It was one of those crisp Manhattan mornings in June when I met up with Samantha.  We were in the Battery Park dog run and the strong aroma of dog pee and disinfectant clouded out the local blossoms. Samantha was walking Lachlan, a huge Siberian husky for his owners Mr. & Mrs. Lyons. The Lyons’ family had employed Samantha as a ‘housekeeper/babysitter’ for two years. Her daily hours were 10am –7pm. Samantha’s main job was to care for the Lyons’ two daughters, who were both respectively in pre-school and school from 9-3pm. Samantha was good with girls because, as she said “I have three of my own back home. I know how they tick.” Back home was in fact the Philippines and today was the birthday of Samantha’s eldest daughter Elizabeth. 

With trembling hands Samantha lit a cigarette. “My only companion today,” she smirked nervously indicating the cigarette. Through the whirls of blue smoke the fragile 30-year-old’s face contorted. It was difficult enough for Samantha to talk about her life let alone discuss how she felt on her child’s birthday. I did not know what to say so I looked down at my notes and asked the following questions.

*    When did you come to the USA Samantha?

 “April 1st 2003. I will never forget that date.”

*    How did you get in?

“Tourist Visa, like B1/B2, you know?” (I nod it was the Visa I had entered on)

*    How did you get the Visa?

“Oh I went to American Embassy. It wasn’t easy I had to show them a bunch of stuff, like me and my husband, we had a good business you know? We were educated middle-class people. Better than most back home, with savings, a house but even so, life was hard. You can work hard in the Philippines but you don’t get nowhere because of corruption. You need powerful people, relatives, to get you into good positions. Like a policeman or something. You get stopped in the street and you have to pay a fine. Just for no reason because it is a cop. Same thing with local government, you don’t get anywhere in business or building a house unless you pay, pay, pay always paying. We wanted a different life for our children – freedom  – you know?”

*    Who takes care of your children back home?

My parents. It isn’t easy for them with three little girls. You know how kids are right? Energetic, always wanting something.”

*    How long have you been in the USA without papers?

“Since when I told you. Four years. I only got 6 months to stay and then we overstayed.”

*    Why did you leave your children to come here? Help me to understand why you did that?

“Let me tell you but you won’t understand. In my country people go hungry, they have no (personal) power and they live very badly, no hope, of ever getting better. They just see the same thing happening to their children, like a cycle, you know?  Then there are some with all the power. They decide everything. If they get jealous you have something bad happen to you. The US dollar is worth 45 Philippine dollars (2007) so when I send home $500 a month my children get $22,500.00. With that they can go to a good school, they can get medications, they can have good food like meat, milk and eggs and good clothes. With that money my parents can bribe people to help my brothers, my cousins to get powerful jobs like be cops. My money saves my whole family.
In Part 2 of this 3 section blog, we find out how Samantha adapted to life in America.