“Home Is Where My Family Is”
by Jazmine Ashley Diaz, December 2013
For my oral history project, I decided to interview my mother. At first, I thought to interview her mother, my grandmother, thinking that, because she is old, she’d probably have more stories to tell and would have better experiences coming to America than my own mother did. But after careful thought, and remembering the fact that my grandmother has dementia, I chose to interview my own mother instead. My mother’s name is Rosalina Capili, Sally for short before she married my father and changed her last name to Diaz. She was born and raised in Guadalupe, Makati, Philippines, which is located in the northern region of the Philippines, relatively close to Manila. She is in her mid-fifties but has the spirit and heart of a thirty-year- old. In between being a full-time business accountant, taking care of her family, and watching her Filipino soap operas, I finally found time in to ask her a few questions about her past.
My mother grew up with seven brothers and sister, her being the fifth out of eight children (See also: “The most beautiful one”). Her parents, Nenita and Ruperto Sr., raised eight children—Reynaldo, Ricardo, Romy, Rosalina, Rosana, Ruperto Jr., Eddie, and Conrado—in a small house in a well to do neighborhood. Growing up with Catholic parents, Rosalina and her siblings grew up in a strict household. Especially after her father left the country, and Nenita was forced to raise eight children by herself, Rosalina spent her time either in school or at home with her brothers and sister. She claims that her mother’s reason for keeping them at home was to make it easier to watch all eight of them. “Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home. When we were living in the Philippines, the way your Lola [grandma] takes care of us, she always keep us inside the house” (Diaz 3). Around the age of ten, her father left the Philippines and moved to different countries to find better jobs to better support his wife and kids. Before coming to America, Ruperto Sr. lived in Vietnam and worked as a firefighter. After a couple of years there, he migrated to America in 1970. Not only would he find better job opportunities in America, but also here Ruperto Sr. would be able to bring his family with him and take advantage of the immigration reform law that started in 1965. “Concomitant to the law was the family reunification law that allowed families from Asia to come to the United States” (Garcia). Here in the U.S., he worked as a tailor, much like how he had in the Philippines, where he had owned his own shop. In the span of eight years, he finally petitioned his wife and eight kids to America. During his time alone in America, he met a woman who later became his mistress and was yet again a father to one more daughter named Jocelyn. Despite the drama between the women in his life, Ruperto Sr. still managed to support both families, and in the end went home to Nenita and eventually died by her side. Her parents’ intention to move to America was to find better jobs and create a better living for their family. “Your Lolo [grandpa] believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the jobs here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hardworking” (Diaz 2). It is common knowledge to Rosalina’s parents that staying in the Philippines, regardless of how hard they worked, was not going to be enough to support a family of ten.
When Rosalina migrated to America, she was only eighteen years old and, when I first asked what her expectations were coming here to America, she immediately answered with, “A better family.” Then, I proceeded to rephrase my question and asked her the same thing but added, “For you as an individual.” To this she replied with, “I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life” (2). After two months of living here, she got her first job at Carl’s Jr., and soon after she was hired, she enrolled in Heald College; after nine months, she graduated with a Business Major in Accounting. Rosalina only spent three months at Carl’s Jr. and quit because she couldn’t stand the laborious work. Her next job was at Runaway Tours, a tour company that no longer exists, where she stayed for almost ten years. If there’s one thing my mother takes pride in, it’s her work ethic. For as long as I can recall, it has always been my mother who “brings home the bacon”—she pulls the majority of the weight in my family and always flaunts how in every job she’s ever held her bosses always tell her she’s a hard worker. “I am! My boss always told me, it’s true!” (3).
Over time, a person’s perspective can change, which is why I asked Rosalina how she felt after having lived in America for a week, a month, a year, and now. “My first week here was very hard, I was crying… It was [a] culture shock for me” (3). To Rosalina, the first few weeks were frustrating for her because everyone spoke English and the culture in America alone was completely different than that of the Philippines. What most people don’t know is that Filipinos are actually very good at speaking English; it could almost be their second language. Most, if not all, Filipino TV shows are spoken in half Tagalog and half English. The language barrier between English and Tagalog speakers is almost easy for any Filipino to overcome because there are a lot of words and phrases that are the same in Tagalog as it is in English. However, because America is such a diverse country, especially during the seventies when Rosalina moved here, compared to the Philippines, which is for the most part a Catholic country, the new ideas about morality and ways of life came as a surprised to my mother. Having been brought up a certain way and to soon learning that there are more than one different ways of thinking is overwhelming for anybody. But even having lived in America for over twenty years now, Rosalina still honors her original beliefs. “When I came over here, I still lived by the Filipino way. I still carry my culture. I’m not too Westernized; I still keep my moral values as a Filipina” (4). Although Rosalina still refers to the way she was brought up to raise my sister and I, there are definitely certain aspects and “Americanized” ideas that she has used in her parenting styles that her mother would’ve never even considered. Rosalina is more lenient in the way she raises her children, but still punishes us with a firm tone.
Migrating to a new country will always have its difficulties, and there is no getting around the fact that these migrants will face a good amount of discrimination or displacement. I asked Rosalina about a time in her life when she felt like she didn’t belong in America and almost instantly she began telling me the story that I’ve already heard one too many times. While the story has a scary and serious conflict, after hearing it over and over about a dozen times, it does get old. The first time she told me this story, it broke my heart and I really felt scared for my mother, especially because what happened to her has happened to me just a few years before I started high school. To make a long story short, when she was on her way to work one cold February morning, she decided to take a shortcut and walk through the Powell Bart station to get to work. Suddenly, a man grabs Rosalina from behind and starts groping her. Helpless and with no one around to help, she moves into the fetal position and eventually the man runs off. Still traumatized about what happened, Rosalina picks up her things and continues on her way to work. She arrives to work in tears and even after she tells her boss what has just happened to her he still tells her to calm down and just clock in. My mother was baffled that her boss wasn’t sensitive enough to even ask if she wanted to just go home. “That’s when I feel like, is this America? Is this the place where I really wanted to live” (6)? Clearly, Rosalina’s expectations of America don’t match her reality—she couldn’t understand why the country everyone seemed to place on a pedestal wasn’t as positive as everyone made it seem. Nevertheless, Rosalina is still thankful to be living here. The fact that she has a better opportunity to excel and make more money in America will always triumph over even the worst forms of discrimination. To counter this question, I asked Rosalina to share with me a time when she felt like she was really an American. For Rosalina, there wasn’t any real dramatic life event that made her feel like she was truly American—she felt like a true American the day she became an America citizen. Coming to America, Rosalina was only a green card holder, and then, a few years later, she applied for her citizenship and was approved. “When I got my citizenship, [it was like] my kind of diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen” (4).
With all these questions about times in her life when she felt American and about how her life was back home in the Philippines, it brought up an idea of self-identity. I was curious to know whether she considered herself to be Filipino, American or Filipino-American, and to what degree she identifies with each nationality. For Rosalina, she identifies herself as a Filipino-American. Her Filipino roots will always be what she identifies with first and foremost because that is her blood that is how she was raised; it is her native language. Being Filipino is what is most familiar to her. And of course she also identifies herself as an American, as she has lived here for over twenty years and has adapted the American way of living. She has a good job, can speak almost perfect English, and is very knowledgeable about the culture. Whenever I make minor corrections to my mother’s English, she always says to me, “That’s why I send you to school—so you can learn and then teach me,” which slowly I am starting to realize makes a lot of sense. In Maria Root’s book Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity, she writes about many different themes revolving around Filipino Americans and their identity, and about them migrating to the United States. In Chapter Seven of her book, she reiterates an idea coined by the Filipino American National Historical Society Conference in 1994 called the “bridge” generation. “Their children, the ‘bridge’ generation, attempted to bridge the traditional Filipino culture they learned at home with the American culture they learned at school” (Root 97). I am a part of the “bridge” generation for Rosalina, and because of me she is able to keep her Filipino roots while still being able to learn about the American culture. This idea has proven to be successful for both Rosalina and I because I am one of the few Filipinos that I know of that is born in America and can understand and speak both English and Tagalog. Although I was born and raised in America, I was brought up in a traditional Filipino household, and growing up my family spoke to me in Tagalog a majority of the time.
Many people have different responses to what they envision their homes to be. Some would say home is where they were born and raised; others might respond with “home is where the heart is.” Rosalina defines her home simply as wherever her family is, her family being me, my sister, her parents, and her brothers and sister. If she moved back to the Philippines today, without any one of us there with her, the Philippines would no longer be considered her home. Whether we live in America, the Philippines, or in some other foreign country to us, as long as we’re together Rosalina’s ideas of home is complete. Despite the discrimination she’s faced, and will soon face because discrimination is still very much alive today, Rosalina’s reasons for staying in America overshadow any form of discrimination. There are push and pull factors, especially for migrants who’ve just came to America. A push facto is one’s reason for leaving one’s home country; situations like unemployment, poverty, and war are perfect examples. Pull factors are positive reasons for coming to a new country like better job opportunities, a more attractive quality of life, or maybe it’s where most of your friends and family are. In Rosalina’s case, there were definitely more pull factors than there were push factors. She and her family knew that, if they continued living in the Philippines, they would always be struggling to make ends meet. Of course this does not mean that we are not struggling today, but we are more comfortable and at least here in America there is help we can get if we really needed it, and much better opportunities to find a job that’ll better support all of us.
Her “Philippines” home differs from her “American” home in the sense that the Philippines is her natural home: it’s in her blood and it is intimate and well-known to her. Her “American” home is her current home, where her family and heart resides. It is also a place where she knows she can prosper and have unlimited opportunities to take care of my sister and I, as well as a place my sister and I can both be successful and have an even better life than she did. Certain situations and timing are both reasonable factors as to why someone might migrate to another country. Both were crucial enough factors for Nenita and Ruperto Sr., which is why they made he careful decision to bring their family to America. Living in a completely new country, especially one like the United States, will change a person’s perspective and ideologies. For Rosalina, it opened up her mind to new ways of living and a more improved way of bringing up her children. In the end, Rosalina’s idea of home is wherever her family is and wherever her family goes she will follow.
Diaz, Rosalina. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2013.
Garcia, Arturo P. “A Brief History: Filipino Immigrants in the United States.” Pslweb.org. Liberation News, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
Root, Maria. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1997. EBSCOhost. EBook Collection. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Oral History Project Transcript
Jazmine Ashley Diaz: Where did you grow up?
Rosalina Diaz: Guadalupe Makati, Manila, Philippines.
JAD: When did you immigrate to America?
RD: I came here about December 1984?
JAD: With whom did you immigrate with?
RD: With my family—my father came here first in 1970 and then he petition us to come over here.
JAD: Who’s “us”?
RD: My siblings—my six brothers and one sister and my mom. But I was the last one who came over.
JAD: Why were you the last one? So, you all didn’t come here together? At the same time?
RD: No, my father could not afford to…
JAD: So, who came here first, after Lolo Papa?
RD: After your Lola Papa immigrated here in the 1970’s, three years later he petitioned my mom and my younger brother, Tito Rupert. And then a few years later, uhh… Tita Anna and Tito Boying came and then another year came your Tito Conrado, Tito Eddie Boy, and your Tito Romy came. And then I was the last one to come over, after six months because my name was lost from the record.
JAD: What records?
RD: From the immigration records, so the lawyer, um, went back and, um, recorded my name. What happened is because all our name started with an R: Ricardo, Romaldo, Reynaldo… So I guess when the lawyer was writing it he got confused. So my name was forgotten, so my mom noticed it and the lawyer tried to fix it! That’s why I came here six months later.
JAD: Why did you migrate to America? What were your, or at least Lolo and Lola’s, intentions for coming here?
RD: Your Lolo believed that living in America would be a better future for us because the job here are much better and easier, you can find a job easily as long as you’re hard working compared to the Philippines; you keep working, keep working you cannot, you know, earn money, enough money to pay for everything.
JAD: What jobs did Lola Papa have, and Lola Mommy have, in the Philippines? Did Lola Mommy ever have a job because I know she’s never worked?
RD: Your Lola Mommy never worked. She was a homemaker, or whatever, a housewife?
JAD: What did Lolo Papa do, wasn’t he a tailor?
RD: He owned a tailor shop until he decided to migrate to a different country, which is America. He first migrated to Vietnam for a few years and then he came back over, and then that’s when he first started to migrate to America.
JAD: What did Lolo Papa do in Vietnam?
RD: He was a firefighter.
JAD: What were your expectations for moving to the United States?
RD: Uh, a better… A better family, I guess?
JAD: For you as an individual, because you knew you were going to grow up here?
RD: Oh, I expect to finish my school and work and have a better life.
JAD: How old were you when you immigrated?
RD: I think I was eighteen when I came over here? And then eighteen years old I came over here in December, and I was not able to find a job ‘til February and then my very first job was working at Carl’s Jr.
JAD: The one downtown?
JAD: Next to the Payless?
RD: Which one next to Payless?
JAD: The one downtown where they play the chessan [to play chess]?
RD: No… No, there’s a Carl’s Jr. across Four Seasons Hotel before there was a Wells Fargo, now they don’t have that anymore. I worked there for maybe three months and then I stopped because it’s so hard to work: I stand, I been like standing for eight hours all day, my feet hurt! And then I told your Papa, I told my dad, that I want to go back to school. So I went back to school; went to Heald College, I attended there for like nine months? And then after I graduated I got my very first job at Runaway Tours, it’s a tours company. And then I stayed there, I worked there for over, almost ten years? Yeah, I worked there almost ten years. I hold my job pretty good because I am a hard worker.
JAD: Okay, mom.
RD: I am! My boss always told me, it’s true!
JAD: Did you face any Human Rights abuses?
JAD: How did you feel after having lived her for a week? A month? A year? Today?
RD: My first week here was very hard, I was crying. It was, uh, what do you call that? It was culture shock for me.
JAD: Why? How was it a culture shock?
RD: I don’t know, I guess for one, people here speak English.
JAD: Did you know how to speak English?
RD: I do, I do speak English, but not very much. And I’m very shy person. You know how when we’re in the Philippines my mom never let us go out to social, to what do you call that?
JAD: Like me? Like how you treat me?
RD: Yeah. They never let us, ‘cause there’s like eight of us and only your Lola Mommy that takes care of us while my dad is in other country working right. I think my mom reasoning, for her keeping us inside the house and not play to other kids is it’s much easier for her to, uh, manage all eight of us. Away from fighting, all these kids that are bullying, so my mom kept us at home. When we were living in the Philippines the way your Lola takes care of us, uh, she always keep us inside the house. We of course sometimes go out and play but most of the time she prefer that most of the time we’re inside the house, since there’s eight of us my mom decided, oh you guys since there’s eight of you, you can play with each other instead of play with other people. We don’t have friends, well we do have friends in only in school but we don’t so have so much friends outside of school because we’re not allowed to go out all the time. Uh, after living here for a year… It’s okay. My mom is very conservation—my parents are still conservative, she thinks that even if we’re like nineteen… Even at the age of nineteen we’re still not allowed to go out. I work, I go home, and then in the morning I work, I go home. That’s my life.
JAD: Like me!
RD: Hello, you go out every once in a while. I can only go out with my brothers, but my brothers don’t like me going with them ‘cause they have their own thing.
JAD: Looking back at when you first moved here, how does how you felt then differ from how you feel about living in America now?
RD: I have a better job and I have my kids, my lovely kids (I roll my eyes). But I’m still shy (laughs)! Some younger generation, they’re like more outspoken, they’re like they think they’re more Americanized, but me, when I came over here I still lived by the Filipino way, I still carry my culture. I’m not too Westernized, I still keep my moral values as a Filipina.
JAD: When and how did you know or feel like you were truly an American?
RD: Uh, I believe after I started my job. The one at Runaway Tours, yeah… After maybe, after few years, maybe three years. ‘Cause I can vote… Oh no! I believe ‘cause after we immigrated here we were like green card holder, we’re not a citizen yet. So I became a citizen after a few years, I applied for my citizenship. When I got my citizenship, my kinda like a diploma that’s you know, like I’m an American citizen. I changed my passport to green to purple to blue, I felt like (touches hand to heart) I am an American citizen. Yes!
JAD: Do you consider yourself to be Filipino-American? If so, which nationality comes first to you?
RD: Of course the first one that comes to me is my Filipino, it’s my blood. I came from that, I was born and raised in the Philippines; I can never say that I am an American. Although I am thankful that I am here—I have a good life to where if I were living in the Philippines. I am still Filipino and I am proud.
JAD: Why are you looking at me like that?
RD: Why, do you expect me to say I am an American?!
JAD: No, I’m just asking you like which one do you feel more strongly. Like do you put Filipino first or do you put American first?
RD: I always still put Filipino first, but because I live in America I, you know, have to speak English, learn the language, uh, learn the culture because I live here. Because I don’t agree living in one country, not learning their language, not learning the culture and then, um, people get upset because they’re not being helped by the government. That I don’t agree.
JAD: What struggles did you face migrating to/living in America? Did you face any discrimination?
RD: Yeah. Discrimination is still exist no matter even if they said that it doesn’t, it does it still exist ‘cause me being Filipino, they consider me minority no matter how good I am at work they won’t promote they still prefer white people.
JAD: Which job was this?
RD: Uh, this is when I worked at Runaway Tours.
JAD: Would you consider the Philippines to still be your home?
RD: Of course!
JAD: And you told me once that when you retire you want to go back?
RD: Of course!
JAD: And leave me here?
RD: That would be your choice, I’m not gonna ask you to go somewhere else. But I’m not moving until I see that you’re okay: That you’re married, you have your own life, you have your, you know, your job, your own house.
JAD: What is your definition or ideas of “home”?
RD: Uh… Home as in “home”? Well definition of home for me is being with my family. You, Caitlyn, my brothers, and my sister—that’s home for me.
JAD: So, would you consider America your home or Philippines your home?
RD: Philippines is still my home. Philippines is my homeland. But you know if I lived in the Philippines I’m more comfortable, because um, I’m familiar with everything, I know the culture, I know how it works, I know the government and, um, if I have enough money I can afford to live like, I can afford a maid. Whereas here, I’m the maid… For my kids (laughs). I am the maid for my own family… How sad. Especially that (points to my sister)!
JAD: Tell me an incident in your life where you felt like you didn’t belong in America.
RD: Oh my God! This is when I just came here and I started at the Carl’s Jr. Working, uh, this was about a year later in February and someone grabbed me from behind!
JAD: Oh my God, is this the Bart one?
RD: Yeah! That’s when I really feel like, that I can never ever forget that in my entire life ‘cause I lived in the Philippines and that never happened to me ever, ever, ever.
JAD: Okay, so tell me again what happened.
RD: Okay, I start at ten o’clock in the morning, work, I left my house at 285 Turk street, so I was walking there from Powell street and then I decided because it’s too cold, this is February because it was freezing cold, I decided to go Bart station underneath Powell to make sure I don’t get cold. As I was turning from the very end of the Bart, someone grabbed me from behind. I yelled, I screamed, no one was helping me so I decided to sit down, you know brace myself. And the guy let go of me and he start running and I was left, on the floor, and I look around and still no one was there to help me. So I pick up my things and then walk and then next thing you know I saw the guy on the escalator looking at me smiling and I froze. And then I went up, guess what?
JAD: He was there waiting for you?
RD: No, there was a police car right outside the thing.
JAD: Did you tell them?
RD: There’s no police there, but there’s a police car. I looked around but no one’s there so I just continued ‘cause what I’m thinking is my work, I’m gonna be late! I came to work and I was shaking and I was crying and I was telling my boss what happened and he said, “Okay just calm down” and he didn’t even ask me, “Would you like to go home?” He just says, “Okay, calm down just punch in and start working”. That’s when I feel like, is this America? Is this the place where I really wanted to live? They have no concern for anything that happen to me, I was mad.
JAD: What causes you/are your reasons for staying here?
RD: Good living. Actually, the reason why I stay here because I have a stable job, I earn money. I can’t imagine me in the Philippines anymore, honestly. I can’t imagine what will be my life. Growing up and marrying someone in the Philippines, I cannot imagine! I don’t think you’ll have a good life, anak [child]. I mean, not as good as I wanted to, I don’t think you’ll be… You’ll probably still be a bum.
JAD: Okay, but you still want to go back though to retire?
RD: Yeah, just to retire. I’ll be living there comfortably. The only reason why I want to retire to the Philippines is because when I get old here, when I get old and I’m not able to provide for myself I don’t think the money that the government is providing us, even the money that we’re putting aside that they take from our salary, what do they call that? Our social security? Um, they’re saying that by the time I retire there’s no more money for us, for the government to give us. So, that’s why if I take that money, and go to the Philippines, will multiply times forty—I’ll be rich in the Philippines, I’ll be able to live comfortably. Here, I’ll be probably lining up some place like Glide Memorial to get my free lunch.