Dedicated to the children of Faustino and Delores
Faustino had a dream: he wanted to have doctors and lawyers in the family. He packed up his wife, Delores, and 5 children, between 15-6 years old, and moved them to the United States. Not because he was poor in the Philippines, in fact, he was pretty well off.
Faustino served in the U.S. Navy, beginning in World War II. While it was still occupied by the United States, when war was declared, Filipino sailors automatically became a part of the U.S. armed forces. He served in the U.S navy and survived being a prisoner of war in the Bataan death march. After the war, Faustino remained a U.S. navy serviceman. He was getting paid in U.S. dollars and the conversion to Filipino pesos was at least 7:1, his family was well off. Delores did not work and there were even servants at the house. Life was more than comfortable in the Philippines. But in 1960, he left anyways.
Life in America was hard. Dollars = dollars, not pesos. Delores went from being a socialite to a servant herself, cleaning houses to make ends meet. Their spacious home in the Philippines was now a 2 bedroom house for 7 in America. The only reason I could possibly think of to put your family through something like that is a vision.
Faustino was my Lolo (grandfather). His children tell stories about their life back then and how hard they had it. How they had nothing because their parents were always sending money and items back to the Philippines to support relatives they didn’t even know. How they look back on those times with pain and resentment. Even when I was a teenager, 30 years after they came to America, I can still remember boxes of items strewn around my grandparents’ home, ready to be shipped to the Philippines.
I have heard from the people who endured going without. Today I meet the beneficiaries.
First I meet the nuns, members of the convent where my grandmother, Delores, volunteered her time and sent money. When I am introduced, they begin gushing over me, showering me with hugs and kisses. They make me feel like I’m 5 again. The stories begin. Lola would send cards to them every year, which they still have today. They tell me how she would come to the convent and show me the flowers she planted, still blooming today. She had the driveway paved and helped other convents too. They still put up their Christmas tree, with falling needles, just because it was given to them by Delores.
“She loved hanging out with the sisters,” they say.
Another kisses me on the forehead. “Your grandmother was a saint” she tells me.
I remember few things about Lola. She gave me a shiny pen and a stuffed tiger when I was 13. We spent that summer lying in a hammock, reading tabloids together. Few words were ever spoken. She never told me stories or actually taught me anything about…..well….anything. I never knew her likes or dislikes, where she was from or who she was as a person. It could have due to our language barrier or just her personality. I’ll never know. But these women knew a different Delores. I learn 2x more about my Lola in a 10 minute conversation than I ever did when she was alive. I leave there with pride and a new way to remember my grandmother.
We drive another hour to Bugasong to see the house where my uncle was born. A lot of my relatives still live there in the Jinalinan barangay. While my aunt talks with someone, Abby and I are whisked away by our new auntie-cousins. We start with a stoop; two random concrete steps in the middle of a field of dirt. They declare: “This is where your uncle was born!” After the typhoon in 2013 this was all that remains from the home my family lived in so many years ago. Now it’s a field of grass looking onto the beach nearby.
Next our auntie-cousins want to show us their homes. The first is a small cement house.
“Where are your children?”
“With my husband,” I reply.
“Oh. Does he not work?”
“Yes, he does. Others help us with the girls.”
“Ahhh.” they say in unison.
One auntie-cousin tells her son to fetch us some snacks. He quickly returns with a cold 1.5 liter coke and 2 cookie snack packs. Abby and I both know not to refuse. She proudly pours us cokes, neither of them having any themselves. She tells us about her other children, our cousins. One lives in Manila, but she has no money to visit him. She calls another son in person and displays him to us; a 9th grader, doing well in school. Then she shows us a picture of her daughter; she graduated high school with a 91.9 grade point average, but didn’t have any money for college.
I ask to see her home. We start in the back and see the water pump. She fills a bucket with water and takes it to the sink. Also outside is a covered dark area, with a chicken sitting on one side and 2 pots on top of a pile of gray ashes. “My small stove,” she says. We move inside passing through her back door:
She has a good sized kitchen, with her bathroom in the back part of the room. We pass her shrine to Jesus in the corner of the living room. On the same table she has a picture of her husband, who was killed a few years ago, leaving her and 5 children. This woman has nothing, yet she isn’t resentful to God, she is thankful for what she has. We then go to 1 of 2 bedrooms, the room for the kids. It is mostly empty, with a thin mattress propped on a wall and small furnishings. I thank her for allowing me to see her home. My auntie-cousin says warmly, “No problem. When you come back to visit me, you and your family are welcome to stay here anytime.”
The other auntie-cousin takes us down the street to her home. As we walk together, we are constantly greeted by children (my auntie-cousins are grandmothers as well) and neighbors saying hello. They introduce us to everyone. “These are our American cousins!” I think they are more proud that we are Americans than I am.
We arrive at my other auntie-cousin’s home. We find one baby waking up from his nap. I volunteer to hold him, missing the feeling of holding my own children back home. We walk to the house behind hers to find another grandson needing to be picked up. This one has no diaper, so I’m glad I have the first baby. We take pictures and walk back to meet my aunt and continue our journey. I have a few small items I brought with me as gifts and pass them onto my family I was leaving behind, just as my grandparents did when they were alive. They weren’t expecting anything from me, but it still doesn’t seem enough. As we leave, we pass through the barangays again, with brightly painted tires decorating the sides of the road and planted flowers. If you look closely among the shacks and simple cement houses, you will see power lines going to each of the homes and a few satellite dishes. I remember seeing a TV playing at one home and a desktop computer and printer at a different relative’s home along the way. Everyone seems happy but I can’t say I would want this for myself.
THIS COULD HAVE BEEN MY LIFE
Tears begin to fall when the impact of Lolo’s decision hits me. I realize why my grandparents did all that they did. This is the reason to leave everything familiar and struggle to assimilate into a new culture. Sure, the whole family was in a two bedroom home but at least the structure was sound. At least they weren’t sleeping out in the elements or had a flooded kitchen due to a monsoon. They had a bathroom. When you compare what could have been to where his children are today….frankly, there is no comparison. Perhaps it would not have been as bad and they would have been okay. But moving to the United States drastically increased the odds of success for Faustino’s children.
And certainly if the family you left back home in another country lived like that, you would send anything that could possibly help them. How could you see your flesh and blood live in those conditions and not be moved? You start thinking of all the things your immediate family could do without, just to make it better for the family you left back home. Do your children really need more than one room? Do they need toys or games? When you love the people who are struggling just to survive, all of those comforts of life seem frivolous. Maybe Faustino’s kids had to sacrifice toys or deal with shipping boxes of canned foods to the Philippines in order to pay the price of opportunity.
I don’t say these things to take away from what their children went through. I didn’t have to live that way, so it’s easy for me rationalize and not to be resentful. I can’t even imagine the things they experienced and did without. All I’m saying that I truly understand my grandparent’s perspective. Faustino and Delores straddled the line between the welfare of their children and their extended family. From my grandparent’s perspective I’m sure they thought they did the best they could. But from their children’s point of view…it still sucked.
And so I want to say thank you. Thank you to Faustino and Delores for choosing to be brave, leaving a comfortable life for a hard one. Thank you for your sacrifices and hard work. But especially I want to thank their 5 children. None of them signed up for that. They didn’t have a choice. They lost a childhood with fun and games so that I could have one. I had a typical childhood in the United States, with bikes and toys and trips. I’m so thankful to my mother for never letting me go through what they did.
His children never did become doctors and lawyers. But 16 years after my Lolo’s death, I, his granddaughter, will be fulfilling that vision. My medical degree isn’t just the result of my hard work, or even my personal support team, like my husband or our Athens grandparents. Or just because my mother and father worked hard to make sure I had all that I needed to succeed. It’s also because of Faustino’s vision.