For many Filipinos, being in the United States is a great privilege. You cannot please everyone and there are also a few people not happy in the United States and opt to go back to the Philippines. But most like here mainly because of the financial benefits and what they can give to their family and loved ones.
I was a natural born American Citizen but grew up in the Philippines since the age of 5. For many years a lot of people kept telling me why am I in the Philippines? With what you know you can make a fortune in the United States. True or not, what I am earning here is nothing compare to what I was earning in the Philippines. And many of us still consider ourselves underpaid compared to the industry standards.
Last June 9, 2005, I had to drive my mom-in-law to her oath taking ceremony for her awarding of her US Citizenship together with my dad-in-law that was awarded his citizenship a little bit earlier. With all the online maps for the US, looking for the place was not hard at all.
As I was thinking that this thing is a ceremony in a small room with a handful of people, and I was so wrong. There was a very very very long line just getting into the Hall where the ceremony will be held. And I said to myself “What? A hall? How many people are here?”
As expected in this part of the country, you will hear the native Filipino language everywhere. And when we were allowed to enter, me and Papa, went up to the viewers area and the venue looked like a big college graduation to me. It was announce that there were 1,057 people who were there to be declared as US Citizens and that the current venue will be the last time the US Citizenship and Immigration Services will be using that venue and the following oath takings in the future will be at another venue. So that specific batch was called a special one. Aside from that, the Judge who officiated the oath taking was also his last year before he goes into retirement. They said that venue alone has already made 122,000+ US Citizens already ever since they have been using that venue.
The ceremony started with this musical sing and dance number by the Music in Motion Choir of one of the nearby high schools, which is their pride of being Nationally known in various choir competitions. I’m not a big fan of musical, theatrical arts, although I think I’ll enjoy watching ballet and symphony orchestras. So for me I first thought this thing would be boring.
As they performed, their songs progress into various tunes you recognize, common everyday songs of the past that caught my attention. They really did not have the original background music of the songs, but the choir’s voices was good enough. And even if the tunes were delivered in a somewhat happy tempo, upon listening to the lyrics, they have so much meaning into it. I cannot remember each specific song and lyrics but it was all about family, hard work, hope, living a better life. It reflected the main reason why all these 1000+ people were all there for. They worked soooo hard for where they are right now. Which reminds me of the many Filipinos that would go the extra mile just to get here, top doctors study nursing, which is just a few more units since that is more in demand here. Ordinary people or oven people with various successful professional careers go into caregiving. Teachers take their chances teaching here too. IT people apply directly online. Some try joining the US Navy. In some cases of a promised job there are placement fees, so expensive, they even sell their houses in the Philippines, which is considered a suicide move because if whatever happens fails, you have no more house to go back to.
And as the choir performed, I was panning the whole hall looking at all the 1000+ participants from all over the world, from left to right of the hall. And I started to feel the emotion these people have. The happiness they have with all the hard work they have gone through. The emotion started to build up but this choir was performing in a very happy mood that I think most people were not paying attention to the lyrics at all. I felt like tears wanted to roll down but I just closed my eyes and did not let that happen.
When that was done, there was a ceremony thanking all the volunteers of the event and who have been helping out throughout all the years at that venue. Many NGOs, school organizations and sections of the armed forces helping out from year to year. After that, was the time for the Judge to officiate the oath taking. He did express that what was happening is an official court hearing stating that all of them will be citizens of the country, but he still said that everybody should be lose and be happy since all screening was done already and all present will be declared as citizens.
With the emotional mood I had, so did this Judge, he gave his short life story and just could not hold his emotions. He told everyone how hard his parents worked just to get to America. Even if he was a natural born American citizen, he saw the progress of his parents from being immigrant aliens to US Citizens, and has witnessed how important that event was to them as a family. How everything will be easier. His voice was crackling up with a few tears running down. He is quite old already and his parent have already passed away. And as much as he was happy for his parents in the past, he was just as sincere in saying that he was really happy for everyone present at the ceremony.
This proceeded with a speech from a female school administrator that was basically there to acknowledge the presence of the choir that also served as an advertisement for the school which had various races present in their high school. And she herself could not hold her emotions as she recalled the day she also became a US Citizen. She was sitting in front and her students were also performing that time.
It was just a very emotional day, and it ended with the Judge calling out each country of the world in alphabetical order having the participants stand up if their native country is called out. It was a very long list as people clapped in the audience as well when their countries were called out. Majority of the countries had like about 1 to 5 people. A few were just barely more than 10 people. But as the list of countries went on… two countries were skipped. And when the Judge finished the list, he said “Did I miss anything?”
A shout from the audience came out, Philippines! and he then said “Did I hear Philippines? Ok Philippines, stand up.” And every Filipino cheered and clapped that it looked like 40% of them were Filipinos. As the Filipinos were clapping and cheering, continuous shouts of Mexico! Mehico! were heard. And when all Filipinos sat down, the judge said: “What’s that? Mexico? Ok Mexico!” And it was like 50% of the participants were all Mexicans.
There are so many Filipinos here in the US, it is like you did not leave the Philippines. During the whole ceremony, I can’t help but imagine the day like that, where it would be my family up there in the hall as I cheer for them.