Lelaine’s Opportunities After Leaving the Philippines

University of Washington

I was born and raised in the Philippines until my teen years, around the age of 15. My father died in a war when I was a baby. Growing up, I lived a lifestyle that was difficult for me to handle. I had four siblings… an older sister, a younger brother and two younger half-sisters. My mother was always busy, trying to serve a house of food and beddings for the six of us together. It was never the worst, but it wasn’t always the best either. I went to school in the Philippines, but I wasn’t always concentrated on my education. I’d flunk classes.

By the time I reached around the age of 14, my paternal uncle came and told my mother that he could take my brother and me to the U.S. because he was a U.S. diplomat. They agreed and my paternal uncle adopted us. They wanted to give us a better life, better opportunities or what they thought was a better life. I never really knew how valuable education and schooling would be until we took off from the Philippines.

It was 1996 when we stayed in Kuwait for a while because of my paternal uncle. He had to do some duties there. When he was finished, we flew to Washington state to visit my maternal relatives who were living there.

At the time, I felt different staying in the U.S. with my relatives because there was some Asian discrimination happening. I didn’t quite feel welcomed at first. I stayed in Lynnwood with my relatives. They were really open to me, saying that I could stay in the States for however long as I want. I could finish my education here in Lynnwood and create a living. It was different compared to how my mother treated me and the life I had in the Philippines. My paternal uncle mentioned that he had to move to Poland for duties. He asked me and my brother if we wanted to stay with our relatives or move with him to Poland.

Moving to Poland was another world. I began my high school career there and I knew nothing about education. Of course, I knew how to communicate but I never really studied. As I walked into the halls of the school, it was difficult for me to communicate in Polish but thankfully some people spoke English.

I figured that I needed to catch up to my classes, and I began with books and educating myself with basic knowledge that I didn’t exactly encourage myself to learn. It took me a year to know the basic education. While studying and educating myself, I was also catching up to my classes with the work I’m given and did my best. I also participated in extra curriculums and clubs during my high school years in Poland. As soon as I graduated from my high school, I was accepted into University of Washington, as an international student.

Coming back to the United States after notifying my paternal uncle about the acceptance to UW was different compared to last time. He was proud of me to go to college and he let me go back to Washington. Knowing that he was a U.S. diplomat, he gave me a plane ticket from Poland to Washington. I never thought I’d actually go to college and have education.

I knew that when I was younger, I always had troubles happening and my family would sometimes punish me for that. When I went to school in the Philippines, I never studied for the exam or the lesson we learned. I always skimmed through the paper or the book and took guesses. Somehow, I was a lucky guesser.

As I first arrived back to Washington, I went to live with my relatives. I attended college in 2000 and worked my way to a Master’s degree in Sociology. I knew English better and I could communicate more. I had many opportunities at the time as I went to college. I studied more, and I made many friends with people who understood my situation and befriended me. I applied for jobs as a social worker; I originally started off at Swedish hospital and moved my way up the ladder of opportunities. In my education in college, I faced discrimination in various ways that I feel left out. I always tried to apply for different jobs and each time I went in – the people who interviewed me, said I was a good candidate for the job. Given a tour of the place and a phone call to be ready to start my day there, I found out the job was given to someone else. It was often someone they happen to know who worked there.

Now I live in Kent with my significant other and my two children. I currently work at Western State Hospital. Every story is different and none of them are exactly perfect. I could have stayed in Poland and made a living there. However, given this opportunity of a chance to give my future an image of what could have been best for me was all I had. The world is different, sometimes it’s like I don’t belong in this country except the truth is that I brought my life to this land.

The settlers were immigrants. Then more people came, of different race and backgrounds. This is the world’s melting pot. And whoever says that immigrants don’t belong here are kidding themselves. This country expanded due to the diversity that exists here. ALL immigrants should be welcomed and treasured here.

Every story is different. Some people had to risk their lives. Other people had to make up their lives with chances they could find because they threw out the other chances they had. Some people had to open their eyes and find out what they wanted that was best for themselves. Everyone has a chance in their story to make a difference. Maybe it’s not for themselves; sometimes you can make a difference for other people around them. It’s the chance we take to make a difference. The question rises up: What does every person want a chance for? Life? Their future? Their family? A difference in the world? Everyone has different chances and all of them are worth hearing and reaching out for.


This interview was conducted and written by the daughter of Lelaine who wishes to be anonymous.

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