My Immigrant Life: Why I’m Here and Why I Fight Back

My sister and I on one of our first family trips as US residents and our parents rocking some fabulous 80's hair.

When I was 4 years old, my parents brought my sister and I from the Philippines to Queens, NY. At that time, Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was still in power as was martial law in the Philippines. It was 3 years before the Edsa revolution. Plus, my dad’s mom, my Lola, and his sisters were in New York as nurses just like my mom. So, my parents decided to uproot themselves and leave their family members and everything they knew and loved to provide my sister and I a real opportunity at personal freedom, economic stability, and family reunification.

As I mentioned, my mom was a nurse just like my aunts, my Lola, and many other Filipin@s. Because of the immigration reform in 1965, many high-skilled, highly educated immigrants came to the United States to fill the skilled labor gaps that the country was experiencing. Both of my parents were college educated, but only my mom was able to practice what she studied for.

This photo is from our first Christmas in the United States. It touches me even more now as an adult. I see all of the hope, struggle, faith, and hard work that my parents put into a tough decision for their family’s life in the makeshift Christmas tree. I was a happy kid in a strange place sheltered from the realities that they faced because of them. Those struggles I’ll never fully understand, but I can honor them in the actions I take in how I go about the world, raise my kid, and do my work.

My dad, like many other highly-educated and highly-skilled immigrants, worked other jobs to make the ends meet; the jobs that did not necessarily pique the brain or heart or soul. My dad was trained as a Civil Engineer but never worked a day as one in the United States. Instead, he took jobs at Macy’s and freight companies eventually rising to a level that help us pay for homes and my sister and my college education. Both of my parents sacrificed to be here and to provide for us to both survive and thrive in this country where we all can proudly say we’ve become highly educated and trained professionals. Did they do it alone? Of course not. We were forunate to have family and friends that showed us how to navigate this country and its systems like education, medical, and legal.

At any given moment, the hard work that we all put in could be sidelined with illness, change of job status, change of federal policy — and that could lead us to needing public assistance that we ALL pay into whether we’re citizens, green card holders, or even undocumented. That’s not the fault or the burden created by the individuals. Families will do what is needed to protect and take care of each other. Sometimes that means asking for help — whether from other family members, friends, or the services available to them by the government.

The proposed rule changes to Public Charge, and the idea of Public Charge itself, is dangerous, unfair, and perpetuates the falsehood of immigrants demanding more than they give back. As Tanvi Misra writes in City Lab, “this criteria was first applied in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade not only Chinese immigrants but also ‘any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.’ In the decades since, the term has often been employed as justification to keep out poor, ethnic minorities and LGBT groups.” Whether it relates to a mystical prediction about future public assistance usage or judging someone’s potential for their contribution to the country based primarily on their current income, education, age, or English proficiency.

These proposed rule changes are less about predicting “self-sufficiency” or for protecting our budget and resources. If this adminstration cared about those issues, then they would create a rule change to enforce corporations to pay their proper taxes instead of allowing $200 Billion to be withheld and unpaid.

So, I choose to fight back against this rule and any policies that continue the ascending attack of immigrants and people of color of all statuses. An assault on any immigrant is an assault on all immigrants especially when the policies are the weapon of choice. This public charge rule specifies the target as those wanting green cards — legal permanent status. What our communities have been telling us (and told us in the 1990s when Clinton tried to reform this rule) is that they will dis-enroll and that they will make unhealthy decisions because of fear and confusion.

You can fight for our families, too.

  1. Make a comment opposing this rule change. You only have to provide your first and last name (your contact information is optional). You can tailor your comment or use the sample language that is already on there. It can take as little as 1 minute.
  2. Ask five other friends and family to provide a public comment.
  3. Share this on social media and spread the word.

Policies are complicated, but the message of our fight is clear. Immigrants, people of color, low-income, transgender, and other scapegoated and feared communities will continue to stand up. We will keep fighting back. And we will protect ourselves and our families as we have always done.