My father Reynaldo spent 43 years of his life in the Philippines and the last 29 years in the United States. Did he achieve the great American dream?
He thrived as a family man while his heart and mind continued to yearn for the homeland. He maintained and strengthened old ties even when he was already reunited with his family. This meant more than sending the generous padala to friends and relatives as he strived to keep himself updated about what was happening at home. Home was where he grew up – San Francisco del Monte; and where he immigrated to rejoin his parents – San Francisco Bay Area. He lived a life that bridged these two homes separated by the Pacific. He was both a resident and stranger, a migrant who sought new connections but whose deep longing was to preserve his native identity.
He was part of the working class, a union member, our breadwinner who endured long working hours for almost three decades. In Manila, he raised a family during the crisis-ridden years of the 1980s which made immigration an urgent option. He embraced the chance and challenge to restart his plans in life even if it entailed separation from his wife and kids for many years. He noted the superior quality of living and the seemingly endless opportunities that any hardworking migrant can avail of.
But he kept on looking back and never stopped mentioning about spending a longer time in his beloved country. His wish reflected a subconscious understanding of the realities experienced by migrant families. Perhaps the spectacle of the new masked the feeling of alienation, the pain of encountering racism or discrimination, and the short-lived fulfillment offered by material goods. Still, he might have done enough calculations and decided to persist and withstand unspoken hardships so his family can enjoy a better life.
He encouraged his children to be bolder in life guided by his unwavering support. He never willingly shared his problems with us. He kept a strong and confident presence until his weak and aging body became more visible. I could have been more helpful by being near and maybe it might have eased some of the difficulties he was hiding from his loved ones. But he was selfless up to the end. Instead of rebuking my decision to leave the United States and live an activist life in the Philippines, he respected it although I know he must have been deeply hurt by it. He worried for my safety and lamented about any bleak future that could happen to me.
Over the years, we were able to spend some time during brief vacations by blending my political work with personal visits. He met and bonded with his grandkids. He enjoyed being called lolo pogi. His last visit was in 2020, a few weeks before global pandemic lockdowns were imposed. It was the first time he was reunited with his Dubai-based daughter in almost 20 years.
Family reunions allowed us to catch up, reenact rituals of domestic living, and build new memories. Were they enough? For a child who sincerely wanted to express his love and gratitude, they were agonizingly inadequate.
My father spent three weeks in the hospital in March. It was a very long and difficult month. His stay coincided with frightening reports about the collapse of two Silicon Valley banks, disastrous flooding, and a storm that caused power outages in many parts of the Bay Area. Meanwhile, what loomed large for us was my father’s heartbreaking condition. He was a symbol of strength, our rock fortress like the nearby Alcatraz Island. Not a frail body injected with needles and attached to various medical machines.
According to his doctors, he miraculously survived. But maybe he willed all his strength so that he can be discharged and spend a few more intimate moments with his family at home. My mother comforted him and lovingly tended to his needs for two days. On the day he died, he was with me and my brother. He asked me to find his checkered jacket and put it on him, he even directed me to help him with the buttons. Then he requested coffee according to his liking. I didn’t realize at that time that it would be his last but tender assertion of paternal authority, and the last act of kindness and affection that I can do for him as a son. And then he was no more.
Mong Palatino is a blogger, activist, and former legislator. He can be reached via his email, [email protected]