Illegal immigrants use sewer tunnels like this one to enter the United States from Mexico. – Photo courtesy of CNN
(The story of Vina originally from Tondo, Manila, as told to Percy Ostonal, JPHS Batch 66, of Michigan, USA, during a “tell-me-what happened-to-you-after-high-school” sharing session with Pinoy friends in Sacramento, California.)
“YOU ,,, LADY …. keep moving …we are running out of time …”
That was the low-keyed voice of the Mexican runner, who led them through a stinking sewage tunnel across the border between Mexico and California.
“Soon … it will be daybreak … hurry up!!!... vamos andole … vamos andole (let’s move faster …)
Equipped only with oxygen pipes and battery-operated torches, Vina and five other Pinays took the most dangerous plunge of their lives into uncertainty for nothing but America.
It was three days and nights of harrowing grind across the Mexican desert, inching in agonizing crawl through an underground sewage tunnel towards the border and beyond it, hopefully.
Disguised as ditch and canal cleaners, their faces fully smeared with dark greases, they wormed their way through black pitch darkness.
Hungry and thirsty, they ignored nasty pains crawling all over their bodies. The goal at hand was to reach the other end of the tunnel.
On Day 3 – joyfully the end of their crawl where pinhole dots were spurting thin ribbons of daylight-- they finally heard the distant noises of cars and trucks.
Their clothes soaking wet, they popped their heads throbbing with pain out of the tunnel’s mouth, and felt a mild brush of breeze against their faces coming from a small crack on a wall.
They were inside a dark warehouse.
Great God … finally ! They’re in California ...!
This one was used by drug mules to enter Texas and California from across the Mexican border. – website picture
THAT WAS 19 years ago with the last US$15 notes lining her pocket.
It was a tough to start her life that way in America. There was no other way to get in but regret was the last thing in her mind.
“It may take my whole life to be able to get a “green card’ and become a citizen, I can bear with it. What’s important is that I can work legally now, with my “working authorization card” to show to anyone who would like to employ me.
“And of course, I got a valid driver’s licence for ID purposes,” Vina said.
Back home in the Philippines many years ago, life was equally tough.
Barely making it to her second year in college, her world stopped spinning with the deaths of her parents.
There was this modest family business she had to takeover to keep the family intact and to keep sanity among her four younger siblings.
For almost 20 years – from 1969 to 1989 – she operated their “pancit luglug” and other “kakanin” business inside the “telahan (textile) section of the Divisoria Market.
She had to. Her siblings had to stay in college till they earned their degrees. That was the only way for them to get out of this Catch 22 grid called near-poverty syndrome.
Thank God, all are doing well now.
One is working a good paying job at the Bataan Export Processing zone; another is at Levi’s Philippines. The third works at the King Khalid General Hospital in Saudi Arabia. The fourth is doing great at a rubber company in Indonesia.
So, what is there to ask for?
At age 37, what do you think would a single woman want?
Now that her four siblings are on their own, Vina decided to call it quits. She sold their “kakanin” business and moved to Sta Rosa, Laguna, hoping that she would meet her soul mate there.
The Romeo she had been praying for never came. In lieu of it, urgings for her to go overseas, maybe to Hong Kong or Singapore, kept pestering her.
Why don’t you go overseas? Maybe, one day, your future husband would just pop before you. You can have an American for a partner.
No, way. It was difficult to get a US visa simply because she was not a qualified tourist, she said.
But one day, she finally gave a go for one: To Singapore. Then to Mexico.
"Ang sabi ko nga sa sarili ko: Aba kahit wala pa akong nasisilo na puweding mag “petition” sa akin dito sa America in order to become a legitimate resident, eh okay lang. Ang mahalaga andito na ako, with proper documents.
And proudly, she said: Just like any American, I can sing America's “Amber Waves Of Grains".