| This is the 9th story of Our Life Logs |
Is the American Dream dead? It seems such a cliché sometimes to even talk about it. Many have a cynical outlook on it. Maybe it depends on how they define it or what they believe it to be. For me, it is alive. It represents a chance to create a life for yourself in a way that you want. As an immigrant, I think that rings even more true. Those of us who have migrated to the United States believe in that idea. It brings an intrinsic value to us. I have always wanted to live a life of my own, to build myself up to something I choose to be. I want to live my own American Dream.
The Philippines was my first home. I lived there all through college. I loved the country. It represented everything that was home to me. I was the second of the three children in my family. We had a nice middle-class life, with house maids, a cook and a driver. However, as much as I loved my life there I felt a little restricted sometimes, especially when it came to chasing my dreams and fulfilling my desires. I was, to a certain level, caged into a life that I wasn’t sure I wanted.
Many outsiders may think of it as some funny stereotype, but the intensity of Asian parents is a real thing. No grade is ever good enough to receive praise; everything could always be better scholastically; and the parents tend to make life decisions for their children. My parents were both bankers and wanted me to take a secure path just like theirs. My father was especially clear that I should be an accountant. It was his own dream to be in accounting, but he never had the chance to make that a reality, so he hoped I could continue his dream. My mother, on the other side, wanted me to be a physical therapist.
Neither of the paths was what I really wanted to take. I’ve always liked working on the creative side. I love being able to use art to tell a story or make someone happy. Artist was what I wanted to be. I wanted to share my gift with the world, but it didn’t work out that way. When it came to college application, I first chose the direction that my mother had envisioned for me, but unfortunately, I was travelling and returned late for the enrollment. Eventually I took my father’s preference and went on to study accounting.
Although it was not what I wanted, I didn’t fight. I grew up in the Asian culture and was used to that sort of practice. But my love for art was never extinguished.
Growing up I had dreamed of living in the United States. It had always represented an unbounded freedom for me. When I was lucky enough to visit it a few times in between my school years, I saw a world that offered opportunity. I saw people standing up to traditional beliefs and living the lives as they wanted. It is true that we were living a comfortable life in the Philippines, but those luxuries were not mine. They were my parents’. I wanted to create something for myself, on my own.
After college, as a graduation gift, my parents sent me to the US for vacation. It was 16 years ago. I arrived with a tourist visa, which allowed me to stay for six months maximum. But my desire was to stay longer, find a job and make a living here. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Yet I was determined; I would do whatever it took to make my dream come true.
When I first came, I stayed in California. We had some relatives there. My uncle was at the time hospitalized, so I helped my aunt take care of him, while looking for a company to sponsor me in getting a job. It was hard. Without a college certificate from a US institute, it was almost impossible to find a legitimate job. Later, I found some part-time work, but it was not really legal employment due to lack of proper paperwork. Holding my dream tight in my hands, I had to take the risk.
As the end of the six months approached, I applied for a visa extension, which granted me with a few more months to stay. The lack of a sustainable career, combined with my soon to expire visa, made life difficult. After another three months, I moved to stay with another aunt in New Jersey. My visa eventually expired, and I was no longer in a valid status. I worked through multiple jobs in order to survive, including jobs like babysitting or walking the dog. I was mostly working under the table using a fake social security number.
Illegally living in the US can be a scary feeling to many people, but I was not scared. Down deep in my heart, I was confident that I would make it, one way or another. I was holding the belief that many people from the Philippines would have–no matter what you are going through, keep up the hope and keep smiling. That belief pulled me through that difficult, unstable period of my US life.
Through my aunt, I later met my future husband. And through him, I was able to apply for green card, and then a few years later, citizenship. From there I started to pursue a career in a professional setting.
It has been 16 years since that 20-year-old girl, reckless and audacious, came to the United States to chase her dreams and was so determined that no hardship seemed hard to her. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out if I had chosen to go back to the Philippines under the circumstance when I failed to secure a legitimate job here years ago. I am not proud of what I had to do to stay in this country, but for me, it was not just survival, but also my American Dream.
This story was told anonymously by a woman originally from the Philippines who currently works and resides in Cincinnati, Ohio with her loving husband and three beautiful daughters. Her passion for creative arts has stayed with her for all these years. She loves living in the United States where she gets the freedom of choice to take her life in the direction she wants.
This story first touched our hearts on July 10, 2017.