go away. To make his situation rather complicated, James also had to undergo a quadruple bypass to make new blood pathways for his already clogged heart.

    Meanwhile, Barbara had been grappling with breast tumor, which she said might be malignant. Both James and Barbara wanted to spend their remaining days in retirement. Their two sons had lives of their own—the elder boy was busy with his career as a movie actor while the younger one was looking forward to his first professional fight as a wrestler.

    Desmond got hold of the unwanted hotel through a Los Angeles couple, who were friends of Tracy Lewis, a real estate broker. For their effort, Desmond agreed to give the couple a 50 percent share as partners in the operation of the property.

    The first plan is to have the property mortgaged for $2.1 million, of which $1 million will be used to pay the Cagney’s debt, $600,000 will go to the Cagneys while the remaining $500,000 will go to Desmond’s account for the hotel operation.

    The second plan is to convert the entire ground floor into a retirement home and present it to the federal government, who could infuse $4 to $4.5 million for its operation. Part of the government money will also be used to pay off the mortgage.

    What intrigued me was how Desmond could buy a hotel with little money—or maybe none at all. It really puzzled me how such a property could be acquired.

    * * *

    One weekend, just before Desmond and I drove back to Los Angeles, we tried our luck in gambling and went to the Golden Nugget and Pioneer casino. Desmond tried the slot machines while I played my usual card game—blackjack.

    For a few dollars we brought in, we went home empty-handed.

    * * *

    I sought a writer’s job at the Asian Journal publication. I didn’t make any appointment with the owner and told the lady in the reception area, who I presumed, was the secretary of the publisher, a friend of Chito and with whom he had made an earlier arrangement for me to meet.

    I handed my application and a few clips of published articles. She told me I would be informed of the interview as soon as she had cleared it up with the publisher.

    Though there was the Arizona job offer, I gave the newspaper a try to appease Chito, who had been nagging me to see his owner-friend.

    After three days, I phoned the Asian Journal, upon Chitos’ prodding. I was able to talk with the owner’s wife, who had set the interview at nine in the morning the following day. She was the president and executive editor of Asian Journal.

    Suddenly, I felt like not going anymore. It came to me that I am only creating another unnecessary problem as I would be now choosing between the Arizona and publication job. Yet I didn’t want to disappoint my friend so I went nevertheless.

    * * *

    Roger Oriel met me at the doorway. I didn’t see his wife, with whom I originally had an appointment with. She was experiencing pains from her pregnancy, I was told. Roger’s brother was with him and as soon as we got down to business, they went over my resume and sample writings, I didn’t feel any nervousness at all. I was very relaxed.

    “You have impressive credentials. It would be a waste if with your talent you could not get the right job. I don’t know how my wife can reshuffle some of her staff to have you.”

    He gave me a tour of their two-story building, introducing me to his staff. I was overwhelmed by the way he treated me as an applicant.

    “My wife is now the one in-charge of Asian Journal. I just started an Internet business, which I’m managing. My employees are a mixture of different races, whereas Asian Journal has mostly Filipinos.”

    Roger promised to get in touch with me before I left.

    * * *

    With the prospect of working for either the Bullhead Hotel or the Asian Journal, all I need was a good exit pass to get out of Thalia’s publication. I couldn’t tell her I was quitting. I also knew that she wouldn’t accept my resignation. It would be better if she fires me. She wouldn’t feel betrayed.

    I know that all the blunders I had made in the past were enough to get me fired but Thalia curiously never did. I knew there had to be a way to convince her to let me go.

    * * *

    I just stared at the newspaper I was working on without reading it. My mind had been so preoccupied with so many things—my current job, the Bullhead offer, the prospect of writing for the Asian Journal, my status, my family and even how to exit from Thalia’s publication without her getting mad at me.

    I went to work but my heart was not a hundred percent onto it. I continue to change the runners* on the board. (*Runners—editorial desk term—are the topmost part of a newspaper’s page where the name of the paper, date and page numbers are printed.) There were three newspapers I had to work on—the Tribune Weekly, the Lithuanian Bulletin, and the Thai Times.

    The pages in each of the three newspapers ran from 1-42. It’s a lot of work, especially when you’re working with all the newspapers at the same time. I am now feeling the pressure, which I normally didn’t feel.

    * * *

    The next morning, the vice president of operations called my attention.

    “What happened to your runners?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “They were a mess,” she said looking at me surreptitiously. “Go look.”

    I got hold of the papers. The runners had been changed from pages 1-22 but the old runners remained from pages 23-34, meaning that the date had not been changed.

    The runners from the succeeding pages 35-42 had also been changed. And the mistakes occurred in all three of the newspapers.

    “Oh my gosh!” I mumbled to myself in shock.

    “Now, tell me what really happened?” she asked as if she now had me cornered.

    “I was changing the runners on each board when Sarah gave me several ads to work on. When I resumed working on the dummy boards, I might have forgotten I was changing the runners and did something else,” I said adding “Sarah and Bob, who were supposed to double check my work didn’t notice the errors on the runners. When I delivered the dummy boards to the darkroom man, he ran them as is.”

    There was an uncomfortable silence between us. She stared at me like I have the errors intentionally done. She turned her back and left. After that, I just waited for the ax to fall.

    One of the account executives, who is a friend of mine, told me to hang on.

    “Just keep your job steady. Stay where you are and don’t leave yet.”

    As I continued working in the editorial room, I did not hear anything from Thalia. She probably wasn’t aware of the errors yet. When it was time to go home, Bob asked in whisper if I would still report for work the following day.

    “I will. I’ll face the music. If Thalia gives me a tongue- lashing, so be it. But if she threatens me with anything, I’ll just walk out.” I went home without hearing a word of reprimand from Thalia.

    * * *

    Joe finally left for the Philippines. A driver of Forex balikbayan boxes, who is a common friend of ours, saw him off at the Los Angeles Airport.

    Joe took the 11:45 pm. Philippine Airlines flight.

    As the driver and I were heading back to Eagle Rock Boulevard in his white balikbayan delivery van, he peppered me with questions that I thought was unfriendly, if not rude and mean.

    “Do you have a wife?”

    “Yes.”

    “She must be shorter than you are?”

    “Not really,” I said. “In fact, I had girlfriends who were much taller than me.”

    Outright, I sensed he was prying on my infirmity. I am very sensitive about it.

    “You have a child?” he went on.

    “A daughter.”

    “Does she have any abnormalities?”

    That pissed me off.

    I retorted sarcastically “She is tall, she is always among the top ten in her Montessori class, she is pretty, alert, and could already read books and recite poems at the age of five or six. If that is a sign of abnormality, probably she is abnormal.”

    “You know this kind of abnormality is hereditary,” he persisted because he obviously didn’t or refused to understand what I just said.

    “How could it be hereditary? I wasn’t born with this defect. I got it through an accident when I was young.”

    I was now blunt and angry and the tone of my voice had changed from friendly to adversarial. He shut up for a little while, then changed the subject matter of the conversation and continued driving home.

    * * *

    While I was cleaning the mess Joe had made of my room, I saw from the papers he had left that he had at least $11,000 or about half a million peso in bank statements. He saved that amount during the last two years of his stay. He almost saved his entire salary of $758.00 a month.

    By December 1998, Joe had about $4,195. About a year after, his bank balance was $9,519. When he left, he had with him $11,562 in all.

    How did he managed to save that much in so short a time? Simple. He only spend what he needed to. He clipped discount coupons from newspapers to save cash. Whenever he went out with friends, they graciously wouldn’t allow him to chip in.

    Joe slept at his friends’ house, in the publication office and sometimes even at his employer’s house to avoid paying house rent. There were people who gave him anything— from used clothing to books, from used computers to printers and other appliances and money.

    When his petition was about to expire, he asked Thalia not to renew it. He didn’t want another three agonizing years of working with her.

    “I don’t want to be here in September when it rains. I don’t want to go up there on the roof painting asbestos while it’s raining. That’s where I got sick. That is why I almost died.”

    He asked Thalia to just let him go home, where he said he could be more useful to his town mates.

    “I plan to open a mini-theater in the house, since we don’t have a theater in town,” he replied when pressed by her boss why he didn’t want his petition renewed.

    He admitted that he wants to give the mini-theater business a try. With his last paycheck, he bought a DVD player and an amplifier.

    “I could earn money with these,” he said.

    * * *

    Thalia’s secretary rushed to our room to see if I was there. The Day of Judgment had come. It was the first of September. She spoke in a very soft voice saying Thalia wanted me in her office.

    As I faced her, Thalia spoke in her usual supple voice like that of a dainty woman. She said because of the errors, they weren’t able to collect the accounts. Her eyes didn’t grow large this time as they usually did. She was calm and very composed.

    “I know…I’m sorry…I take full responsibility.” I said.

    She asked if I knew the consequence of what I did. I didn’t answer. Silence followed for about ten seconds until she threw another question at me, asking about my papers.

    “If you want, I can follow it up with the lawyer,” I said.

    But there was nothing to follow up. I had withdrawn the petition. I did not want my journalist visa jeopardized by having her petitioned me for I knew about her mood swings. It was good that I changed my mind, otherwise, this incident could have screwed me up.

    Besides, my friends warned me not to let her file my petition because she would have the last say over my status and kill the petition whenever she wanted to. I didn’t tell her that I had requested the law firm to defer the filing of my H-1B petition, until I withdrew it.

    Either she didn’t know, or she was just playing with me.

    Thalia is known to fire employees at the flip of her fingers. Although many believed that she is a shrewd employer, a few said Thalia also had a soft heart and she is actually not bad.

    Apparently trying to look good this time, she offered me something that she does not usually offer – to continue sponsoring my petition.

    She said she will not withdraw her petition for me even as she encouraged me to look for another job. She assured that I’ll have no problem with her.

    “Thank you,” I said in the most humble way that I could manage.

    As she handed my last paycheck, she asked for my phone number, saying that they might need my service again sometime.

    “I don’t have a phone. I’ll just get in touch with you,” I said.

    When you broke up with a person, you don’t have to give your phone number to them anymore, do you? On second thoughts, maybe she was really empathizing with me. She looked sincere with her gesture. I could appreciate that. In fact, I really seemed to feel her compassion.

    After lunch, Franco came to my desk. He placed his hands on my shoulders and stood close to me. I could feel his breathing, the smell of his perfume and his friendliness.

    “How are you, my friend?”

    “Fine, no problem.”

    “What no problem?”

    “Yup, no problem. I’m okay.”

    “I mean, didn’t Thalia talk to you?”

    “Yeah, I told her it was my fault. The buck stops with me.”

    “You didn’t apologize to keep her from letting you go?”

    “I recognized my errors…I must go.”

    “Or is it that you’ve been looking for a job lately…that’s why you conveniently committed those errors?”

    Bull’s eye, he got it. But of course, I showed him a poker face.

    “Oh, c’mon,” I said, feigning my disgust with his blunt insinuation.

    “How could I do that when I stayed in the office from morning till night?”

    But he was right; I had been scouting for a job. For several months I had been pondering on how to quit without Thalia getting back at me. The mistakes gave me the door.

    “You have a number? Where do you live?”

    He didn’t want me to go. But I also couldn’t give him my number, much more my address. I didn’t want to take risk with anybody. Yet I could very well sense Franco was making the most of his last opportunity to be nice with me, although in fairness, he had always been nice to me.

    “I’ll be the one to get in touch with you,” I assured him. He pulled out his wallet and I raised my hands in surrender.

    “No, no, no. Don’t do that.”

    “This does not mean anything. I just want to give it to you. If you will not accept it, I won’t talk to you anymore.”

    I pocketed Franco’s $100 bill.

    I saw my colleagues —Kristina, Bob, Sarah, and Fernando —- for the last time.

    Sarah’s eyes were teary. I knew Kristina had talked to her before me but she didn’t say anything. She just wept.

    “Why can she do these things to us?” she said as she broke down.

    Kristina consoled her. I grabbed my backpack. Bob placed his hand over my shoulder, accompanied me to the door while Fernando waved goodbye.

    I threw a last glance at Sarah and Kristina, who were staring at me with so much sadness in their face.

    Hurriedly, I turned my back and hollered: “I’ll miss you guys!”

    * * *

    In the evening, “the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed the NBA championship finals in Game six (4-2) from the Indiana Pacers at home court at the Staples Center, 116-111.

    The win gave the Lakers its seventh trophy. Like their last game with the Trail Blazers, the Lakers also came from behind during the last two or so minutes to win the title.

    The tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobi Bryant were too much for the Pacers. Coach Phil Jackson’s entry into the Lakers was a big factor. He gave the Bulls its seven championship trophies.”

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #10

    July 23rd, 2017

    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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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #9

    May 14th, 2017

    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.

    (9th installment)

    Chapter 8

    It is Father’s Day and I am away from my loved ones. I got a card from my eldest sister in the Philippines, encouraging me to always make myself busy so I would not worry about them. The card bore her signature as well as that of my mother, two other sisters and my younger brother.

    While it is a joy receiving messages of thoughtfulness and expression of love from them on a special occasion like today, I also felt sad and at the same time was engulfed with guilt for I left them for the “greener pastures” of America, thousands of miles away.

    Three days later, I got another mail. It was from my daughter. In the envelope were two letters, one from my loving seven-year-old Steff and the other one from my 80 year old mother. Steff’s letter was written on a grade school notepad.

    Dear Papa,

    Hellow! How are you today? Nagpadala ako ng card para sa’yo. Happy, happy Father’s day! Take care of yourself. I always love you! Love and care, Steff.”

    At the bottom, she added:

    Sorry papa kung pangit at hindi mo maintindihan ang sulat ko kasi hindi ako marunong magsulat sa papel na walang linya. Is it okay? (I am sorry Papa if my handwriting is bad and you can’t understand it. I don’t know how to write on paper without lines. Is it okay?)”

    I was all smiles. I read her letter over and over again even if I knew she was coached to write it. Seeing her hand writing and knowing how hard she tried scribbling every word made me happy. It was so sweet and I can’t help but become teary-eyed. I really miss my daughter so much that I pasted her letter on the wall of my room so I could see it every day.

    Thinking of my daughter most of the times made me “crazy.” I felt a strong urge to see her and to be with her. Many times, I really felt like going home so I could talk with her.

    How are you now, Steff? Are you still that playful child, always with a smile on your face? I miss you so much, honey. Remember when you wanted me to play that song, ‘Gina’ by Johnny Mathis? You would stand on the center table. you will embrace and ask me for a dance? I will then hold you close to me and you wouldn’t complain. You enjoyed every moment of it. I also miss what you sometimes do early in the morning, when you sit down on my tummy to wake me up.”

    I remember all those things. I remember how you’d run to me when I come home early. I miss the soft voice of yours that I always hear every time I called you from work. I miss hearing you say ‘I love you, Papa.’ I also miss taking you to the mall and the bookstore where you always go to the children’s book section, prodding me to buy you one.”

    You loved those fairy tales and your favorite was Thumbelina. I enjoy my stay at home with you, especially when you ask me to help you read the books that we bought. I was so proud of you. I never felt this way about anyone else, I knew you would always be a bright girl.”

    I also remember that I seldom hear you cry perhaps that’s because I never made you cry! Aha, but I think it is more likely that you were just like your mother, who had a strong tolerance for pain.

    “When you were three, I remember not hearing you cry when you accidentally sat on one of the hot pot in the canteen and burned your bottom. Later, in Cavite, you scraped yourself when you touched the running wheel of a sidecar. I knew that was painful but again I didn’t hear you cry. You just stared at me, standing by the door with blood dripping from your hand.”

    I miss the way you pretended playing the piano, as if you knew how. Every time I saw you doing it my heart would burst with joy.”

    I loved it whenever you came home from school and bragged that you got a perfect score, saying ’10 over 10 or 20 over 20′ when really it was more like 9 over 10 or 18 over 20. Of course, sometimes you did really get perfect scores as you were consistently in the top ten of your Montessori class.”

    I miss all of those. Steff, you’re a bright girl.”

    “I’m sorry I left at a time when you needed me most. I enrolled you in a Montessori class so at least you could have the best education. I even got you a tutor for your studies but I knew that was not a substitute for my absence. I had to leave to find ways to take care of your and our needs.”

    Leaving you, I lost the golden opportunity to help develop that intellect of yours. I knew someday you will blame me for leaving you at your tender age, the same way your brother John blamed me for having left him early on.”

    I didn’t like any of it, but it was the only way we could survive. Many nights I suffered the pain of missing you and the rest of our family. I had to overcome the pain otherwise I wouldn’t be able to provide you with a decent life and a good future.”

    I hope when the time comes you will understand me. Perhaps with this book, you’ll someday find the answers to your questions. I always pray to God’s asking for his help so that you may be provided with the spiritual and moral guidance you need as you grow into this world. I love you so much, Stephanie. I wish I could see you soon.”

    I saw Chito in tears. He was getting himself drunk with shots of Whiskey one after the other while bowling at the Jewel City in Glendale. He couldn’t believe he’d get dumped. He only shook his head when I asked who it was.

    A woman?”

    He stared at me like as if he didn’t know me. I noticed his face had turned red and his eyes swollen. Tears were rolling down his face.

    Something is wrong with my pancreas,” he finally talked. Knowing how often he lied in the short period I had known him, I did not take him seriously. He had that penchant for inventing stories. He was a natural story teller. Indeed, it is so easy to weave a story out of nothing.

    My doctor said its terminal and if I don’t cooperate, I might only live a year. If you had a year to live, what would you do?” he asked.

    I’d make the most out of it, make friends with everybody,” I said.

    Yeah right,” he murmured quietly.

    I could have gone home at that point but I stayed with him following the motions of his bowling buddies to that effect. Nevertheless, we left after a short while.

    While riding home with him, I saw the sadness in his face. He appeared dejected or maybe it is just the drinks that I have, I don’t know. But his face couldn’t hide whatever troubles he had.

    At home, he was surprisingly sweet to his wife. I saw how nice he is to her. He even gave her a hundred dollars for their daughter’s tuition in the Philippines.

    Add this to the money you’ll send,” he told her.

    She was unaware of Chito’s problem, although she knew he had been complaining of back pains.

    I’m in good health,” he said when she asked what was bothering him. He had his checkup he told her but didn’t give the name of the clinic or the doctor’s name. She pressed him for details and as usual he had a ready answer.

    It’s a certain Dr. Shokel, I don’t know.”

    Even the name of the doctor, I felt was a concoction of his imagination.

    Chito went to bed while I settled on the couch.

    In the morning, we went to his office in Encino, a law firm. Abramowitz, his boss, was there and he threw a glance at me prompting me to say I’m with Chito.” I waited in the reception room reading Essence magazines and it was about one in the afternoon when he came out.

    On the way home, he again said his back pains might be coming from his pancreas.

    All the more you should see your doctor,” I said, although I was sure my advice went into deaf ears.

    I spent another night with them. It was still foggy when we left in the morning. He drove straight to Echo Park, where we took two brisk laps around the park. It’s a good place to exercise or take a walk with the lake in the center and the high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles in full view in the background.

    The lotus flowers were in full bloom on one side of the lake. A group of Chinese camera enthusiasts were taking photographs of the lotus from all imaginable angles.

    I suddenly remember the days when I was still into photography. Just like them, I had a bag of lenses with at least two or three cameras hanging from my shoulder and a tripod in my hand, doing exactly what they are doing.

    Upon reaching my home, Chito thanked me profusely for providing him company.

    It’s me who should thank you,” I said as I get off from his SUV.

    Thank you,” he insisted as he sped away from my view.

    Desmond was with some people when I saw him in a restaurant.

    As he saw me came in, he invited me to join them. I sat next to him. He bragged that he was buying a hotel in Arizona and would convert its ground floor into a retirement facility. It seems he was trying to impress the people with him and probably me because he suddenly gave me a wink. 

    You’ll be my administrator,” he said.

    The discussion went on between Desmond and the people he was with but what they were talking about didn’t interest me. I was a bit skeptical of his grand plan. 

    I relayed the matter to Chito and he too was skeptical.

    Any high school graduate can be an administrator. Why not a PR officer instead?”

    Chito couldn’t recommend me to Abramowitz as his assistant, saying his employer might suspect he was leaving the firm, which, in fact, is the case.

    This isn’t the best time to do it,” he said, but I barely heard him.

    Even when told the truth, my eyes glazed over him. That’s the problem with a friend who always cry wolf. Worse, he says one thing and does another. Mind you, he could be a good poker player for you’ll never read him.

    Joe’s eyes were red and misty while we were having coffee at Burger King.

    Why don’t you take your coffee, it’ll get cold,” I suggested, pretending I didn’t notice anything. He grabbed a napkin, wiped his face and eyes. Now I sensed he wanted to cry but he was holding it back.

    We’re like fools! She’ll pay for this.” Joe’s voice was cracking. It was the first time I saw him on the verge of tears.

    If you’re thinking of getting even with her don’t forget her sidekick,” I joked, trying to humor him.

    I wouldn’t do that. I’ve got better things to do in the Philippines. I had served her. I don’t need the green card. I came here just to work. That’s all.”

    What if she renews your visa?”

    She told me to see the lawyer a month ago, I didn’t. She could have told me a long time ago, but she didn’t. Now, I’ve decided to leave, she tells me to work on my papers. Shit!”

    It was over with Joe. He’d leave the company by the end of July but would stay with me a few more days. He hadn’t been to San Francisco in the three years he’d been in America. He wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge before leaving for the Philippines.

    On July 4, Fernando and I attended a get-together party at our friend’s house. I handed Desmond a bottle of Jim Bean and a bag of ice cubes. He was readying the big television set for a video showing of the hotel he was buying in Arizona.

    Fernando was surprised when he learned about the big project. The entire first floor would be converted into a retirement facility for the elderly, Desmond bragged, while at the same time announcing that he is making me the hotel’s administrator.

    I heard it again. This time I wasn’t sure whether I like what I just heard and I guess Fernando didn’t like it too. The idea of making me the administrator of a big project was too much for him to ignore. I think it made him jealous.

    Fernando felt he had been deliberately kept out of the picture. Suddenly, he cursed me for having left him in the dark about the hotel project. He vented his ire on me.

    You and your crab mentality! I’m better than you are…”

    His sudden outburst stunned me. I tried to calm and pacify him. I even assured him that Desmond also had plans for him but he still went on with his verbal tirades.

    I held my horses even after he challenged me to a fistfight. Still I tried hard to be civil, explaining that the big hotel project was Desmond, not mine. He continued abusing me verbally.

    You’re nothing! You don’t know anything about management, you little shit.”

    That was it. The word ‘little shit’ struck a nerve. I finally reached my boiling point.

    Who do you think you are? You’re also nothing. You don’t even have a master’s degree, do you?” I blurted.

    In my anger, I said whatever came to my mind even if I didn’t have a master’s degree either.

    Desmond intervened. He talked to him and he simmered down. Fernando then hugged me, apologizing for his unreasonable outburst.

    Almost everyone in the U.S. was now engrossed as to who gets Elian on the on-going custody struggle between Juan Miguel Gonzales and Lazaro Gonzales. The Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta decided to keep Elian, fueling more heat to the already edgy situation in Miami Little Havana. In a predawn raid on order of Attorney General Janet Reno, SWAT agents barged into the Gonzalez house, grabbed the terrified boy at gunpoint in a closet with Dalrymple. Elian was reunited with his father in Washington, D.C.

    (To be continued…)

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #8

    March 11th, 2017

    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.

    romy-morales-1024x725

    (8th Installment)

    Chapter 7

    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?”

    Tomorrow.”

    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…)

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #7

    January 25th, 2017

    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.

    romy-morales-1024x725

    (7th Installment)

    PART TWO: UNDER THE TABLE ARRANGEMENT

    Chapter 6

    An illegal immigrant in America is among the most neglected and desolate member of the human specie.One of the drawbacks of being an undocumented person in the United States is the inability to afford the high cost of medical insurance and the “disqualification” to avail the welfare benefits enjoyed by legitimate residents. Thus, many “illegals” would rather starve than get medical insurance, much more medical treatment. If not for some county hospitals and clinics accommodating low income families, including illegals, many poor undocumented aliens would die in bed before they could get any medical attention.

    However, anti-illegal immigrant advocates says such claim is not true. They insist that on the contrary, it is the undocumented foreigners who are enjoying and draining the medical resources intended for legitimate residents.

    Whatever it may be, I think the bottom line is that people, documented or not, should have the right to get the proper medical attention they need. The unfortunate situation where one set of people could avail of medical services while another could not makes me wonder why there are some who want to play God over others that they determine who is to live or die.

    Thus, I consider the Queens Care Family Clinic (QCFC) on York Boulevard in Los Angeles county as a God’s blessing because it accommodates immigrants, legal or not, and gives valuable medical services. The clinic provides free consultation, checkups, treatment, and even medicine.

    Concerned over my health and the stiff cost of medical services here in America, I decided to register with the QCFC so I may have a medical record on file in case I got sick. I had the laugh of my life when some friends, who had visited the clinic, coached to do the one thing I did not have to lie about, to tell the staff I was not earning enough. As early as 8 a.m., the clinic is already swamped with patients, mostly Latinos although once in a while, I will some some Filipinos milling around.

    Dr. Steamy, an American citizen of an Irish descent, was the attending physician of the clinic. The doctor had a reputation in the Filipino community of being very accommodating and friendly, especially with Filipinos. So I went to the clinic expecting to see Dr. Steamy.

    I was very relaxed when my chance came to see her. Coming face-to-face with the doctor, I found her to be the opposite of what I’d been told. She is strict and serious, unsmiling and detached. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I thought she is only tired from seeing so many patients. It is already past lunchtime when I got to see her. My blood pressure, she said stoically, is on the borderline and that I must reduce my salt intake.

    Two days later, I felt some palpitation on the upper left side of my chest. It wasn’t actually painful but it is bothersome. Should I go to the clinic and see Dr. Steamy for a checkup? After a disappointing first encounter with her, I decided to forego and just let the palpitation subside. I didn’t go to the clinic for a check-up. Now I’ve done this many times that whenever such a strange feeling troubles me, I just slept it out in my room.

    The room I had at York Boulevard cost $225 a month. However, it comes with free cable, water, electricity, a refrigerator, and an electric stove. The room — the basement of a house — was big enough for me but too small for two persons. Inside my room, one would hear all kinds of sounds, from water being flushed in a toilet bowl, dripping water from a bath, footsteps walking here and there, falling objects, voices and even the crawling of critters. Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to get used to it. All the annoying sounds later turned like music to my ears that it easily put me to sleep. I have no choice but to make a bad situation bearable especially when I am not feeling well…I need a shelter where I could rest and sleep.

    I was ready with the documents for my H-1B petition. The friends I contacted in the Philippines helped me in securing the original copies (I only had photocopies with me) of my diploma and transcript of records. I was also able to obtain a certificate of experience from the publication and wire service where I used to work. I hoping to convince the company lawyer to file a petition for me as a writer/ journalist rather than as an editor, which was what he had in mind.

    Once I was in the lawyer’s office, his receptionist told me to entrust the documents to her, saying there was no need for me to see the barrister. I gave her the documents and paid the filing fee of $610. On my way home, I really felt uneasy for not having talked with the lawyer and leaving my documents with his receptionist. The next morning, I decided to withdraw my petition.

    Being a stranger to a new place made me seek news friends. I want to fight boredom brought about by my being alone. One day, an acquaintance gave me a name, Abigail. I called once, twice and not too long thereafter we had been “burning” the telephone lines almost every night. I would call her about eleven in the evening and we will talk for several hours. Because of our long chats, we are already quite familiar with each other by the time we met.

    When Abigail celebrated her birthday, she wanted me to come to her house in the Rampart district and join her friends for a simple party. I politely declined the invitation, telling her I couldn’t come as we normally wound up late in the evening. But I had a plan. I bought her a VHS player and asked a new acquaintance to bring and personally hand it to her. When my go between came back, he told me what happened and exclaimed, “Boy, she’s beautiful!”

    It was very late in the evening when I phoned her. She thanked me for the gift but expressed her disappointment that I didn’t show up. In response, I suggested we meet at the Griffith Park sometime but she was noncommittal.Three days later, she called about midnight and sounded very agitated. She said a couple renting one of her rooms had been delinquent in payments, enough to upset her. Moreover, she told me that she had to take some tranquilizers to calm her down. She wanted the couple to leave as soon as possible but if they won’t leave, she said she would be forced to abandon the apartment.

    “If I move, I want you to come with me!” I was taken aback, it is so soon for a live-in relationship!

    “We could just forget each other if you don’t want to live with me.” So soon an ultimatum!

    “Why don’t we meet first?” I suggested. “We could meet at Denny’s at San Fernando.”

    We agreed to a prearranged date one morning in April. I arrived 30 minutes early as I wanted to see her first. It was exactly 10 am. when her gold-colored Toyota Corolla drove into the parking lot. I immediately recognized her when she came inside. She was about 40 years old and wearing glasses. Her hair was curly and short.

    As she appeared in the doorway, she was obviously looking for me. She seems bothered and was not smiling. I was looking at her directly but she didn’t notice me. She had no idea how I look. She had expected someone would approach her and I did.

    “Abigail,” I called her name. She threw a glance at me and blankly nodded her head once. Still not talking, she made a facial gesture indicating that I should follow her which I did. Puzzled by her act, I asked as I open the car door: “Where to?”

    “I’m buying a screwdriver,” she pointedly told me. “I left my keys in the house, the door got jammed. I have to dismantle it. My son may call anytime. We hadn’t seen each other since my birthday. Remember, he got in an accident? I’ve to go back to fix it.”

    Oh my gosh! What a surprise. We just met for less than a minute and here she is wanting to go home. Everything went so fast. I was totally shock by her demeanor. Why would she want to go home as soon as she came? Or, I guess she came just to show up but got disappointed when she saw me, a not Brad Pitt look alike guy. Go ahead, I am thinking, leave by all means.

    “Call me tonight,” she said.

    “Can you drop me at K-Mart?” I asked.

    She did but before I close the car door as I came out of the car, she reminded me anew to call her. She waved as she sped away. I didn’t want to call her anymore. It was my very first frustrating experience with a Filipino-American woman.

    Juozapaz was a born-again Christian. He invited me to their church when we met at K-Mart mid-afternoon. I don’t mind going to a place of worship of any denomination. All religions are fine with me as long as they believe in one God and don’t attack other religions.

    As we entered the church sanctuary, I saw people in the congregation crying. One or two were even wailing. There were three women on the stage, two of them kneeling and crying profusely, the other was in the lectern preaching with her eyes closed. I recognized the woman in the lectern as my schoolmate in college. She is the pastor’s wife in Carson. I also saw another man weeping on the stage. People around me were also crying unabashedly. I wondered what was going on. I didn’t think I could cry in public, without any real emotional reason.

    After the service, almost everyone gave me a welcome hug and urged me to come back. One of the members explained that their group is not a religion.

    “It’s a relationship with God, like a son’s relationship with his parents,” she said.

    She encouraged me to attend the service again.

    “I might, but I don’t know when,” I said, trying my best to be as polite as possible.When night falls, I found myself walking through the rain with just a cap on my head. It was cold, really cold, but I tried to bear it all. I was shivering when I arrived home. I lay down, covered myself with a thick blanket that bought at Santee (9) and donned a bonnet to stay warm.

    I woke up the next morning with a terrible headache. My muscles are trembling and so was the rest of my body. I hadn’t had enough sleep. I went to bed again. It was 12 noon when I reported for work, still feeling weak.

    One morning, while we were buried deep in our work at the editorial office of Baltic Publication, Thalia walked in and told us not to disturb Apple, who was rushing the first edition of the Sunset Times magazine. It was a new magazine that Baltic was trying to publish.

    Apple had just been hired to handle the magazine alone. The magazine publication is already behind deadline and they are hoping Apple could catch up. We weren’t bothering him and we had nothing to do with the delay or any of its problem. It was the constant changes in the layout, the late submission of ads, and the firing of Apple’s predecessor that had caused the delay.

    Although Thalia’s insinuation was unfair, we kept our opinions to ourselves. We didn’t react right away. How could we disturb Apple in his work when we also have our own jobs to do? When she left the room, we broke into a boisterous laughter which we had been suppressing. Her sidekick saw us laughing. He was clueless as to why we were in that state of hysterics. He quickly left too, leaving the door open so Thalia could see us in that unguarded moment.

    Later, we learned from the secretary that her sidekick surreptitiously reported us to Thalia for making noise instead of working. We expected Thalia to burst in and give us a dressing down but she didn’t. We assumed she would wait another time to scold us so her sidekick wouldn’t be exposed for ratting on us.

    After three months, Apple confided that he was not being properly paid. He was paid only $480 instead of the promised $600 for two weeks of work. He also complained that this wasn’t the only time he’d gotten his pay docked.

    Thalia used Apple’s habitual tardiness as excuse for the underpayment. Apple had been taking his children to school every morning and thus comes to work late but to make up for the lost time, he will work late into the evening. He also reports on Saturdays and Sundays to catch up with the schedule of the Sunset Times.

    9 Santee Alley is a “back alley” shopping place between Maple and Santee Streets, stretching from Olympic to Pico, notorious for large concentration of knockoff designer goods, pirated DVDs, bootleg items and illegal trade of animals. It is similar to Divisoria in Manila, home to inexpensive goods and clothing as well as counterfeits merchandise. Retrieved 9/24/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion_

    However, Thalia apparently didn’t consider the extra time he is putting in.

    Apple was terribly upset while he spilled the beans on us. I tried to cheer him up with a joke, but he still appeared dejected. He then pulled out a scrap of paper with a pen and ink sketch of an alien with big wide eyes wearing a black hat.

    The alien figure was intimidating indeed. Beneath the oblong face of the alien were the words “Illegal Alien,” apparently copyrighted as ATF 1999 was written underneath. He found that scary piece of paper on the windshield of his cream-colored 87 Toyota Camry, which he had parked near the side entrance of the building. He also saw a similar message stuck in the windshield wiper of Kristina and Bob’s cars.

    Asking him whether he suspected anybody in the office, he immediately volunteered:“Yes, I have three suspects—Joe, Fernando, and Fred.”

    One by one, I analyzed the possible culprits. Even if Joe was Thalia’s stool pigeon, he wouldn’t have done it. Joe is not the kind of guy who would frighten people about their immigration status. With regards to Fernando, he is only a loudmouth—not a terrorist. Many also suspected him of being another one of Thalia’s moles, but still I couldn’t find a good reason why he would do it. I thus narrowed it down to Fred, the most talkative guy in the office and who is always warning us to be careful with the INS.

    “Fred was a little disappointed with me when I bought a car instead of getting it on lease,” Apple ventured.

    I remember it was Fred who always warns us not to discuss our status with anybody, saying those people with whom we shared information might tip the immigration and get a bounty once we get arrested.

    “So, it could be Fred,” Apple concluded.

    Three weeks later, Bob admitted he too, noticed the piece of paper on his windshield and that he saw Fred hanging around when he removed it. He said he didn’t have any inkling Fred could have done it. We kept the matter to ourselves. We feared whoever might have been making fun of our vulnerability, might really report us to the INS if we put him on the spot.

    One afternoon in June while we are having a party in the publication office, I accidentally opened Fred’s drawer and saw several pieces of papers with the drawing of the alien.

    Every time I was at my lowest moment, I feel like connecting with my family. I called my sister in Cavite to have some degree of relief and regain my sense of sanity. It was Stephanie, who picked up the phone.

    “Papa, they said I’m talkative. I’m not. They’re the ones talking to me,” she said.

    I asked for her grades and she said “My grades are 88 and 89. It’s close to 90, Papa.”

    She handed the phone to my sister, who broke the news that Stephanie had primary complex. My heart broke. I heard my daughter voice again. She thanked me for the Valentine card I sent her.

    “Mama doesn’t love you anymore because you left us.” I wasn’t able to say anything. I was thinking of her health.

    Chito and I left for Fresno one early morning to meet caregivers, who wanted to bolt out from the facility they were working at. He was to sign them up so the law firm he was working with could handle their immigration cases and move them to Fountain View, another facility for the elderly citizens in Los Angeles that he had connection with.

    After about an hour’s drive aboard a van provided by Fountain View, we had breakfast at Carl’s Jr in Gorman. The place has an elevation of 4,000 feet and it snows here whenever it is winter.

    On Interstate 5, we drove alongside a cow ranch where we had to endure its stinking smell. It reminded me of Meycauayan, a city in Bulacan province north of Manila which also stink because of the production of leather.

    We hit Novato about three in the afternoon. Novato was a quiet place, very suburban. There were trees around, plenty of bushes, and plants in front of the houses along the road. It was peaceful but the stillness of the place was deceiving.In one of the several facilities for the elderly in the area, trouble was brewing. The caregivers are  distraught and want to leave the place.

    As we got down from the van, eight caregivers approached us and related some sad stories they had at the Fresno Care Convalescent. Two were nurses, one was an accounting graduate, another was a certified public accountant, and the other one a lawyer. One of them even worked before with the Supreme Court of the Philippines as clerk of court. The other two were also college degree holders. All came in to the US as tourists and still have no legal documents to legitimize their stay.

    They complained of long hours of work with no over- time pay. They were made to believe the management had been working on with their immigration papers only to learn that no petition had actually been filed with the federal immigration service. They said their employer is a Filipino.

    While Chito talked with the caregivers individually, the driver and I loaded their baggage in the van for a trip back to L.A. right after sunset.

    My working relationship with Thalia is getting worse. She would flare up easily whenever I could not produce the ads that she wanted. One time after I discovered a missing ad, she blew her top and told me me to look everywhere whenever I was looking for an advertisement.

    She sent for Kristina to her office and when she came back, she said Thalia wanted us at work by nine in the morning or even earlier. She also didn’t want us to go home early even if we were done with our work for the day.

    One lousy and hot afternoon, Thalia asked if Honda had an advertisement for that week’s issue. Without looking at her, I responded that I don’t know while I fingered the schedule of ads pasted on the wall in front of me. As I was going over the schedule, she went ballistic, hollering that she didn’t like the way I was answering her. She wanted me to look for the ads instead of telling her that I don’t know. I held my peace.

    Two days later, I bumped into her along a dimly lit corridor. She went on a tongue-lashing attack, evidently still angry. She threatened to kick me out if I wouldn’t learn to talk to her politely. She emphasized that if she were looking for something, I should personally help her find it. She hollered that Bob and Kristina are not my assistants. At lunch break, Thalia lost her cool again when she didn’t find any of us in the work room. Coming back from lunch break, she told us to take our lunch one or two at a time so that there would always be someone left in case she need us.

    I really wanted to speak up, to say something but somehow I still managed to control myself. However, by this time, I felt suffocated that I could hardly breathe. She was like confining us into a box which is what she wanted. I had this feeling that the box was getting smaller and smaller and that we are slowly being squeezed. Leaving the office in the evening, almost all of us are depressed. Our morale is very low.

    Bob and I settled our disappointments over several shots of tequila in his apartment while Kristina and Apple feasted on the appetizers. We shifted to beer when there was no more Tequila. On reaching home, I easily dropped dead on my bed.

    The case of Elian Gonzales had now become the talk of the town. The Immigration and Naturalization Service gave Juan Miguel Gonzales the sole custody of the boy. Four days after, Florida Family Court judge Rosa Rodriguez allowed Elian’s great-uncle temporary custody of the child. But Attorney General Janet Reno sustained the INS judgment giving Elian to his father.” (To be continued)

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #6

    December 25th, 2016

    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.

    romy-morales-1024x725

    (6th Installment)

    Chapter 5

    One cool evening, my friend and former photographer from the Philippines Joe called from Los Angeles relaying good news to me. Joe came to L.A. as a tourist two and a half years ago. Thalia, Baltic Publication publisher/owner, took him in. With his job in the publication, I felt that he is close with the publisher which is the very reason I decided to contact him – so I could be employed in that newspaper publication.

    Sure enough after about a week, Thalia called and asked me to send via fax a copy of my resume. I felt it was so soon. I wasn’t ready yet to accept a job as I still want to try my luck with some of my contacts who I believe could give me a better offer.

    I start calling friends who might be able to help. I phoned Alvin in Oregon and left a message. I e-mailed Key Stewart in North Carolina — she is Elizabeth Miller’s friend whom I met in December 1998 when I visited James Nisbet, my pen pal for many years.

    James is a businessman and philanthropist. He referred me to the president of Campbell University for a teaching job in 1998, but I declined the offer saying I didn’t have the American twang to teach American students. I am so bad with my F’s and P’s and pronoun usage that I am afraid to “contaminate” the students with my kind of English. Had I have a good diction, the story line of this book could had been different.

    I wrote Elizabeth too, James’ daughter who I was told put up a bank in North Carolina. I also sent an email to John Khoe’s sister-in-law in New Jersey. There was another friend in college that I wanted to get in touch with. I knew it was just a matter of time before I could find him.

    With the way I was contacting my friends, I think it was obvious, to me at least, that I am desperate to get a job. Six days after my birthday, I still had no response from the people I wrote. I now had only two job possibilities left to choose from—one in Arizona and the other in Los Angeles.

    I decided to try my luck in L.A, so I left on a Greyhound evening express with only a sweatshirt and an extra shirt with me. After an eight hour ride from San Jose, I arrived at the bus terminal on East 7th Street in the City of Angels around 6:15 a.m.

    Soon after a short city bus ride, I am looking through the office glass panel of the Baltic Publication which occupies a two-story building at Sunset Boulevard and St. Andrews Place.

    There was a Burger King at the corner. It is where my friend Joe usually take his coffee break. Right across the office was Ranch Market and just nearby was Carl’s Jr., both of which were also favorite places for lunch and coffee breaks by the publication staff.

    Americans love their burgers and fries while we Filipinos prefer rice. With the burger and fries joints close by, I, too, could soon become a burger and fries lover.

    After filling out the information sheet that was given me by Thalia’s secretary, I went to see the publication’s managing editor, Bob, for my preliminary interview. It was not actually an interview but more of a meet-and-greet. After talking with Bob, I finally met Thalia, a fairly chubby, middle-aged woman with a prominent cheek bones, large bluish eyes and strong broad shoulders—strong enough I guess to carry the load of running a newspaper publication.

    Thalia is an American with a rich Lithuanian-Russian and Chinese-Filipina ancestry. We talked inside her thickly carpeted office and immediately I notice that it was in disarray. It looks like a twister had passed through. She explains to me that they didn’t have any writing position open but points out that if I really want to write, the publication welcomes my talent.

    In the meantime, I would be a paste-up artist and my job would mostly consist of pasting ads and stories. She offered a salary of US$1,200 a month with no benefits since the deal is an under the table arrangement. She, however, promised that the company will take care of my immigration papers including the attendant attorney’s fee. All this time, she talked with me on her side, her head tilted to the right of her shoulder as if urging me to “C’mon make up your mind.”

    For a moment, I stood and found myself not only looking at her but also her graying hair after which a faint smile spread across my face to indicate I am accepting her offer. It was my first job and I don’t have any other options. I didn’t even know whether the agreed amount of pay is fair or not or whether it is enough for my needs. I didn’t even know how is it like to work without benefits.

    “I leave everything to your disposition,” I found myself saying to Thalia with the acute realization that I am not supposed to work.

    Returning to the editorial room afterwards, the publication’s editor-in-chief, Kristina, told me to start working right away. I had to strip-clean the 42 boards for the Tribune Weekly of its stories and advertisements and then work on the individual runners. I had no prior experience stripping dummy boards of its contents for all I did in the Philippines was to gather news stories and write.

    Obligingly, I stripped the boards as I was told. It was past 10 p.m. when we finished. I had worked for thirteen hours with only a thirty-minute break. I was so tired and exhausted that I could hardly bend my body. Paste-up artists work standing up and I had so much back pain after that first day. When I left the editorial room, I didn’t feel like coming back the following day. I never thought that the position I got will be time-consuming and a back breaking job. I easily fell asleep that night without even having supper.

    I decided to return the following day only to find out that everything will turn out much worse. I had to strip-clean another 42 boards of its advertisements and stories. These dummy boards belonged to the Lithuanian Bulletin and the Thai Times for which the Baltic Publication was doing graphic and layout designs.

    In other words, I was working on three newspapers all at the same time. All three came out weekly. I have to peel old stories and advertisements from the boards, sort out the ads, place them in boxes and then paste the ads again onto the clean boards as indicated by the dummy sheet. The only time I rest was for lunch and dinner.

    Our workday starts at 9 a.m. and often stretch late into the evening, sometimes until early morning. One could only guess when it would end—maybe 9 p.m., 10 p.m., 11 p.m. midnight or anytime beyond that. To top it all, we didn’t get overtime pay.

    Although I had worked two jobs in the Philippines, I never worked as hard as this before in my life. I felt that I would either break down or simply walk away. The unbelievable working schedule drained me of whatever sanity I had. Many times I was on the brink of giving up. But because I need the job so much, I hanged on to it for dear life. I had such high expectations when I left my country. I never thought I would end up with this kind of job.

    The rest of the staff stayed put too. Almost all of them were under petition, meaning they either came to the United States on a tourist visa or had jumped ship, or they had come on a student status (F1) visa and changed their status to H-1B visa or to an immigrant status so that they could work legally for the petitioning employer. Only skilled professionals qualify for H-1B visa while health workers could be petitioned as immigrant workers.

    Like me, my co-workers needed the jobs as well as the petitions and so they stayed with the publication no matter what or, I guess, for as long as one could tolerate the working conditions and avoid getting fired. I heard them complain many times amongst themselves but they never voiced their misgivings openly. I was like them— who is unable to speak for fear of losing my job. In fairness to Thalia, however, she didn’t force us to work and we were also told repeatedly that we could leave anytime we want. We asked for a job and she gave it to us.

    With the way things are going and how we are asked to work in the publication, I doubted whether I could stick it out with Thalia for the next six years, enduring the seemingly never-ending long working hours and the absence of benefits.

    Six years is the time frame for an H-1B working visa, the maximum that a non immigrant worker is allowed to work for a sponsoring company. Two years is too long for me to continue working in horrible condition. A person being petitioned for H-1B status can work for up to three years, renewable for another three more years. After the six years are over, the waiting petitioner must spend one year outside the United States before he or she could be petitioned for another working visa.

    Meanwhile, during the first three or more years, the employer can file the labor certification, which would allow the worker to obtain a permanent resident visa or green card. At the rate I am working in the publication, I don’t think I would still be alive and standing by the time my green card petition is approved and issued.

    Being new in the job, I would hear snide remarks from Kristina. Many times I would keep the anger I felt for being treated unjustly. I convinced myself that since “I’ am new in the company…I must show these people, Kristina included, that I can work with them.”

    Just to illustrate what I am saying, there was this one time when I was having difficulty finding a logo from the boxes of advertisements, Kristina sarcastically tweaked me for not knowing what a logo was. I felt offended and I didn’t like what I heard. I had a degree in advertising, had taught it in college and had worked for 15 in a Philippine based newspaper publication where logos had been part and parcel of what I do and here is someone telling me I don’t know what a logo is.

    Without looking and raising my voice but perhaps unconsciously rebellious, I said “I know what a logo is.” A quick glace to where Kristina is and I saw that her face turned red. She caught my glance and spoke, but this time in a friendlier voice,…”Here are my files of logos.” She placed them on my working table.

    After about 15 minutes, I went out of the building to release the pent up anger by uttering “Putang Ina!”

    It took me quite a while to calm down. I went back to the editorial room to resume working. It was about 2 a.m. when we wrapped up that day. We finished all three newspapers. That was December 24. Nobody wanted to work on Christmas Day.

    In the evening of December 23, Thalia showed up at the office. She customarily comes to the office in the evening to check our work. That day, she saw me in the reception area whiling away my time on the couch for I was done with my initial work and was waiting for more from the graphic artist. She handed me a $50 bill.

    “Merry Christmas,” she said in a soft voice. That is how she spoke, always in a supple voice. And she was always in a hurry whenever she talks with any member of the staff she bumps into giving the impression that she really does not want to talk.

    So it was Christmas, my first in the U.S. since I arrived. I missed the colorful parol, the native lanterns we traditionally hang in our home in celebration of Christmas. Some say America has a white Christmas but I say that is only true in in snow-covered areas of the U.S. For me Christmas time in America is dreary, a lonely holiday. Being away from my family, friends, and loved ones, I felt alone. Yet I was not actually alone. Joe and Fernando were around and were living by themselves and like me their families were still in the Philippines.

    Fernando was an account executive, who liked to hang around after his duty. Juozapas, a Lithuanian, had his family with him here in the United States. He, however, still has to get his green card. He worked the graveyard shift, doing the negatives of the newspapers. He reported even on Christmas Day. The four of us celebrated Christmas. We downed a dozen canned beers coupled with “papaitan and kalderetang kambing,” as appetizers. Juozapaz surprisingly liked them so much. It was a very small celebration. We did it just to foster the camaraderie among us.

    Later in the evening, Juozapas gave me a lift to the Greyhound station. I had to get back the things I left in San Jose. Before walking towards the waiting bus, I shoved a $30 into Juozapas’s hand as I was getting down from his SUV.

    “Take it,” I said. “It’s yours. Merry Christmas!”

    With the experience I had during my first few days as paste-up artist, I was having second thoughts about coming back. I thought of accepting the caregiver job for the elderly in Arizona.

    Andy drove me to Redwood City not far from San Francisco to meet Kevinosh Pullman, who had considered my application to work in his facility in Arizona despite the lack of a personal meeting. I had been talking to him over the phone since I answered his advertisement and this is our first meeting.

    My job, according to Kevinosh, would concentrate more on paper works, tending the garden, do some cooking, and once in a while helping the patients. As soon as I could drive, he said, I would also take care of the groceries and other errands in the facility. He would take care of my immigration paper, although he admitted he hadn’t had any experience petitioning anybody.

    I had the impression Pullman’s caregivers either have working papers or were legally allowed to work. Although he said he will petition me, I was told that I will have to shoulder the processing and legal fees. I didn’t have any slightest idea how much that would cost me at that time, so I thought the arrangement was fair enough. I was starting to feel my way.

    Moreover, Kevinosh had raised his offer to US $1,300, a hundred dollars more from what I would get working for Thalia.

    So I started thinking, Thalia will take care of the legal fees that my petition entails while Kevinosh will not. If I were to stay with the publication where I was working like a horse, there is a possibility that I could get a work permit. Pullman’s job would be much lighter but there is no assurance that I will get my petition approved.

    I later consulted with the Law Offices of Hanlon. A guy, who picked up the phone, didn’t give Hanlon to me. I told him that a facility in Arizona had offered a job as an assistant manager but my college degree was in advertising and my experience was in newspaper publishing.

    “There’s no way you can get an H-1B visa. You have to get a job based on your educational background,” the guy on the other line said.

    I felt like a candle slowly melting while I am inside the phone booth talking with that guy. I didn’t know enough to tell him that I had worked in a hospital for 18 years, performing tasks ranging from research to management and then administration. I was speechless on hearing I couldn’t be approved for H-1B. Ultimately, I hang up.

    After a while, I lifted the receiver again, dropped in a quarter and a dime, and called Kevinosh. I reported what the lawyer said but still expressed my desire to work for him. He told me to stand by as one of his caregivers, who was vacationing in Mexico, had not returned. He didn’t want to over staff the facility.

    With those words came the thought I might not be able to get the job after all if that caregiver returns. I already had made a prior commitment to fly to Arizona in a couple of days after Kevinosh booked me a flight. Telling me now to stay put while he waited for his caregiver to come, I decided to call off the trip. I would instead continue working with Thalia and I called Kevinosh back.

    “I’m sorry, I cannot make it.” All I heard afterwards was a loud click. I went back to L.A.

    With a $10 worth of phone card, I made overseas calls to my son and to my eldest sister. I told my son to get himself a seaman’s book and to take the exam at Philamlife in January as Mr. Khoe, my Chinese friend had assured me he could get him a job since the personnel manager was his granddaughter. During this call, my sister confided that Mother had been hospitalized for cholera. She said Mother caught the disease after I left for Canada. I felt so bad. I left my daughter under Mother’s care and now she is sick. I wanted to go back home but I couldn’t. I am just starting with my job.

    On New Year’s Eve, we feasted on our leftover lunch — corned beef. It’s not that we didn’t have money to buy food but almost all the stores in the area are closed. The suffered the day with empty stomachs and lonely hearts. I had been missing my loved ones so much I am homesick.

    Joe joined me in my room where we watched the world celebrate the new millennium on the boob tube.

    The crystal ball in New York, made especially to mark the coming of the millennium, dropped down slowly from the top of a pole until it hit a mark representing the year 2000 on a platform. The fireworks show in Washington D.C. behind the obelisk monument was also marvelous. And so were the fireworks at the Paris Eiffel Tower, the world-famous Disneyland in California, and the landmark bridge in Australia. All that exploded were fireworks—contrary to reports the new millennium might bring untold destruction.

    Prior to the millennium, almost everyone around the globe, especially computer literates are afraid there would be glitches in the computer world to make airplanes, banks, and businesses crash. Many thought there will be chaos everywhere. But as soon as the year changed from 1999 to 2000 nothing happened. It was a false alarm, it was a millennium hype.

    Even so, the millennium celebration was a crazy. I wanted to see the fireworks display in L.A. but nobody wanted to go out. Joe wasn’t driving and wasn’t interested in going out much more take the Metro buses in Los Angeles in the evening. Like many other paranoids, he was also afraid something might happen while he was on the street. I didn’t insist that we go out. He went to bed as soon as he got sleepy. Just like that and the New Year celebration is over. What a lousy and boring New Year I had in this country.

    I couldn’t sleep. I felt like doing something. Joe is already snoring in bed. Our small room does not have the luxury of space where I can move around. I would surely wake Joe up if I do something else other than lay in bed.

    I was so awake that my mind wandered to Cavite. one of the Tagalog provinces south of Manila. Almost a year ago, I remember Stephanie had been sleeping when the fireworks begun. She was five then. I was thinking and asking myself if she is awake at this time. I guess she is and that she is enjoying the fireworks like any other child her age. She would be jumping and screaming with joy.

    One hot afternoon, on my way to the washroom, I met Thalia in the hallway and she told me to go with Bob and Sarah to see the company lawyer. I had been waiting for this moment. It was my 17th day in the Baltic Publication. The cap on H-1B was running out and the INS was expected to close the quota in a month or two. I need to see the lawyer as soon as possible. There is an extraordinary volume of demand from tourists who wish to convert their visas to H-1B. Professionals and those with college degrees needed this visa to work legally.

    The company’s immigration lawyer had an office at Wilshire and Berendo. It was two bus rides or 15 minutes by car from our office. The elevator brought us to the sixth floor. A man was screening walk-ins and people arriving for appointments while the lawyer talked to them one after the other. The man in the reception room was Chito Parazo, who I quickly learned was a former newsman from the Manila Bulletin. I didn’t actually know him but it wasn’t difficult for newsmen to get acquainted. Breaking the ice was easy and even easier when it turned out he knew some of my drinking buddies.

    Chito was ahead of me by several years in the newspaper industry back home. He started working with the Bulletin at age 17. I was over 30 then when I joined the Philippine Journalists, Inc. There were also two other colleagues in the law firm but they were there on business.

    Jun Camacho had worked with the Bulletin too. He was managing the Lifestyle magazine in Los Angeles. On the other hand, Rhony Laigo, a photographer of the Times Journal, runs Diaryo Pilipino, another community newspaper in Los Angeles. They were soliciting advertisements for their respective papers.

    Earlier, I had been told that the law office appointed immigration lawyer to me is a Jew. So what, I thought. Whether he was Jewish or not, I am not interested. All I wanted was to meet my lawyer. Meeting him for the first time, I thought he is handsome with his trimmed salt and pepper mustache and beard. I am biased with mustaches—I, too, am sporting one. The lawyer went over my credentials. He told me that he will secure me my H-1B visa as editor despite me having told him that I had little experience as all I did was gather news and write them. I was allowed only a question to ask as there were other immigrants seeking consultations with him. I left his office not fully satisfied with my legal consultation.

    After two days, Thalia summoned me. Upon entering her room, I told her I was on slippers which I wore while working. She curtly replied that I must wear shoes all the time. She probably thought I came to the office on slippers. As I settled down on one of the chairs, she pointed to an error in the Lithuanian Bulletin—the Thai advertisement had wound up on the front page! It was an obvious blunder, and she scolded me for it.

    “That’s not my error,” I said in my defense. “That was already there when it was given to me. All I did was paste it. That’s the error of the editor. He overlooked it when he went over the dummy.”

    Apparently not content with my explanation, she brought out another mistake. Instead of the latest staff box for the Tribune Weekly, an old staff box was used.

    “I was not the one who pasted that on the board,” I said saying it was Sarah, the graphic artist. I sensed she was getting impatient with me.

    “When we are pressed for time, she helps me paste some of the stories and ads,” I explained.

    She glanced at me surreptitiously, probably analyzing my belligerence towards her. She nodded, moved her head slowly back and forth, her index finger planted on her lips, her eyes grew a little bigger behind her eyeglasses indicating I could go. I went out without looking back. I wanted to get away from her fast.

    That night, my friends – Joe Cubilla, a Los Angeles based photographer, Boy Torres, a photographer from the Philippine Department of Tourism, who was in the U.S. as a tourists himself, and Rhony – invited me for a couple of beers at Max’s Restaurant in Glendale.

    It was a chance to unwind and temporarily escape from the shadow of Thalia.

    The following day, I had lunch with Joe at a Japanese restaurant two blocks away from office. I was surprised to hear about his frustration with the publication. He said he had no intention of staying any longer.

    “As soon as I have saved enough, I’m going home. I’m like fooling myself,” he said with regrets obviously manifested in his voice.

    “I worked long hours, no overtime pay. Most of the people here don’t know anything about publication. They lifted stories from the Internet and even the heads they copied as is,” he continued, recounting a litany of his misgivings with the newspaper publication.

    Joe had been with the company for almost three years. He couldn’t have made it to America had he not won a raffle sponsored by the Department of Tourism. He won the right to cover the Rose Parade in Pasadena in 1997, and with the help of the DOT, he was able to secure a multiple-year U.S. visa. After covering the Rose Parade, he returned to Manila.

    With a ten-year multiple visas stamped on his passport, he left the Philippines for the U.S. again and never returned. Thalia took him in. As an all-around man in the company, we thought or rather speculated that he was a stool pigeon because of his unusual closeness with the owner. He never admitted being a stooge.

    Here in America, if one is given a job, one is expected to return favor with an unflinching amount of loyalty. Like I scratch your back, you scratch mine, except that Joe appeared to have scratched Thalia’s back even more than the rest of us.

    One lonely evening, while we were having dinner in the kitchen of the Baltic Publication, Fernando recalled his first few days with the company. He said he was also petitioned by the publication as an account executive—soliciting advertisements for the three newspapers. He got his H-1B visa from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, which allowed him to go home now and then, unlike most of the staff who converted their U.S. tourist visa into a working one in Los Angeles that got them stuck up for how long only God knows.

    Continuing his recollection, Fernando said he was on his desk one morning, singing Sampaguita’s (8) “Nosi Balasi”, a song that was popular at one time in the Philippines. “Nosi Balasi” is the reverse form of “Sino Ba Sila?” which means “Who Are They?” Halfway through the song, Franco, a senior account executive heard him. He suddenly became angry for no apparent reason.

    “What are you trying to prove?” Franco shouted, his voice reverberating in all the corners of the building, like as if an earthquake with a magnitude of three had hit them. Being both account executives, Fernando felt awkward that he is being accosted with almost everybody in the office hearing it. He felt so humiliated and being a newcomer in the publication and didn’t know what to do. He just stopped singing as he realized that the senior account executive could have mistakenly thought that he is being alluded to by Fernando in that song.

    Franco was a top-notch account executive, who had endeared himself to the publisher by constantly closing in big accounts. Being half Italian and half Filipino, he had a gorgeous feature—tall, dark, and blue set of eyes—that easily made him attractive to both sexes in the newspaper publication. He had an attitude though; he easily blew his top in whatever he didn’t like and when he does, he was like Mount Vesuvius spewing unprintable words. He was a very reserved person or maybe he was just pretending to be one, which made him so sensitive to insinuation and gossips. Yet nobody ever dared mess up with him. He was a loud mouth too whenever he was exploding; nobody wanted to be near him. Yet he could be very friendly if he liked to be one.

    Washington showed it preferred to give Elian to his father Juan Miguel Gonzales once he has substantially proved his claim. This was not a surprise development since what the INS wants to do is send all illegal immigrants back to their country.

    8 Sampaguita, stage name of Tessy Alfonso, a Pinoy rock singer in the Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s. Her original composition Nosi Balasi is a juxtapose play of the phrase Sino Ba Sila?

     

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #5

    November 7th, 2016

    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.

    romy-morales-1024x725

    (5th Installment)

    Chapter 4

    Carlos, a schoolmate from college, picked me up from my best friend’s house in San Jose and drove me to Stockton, some 100 miles away or so. As he drove, he confided that he had been married perhaps awaiting a surprised response. However, his revelation didn’t surprise me. I already assumed that when I last saw him in 1998.

    Marrying Jessica helped him legalize his status and put a semblance of legitimacy into their relationship. He and Jessica had been living together for quite a while. Getting married is but natural for them to do. Carlos was a contract worker in Saudi Arabia when he met Jessica in the Saudi capital of Riyadh while she was a nurse in a military hospital,.

    Two years after Jessica left for the United States, Carlos followed. They now live in a roomy and beautiful home in Stockton with a big front and back yards. Carlos had converted one of the four bedrooms into a working office. He let me occupy the guest room on the ground floor.

    Every morning, Carlos and I would hit the road from Stockton to San Francisco, otherwise known as Sanfo. His work was based in Sanfo. He was a merchant selling anything from real estate to door knobs. He goes to the Bay Area, also in Sanfo, almost every day to close deals with clients or render service to old time customers. In the evening, we would travel the long sleepy road back home for about an hour and forty-five minutes.

    Carlos is one hell of a good driver. One can fall asleep and after some time, voila!…you are now in your destination and you didn’t even feel a thing. His job and the distance he travels from his residence to place of work and vice versa makes him to be on the road most of the time.

    During the first six days of my stay in Carlos’ house, we visited several home cares in Manteca, San Bruno, Tracy, Walnut Creek, Millbrae and Daly City. Sometimes we drove as far as Redwood and San Jose where I met caregivers with interesting stories to tell. I learned about:

    • A Filipino caregiver who raped a Sri Lankan and fellow caregiver in the facility where he worked after she refused his overtures. After the incident, the 63 year old Sri Lankan accepted her 54-year old rapist as her lover. The Filipino was a former policeman in the Philippines and police officers in my country are notorious for having several women at a time. They are now living together as a common-law couple, four years after the “incident,” and still work for the same facility.
    • A married couple came to the United States as tourists. They got work permits after the husband filed for an asylum. Their permits, however, lapsed and hadn’t been renewed so they agreed to divorce and take care of their status individually. They also agreed to seek new mates for convenience and made a bond to remarry once they had legalized their status. “Tulungan tayo. Kung sino ang mauna,” they promised each other.
    • An embassy secretary came in with a Malaysian diplomatic passport and has since then been working in a facility for the elderly.
    • A 35-year old Filipina came to the United States as a tourist. She had three children from her Chinese-mestizo husband in the Philippines. Initially, she stayed in Hawaii but then moved to California where she fell in love with a much younger man, also a caregiver and an illegal alien like her.
    • A 45-year old widow from Thailand set foot in San Francisco as a hopeful immigrant. After 20 years, she is still an illegal immigrant not because of her own making but due to her lawyers who, either through incompetence or ignorance, botched her opportunity to legalize her stay. Worse, the money she spent with her immigration lawyers was enough to give her a comfortable retirement.

    During one of these trips, Carlos brought me to Crispin Aranda’s office in downtown San Francisco. He is an old friend or so I thought.

    Aranda had been my senior at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines which was known then as the Philippine College of Commerce.

    During the Marcos regime, the college was labeled a hotbed of dissent as most of the students, who came from poor families, became student activists. Aranda was among them as he was an active student leader who is always in the forefront of rallies. He was also involved in the college theater, of which I was also a member.

    Aranda was into immigration when I saw him again in his office after several years. He was then writing a column on immigration for a Manila based newspaper.

    I haven’t seen Aranda in more than 20 years. Our last contact was a month before he was thrown in jail during martial law. While in prison, his wife and three young daughters rented a room in our house. I had no idea if he ever learned I housed his family.

    When he was released from prison, he left for the United States, leaving his family behind.

    Meeting him for the first time in so many years, I felt we were strangers. There seemed to be no common denominator between us that we could explore to make our meeting exciting or lively, except we had gone to the same school.

    He was not the Aranda I had known back in college, not the stage trooper I had worked with on stage plays, whom I was comfortable with. He was not the friend I knew then—jovial, friendly. Maybe he just never considered me a friend, just a schoolmate. He didn’t seem excited seeing me. I felt like I am just another client, just another immigrant trying to get an audience with him.

    Our meeting was businesslike except that we did no business. There were many moments of silence during that meeting but the deepest silence of all came as I was leaving. I left very disappointed.

    I also expected to meet a former business reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, who, two years before in Manila, came to me seeking assistance as he was in the process of legalizing his status in the United States.

    He was about to leave the country in 1998 when he was barred from leaving. The Department of Foreign Affairs would not give him an exit permit because of an alleged unsettled court case dating from his time as a reporter.

    Filipino journalists often find themselves slapped with libel suits due to the articles or expose they wrote. According to this reporter, the foreign affairs department wanted him to present a court clearance attesting that he no longer had a pending libel case before he will be allowed to leave and that would surely take time. He was in deep trouble when he sought my help as president of the Diplomatic Press Corps. Nevertheless, I didn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to a colleague in distress.

    I placed my name on the line by vouching for him, assuring the DFA case officer that what happened is just a case of mistaken identity. He was then given the permission to leave. Had he not been allowed to go, he will surely screw his immigrant status as he will definitely stay in the Philippines and exceed the grace period given by the U.S. government to green card holders. This fella now manages his own businesses in the Bay Area.

    Before he left the country greatly relieved, he promised to return the favor in any way he could. He said “just give me a call when you’re in Sanfo.”

    Thus when I was in Sanfo, I took his word and made several phone calls to his office. His secretary would ask for my name only to be told, after several moments of silence on the other end of the line, that her boss was out or not yet in the office.

    No matter how many times I tried, I cannot get a hold of him over the phone until I got tired of calling. I just lost interest in contacting him.

    I strongly felt he just doesn’t want to deal with me because I am looking for a job. To confirm my suspicions, I decided to trick his secretary by saying that I already had a job and I just wanted her boss to know and that if he could just return my call so I could tell him “the good news myself.”. Lo and behold, soon my phone is ringing and he is on the other end of the line. As much as I hated him, I remained civil when we talked.

    The Philippine News in the Bay Area responded to my job application. They needed an editorial assistant. From Stockton, Carlos and I traveled some 100 miles for an interview appointment with the associate editor.

    The strong rain on the freeways had slowed down our speed. I was about 45 minutes late and I sensed the lady associate editor was not amused.

    After a brief ice breaker, she asked me to write two editorials— one for the Philippine market and another for the U.S. readers. I was also told to lay out a newspaper’s front page. But since a group of people at that same time needed the conference room where I was to take the exam, she told me to bring home my exam and return it within a week.

    Coming back after a week, I was surprised that the position they are now offering me was an entry level post. I will have to start as a reporter covering the San Jose area before I could assume the editorial assistant position later on.

    They would pay $40 for every article submitted, the only pay I would receive. The newspaper comes out once every week. Most likely I could come up with one or two stories each issue. Could I survive on that? Forty or $80 a week is good news if I have another job.

    What they are offering is a full time job. I have to go to San Jose every day to get the news. With no allowance and basically on my own covering my beat, I didn’t think it was worth it.

    My friend Joe from Los Angeles called one evening. He used to be a photographer in the Philippines. He came to LA. as a tourist two and a half years prior.

    The Baltic Publication took him in as an all-around help — messenger, photographer, maintenance, janitor, and security guard — and gave him a meager pay which is what is given to people who have no work permits.

    Nevertheless, he was close to the publisher and that was the reason I contacted him. I wanted to be in the publication business.

    Carlos and I fetched Britney Swing at the Greyhound Terminal. She came from from Modesto. Britney was sharing space with a friend in a row of old apartments in what was a slum area in Modesto. Almost all the tenants there were farm workers, although Britney was not a farm worker neither was her friend who was renting the unit she was staying.

    Britney smoked a lot and so did her friend—a big, burly woman, five years older than her. Carlos had spotted her one time he visited his cousin, who owned the housing units.

    Carlos had a friend, whom he was helping. He is Diego Garcia, who is about to turn 21 in July of the following year. He had to find a way to save himself from “aging out” — a term used in the immigration industry to refer to someone turning 21.

    Diego came to America as a dependent (H-4 visa) of his father, who was on H- 1B visa petition. Professionals desiring to work in the U.S. should have H-1B petition. Employers wanting their professional services usually filed the petitions for them and their family.

    The H-4 visa is given to dependents who join their principal. Under U.S. immigration law, person about to age out, with no approved relative petition or have not yet adjusted status to that of a permanent resident will have to go back to the country of origin to wait approval of the petition. To avoid going home and risk the possibility of not being able to return, Diego had to marry a U.S. citizen.

    Britney would be a good savior for Diego, although the two didn’t look like a good match. Diego was five years older but several inches shorter than her. His brown features and lack of height evidently marked him as a Filipino while Britney with her fair complexion, green eyes and freckled face was a typical American girl. She was wearing a faded slacks and a T-shirt that probably had been her outfit for several days when I met her at the station. Despite her her simplicity and ruggedness, she was a stunner.

    Carlos offered Britney $5,000 to marry Diego. The marriage would only be in paper. And while the petition was being processed, she would have to live with Diego, like a wife to a husband until the green card is secured. The $5,000 was a huge amount for Britney. She never had that kind of cash amount in her life.

    Britney has been living independently since she was 14. Only 17, she had to get the consent of her parents to marry. She discussed the marriage proposal to her father who initially expressed reservation. To sweeten the “dowry” Carlos also promised a tidy sum of money to be given once in a while to Britney’s father. It was an offer the father could not refuse, he being jobless.

    A meeting between Diego and Britney was set. Britney’s father would come and so her lady friend. Diego’s parents and sister and other relatives would also be present. Like in the Philippines when a man proposes to a woman, almost the entire town would come. The two families agreed to have the meeting in a restaurant.

    Later that evening after an impressive dinner, Diego wooed Britney with romantic songs. When Britney heard his voice, she was smitten. Similarly when Diego cast his eyes on her lovely and adorable face, he was love struck. What was supposed to be a fixed marriage suddenly became real. Britney waived the $5,000, much against the wishes of her father, saying: “It’s no longer necessary.”

    Diego’s family rejoiced. They set the wedding soon in Las Vegas, feeling as if they had won the Fantasy Five.

    We waited a couple of hours for the rain to stop before leaving for Vegas. Carlos took the wheel. There were seven of us in the van. It took us nine hours to reach the Sin City. Diego’s family arrived several hours ahead of us from Los Angeles. They stayed at the Flamingo while our group took the Days Inn.

    The wedding started as scheduled. The long, sleek, white limousine that Diego’s family rented brought the couple to a wedding chapel on South 9th Street, an apartment converted into a one-stop shop chapel. I’ve never seen a place where there are chapels one after the other. If I didn’t know Vegas, I will think this place to be a holy one. But I know more, the chapels were there for a specific purpose—the wedding business.

    The minister controlled all aspects of the enterprise—the video, still photos, and the wedding itself. They didn’t allow anyone to take photos. Even relatives were prevented from taking shots with their cameras. I was supposed to photograph the wedding but the piercing look of the house photographer prevented me from exposing a single shot from my camera. Thus, I lost an opportunity to photograph what I thought would be a classic wedding.

    On the surface, because of the height differences, the couple seemingly didn’t look like a proper match. But who cares about height nowadays? Have you seen Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Cruise and Katie Holmes, Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan, Danny de Vito and Rhea Perlman and a lot more? They have height differences but it haven’t been an obstacle for them to marry each other. I had this feeling I was close to finding myself in a similar situation.

    We left Vegas in the evening but not after. I won $55 on a blackjack table in one of the casinos there and the rest of the group lost their money in the slot machines.

    As we are now on our way home, we decided to take another chance with our luck in one of the brightly lit casinos along the road. We stopped at Gold Strike. I tried the slot machine this time and I won $900. We then moved to the Primm Valley at the next stopover where I lost $20. We were a bunch of inveterate gamblers at every slightest opportunity.

    At the nearby Techapi gas station, the cold wind of the evening hit me hard as I walked to the washroom in the convenience store. It was only a short distance walk from where we parked the van but the effort made me gasp for air.

    I suddenly heard or rather felt a hissing sound in my breathing similar to what asthmatics suffer when they are suffering from asthma attacks. Well, I didn’t have asthma anymore since I was seven. Perhaps the my gasping was due to the cold for when I took a hot cup of coffee, I was relieved.

    It was Sunday morning when we got home.

    I got my first job offer from Lavinosh Pullman. I saw some of his flyers in a laundry shop at the Bay Area. Mr. Pullman, owner of two home cares in Arizona, is looking for someone to manage his facilities and I responded to his call. He said he is taking me in at twelve hundred a month with the possibility of increasing it by a hundred dollars more if he is satisfied with my performance. He wanted me to leave immediately for Phoenix. However, I deferred my departure a few more days since I have to meet an earlier appointment.

    I visited a cousin and my mother’s older sister, Aunt Noemi, at East Molkie in Daly City. I had been coming to the U.S. since 1992 and but it was only now that I visited my relatives. I wasn’t close to any of them.

    At an afternoon children’s party in Sanfo, I happened to watch a Filipino-American child belt a song. She was so good and I am reminded of my daughter because they were of the same age. Uncontrollably, tears rolled down from my eyes. It was flowing like a waterfall. I bowed my face to hide the tears and rushed to the washroom where I stayed for a long time and really cried. I only came out of the restroom after the tears have dried.

    On reaching home in Stockton, I felt a shooting pain on the left side of my back. I had this pain before but I didn’t pay it much attention. Seating in the car for long hours during our travel had somehow pained. me. It worried me but I didn’t tell Carlos about it for fear that he would no longer bring me along. I hated being alone in the house doing nothing.

    Having a California ID enables one to open a bank account, travel, and have a feeling of security from police and immigration checkpoints.

    If there is one thing that Carlos insist I should have, it is a Social Security number which I actually was able to secure in 1992, during my first visit to the U.S. With my old SS no.,I applied for a California ID at the Department of Motor Vehicle. The social security number was a requirement for the issuance of an ID.

    There was no hitch; the DMV had approved my application. I could expect the ID at the end of the month. I also applied for a credit card at the Bank of America, making a security deposit of $300. I then had my first haircut. My hair was almost shoulder-length when I came to the country. I am like one of those hippies during the days of Woodstock. A Vietnamese hairdresser, after doing my long hair, said “You look younger.” I looked at myself in the mirror. She was right.

    In only more than two months of stay in the U.S., I have discovered something unpleasant.

    During my 1992 trip and the succeeding ones, America had impressed me so much. Houses were awesome and impressive. The streets were clean; the parks and forests were well maintained—a perfect place for an afternoon picnic or camping. The people were interesting to watch, especially the gorgeous women and macho-looking guys. They were like Venuses and Adonises. How could this country have so many beautiful people? In my country, they could easily become movie stars. That was when I spent about two or three days in one place or another.

    But now that I have stayed for quite sometime and came know the people around me and community, I saw what I didn’t see then. I realized that rats were everywhere in downtown Los Angeles, flies abound, dilapidated houses full of cobwebs and dust are all over Stockton, ants and roaches infest many places and hookers were permanent fixtures along Sunset Boulevard. Garbage, which includes furniture and mattresses, were along the sidewalks and uncollected for days. I also saw people collecting some still usable trash for personal use.

    I thought those eyesores were only present in India, China, the Philippines or in other third world countries. I may have been too naive but I never really expected the “third worldesque” I saw here in the U.S., a modern and industrialized country. I must have been reading too many press releases and watching many feel-good Hollywood movies that I have been ignorant of those.

    Moreover, I also saw several homeless people roaming around the streets, bums asking passersby for a quarter or two, scavengers and deranged (or depressed) stinky folks who were unmindful of their tattered and dirty clothes mixing with the crowds on the streets and in public conveyances. Even with all the wealth this country has, these people, the so-called dregs of society, were ignored and neglected by the very all powerful and rich government that is supposed to care for them.

    I moved back from Stockton to Andy’s house in San Jose. When Sunday came, I went with them to attend a mass at a Catholic church. The following day, December 13, is my birthday. I then asked God for a job as birthday present.

    But today, after mass, I have a several big surprises – Andy was cooking a lot of foods i.e. menudo, dinuguan, barbecue, egg rolls, and noodles—and had invited a number of common friends.

    Soon at lunch time, our friends came. Conrad brought a carton of Budweiser, Anita Tomista came with her six-year old daughter, who handed me a black Nike jacket, Elpie and Delia came with their four children. My godchild Paul handed me a small bag with two pens and an envelope with a few dollars in it. The last one to arrive was husband and wife Ernie and Susan Celeridad, who also gifted me with cash money and a bagful of chocolates.

    I never expected Andy to throw a party for me. His wife Arlene gave me a gift, too. I was so happy. But I could have been happier if my family were with me.

    I made a long-distance call to Mother and Stephanie. I heard my daughter’s voice. Over the phone, she said she wanted chocolates. Oh my God, if only I could fly back to her, I will give her all the chocolates she wanted. Before we hang up, we didn’t say goodbye, I hate goodbyes, I heard her say: “Love you, Papa!”

    Five-year old Elian Gonzales was plucked from a shark- infested ocean by fisherman Donato Dalrymple clinging to an inner tire tube, three miles off the Florida coast. It hugged the headlines. Eleven Cubans, including Elian’s mother, drowned in the sea when their ship sunk. The boy is the only survivor. The boy’s great uncle in Miami‘s Little Havana, Lazaro Gonzales, took care of him after he was treated for dehydration and sunburn. Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzales, wasted no time in petitioning the United States for the return of his son upon learning he survived the sea tragedy, “setting off the stage for an international custody battle.”

    (to be continued…)

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #4

    October 5th, 2016

    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.

    romy morales

    (4th Installment)

    CHAPTER 3

    The morning flight from Toronto, Canada to Oregon, U.S.A. was smooth and this time there was no hassle in the airport. Tiya Maring was supposed to meet me but she was nowhere in sight.*

    *In the Philippines, we use the prefix Tiya for women and Tiyo for men (Aunt and Uncle in English) among others to show our respect for older people.

    Tiya Maring is an elderly woman whom I met before leaving the Philippines for good. She promised to help me if ever I came to the United States. She said I could stay in her home care, and pay my rent by working around the place.

    Now here I was to collect the promise, but where was she? I waited some more but no one came. I still kept waiting, hoping to at least see some Filipinos who I could ask for help, but there were none.

    After two hours or so, I decided to get a cab. I went out of the airport terminal to the other side of the street where the taxicab bay is located. As I approached the area, one cab driver, a burly black man, grabbed my luggage and threw it inside his big green van before I could even ask if he’d be able to help me find Tiya Maring’s place since I was new in Portland.

    Once inside the cab and after learning of my problem, the cab driver said “No problem.”

    He fished out a map, figured a route, switched on the cab engine and we drove off. The ID pinned on his polo shirt identified him as Michael Dixon.

    “Are you a jockey,” he asked as he drove.

    “Nope,” I said, releasing a faint smile into the cold Oregon air.

    “I thought you were.”

    No doubt he mistook me for a jockey because of my height. I wasn’t offended by his remark and I told him I write for a living.

    “My son, too, wants to be a writer. He’s good. I’ve read some of his writings. Where are you from?”

    “Philippines.”

    “I’m a Jamaican. Been in the Philippines during the Vietnam War…assigned in a hospital at Clark Air Base. I attended the wounded soldiers flown from Vietnam. That was long time ago.”

    I felt comfortable with Michael. On the way to Tiya Maring’s place, I requested that he stay with me until I find her house.

    “If we can’t find the house, please don’t leave me. Take me to a cheap hotel to spend the night,” I pleaded to which he nodded in approval.

    He turned right onto a side street, driving slowly so we could read the numbers on the houses as it was already dusk. He said we were close to the place and yes…we found it.

    It was late in the evening and dark. The place was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, maybe some of the residents were already asleep. He parked the taxi, with its beams glaring, in front of a house that bore Tiya Maring’s address.

    I knocked. Nobody answered while Michael waited patiently in the car, waiting to see if anyone would answer the door.

    I knocked again a little louder, hoping not to create a disturbing noise in the neighborhood. It relieved me when Tiya Maring peeped through the window curtain. Michael brought the luggage out of the van.

    “How much?”

    “Forty.”

    I gave him fifty and he sped off.

    The next morning, Tiya Maring’s son Alvin was surprised to see me lying on the couch. Apparently, his mother, Tiya Maring, hadn’t told him I was coming and would be staying.

    I could tell that Alvin wanted to talk straight to me and was apparently searching the best way to do it without being offensive and thus in a most diplomatic way, he said, visitors are not allowed to sleep on the sofa of a home care. He added that only a certain number of people could stay in the house, otherwise there could be trouble.

    It became clear tome at that point who owned the facility – Alvin.

    I thought that it was just the only misunderstanding until, just as quickly as the first did, another came up.

    “Mom didn’t tell me I would help you get a job,” said Alvin. “Besides, my brother-in-law has taken the job. We’re committed to Jack already.”

    What he said felt like a big stone hitting me hard. I was unable to move, I could barely react to what he was saying. Slowly, slowly…I took a deep breath.

    “I’m leaving tomorrow for San Jose. All I need is a little help to get me to the Greyhound bus station,” are all I could say. A pond of tears could have flowed from my eyes but like the Hoover Dam that stops Lake Meade from flooding the sin city of Las Vegas, I held it back.

    Jack, who was in the kitchen, apparently heard everything. I learned of it a couple of hours later when Jack asked me to go with him.

    Either Jack didn’t like what he had heard or he just didn’t want me to feel disappointed. He was acting like a kind stranger. Nevertheless, I think he remembered me – it was at his silver wedding in Pampanga that I met Tiya Maring through one of her nephews who had brought me there.

    Jack had been in the medical supplies and hospital equipment business in the Philippines, with two medical clinics in Pampanga. He was making good money with his business and yet he had accepted the job of caregiver in the United States when it was offered to him.

    Jack took me to the Star Cabaret, of all places, not far from the home care. I have no idea why he brought me there as it was noontime. Probably, at that moment, that was what he thought could appease me or lighten up my spirit.

    Later I would learn from him it was his way of keeping his sanity in the absence of his wife, who is still in the Philippines. There was a small circular stage inside the cabaret with a stainless pole in the middle where dancers danced, gyrated, snaked around and even tread on it like monkeys on tree branches.

    There were only three dancers when we came in—Ginger, Amber and another whose name we didn’t catch. Anyway, it does not matter since Ginger and Amber’s name were most likely fictitious.

    Amber and Ginger sat with us at our small table right in front of the circular stage. Amber said she had two kids while Ginger had a baby girl named Laila. Jack offered them drinks.

    When they went back on stage to perform, Jack threw several one dollar bills on them. He was generous with them that both dancers danced with gusto and spread their legs without qualm, leaving nothing to imagination.

    We left the club at two in the afternoon and went directly to the school where Chad – one of Alvin’s patients – was enrolled. The teacher had reported that Chad had a spat with one of his classmates, kicked him, and hit another one. Because of what Chad did in school, Alvin made him stand up against the wall in the house for several minutes as punishment.

    In mid-afternoon, Alvin asked me to join the children in celebrating Halloween at the mall. Children in Halloween getup and grown-ups in costume went around to every store in the mall shouting “trick or treat” to which the sales personnel responded with the generous handing of chocolates and candies to the tricksters.

    For days before the event, the children and their parents had obviously busied themselves buying costumes, candies, toys and pumpkins. Some had no doubt transformed their houses into something suitably ghostly or haunted. Nobody enjoyed the fun more than the kids being cared for by Alvin and his wife, Julieta.

    Chad was a mentally retarded boy with physical disability. He stands only five feet, quite short for his age of 18 years. He was one who demanded attention. Wanting to get noticed, he hit one of his classmates.

    Most of the patients Jack was taking care of, however, were adults.

    There was Shana, suffering from a cerebral palsy. She was tall, quiet, and well-behaved. And pretty. Once she sat down, she would stay there forever unless told to get up or move. She kept herself busy by stringing beads.

    Joe was 5’7″ and autistic. He talked to himself most of the time.

    Alvin and Julieta were also taking care of another group in their second house.

    There were Tyler and Didi, deaf- mutes. Didi had a peculiar attraction to the hands and hair of both sexes. One time she gently touched and caressed my hair. She also studied my hands and fingers, gently turning them over and again. She only stopped, after Alvin called her attention.

    Randy was mentally retarded; he moaned now and then until it annoyed everyone. Then he would stop, only to resume moaning as if his voice was coming from the grave.

    Later that evening, Tiya Maring gave me blanket that really had a foul smell, like human waste. I’d like to think she hadn’t noticed. Perhaps was it the couch that smelled since the patients sat on it all day? Whatever! The nights in Portland are cold. I stretched my body on the only sofa offered to me and covered it with the smelly blanket.

    The following day, the first of November, Tiya Maring handed me a St. Jude Thaddeus prayer book. She said if I prayed hard, God would help me adding that she would continue praying for me.

    I was supposed to leave for San Jose that day but Alvin postponed my departure. He showed me around downtown Beaverton instead. His two children were with us, and so was Tiya Maring. This time, Alvin was really kind.

    We went to the Grotto, overlooking Beaverton. In the small chapel on top of the mountain, he bought candles for everyone to light. I lit mine and prayed again for God’s help. We had our dinner of pizza at the Chuckie Cheese.

    The next morning, Tiya Maring woke up early. She prepared cookies, four sandwiches with peanut butter, strawberry and ham, and gave me a $20 bill.

    “Take it with you,” she said. “I also did the same to Lydia when she was still looking for a job here in Oregon.”

    Lydia came to Portland as a tourist and approached Tiya Maring for assistance. She’s now a programmer.

    Alvin and I left the house for the Greyhound station. He helped me with my baggage. I felt he was reaching out to me. He explained again why I couldn’t stay in his home care.

    “Under Federal law no one is allowed to sleep in the living room of a facility. You must have your own room.”

    He promised to convince Lydia to share her room with me while he looks for my own place. He stressed though he was not making any commitment. A smile glistened in my face.

    “You might want to join us in San Francisco when we celebrate my daughter’s birthday in December. I might have a decision by then. Julieta and I have agreed you might be a good substitute for Jack.”

    He encouraged me though to also try my luck in San Jose. I gave him my friend’s address just before I boarded the bus. I was on my way to California.

    It was an overnight trip. Andy and Arlene Casabar were already waiting at the Greyhound station when I arrived. We had breakfast at the McDonald’s and soon afterwards headed straight home.

    I occupied their son’s room while their son graciously agreed to join his younger sister in her room just next to where I would be staying. I rested and slept the whole day.

    Andy is one of my best friends. We met at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where we both once worked. He was a laboratory technician at the Cytology Department while I was an administrative officer of the Department of Radiology and Cancer Institute.

    Andy met his wife in the same department where she was a medical technician. When they had their first child, I stood as one of the godfathers during the baby’s baptism. Unfortunately, the baby would not live long; he had a congenital heart problem.

    Our meeting at PGH was memorable. A big storm had just hit the country; all of Manila was underwater, in some areas as deep as five feet. Manila was in total darkness. There was no transportation available, and many commuters were stranded including us—Andy and I. We were stranded in the hospital and stayed there for two nights straight. We slept anywhere we could—the doctor’s lounge, the x-ray room, anywhere. There was no electricity, the cafeteria was closed, and there was no food.

    The situation brought us closer together. We opened the hospital’s office drawers hoping to find food to eat. We were food scavengers. We even drank the vodkas kept in the operating rooms that Andy said were used to soften phlegm before heart surgery.

    After three days the storm stopped and the flood subsided. We walked all the way to our respective homes. It seemed almost everyone were in the street. Manila was a total mess. Trees and electric posts were down. Roofs were uprooted. Fallen trees crushed cars and a lot of tree branches were broken.

    Several month thereafter, Andy left for Saudi Arabia with his wife. Then I learned they had migrated to the United States, finally settling down in San Jose. I worked in the hospital for many more years to come.

    When I got my U.S. visa in 1992, I contacted them. From then on, whenever I had a chance to visit the United States, I would always stay with them. This was my fourth visit to their home.

    Yesterday, November 4, was my mother’s birthday. She turned 80. For the first time I was not around to celebrate her birthday.

    Mother usually celebrates her birthday on November 1, All Saints’ Day in the Philippines. On that day people trekked to the cemeteries, visited their dead and brought lots of food. All Saint’s day is a feast day.

    So when Mother opted to celebrate her birthday on November 1 instead of November 4, it was really a way to cut on expenses and avoid celebrating two events in a span of only three days. She also chose that particular day because it was a time of the year when we, her children, could all be together paying our respect to our father and brothers, who were buried in the same cemetery lot.

    Mother had been so much to me as she is to all of us. It was her who raised all my three sisters and four brothers. There was a fourth sister, though. I had heard from my parents that she died when she was only a few months old. They never talked of her much. I was still young when she passed away. I never had the chance to ask Mother about her. Two of my remaining seven siblings, who were younger than I, had also already passed away.

    On a weekend break from grade school, my brother Danilo and I went to the breakwater of Manila Bay in Baclaran to enjoy its water. Danilo could swim, I couldn’t. Approaching the breakwater, he was fearless. I stayed on the shore, wading in water which is up to my chest. I didn’t know how good of a swimmer my brother was, all I knew was that we both wanted to swim and cool off due to the summer heat and that he went too far and drowned.

    My other brother, Rodolfo died of rhadomyocarcoma – cancer of the muscle. He got the dreaded disease when his right thigh was accidentally hit by a heavy piece of wood in a construction site in the Middle East. He is in pain since then. To alleviate the pain, he would put some pressure on the affected thigh – not knowing that it just worsens his condition.

    Rodolfo came to me at the PGH and I helped him see a doctor for a private consultation. I didn’t know then what the doctor told him and other than the need to amputate his leg, he has not said anything.

    My brother, who had only reached second year in high school, might not have fully understood why his leg couldn’t be saved. Frightened, he left the hospital without telling me anything else and I lost track of him.

    When he came back two months later, he was already in terrible pain and it was killing him. That time, I personally accompanied him to the doctor and only then did I learned that he was suffering from a form of cancer that affects the muscle.

    The doctors said they would see if cutting my brother’s leg off would still help. I explained everything to him and he consented to be amputated. I knew he couldn’t say no because of the severe pain. He had no choice.

    When he came out of the operating room, the surgeons said it was useless to remove the leg. The disease had metastasized up in his body. I was devastated. I wasn’t sure whether he understood his fate.

    During his hospital confinement, he would walk to my office in crutches and smiled at me through his pain, just to show he was trying his best to stay alive. Maybe he thought he could still be cured. He had a baby daughter and a caring wife. After six months or so, he passed away despite the chemotherapy treatments.

    My two brothers never had a chance to enjoy what life was. God took them away so soon. With their deaths, mother had never shown any sign of breaking down. I knew she was agonizing in sorrow but she is a courageous woman and I admire her for that. She never complained and saw to it that we had food to eat, clothes to wear and a little money to take to school. She managed these by cooking and delivering snacks to the employees of a government hospital.

    My father also helped us but not in a big way. He was into cockfighting and his income is based on luck. There were times when the winnings were good and we would have plenty to eat but not always.

    During the lean times for my father, mother would provide. Even when she turned 70, she didn’t want to stop working. What she loved most was to sell food so I opened a small canteen near the university belt where I had lived for some time. It was a way to keep her going. I knew she was tired but she didn’t want to do nothing. I guess all mothers are like her.

    I watched the Sixth Happiness on television. It was a British-Indian collaboration project featuring a disabled person who had been wheelchair-bound since birth; the drama concerns the sacrifice his mother underwent in taking care of him, his being a homosexual, his love and disappointments. It’s a very moving film. It reminds me of my own mother—her struggles, her sacrifices and her love for me.

    (to be continued…)

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #3

    September 2nd, 2016

    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.

    romy morales

    (3rd Installment)

    Many illegal immigrants who are already married in their own homeland enter into fixed marriages here in the U.S.A. with the hope of going back to their original partners later. A sham marriage costs $20,000 to $50,000, maybe more, depending on who arranges it. For those who want just a slice of the pie, a $20,000 fee is fine while a thousand buck or two, on the other hand, is paid to the fixer or intermediary.

    In 1995, $5,000 was already a big amount for a fixed marriage. Now the figure has risen to at least five digits. If a syndicate handles it, the price goes up much higher. Higher still is when a U.S. citizen is flown or flew to a country, where the prospective bride or groom waits. The price skyrockets unbelievably. Most often than not though, the only reason the price is higher is greed.

    In a sham marriage, the agreed amount is paid in installments—an initial amount before or after the wedding, another amount before or after the official interview and the balance once the condition on residence is removed or a permanent green card is secured.

    There may be different schemes about the mode of payment, but this one is typical – During the three-year period, immigration authorities require the couple to live together as husband and wife. Inevitably, other related expenses arise — rent, utilities, food and the occasional financing of a shopping spree. The poor illegal immigrant tries to shoulder all these expenses to keep the marriage intact. It is a mind boggling arrangement, but this is how far it may go to get the green card. And sometimes, when the card is almost within reach, greed unfortunately rears its ugly head and the unscrupulous U.S. citizen would ask for more “dough.”

    This reminds me of a physician who came here as a tourist. She overstayed and soon entered into a fixed marriage with a U.S. citizen. She paid the guy a hefty sum and got her green card. Soon she took the exam necessary to become a doctor. She passed and later had a stable job with a very handsome salary. The guy she is married into soon saw her as a potential gold mine. He would ask for more money, threatening to expose to immigration authorities their sham marriage. The guy is now blackmailing her into paying him at least $3,000 a month lest he report their fixed marriage to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

    If we’re arrested, I would just go home, anyway. I am old but you, you wouldn’t want to lose everything you worked for,” the victim, quoting her greedy American partner, said. Rattled and frightened, she gave in. More than 12 years had passed since then but the poor physician, very much fearful of the skeleton she had in her closet, is still reportedly sustaining that bastard. A classic case of milking the cow to death!

    In rare cases, a fixed marriage could become a genuine union. When a man and a woman are left alone, anything can happen—even sex. As is well-known, the sex urge is not that easy to shrug off or cast aside when a chance to indulge in it is there. In all likelihood, a couple may not be able to thwart the call of the flesh.

    I knew of one such couple. They stayed under one roof, and lived together to fulfill the immigration’s marriage requirement. They became accustomed to each other, threw out their last shred of inhibition and the next thing they knew they had made love, not once or twice but with the frequency that turned their imagined relationship into a real one.

    Their relationship became so intimate that their falling in love with each other was predictable. So there are times when even if money was the initial prime consideration in a fixed relationship, if lust and love unexpectedly come to the fore, money takes a backseat and what started out as a marriage for convenience turns to something real. Or should I say genuine?

    What follows is one particular case of a fixed marriage that turned legitimate—but this case is with a hitch.

    Marivic had been in the U.S. for almost five years as an illegal immigrant. As a tourist, she overstayed and had worked illegally. She is pretty, beautiful and busty. A registered nurse in the Philippines, she could not pass the nursing license here. She took the exams and twice she failed. Without a social security number, she won’t get her nursing license even if she passed the exam. She also didn’t have an approved immigrant petition yet.

    As expected, she turned to an arranged marriage. A gay friend of hers introduced her to Matt, a white U.S. citizen, who was willing to help her for a fee. Matt, who was gay but he would participate in the scheme all the way, that is until Marivic got the green card and as long as she pays the rent for the duration of their show marriage.

    Initially, Matt asked for $3,500 an as advanced payment and the balance of $3,500 to be paid after Marivic received her green card. So, they pretended to live together as husband and wife, but once inside the house they didn’t have to pretend for long.

    Although Matt considered himself to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, he wasn’t able to resist the physical attractions of Marivic. He made sexual advances in the silence of the night and she gave in. Now the two felt something for each other. What could they do but explore the relationship to the fullest? Whether it was love or lust that brought them closer together, they didn’t care. What was important is Matt waived the balance of the agreed payment and now helps Marivic pay the rent.

    As time went on, Matt’s gay side reappeared. Once in a while, he would give in to his gay tendencies. He would go out and have amorous relationships with men. Marivic was helpless. She knew that she had fallen in love with a gay. She wanted to get out of the relationship but she didn’t have the green card yet. Another gay friend of hers advised her to stay put until she gets the card. At first she was reluctant, but that is what she exactly did.

    On the other hand, some U.S. citizens, who are only after the money, don’t care if they live or not with the illegal. Some illegal immigrants also take the risk of not living with the U.S. citizen for both citizen and illegal have their own separate agendas.

    If a sham marriage is suspected or discovered, the petition will be surely denied. The illegal immigrant will be placed in a removal proceeding and subsequently deported, that is if the illegal does not hide to evade deportation. The citizen may be in some cases be charged with a felony, say fraud, but most could get away with it as immigration authorities’ real concern is the illegal alien. Yet despite the exorbitant price of a fixed marriage and the attendant risk, many illegals are emboldened to try it as a way to legalize their stay or status. More often than not, luck plays a part in the success or failure of these ventures.

    While I didn’t exactly see the need for a partner in life or a girlfriend for that matter, my unfortunate status in this land compelled me to seek a U.S. citizen partner. I enjoyed women before, but enjoyment had never been my prime consideration anymore. Admittedly, once in a while I still crave for sex but I can sleep without it. When the urge was great, there are ways to answer the call of nature.

    For me then, marriage was not entirely for sex or companionship. I was getting married for another reason — to be honest about it—to get myself out of the rut and see my family again. I missed my children and I missed my mother so much that I too have to enter into a fixed marriage.

    I didn’t want to be an illegal immigrant forever. And I didn’t want to go home without the green card either. I had suffered so much pain being illegal here. I swallowed my pride to survive. I worked so hard and had surrendered to the exploitative practices of my employers, without being able to openly voice my complaints. I have to save myself from the possible arrest by immigration officers who could send me back to my country in a humiliating deportation, like the group of more than 300 Filipinos who were handcuffed and deported like criminals years ago. I couldn’t imagine that happening to me.

    Friends asked me why I came to this country, the U.S.A., when I was doing well as a journalist back home in the Philippines. There was more to it than what was on the surface.

    A feeling of uneasiness and disenchantment were spreading among the rank and file of the Philippines Journalists, Inc. (PJI) after Malacanang4 (the seat of the Philippine government) had appointed Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG)5 caretakers to settle, seemingly without end, the question about the ownership of the newspaper publication I was then working for. The first time PCGG caretakers took over the PJI was in 1986, when the late Corazon Aquino, through the people’s power revolution, ended the Marcos regime and banished the former president, Ferdinand Marcos, to Hawaii. With the government’s takeover, the PJI had become the mouthpiece of the first Aquino administration.

    4 The official residence and principal workplace of the President of the Philippines. Malacanang Palace. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/

    5 It is a quasi-judicial agency created by President Corazon Aquino to recover the ill-gotten wealth accumulated during the Marcos regime. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

    Malacanang’s appointed PCGG caretakers ostensibly also tried to recover what they perceived as ill-gotten wealth. They also went to find out if Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, brother of disgraced first lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos; was the real owner of the publication.

    PJI was a chain of tabloids—People’s Journal, People’s Tonight, and People’s Taliba, the underachieving broadsheet Times Journal, and Women’s Journal magazine. After 13 years and three presidents, the PCGG is still trying to find out the identity of the PJI’s real owners. More likely, I believe they had already determined who the owner was but had no interest in letting go the paper that had served their own interests so well. So when it was time to privatize the publication, the government dilly-dallied.

    Rumor had it then that should the publication be privatized, buyers would come from the caretaker’s own ranks. Even if the rumor was rubbish, it still smelled. When the PCGG arrived on the doorsteps of the PJI and dug into the publication coffers, they found the potential of the company: it was the number-one circulating tabloid group in the country and it was making money. The publication was a gold mine.

    The PCGG caretakers drew unusually huge salaries. But what did more than a hundred thousand peso a month salary matters when the PJI coffers were full to the brim? Reports had it that apart from the huge salaries, they also took fat allowances. Then PJI Union President Mr. Junex Doronio, who had been one of those responsible for the booting out of a PCGG chairman, disclosed, citing a document he obtained, that the caretakers drew unusually huge amount of cash in mid-month advances. If that was true, then the impression that the PJI had indeed become a milking cow was no longer baseless.

    The PJI, in its new role as trumpeter of the administration’s achievement and accomplishments, and as the public relations arm of the government, lost its competitiveness. Sales went down calamitously. In no time, the coffers were almost empty. The idealism and the freedom of expression, to which journalists were drawn to were curtailed if not suppressed outright at the PJI.

    To make the already bad situation worse, there were many in the Journal who suddenly acted like gods. Those who had connections with the powers that be were all of a sudden lording over the rest who labored in the publications. Arbitrarily, beat reporters were reshuffled from one assignment to another. Those who were close to the high-and-mighty in management or the editorial board would get choice assignments but those who were not “connected” were thrown in the kangkungan.”

    Literally kangkungan” is a swamp where water spinach, a popular vegetable among the poor folks, grows. Figuratively, it’s a place where the salvaged or summarily executed are dumped. So, when one is thrown into the kangkungan” he’s dead as in dead meat. Many were disillusioned and I was one of them.

    Although I was earning substantially then from my job and sidelines, not to mention the goodwill or grease money coming from government officials and the unexpected dole outs from gambling lords,6 I wasn’t happy.

    Most employees at PJI felt they have had enough of the PCGG’s messing. Many of my colleagues and I felt we lost the respect of our co-workers in the industry. Our morale nosed dived and some of my contemporaries left in disgust or have been axed for raising a voice. A few filed for early retirement—I was one of them.

    6 Claire Delfin, Poverty and Corruption in the Philippines. The media, the supposed principal watchdogs monitoring and exposing corruption, find themselves neither denouncing it nor embracing it. Cash-filled envelopes are given to journalists by police, military, elected officials, gambling lords, and even those in the private sectors during press conferences, elections, for publication of stories or suppression of stories. Thus, the term envelopmental journalism.”

    Making a painful decision to leave a job I love and enjoy made me question whether I had made the right decision. The country’s economy was not getting any better. Getting a job was getting harder and harder.

    I was afraid of not being able to meet the financial responsibilities at home after my extra sources of income were discontinued. Working abroad then became an option and I have been fortunately toying that idea for a couple of years. I then guessed the time had come to give it a try.

    The decision would not only affect me personally but the lives of those who depended on me for survival—my son, my daughter, and my mother, who was in her twilight years and on whose shoulders fell the responsibility of taking care of my daughter –-some of my folks and even friends, who had no visible means of financial support and thus needed help in one way or the other. There were also the mortgages of my two houses. Sooner or later, I might lose those dear to me if I remain still. It would be foolish not to do anything when I could still work. I was at a crossroad

    I told then PJI publisher Raymond Burgos about my situation. His closeness with President Joseph Estrada, who reportedly stood as sponsor in his wedding, allegedly paved the way for him to be plucked out from the reporter’s beat and awarded the plum position. He was young and many thought he is not suited to be the paper’s publisher but anything is possible when government changes. Sometimes, even dreams come true. That’s how connections go and that’s the way politics in the Philippines is.

    Once in a while, Raymond and I would spend the night in Pasay and Quezon City nightclubs. We would watch women dance naked on stage. I would bring a bottle of brandy and we would down it to the last drop. There would be plenty of young women around us and plenty of food, courtesy of the nightclub. We would discuss so many things, mostly nonsensical. Until the topic of my leaving the Journal came up because I got pissed with my immediate bosses who arbitrarily removed me from my beat assignment. Burgos didn’t want me to resign. He offered the foreign office assignment back.

    You can get it back if you want it,” he said.

    But I told him there’s no need.

    He then suggested that I go on leave for a year or two, which was against the company policy. He then assured me that as soon as I got a job in the United States, he would personally attend to my retirement, if I so decided to really leave PJI. That was the nicest gesture I had from him. I told him, however, that money was my immediate problem.

    With the economy not looking any better,” I said, “I have to earn more.”

    By retiring, I could partly solve some pressing financial problems at home. Burgos let me go when he saw I was determined to leave.

    Stephanie was asleep when I left for the airport. I was with a heavy heart, not knowing when I would see her again. She is my daughter from a relationship after my wife. Her mother was also a journalist and a public relations practitioner. Stephanie had just turned six, about the same age my son had been when I left him with my in- laws to live on my own.

    On the other hand, my marriage with John’s mother didn’t work. She is a Chinese mestiza, her father a full-blooded Chinese from Taiwan. One of the problems we constantly faced was lack of money. I was not earning enough yet I was spending so much time with friends and that caused friction between us. My wife got angrier when she found out that I had also been frequenting beer joints, which made her distrust me more. She later made her move. Were she to get even with me or through a woman’s weakness, I don’t know but she left me for another man.

    The crack in our marriage actually started when I made photography a hobby and joined a camera club. I would travel to faraway places, many times on weekends. I had no time for my family. The situation was further compounded when I started working on two jobs. I would work days in a hospital and in the evenings as a graveyard shift reporter for the People’s Tonight. I would see my wife only in the morningwhen she was home asleep after her night shift in a semi-conductor factory – while I was about to leave for my hospital job. As I spend the night at the PJI’s office, my only real time to interact with my wife was on Saturdays, as Sundays would is a workday for me too.

    As this went on, I was seeing her and our son less frequently. When my wife left for Australia, I only learned of it after she had been gone away for several days. I found myself alone with my son. I felt uncomfortable with my in-laws without my wife. I thought it was time to leave, having lived with them since I married their daughter. I didn’t dare take my son with me. I knew if I did, I would incur the ire of my mother-in-law—who had been so good to me—since that would mean that with my departure, I had taken both her daughter and her grandson from her. Even when I left, I never failed to get in touch with y son.

    Leaving Stephanie at her tender age somehow perpetuated the unfortunate cycle of leaving someone dear to me. It broke my heart. I felt so much pain inside, the silent anguish of leaving her, the same anguish I felt when I left my son. But this time, I left both of them for abroad with no idea when I would see them again.

    Since I’ve been traveling abroad, my son John was with me for the first time at the airport and I felt so sorry for him. I had not been with him during the crucial times of his growing up. There was no one guiding him or helping him in his studies. I saw him only whenever I brought him money or when there was a suitable occasion at my in-laws’ house. Except for the financial support I gave, I failed miserably as a father to him. In short, John grew up alone, without any of us by his side. I could only blame myself.

    My immediate goal abroad was to earn enough so I could go back to them soon. Or at least to have a job that would enable me to support them financially for as long as I could work.

    I was going to Canada, my original destination but had to pass through the United States. All Northwest Airlines flights took the US-Canada route via Minneapolis as an entry point to North America.

    At the Port of Entry, I faced the friendliest immigration officer I’ve ever met. I didn’t have problems with him. He was nice when I presented my passport and plane tickets. In Tagalog, he asked me “Kamusta ka?” He was a white American. He had been assigned in the Navy, he said. Amazingly, he continued to speak in Tagalog until finally he remarked walang problema.”I went past him and recovered my baggage on the conveyor.

    As I headed towards the exit door, an airport policewoman stopped me. She asked several questions: Where I bought my ticket? How much I paid for it? Where I was going? Despite having answered her queries, she asked me to follow her while two of her colleagues searched my baggage, laptop and camera bag. They groped me and searched my bag thoroughly, as if looking for a contraband or a bomb or maybe anchovies, or perhaps dried fish that Filipinos are known to be fond of bringing into the country. In silence and because of my helplessness, I was fuming mad as I was at their mercy.

    I’ve heard later that there were occasions when they even asked travelers to undress to see if they were carrying illegal drugs. Sometimes they would fish for documents to prove that the traveler was a job hunter. If they confirmed their suspicion, they would refuse entry to that traveler, telling that traveler to take the next available flight back home. They did those humiliating searches to any person they picked at random or on tips.

    Finding nothing, they thanked me for my cooperation— the most they could do for the trouble they had subjected me to. And yet with all the hassles I went through, I was going to Toronto not to Minneapolis.

    More than an hour after my arrival in Canada, Rolly Canonigo, one of my former students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where I had a short stint teaching until martial law was declared, fetched me at the airport. He drove straight to John Silverio’s condominium.

    Rolly’s wife Ningning was with us. John was the guy whom Dick, my drinking buddy in the Philippines asked me to contact once I get to Canada. Dick was a salesman of hospital imaging machines and godfather to my daughter. He and John were friends.

    John was staying at The Green at Tam ‘O Shanter condominium in Scarborough, a residential place for moneyed people. He’s a cousin of car racer Dante Silverio and a close friend of the late Sen. Robert Barbers. His wife Linda Uy was a niece of Manuel Uy, the Filipino-Chinese who made fortunes selling sweepstakes.

    John and Linda were new in Toronto, having arrived from the Philippines only a month before. They had relocated in Toronto after experiencing their worst nightmares in the Philippines. John’s only daughter was kidnapped, released only after they coughed up P11 million (Philippine peso). At that time, kidnapping was rampant and had become a profitable “business,” reportedly with the connivance of some rogue police officers and military men.

    Also staying with the Silverio’s was Vivian, a niece of Lebertito Pelayo, who is a journalist based in New York. I met Tito at the Empire State building in New York when I visited him once in 1998. He was occupying a unit on the sixth floor of the building. Vivian’s husband is a nephew of the late Sen. Robert Barbers. It appeared that everybody was somehow connected to everyone else.

    Barbers became a friend after the late veteran police reporter and onetime PJI publisher, Max Buan, introduced me to him. Since then, whenever I saw him at the police station when he was still a police officer, he would always give me a bottle of whiskey, brandy or something similarly intoxicating. His men would even fill up the company’s vehicle with vegetables and fruits coming from the market he had jurisdiction with every time I visited him. I would always share the “goodies” with my neighbors because that would be too much for me alone.

    John encouraged me to try my luck in Toronto for a while. He promised to get me a job or give one himself since he was thinking of putting up a camera shop and photography studio. When I arrived, Dick, who had visited John, had left a day earlier for the Philippines.

    I stayed with my former student at Etobicoke, a two- story apartment that he and Ningning had acquired through hard work and determination. The couple came to Canada as landed immigrants. About buying the house, Ningning had been the more determined of the two, insistently prodding Rolly to go along with her. She went on to have two jobs—one at Costco, and another in an insurance firm—so they could afford the mortgage while Rolly work as a certified nursing attendant taking care of elderly patients. To augment their income, they leased the basement and the first floor of the apartment to their relatives while they occupied the upper floor.

    Rolly provided a folding mattress for a bed that I placed between the center table and the sofa in the living room, the only space available. There were two rooms on the upper floor, both occupied by the couple and their three boys. The following day, Rolly and I went downtown Toronto. We bought bus tickets, got the Route 76 bus, and went straight to the subway station. We got off the train at Yongé Station and boarded a southbound train to Dundas. We strolled through Eaton Place, a big mall in Toronto, which Rolly said Sears-Canada bought for $50 million after the Eatons had filed for bankruptcy. At Timothy, we enjoyed the freshly brewed coffee.

    Back in the house, while watching TV, I was amused by the news: Two Canadians C-130’s had difficulty taking off from the airport. They were bound for East Timor as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. News reports said the problem could be due to the age of the planes, which reminded me of our aging defense arsenals in the Philippines. I was amazed to see a country like Canada still using antiquated planes.

    CHAPTER 2

    It’s warm, the last day of summer. Ningning accompanied me to the Toronto Star at Queens Quay. The Toronto Star was reportedly the most widely read newspapers in Canada, if not the biggest circulating newspaper in Toronto then. My appointment with Andrew Go, the vice president for business ventures was at 11 in the morning. There was only the secretary in his office on the seventh floor when I came in. I easily felt at ease with almost no one in the room.

    As soon as Mr. Go arrived, I handed him Antonio Mortel’s introduction letter. Mortel was his close friend in Manila, who was also my editor at People’s Journal. There was also a note of endorsement from his cousin Leoncio Go, editor of the United Daily News, a leading Chinese community newspaper in the Manila Chinatown.

    With those letters I had hope I can get a job. Unfortunately, the back-up notes from Mortel and Go meant nothing. Andrew Go bluntly told me there was a problem with my immigration visa.

    You are not a landed immigrant. It would be difficult to accommodate you. Besides, you don’t have any local experience,” he said in a tone of finality with no compassion in his voice.

    To this newcomer in Canada, he gave no encouragement whatsoever. It didn’t surprise me though. I knew even before I met him my chances were slim. He didn’t know me.

    Disappointed over my first job-hunting attempt in Canada, I decided not to waste time and asked Ningning to make a call to Consul General Susan Castrence at the consulate. Ms. Castrence, a favorite of the media, was one of the spokespersons I had covered at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila. She had been later posted in Tokyo but when Joseph Estrada became president she was transferred to Toronto.

    Over the phone, Ms. Castrence said she was just over a month in Canada and had not yet settled in completely. She had yet to even get her property from the customs that had been shipped from the Philippines. As a practice, newly posted diplomat had to make a courtesy call with the ambassador of their assignment and she told me she was preparing herself for that meeting.

    Get your bearings in the country for a while, while I do the same. We will have lunch together as soon as I get settled down,” Ms. Castrence said.

    Exactly 15 days later, we had lunch of seafood and noodles at the Dynasty next to the Philippine consulate on West of Bloor Street. Her labor attaché, Romeo Young, joined us, as did my host Ningning. We didn’t talk much or stayed any longer in the restaurant after we had our meals as she had another appointment waiting.

    While Ningning and I were leisurely strolling along Bloor Street right after having lunch with Ms. Castrence, a cold burst of wind sent us quivering. I had only a polo shirt. The chill easily penetrated my skin and “I was cold to the bone.” The subway was only two blocks away from the Philippine Consulate but we ran as fast as we could and found relief in the heated subway.

    In the evening, Rolly and I went to the wake of Antonio Nadurata at Turner and Porter Funeral Parlor. It was my first time to attend a wake in a foreign country. People came in properly dressed. Antonio or Tony as his circle of friends called him was called “mayor” because of his close resemblance to the late Mayor Antonio J. Villegas of Manila. Except for the facial mole, which Tony didn’t have, he was almost a copy.

    Outside, the temperature had dropped to -2 degrees Fahrenheit.

    On Sunday, I tugged along with the Canonigo’s to Queensway Cathedral, a Pentecostal church. As we went inside, the worshipers were all smiles as they sang. I was so touched seeing everyone sang and prayed from their heart. Tears rolled down my face. I wept. I couldn’t understand why. It was my first Pentecostal religious service.

    Rolly had contacted the Kabayan for me, a Filipino association in Toronto assisting Filipinos with jobs, trainings, and educations regardless of whether they were legal or not. Freddie Cusipag of PinoyBlues news magazine was looking for an assistant. It was a job I needed.

    To meet Freddie, two of Rolly’s children accompanied me to Jameson Avenue. It was raining hard but we braved the rain so I could make the appointment on time. Freddie had just started running the news magazine. His brother, a publisher of a community newspaper in Toronto, had been paralyzed from a recent car accident. Nobody in the family wanted to continue his brother’s newspaper business. Yet his brother’s family didn’t want him to take over.

    Freddie had been a salesperson in Manila and had no experience putting out a newspaper. But he was undaunted. He wanted not only to pick up where his brother left, he wanted to come out with a much-improved community newspaper.

    Freddie could only afford allowances. He assured though he would get me a second job and help legalize my stay. The offer was not ideal but I needed a job, remembering what John Silverio said on my first day—give Canada a shot. With two more staff working with him—a copy editor and a graphic layout artist—we labored on the first issue of PinoyBlues news magazine in his house, finishing at one in the morning. I was so dead-tired I easily fell asleep on the couch.

    When I woke up, Freddie surprised me with a winter jacket, a T-shirt and briefs in clear appreciation of the knowledge I injected into his news magazine. A week after, we delivered the news magazines in bundles to the pop and mom stores, especially the establishments that advertised with us, using the copy editor’s 1989 Chrysler.

    The experience was far different from what I had at PJI, where I gathered information and wrote them as news items. Here it was more like being involved in a high school newspaper as a paying job. I enjoyed it though. I felt at home with my job.

    Later in the evening, we went bar-hopping at Mt. Pinatubo, Ihaw-ihaw, Mabuhay and Aristokrat to unwind. I noticed some Filipino entrepreneurs were fond of using existing business names in the Philippines, even famous ones, without apparent regard to whether they were infringing on any legal rights. A letter or two would be changed but would keep the sound of the name—Aristocrat became Aristokrat.

    Filipinos trooped to those places, especially on Fridays, drinking and singing Karaoke-style.

    While Freddie and I, and the copy editor celebrated the first issue of PinoyBlues with round after round of beers, we still had a sensible discussion of the next issue. The wheelchair-bound graphic layout artist didn’t join us bar- hopping. Freddie promised to get an office space that would serve as my home as soon as his finances improved.

    I met a Filipino businessman at the Aristokrat, who was into antiques and collectible furniture. He had two shops in Toronto and was putting up another one in California. He boasted that he had penetrated the movie industry in Canada and in the United States and that his antique furniture were rented as movie props. Two of his antique pieces had reportedly been used in the Titanic movie.

    The following day, Freddie brought me to Obrien, a former immigration officer now into private law practice. Obrien explained that my stay could be legalized only if a company sponsored and hired me. Freddie thought his news magazine could do it. Explaining the process, Obrien said the position had to be advertised and applicants interviewed. Freddie would tailor-made the requirements to me. So far, so good!

    One problem though—the sponsoring company had to be in operation for at least a year. Freddie’s PinoyBlues was only on its first month. We temporarily set aside the idea of sponsorship. That night, the temperature dropped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Rolly’s friends invited me to join them on a trip to the Niagara Falls. I didn’t think twice about the invitation as I love traveling to places. It took us two hours to negotiate the 120 kilometers distance from Etobicoke to the Niagara Falls. The weather was fine; there was no wind chill. There were just enough tourists—not too many or too few. The view was breathtaking—much better than from the U.S. side, I was told.

    I interviewed the furniture entrepreneur for the next issue of the news magazine. He gave me fifty Canadian dollars saying it was a gift and not a payment. He even offered a job in the shop and wanted me to start as soon as he came back from a trip in the Philippines. He was to leave October 25. I also received my allowance from Freddie, half the amount he promised. I thought it was better than nothing. We walked along Lake shore Drive in the afternoon. I took a some photographs of the rows of trees with their umbrella-like leaves, whose green, yellow, gold, and brown colors mixed in harmony. that provided shades on the walkway. It was a picture- perfect nature’s offering.

    One evening, Rolly’s friend asked if I wanted night action. Bored from doing nothing, I immediately sprang to my feet and I hurriedly put on a jacket, knowing it would be cold out there. We passed through the back door of the House of Lancaster. The entrance fee was $2 each. We settled down in the front left side of the stage, ordered two beers. It was pay-as-you-order. We added a little tip but the server pushed back the tip to us. We didn’t understand what was wrong not until a customer whispered the tip hadn’t been enough.

    The first woman that emerged from the dressing room was a Filipina. She sat down beside two white customers. Either she didn’t notice us or she wasn’t looking in our direction because she was apparently used to seeing Filipino customers. On stage, a white woman—a Canadian I supposed—was doing an acrobatic dance routine. She spread her legs, exposing what the customers came to see. The dancers that followed were either Africans or Latinos. One had a bling in her tongue; another had one on her…, ah, never mind. This generation had gone crazy.

    I saw customers went up the second floor with dancers in tow. They paid the man by the door that I assumed was a bar fine for taking a woman upstairs. In the two hours we were in the House of Lancaster, I saw about six couples went up the stairs for “more action.” There is a saying that if one has been to the Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and the House of Lancaster, then one has seen all of Canada. So I thought that’s all about it.

    John was not coming home in November, but would stay in the Philippine still until March to see how things will be after the millennium. It meant the photo studio he promised would have to wait. Freddie was having difficulty collecting payments from advertisers and was on the verge of breaking down. He thought of folding up. I felt bad.

    My Canadian opportunities weren’t looking up. I also felt the hospitality of the Canonigo’s was waning. I got the impression that I was becoming an extra load since I am not sharing in the expenses.

    Ningning was afraid I might find myself in trouble with the immigration authorities for working without the necessary papers. And she also was afraid it might involve them. I understood. It was time to go. At that moment, I felt unwanted.

    Ningning helped me book the earliest possible flight after I said I would just leave for the United States. I was to go to Portland, Oregon Saturday morning, two days after I talked about leaving.

    That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to drown myself with beers but I couldn’t get myself drunk. I was awake the whole night. I was upset. I stayed glued on the television as the Mets allowed the Braves filled up the bases,hoping a weak hitter would bungle the 12th innings. But the unexpected happened— Andrew John walked in a run. It would now be the Braves and the Yankees in the World Series.

     

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #2

    August 3rd, 2016

    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.

    romy morales

    (2nd installment)

    CHAPTER 1

    I am an ALIEN!

    Do not be surprised that I have decided to expose myself with this confession. I know what you’re thinking. No, I am not an alien from another planet, that freakish, wide-eyed green virtual creature you see in comic books or Hollywood movies.

    According to Miriam-Webster dictionary, an alien is someone (a) belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing; and (b) relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government.

    Yes, I’m an alien here in the U.S.A. Someone like me, who came from a foreign state is technically an alien here in America. An alien could be legal or illegal. Under U.S. law an alien is “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” Those who have overstayed and had accrued illegal status are usually referred to as illegal aliens. Who wants to be called alien? No one! Perhaps, even the aliens from neighboring planets, if they do exist, would not want to be called as such. It is a demeaning tag. But this is how U.S. immigration personnel refers to immigrants, who are legalizing their status or have not obtained their green card after their legal status has expired.

    Nevertheless, it is to their credit that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services had come up with ways to lessen the impact of that dehumanizing tag, by “sugar coating it.” They now brand illegals as undocumented immigrants.

    With the bipartisan approach of Congress in fixing the broken immigration problem, the Associated Press has initiated a move with the way the words “illegal, illegal alien, illegal immigrant, undocumented immigrant, or undocumented alien” are used in their stories to avoid further dehumanizing or marginalizing people in this status. The news agency is trying to be more specific in describing people without legal documentation. It is trying to be politically correct.

    Getting married to an American citizen is one sure way to be legal and I took that “express” route. After years of struggling to survive, I no longer thought is is possible for a Juliet to arrive and find

    ii

    this Romeo. From the start, I am uncertain that I will find someone to marry. I am not a macho good-looking guy that women would swoon over me. More than that, I had my own insecurities as baggage.

    I am no Adonis or a Valentino that would attract women physically at least. And I didn’t have anything in the way of wealth, talent, or height to boast. I just happen to be a man that is all about it—short, five feet tall or maybe less depending on my heels and always sporting a serious look due to the heavy burdens I had on my shoulder. Nevertheless, I easily releases a smile when the situation warrants it. My friends keep telling me that I have a slight similarity with Serpico, the main character, played by Al Pacino, in a movie with same title. Maybe during my younger days with my long hair and untrimmed mustache but I didn’t really believe my friends. I am ordinary in appearance and not even a good dresser. In short, I am nobody. Everything about me is obvious, but not necessarily ugly. I am hardly a marriage material. Sad part of it, I am an illegal alien or as the politically correct would say—an undocumented immigrant!

    What would a woman want with an illegal immigrant? “He probably won’t be in this country too long in the first place, let alone find work”—this is what she would no doubt be telling me. Being illegal, one is marginalized. It limits one’s opportunity. But let me get this straight—I am not complaining. Even illegal immigrants should not complain of being marginalized. If I became miserable, it was my own lookout. I am just stating a sad fact of what normally happens to an illegal immigrant—always at the lowest receiving end, vulnerable to exploitation and more often than not could hardly get the right work and the right pay. There may be some who are luckier but they are the ones who defied the odds—getting employed of all places even in the federal government, holding executive positions in private companies, getting paid more than a U.S. citizen does when they, too, have no legal papers to speak of or are on illegal status.

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    Even to find someone to tie knot with either for a legitimate purpose or convenience often becomes frustrating for an illegal. With my status and nothing to offer apart from being saddled with a physical infirmity— another drawback I would say—I have my doubts whether there would be someone who would take me as a partner. Even for money, women would have second thoughts—and worst, I don’t even have the dough! Maybe if I were a moneyed guy, it would be different. Because of my baggage, whenever I see a chance, I never feel I have an equal opportunity. I always find myself disadvantaged. An apt word to describe my predicament would be an “underdog.” Many times, I was amazed by the odds against me. What fighting chance do I have with one hand always tied behind my back? Yet I have learned to live with it and much more….I survive! Yes, there were accomplishments and it made me forget the baggage I have.

    Supposedly, finding just any woman is not difficult. Women outnumbered men. What is challenging is finding a U.S. citizen, who would be a marriage partner. You don’t ask a person if she or he is a (U.S.) citizen or not. You never do that! You got to be creative in finding out whether one is a citizen or not — like asking: “Did you vote in the last election?” “Have you been a jury?”  — Of course, only U.S. citizens vote and render jury service. If the answer is no, you need a little more sleuthing. But the problem doesn’t end there; one has to win the heart of that U.S. citizen. That’s the prime consideration. It could be tough, especially if one has no legal paper to speak of because it might give the wrong message that one marries a U.S. citizen only for immigration benefit. Before, back home, I had some women. It was no problem wooing them. I never felt I was at a disadvantage despite my disability. All I did was be myself. But it’s different here, and with the baggage I had, I had somehow

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    lost my confidence. I never shy away from women before. Never! But being an illegal, my self-esteem had disappeared. Sometimes, I quickly chickened out even before I could approach a woman. There was this young woman I dated for years but had been unable to express my feelings. I was so worried about my status that she would not understand me. Until she married another man when she got tired waiting for me to speak up, which I never did. I felt so stupid.

    In a discussion of marriage, it is common to hear from some Filipino-American citizens such revolting statements as: “Baka papel lang gusto nyan, pag nakuha na niya ang berde, iiwanan ka na.” Translated it means he might only be interested in the paper, that is, once he gets the green card he would leave. Although there is a semblance of truth to their apprehensions as it happens sometimes, the generalization is unfair as if all illegals would do the same.

    A Thai friend told me the same thing is also true with them. Even my Chinese buddy in L.A. had said the same thing about their apprehensions of marrying their own kind. When one proposes love to a citizen, sometimes the people around intervene to prevent the relationship from blossoming into anything like marriage. “Bakit sya  pa, wala naman papel yan, buti pa singilin mo,” many will say, which amounted to saying, why him when he doesn’t have the paper, you might as well ask him to pay.

    Even when one is sincere with the marriage proposal and is truly in love with the citizen, there could be doubts on the part of the “legal” simply because of the idea that the marriage proposal could just be for convenience, so the illegal would be legalized. I have heard, some local citizens in the suburbs are not that much concerned about a person’s status. You woo them and if you’re lucky, they will go with you. What matters to them, I was told, is trust and love, and if you could just simply sustain them, that is already acceptable to them. And marriage could be the culmination of that relationship. If you could watch the Jerry Springer show please do so and you will have an idea what I am talking about.

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    I guess the apprehension of a U.S. citizen in marrying an alien could be equally true to anyone anywhere else in the world. However, my experience in this country, where U.S. citizenship in some respect has almost become a commodity, tells me I may not find what I am looking for. I haven’t gone to any rural areas yet or in places where it would be easy to win a woman’s heart. I still have to experience pursuing lady luck there. I don’t know.

    While many Filipino-American citizens might consent to marrying an illegal for love, there are also quite a number who would turn down marriage to an illegal. Some who agree to tie the knot for convenience might demand payment in return and the amount could be enormous. This is why many Filipino illegals would rather cast their eyes on other nationals than with their own kind to avoid the need of paying huge amount of money or the verbal abuse and raw treatment they would likely get for having pinned their American dreams with them.

    Familiarity breeds contempt or simply stated: “marrying a Filipino or a Filipina should be the last thing that an illegal Filipino should do if the purpose of the marriage is to fix their status.”

    Some Filipino-American citizen could be an abuser, a nagger, a dictator, a slave driver or an opportunist when it comes to their relationship with an alien or an illegal immigrant. They know the helpless alien badly needs their help that they would take advantage of the situation to extract the most benefit out of the misery of their illegal partner. I learned all about these from the other undocumented immigrants as they relate to me their experiences be they Filipino or not. Unfortunately, I had also experienced them. Marrying other nationals other than Filipinos, who are U.S. citizens doesn’t look that easy either. There would be the language problem, cultural differences, low income, as most illegals are underpaid; and the height problem to some extent.

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    The enormous hindrances that entail marriage to a person with another nationality forces some Filipino illegals to seek marriage with fellow Filipinos/Filipinas, even if it means parting off with  hard-earned money; swallowing pride, and sometimes bearing with the attendant humiliation from the unexpected abuse (verbal, mental or physical) from the said partner. You should know that most Filipinos here who were naturalized are more American in their character and attitude than the so-called White Anglo-Saxon People (WASP). “Yeah right!” as the common expression among Filipino-American reverberates loud and clear.

    For an illegal, marrying a U.S. citizen could be  the surest and fastest way to get out of the rut. No wonder some U.S. citizens have put a price tag on their status—$20,000, $25,000 or even as high as $50,000. It’s a new form of prostitution!

    So, when I started looking for a partner, it was no easy job. I had a hard time finding a woman who is a U.S. citizen and who didn’t ask for money in return. I tried the Internet, but most of the women in the game were much, much taller than I, that I almost felt I was in a wrong place, maybe in the land of the giants, I was a Lilliputian. Scrolling through their qualifications only increased my feeling of helplessness. I realized the more I continue using the Internet to look for a partner in life, the more disappointed I will be. I also tried the bars, the clubs and coffee shops but I am not the person who easily finds a mate in those places. Many times, I almost wanted to go back home, in an even worse situation than the one I had here. But the deplorable condition at home only strengthened my resolve to hang on.

    Then the unexpected happened. Having adjusted myself completely to my new environment and having absorbed the cultures of the people around me, I realized I still have with me the charms I had which attracted women back home. Through various twists of luck and with a firm  determination coupled with a thick skin, I found what I was looking for—not just one but several

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    U.S. citizens, a green card holder, and even an illegal alien like me.

    There are more but they are asking to be paid. Outright, I ignored those who demanded payment. With the illegal, it was no problem for when I pursued her, she fell in love with me. I supposed she thought I was a U.S. citizen. It happened. Yet, I didn’t take advantage of her vulnerability, knowing very well she too, was looking for a U.S. citizen. Being in them same boat with her as an an illegal, I know I couldn’t help her and it wouldn’t help me either so I just faded out of her life to allow her to find her own U.S. citizen savior.

    Of the U.S. citizens whose trust I won, I managed to successively live with two of them for almost a year while the other one we had lived together for more than two years. Eventually, the relationships failed either due to the machinations of those who wanted us separated or because we were incompatible or both. I couldn’t imagine there are people who could be so mean. I’ve heard this so-called crab mentality— where people pulls one down to prevent another from going up. These people said the nastiest things about me. In effect, they destroyed me. How could they be so vicious? Overwhelmed by the negativity of their machinations, especially about my illegal status, the families of the women I had a live-in relationship started to have reservations about me and my intentions.

    My first relationship with a U.S. citizen was almost in the bag but because of the protestations of her children, I decided to break up with her, to let her go even after she vowed to marry me. I was hurt and very frustrated.

    The other two relationships that followed were different. There was love in these relationships and in both instances, we literally lived as husband and wife; but just like what happened in my first relationship, the families of these two and their circle of friends are also against our relationship. Yes, same old story—boy likes girl, girl likes boy but the people around didn’t approve. These two succeeding relationships did not survive.

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    With the last two women that I had a relationship, I got married with the first one but we later had our marriage annulled.

    As with my second relationship, I almost married her but decided not to because of the pressure. Marriage didn’t happen because she had an attitude—a misplaced superior attitude—that made herself believed she is always on top of everything. If I married her, she would have dominated every aspect of my life, turning me into a virtual henpecked husband in the process. With her, I wasn’t sure of myself anymore. I would have been a “yes man” if I wanted to preserve our relationship. We were so close to getting married but somehow I chickened out when red flags keep appearing before me, frightened of what I was getting into. I decided it is better that we don’t get married. She too felt the same, I guess. We decided to call off the wedding, remaining friends instead for as long as we could until we slowly drifted apart. The parting, in some aspects, could have been good for both of us. The best part of it is we had saved the sanctity of marriage, which in all likelihood was going to fail.

    For a while, I thought I was headed for depression with the breakups I had from one relationship to another. Only the moral support of some friends and their continued encouragement enabled me to overcome my disappointments.

    With the one I am currently married to, it went this way. A common friend had introduced me to her, I courted her relentlessly, called her on the phone almost every night, the same way I did with other women. When we met about three weeks later, it was as if we had known each other for a long time. There was no ice to break when we found ourselves face- to-face; we almost said nothing except “is it you?” and “it’s me, hi!” and the next thing we knew, we were lying in a bed of love whispering sweet nothings into each other ears. Sounds like a movie!

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    Soon we decided to get married. I told her I didn’t have the papers; she said it does not matter. She thought getting married would help me, and I was moved by her affection. There was no denying her concern could be an offshoot of love. There was no money involved. It was something I valued so much. It gave me hope for the first time.

    Going home to see my mother was the next thing in my mind. As a bonus for the immigration benefits I would get for marrying her, my fiancé suggested that we send for my daughter, from whom I withheld my presence during her formative years. I couldn’t believe when she said, “Yes, let’s bring your daughter here.” As she uttered those words, she made those beautiful smiles. It was the nicest statement of love I had heard in my life. Getting my daughter to join me was something I had wished so much. I had shed tears whenever I thought of her. Having her around would be the culmination of my dream.

    Although I eyed marriage as the best way to a green card, I had initially opted for an employment-based petition—a process of hiring a foreign worker when no U.S. worker is available to fill a vacant position.

     

    A law firm had filed a labor certification for me through the traditional method. It would later be withdrawn after I had a falling-out with my would-be employer-petitioner but the filing itself of the application before the April 30, 2001 deadline had made me eligible for the grandfathering of the 245(i) Immigration and Naturalization Act (3). This means that when I would have to adjust my status to that of a lawful permanent resident, I wouldn’t have to go back to my country to get the green card.

     

    (3) Adjustment of Status under the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (“LIFE Act”). Under Section 245(i) of the Act, adjustment of status was available to alien crewmen, aliens continuing or accepting unauthorized employment, aliens admitted in transit without visa, and aliens who entered without inspection. This law sunset on January 14, 1998, but was revived under the LIFE Act, which extended INA Section 245(i) to April 30, 2001.

     

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    With the withdrawal of the first labor certification, another law firm came to my rescue, filing again a labor certification for the same position through a Reduction in Recruitment, a much faster procedure than the traditional method of getting the green card.

    With the RIR, as it was known in the immigration industry, it took about two and a half years to get the green card compared with five years or maybe a little more with the traditional manner of filing labor certification.

    There is yet another process even faster than the RIR that had been introduced, replacing the RIR and the traditional method.

    Known as the Program Electronic Review Management or PERM, it cuts the waiting time from 45 to 60 days from the time the application for labor certification was filed. But something went wrong with my second labor certification as filed by my new would-be employer-petitioner. A year after it was filed, we noticed a possible error.

    In the published advertisement, it had wrongly included a restrictive requirement.  Instead of “law firm seeking technical writer…” it was published as “Filipino law firm seeking a technical writer…” A restrictive requirement that calls for only Filipinos as applicants could be doomed and lead to a denial of the labor certification by the Employment Development Department. Fortunately, our apprehension was misplaced for the EDD didn’t even bother touching it or they just let it go.

    But one concern they raised that placed me on edge was our apparent failure to have complied with the submission of the advertisements. They said we didn’t submit the required newspapers. Without the ads, the EDD could only assumed the employer did not conduct the required recruitment campaign, when in fact, it did and had submitted the newspapers where the advertisement had appeared.  However,  my  petitioner  had  contacted  the newspaper publication that ran the ads for

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    copies to rebut the EDD findings but the cost was so much to bear.

    The petitioning law firm  decided to just convert the application from RIR to the traditional manner so as not to unnecessarily risk denial, hoping to later switch the labor certification to PERM or if that would not be possible to file a new certification under PERM, which would fast track the process. Its approval though was still no guarantee and it could prolong my agony much further.

    Looking at it objectively, the boo-boos committed in filing the labor certification and development in the immigration industry because of the 9/11 tragic incident in the American history conspired to dim my chances of legalization. An amnesty was far-fetched. Marriage to a U.S. citizen remained my only best alternative.

    To be continued…

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    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien)

    July 22nd, 2016

    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.

     

    romy morales

    THE stories about the widespread immigration hitting the headlines today, more than ever, is brought about by wars in Syria, Africa, and Asia, and the worldwide terrorist acts of al-Qaeda and ISIS. The worsening conflicts around the globe are driving people to move to other countries as immigrants in a bid to survive and better themselves. As the world globalizes and the global economic condition worsens, the volume of immigrants has risen to an alarming level never before seen.

    To date, the United Arab Emirates, due to its openness to immigrants; has registered the highest level of immigrants in the world at 88 percent followed by the United States with 19 percent or about 42.2 million people.

    Russia and Germany are tied at 9.6 percent followed by the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with 3.9 percent. This volume brought the percentage of immigrants vis a vis the local population of the kingdom to 15 percent.

    In the U.S., immigrants have concentrated themselves in California (10.5 million), Texas and New York (4.5 million each), Florida (4 million), New Jersey (2 million), and Chicago (1.4 million). These immigrants, in their desire to better their lives and their families, have braved the unknown trying their luck as an alien in a country so culturally different from their own.

    In the process of their struggles, they entered into new level of challenges that in some cases are even much worse from the condition they ran away from.

    Beyond Deadlines is taking pride putting into print some selected chapters of Romeo Morales’ Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) for immigrants to read. It’s a mind-boggling journey and struggle of an immigrant in the U.S., probably the second best personal account of an immigrant ever to come out after the publication, almost seven decades ago, of Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart. That literary piece shows the world that immigrant life in the U.S. then, as it is today, is not as rosy as it seems to be.

    Immigrants in America are met with “hostility, racism and low-paying jobs.” The hostile condition in the 30’s that Bulosan found himself to be when he went to the U.S. is comparable to what Morales have endured in that same North American country.

    Morales’ experience is smacked with certain degree of similarities with the ordeals and sacrifices (low salary, exploitation, injustice, discrimination, etc.) that Bulosan went through. Simply put, things in U.S. did not change since the 1930’s. The conditions are the same and in some instances may have worsen.

    Time to Breathe could be an eye-opener to those who continue to view the U.S. as the land of milk and honey and job opportunities.

    Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) are available in book form — soft bound (5.5 x 8.5 inch, 408 page-memoir, perfect binding), and electronic or digital format (eBook) at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (323-660-1175 to reserve a copy) or through an email at emailko0210@gmail.com It is also available at www.romeomorales.info. Copies could also be obtained by contacting the author through his Facebook account (Romy Morales). It’s availability at Amazon.com will also be announced soon.

    PROLOGUE

    After toiling for years as a reporter of a Manila newspaper, I realized I won’t be able to give my family and myself a better future from the salary I earn working regularly almost 24/7.

    Tired and bored searching for stories in every corner of the metropolis as a police reporter and later as a foreign affairs journalist, I finally decided to get out from my self-incarceration in my profession and seek the field of dreams that I dream of for so long.

    Believing that North America is going to become my cure-all solution to my financial difficulties and professional stagnation, I left the Philippines with a heavy heart and few hard-earned Philippine peso that I could spend while I steadied myself as I face uncertainties abroad.

    I first flew to Canada in the hope that my experience as a journalist was enough credential to find employment. With Canada having opened its doors to immigrants, I decided to try my luck in that country. However, I have, at the back of my mind, the United States of America as my alternative and final destination should my Canadian venture fails.

    When I left Manila for a 16-hour trip to North America, some 10,000 miles away, I thought it would be a breeze transiting from the U.S. to Canada. But upon landing at the U.S.’s Minneapolis on my way to the Maple country, I was unnecessarily subjected to meticulous inspections. Immigration officers examined all travel papers and, in some cases, even subjects new arrivals to harsh interrogation.

    In my case, I got past immigration without any hassle but as I was retrieving my baggage, customs officers (they were wearing uniform similar to the policemen) singled me out from the crowd, scrutinized my bag for barred items like dried salted fish (tuyo) or fish sauce (patis). They asked intrusive questions like where I bought my plane ticket and how I paid for it.

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    The queries made me slightly quiver, fearful and anxious expecting that at any moment that they would rebook me on a flight back to the Philippines. Finding nothing that would allow them to detain me further, I was allowed to proceed. What pisses me off in that instance was that my final destination, at that time, was Canada not the U.S. I’m just an airline passenger in transit.

    Without any working visa or work arrangement in Canada, I plunged head on to that country only with a tourist visa and a determination to make my job-hunting adventure work. Soon, I was able to land a job but it didn’t last long. My first attempt to seek employment and permanent residency in Canada was a total failure.

    As I spent more time in that country, my prospects for better jobs dwindled and so was the hope to work and stay legally. Thus, I wasted no time, packed my travel bag and boarded a plane out of Canada bound to my original, and may I say, preferred destination – the U.S., the land of the free, the home of the brave, and better opportunity, at least that was what I thought.

    America here I come!

    People don’t just move to a strange land unless there are compelling reasons for them to do so. Resettling elsewhere and leaving behind families, friends, neighbors and fellow workers for us Filipinos is truly emotionally painful because of our camaraderie and clannish character. Nevertheless, I went away, thinking that I would better my life.

    Soon I found out that the road to the “land of milk and honey” is not paved with gold but with thorns. It was for me, a venture saddled with faux pas, setbacks, disappointments, failures, and just about every misfortune one could think of. It did not take long for me to realize that I started my journey using the wrong foot. It is not easy for a tourist like me to legalize my immigration status once I become an illegal alien in the U.S. The process entails getting a lawyer and an employer, options that did not really auger well for me at that time. It is not as easy as eating an American pie!

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    In the Philippines, they paid me a salary enough to survive but not to carry a family comfortably. However, despite the low pay, life is bearable because I was in the company of family members, relatives, and friends.

    I left my homeland and the newspaper publication where I used to work because of the unhealthy atmosphere that was demoralizing us workers. There were constant changes in the editorial body and reshuffling of assignments, and these movements have caused concern among the staff.

    Normally, individual merits are the factors in beat reassignments but the entry of the Philippine Commission on Good Government, which was created to take over offices suspected to be owned by political allies of the former Marcos government, drastically changed the management policy and structure of our publication company.

    There were staffers, who were reshuffled to choice beats because they were close to the executives of the publication. These unwanted developments had disturbing effects on me and some of my colleagues and I supposed it affected our performance. I feared that I might be shown the exit door sooner than I expected.

    During that time, poor performance could result in unfavorable consequences—getting fired would be the worst. Thus, instead of beingaxed,” there were those who just left. Finding another job was not that easy then. Unemployment was high, competition was strong and only the best, the gifted, and those with connections prevailed.

    In short, there were not enough jobs for everyone. So there was a struggle for survival! Even college graduates could hardly land a job. Those who didn’t have the necessary education and experience were even in a more disadvantaged predicament. Worst, if there were jobs available, they didn’t pay much too.

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    In the newspaper publication where I had worked, the paper’s management changes like one changes an underwear. The constant reshuffles were due to changes that occur now and then in the government. Being a sequestered company, the tenure of the top management and the editorial boards were co-terminus with the president of the Republic.

    With a shaky government, it seems suddenly that every Tom, Dick and Harry had an interest in managing a sequestered publication. Even those who didn’t know anything about publishing or putting out a newspaper found themselves in the job. Politics catapulted them to choice positions. Sometimes because of political maneuvering in the government by some vested individuals there are sudden changes. And the changes went down the line, even to the rank and file, which really made everyone edgy.

    We feared that overzealous executives would totally siphon our source of income and eventually the newspaper company would fold up. To make the matter worse, there were also predators lurking in the sidelines waiting for the an opportunity to grab our company. It was so hard to get a job, so easy to be booted out. At the flick of a finger of analmighty in the company,” one could easily become jobless.

    I didn’t wait for that to happen. When reshuffled to a new assignment which I thought was personally demeaning, I made my move and told myself it’s time to get out of the country just like many of my compatriots who seemingly had gone on an exodus to the ‘promise land’”.

    Before I decided to leave my job and native land, I first went job hunting in neighboring Asian countries like in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Then I went to Europe, Greece and Italy, countries that I visited when covering the foreign affairs beat. Most of the offered jobs i.e. construction, computer programming, healthcare and even in care giving – did not fit me. With respect to my profession, I didn’t find any opening.

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    Ah, there was this one. I was offered to be a broadcast journalist for a Hong Kong television station after a Chinese colleague from the former Crown Colony recommended me. However, I didn’t pursue that opportunity since I had a wonderful squeaky voice that would surely turn off television viewers. Have you heard a chipmunk broadcasting news? Well, that could be me!

    Flying by plane from the Philippines to North America is safe. Unlike the immigrants from Latin America, where they have to cross borders that separate Mexico and the United States amid the scorching heat of the desert sun, the treacherous rivers and deep valleys; coming in to the U.S. by plane is definitely the safer route. Of course, there are those who take much riskier means— crossing in tunnels constructed by drug smugglers, travelling by boats on the high seas, or being smuggled inside cargo containers aboard a ship or an airplane and I have nothing but admiration for these people. For whatever route or means we took, we have the same goal in mind—to get into the mainlandby hook or by crook.”

    Filipinos would spend huge amount of money to get supporting documents or get a fixer secure a U.S. visa while our brothers—the Mexicans, the other Latinos including other nationals also wanting a better life—pay human smugglers to bring them to the United States. With these nonstop emigration to the U.S., so far, the Filipino legal emigrants are on a see-saw fight with the Indian and the Chinese1 for the top spot in numbers while the Latinos, who are coming in trickles have surpassed the blacks in terms of population, this not counting the illegal and undocumented immigrants already in the

    1 Aaron Terazas, Filipino Immigrants in the United States. September 8, 2008. Immigration Policy Institute. (Brian Martin, 2004) Migration Information Source. Fresh Thought, Authoritative Data, Global Reach. Retrieved 8/21/2012 from http://www.migrationinformation.org/ usfocus/display

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    country estimated to be around 11 to 12 million.2

    I entered the U.S. of A. on a journalist visa. Initially, I was in legal status in my newfound country for a time but wasn’t lucky enough to find a company willing to sponsor me that would allowed me to work in America without becoming an illegal alien. Needless to say, I ended up becoming one of those unwanted people in America who have those unsettling ‘illegal alien’ tags, working illegally to survive.

    Illegal aliens have few rights and are marginalized in a lot of things they do, particularly in relation to the job market. They usually end up doing odd jobs like providing care for the elderly and the infirm, working long hours in restaurants, factories, automobile shops, nightclubs or bars, picking fruits in farms, and gardening. It was a difficult situation that I found myself in, much more difficult from the problem I ran away from. I am sure many illegal face this kind of situation. There are very few lucky ones who find themselves doing entry-level office works.

    Even with an impressive resume, an undocumented immigrant, more often than not, does not stand a chance. Without a legal status, that person is just another illegal alien. In a rare situation where an illegal is hired, the illegal is surely to be underpaid and exploited. The illegal would suffer from almost unending tears and disappointments.

    There were some who “helped me” by giving me a job but they took advantage of my helplessness due to my illegal status. Understandably, in some instance that is because of the attendant risks involved in hiring illegal workers. But most of the time, employers just want to turn the situation in their favor.

    2 Illegal immigrant population of the United States. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ illegal_immigrant

    It was an unfortunate arrangement for me. The set-up between the employer and employee is not fair; more work for lesser pay. In Los Angeles, I didn’t know I would experience disappointments even in the hands of Filipino employers.

    Because of the sensitiveness of this matter, I changed the names of many of the characters, modified their identities; in some instances, even altered the locations of the establishments or street names so the privacy of those who had been involved with me could be protected.

    Even the dialogues I used were not exactly those that had been said, but in a way, it is the essence of what actually was said. If by chance some characters or events I tried to hide may still be identifiable or knowable, I am sorry, for that is as much I can do to protect them. I only wanted to present an account of what really happened. Exposing their identities or maligning them was never my intention.

    On the same note, I cannot fault those who helped my when I need shelter or food but later on stopped being generous. Like a beggar, I could never be choosy. If they have given me space in their house or crumbs of bread as meal, I am counting that as a big favor. I am pretty sure other undocumented immigrants had the same experience. As matter of fact, all immigrants have their own story to tell, one way or the other.

    America is not a paradise, contrary to what many perceived it to be. There are opportunities, yes, but those opportunities are also available in other countries. Only the U.S. has a stronger attraction to would-be immigrants. People from all walks of life keep coming to this country despite the many stories of heartaches and disappointments. It defies reason why people want to go here.

    With its gargantuan problems on immigration, the America government is getting tougher, particularly on illegal immigrants. The roads to legalization are no longer that easy to traverse. Immigration laws are becoming stricter to discourage immigration. There are countless immigrants who have been on illegal status for many years, some as many as 20 years or even more. Many had spent a fortune, hoping to legalize status, only to see their hard-earned money disappear in thin air. One could just imagine what these people have gone through living as illegals.

    There are those who lost hope and either they returned home or resign to their fate by continue living in uncertainty in the U.S. of A. The unlucky (or lucky) ones gets arrested, detained and deported, feet and hands shackled like common criminals. Still others get past their productive years, became old, got ill and died with the dubious tag as illegal aliens.

    What these undocumented immigrants are going through are no ordinary ordeals. They undergo mind boggling sufferings, many times frustrating and sometimes traumatic. In trying to achieve the so-called American dream, the undocumented immigrants suffer from the ill-effects of separation from their loved ones, children growing up without their parents, broken family, and the shattering of the valued bond of matrimony. It destroys the very core of life and living. It sucks!

    For as long as poverty and joblessness continue in the Philippines, the exodus of Filipinos to foreign countries will continue. And as long as the Philippine peso remains pegged to the American dollar, I believe the United States will continue to be a magnet for Filipinos migrants as a destination (legal or otherwise). If in my search for a better life places me in a miserable position, there is no one to be blamed but me. What had pushed me to take this journey is desire to work, to live, and to improve my lot. I only want to live the comfortable life like what the rest dream of, even if I had to become an illegal alien.

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    To be continued…

     

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