Why do some people act this way? Let me share with you a story.
Lucinda and Jaeckel Castro arrived in San Francisco practically penniless – according to them, that’s what they said. They had relatives in the US but they lived elsewhere – not in California. A cousin lived in Chicago and a distant third cousin lived in Miami. Great. So they knew not a soul in San Francisco.
They came to our church one Sunday for Mass. At fellowship at the end of the Mass, noticing they were practically strangers, I introduced myself and we got to talking.
“Help yourselves to the doughnuts and coffee,” I said, pointing to the buffet table. “Plates, plastic-ware, and napkins are on the sideboard.”
They came back from the buffet, each bearing two plates loaded with at least three doughnuts a plate. I was going to say something – well – what I thought would be funny, but I bit my tongue. They must have been hungry. Famished. I invited them to sit down.
“So what brings you to the Barbary Coast?” I opened, using old vernacular to describe the old San Francisco during the Gold Rush.
Lucinda spoke first. “We came to the US on a tourist visa. Months ago. We’ve visited Chicago and Florida and now we are on our way home. U-uwi na po kami sana…”
“Ahem…” Jaeckel managed to clear his throat. He sipped his coffee with gusto, cooling the beverage by sort of siphoning it with his breath. “We ran out of money… Sir…” he finally said, his gaze on the floor.
“And our visas have expired,” chimed in Lucinda. “We have overstayed. Di ba crime yun ano? We slept in the airport, on benches and seats. We used their toilet facilities since Friday.”
“That was this Friday? You mean this weekend?” I tried to ascertain the timeline. “So you have been there for two days now?” I was beginning to really feel their sense of urgency. They telegraphed their need in subtle ways but I’ve been around long enough to recognize the situation.
“Opo, Sir,” Jaeckel timidly rejoined the conversation. “This is our first full meal since Saturday noon.” He put his arm around Lucinda’s shoulder as if to comfort her. I thought I saw a glistening in their eyes… oh no… they are about to lose it.
“Please,” I said. “Maybe we can do something. Not promising anything ha… but let me make some calls.”
I hastily left them sitting there. My God, that was a day ago, I thought. Man alive. I thought these sorts of situations only happened in movies. Yes, I remembered Tom Hanks’ movie about the person stranded at the airport. But this is different. Kapwa Pinoy and something must be done.
I conferred with the big boss (my wife), quickly telling her about the Castro’s plight. I looked intently into my wife’s eyes as I related their story. Were there Signs? Did I see any sign that she might be inclined to help?
My wife is a very deliberate and prayerful woman. No rash judgments from this fine lady. At last she spoke.
“Where are they and why aren’t we inviting them to the house?”
Lord have mercy. Now we are really involved. Deep into the very bowels of lawlessness – smack dab on the wrong side of the law. Are we, by inviting them to our home, sheltering them, constraining and preventing them from going home? But their visas have already expired; what’s the crime in letting them linger a little while longer? Are we in violation of the immigration laws of the country? An expired visa is no joke. You’ve overstayed and you’ve got to go. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.
But Pinoys are gutsy folks. Supposedly, Filipinos succeed on 10% talent and 90% guts. Are the Castro’s being gutsy? Or reckless?
We drove home with the Castro’s in tow. Hardly any words were spoken. The Castro’s were tired, uncomfortable, displaced, and seemingly getting desperate. We, on our part were mulling over our actions. We wanted to help them – that was decided some time ago when the Bossing invited them to the house.
“Here we are,” my wife cheerfully announced as we arrived home. We lived in the thick of the Filipino enclave just south of San Francisco. The street names were changed to reflect the demographics. “Luneta Ave,” “Rizal Circle,” and “Aguinaldo Way,” were some of the more popular street names. We lived on Lanzones Drive. Imagine that.
“Come in… come in…” my wife was overly welcoming. She hugged Lucinda and shook Jaeckel’s hand as they entered the foyer. “We’ll hang you jackets here,” she took their coats and hung them on stylish pegs by the door. “Oh… huwag na ninyong alisin ang mga sapatos n’yo ha… I know you must be very tired… O Sige… come to the kitchen and let’s all talk…”
The night went long. Coffee. Suman. Malagkit. More coffee. I fell asleep towards the first cock crow. In the morning, my wife walked into our bedroom and greeted me with a big smile.
“Have you been to bed at all?” I asked.
“Nope,” she said. There was joy in her voice though. “I am taking Lucinda with me to work this morning. I am introducing her to my supervisor. She is an RN… did you know that?”
“Registered Nurse. Really? Where did she work?” I queried.
“In Makati… hoy, big time O.R. nurse eto ha. Santo Tomas graduate. Hindi small potatoes. Siya nga ang nag-care kay Dolphy, imaginin mo…” my wife almost sounded proud to announce Lucinda’s qualifications.
“Okay,” I managed to blurt out in between toothbrush strokes. “So…. now what?”
“They are hiring aides and maybe she can get one of the slots – for starters lang muna ha.” She was changing her clothes as she was telling me all this.
To make a long story short, Lucinda did get hired as a nurses’ aide. Jaeckel made it as a hospital custodian. They lived in our converted garage.
Time passed and Lucinda passed her RN state requirements. Jaeckel managed to get hired at Hewlett-Packard in manufacturing, packing equipment for shipping.
They bought their first home. Lucinda hired on at Kaiser Permanente and became the Nursing Supervisor. My wife remained at her old hospital. We’ve lost touch, as our circle of friends touched other circles, and our relationship lost its moorings, drifting out into the open sea. The Castro’s now lead a very nice life, among many friends and co-parishioners on Potrero Hill.
The term Short Term Memory Amnesia (STMA) I mention in the title of this piece relates to events that transpired recently at the Farmer’s Market. Lucinda and my wife both happened to be at the seafood section. There was a sale on Dungeness Crabs from Washington state. Lucinda jumped ahead of the crowd and cornered the sales person. In an act of extreme hoarding, she bought all the crabs, leaving only two clawless and legless ones in the basket.
When my wife tried to get Lucinda’s attention so she could maybe get two good ones from the crabs that she bought, Lucinda just turned her back at my wife, leaving swiftly and in a huff, with no acknowledgement whatsoever, as if to say, “I don’t have time for peasants.”
No words were spoken.