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Benjamin P. Miralles Jr. left the Philippines in 1992 after a catastrophic earthquake hit the island in 1990 followed by a volcanic eruption in 1991 which led to both economic and environmental devastation. Before he left the Philippines, Ben was an involved student activist who also was a writer for his college’s newspaper.
According to Ben, although the economy was severely impacted, politically the Philippines became stronger with the presidency of Fidel Ramos who helped stabilize the country’s economy. Ben recalls this political transition as the first time he was truly proud to be Filipino even though he was by then living in the United States.
Ben’s first point of entry into the United States was Honolulu, Hawaii where he joined other family members who resided on the island including his father. Ben’s early experiences in Hawaii were positive and he particularly liked the great ethnic and cultural diversity. This diversity was not always celebrated. In the mid 19th to the early 20th century, Hawaiian sugar plantations caused an influx of labor migration. Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, and Filipino workers were often divided and pitted against each other in order to prevent organizing and striking (Takaki, 2008).
After coming from Manila, the largest city of the Philippines, to the small island of Oahu, Ben’s expectations of what America was supposed to be contrasted with images of large cities like New York City or Los Angeles. His first job in Hawaii was as a part time student librarian at the University of Hawaii where he was a full time student. He was determined to achieve his family’s goal of finishing his education. As an upper division student, he was then hired as a research fellow in biochemistry. As an educated, skilled worker, who was in search of career mobility, Ben could be considered a part of the “brain drain” movement of highly educated individuals emigrating from the Philippines to the U.S. (Kaba, 2009).
After graduating from university and then becoming a U.S. citizen in 1998, Ben visited friends in the Bay Area and Washington, D.C. before deciding to move to San Francisco where he currently lives and works for Wells Fargo. Ben’s migration was influenced by his professional aspirations and educational qualifications made him a highly skilled migrant (Portes and Rumbaut, 1990). Ben also had a pattern of moving to locations where he had pre-existing networks such as friends or family.The authors of Immigrant America correlate this pattern more with migrant laborers. Ben’s decisions to first move to Hawaii and then California also follows a trend with majority of Filipinos settling in California at 45% followed by 6% settling in Hawaii (US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2010).
Ben’s instances of being discriminated against are what he considers to be microaggressions. One of these encounters was by an in-law while he was in Hawaii when he felt his “experiences in the Philippines were being discounted because they aren’t American experiences” as they questioned his credibility of scientific knowledge that he had learned while at university in Manila. Another situation occurred when he was first looking for jobs in San Francisco. Ben could not find work in South City in the biotech industry because he did not have a car. He had to temporarily scale down his job aspirations by accepting a position in the sales department of a financial corporation that was more accessible by BART. Ben found that his accent, how he looked, and that he had not attended a more well known school such as Berkeley, Stanford, or UCLA, made it harder to make sales as a form of institutionalized discrimination.
Ben found community outside of the work place but through religion. This religious journey for Ben started in the Philippines during his upbringing. As a child his parents sent him to a private school Catholic schools leading him to attend a Roman Catholic university in Manila. During his college years in the United States he also became involved with the campus Catholic ministry at the University of Hawaii. However, while living by himself in San Francisco, Ben attempted to change his religious lifestyle by trying secular humanism, agnosticism, and finally atheism. After a few years, Ben moved to a different neighborhood within San Francisco where he found Grace Cathedral where he was drawn to the more liberal and the guilt-free environment that he had not found in prior churches. Grace Cathedral became the welcoming community to he “belonged even before believing.”
Ben also relates his strong involvement with U.S. politics to his religious ties. Unlike here in the U.S., the Philippines do not have a separation between church and state making his religious experience very political. Ben views the American system as having trust in the government while the Philippine people having more trust in the church as it was often used as a shelter for victims of government abuse as well as a way to teach social justice.
Although Ben believes his way of thinking has become more American, his ability to preserve his native language of Tagalog is a source of pride. “There are emotions, food, mental processes, and abstract ideas that I cannot begin to express without accessing my Filipino vocabulary.” Ben hopes to visit the Philippines again to see relatives, friends and his old-stomping grounds. His growing desire to return is sparked in part by the increased use of social media where he can now see pictures of people and places from his home country, although he would much rather see them in person and thank them for preparing him for the successful life he now leads in America.
Savannah Smith wrote this story while a student in Professor Maggie Smith’s Sociology of Immigration course at Mills College.
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