I grew up in a small town in Cavite, a province just outside of Manila. My parents were both tailors and they owned a tailor shop right in the center of the town. I have a younger sister. Both my parents came from big families and they were not able to go to college (or university as you call it here in North America). My father finished high school but my mother was only able to finish her elementary school. My mother had been the butt of jokes of her siblings. They even called her “Bokya,” which means “nothing.” Because of this, my mother made sure that my sister and I had good education. She sent us to a private catholic school in a nearby town. Most of my parents’ siblings did not go to college either, except for a couple of my father’s siblings. Uncle Lucio was one of them. He and his family were always dressed nicely. He was a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and he worked at a prestigious company. When I was eight years old, I told myself that I wanted to be a CPA when I grow up.
I was very fond of my father when I was a child. He always helped me with my homework and he taught me tricks on how to solve my math problems. He made math easier for me. I was very shy in school. I never talked to anybody unless they asked me something. And if they did, I would just answer the question with a quick response. At recess, I didn’t play with the kids. I just stood in one corner and watched them play until the bell rang.
Unfortunately, my parents separated when I was about 12 years old. It was devastating for me because I loved them both equally, and yet I was made to choose to live with only one of them. It was a difficult decision for me at that age. My mother didn’t want my sister and I to separate, and I knew that my sister wanted to live with my mother. I decided to live with my mother and sister. We moved to Manila and transferred to a different school. After a year, we moved back to Cavite, but in a different town. Times were hard then and it was difficult for my mother to support her daughters financially. She applied for a working visa in Canada and luckily, her application was granted. She left the Philippines in 1980. I was 15 years old; my sister was 13. My sister and I went back to Manila to live with our aunt, my mother’s sister. It was a tough time for us. We wrote our mother regularly. We comforted each other through letters.
My sister and I transferred to a public school when my mother went abroad. My mother couldn’t afford at that time to send us to a private school because she was starting a new life abroad. My sister and I understood. In high school, I tried to study hard so that my mother would be proud of me. I joined different school clubs and participated in school contests. I was able to come out of my shell. I excelled in almost all of my subjects, especially in Mathematics. My desire to be a CPA grew stronger. After high school, I pursued a course in Business Administration, major in accounting.
In college, I was introduced to World Literature. I discovered the literary classics of the world. I enjoyed reading The Iliad and the Greek mythology. When I was reading The Iliad, I wrote summaries of each chapter. I didn’t want to read the long poem all over again to study for our exams. I would just read the summaries that I wrote.
After college, I took the board exams and eventually became a licensed CPA. I worked as an accounting clerk in a pharmaceutical company, and then later was promoted to junior accountant. As I started to earn my own money, I bought book after book. I always bought the classics, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo, Hawthorne, etc. I read Romeo and Juliet and wrote a summary. I also read the other works of Shakespeare and wrote summaries. I sometimes re-read my books, but poems and plays were a pain to read. That’s why I wrote summaries.
When my mother’s sponsorship for me to come to Canada was approved, I had to quit my job. I wrote a letter of resignation, which touched both my supervisor and my boss. I didn’t pack a lot when I left the Philippines, but I brought all my books with me.
When I first came here in Canada in 1989, I couldn’t get any position in an office. Most of the companies were looking for a local experience, which I didn’t have yet. I already had a child at that time and was supporting him by myself. (His father was still in the Philippines then and eventually came to Canada two years later.) I decided to get any job that will support my family. I was hired at McDonald’s Restaurant to work on the fries and the cash register. I worked there for a couple of months. Working there wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I met different kinds of people while working on the cash register. It also helped me practice talking English more fluently. But the salary wasn’t enough. I started looking for another job and landed a position as an order filler in a garment factory. It was a more permanent job and I earned a stable income.
After five years of working at the garment factory, I realized that I needed a change of career. I wasn’t happy there anymore and I really wanted to work in an office environment. I quit my job and took a six-month word processing course. I gained computer knowledge and this gave me the confidence to apply for office work. I was hired as a claims adjuster at an insurance company and I am still working there. I enjoy my work there, especially now that I have been given the chance to work at home.
I have three kids now and I think working at home is one of the best things that have happened to me. I no longer have to pay daycare fees. I am less stressed than before. I don’t have to rush in the morning and drag my kids out of bed. I am able to spend more time with the kids. I am able to read again. Well, you see, I lost interest in reading when I started having kids because there just wasn’t time to read if you’re raising a family and working full time at the same time. Now, my passion for reading has been reawakened. And as a result of that, I have found a new interest, writing, that is. The more I read, the more I want to write. Before, I read only classics, but now I read books of contemporary authors. I read Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and I was intrigued by the dark family secrets. I thought that I want to write about my family, too. I read Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes, and was amused by the way he wrote about his hardships in childhood. There are quite a few similarities in our background and that made me want to write my own memoir. I want my kids, and also others, to know about my experiences and maybe learn a few lessons from them.