Welcome to April 2015’s #TrailingSpouseStories! This month, we played with April Fools and asked each other “What got you “fooled” into being a trailing spouse? What myths did you start out with and what did you discover in the process?” Here is my take on the matter.
I’ve been reading Palanca award winner Shakira Sison‘s weekly column on Rappler for quite some time now. She is a brilliant writer, often (if not always), nailing on the head insights about experiences on the plight of Filipinos abroad, life in the US and, of course, issues on LGBT. We are very proud to have her with us this month as she is our very 1st LGBT trailing spouse to join us in the #TrailingSpouseStories blog crawl.
Shakira, like most of us fools for love, actually left her life the Philippines to trail her then partner, now wife, to NYC. She and I had a great conversation about her decision to leave the home country and life in the US, hence, this will be a long read. But I do promise you that it is worth every second of your time 🙂
This is her story on love, life, legends and lores as a LGBT Filipino trailing spouse in the Big Apple.
What made you decide to leave your life back home for NYC? Could you describe the experience of being so determined to “trail” your love?
When I got together with my (then) partner, we first thought that it was going to be a short-term thing since I was in the middle of my MBA in Manila and she lived in New York. We figured I’d finish school in a few years and then I’d come and visit to see if we still liked each other. When things became a little more intense, she asked me if I would ever consider “going on an adventure” with her in NYC. I said yes, and the rest is history.
Looking back, when she left Manila to return to NYC after our time together, I became so sad and felt like she took the life I had in me with her, so I felt that I needed to do something about it. When she presented the option of joining her in NYC, I just decided to jump ship, which was a bit dramatic because I was in school, I had a decent job, and it was so unlike me to want to go overseas. But everything seemed so clear once I decided. So clear in fact that when she left Manila on September 9, 2002, I applied for a US Visa immediately and had my interview on October 6th, and was out of Manila and in New York by October 26th. Take note that we had just gotten together in August and I only spent three weeks with her. It was a bit of a whirlwind. 🙂
Indeed it was! What were your expectations of life in NYC? Were there any myths that you’ve believed in then? Were these myths demystified when you finally experienced the real NYC life? How?
I never wanted to move to the US, especially not NYC because I visited as a teenager and felt it simply was not my scene. My first impression of the US when I first visited was of this shallow and materialistic country and culture, where people just ate until they were obese and watched TV all day.
Growing up in Manila you either completely embrace the colonial mentality or fight it viciously…Colonial mentality is deeply ingrained in Filipinos, so naturally I fought it in myself.
My father also constantly mocked the US after having gone to grad school here. I belonged to the latter, so I rejected anything American and put myself above its culture and people. Most Filipinos would die for the opportunity to go abroad. I was already set on my career path when I moved, so I knew that it was going to be a great contradiction of myself to kind of “sell out” to America.
I didn’t realize until I lived here that I was being shortsighted in my impression, lumping the whole country into one image of a thoughtless overweight robot. By living here I realized the many facets and faces of people, and that there is not much difference in them from what was back home. Everyone was just working for a living, feeding their families. There is an ever looming responsibility of bills which requires a cycle of making and spending money. There won’t be a refuge if one loses their job so most are just careful to keep pedalling.
It only took a few months for me to realize that the US is like any other country. Everyone is just fighting to get by, to put food on the table, and make the most of their lives.
So NYC isn’t as glamorous as it projects itself to be? I’ve always thought that New York City is so shiny and all that.
To me NYC is an air-conditioned Cubao in that one always has to have their own back.
At first glance, it might not seem dangerous, but mental illness is prevalent and you don’t really know who is going to flip out and push you off a subway platform, causing you to always be on guard. As a lesbian, I am careful not to slight anyone or cause me or my wife to be in a scary situation.
I was a Manila commuter, so I already had my street smarts; but anyone who moves to NYC will have to develop it after being yelled at by strangers to walk faster, use escalators properly, and be mindful of personal space. Someone told me once that you’ll know how well New Yorkers are in respecting space when they’re in a tight situation in less congested areas. Probably like Manilenos, we know how to stand in line, climb a crowded staircase, or stand in a packed elevator. The only difference is that New Yorkers will probably curse you out if you don’t know the protocol. 🙂
So you learn fast.
How did your wife work with your preconceived notions of life in NYC? Was she nurturing, protective? Or did she allow you to experience everything and learn your own lessons from them?
She had been living in the US since she was eleven, but was very Filipino in that she grew up in a Tagalog-speaking home where she was in touch with her relatives and the Filipino community.
She understood my rejection of American culture because really, there are some silly things about it and she appreciated Asian (particularly Filipino) culture and values. There were only a few months where I had time to explore before I started working, but during that time she gave me free reign of the city and to do whatever I wanted, sometimes expressing alarm if I described my day and it included going to dangerous areas by myself. She would warn me about things, but gave me enough freedom to discover the city on my own. I did learn that she was right about some things and that she just didn’t know I was trained in the harsher streets of Manila. I think once she realized that I was street smart enough to handle NYC, she stopped worrying about me.
One thing that was an issue in the beginning was that being a lesbian couple, I was used to us holding hands or showing affection in public in Manila, but when I arrived she was very careful about that in certain areas of the city (particularly parts of Brooklyn which were really still scary then). I couldn’t understand that fear. I remember even saying, “You are a very sad people,” not knowing that she was simply worried for our lives because hate crimes are a very real thing here, the way they are not so common in Manila, especially in the places we frequented and because of our place in society there.
My (now) wife was always supportive of me from the start.
I don’t know how I could have survived the difficulties I faced in my first jobs and jumping immigration hurdles (this was pre-DOMA-repeal and same-sex marriage, so she could not sponsor my visa). There were many times I thought about giving it up and going back home to Manila, but her presence would always remind me to keep my eye on the target, which was to stay with her and build a life with her in NYC.
Awwww. But I never imagined that in such a liberal country (at least I thought it was), especially in NYC, that hate crimes against LGBT were so prevalent.
You also mentioned that you had to jump through immigration hurdles prior to your marriage. Did you know about what you had to go through prior to leaving the Philippines?
I had no clue.
Nobody really talks about it back home and many relatives just got naturalized through marriage or as nurses or were TNT. So it was all a surprise how expensive and difficult it was, especially being tied to a job that overworked and underpaid me, just so I could keep legal status. It definitely built character. Nobody ever says it takes 10 years to get a GC (i.e. Green Card) from a H1 (i.e. one of the many kinds of working visas in the US. This one is for skilled workers.).
Also, there was some bitterness because I knew I didn’t have to go through all of that if I could only marry my citizen partner.
Do you think that it would have helped if our kababayans talked about the myth of the American dream in the open? Is it because people back home don’t bother to ask and a matter of saving face? I’ve heard of stories of Pinoys in the US, complaining of how people back home seem to never understand how challenging it is to live here. Or is it a chicken and egg question?
The hardships of the US, we don’t discuss kasi (because) it sounds like sumbat () if we bring it up at home, and if we always complain about having a a hard time, the people we leave behind will just tell us to go home, or say it’s not worth it, then papano na (what now)? In the end, many Pinoys just don’t talk about how hard it is and just want their families to enjoy the comforts of their work.
Kasi malayo na nga sila (Because of their distance), the only benefit of their absence is money, then you’re going to say pa that it’s a great personal cost? The people they’re feeding back home will feel bad and maybe even resented.
I wrote about this a couple of times, not talking about the hardships. Then complain that those left home don’t know about the hardships. 🙂 Chicken and egg nga.
Is there any advise you could give to others who are foolhardy to pack up their bags and lives to follow their love across the world? How about to those who are thinking of leaving the Philippines for the US to follow their American dreams?
Wise words. Thanks Shakira for being so open and sharing your story with us. Truly honored!
- Clara of Expat Partner Survival thought she knew what it would be like – she didn’t – she wrote a book to help others not to get fooled too. Read more in Trailing Fools?
- Didi of D for Delicious says that the trailing spouse life is attractively shiny, yet it is better to know that behind the glitter is a lot of grit. Read more in #TrailingSpouseStories: Falling for Fool’s Gold?
- Elizabeth Smith of Secrets of A Trailing Spouse says that the reality of life as a trailing spouse does not live up to its image, but is so much better. Read more in You Could’ve Fooled Me: Common Myths About Trailing Spouses.
- Jenny Reyes of MyMommyology asks Are we foolish enough to think that the trailing spouse life gets easier over time? Read her answer in #TrailingSpouseStories: The Irony of It All.
- Tala wonders if being a Trailing Spouse was her escapist dream come true, or not? Read the verdict in Ambition: Expat’s Wife.
- Yuliya Khilko of TinyExpats says that quite often it’s not about being ‘fooled’, but about ‘fooling’ yourself. Read more in Assumptions and speculations – beginning of the trailing spouse journey.