Coming to America
There are many ways by which one can come to America. Some do so legally, while others illegally, either by plane, by boat, by walking, or by a piñata!
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Editor & Publisher
San Diego Asian Journal
The Original & First Asian Journal in America
San Diego, California
June 24, 2006
(Authors note: I was born on December 18, got married on March 18, and migrated to the United States to start a new life on November 18. I guess 18 is my lucky number, unless of course I die on the 18th of a month. It would be 31 years ago today, November 18, 2013, almost half of my life, since I moved here. To commemorate this occasion, I am reprinting this article I wrote in 2006.)
n a rainy evening on November 18, 1982, I arrived at the Lindbergh Field International Airport in San Diego together with my wife and two-year-old daughter. The two went to the Philippines from San Diego for a vacation that August. During that time, the immigrant petition that my wife, a green cardholder, filed for me two years before was approved. Hence, I was able to join them on their return back to the United States.
“May bagyo ngayon (there is typhoon now), said my mother-in-law. I met her for the first time when she picked us up that day at the airport. It was quite a strange assertion considering that the raindrops were barely trickling down. Where I came from, when one says “typhoon, it meant trees swaying with the winds, and rain pounding down as though there is no tomorrow. I did not realize that I arrived in “Americas finest city where a slight drizzle would be considered a weather disturbance.
Everyone, I am sure, has a vivid memory of the first time they arrived in the United States. Such an experience is a great equalizer. It doesnt matter whether one is rich or poor, educated or not, from the urban or rural areas. When one arrives in the U.S., one is like a freshman in college or a new recruit in a fraternity. He is wide-eyed, somewhat bewildered, and would have to follow the examples of others before attempting to do things on his own.
“Okay, be sure to make a full stop on a stop sign on the street corner, he is told. “This is how you put dishes in the dishwasher; turn on the heater during winter.
I learned how to put plastic linings in a trashcan by accident. I was at a mall and saw this janitor make a knot at one end of the opening in a plastic bag, and insert the bag in the can. I was told that brides of U.S. servicemen in the Philippines had to attend training sessions on American way of life. They learned how to operate an oven or use a washing machine before they are permitted to migrate here. This would minimize the so-called “culture shock one experiences when arriving in a strange, foreign land.
One such shock is a newcomers initial encounter with an American grocery store. So many choices of products, so many different brands! How many ways can you make a cheese? Back home, the type of cheese could be counted with the fingers in one hand: Kraft cheddar, kesong puti (carabao milk cheese) and keso de bola. Here in the U.S., there are almost a hundred different kinds!
And every place looks the same, with no distinctive identity. The freeways, the fast food restaurants, the grocery and department store chain outlets, and even the track homes all resembled one another. The first thing a friend of mine did when he arrived was to buy a compass. He was like a boy lost in a jungle, with identical trees around him.
There are many ways one can come to America. Some do so legally or illegally, either by plane, by boat, by walking or by a piñata! One legal way is via a long-awaited petition approval by a relative. Another process is as a first generation immigrant by which one gets the immigrant visa on his own.
Waiting for the approval of a petition can be a long and tedious process. I know of people who waited for twelve years, while others twenty. Others simply gave up. Many children of immigrants who could only be petitioned as single individual could not wait. They decided to marry their sweethearts in the Philippines and give up their quest for the American dream. Otherwise, they would end up a bachelor or spinster for the rest of their lives. Maiiwanan sila sa biyahe (they will miss the boat)!
Then there are those who came to the United States as tourists and had their visa converted to immigrant status. It can be an expensive process in terms of legal fees. This is why there are many immigration lawyers around, some with satellite offices where illegal immigrants abound.
Others marry an American citizen. A single person with an American passport, no matter how unattractive he or she may be, is a prized catch for many people hoping to live in the United States. Whenever one meets a prospective mate in the U.S., the first thing he or she would discreetly ask is: “Citizen ka na ba (are you an American citizen)?
If not, he or she would simply say: “Sorry, hindi tayo talo (sorry, we are not compatible)!
The more desperate ones resort to fake marriages. Once in the U.S., they make arrangements to marry a U.S. citizen for a fee. The going rate, I was told, is from $10,000 to $20,000. However, it is not as easy as it would seem. The Immigration and Naturalization people may visit the couple at home to make sure that they are indeed living together. They will check their toothbrushes, clothes and even ask questions to verify that each partner really knows his or her spouse.
Years ago, I had a friend who was paid $10,000 to marry a girl in the Philippines for the purpose of bringing her over as a wife of an American citizen. Only the bride, the groom, and the brides mother (who made all the arrangements), knew that it was for “a show.
“Para akong artista na nag-sho-shooting ng pelikula (I was like a movie star shooting a movie), my friend told me. “I was introduced as the pen pal of the girl who became her boyfriend.
The girls relatives, however, did not express any doubt why a good-looking American citizen like him would take the trouble of going to the Philippines just to marry a homely, if not ugly girl. To make the marriage convincing, they held a real church wedding complete with all the sponsors. And much to my friends dismay, fulfilling his obligations as a husband during the honeymoon was part of the package.
Once the bride arrived in the U.S. however, the groom, who by then got the full payment for his services, went scot-free. As part of the agreement, they divorced a year later, much to the brides regret. My friend eventually returned to the Philippines, met and married a nice girl, and settled there for good, proving to everyone that true love doesnt require an American passport.
Some of the ways people use to sneak into the United States and partake of the American dream, I must admit, are creative. People cross the border illegally everyday. A lot die crossing a hot desert in the process. Whenever caught, they are simply brought back across the border only to return until they succeed.
Once, a group of Filipinos, dressed in basketball team uniforms complete with basketballs in hand, pretended to be returning to the U.S. from an exhibition game. No can do, said the INS.
In another example, a girl made an arrangement with a smuggler for a “door-to-door delivery of her two brothers. The brothers traveled from the Philippines to Tijuana, Mexico, where visa is not required. There, they met the smuggler who brought them into the U.S. Their sister would not pay unless her brothers were brought to her doorstep!
Newspaper accounts are replete with news about illegal immigrants hidden inside the trunks or even gas tanks of cars! Only last week, a girl was discovered inside one of the piñatas being brought into the United States.
Lucky for me, I genuinely fell in love with a girl whom I vowed to love and to hold, for richer and for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part. The fact that she had an immigrant visa just gave us options on where to spend the rest of our lives together. And that option I took that fateful day of November 18, 1982, some twenty-four years ago this year. – AJ