The Trek to America
For the Oral History, I decided to conduct an interview with both of my grandparents. This interview took place on the evening of Monday, April 3 and was done through Face Time on my computer. By having a video of the conversation, it allowed me to better grasp their emotions when they were talking about each topic.
The goal of this interview with my grandparents, Wowo, my grandfather, and Wawa, my grandmother, was to find out about their push and pull factors from the Philippines to the United States. Because I have grown up in the United States my whole life, I wanted to know where my roots stand from the life that my grandparents lived in the Philippines. Not only learning about the physical actions that my grandparents took during their lives, I wanted to learn more about their attitudes and emotions throughout the process. I hope to better understand all the factors that led me to where my life is today in the United States.
Many of the questions that I have for my grandparents are meant to discover more about their childhoods and who they were as a person when they were younger. I want to know more about how their parents raised them and what values were stressed to them. I also want to learn more about their aspirations in life and what their attitudes were about coming to America. Overall, I want to ask questions about their past but also questions that connect to the present.
Me: What were you doing during World War II?
Wawa: I was just a little kid at the time. We went up to the mountain, and my mom brought me and the whole family without my daddy because they were afraid of the Japanese people because the Japanese people want(ed) to decapitate all the kids that they saw. So, my mom brought me to the mountains with my siblings, and all of us went up until the Philippines was liberated by MacArthur.
Wowo: I don’t really have any recollection because, you know, I was an infant just two or three years old, so all the information I have is what my parents told me. They just left the town where I was born and hid in the mountains and the forest. How long they were there I really don’t know, but my first recollection was I was back where I was born as a little kid in like 1944 or 45, and I was 3 or 4 years old. That was my recollection. Where they were? How they hid? I just knew that I was separated from my mother, and I was fed by another woman who just had a baby just like my mother, and she was feeding me and her baby at the same time. Those are all just things my grandparents have told me. As far as my personal recollection, I have nothing.
Me: What was the attitude of the Philippines after the war was over?
Wowo: My only recollection is because the city where I was born, really a town next to the city, I remember going to the port, and there would be cargo ships from Japan going to Cebu City on the port, and the Japanese would not even dare come down from the ship because if you are a Japanese and come down from the ship, you are dead. The Filipinos hated them so much because of the atrocities they committed while they were there. Actually, even when I was in college the Japanese who went there threaded very, very carefully, but, of course, now they are all over the place because they are investors, and they are buying every Filipino piece of property.
Me: What was your childhood like in the Philippines?
Wowo: Very poor. My mother was only up to fifth grade, and my grandparents had no education. But, they had a really small store that they were able to send their kids to school. And because Filipino’s education is really a big thing, even really poor parents tried to send their kids to school. But, we were poor. No toys, no nothing, no Christmas, no gifts. The only celebration we had was New Years, which is a big thing, and my only recollection is that my grandfather would buy tons of firecracker and thats always what I remember about it, is the firecracker every New Year. Christmas just goes by. Filipinos don’t celebrate Christmas as much. The New Year is the biggest thing for Filipinos.
Wawa: My parents were educated. My father was a lawyer and my mom was nurse director of the Adventist hospital in the Philippines. So, not so poor, not so rich, just middle class.
Me: Did you go to school, and did you enjoy school?
Wawa: Yes, of course, I did enjoy my school. I was a spoiled brat. They sent me to college where I was in a boarding school since I was 16 years old. I left home when I graduated from high school ,and then I took my nursing. I came home and was senior in nursing, but at that time, your Wowo proposed, and he wanted to go to America.
Wowo: Oh yeah, I enjoyed school. I went to a church school for elementary, and then I went to an Adventist academy. I was president of the senior class in high school so I enjoyed that.
Me: Were you guys Seventh-Day Adventist growing up?
Wowo: My mother’s side is second generation Adventist, but my father was a rabid Catholic, a member of the Knights of Columbus, which is a Catholic fraternity with high ranking devout Catholics, and he was an altar boy. So, I was born on a mixed marriage, Catholic and Adventist, and my father became Adventist after I was five years old. I don’t know if I was baptized as Catholic as an infant, and then I was baptized into the Adventist church when I was in high school.
Wawa: Same with Wowo, my mom was born an Adventist. My Lulu and Lula (grandparents) were Adventist. My father’s side was Presbyterian. He came to church with us once in a while, but when I got married, he got baptized to the Seventh-Day Adventism.
Me: So did you go to Seventh-Day Adventist Church throughout your childhood?
Wawa: Yes, I studied in a seventh adventist academy and elementary (school).
Me: Do you know how prominent Seventh-Day Adventism was in the Philippines?
Wowo: The Philippines is a Catholic country. 90% Catholic and the 10% is a mixture of all the protestant religions, and I think Seventh-Day Adventism is only 2%. That is probably changing now. The Catholics are still around 90% but the Adventist’s religion is going up. It’s a growing religion in the Philippines.
Me: If there is one value your parents stressed to you, what would it be?
Wowo: Education and honesty. That is to be honest in everything that you do and to do everything to the best of your ability. That is always what my parents always taught to me. If you do something, do the best you can, be honest to people, and don’t stop learning. Keep going. And, there is always an encouragement for Filipinos to be a doctor, and I think it’s still true for second generation Filipinos. They want their children to be doctors. Somehow medicine has the highest education.
Wawa: First thing my mom told us is to love God and to have good character. Be honest. Be kind to people. Love them. Pay attention to poor people. Be compassionate to poor people. Education is very important. Study hard, you know. Don’t just be lazy. Study hard so in life you will have a good outcome of whatever you take. Not saying be wealthy or something. Just be something upper class. Strive hard to be up there is what she told us.
Me: What were your dreams and aspirations as a child?
Wawa: My dreams and aspirations…I really wanted to be a doctor, but I think it’s hard to go to medical school, so I just settled with nursing. My aspiration was to go to United States and to have a better life here and to have a better life for my kids. I didn’t want my kids to live in the Philippines. I wanted them here and to be educated here.
Wowo: I actually wanted to be a pilot, but then I saw my uncle who became a doctor, and I liked the uniform, so I wanted to be a doctor. That was it. But, when I was in med school, I almost quit because I wanted to come to the US, and I said maybe the best way to come to the US was to be a med tech, but then I thought that won’t get me very far. So, I continued medicine, so I think that is the best decision I made.
Me: Do you remember the first time your parents mentioned America?
Wowo: No, they never said go to America. No, I was never told go to the US. That was my own. I wanted to go.
Me: When was the first time you thought about it?
Wowo: High school. Well, I came from the south of the Philippines,.and Manila seems like a world away. So, the first thing I wanted to do was go to Manila, and when I was in Manila, the next step was I need to go to the US.
Me: What about the US appealed to you?
Wowo: A red Mustang. Candy apple red Mustang.
Me: Wawa, same question for you. Did your parents ever mention America?
Wawa: Yes, America was mentioned throughout my house every time because my mom was a nurse, and she wanted to come to the United States to earn more money because the dollar exchange was 1 to 2. So, she wanted to come, so when I came here to the United States in 1966, my mom followed after.
Me: What excited or scared you the most about going to America?
Wawa: I don’t have anybody here. I don’t have family. Nothing. We came here. Just nothing. I didn’t even know I need the snow boots. It was so cold, so Wowo and I went looking for a store so I could buy snow boots. I went there in my sandals and my legs and my feet were frozen.
Me: Was that in New York?
Wawa: New York. So, you know, we look and look for a store, and we finally found a store, and we bought boots. Your Wowo, also. Both of us got warm garments and everything.
Me: Same question for you, Wowo.
Wowo: No, I had no fear. You know everything…I always look at things positively. Although, I had to learn a lot because like I was looking down from the airplane, looking at New York City, and it was in the middle of winter, December 24, and the whole city was covered in white, and I couldn’t figure out why everything was white. I didn’t know anything about snow. I didn’t even know the winter season was December, and when I looked down and said, ‘What in the world is that’ and somebody said ‘sir, that is snow.’ I said, ‘I thought it only snows in the mountain.’ He said, ‘it snows in the city, also.’ So, I had a lot of things to learn like geography and culture. We went to Brooklyn, which was a black neighborhood, so I had to learn about segregation and the social friction between whites and blacks at that time, and it was the worst time in the mid 60s between blacks and whites, and i had no idea what it was all about. I had to learn it slowly. I could never understand it.
Me: So you went to Brooklyn and then you moved to Loma Linda two year later. Why was Loma Linda so appealing to you?
Wowo: Well, because I spent a year of internship in Manila in an Adventist hospital, and all the heads of the departments were whites, and they all came from Loma Linda, and so I was interested in why all these people from Loma Linda are in the Philippines. So, I learned about the university and the hospital, but I really wanted to go to Harvard or Yale or Columbia from New York. And, then in the apartment where we were staying, your mom was only 2 months old, one of our nurses was raped, and I said, no, this is not the place for us, and my first thought was Loma Linda, and of the professors I had in the Philippines, they were from Loma Linda. So, that is why I went to Loma Linda, and, of course, I already knew that Loma Linda was an Adventist hospital and institution, and that was kind of appealing to me.
Wawa: And, it was good to raise your mom in Loma Linda with Adventist school. And your Wowo wanted to be a surgeon, and if we stayed in New York by this time, I don’t know what would have happened to us. I don’t know if we would be Adventist now.
Me: What about life in Loma Linda or America as a whole is better than America?
Wawa: It’s a lot better. 90% better. Well, you know, its clean here number one. The food is not very expensive, and its good to live here in America. You can adjust easily, and you can buy anything you want. In the Philippines, you hardly buy anything. The food, it’s so hard. Only the people who have money are the ones who can buy the food. You know, education is number one, and, of course, we are thinking of our kids too. We want them to have a good education. Always we are thinking about our kids. Everything is for our kids. Just like your mom. She probably learned that from us, seeing us traveling. We brought them everywhere in the world. That’s what she is doing with you now.
Me: What about life in America or Loma Linda is not as good as the Philippines?
Wowo: Well, I’m already adjusted, but it took me a long time to adjust to the American culture. There is a certain Filipino culture that one should not forget. It’s the communal attitude of Filipinos to take care of old folks, family. Filipinos are very communal while Americans are very independent, and that’s the thing that Filipinos don’t really like. You probably don’t really understand that. Although you have half Filipino blood, you do not really understand the culture. Filipinos are very conservative. Their social lives are a lot more reserved at least for first generation Filipinos that came to the US. Of course, Filipinos that were born here are only Filipinos by skin. Basically, like you. You are 50 percent Filipino. I don’ think you think Filipino. You think American. You probably think Filipinos are weird because we just have a very conservative way of looking at life. Although Loma Linda is more conservative than most cities around, I think that it has become just as (conservative) maybe now compared to forty years ago when I came. And, drugs are infiltrating the schools. Although even now in the Philippines, drugs are a problem, but I still hunker to the Filipino culture. There are certain cultures in the Philippines. So, I keep the good, and I discard the bad, and I take some of the good the Americans offer. It is very multi-cultural. Although a lot of the Filipinos that are here still live like they are in the 50s, and sometimes I think that is not good because there is a lot of things the American culture can offer. Independence, but not too much independence.
Me: One last question. Would you ever consider going back to the Philippines?
Wowo: I used to think that if I get a little older, I might go there and reside, but when I go on vacation and do a mission, its good for two or three weeks, but after that I want to go back here for some reason. I have lived here two thirds of my life, longer than I lived in the Philippines. I came when I was 24, so I have lived here longer, so I have been cultured. I love the Philippines, the beaches and all that, but after three weeks, Loma Linda seems like home. I am not going back to live. I love to go back to vacation, but stay there for the next six months? I don’t think I can do that.