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One in seven U.S. residents is an immigrant, while one in eight residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. The U.S. is a country that is comprised of people with many different countries of origin, and a wide variety of rich and full histories and cultures. Knowing this, it’s important we recognize and celebrate all of the diversity that foreign born nationals and their families bring into the fabric of this country,

One way we can do this is by recognizing Filipino American History Month, which is celebrated throughout October since it first commenced in 1992.

Here at McEntee Law Group, we not only have a diverse group of clients, but our team is made up of people who either are immigrants themselves or have family members who are! One of these people is Associate Attorney Katherine Del Roasrio, whose mom Ederlina came to the U.S. from the Philippines.

In honor of Filipino American History month, Katherine interviewed her mom about her experience coming to and living/working in the U.S.- and her mom even asked her some questions back! You can read their interview here:

 

Katherine:

Hi, I’m Katherine Del Rosario. I’m an associate attorney at McEntee Law Group. It’s October, 2022, which is Filipino American History Month. If you didn’t know, I myself am Filipino American, and so I am interviewing my mom at Ederlina today to ask her about her immigration story and our immigration story as a family. Are you ready, mom?

 

Ederlina:

Yes.

 

Katherine:

Okay. Why don’t you introduce yourself. Tell us what you did prior to retirement and what you’re doing now.

 

Ederlina:

I’m Ederlina Fidel. I’m a 66 year old retired nurse. I was a community health nurse five years prior to coming here in the early 80s. I retired in 2018, resumed my traveling, resumed my gardening, and eventually taking care of my grandson now who’s almost two years old.

 

Katherine:

Yeah. And he’s sleeping now, which is why we can record this! Okay. I’m going to ask you some questions. What is our family’s immigration history that you know of?

 

Ederlina:

In the early 60s, my uncle was an exchange student. He was a graduate of medicine. Together with his classmate, he went to Wisconsin, eventually moved to Chicago, worked at Memorial Belmont Hospital, and had three clinics in the city. He had family and raised his kids here too. In the early 70s, my aunt came in with her 10 classmates as immigrants. They’re all accountants. They settled here in Chicago, eventually had different jobs and also settled here and had their own families. In the early 80s, that’s when I came with an H-1 Visa, working as a nurse. I was petitioned by a nursing home in Skokie. In early 90s, my sisters came, one sister came as a nurse with an H-1 Visa, and another sister who’s also a nurse came with an employment based green card together with her family. In the late 90s, my mother and youngest sister came. She was petitioned by her eldest brother as a sibling. And if I could recall, it took more than 15 years for this Visa to be in effect.

 

Katherine:

So from the time that your uncle petitioned his sister, it was a really long time?

 

Ederlina:

It was a long time. It’s over 10 years.

 

Katherine:

So when you first came, you mentioned you were petitioned by a nursing home?

 

Ederlina:

Yes.

 

Katherine:

To work here as a nurse?

 

Ederlina:

With an H-1 Visa.

 

Katherine:

What was that experience like, moving to a new country, were you by yourself? Did you stay with our family here?

 

Ederlina:

I traveled alone and settled with my aunt who was here in the early 70s.

 

Katherine:

Where’d you guys live?

 

Ederlina:

We lived on Montrose, part of Harwood Heights, and then when I worked in Skokie, I eventually rented a room with family, a single mother with two kids who also came here with an immigrant status. As a young nurse, I was in my early 20s. I experienced discrimination and exploitation in the workplace. My contract says I should get paid time and a half after 80 hours of work in two weeks, but I wasn’t. Because I know I should get paid, I tried to tell the owner that they owe me money, but I was not being heard. So what I did was I went to the Department of Labor downtown.

 

Katherine:

Wait, can I ask you something?

 

Ederlina:

Yeah.

 

Katherine:

So you were working overtime, promised to be paid time and a half.

 

Ederlina:

Based on my contract.

 

Katherine:

And then you brought it up to your boss.

 

Ederlina:

Yeah, my boss.

 

Katherine:

And what did they say?

 

Ederlina:

They ignored me. I talked to the director of nursing, the administration, and nothing was being done, but they continued to ask me to work overtime because they’re so short. I worked all shifts, night shift, day shift, evening shift, and then every time I received my pay stub, most of the time I worked  more than 90 hours, mostly a hundred something hours in two weeks. But when I computed my paycheck, I got paid $7, 50 cents per hour and no overtime.

 

Katherine:

So when you brought it up to them, they would just ignore you. Did they say anything else to you?

 

Ederlina:

They ignored me. They didn’t say anything. Some of the nurses were quiet. They were afraid to complain because they were petitioned, so…

 

Katherine:

Were you afraid that they would retaliate against you?

 

Ederlina:

No, I was very- I know my rights. So because they were not listening to me, I went downtown, took the train and went to the Department of Labor, and I showed my pay stub, so…

 

Katherine:

How did you know where the Department of Labor is?

 

Ederlina:

There was no cell phone at the time, no Googling. So I was using the yellow pages of Chicago, the Illinois Bell.

So I took the train. I was not afraid because I know I worked so hard, but I was not paid the right way, even if I approached them several times. So when I mentioned about leaving, the owner said I will be deported because I was not following my contract. The Department of Labor clearly told me there was no breach of contract. Even with the reasoning of “you are not happy with the workplace”, you can leave. That was the first time I heard about the Illinois Law about labor practice. So the labor person told me, you cannot be deported as long as you find another employer who will petition you to work. So that’s what I did. So I left.

When I told the owner that I went to the Labor Department and told them exactly what I said, I told them they owe me a lot of money. So I thought she was bribing me because now she wants to pay me back. So I refuse that because I will not, that’s like bribing to me. She wants to hold onto me, but I did not accept the bribe. I just left and I told her, there’s no such thing as breach of contract in Illinois. Even if the reason is only you’re unhappy with work. That’s more than being unhappy. I was not paid. I felt exploited. So eventually I was hired at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s. I got paid more than enough- more than what I got paid in the nursing home. And then they willingly petitioned me with an H-1 Visa and eventually an immigrant Visa. And I work at Rush for more than 25 years.

 

Katherine:

And for those of you who don’t know, Rush is now, it’s what is now North Shore Hospital in Skokie. And that’s where I was born. Right?

 

Ederlina:

Yes, yes.

 

Katherine:

As a young person in the States, how did you stay connected to your community, your Filipino community?

 

Ederlina:

I came here in November. By January I was already connected with some friends from the Philippines who introduced me to the groups in the Filipino community. There were activities ranging from social organizations to activities related to some political issues. Because during the time, it was the time of Marcos, who was known as the dictator in the Philippines.

 

Katherine:

When you came to the States, was Martial Law still in place in the Philippines?

 

Ederlina:

Martial law was still in place, but it’s starting to be chaotic because Marcos was trying to cheat in the elections and people had enough. He declared martial law in 1972 and ordered people, killed all walks of life, including priests, laborers, students, teachers, nuns, media people- anyone who’s opposing him are ordered to be killed. And there’s a lot of proof that he was doing that, including international human rights groups. So when I came here, there was a lot of groups, not only in social organizations like coronations and birthdays, but also groups who are trying to work to expose the Marcos dictatorship.

So between my work, I was also active in those organizations. We also formed cultural groups for Filipino Americans who were born here, trying to share and educate them our culture and our history, because we are so far from the Philippines. And during Marcos’ time, media is controlled. You hardly can know what’s the actual human rights violations he’s making.

 

Katherine:

That’s good to know, because I think I benefited from that as a kid without really knowing why you and your friends organized these programs. I remember as a child you would take me to the Rizal Center on Irving and Clark. Those are some of my earliest memories- learning Tagalog, being with my friends, learning dances….

 

Ederlina:

The songs.

 

Katherine:

… and songs, learning the traditional songs! And we did that for years. So, I didn’t know that’s why you did that. And it seemed somewhat normal to me at the time, because in Chicago, my friends who were, say, Polish or Chinese, they had Polish school and they had Chinese school. And so, I had Filipino school. It was much smaller. But yeah, I have good memories of that time.

What do you love most about being Filipino?

 

Ederlina:

The thing most I’m proud of is, I’m not ashamed to tell people that I’m a Filipino. I am hard working. We are very resilient, always fighting for what is right as a person, and demand to be treated equally.

As a nurse and as a Filipino, we have this oath where regardless of your religion, race, color, you treat every person the same. I am proud of where I came from, the language, the traditions. I was raised by a farmer, so I’m so proud of tilling the land. I’m not afraid of telling people I came from a hard working family.

 

Katherine:

And that love of land and farming has definitely carried over to your life here. As long as I can remember, you’ve had a garden. And even now, you have a couple of gardens at our house, at your sister’s house, so that hasn’t changed. What do you like about it?

 

Ederlina:

Gardening reminds me of my past, honoring my ancestors about tilling the land. Even if I’m in Chicago, I can turn six feet by 12 feet vegetable farm, as you may call it. So as little as that is compared to a half hectare of land back home, it reminds me of where I came from. Not only about honoring my ancestors, my parents, gardening is very soothing. It reduces my stress level. The love of nature is always there.

I started showing my grandson how to appreciate flowers. He eats my cherry tomatoes from the container pots. Growing your own food, that’s how I love gardening, like a passion.

 

Katherine:

When you had me, when you had a daughter, why was it important to you, or was it important to you to share your Filipino identity with me? Did you see it a little differently because we were in the States, knowing that you’re raising a Filipino daughter and family, but in America?

 

Ederlina:

Yeah. So, my hope for you and your family, including my grandson, is to not forget about our family history, and our Filipino history as a country, because it has connection with how you live here in America. When I say that is to appreciate Philippine history, you will talk about colonization, including American colonization, so you will understand better how culturally Filipinos can range from patriotic, assimilating in the U.S., or forgetting their roots. Because it was affected by colonization in the past.

So for your generation and Quino’s generation, if you know the history, you will know better how Filipinos live here and how we relate with other people’s culture. You will be more respectful with other people, and you will be more tolerant of other people. You will not allow discrimination and exploitation. Basic respect for other people as we are created equal, should always be our belief. In this way, you will try not to experience what my generation and my family’s generation prior to my coming, because we all have our stories about being exploited, being discriminated.

 

Katherine:

When you were doing your political and cultural work here in Chicago, did you find that you found shared struggles, shared values with other communities, not just Filipinos, but other groups as well?

 

Ederlina:

Oh yes. I met a lot of groups from different countries, including Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua. They have almost the same struggles as we did in the Philippines. They were colonized, they were under dictatorship- military rule. The discrepancy between the rich and poor was so big, so when they came here, they also tried to assert being from the other countries, different cultures, and colored. So we shared stories about asserting ourselves in the workplace and demanding our right to be paid well. I had a lot of friends, even now, who had the same struggles as Filipinos coming here.

 

Katherine:

Do you have any questions for me?

 

Ederlina:

What was it like, as you grew up, knowing our history as Filipinos coming here and as Filipino American born here reading some books about the Philippines that I tried sharing you when you were growing up?

 

Katherine:

In hindsight, I know now what a radical education I had from a very young age. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I remember you using the words colonization and imperialism so early. I knew those words very early on. And my early memories are of us attending solidarity meetings, cultural programming and just being with people that looked like us and had come out of the Martial Law period with a lot of pride for their Filipino identity and a lot of fight. It was different. Even within the Filipino community, I think our experience- my experience- was really different.

I know that there is this aspect of assimilation within our community and I’m really grateful because I didn’t feel that from you. I didn’t feel like I needed to be whiter, lighter skinned, or speak perfect English and not speak Tagalog. I didn’t feel that. If anything, I felt really proud and really free to express that part of myself. I remember I went to a pretty small Catholic school for grade school that was primarily white and my lunches were traditional Filipino. A lot of the time I would carry my gym clothes in a … how do you call that backpack, the woven bag? It’s like a backpack, but it’s woven, which is really different from the Nike, Adidas bags that people were carrying. With the exception of a few bad experiences, I think I generally felt really proud and excited to be Filipino. You didn’t shield me from, I think, the downsides and the flaws of our culture, but you really highlighted for me what was good and what was positive about being Filipino.

 

Ederlina:

Did you have some struggles also as a Filipino American in school or the workplace like I experienced in the workplace, because you’re Filipino?  Although you speak fluent English and your accent and diction are way better than mine, I was curious if you still experience what I experience.

 

Katherine:

I think on some level, yes, but not nearly as extreme. I think if anything, the model minority myth is what was really relevant. So here everyone kind of expects Asian people to be hard working, to be really smart, but also to be submissive and quiet and follow the rules….

 

Ederlina:

And you are not.

 

Katherine:

And I’m not. 

 

Ederlina:

I’m glad.

 

Katherine:

So I think it’s surprising to people. I remember comments, there’s an ugly one that comes to mind. One of my friends parents called me a monkey, I remember that. It really took me by surprise. I hadn’t really heard any kind of comment or slur. But I think it’s also important to note that yeah, we are people of color, but me in particular, I think I’ve benefited a lot from being lighter skinned. We know in our culture they really find fairer skin more attractive. There’s a whole beauty industry built on color and colorism. And being fairer skinned, I think I saw the benefits of that. I would notice people comment on it and I would hear the opposite kind of comments when talking about deeper skinned Filipinos or other Asians. I think that’s important.

Right now, as an attorney, I always get mistaken for the client. I often go to the immigration service or the immigration court and by now, I mean I’ve been practicing for a few years now, and so most of the security guards or the other attorneys, we recognize each other. But still, even still, they will often assume that I’m the client. So they’re like, “Do you have an attorney here?” “I am the attorney.” And I see other attorneys, particularly female, young attorneys of color, experience the same thing. I see the same people and I hear the same comments to both of us.

 

Katherine:

In what ways did you feel like your identity and culture as a Filipino person were celebrated in America? Did you feel that way?

 

Ederlina:

Oh yeah. Well, as my profession as a nurse, you can think of all hospitals being awarded with excellence in performance. I’m so proud of that. We are remembered to be really good, skillful, educated, and to know what we’re doing in the hospital setting. We save a lot of lives. Healthcare workers, even in the home setting, always ask for Filipino caregivers. I am so proud of that because we treat our elderly really well. We treat them like our culturally, even if they’re not your grandmothers, if they’re older, you treat them like family. So I’m proud of that. We treat our elderly like family, so we take care of them. We respect them like our own.

 

We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to be invited into the lives of Katherine and Ederlina as they share their family’s history with us.

Katherine is the Co-Founder of Alliance for Immigrant Neighbors (AIN), which provides direct service representation and community education to low-income families in the Northwest and Southwest suburbs of Chicago. She spent the first years of her career doing community organizing and policy work around issues of voting rights, language access, and child care and early education. As an attorney, Katherine carries an appreciation of the culture, history, and dignity of her clients. It’s clear she got her sense of advocacy from her mom!

To book a consultation with Katherine or any other of our experienced attorneys, you can book online, email us at (773)828-9544, or email us at info@mcenteelaw.com.

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