Beginning Again

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Words || Reina Caballero

My parents always dreamed of living abroad. When they were younger, all they wanted to do was escape the struggles of poverty in the Philippines. They grew up in big families and money was always tight. Their parents even discouraged them from getting an education and pressured them to work to support their families. However, my parents knew that in order to achieve their dreams, they had to get through university. They wanted to be knowledgeable people who didn’t take shit from anyone; they didn’t want to be so easily fooled. So, my parents persevered. Despite the disapproval from their own parents, they thrived in school. They never asked for financial support; they got by on scholarships and having fees waived from becoming teacher’s assistants. By comparison, looking at where I am now, I’ve got it easy. My parents paved the way so I could live in a country abundant in opportunity. My dreams have always been within arm’s reach. This was never the case for my parents, particularly not for my dad.

Aside from living abroad, my dad’s main goal in life was to become an engineer. He was able to fulfil this goal after graduating from university. Temporarily, he worked as one in Saudi Arabia in the early 90s. At the time, he was in a long-distance relationship with my mum and she too was working abroad, in Saipan. When my dad received the news that he was eligible for permanent residency in Australia, he proposed to my mum so that she could join him. It was the start of their dreams coming to fruition. However, migrating to Australia meant that my dad could no longer work as an engineer, because his university degree from the Philippines only equated to the completion of high school in Australia. 

1995 was an eventful year for my parents. They were a newlywed couple, with a son on the way, living in a completely different country away from their families. To call them overwhelmed would be an understatement, but this was their chance to give their new family a life, one without struggle. It was a new start. It was also a chance for them to help the family back home by funding their siblings through university. 

Australia’s cultural diversity was a blessing for my parents. It wasn’t hard for them to find other Filipinos who were in the same boat; immigrants navigating the ins and outs of Sydney. They were able to build up a support network of people they could communicate with in a language that felt natural to them. These were friends they could share their struggles with, reminisce about their lives in the Philippines with, and people they could complain to about adjusting to Sydney’s cold weather in winter. 

My parents were officially granted Australian citizenship in 1998, the year I was born. They wanted to give our relatives the chance to experience life outside of the Philippines, so they sponsored my uncle’s, and afterwards, my grandma’s visitor visas. Still having faith in his dream, my dad decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. This time around though, he had many more responsibilities, and was unable to fully dedicate his time towards studying. Hence, he enrolled as a part-time student. He also began his own business as a driving instructor, which was another part-time gig, while he worked full-time as a survey assistant. With two young children to take care of, and families back in the Philippines to feed, he couldn’t prioritise himself. 

It took my dad 10 years to complete his degree. 10 years to receive a piece of paper that would finally let him practice a profession he was already familiar with. He had the skills and the knowledge to work as an engineer, but because of the country he came from, these qualifications remained unrecognised. He doesn’t regret undertaking his degree again, but life would have been so much simpler if he was able to do what he was most passionate about from the get-go. 

During those 10 years, my parents worked hard to pay off their mortgage after becoming proper homeowners in 2001. My mum’s frugality enabled them to be rid of their debt within five years and allowed them to take my brother and I on our first trip to the Philippines. I could finally put faces to the names of the relatives my parents always talked about – Facebook wasn’t a thing yet. 

I never truly understood the struggles of living in the Philippines until I actually witnessed them with my own eyes. I saw the house my mum was raised in; there were only two bedrooms to share among nine siblings, most of whom slept on the floor. Her family didn’t have access to drinkable water directly from the tap and the electricity wasn’t strong enough to power a microwave. All the things I considered normal were luxuries for them. 

“You’re lucky to be born in Australia,” my mum never failed to remind me. I always enjoyed going home to the Philippines and reuniting with my cousins, because I didn’t have any here. Yet I was privileged in that I had comfort waiting for me in Australia; this was my relatives’ everyday reality. 

After four years of working full-time as an engineer, and occasionally as a tutor at his university, my dad was offered a scholarship to complete his PhD without needing a master’s degree. His university recognised his passion for engineering and didn’t want his potential to go to waste. He still completed his studies part-time, but it only took him four years this time around. At the age of 49, my dad was able to proudly be addressed as “Dr Caballero.” 

I wouldn’t say my dad was never around when I was younger due to all the endeavours he pursued. He did the best he could. He dropped my brother and I off at school in the mornings, made sandwiches for us, taught us how to drive when we were of age, and planned road trips and holidays overseas. His hard work allowed us to live comfortably. 

I’m proud of my parents. Migrating here made them selfless people. They never forgot about their families back home and always factored them into the equation with their finances. When money wasn’t tight, my parents invited relatives to stay with us to witness the beauty of Sydney. Although there were many speedbumps along the way, my parents made the most out of becoming Australian citizens. 

As a daughter of immigrants, I’ve learned to appreciate living in Australia. I’m able to embrace the fact that I’m Filipino and remain connected with my culture. I have the ability to speak Tagalog, though my parents’ dialect isn’t that great, I can understand both languages effortlessly from hearing them speak all the time. I also never miss out on feasting on Filipino dishes because of Sydney’s range of Asian supermarkets. Growing up here has not only given me the chance to discover my own culture, but also the cultures of many others around me. The diversity of this country allows me to be open-minded and curious about each individual’s story. Thanks to my parents, I’ve learnt the value of hard work and how lucky I am to live here. Thanks to my dad, I will never take my opportunities for granted. 

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