The Journey to My Home, America

Lian Balza’s 2002 journey to the United States from Manila, Philippines to pursue a better and more prosperous life for herself and her family

essay written by Ian Balza

The Journey to My Home, America is the story of Lian Balza. This story is about her journey from the Philippines to America to find a better and more successful life. In the United States, Balza overcame the difficulties of communication, language, work ethics and driving. She also assimilated her Filipino Culture with the American culture. Living in America has been wonderful, and Lian Balza is happy that she is in America.

   “America is a paradise everything it is like what you see in the television and the magazines,” Lian Balza said, with a smile on her face.1 The United States is the Land of Opportunity: living in the United States is a dream for many immigrants because it can offer so much for them. It is a place where one can work for suitable wages, a place where one can raise their children without the problems they faced when they were living in their previous country and a place where one can grow economically and socially. Living in the Philippines was very difficult for most Filipinos, especially for those who cannot obtain a job despite their education. As a result, Lian Balza and her two children Ian and Ivan Balza migrated to the United States to pursue a new and better life. Balza has been living here in the United States for seven years. To this day she does not regret migrating away from the Philippines. Because of the time she spent living and adjusting in America, she has learned the positive and negative effects of leaving the life she had in the Philippines.

   Lian Balza was born in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. She was the eldest among three brothers and two sisters. As a child, she spent most of her life living in poverty. Even though she lived in poverty, she enjoyed her life because of the companionship she had with her brothers and sisters, as well her neighbors. “I live in the southern part of Manila called Valenzuela,” Balza said.2 Balza Valenzuela is a mix of urban and rural setting. It had many factories and farms as well, and it was very polluted. After finishing college at the University of Saint Thomas, she was married on June 17, 1989 and she moved to Quezon City, Philippines with her husband Norman Balza.

   The standard of living in the Philippines is high, but the wages are low. The minimum wage in the Philippines is 300 pesos per day, which is about six dollars in the United States. In order to compensate for the expenses, some Filipinos chose to work in other countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia, while others chose to move to urban areas. “That’s why many people from other provinces went there to work [for better wages],” Balza said.3 Daily life in the Philippines is different throughout the country. People living in the rural areas live a different life than those living in the urban area. Most of the time, families living in the provinces are poorer than those living near the cities. The father of the family works in order to support the family while the mother stays at home to take care of the children. Some children choose to go to school while others choose to work to help their family with the expenses. Families living in the urban area usually have an easier life. The children went to school everyday and usually, after school, they play with their neighbors and friends. The majority of the parents work to provide for the family. Most, if not all urban families have a maid to help around the house. The lives of many Filipinos revolve around their extended family, which includes the uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. All the members of the extended family usually come together to celebrate major events or occasions, including baptisms, birthdays, graduations, confirmations, and marriages.

   When Lian Balza was a child, she was living in Valenzuela with her family. Balza’s responsibility as the eldest child was not only to take care of her younger brothers and sisters, but also to discipline and punish them. When her siblings did not follow her directions, she disciplined them by hitting them with a slipper. From kindergarten to high school, she attended St. Jude Academy, a catholic school for boys and girls. After school, she played on the street with her siblings and neighbors. “When I was a kid, when [we] were not home doing chores or studying, we watched the television and cartoons. If not, we [went] outside the house and play street games,” Balza said.4 Even though basketball was her favorite sport to play, she also played volleyball, kickball, hide and seek, badminton, and football. Balza’s chores consisted of washing the dishes, cooking and preparing food, setting up the table, cleaning the house, and getting water from the neighbor’s house from a well. Her most dreaded chore was to feed and clean up the mess of their livestock.

   People from different countries choose to leave everything they had to move to America, reasons varying from escaping persecution to avoiding the war in their country, or searching for a new and better life. Lian Balza chose to migrate to the United States with her children to join her husband build a better life for the whole family. “Initially I didn’t want to immigrate here [to] America, [but] my husband had better opportunities here in the United States,” Balza said.5 She saw that he was earning significantly more money working in the United States than working in the Philippines, so she was persuaded to come to America to seek for better opportunities as well. It took five years, in 2002, before she decided to join him.

   “My expectation was that it was going to be nice and overwhelming. Nice and beautiful,” Balza grinned.6 She had many more expectations about the United States. Balza thought that the United States was the perfect place for her children to pursue their education because it has so many good schools throughout the country. Another expectation was to go to Disneyland and other amusement parks she had been dreaming of since she was a little kid. Balza was ecstatic because she knew that she was going to earn much more money than what she was earning in the Philippines. Now that she is here, she realizes that living here improved her life and that she has become more prosperous.

   On June 30, 2002, Balza started her journey to America. The engine started, the plane sped up, and then the plane took off. The cars, building, people, trees, animals, and the roads shrunk and disappeared as the plane rose above the sky. Those were the last things she ever saw of the Philippines. After several hours, the plane landed in Japan to refill the airplane’s fuel. She impatiently waited hours for the plane to get ready. Balza woke up then wiped the saliva off her cheeks while the pilot of the plane announced, “Welcome to Los Angeles, California. I hope you enjoyed the flight.” Balza enthusiastically hugged her children and exclaimed, “We’re finally here,”7 At last, they had arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. The baggage claim was the most memorable place of the trip, it is where her family had finally reunited with their father. It had been about four years since she and her children saw their father. After putting the luggage in the car, Norman drove to his grandmother’s house. While Norman was driving, Balza and her children were coughing as they felt weak and sick. "I guess the guy behind us got us sick,” Balza joked.8 Then they arrived at Norman’s grandmother’s house. They spent about a month living there until they moved to a nearby apartment.

   Lian Balza did not realize how difficult it was to leave Philippines. Before coming to the United States, she had to ask the company she had worked for so many years to give her a job in the United States. “I worked out with my company to give me a project here in America. So when I came here, I already [had] a job,” Balza said.9 Even though they gave her a job, the project she was working on was soon over. After the project, she was saddened by the fact that she did not work there anymore, and would not be able to see her co-workers anymore, and had to look for a new job. It was also painful for her to leave all her relatives behind. Even though she does not have the opportunity to see her relatives in the Philippines, she is thankful that she has other relatives to support her in the United States.

   “When I came here in America it was very interesting. It’s very interesting in the sense that some things you see are the same things you see in the Philippines,” Balza said.10 Just like here in America, the Philippines also had buildings, trains, cars, highways, fast food restaurants, and shopping malls, so those things did not surprise her. Many people in the United States are friendly, helpful, and courteous, and they made her feel welcome and appreciated. Because of the movies she had seen, she assumed that it was going to be cold in the United States. “This place is as hot as in the Philippines,” she complained.11 She did not know that it was summer time in Los Angeles. There were trees everywhere and she deduced that it was the reason why there is little or no pollution in the area. She was wondering why the roads were clean, and why people didn’t go through the red light even though there aren’t any cars around. That was when her husband explained that there are laws that should be followed and there are harsh penalties if they were broken.

   The United States is a very diverse country. “[Something] interesting and different would be like here in California it is… diversified and it’s multicultural,” Balza said.12 Everywhere one goes, one sees people of different backgrounds and cultures. Even though they are different in many ways, they interact regardless of culture or nationality. Balza had noted that many American children are independent and mature. Many of them were already in relationships at a young age and worked when they are teenagers. Unlike life in the Philippines, students usually finish college before they work or be in a relationship. One of the downside of living here was that maids are very expensive and almost everybody living in the urban areas had at least one maid to help them around the house. This is why one can afford relaxing after work in the Philippines. “But here in America, you never stop working the moment you get up in the morning and when you start working,” Balza said.13 When a parent wakes up, he or she has to make breakfast, drive to work, think about the children during work, drive home, and take care of dinner and everything else. Another difference between the United States and Philippines is the frequency Balza shops here in America compared to the Philippines. It is probably because of the abundance of shopping malls and the fact that money is easier to come by in America. Socializing in the Philippines is very common, that is why almost everyone is familiar with each other. But here in the United States people rarely socialize because most of the people you know are far away or are always busy.

   It is very hard to adjust to the United States as a Filipino woman. Balza overcame many barriers such as communication, language, work ethics, and driving. “Although I know how to speak English… It’s different. We’re not that expressive and we’re not that aggressive and were introverted,” Balza admitted.14 Learning how to speak English well was one of the difficulties she faced. In order to speak better English, she watched television everyday and read many books and magazines. After a few months, her English improved. Work was hard for Balza because many of her co-workers were jealous, mean and tried to manipulate and sabotage her. When she kept a low profile in her work, they all realized that she meant no harm and they all ended up becoming good friends. “Here in America you need to know how to drive in order to function. So that’s one of my biggest challenges,” Balza said.15 Everyday she had to commute 90 minutes to 2 hours a day to and from work. Sometimes when she missed the bus or rode the wrong bus, the whole commute would usually take about 4 hours. Balza became frustrated and decided to learn how to drive; in a year, she passed the driver’s test. Her pleasure of adjusting to American life is the ability of functioning well in today’s society. She appreciated America for the freedom and equality it provided for everyone.

   After thinking for a few minutes, Balza finally responded, “It took us one year to live comfortable [here],”16 The first month living in the United States was very awkward because she and her family lived in her husband’s grandmother’s house. In a month, they moved to their own apartment. For about six months, she was commuted to and from work. Balza hated it when she rode the wrong bus or missed the bus, because that means she has to wait an additional one to two hours. She spent a month or so learning how to drive. In about a year, she became comfortable in America after she learned how to drive.

   The assimilation of American culture and Filipino culture in Balza’s family was difficult because they are very different. Religion is a very important part of Filipino culture. “The most difficult part was teaching my children about religion. There was a struggle for us to maintain a religious faith,” Balza confessed.17 When she came here, she taught her children about Catholicism. She went to mass every Sunday with her family and she also enrolled her children into confirmation classes. “Another culture not to forget is our native language, Tagalog. It’s [important] for you to not forget the language because you will be around Filipinos,” Balza suggested.18 In order to prevent her children from forgetting how to speak tagalong, she made it mandatory to speak tagalong around the house and when they speak with their uncles, aunts, and grandparents. To this day, they still speak Tagalog very well. Another culture brought here was Filipino food and rice. Almost everyday she cooked and served Filipino food with rice for her family. Just like in the American culture, Filipino people celebrate important holidays. In addition to celebrating American holidays such as July 4th (American Independence Day), Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, they also celebrate Filipino holidays which includes June 12(Philippines Independence Day) and All Saint’s Day.

   “I have no regrets coming to America. It’s like we were born here,” Balza said.19 Even though she said she had no regrets about coming here in the United States, she deeply regretted leaving her nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and mother in the Philippines. Without them, she does not have anyone really close to talk to or spend time with. She missed having a maid to help her around the house. Because here in America, maids are very expensive even some people do not consider having maids. One day her dream is to have the money to afford many maids. Currently, Balza is studying to become a nurse and she lives with her family in Irvine, California.


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19. Balza, Personal interview. 24 May 2009, 6.