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How a Filipino Couple Re-Invented Selves in U.S.

Philippine News, News Feature, Edna Bangan-Sabino Posted: Mar 16, 2010

NEW JERSEYVicente and Flora Carreon from Guagua, Pampanga, Philippines were a young couple in their early 30s. He worked as a tennis supervisor at the Manila Polo Club while she was a teacher at the Guadalupe Elementary School in Makati, MetroManila.

They were gainfully employed. However, with four small children whose ages ranged from 1 years to 9, they knew they had a long, responsibility-laden road ahead of them.

How to provide for the future was their very serious concern. So caught up were they with this problem that they began to mull over some solutions.

Winning the lottery was a fantasy; putting up a business without the capital and the know-how was madness; working a double job was a big physical risk.
Lets go abroad, they decided, and lets go together.

Back in the 80s, the trek to the US embassy on Roxas Boulevard started as early as the pre-dawn hours.

Vicente and Flora marched off with great resolve to take their places in the kilometric queue on the morning of May 15, 1982.

By noontime, they had exited the American compound in a daze of overpowering joy. They have been approved to travel to the US! We shall return, Flora promised Vicentes mother in whose care they left their young children.

They landed at JFK International Airport on July 8, 1982. It did not take them long to realize that they were on foreign soil. Everything looked and sounded different.

The unfamiliarity of it all was somewhat intimidating. But they were undaunted. Never before had their hearts really beaten as one!

They knew what they came here forand they were going to get it. The thought of the children they left behind became their beacon of hope and courage as they began the circuitous journey toward permanent residency in America.

We worked as a caregiver-driver team in several Manhattan households, Vicente smilingly recalls.

Luckily for them, it was way easier to find employers and request for sponsorships then than it is today.

And so they hopped from one domestic employment to another, staying in a job for as long as the conditions were just and humane.

As a nanny, Flora had a more personal contact with the people they worked for. She discovered that the rich and famous have feet of clay; that their faults and foibles are just as irksome (maybe only on a glibber, more polished plane) as the ordinary mortals. Take that old dowager, for instance, who would say behind her friends back, The only reason she visits me is to come and eat my food.

Or that miserable insomniac who would rouse the dead-tired Vicente and Flora from their sleep all because she wanted company in her sleeplessness! No doubt, the Filipino caregiver in America (or elsewhere) contends with a multi-faceted internal conflict.

After her days work was done and she lay down to rest her achy body, Flora wrestled with the spooks of homesickness and loneliness and guilt.
Over and over, her mind grappled with the pointlessness of leaving her own children to somebody elses care while she ministered to the needs of other peoples children in a foreign land.

What about my house? Was it as immaculate as I kept at my employers dwelling? Was my switch from teaching to care-giving all worth it? What could be my friends perceptions of my decision?

Those thoughts summoned up the tears that stained her pillow and that, ironically but mercifully, also brought her to sleep. The next day she woke up with renewed hope and gratitude for the work that was providing her family a more comfortable life.

Together, she and Vicente paddled along to the rhythms of the workaday world in an American household. It was humdrum for the most part but there were some high points, too. Travel was one of them.

Flora walked the streets of Paris, rode the gondola in Venice, ate in a restaurant in Milan, and viewed Montego Bay and St. Barts in Barbados from the small window of a 10-seater light planeall these she enjoyed gratis when she was babysitter of the kids of a wealthy Italian family.

Then she got tired of the constant moving about. She looked around for a more domesticated job and yes, she soon walked into one.

Her would-be employers name stopped Flora in her tracks and made her connect momentarily to her Philippine history. I shall return, the words kept ringing in her ears and her thoughts were random.

She took the strong white hand offered in handshake and imagined his imposing figure wading through the waters of Leyte in a familiar World War II photograph. Flora heard the name the grand dame used to introduce herself: Mrs. General Douglas MacArthur! Of course, my honor, madam, she mumbled, as she kept from taking back Mrs. MacArthurs hand and touching it to her forehead in the very Filipino gesture of great respect and deference.

The Generals memory, precious to the two women in a worlds apart kind of way, served to instantly bring down the walls of race and culture. It made their nine years together in Mrs. MacArthurs plush quarters at the Waldorf-Astoria a mutually enriching time.

Flora got the chance to see up close some dignitaries who paid visits to Mrs. MacArthur: Esteemed educator Dr. Helena Benitez, ex-President Fidel Ramos, Senator Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, to mention a few.
It must have been really interesting for Flora to witness the continuing RP-US alliance through the friendship fostered between Filipino dignitaries and General MacArthurs widow. In 2001, Mrs. Jean MacArthur passed away, and Flora moved on in her care-giving role.

Like the denouement of a feel-good play, the kinks are ironed out: Her children finally rejoined them; Vicente had found himself a better and more stable job; and her sister, Priscilla, and her family had also immigrated to America all on that same blessed year of 2001.

Both women now work as pre-school teachersstill very much a care-giving occupation but with the added prestige of a school setting and an entrepreneurial venture.

Floras tale of courage and adventure in a foreign land, undertaken in a spirit of self-giving and for the sole purpose of lifting family from the quagmire of economic deprivation, is a tale shared by other Filipino lives in America and in other parts of the world.

It is the story of a people who are resilient and resourceful; patient and persistent; gracious and generous. Hopefully, these sterling traits of individual Filipinos will still find their way into our national consciousness and mold a whole new generation of nation-builders. Toss your coin in for that dream.


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