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Tales from Generation 1.5 – Part 1 Aka the Immigr…

2 August 2005

Tales from Generation 1.5 – Part 1

Aka the Immigrant Chronicles….here are some random thoughts of my experiences growing up in the U.S. This is a work in progress…

Coined by immigration academics and sociologists, the term “Generation 1.5” refers to that population of immigrants who move to their new country at an in-between age (i.e., ages 10-14). My family first moved to the U.S. when I was 12. I think it was around May 1988. Not entirely sure. You’d think that something this important would be ingrained in my memory, but surprisingly, the details of the “big move” are quite hazy in my mind. What I do remember are the more mundane details.

Like the fact that right before we moved, my mom “conned” me into getting a new haircut. She sold it as this new layered ‘do’ that would make my hair look thicker. She said that I wouldn’t even need to comb it. So like a tool, I sat there as my mom’s friend snipped, snipped, snipped away. When he was done, he gave me a mirror. I think I let out a blood-curdling scream. Gone was my shoulder-length hair. Instead, I got me a boycut. As in close-to-the-scalp, choppy, boy-like hair. And I certainly looked like a boy. I was by no means a looker back then (I would discover the magic of lipstick in the 8th grade), and that stupid haircut took forever to grow out. So for our big move, I remember looking like a freaking boy. I was miserable for weeks after that. I don’t even think I was speaking to my mom during the plane ride to the U.S.

When we first got here, we lived with my aunt’s (mom’s sister) husband’s sister’s family in San Fernando Valley, California (let’s call her Tita Tess). My mom and dad was never a big fan of imposing on other people (which is probably why I myself don’t like crashing with people unless I’m especially close to them). So my mom and dad basically looked for jobs ASAP. We lived in the Valley for about 2 months or so. It seemed longer at the time, but I remember living in Los Angeles by the time school started in July. What I remember about this time what is that my Tita Tess lived in one of those newly constructed communities. I have never lived in such a pristine neighborhood where all the homes looked identical with their freshly manicured lawns and 2-car garages. My most vivid memory about this time is my Tita Tess’ neighbor. In a house about 4 doors down from Tita Tess’, there lived a girl who had a great collection of My Little Ponies. She had them lined up against her bay windowsill with her pink plaid curtains. I would always walk over there and stare up into her bedroom window. I never did meet the owner of the bedroom, but I remember coveting her room, her My Little Pony collection, and had grand schemes about her life. I imagined her to have a perfect life, unlike mine where my family of 4 (at the time) had to share a room in someone else’s house.

Soon after that, my dad fortunately found a job with a law firm as a legal clerk in Los Angeles. We moved out of the Valley, and into our very first apartment on Ardmore and 3rd Street. One bedroom. No frills. I have no recollection as to where I slept. Can’t remember. I assume I slept on a pull-out couch in the living room. It wasn’t bad at all. It wasn’t a tiny apartment. It was nice. I will always remember it as our first apartment.

And so began my very first concrete memories of culture shock and living the immigrant life. I had to learn how to cook rice, do laundry, clean the bathrooms, master public transportation, etc. All of which is not a big deal. But it was different to me because I had grown up in the Philippines and we had katulongs who dealt with all that household stuff. I never realized how spoiled I was until I got here. We clearly had to sacrifice and pitch in. We bought our clothes and furniture at Goodwill (which became one of my favorite stores when I was younger). I bought several books, toys, and clothes from there. My mom and I also frequented swap meets where you can get clothes at a discount, used or new. We walked everywhere because we didn’t have a car (eventually, my dad’s cousin lent us one), and had to scrimp and save.

I was miserable. I missed my cousins, my grandparents, my way of like. But I guess so did my mom and dad and my little brother (who was only 4 at the time). Like a lot of immigrants, my parents had great careers going for them back home. My father was an attorney and was counsel to the owner of ShoeMart. My mom worked for an international non-profit organization as manager of their personnel department. Now, everyone had to start from scratch. My dad studied for the California bar as he worked, and was usually so stressed out that he would yell at us for the smallest things. My mom and I had to do a lot of the household management. At the same time, they had a tight rein over me and were very protective.

I enrolled in Virgil Junior High –an inner city junior high near the border of East L.A. Virgil was on a year-round track system. This means they had school all-year-round versus the September-to-June academic system. The student body was divided into 3 sections: Track A, Track B, and Track C. I was in Track C, and our school year ran from July to May (or something like that). It was my first experience going to a public school. All my life before that, I had gone to Maryknoll (now Miriam College), an all-girls Catholic school from pre-school to the fifth grade. When we first moved to the U.S., I really thought that I’d be the only non-white person in my school and was absolutely terrified of having no friends. Little did I know, Virgil Junior High was basically an all-minority school with a large population of Asians, Latinos, and a few Blacks, plus 1 white chick named Stephanie. No joke. But Stephanie wanted to be Latina and clearly “acted” like one. Junior High was a riot! My first week there, I got “jumped” by these 3 guys who ripped off my gold necklace as I was walking to the bus station. Certainly learned my lesson: no jewelry or any nice things while in school! I also got singled out by this chola who I really thought was going to beat my ass up for looking at her funny. Ah fun times. But more on my junior high-jinks at a later post.

The first 6 months in the U.S. was certainly an experience. Had we not moved over here, I don’t think I would be half the person that I am today. Here’s what I appreciate.

  • My memories of growing up in the Philippines
  • My memories of growing up in Los Angeles
  • Learning to be self-sufficient in many ways (e.g, I learned how to cook, take care of my brother, do laundry, clean the house, etc.)
  • Learning to depend on myself
  • Learning to trust my own judgement
  • Being brave enough to explore places on my own (the bus was my friend)
  • Learning to appreciate my culture at an early age
  • Growing up with other cultures and learning about other minorities
  • Having friends from other cultures/ethnicities
  • Discovering indie and foreign flicks.
  • Discovering the music world (e.g., punk, new wave, hip-hop, etc.)
  • Getting my first job when I was 15 years old
  • Living away from home and realizing it’s not so bad
  • Independence

In short, I had to wise up in a short a period of time. I had to grow up in a span of months. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

Song of the Day:

Stop Me if You Think That You’ve Heard this One Before by The Smiths

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