I was at work when my mom called with the news that she had lost her job… again. Because she works in escrow, her industry is often hit substantially due to the inconsistent economy. This includes frequent massive layoffs and the worry that the job just might not be there tomorrow. In the 3 years that I have lived in Portland, my mom has called me with news of layoffs and new jobs about 2-3 times. With this news of her most recent layoff, I shut the door to my office to listen to her talk.
What struck me was how different my mom sounded this time around. During the previous conversations, she would speak with a sense of hopelessness, or sometimes outright anger. “I have been working in the industry for 30 years now! I’m too old to switch careers now!” She would say. But this time, when I sat with my ear to the phone, the exhaustion and the years of countless overtime hours with little pay rang through loud and clear in her voice.
“Honey, I don’t even know what happened. But you know what? I am just so tired. I want to take a break. Maybe a month long break. I just want to rest for a while. But I know I can’t because no one will help me. No one can afford to pay this rent or the bills without me. I have to work. I can’t rest.”
As I sat and listened to her, I could feel my chest start to tighten and tears start to spill over, sliding down my cheeks. I gripped my seat and sat through the entire conversation with patience and managed to respond at times with acknowledgement for her pain. As soon as we hung up, I excused myself at the front desk and took a walk outside to clear my head.
The ethics of “working hard” were embedded into my way of thinking before I could fully understand the concept of hard work. Although I had the luxury of not doing chores when I was younger because my mom preferred to do them herself, I was still able to gather the importance and value of work by observing my parents.
When my mom immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1980s after marrying my dad in the Philippines, the first job she got was a word processing position. She was just a few years out of college with a degree in elementary education, but her real aspiration was to work in an office. I don’t think it mattered to her what type of business she worked in. She was more concerned with fulfilling the dream of having her own office and being in control of her career. It was a rough start for her at the beginning even though she had a firm grasp of the English language. English is the second most common language in the Philippines and her schooling was mostly taught in English. She was taunted and ridiculed for her thick Tagalog accent. Since then, she’s moved up the ranks in the escrow world, holding the position of escrow officer for a long period of time. But as soon as the mortgage industry collapsed, my mom’s career went down with it thanks to a series of temporary positions and layoffs.
My dad’s experience was quite different. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family of 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and parents in the 1970s. He attended high school in Garden Grove, California, in a racially and culturally diverse community. He then joined the Navy, where he traveled back and forth to the Philippines. There, he met my mom and then had her move to the U.S. shortly after. During his travels, he made connections with the entertainment industry in the Philippines, and soon he became a host for a Filipino variety dance show. My dad’s been dancing since his adolescent years, so it was no surprise that he’d end up working in show business, pursuing his passion of dance.
When he finally settled in the U.S. with my mom, after several years of bartending, he opened up his own dance studio, where he taught lessons in ballroom dance, tango, salsa, samba, waltz, swing, and cha-cha. What was the business model he implemented in his studio? Working hard. Unfortunately, he was forced to close his studio despite several years of support from the Filipino community. He simply didn’t have the funds to keep the business running.
I admire the paths and struggles that both my parents went through in order to provide a life for me here in the U.S. I admire their journeys so much that I think about them often, especially as I continue to embark on my own journey in navigating my way to the American dream. But when I think about my own path, I don’t just focus on the hard work that needs to be done in order to create a life for myself, but I take into account my passions and the drive I have to give back to my parents, my community, and to the world. My parents may not see the connection between my passion for social justice, feminism, and activist writing and their immigrant experiences in the U.S., but they are one of the biggest reasons why I am so inspired to do this work.
Thanks, mom and dad.