Oral history interview with Paolo Banaag, interviewed by Wendy Hernandez


Oral history interview with Paolo Banaag, interviewed by Wendy Hernandez


Oral history interview with Paolo Banaag, interviewed by Wendy Hernandez




The Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies and the UC Davis Asian American Studies department holds intellectual control of these recordings. Usage is restricted for educational, non-commercial purposes only. For other uses, please contact archivist Jason Sarmiento at ajsarmiento@ucdavis.edu


Audio Recording and Transcript




Wendy Hernandez


Paolo Banaag


Hernandez: “Alright, it is June 3, 2019 and it is 9:43. This is Wendy Hernandez, interviewing for the Filipino immigrant Oral History Project. Today I am interviewing:

Banaag: Paolo Banaag

Hernandez: Alright, let us begin. So we are going to start by talking a little bit about your childhood and early adult life.

Banaag: Alright.

Hernandez: When and where were you born?

Banaag: I was born in the Philippines, Manila

Hernandez: And where were your parents born?

Banaag: My parents were also born in the Philippines.

Hernandez: Do you know what jobs parents did in the Philippines?

Banaag: My mom was a hotel and restaurant manager and my dad is an engineer.

Hernandez: How many siblings do you have? If you have any?

Banaag: I have two little sisters.. Well, they’re not that little anymore [laughs]

Hernandez: Do you come from a big family?

Banaag: Well, my immediate family is only 5. But my dad has 9 nine brothers and sisters and my mom has four brothers and sisters. So, I would say its a medium size family.

Hernandez: And did any of your family members move to America before you?

Banaag: Yes. My uncle did.

Hernandez: When.. When did you immigrate to the U.S? If you by any chance remember?

Banaag: Yeah, I came here November 2000.

Hernandez: Do you remember traveling by yourself or with other members of your family?

Banaag: No, we all came together.

Hernandez: How would you describe your experience immigrating to the US?

Banaag: It was kind of tough, because I had to leave all my friends behind but it wasn’t as tough because before coming to the U.S my family migrated to another country. When I was seven, my family moved to Brunei, which is a small country in South-east Asia. Then from there, we came to the U.S. So in terms of transitioning, it wasn't as physical.

Hernandez: Do you know the process? [Such as] did you have a visa; was it easy?

Banaag: No, definitely not. We actually came to the U.S with a tourist visa. We were only supposed to be [in the U.S] for a couple of months and then we decided to stay. So for a while we were actually undocumented and it was quite a process to get our green card, our social and then all of that documents.

Hernandez: Since you did immigrate to the U.S at a young age, did you know, at the time, that you were considered an immigrant?


Banaag: I actually had a cousin who married this white guy and he, for some reason, would tell us that we were immigrants. So that’s how I was like ‘okay, yeah, okay .We are immigrants, I get it.’

Hernandez: Did your status affect you in a specific manner? Like in education, work, etc.

Banaag: Definitely, I came here when I was fourteen. So I went to a high school. I attended community college for two years. I actually did nursing for two years and then, when it was time for me to apply for a nursing program, they wouldn’t even give me an application because I didn’t have a social security number. Also, I didn’t have.. I couldn’t work and I didn’t have financial aid which was before California Dream Act, DACA. So I had to do a lot of under the table jobs to put myself through college. I had to refigure out my career goals and educational goals because I was undocumented. I took the bus everywhere because I couldn’t really drive; we [couldn’t] get our license.

Hernandez: How was your academic experience like being undocumented?

Banaag: Well, since I was still the first person in my family to go to college here, in the U.S, it was quite like nobody could really help me figure it out. I had to rely a lot on friends, counselors, professors to really figure out the way to a higher education. Again, being undocumented [meant] you don’t really know what is available to you. You don’t know kind of like where the system is just going to tell you can’t move anymore forward. So there was a lot of unknown and it was really tough to motivate myself to pursue or to continue with a higher education. But I guess I just had the right people around me, who just kept pushing me forward. I was eventually able to transfer to UCLA and majored in English. But even at that time, I was commuting from Glendale to UCLA; which is like a two hour bus ride back and forth-that how it affected my education.

Hernandez: What jobs did you have? Like you said you did like under the table jobs.

Banaag: I was a—. Well I worked for—. I was a receptionist at one point. And then I actually worked as a nursing assistant when I was like seventeen or eighteen. So I was like on life-input, feeding elderly people.. I was working at a convalescent hospital. And sometimes I would work from like 11pm at night till 7am in the morning. Then I would go straight to school afterwards. I kind of had to do whatever job was [available]—. I had to go anywhere where they would let me work pretty much and do whatever they would ask me to do.

Hernandez: Did you state that you didn’t have a social security number? Did you use a fake social?

Banaag: At the time I had a PIN number and I think they were able to use that. But they knew that I didn’t have papers. And actually, their reason that I got let go was because they were going to do an audit or something like that. So that’s why.

Hernandez: As a first generation immigrant do you feel like there’s any difference with like within the Filipino-American community?

Banaag: In terms of..?

Hernandez: In terms of education experience and job experience.

Banaag: I feel like being undocumented kind of separated me aside from the Filipinos who grew up here and have their papers. But there are a lot of Filipinos and actually not just Filipinos but a lot of Asian Americans who are undocumented. I feel like there’s a stigma where people hear like ‘Oh, undocumented people [are] only referring to the Latinx population.’ But there’s actually a big population of Asian Americans who don’t have their papers. But I do feel like the subculture that I belong to there’s not a lot of Asian Americans or a lot of Filipinos who belong in because I did have my documentation.

Hernandez: Yeah, did you have any specific thoughts about America before you moved here?

Banaag: [laughs] Yeah, you know, like America is supposedly the land of opportunities; the land of the great or whatever. I just feel like it still gave me a lot of, obviously, opportunities but I feel like it is a lot harder than what people, especially in LA, it’s a lot harder to get to that position than what people typically say. I feel like I still have relatives in the Philippines who think that money just grows on trees here and it’s not really like a struggle or process to find work and to be competitive or to be marketable. So I feel like there’s a misconception that people have outside of the U.S that think about the U.S.

Hernandez: What was different about living in America as opposed to the Philippines?

Banaag: I feel like there’s just so much options here. Maybe, even a little too much. In the Philippines it’s—. The level of education there is also pretty high but definitely in the U.S it opens a lot more doors for you. In the Philippines too, its like mobility is very hard. You can't just drive anywhere. I think, actual physical mobility and then also social and upward mobility, the states definitely provide you with a lot more.

Hernandez: You mentioned that you now in LA. Did you first live in LA when you first moved to the U.S?

Banaag: Yeah. So my uncle lives in Glendale, which is a part of LA county. We actually lived in his attic, for like a good year. There were five of us living in his attic before we got our own apartment. But ever since then we´ve stayed local.

Hernandez: Are you still under DACA?

Banaag: No, my dad—. Ironically enough, my dad got petitioned right after I graduated from UCLA. All through my education I didn't have financial aid and when I graduated my dad got petitioned by his job. And that's how we were able to get our paperwork. I believe this was six years ago that I got my citizenship. Five or six years ago.

Hernandez: How would you describe your education as a DACA recipient?

Banaag: Again, I wasn’t DACA. I feel like—. DACA didn't start until 2012. I was undocumented from the year 2000 to like 2009. I never really got to apply for that. Just being undocumented, again, there were so many opportunities that I wasn´t able to get. Even like scholarships, there were some scholarships you can ́t apply for because you don't have your social. On top of having to work to pay for college. I feel like it did kind of pushed me a little bit more. You know, they have that word ´ganas,´when you´re undocumented. You kind of are a little more resilient than your documented peers only because, to me, I was paying for those classes out of pocket so if I failed them I would have to pay for them again. So I kind of had that motivation of like, ´okay, you can't mess around because you're just wasting your money.´ So in a sense, being undocumented kind of humbled me in a sense’ to pursue and persist in my education. (Sp?)

Hernandez: Do you remember your academic experience in the Philippines?

Banaag: No, I left the Philippines when I was like in fourth grade. I wasn ́t experienced, I can tell you that. It was definitely a learning experience for me.

Hernandez: Have you traveled back to the Philippines since then?

Banaag: Yeah, I went back in 2011 and came back, actually recently, this past Christmas. I was there for a couple of weeks.

Hernandez: How would you relate your experience now going back to the Philippines-do you miss it?

Banaag: I miss my grandma because she still lives there and so does some of my family members. But, I feel like my life is here now. But I do still treasure having to come from the Philippines and the experiences I ́ve had then. It has definitely shaped me into the person I am today like being able to speak another language, being able to have another culture aside from just American. I'm a professor and a college counselor, it helps me be a little more relatable and adaptable to my students.

Hernandez: Do you see any difference, like your family in the Philippines, in the way they treat you?

Banaag: Not necessarily, my mom's side of the family is a little bit ´Americanized.´ So they don't even live in the Philippines. They don't really treat me any differently. But my dad's side of the family is a little bit more on the lower socio economic side. So they do feel like being in American, again, you're automatically rich. Money falls from trees over here, so I feel like they have that expectation of like ´oh, he’s going to be snobby or he’s going to be better than other people.´ But I try to not be like that. I don't show off when I'm in the Philippines, I just try to like hang out with my family.

Hernandez: Well, that is it for my questions. Would you like to enclose anything else from your experience?

Banaag: No, I mean, again, I think being an immigrant it teaches you how to be flexible and adaptable to a lot of things. You also gain a lot of grip and a lot of resilience by being an immigrant because, again, you have an experience from another country and uprooting everything and risking everything to just come to another country. It takes a lot of courage and determination. It does teach you a lot of things in life that other people who might not have left or traveledñ they don't understand that process. It has really shaped me today.

Hernandez: Thank you for your time!

Banaag: No problem Wendy. [Laughs]
Date Added
February 9, 2021
Filipino Immigrant Oral History Project
Item Type
Oral History
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“Oral history interview with Paolo Banaag, interviewed by Wendy Hernandez,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 23, 2024, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/706.