Leaving Home: Chapter 5

Cristina’s Story

This chapter of the series is dedicated to my lola. Although I didn’t have the chance to sit down with her myself to ask her about her journey to the states, I’m thankful that my mom was able to on my behalf. 

At the age of 56 with nothing but a luggage full of clothes, Cristina came to the United Sates in 1986. Her son had petitioned her to come here by herself. Her intention was to come to the United States so she could get herself a good job and eventually petition her other children for better opportunities. All her children except Vivic managed to make it to America by their own means, so Cristina only had to petition her. She wanted to earn enough money to both support herself and send some back home to the Philippines to any family members that needed her help.

“Most important thing is [that] I have a job.”

Cristina’s first job in the United States was at a McDonald’s, which entailed cooking, frying fries, throwing away the trash, and sweeping the parking lot. At times when she was sweeping, she would think to herself, “If my former coworkers in the Philippines [could] see me now, they'[d] be laughing at me.” Regardless, she still didn’t mind the job since even the managers had to take care of the trash. She worked at McDonald’s for three months.

After McDonald’s, Cristina went for a job interview with an electronic company. The interviewer was hesitant to accept her since she didn’t have any experience. She was asked if she had seen a particular “board” before, to which Cristina said she hadn’t and that she didn’t know how to load the PC capacitors in the board. She asked the interviewer to give her one week to prove that she could do it. After looking at her resume and seeing that she had worked with computers before, she was told they would give her a call. She went home very happy and told her son about the news, which was met with some discouragement. Her son told her that “We’ll call you” was almost as good as not getting the job.

“My prayers had been answered since I only asked for what [was] necessary, not like [winning] the Lottery.”

She prayed hard that she would get the job so she could help her family in the Philippines. Three days later, she got a call and was offered the job! However, she was paid below minimum wage. She worked hard, proved herself, and after only three months, she was made the lead of a group. She worked a lot of overtime since computer jobs at Silicon Valley were in demand at the time and even had a second job so she could send more money back home.

“You just have to prove yourself. I did everything I was asked to do even if it [was] not my job, so I would learn.”

At one point, her supervisor wanted to give her a raise but the vice president didn’t approve it, saying Cristina didn’t know anything when they hired her. This was of course a moot point by now, as she had learned very quickly on the job. But she didn’t complain, as long as her immediate supervisor knew of her work ethic.

After earning enough money, she bought a new car – a Toyota Corolla – that she never actually drove. She had a learner’s permit (that quickly expired) but was working three jobs and was too busy to take the driving test. She renewed her learner’s permit when it expired, but was still scared to drive and thought she would be a reckless driver. Instead, she ended up carpooling with her coworker, to whom she ended giving more money than she should have.

“If I deserve it, give it to me. I wouldn’t ask[;] I’m not a beggar. That’s how proud I am.”

Initially, Cristina didn’t really see much difference between living in the U.S. versus living in the Philippines.

Time came for her to retire, which the VP didn’t know until an hour before her shift was supposed to end. So, he made many signs all over the company, inviting employees to her last minute retirement party. He gave her two bouquets and they had an ice cream and cake party. Cristina was also given a statue by her supervisor that stated “The company won’t be the same without you.”

“When you leave a job, don’t let them say, “Good riddance.” Instead, [you want] for them to be sorry that they’re losing you.”

She enjoys her life in America. The thing she likes most is the equal treatment in the U.S. “People treat each other equally.” Fond memories of the United States include time spent with her children and grandchildren in New Jersey, California, and Texas.

When she looks back on her life in the Philippines, she fondly remembers going to school, getting her Elementary Teacher’s Certificate and subsequently teaching as a substitute teacher for second grade. Her class, section 4, was the “worst and [most] unkempt students” of the school. On her first day, she tested the students to find only 25% actually knew how to read. Keeping this in mind, she focused solely on reading, writing, and arithmetic in her teachings, foregoing the other subjects. After three months, 100% of her students were able to read and her class placed second of the sections, after the principal gave a departmental test.

“Life was the same. I had a good life in the Philippines even if I didn’t have much money.”

Of all the things in the Philippines she misses, what she misses the most is the family her deceased son had left behind. This includes her daughter-in-law, her grandchildren and her grandchildren’s families. There was a time when Cristina would travel back to the Philippines every 1-2 years. But, as she got older, traveling and having to sit on the plane for the long flight home and back became more difficult. The last time she went home was for her granddaughter’s wedding in 2010. She of course also misses authentic Filipino food.

When asked what she would tell her past self if given the chance, she said:

“Stay as good as you are. Be friendly to everybody. Enjoy life. Help those who are still in the Philippines. Be thankful [for] what you have, no matter how small it is.”

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