Thursday, June 7, 2007

First Person: Amoy-Amerika

By KC Ramirez

Last March, my older brother, who migrated to the US in 2005, gave my parents one of the most-awaited rewards of pouring their money into sending him abroad. For the entire week that we were expecting its arrival, I brazed the MRT rush and elbowed many mothers to get home as early as I could. It wasn’t sent to the house the day I was cheek-to-cheek with the train door. Nor did it show up the night I spent my last P100 on an MGE cab. It was yet another thing we should start keeping in mind about long-distance family affairs: The Balikbayan box never arrives on time.

In fact, it didn’t reach our doorstep for another week. And when it did, my mom misunderstood my SMS.

I keyed in, “Ma, na-open niyo na yung box? Malapit na ‘ko.” With a fierce game face and hips set into frantic motion, I was brisk-walking for my life toward home, and—well, I was just really excited.

When I finally made it to our living room, strips of silver packaging tape were already strewn over the floor, and my mom’s face was buried deep inside the box: she was reaching in for the last corned beef cans and Dove soap.

The first-ever opening-of-the-box ceremony commenced without me. We were supposed to open it together, but mother dear thought I said they could go ahead. Wha--?

I wish I had complained more but the imported goodies drove me to move on with life. The sofa and dining table showcased so many fluffy towels (that will have be embroidered with “Ramirez” very soon), a box of original sandwich-size Zip-Lock, a sleek Black  & Decker power drill, three big bags of Cadbury Crème Eggs, Bath & Body Works lotion bottles and a cleaning mop that comes with its own soap dispenser! Multicolored backpacks! Car tools! Vienna Sausage! Old Navy flip-flops!

And, oh, the smell of America… my mom, dad and our palaki, Tomas, found ourselves sniffing each and every item, savoring the aroma of “stateside”, picturing the best we could what it’s like in that other world.

My brother is now a registered nurse in the US. He left in December of 2005, taking his wife, who’s always mistaken as my real sibling, and my beloved nephew, who I’ll forever consider my panganay, away from us and into a brighter future. Before we drove them to the airport, my brother caressed the yellow walls of his house (which stood behind my parent’s) in between tears, and had a moment alone with the family car.

He took the CGFNS examination twice. He missed the first one by a point-something and nobody in the house ever talked about it. Between the two of us, he’s actually the moody one so we were always careful around him. To my friends, I fondly refer to my brother, who is 10 years older, as the girl in the family. We didn’t enjoy each other’s company until I was old enough that enjoying each other’s company required no effort anymore. Nevertheless, thank God we had our chance.

Despite being difficult, one good thing was that my brother always knew where he ought to go. In their house, they have their own study table, apart from my nephew’s little blue desk. My sister-in-law, by the way, is a pharmacist, so the two shared a passion for making it there. And they did, despite the months we spent looking out for Mr. LBC to deliver their Immigration papers. Everyone knew what to do the moment they arrived: Sign in behalf of my brother, do not open the envelope, place it on the piano and stare at it until it melted. I guess I should mention here that the consul assigned to them took so many vacation leaves their papers sulked in his office for nearly seven months. The validity of their medical tests almost expired.

Three weeks before Christmas that year, finally, the three left for the States. Without any luggage. They did, however, bring two Balikbayan boxes, each with its contents list, in case my Kuya and Ate forget where they had placed the few things they couldn’t let go of: Vincent’s Spiderman, Transformers and Toy Story figures, his Manchester United shirt from a cousin in London (also a nurse), Ate Camille’s bags and my dad’s winter jacket, which he used while building irrigation systems at the foot of the Himalayas and which was waaaaaay too small for my brother. For the record, when my Kuya wore it, he looked like Ben Stiller in Starsky & Hutch, constipated for the past 10 years. The complete set of Friends DVDs had to be left behind.

Days after they got to the US, they had already received their green card. Then it took them several months to fill the box to the rim. So long that the contents had become collectible, commemorative items: the shoes were bought at a sale in November, the watch was made available with a 50 percent discount when spring had come. The Nano accounted for a number of 16-hour shifts. The box itself was sent months delayed because their second baby, little Enzo, was born in October. Each piece already had their own story.

On with that night, I was trying my Chucks on andtinkering with the iPod Nano, which I would not buy by myself. My dad refused to wear his Kenneth Cole watch, except, he says, during really special occasions ( I vote never), and my mom kept busying herself with trivial concerns in the kitchen. Deep inside, she was just afraid that the Mossimo swimsuit would not fit.

When the excitement had subsided somewhat, I couldn’t help but caress the box myself. I thought, “Vincy helped packed this, Ate Camille and my Kuya took pains to seal this part…” It was overly sentimental, but it was as close to them as we’ll ever be, at least for the next two years.

In the days that followed, my parents had to endure well-meant jesting from relatives, such as, “Wow, katas ng ‘Merika,” and, “Uy! First blood!” Corny, tacky, but true. Surprisingly, however, we couldn’t be prouder. And it provided us with so much more.

Sometimes I feel like I’m their parent, too. I feel scared and anxious how they will do after a sheltered life here, how their new world would suit them, and how much they would change.

When the box arrived, we felt freed from worry. Who would have thought that the balikbayan box, which is decreasing in size, by the way, could grant us the assurance we have been waiting for since they left?

It meant they’re gradually making it there.

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