In 1988, when my father was 85 and sick, he was told that he would have to go to a nursing home for full-time care. Instead, he asked to “go home” to the Philippines. He had left there in 1922, come to America to study agriculture with the intention of returning home to take over the family land/farming. Instead, he found himself “stranded” in America during the Great Depression of 1929, unable to afford school and without enough money to return home. So, along with other Filipinos in similar circumstances, he made his way from the West Coast eastward, working wherever he could, until he ended up in New York, met and married my mother, and settled into an American life. His dream of “going home” gave way to establishing his family here. Eventually, he became a U.S. citizen and joined the U. S. Merchant Marines (hoping, I think, to get a ship that would one day land in the Philippines so he could visit home).
His first visit home was not until the early 1950s, at least twenty-plus years after he’d left in the dark of night, without telling family that he was leaving. He had found a tramp steamer that eventually landed in Ketchikan, Alaska where he finished high school and worked in the canneries. He earned enough to enroll in college in Washington. But, his studies were uncertain at best, mainly because of cost. By the mid-1930s, he seems to have given up on college, instead focusing on steady work, mostly as a “house boy” (this term simply refers to a male domestic worker), a servant/butler/valet for a family. Each time he went home for a visit (only three times in sixty-six years), his family greeted him with joy and pride: he was the eldest son who had found success (a job, a family) in America!
So, in 1988, when he chose to “go home,” I understood that his life in America was never really anything more to him than a temporary condition because his heart still yearned for what he remembered as “home.” Relatives there – people I either did not know or knew only through occasional letters – made preparations for his arrival. There was no question or hesitation: he was the eldest son of the clan, and he would be taken care of. In particular, one of my cousins, only a year or two older than I, took charge of my father’s care. Dad only lasted a few months (we never expected more), but my cousin and her family treated him as if he were their own father.
I had never been in the Philippines before 1988, I did not speak Tagalog (my mother was Polish-American, so we spoke only English in our house), and I knew almost nothing about the culture. But, in bringing my father home, I learned what family meant. I would be forever grateful to these people (strangers but family) for the love and devotion they lavished on my father. And I found a way to pay that gratitude forward!
My grand-nephew, Glenn, has applied to school here in the States. He already earned his bachelor’s degree in the Philippines but, with my encouragement and sponsorship, he hopes to study here and, eventually, work here. He and his family – my niece and her family – see it as an opportunity; I see it as my way of paying forward what my niece’s mother did more than twenty-five years ago for my father. It is simply this: family love. It is the right thing to do. So, Glenn is here to explore some possibilities, and we are hoping he can return in the Fall to attend school. For me, this honors both Glenn’s grandmother who took such good care of my father in his last months, and my father who, himself, made a similar journey almost a century ago.