Avila Mendoza de Guzman Porter
Born: Villasis, Pangasinan, Philippines
Migration Date: 1987
Growing up in the Philippines, our options are limited. I left the Philippines after college; I was 22 years old. After I graduated, there weren’t jobs in the Philippines. It’s not that I didn’t want to stay and help my parents with their business, but I wanted to stand up on my own. I wanted to challenge myself and do something else with my life. My plan was to find a job somewhere else outside of the Philippines: go to Europe, get a job, save all my money and then go back home to the Philippines and start my own little business, not [be] so dependent [upon] my parents all the time. I was the first one [to have left home]. I didn’t have a job lined up when I had decided to leave. And it was hard to leave because you didn’t know what to expect. [You’re] kind of excited and scared and then worried about what’s going to happen because you have no clue what’s going to happen. Back then, there were so many openings to go abroad to get a job. It was advertised that we should go to the Middle East, Asia (specifically Hong Kong) and Europe. So I chose to go to Europe and get a job there.
There were agencies we would hear about through word of mouth. The agency promised Oh when you get there we’ll have an employer right away blah blah blah but then it wasn’t true. Cause when you get there, it’s almost like [one of] those scams. So that’s what happened: they took us to a hotel and then [took] all our money and our return flight ticket going home to the Philippines. Then they told us not to speak to anybody and I was thinking What’s wrong [with] talking to people? But we didn’t know that it wasn’t a legal agency. They were doing this under the table, so I just told them, “Get me out of this hotel and find me a job. I’ll take any job as long as you know it’s a decent job.” It was a good thing that there was another Filipina that knew of a couple looking for a babysitter. But it was like they were connected to each other so I guess they were [conspiring] to share whatever money they [would] get from us. Fresh from the boat, I guess... Some people use those words. And whatever money they can get from those people they say, “Hey, I’ll give you 50 dollars if you find a job for this person that just freshly arrived here.” So those kind of things were happening.
There wasn’t really anything that I could do [at the time]. I just prayed and hoped that something good will come out of this. I refused to think [about] all these bad things that [could] happen. So I just prayed hard for help and then I was lucky, I guess, that there was a couple looking for a babysitter to work for them. I didn’t have any choice. But I said, “Okay, just get me out of this hotel.” Because if I stayed there, it [would] cost money to stay and I didn’t speak [any] German at the time. I didn’t know how to use their phone at that time because it’s totally different. When you’re outside [of] the Philippines and it’s an international phone call so it was really kind of hard.
The first job I ended up getting was as a babysitter. Babysitting [for] this single soldier. She had one son: Raheem is his name. I will never forget that boy. He was mean at first; he was hard but then he became close to me. So I took the job even though the pay was so small. It’s like $175 a month, but she would provide for my personal things that I needed, including food and lodging: a place to sleep. She was single and didn’t make a lot of money at the time, so she didn’t have [a lot]. She only had two beds: her bed and her son’s, so I slept on the sofa. That was my bed, but that’s better than staying in a hotel and [to] start getting [into] debt.
I was so homesick. I missed my mom and my dad. I missed home: I was born there, went to school there, elementary school all the way to college. I was so lonely but I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go home disappointed. So I’d say well I’m already out of the Philippines, whatever comes, whatever the future [brings me] as long as I’m not selling my body then I just continue working. If I have to scrub a toilet, then I’ll scrub a toilet. As long as I’m making money and [have a] decent job. Even though back in the Philippines, we have maids; we’re not poor in the Philippines, but because of me wanting to leave, I learn how to do all those things our maids used to do for us: washing clothes, cleaning somebody else’s mess, cleaning the toilet and all this stuff I’d never done. Once I left, I learned [how to do] all those things.
I started realizing there were so many of us: Filipinas all working in different buildings. On the weekends, we’d have our day off and sometimes when we [would] take the kids for a walk or to the bus stop then we [would] see [each other]. At first, they didn’t want to talk, but Filipinos are always friendly. If you start talking to them, then they’ll slowly talk to you. But you know you still have to be careful because some of them are not so good, especially if you’re doing better than [them]. It’s just like the crab: when you’re starting to go up, one crab will try to crawl and try to pull you down so none of you guys can go up because one is always pulling you down. So I started to meet and get to know more people: Filipinos, Filipinas and some Americans, too. I started asking them where I can [find] a better job than this and they [would] tell [me], “Oh, there’s jobs here and there until [one day], I met this Filipina that gave me a job inside the [United States Army] base. I was making quite of a bit of money [then]. I think I was making, starting from $175 a month to $300 to almost like $500. So that was quite a bit of a savings if you convert that to pesos. So I started saving up and I [was] sending money back home to [my parents] every month. And then, unexpectedly, I met my husband: you meet someone that comes along your way that unexpectedly [becomes] the love of your life, your destiny.
There’s so many things that I could have done [differently] but I ended up staying and getting married. If I went home or if I never left the Philippines, my life would be totally different. [I would] probably still be living with my mom and my dad, running the business, helping them and things like that but that’s probably it. If I had ended up staying, I could never [have] made a decision [for the family business]. They would be the owners of the business as long as they were alive and would always have to be the ones making decisions for everything. And that’s one thing I didn’t like. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions. [I wanted to be able to] stand up; if I made a mistake, then I [wanted to] have to face it. So when I arrived in Europe, it’s not like I went there for a husband. I went to seek my own fortune.
The first time I went back home was in the late 1990s, I think. I was so excited to go home: I [was] going to be able to go home and show off my baby to [my family]. It’s unexplainable the happiness I felt when I went back home for vacation. The first time I went back, I went home with my daughter, Veronica. [My grandparents] never expected that me, their grandkid, would be able to go so far away and come home. [It] made them proud that I was successful in my journey. I didn’t want to tell them [about the] other part [of] when I went to Europe because they didn’t need to know all those things and worry every time I left or [to think that] when they let their kids go, they will have this experience or get in trouble. I just wanted them to have the happy memories [of] what I accomplish[ed].
The Philippines is home for me. No matter where my feet take me, [my heart] is always telling me where my roots are; that is my home. That’s why when I go back [home], I take a long vacation.