Disneyland, 1994[in order: Lola Sianing (great aunt), Auntie Ne (great aunt), Lola (grandma on Ma’s side), Ma, Carla, KC, & me in the stroller; my Pa took the picture]
This photograph was taken when my family (parents, 2 sisters, great aunt, and myself) arrived in the U.S. on tourist visas to visit my Lola, who was working in Illinois already. This image captures the most important women in my life (though don’t get me wrong, I love my Pa!).
Lola Sianing immigrated to the U.S. with us to visit her sister, my Lola. My parents worked long hours when my sisters & I were children– my mom cooked for wealthy families and my dad drove a delivery van for hours each day, and both always came home exhausted. Lola Sianing was the first person we saw when we got home. She made us merienda when we got home from school, she took care of us when we were sick, and took care of the house. She treated my sisters & I as her own, and was so selfless when so much was asked of her into her old age. She moved to Louisiana in the summer of 2003 to live with another sister when I was 12. In summer 2007 when we planned to visit her for the first time, she passed away.
Auntie Ne is the sister of my Daddy-Ku (Ma’s dad). When I was 8 or 9, Daddy-Ku passed away in the Philippines and left a large sum of money and belongings to my mom and our family. Unhappy relatives threatened to call immigration on us. The night we found this out, all 7 of us (my parents, sisters, Lola, Lola Sianing, & myself) packed whatever we could carry and hopped on the soonest Greyhound to California, leaving our lives behind. We were terrified, though my parents hid their panic well and stayed strong for us. Auntie Ne took us into her home for a month, caring for us until it was deemed safe for us to return home. No matter how busy she was and no matter how inconvenient it must have been to care for 7 people in a small house, she did everything she could to make sure we felt at home and comfortable.
Lola was the whole reason we came to the U.S. in the first place. She was a travel agent in the Philippines and raised my mom on her own after her & my Daddy-Ku separated. She immigrated to the U.S. before us in order to escape an abusive partner and started working for a family in Highland Park, Illinois. She spent her week living with them and her weekends at home with us. I still remember being excited for Friday nights as a child, knowing my Lola was coming home. She balanced taking care of another family and helping take care of ours. She passed away when I was 11 in September 2002.
My Ma, the best Ma in the entire world. She, along with my Pa, made the decision to bring our family to the U.S. and made the decision to stay after Daddy-Ku, her father and legal permanent resident at the time, promised that he would petition us after he gained his citizenship. Afterhe passed away the year he was set to become a citizen, we had no legal pathway to citizenship. At this point, my parents had built a life for us already and chose to stay away. Since we’ve been here, my mom has worked for numerous families, cooking and cleaning in order to provide us with a comfortable life. Ma went above and beyond to provide for our family. She taught me about the importance of education, hard work, and kindness. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her, and I wouldn’t have accomplished half the things I have without her guidance, support, and love. She never fails to make me want to be a better person and go for the gold. Everything I do in life, I do for her and Pa.
My sisters, KC and Carla. These two women have helped shape me into the who I am. Starting at a young age, KC has filled both mine and Carla’s worlds with music, movies, and books we wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. She helped us develop our own interest in art, painting in our basement for hours at a time in high school. She continues to expose Carla and I to her current favorite things, just as she did when we were kids.
Carla has helped me grow in so many ways. She inspired me with her strength and courage to come out of the shadows and reclaim being undocumented as part of her identity without shame. She’s encouraged me to become more education about social justice issues and to speak out against injustice whenever I see it. Without her, our whole family would still be in the shadows living in fear. She changed that.