LAND OF MILK & HONEY. Ever since I was young, I was made to believe that America (U.S.A., that is!) is the land of milk and honey. It is where opportunities abound and even the lowly has every chance to be king. Such was the image of this proud country that I made it a goal to visit it someday.In my short list of places to visit, Disneyland was top priority. As the years went on, my knowledge and interest about America grew. My first recollection of the dealing rate was at $1 to PhP3.00 exchange. The American Dream became almost an obsession until the later part of the Marcos years. That was the time when Filipino pride was ravaged by the controversies surrounding the Marcoses and the U.S. military bases. All of a sudden, America became the enemy. My interests shifted from lining up for a visa to joining a street demonstration against America.
LA VISA LOCA. Horror stories abound when it comes to the application for a USA visa. My sense of Pinoy pride caused me not to even think about lining up for an interview. I was working for a bank in Cebu City and in the same building was the USA Consular Office. Most of my female office-mates trooped for their visa application. All of them got the nod probably because we were housed in the same building. Despite this advantage, I resisted the urge to try my luck. If my office mates were lucky enough to get approval, quite a number of other applicants who have lined up as early as 3:00 in the morning went home disappointed and empty-handed. When I finally decided to pursue my dream, the process has changed dramatically.
DO OR DIE. In April 2001, Bro. Willy Lubrico invited me to join the bi-annual reunion of Notre Dameans residing in the U.S.A. As Alumni Federation president, it was my task to help organize the reunion that was to happen in 2003 here in Gensan. As such, I had to sell the idea to the U.S. residents (who are Dameans) that Gensan was a safe enough to handle a big delegation. That time, the bombings and kidnapping stories in our city was always front page news in America. I couldn’t explain the excitement I felt then and was immediately tempered by the fact I didn’t have a U.S. visa yet.
THE PROCESS. The good part is that the US embassy has developed a system wherein an applicant will call a number (1-909-101-7878) where to set an interview appointment. This is a toll call and the cost is P53.00 per minute that time. This is assuming that you have paid the $100.00 application fee (now it’s $150.00) and have completely filled up an application form. In our area, you can pay the fee at the BPI Davao Main Office. That time, interview appointments were normally arranged two months from the date of your call. After getting my appointment schedule, the next thing to do was to complete the requirements as stated in the application form. This time, I think it’s all done via internet and through the USA Manila Embassy website.
FACING THE DRAGON. The secret to every successful interview is knowing by heart what you wrote in the application form. The truth is always the strongest anchor in life. Make sure that the documents that you are bringing are valid and not fake. You’ll never get past the consular officials. They have been trained to do their job well. Be at the embassy at least an hour before your set interview. Relax. Best of all, pray and seek the Lord’s guidance. When it was my turn to be interviewed, I was nervous at the start. Who wouldn’t be? While waiting for my turn, I witnessed many denials for VISA requests. Many tried to argue to no avail. When my turn came, I greeted the consul first and that broke the ice. I was granted a 10-year B1-B2 visa. Praise the good Lord indeed!
IMMIGRATION BLUES. When I finally got my passport with the USA visa approval, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Ang babaw ng kaligayahan ko noon. Just the same, I was very ecstatic. I soon realized that getting a visa is not an assurance that I can enter America. My friends have warned me that the Immigration officers are a tough nut to crack. Well, all I did was give them a big smile and greeted them first. Everything else went on smoothly. Los Angeles International Airport was brimming with people. Initially I felt like I was still in Manila but when somebody extended his hand welcoming me to America, I got goosebumps all over. Abed Adre was kind enough to fetch me. Abed is a year younger than me in high school. He has grown taller and is quite a looker. Abed and his wife Xylvex has been living in the USA for over ten years. They have a pretty daughter Erika and a baby boy, who is my INAANAK. Abed and Xyl eventually became my best friends.
AMERICA, THE BEAUTIFUL. Jojo and Gena Santos made sure that Bro. Willy and I will enjoy our stay. They welcomed us to their house like we were blood relatives. Jojo works as an executive of Ricoh while Gena tends to their two kids. When they toured us to Disneyland, I couldn’t help shedding a tear. I was in America. From the West Coast, we traveled to Orlando, Florida where Nena Guipo-Adonay feted us to sumptuous meals by the hour and on the hour. Then off we went to Virginia, Washington D.C. and New York, where I spent my first 4th of July in American soil. Meeting long-lost friends made the visit more memorable. Shirley Cavestany made sure that we got a rousing experience in San Francisco. Leaving was difficult but yes, I did miss my daing na bangus and itlog maalat. America may be beautiful but there simply is no place like home.