“I walked through flooded streets during typhoon season to show up for my interview. I showed up soaking wet, but I put my best face on. A week after my interview I went home to your grandparents to tell them I was leaving the Philippines to work in the U.S. If I had let the rain stop me, I would have missed my opportunity to come to America,” – this is just a snippet of my mother’s immigration story.
You see, I am a first-generation Filipino-American. My mother emigrated to the U.S. (specifically to Chicago) in the early 90’s on a work-visa as a nurse and in 1996 she became a legal citizen. Her first job in the U.S. was working in a nursing home. Fast forward to 2021, and she is a well-respected nurse in the Emergency Department. My mother’s immigration story is my favorite for the most obvious reasons, but also because it instilled important lessons in me that I carry every day.
On the days I would ride with my mom to the train station or the lucky days I could get a ride to school, she would remind me of her early struggles in America, how people at work, in the store and on the street would treat her when they’d learn she was an immigrant or when they’d hear her accent. Mind you, I grew up witnessing these moments firsthand, hearing people’s tones and seeing their facial expressions. My mom’s purpose in reminding me of these daily struggles wasn’t to make me mad at society for how they treated her, but rather to remind me the importance of being kind and what diligent work can get you. My mom would always finish her talks by reminding me of four things:
While I’ve always kept those lessons top of mind, it wasn’t until my freshman year of college when I was far from my family that it finally clicked why my mom reminded me of her struggles and life lessons.
Something to know about Filipinos is that we are raised with the expectation to enter three professional fields: medicine, engineering, or finance. Anything outside of the “stable” and “safe” jobs is a gamble. As the youngest in my family who didn’t pursue nursing and instead chose PR, there were moments when I felt like my mom – stepping into an unknown and not knowing what to expect or where I would land.
During college I would often second guess myself and my career choice. During those moments of doubt, I’d think of my mom and the courage she had to leave her home country to build a new life in a new land, and I’d tell myself “if mom can build a new life, I can get this degree.” Graduating and winning my senior capstone was incredible, but again, mom’s advice to be gracious and humble reminded me to live in my moment but to know there is more in the world for me to do.
When I told my mom I had applied to Current Global and the clients the agency worked with, her first words were “do you think you can handle it?” That question wasn’t filled with doubt, but genuine concern about my ability to thrive and succeed in a profession she knew nothing about. I smiled said “there’s only one way to find out.”
Truthfully, I questioned myself too. Could I handle the work, the environment, the colleagues, the clients? Could I make my way and thrive in PR? My mom persisted in building a new life in the U.S., never allowing anything to stop her from creating the life she imagined. So, what’s to stop me from building the career of my dreams and getting where I want to be? The answer: nothing.
On days filled with deadlines and crises, emails flying at 100mph and everyone seemingly on edge, I take a step back and check in on my teams to ask if there is anything I can do to help. You can’t get far without your team in this industry, so it’s important to be there for them. Remember Momma Mallari’s lesson, always be kind to others.
The early mornings that lead into long nights when there isn’t enough caffeine or snacks to keep me going, I think of my mom and the moments she was by herself and how she might have felt during the most challenging times. I’m reminded that I am my mother’s daughter and for all that she’s done and accomplished, I can surely succeed in this industry and pave new ways for the AAPI community.
May honors Mother’s Day and is also Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year I’m proud to honor my mother, to share her story and how it’s influenced my professional career.
I am the proud daughter of a Filipino immigrant. I am the product of my mother’s American dream.
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