Melissa Calica (Born June 6 1996), a Northwestern Student participating in the Winter 2015 class "Oral Histories and Migration" interviews Sally Velasco (Born December 30 1944). Sally Velasco is a female immigrant from the Philippines, highly involved in Filipino immigrant rights, works for AFIRE and FACC.
>>Melissa Calica: Ok.
>>Rizalina Richmond: Ok, my name is Rizalina Velasco Richmond; yeah Richmond is my husband's family name so I'm carrying that. And before that I am Velasco; that's my maiden name. And I was born in the Philippines in a small island: Marinduque, Wok Marinduque actually. And I grew up in that small island and then when I was in college I moved to the city in Manila, so, and after finishing my college degree I took a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. But then I did not have time to, to go to a teaching job because, for some reason I had been working already when I was in college. So I just continued working.
So, moving on, I was working in the University; in the Santa Clarita University until I graduated and then about two more years I was there and then finally I decided to move on to a telephone company, a Philippine telephone and telegraph company for about three years and then moved to World Vision Philippines. This is a nonprofit organization and I worked there for almost fourteen years, so I do research work and from a clerical job then I went to secretary, then to researcher, and then up to officer-in-charge like that.
[copy machine noise]
So, and when our organization-it was revamped-then I did not work there anymore, I went to work in Japan-I went to Japan for almost a year.
>>Velasco: As a Lay Missionary. So we worked and we helped the Filipinos, the Filipino immigrants in Japan, those who are working as entertainers and all these; and for them to come if they have any problems what we can do for them so we are trying to help, trying to reach out to them. So on Sundays they will come and...
We have a priest. Then we are sharing things, you know, and educating them about the situation in the Philippines, and then about their situation also, looking onto their situations. I worked there for almost a year and then I went back to the Philippines and then worked as a volunteer for the immigrants that work also.
Yeah. So I was with a group of activists in the Philippines for almost a few years until finally I decided: my mother asked me to come over here in the U.S. because she was petitioned by my sister and then my mother also petitioned me.
>>Richmond: Yeah. So I moved on; I went here in 1990. Yeah. And first, well as a tourist; I came here as a tourist but I have-what's this-tourist visa for ten years, I think, yeah. Ten years. But then my mother petitioned me. So I did go home to the Philippines for some time and then after that I already processed my papers here as an immigrant.
And my first job here is babysitting. And that is why I am very interested in the Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights now. That is what we are passing. So I work about, maybe seven years I work as a babysitter and then after that I went back to school, taking a Montessori Training. And I work in the school for another two years but then I realized that I like babysitting better than, you know, than teaching because with teaching I feel like it is too much for me. The classroom setting is not my type. So I went back to babysitting and another, maybe eight years, yeah babysitting again. Then from there I went back to school again and teach because one of my friends has a Montessori Center and school and she asked me to help her. And I said, "Okay, I will help you until you find a teacher because I don't like teaching."
But then it took me some time; years passed by and I said, "Oh! I'm still here," until finally she was able to find someone and I said, "Ok I can go," and I worked with AFIRE as a community organizer.
Which because in the Philippines when I was at World Vision there is some similarities I am doing some community organizing. So I have experience with community organizing. And then also in Japan we organize also the community. So I like the job as community organizer and program coordinator. So that was 2008, and since 2008 I am still working here.
So, so far, our program now, we are carrying advocacy work and campaigning for the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights to pass. Then we are also very focused, especially me, on two of our projects: one is the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights and then the other one is Healthy Heart Healthy Family. Because in the Filipino community, one out of three Filipinos has the problem of cardiovascular, you know. and this cardiovascular-so, with this problem, we are trying to explain that we, our community, have to have a healthy lifestyle. And so, what are the healthy lifestyles? In terms of what we eat, the portion, exercise is very very important, and then we have also the peer support.
Ok, so we already have three batches of graduates and we call them Community Health Workers. But, of course, in this particular area the community help-the Healthy Heart Healthy Family.
So with our program, we go for a training for at least twelve sessions to our first session, and that is, you know, we have a buried book; that book, that is our manual; yeah, it's an ethic book. So that is twelve sessions about heart disease, heart attack, strokes, diabetes, cholesterol, all these things, healthy eating, all these bits, and then we are also compiling some healthy recipes and then, we also have graduation and then we have the peer support. So it is a very nice program.
But with the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights we only joined the cooperation last year, so we are very new to it. But then we know that we are organizing the domestic workers. So the domestic workers, of course, are composed of those who are working in private homes; so like, babysitters, senior caregivers, housekeepers, house cleaners, personal assistant, homemakers; and these are, you know, because there is no protection and it is unregulated. It is not within the law; there is no law for the domestic workers and that is what we are trying to pass, you know. We are campaigning for that.
So, hopefully, because this is already the third year, two years it died; the other bill died but then we are still hopeful because we know that bills do not pass right away sometimes. It can pass so easily, but sometimes it takes several years before it passes. Because now we already have the first one that passed; it was in New York. And then we have Hawaii. And then we have California. We have Massachusetts, and hopefully we will be the next state to pass the bill. Hopefully. Yeah.
So, organizing is not easy, or mobilizing is not easy for domestic workers because almost every day, everybody's at work, you know, it is so hard to organize them. If you call for a meeting on the weekends, there are many who are working on the weekends. If you call during the weekdays, then there are also lots of working on the weekdays. So it is hard, but still we are getting-we are able to get people who come and attend-and we are having a good participation in the community.
So, is there anything else that you would like to ask?
>>Calica: I would ask; what was it like growing up in the Philippines as a youth?
>>Richmond: Oh, growing up in the Philippines?
Oh, well we are a very big family. My father is a corporate dealer and my mother is just in the house-house maker, you know. And we grew up-we are 11 children in the family; 11 alive children in the family. We are supposed to be 14, but 2 died in the early age and then 1 is a-what do you call that-a miscarriage. So we are 11 alive: 8 girls and 3 boys. And we are a very big family and we also have extended families at home, always. Yeah that is very common in the Philippines; we have extended families. We would have our cousins with us, especially those that are going to school because we are in the town proper, and they are living in the rural areas so they'll go to our house, they'll stay with us. Or we have also some relatives who will be staying with us helping my mother because my mother has eighty in store and so they help my mother and they help also at home, because we are so many children. My mother cannot handle eleven children!
And my father is, of course, the supporter. And, when I grew up in that small island. So I have a happy childhood with a big family. Yeah and of course our extended families. We are very close to each other. When I went to college I stayed in the university and I worked, I was a working student. I was working at the same time, studying in college.
>>Calica: Would you say that Manila has changed a lot?
>>Richmond: It has changed so much; and not only Manila but every place. Even in our small hometown, when I was growing up there were only few houses. But now it is all houses. Too many houses, and I don't even know our neighbors anymore. Of course, some I know. But then those who migrated to our small province, many of them I don't know because I do not have time to know them when I go home; yeah I will stay only for a month, maybe. The most is one month, but I don't go beyond that. Maybe if I were to stay more, then I would be able to relate with others and know them better, but now it has changed so much. Not only Manila, but even the provinces.
>>Richmond: From all the few houses, oh my goodness, you cannot count the houses. And from where you can work on the street, very safe, not minding, you know, others. But now you cannot just walk on the streets because there are so many tricycles, there are so many Jeepneys, you just have to be careful. Just don't walk on the street. You have to watch out.
And some crowded houses. It's so different.
>>Calica: Would you say there's a big Filipino community here in Chicago?
>>Richmond: Yeah. We have a big Filipino community here in Chicago.
And also, people who are out of status. Out of status are those who overstayed and so they have run out of status. Most of them are, you know, we don't call them undocumented because they have documents except that they run out of status. So even for those young kids who are qualified to qualify for DACA, you know DACA?
>>Richmond: Yeah, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival. There is, but then they do not come out. Yeah, only few come out because of fear, maybe, and-you know-they don't want to be ostracized or it is a stigma. Oh, what happened?
>>Jimmy Reyes: I forgot my cell phone.
>>Are you still coming back, or home?
>>Reyes: I am going home.
>>Richmond: Not anymore. Oh ok. Yeah because there...
>>Reyes: The Bridge.
>>Richmond: Ok, yeah so, okay!
>>Reyes: Ok guys, take care.
>>Richmond: And so many are not coming out. Although we are encouraging them to apply for DACA, I don't know how many applied for DACA but not many. And now we have-so this February-we will start again with expansion of the DACA. And in May we will-this is the Obama Executive Order-and then we will have the DAPA, that is the Deferred Action for Parents Accountability. I hope that there will be-that is-they are qualified if they have children that are born here in the U.S. So hopefully they might qualify because, for them to be petitioned by their children they have to be eighteen years old. So if your child is just very young, then you still have to wait for a document.
But this is also exposing them, you know.
That is the fear of, you know, of people who are qualified to apply. It is just the same with DACA.
>>Calica: Would you say there is a bigger push for youth empowerment and involvement with organizations?
>>Richmond: Well, you know, we are trying, yeah. At least now we have more group, more youth participation, even among our volunteers than it used to be. We are growing. We are very young yet as an organization and because we started only in 2008 with our programs. And so we are just, we are building up. But now at least it is not like when we used to start with a program where people don’t trust us yet, because they have not seen any program, you know. And we started with the IFRP, that is the Illinois Family Resource Program. So we are just moving resource, outreach, and education for the Filipino community because our findings-the survey says it is 7% of the Filipino American population is in poverty level, so they are qualified to apply for government assistance. Like for example, that’s the food stamps or Medicaid, because many Filipinos don't know about this program.
And AFIRE is just the only organization who is working with the Filipino community in terms of this kind of program. So introducing the program, what they can avail, what programs and services they can avail from the government assistance. And then from there, it was-I think we have two or three years of that-and then we were defunded, but when we were defunded on this program, then we were given the NAI. The NAI is the New American Initiative, and the New American Initiative is then helping our community to apply for U.S. citizenship.
So we started with-oh, my goodness-it was so hard to reach out. Yeah, because people are "What is this?" This is the first time they had an organization who is helping Filipinos. And so we have not established yet that, you know, that the thing in the community, they'll say "Oh, yeah. AFIRE is working, is really something." So but then, we are starting to have more clients coming to us to avail of the assistance, because especially for those who are unable to pay the 680 for the fee, the Homeland Security, then if they have, they are low income, then they can avail of the fee waiver. So where they do not have to pay anymore the 680. If they can prove, if they have proof that they are below income.
Yeah, and there is a bracket, a limit bracket for that. So I think it was given to you; the limit bracket is there in the program that Jimmy gave you. That is the NAI program. Yeah, it is here.
[Points to program]
>>See, this is the program.
>>Calica: Oh, I see it.
>>Richmond: Yeah, so that, then they know, yeah. So we tell them what are the requirements. And so this is a once a month program that we do with the coalition. So there are, it is a coalition of different organizations: there are Latinos, there are the Polish, yeah...and some others like the veteran will come to us and say, "Oh, I want to apply for a U.S. citizenship." So, ok. Yeah, we are not only focused on Filipinos. Some will come to us, even if they are another ethnic group and ask for help. So we are open for that.
>>Calica: Could you talk about any other...
>>Calica: Involvements that you have, or what you like to do in your free time?
>>Richmond: Oh, I don't have any free time!
It is all work, work, work; I'm just happy that my husband is not, is working at, you know, traveling. Otherwise, ah, it would be a fight.
Because my husband is working as a truck driver. And, you know, at least if he's not here, then I can do anything or I can, you know, I have all my time. But when he comes home on the weekend then, uh oh, I have to spend some time with him.
Yeah. But then I, although my focus is really on...I am handling the Healthy Heart, Healthy Family, this program. And then also the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. I am also involved in all the programs. All of us are involved in all the programs. Yeah, because you are working as a team. Although there are some, say for example Jimmy is working on the New American Initiative, then somebody is in charge of providing Legal Services. But we are working together as a team. So we are not working, "Oh, this is my work then I will be the only, no." It is, yeah, everybody has to get involved in some ways, as a team. We are working as a team.
[cell phone rings]
Hello, Sweetheart. I'm fine, Sweetheart. Huh?
[laughs, phone conversation]
Ok! Ok. Ok, yeah, yeah.
[laughs, indistinct mumbling]
In New York. So, and then, what else? Yeah my husband is very young; 18 years younger than me, you will imagine.
Yeah, I met him here and we got married. It was his first marriage and my first marriage, and I'm over 50 already when I got married so he was 18 years younger. And that is, yeah, that is a very interesting love story because I met him, I was babysitting and I met him at Walgreen. He was working as a-what's this-cashier at Walgreen. And then he saw me, he was interested in me, and he kept calling me, he kept, you know. And then finally, after a year of courtship-he courted me for one year-and then, we became boyfriend girlfriend for one year; and after that it was like I was a young teenager. He said, "I will go to your mom and ask for your hand." I said, "Ooh!"
Then he went to my mother.
My mother was here, and he asked for my hand so we got married. And we are already turning 19 years in May, yeah.
>>Richmond: That is our love story. So, you see? I'm even giving you my love story!
So, and then I am involved also with FACC. This is the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago. That is the Rizal Center. Have you been there?
>>Richmond: Rizal Center? Yeah, so we have some issues, but then I am one of the Board of Directors. Yeah, so that is why I am trying to call somebody who you can probably interview. Yeah, so you keep in touch with me and if he calls back then I can refer him to you. But I have to ask permission; I don't want to give any names without asking their permission, yeah. But I am sure; although I am sure that that is ok with him, except that he is in the suburb. So but he goes here, yeah. Anything else, what else here?
>>Calica: I think I'm good if you are.
>>Richmond: If you have any other questions?
>>Calica: Not right now.
>>Richmond: Ok, just give me a call or email me if there's anything that you want to ask and, yeah. Because you said you need some pictures; I said, "Oh, I am not really into pictures, but then we have lots here." Yeah, in fact, even Senator Durbin came over here to, you know. Said, "I want to visit your office." Jan Sakowlski's also here, presents the Kowli (KRCC) Award to AFIRE.
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So we have, we are attending lots of leadership programs, and now that I am involved with the domestic workers, last Saturday we had a very nice meeting, you know. We call it "Usap-usapan," or "Discussion" in English. So, and then on the 14th, because we are also a member of a coalition, then we are invited to join the Historic Telling Workshop on the 14th of March in the Latino Union; this is the Latino group.
>>Calica: I will turn this off.