From the very first time I saw Chicago, I knew in my heart that this was going to be the place that I would call my second home. I was only 19 years old when I first set foot on the grounds of this beautiful Midwest city. My Mom bought me a round trip ticket to Chicago from Cebu and vice versa. It was my college graduation present.
I can still vividly recall my Mom’s neat and beautiful handwritten letter on a yellow pad. She told me how proud she was of my accomplishment. I was the first in the brood of six to finish college. As I was reading her letter, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I couldn’t believe it either.
I was the one who never really cared about school. I told myself, the government only required 75% to pass any class. I wouldn’t let all the hair in my head go trying to be on top of the class. As long as I get 75%. I’d be happy. Yes, I was that type of student. I didn’t care how my grades were, I only wanted to pass my classes.
I was young and carefree. I wanted to explore and travel. I had taken a year off school before I started my review class for my Philippine licensure exam. I was only 19. For most regulated professions in the Philippines you have to be of legal age which is 21 in order to practice your profession.
I thought, if I passed my board exam after a single take; I still would not be able to practice because I was still considered a minor. Thankfully, I had that advantage. It allowed me to enjoy my travels. It made me see how great America is without having to feel guilty of wasting time. That was when time was on my side. I wish I could still say that now.
I fell in love with America on my first visit but I returned home to the Philippines. I came a couple more times after that. My Mom and Dad were here at that time. I wanted to be with them because I missed them badly. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to see some relatives from all over the U.S. It was during one of my visits that I decided to stay here for good.
With the help of my Mom, my Dad and my Uncle in California who was my sponsor, I was able to get my student visa. I also have an Aunt who opened her home for me here in Chicago. I will write another post to detail how I did the visa process without hiring an attorney. It was a very rough start for me but I had my Mom, my Dad, my sister and my relatives who were there to support me. There were many instances when all I wanted was to give up but I did not.
Anyway, what kept me going despite all struggles were words of wisdom that my grandfather shared with me in the past. We called him “Tio Cardo” or Uncle Ric, he was my paternal grandmother’s brother. He was a medical doctor, a surgeon to be specific. In one of our conversations when I was still in college, he told me to work hard and become an asset to the family, not a liability.
Since then, I kept thinking what he really meant. Wherever I went, whatever I did, I always had his words in my mind. One day, I was on my way to DePaul University in Chicago’s loop to attend my class. As I was staring at the skyscrapers through the train’s window, I realized what my grandfather really meant. I need to be a person whom people can count on. I need to make use of my potentials to be able to help others rather than the one needing help. An asset instead of a liability.
From then on, I strived hard to become an asset not just for my family but for all the people around me. I want to touch lives in a meaningful way. I never intended to become a liability for anyone. With that in mind, I focused on becoming a successful immigrant. At that point, my urge to live the American dream was insanely intense.
Fresh off the boat or F.O.B. Excited of the new path I was about to take. I was oblivious of the fact that it was not going to be an easy transition for me. From a low profile and laid back lifestyle in a small town in the southern island of the Philippines to a super fast-paced modern Chicago life. It definitely was not an easy ride.
Yet, I took the challenge. I was so excited about my new home. I was excited to start the life that I visualized. I was determined to live the American dream. I am not there yet. But, here I am living my life the best way I could.
I admit, I am far from reaching my ultimate goal but I believe that in God’s perfect time it will all be manifested. Santi, Yzzabella, Esperanza, my Mom and Dad, my siblings, my mother-in-law, my relatives and my friends are all my motivation to continuously work and reach for my dream.
That is what we need to have. A dream. We all need to have a dream and to believe in that dream. We need to work smart to get it! We need to keep going and not give up no matter what!