A note: My Aunt Lucy passed away from cancer on July 31st, 2011. I traveled to Kennewick, Washington to attend her funeral and to give the eulogy. What I’ve learned and experienced during my time there became the inception of this memoir.
In this excerpt in chapter ten from “A Reason For Being” is a scene when Lucy first came to the U.S.
Creative non-fiction allows writers to imagine what such experience may have been like. I’ve wondered for many years how that experience must have been for my Aunt, and with the historical information from her first husband, Fred Ellis, I was able to put pieces together of such experience.
Port of Entry
Ask every immigrant what ‘port of entry’ meant and they will have a story to tell. These stories could be an anthology of the adventures that happened when they left their home country for their new one in America. A feeling of leaving everything behind and coming face to face with being reborn. The chance to create a new life.
In 1967, Lucy’s port of entry began with a sickness. One day she was at home, while her husband Fred was working on base. She decided to go to the clinic on a military facility now that she had the privilege to be seen by the American doctors. She rode the jeepney and the 20 minute ride was bearable. Her purse contained her dependent military ID card, her lipstick, her husband’s office phone number, some pesos, and a couple of fresh handkerchiefs. She needed some fresh ones as the blood continued to surface each time she coughed. The jeepney had passengers from all walks of life in Manila. Some were students at the university, while others were traveling to the market. Some of the children had uniforms on, while the others had tattered holey t-shirts, and shorts. Some of the children wore tsinelas, slippers that are considered flip-flops, while others went barefoot. They all looked at her as if she no longer belonged to their culture. She was a different entity, someone whose skin, hair and eyes may resemble a Filipina, but who’s way of dress and mannerisms signaled that she does not belong. Lucy had been told all her life that she had the exotic beauty bordering between the Spaniard, Pilipino, and Muslim blood. Her round almond shape eyes would have accounted for the Pilipino side, her prominent nose—the Spaniard. As for the light mocha color of her skin, according to her mother Fe, it was because Lucy was breastfed by a Muslim woman when she was born and the color of her skin was the result of this. During the Japanese invasion, Fe’s breast milk had ceased and perhaps it was due to the environment that the family found themselves in. And, since the family had maids and nannies, it was the Muslim woman who became Lucy’s wet nurse.
That day, Lucy was wearing her favorite summer dress: cream colored with floral prints. It was a dress that reminded her of Jackie O. with its boat neck collar, fitted at the bodice with a belt and A-lined. Lucy’s shoulder length hair was also styled like Jackie O., coiffed and curled. This must have been the style at the time, pristine and classic. She remembered that her mother always told her to dress appropriately whenever she left the house. It was a practice that Lucy adhered to, an expression of self-discipline. The jeepney dropped her off at the facility gate and Lucy walked up to show her ID card. One of the military policemen asked her where she was going. She kindly told them that she was heading to the dispensary (as the base clinics were called back then) and he offered her a ride. She was grateful and accepted the offer. The heat was too much for her to walk a mile or two. The young military policeman complimented her on her the lack of accent when she spoke English and he asked why she didn’t sound like the others that he had met. She told him that there are those of her countrymen and women who graduated from college and are educated. He smiled at her and apologized. She smiled back and told him that he learned something new today.
When she arrived at the dispensary, the nurse handed her a clipboard with a form and asked her if she needed someone to interpret it for her. “No thank you, I can read in English,” Lucy responded. She filled out the form without any problems and returned it to the nurse. When she did, she felt another pang of coughing and covered her mouth with a fresh handkerchief. The nurse noticed the tinge of blood in her handkerchief and stood up to tell Lucy to come around the corner right away. Lucy, without hesitation followed her instruction.
In a matter of minutes, Lucy found herself lying on a bed with doctors and nurses surrounding her. The coughing did not relent. The doctors and nurses came in her room with masks and some of the nurses touched her with covered hands, cold not only with fear, but disgust. One nurse asked the doctor if Lucy needed a translator and called for him. Lucy attempted to tell her that she didn’t need one, but the coughing prevented her from talking. The translator came and began asking Lucy questions in different dialects. Finally, the coughing stopped, Lucy wiped her mouth and responded “I do not need a translator. I can understand perfectly fine. Thank you. Salamat. Mucho gracias.” The translator looked at the nurse and explained that they have an educated one here. The nurse, offended that she was mistaken, said that she couldn’t distinguish the educated ones from the ones who hang out at the clubs with the GIs. The translator responded that she should have looked at the way Lucy dressed and carried herself to differentiate between the prostitutes and aristocrats. He grabbed Lucy’s chart, pointed her maiden name and said “Spaniard family.” The translator asked Lucy in Chabacano how her family was doing. Lucy did not recognize the translator, but she told him that her family was “doing fine, thank you.”
“Did you contact my husband to let him know that I am here? His name is Fred Ellis,” she asked
“Mrs. Ellis, we contacted his commander since he is located in a secured area and could not be reached,” he said.
Lucy fell in and out of sleep. In between drooping eyelids, she watched as the nurses and doctors came in her room. They told her that she would need to be transported to Aurora, Colorado for treatment. They explained that she was sick with tuberculosis and it was contagious. Lucy asked for her husband, but no one seemed to be able to tell her where he was. Without her husband, at her side, Lucy made friends with the medical staff who checked on her. Raised with the ability to socialize at functions, Lucy found it easy to talk to the doctors and the nurses. They all began to take a liking to the Filipina in their care and made sure that she was comfortable during her stay.
There are historical stories about the Air Force Base in the Philippines. This included the cultural influence that resonated long after the base closed down in 1992 due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. It was believed that all those military men were seen as a means to leave the Philippines and have a better life in the U.S. This belief resonated with those whose lives in the Philippines consisted of poverty and desperation. There were young women who became prostitutes and married a soldier, finding their ticket to some place like California or any other military base located somewhere. The stereotype of these women created a cultural backlash and in the period of the late 60s, a Caucasian man with a Filipina created a disgusted reaction with the assumption that the Filipina was once a prostitute. If a young woman wasn’t a prostitute, she would find herself working as a maid for the military soldiers who had their own housing, or she may have worked as janitor at the military buildings, coming in and out of the buildings unrecognized. To their family, it was a blessing that their daughter could work as a janitor so that she can continue to provide for them. These were the stereotypes of Filipinos that many of the Americans assumed and were exposed to.
The day she was scheduled to leave, a young woman of only 20 years old was cleaning her room. As she was cleaning, she looked at Lucy with longing. She knew that Lucy was a young woman who God blessed with a rich family and an education. She told Lucy how lucky she was to be able to leave for the states. The young janitor knew what it was that made Lucy sick. As quiet and meek as many of the Filipino workers were, they were also resourceful and, they would all be aware should one of their own be admitted into the clinic. In a moment of desperation, she asked if Lucy could cough at her face so that she could be sick too and they can fly her out of the Philippines. Lucy looked at the young woman and shook her head no. Lucy had seen poverty growing up and she realized that she had a privileged life that her family had provided for her. She asked the young woman, “are you that desperate to leave your life here in our country that you are willing to risk death?” The young woman nodded her head yes! Lucy turned her head away in an attempt to ignore the embarrassment that she was feeling for her countrywoman. The young woman felt rejected and spitted venomous words at Lucy calling her a traitorous whore who was selling herself to the Kano. Lucy, too tired to argue shut her eyes tight and hoped that sleep would come soon to bury her shame away.
Lucy was medevac’ed to Aurora, Colorado sometime in August of 1967. She was transported to an Army hospital called Fitzsimmons where she would receive further treatment for her tuberculosis. There was no opportunity for her to say goodbye to her family members. There was no time for Lola Fe to travel to Manila to see her daughter and to ensure that she would be alright. Lucy left the Philippines without the chance to say goodbye to the family and the country who considered her as one of its daughter: a daughter who had graduated from college, and whose diploma was handed to her by none other than Ferdinand Marcos himself.
When she arrived, she was immediately checked into the hospital. Lucy missed her experience of arriving in the states because the medication kept her groggy and she fell asleep the entire way. It was not the grand arrival that she had expected. She was informed that her husband remained in the Philippines since he was on assignment and that he would join her a few months later. She was instructed that she would need to wear a mask the entire time, and those in contact with her must also wear a mask. All those who came to her room to take care of her for the next few months were all Americans. But, such a fact did not deter Lucy from interacting and engaging with them. She practiced her English even further by having daily discussions with anyone who came into her room, whether it was the doctor a nurse, the cleaning crew, the phlebotomist, the lunch and dinner lady—anyone. Soon all those who came to see her looked forward to taking care of her. Uncle Fred told me that they all gravitated towards her, and that it may have been the way she spoke to people or the way she made them feel. When Fred finally arrived in the hospital, he found a very lively and happy Lucy waiting for him. He was also informed by the doctors that her case was an interesting one, as they had never seen the way the tuberculosis completely disappeared from her system. Her blood work indicated that there was no sign of TB, and her lungs were in great shape. He was also informed that normal circumstances would have indicated a scarring in the lung from TB, but with Lucy there was no scarring, and no one would be able to guess that she had ever been sick and diagnosed with TB.
The only conclusion that doctor may have had was that Lucy had a willpower within her to overcome such events that occurred in her life. She was a happy woman who was always talking and engaging to those who came in contact with her. People found themselves quite happy when she took the time to chat with them, and Lucy always took the time to talk to everybody. Lucy may have drawn from the positive energy that people had whenever they stopped to visit her, and as such, she found a way to heal her body and her mind. It was this very same concept of thought that Vicky attempted to convey and demonstrate to Lucy as she was receiving her chemo, but it was a battle not to be won; most especially when both Vicky and Lucy were up against the killer of joy, life, and energy that was Satan.
However, that day in August of 1967, Lucy’s port of entry was one filled with a tumultuous scenario. She made up for missing such a historic event in her life by deciding as she was laying in her hospital bed that she would never miss anything in her life ever again.