Tennis Player From the Philippines

photo by Stephen Rahn

My father was born on April 17th, 1975 at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Philippines. He moved alone from his hometown of Malabon, PI. to the United States at the age of 19. He decided to make the big move to America when he was offered an athletic scholarship for tennis at Saint Ambrose College in Iowa. Currently, my father works as a Recreation Coordinator for the city of Millbrae, a small town in Northern California. His current interests all circle around basketball.

I chose to write this biography on my dad because he has been my main motivator. My dream ever since I was a young age was to play college basketball and to go to school on scholarship. He guides me through the path of hard work and dedication that he took in order to turn his dreams into a reality.

At the young age of seven years old, my father began to play both tennis and basketball. He began to play tennis because both of his parents, my grandparents, were both very interested in the sport and also played. He remembers watching his own father play so he “decided to give it a try”. During that time, my dad would walk to parks and would practice basketball by himself. He was much more interested in basketball than tennis at the time but had nobody to teach him. “I remember wanting to attend a basketball clinic in the area. But your grandpa wouldn’t let me’, my father had said. He was therefore forced to focus on tennis. As he began to take tennis more seriously, my father started to be train with instructor, Toto Perucho. “I wish my father had trained me”, my dad mentioned. He was instead trained by his father’s instructor at Elisa Esguerra High School, a school that was located nearby my father’s house. My dad, everyday after school, would hop on the “Jeepney”, a small bus-like taxi, and head to the courts to practice. In the summer time, my dad would practice and play for the entire day starting at 5 am. He would only stop by home to eat and refill water, returning late in the evening. I asked him, “Why did you start to practice so early in the mornings?” He responded, “I wanted to get a headstart on the guys who I would compete against later that afternoon”.

Practice, practice, practice is all he did. All day long. After a handful of years, my dad started to find little successes here and there. Eventually, he made the decision that he wanted to play college tennis. With this goal that my father had set his mind to, he achieved it by applying for an athletic scholarship to the College of Saint Ambrose, a small private college in the town of Davenport, Iowa. “After they showed interest in me, I began sending some film from my previous matches. Later on, I was given the offer”said my father about the recruitment process. “Of course I took it. It would have been dumb of me not to take on such a great opportunity” In the Winter of the year 1995, my father set out on his life-changing journey to America, bringing along with him only one box and a duffel bag of his belongings. “I had mixed feelings before moving.” He said that he was “excited, scared, sad and nervous all at the same time.” He was leaving alone and was sad that he was leaving his family behind.

Finally achieving his goal of attending college for free, my father left the Manila International Airport and headed to the United States. When he first set foot into America, my father said that he remembered seeing snow. His plane stopped in Chicago. “I had never experienced living in snow before,” he had said. The Philippines was located in a region where it never snows so the temperatures during the winter time were relatively warm.

One of the challenges that my dad faced while in America was the languages barrier. It was tough for him to communicate with the people there because he only knew very little English while being fluent in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. It was also very tough for him to adapt in the American environment. This was his first time in a new country and it took some time to get used to it. There were also some major culture differences that my dad encountered. “Everyone around me was white. I was one of the few in my area that looked different”. In Iowa, it was very likely that you were to come across an Anglo-Saxon and not a person of a color.

Another major challenge while living in the U.S was that my dad was not able to communicate with his parents as often. He was forced to deal with everything by himself and become independent, as any other college student needed to become. Food also came as a surprise to my dad. In the Philippines, there isn’t really much diversion from Filipino food. Coming to the US allowed my dad to experience different types of foods and exposed him to different cultures. He was introduced to many different types of food but some of his favorites he said were, “Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Soul Food”. While adjusting into what is now his new home, my dad had several kind people to help him with the transition. One of them, Mrs. Lyons, was the main lady who helped my dad adjust to America and college. “Mrs. Lyons ensured that I was informed about all meetings and introduced me to a lot of people. My new friends welcomed me to sit with them at the cafeteria so I was not alone”. His friends, he told me before, were people of different races including “whites”.

Although the transition into life in America took some time to get used to, my father was eventually able to learn the English language and over time became fluent. He still remained in contact with his parents and brother, who were all still living in the Philippines at the time and kept familiarity with his native culture. My dad told me about some of his expectations of America before moving. He stated, “I expected more of a rural area, but clearly it was not the case”. He was living in Iowa, a midwestern state full of endless land and cornfields. There was not much to expect of the state but my dad, as grateful as he was, took full advantage of the opportunity that he was given.

He was exposed to many different things that he probably would have never gotten to be familiar with if he had stayed in the Philippines. If my father had stayed back home, he said that he “would be helping out run my family’s business”. Who knows if my father would have even ended up going to college if it weren’t for his hard work and dedication to make it as far as he did. Because of his tenacious attitude, my father created many opportunities for himself and took them, making something out of his life. I am very proud of my father for all the bravery it took to leave his native country and move to a country with which he was completely unfamiliar. It took a lot of courage and sacrifice.

Because my siblings and I were born in the United States, we were not directly exposed to the culture and traditions of the Philippines. But both of my parents make sure that we are familiar with the culture and that we do not forget where we came from. They do this by speaking to us in Tagalog and also celebrating the holidays and eating the different foods.What my dad does enjoy about America is its diversity. If you look around, you will be able to see people of all different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds. Today, my father lives with the rest of my family and me in San Bruno, CA.. Although his parents and other relatives still live in the Philippines, they come to California to visit us as often as every other year. My dad no longer plays tennis but still enjoys watching the sport. He still enjoys basketball, though. He studies the game a lot and was my trainer when I was younger. Because of his fondness for sports, my father works to organize the many events, including sports practices and games for the City of Millbrae.

This story was written by Zion Gabriel, a student at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, CA.

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