Oral History Interview with Mitas Cuenca


Oral History Interview with Mitas Cuenca


Oral History Interview with Mitas Cuenca




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






Katrina Ongtengco


Mitas Cuenca


[Begin Audio File]
Katrina: Alright so today is May 26, 2019 and this is Katrina
Ongtengco interviewing a Filipina immigrant for the oral history
project for the Welga Filipino American Labor archives and the
Welga! Project. Okay, first question is where and when were you
Mitas: I was born in Manila on October 13, 1950.
Katrina: Where and when were your parents born?
Mitas: My parents were born also in the Philippines in Manila.
And my mother was born in 1910, and my father was born in 1911.
Katrina: They were both born in Manila or . . .
Mitas: They were both born outside of Manila in the suburbs of
Katrina: Okay, what jobs did your parents do?
Mitas: My mom was an elementary school teacher for over 40 years
and my father was a mechanic.
Katrina: How long did they work for?
Mitas: My father worked, I think at least over 30 years in his
last company and he retired just because the retirement age
during his days was 55 years old. My mother worked until she had
to retire at the age of, I believe, 60 years old.
Katrina: How many siblings do you have?
Mitas: I have six siblings. There are seven of us in the family.
There are five girls and two boys. And I am the youngest in the
Katrina: Did any of your family members move to America before
Mitas: Yes, I had one sister who moved to Canada and one sister
who moved here in California.
Karina: What type of Visa did they arrive with?
Mitas: They were both . . They had the green card holder or
Katrina: What was your academic experience in the Philippines?
Mitas: My academic experience was that I graduated in the
Philippines at a Philippines women university with a degree in
B.S Psychology.
Katrina: And did you have a professional experience?
Mitas: My professional experience there was just short lived. I
may have just worked less than total of six months before
immigrating to Canada. When I started working, I was just a new
graduate from college and about six months later, I already
immigrated to Canada and then I went back after a year and a
half from Canada and I worked again for another three months in
the Philippines before deciding to move back to Canada on a more
permanent basis.
Katrina: When did you decide to move out of the Philippines?
Mitas: I decided to move out of the Philippines after I
graduated in 1973 . . Oh in 1972. And six months later, because
the processing during the time was a lot faster than what it is
now, I was in Canada within six to seven months.
Katrina: And when did you move to the United States?
Mitas: I moved to the United States in 1980.
Katrina: What were your thoughts about America before you moved
Mitas: Well as you know the Philippines is very much . . . has a
close relationship with America so we think of America as
something that’s just like a better place and better
opportunities and better working condition than what it is in
the Philippines. And also because of the stories I hear
especially from my sister when she first moved to Canada. And so
Canada being close to America, they about have the same
opportunities that I thought I could have. So when I graduated
from college I asked my sister, from Canada, to sponsor me and
so I became also an immigrant in Canada. And then six and a half
. . . about seven years later, then my parents who already
immigrated here in the states, have sponsored me to come here
and stay with them.
Katrina: What kind of job did your parents work here in America.
Mitas: Uhh no . . . well, work a little bit yes, but because
they were already retirees then, so what they did was that since
they lived close to a school, so they baby sat only a few kids
though and they had maybe about two or three kids that they
babysat and no more than that. They did a lot volunteer work in
the church and my mom was very active in the church where they
lived and they were umm she was part of sort of the pioneers in
the church where they worshiped and were often asked to be
translating some materials, church materials, from English to
Tagalog which is our native language
Katrina: Did your thoughts about America change after you
Mitas: Not really. I thought it was what I thought it would be.
That there were better opportunities and less traffic of course
and the weather is nicer especially here in California and you
know that is one of the reasons I stayed here. When I left the
Philippines in 1973 and lived in Toronto, I was not sure whether
that was the place where I wanted to stay, so about a year and a
half after I lived there, I went back to the Philippines to
figure out if that’s where I should be with my parents. Being
the youngest and unmarried child in the family I thought it was
my responsibility to be with my parents. But after that I knew
that they were going to be immigrating to the US so that's when
I went back first to Canada again. Until I immigrated to the US
in 1980.
Katrina: So you worked in Canada too?
Mitas: Yes. I did work in Canada. I worked not in my field but I
worked first in a bank and then after that, I worked in the
research psychology department of Clarke Institute of Psychiatry
and that was in Toronto.
Katrina: and how long did you work there?
Mitas: Well, I worked there for about maybe five years?
Katrina: Did you live on your own or did you live with a family
Mitas: I lived with my family member. I lived with my sister who
sponsored me and so that’s what my situation was.
Katrina: Where did you first live in the United States?
Mitas: I lived with my parents first and I stayed with them in
their house and the reason why I stayed there was because I
wanted to give myself a year to figure out whether I would call
the US as my home or I would go back again to Canada because I
was having a wonderful time also in Canada. I didn’t have any
problem there. I had a good job and also at the same time I had
friends there too and family but when my parents sponsored me
again the responsibility . . . I thought of the responsibility
of being the youngest and being the unmarried child to take care
of my parents. They were very open to it so I just like I stayed
with them for a year and then after a year I moved back to
Canada to visit, to at least give myself a chance to say “okay,
which of the two countries would I want to settle in?” and
without any hesitation I said “It’s going to be California for
me.” So that’s when I already moved then I knew in my mind that
I would like to live here permanently and so then that's when I
started looking for a place of my own close to my parents, so I
lived in an apartment on my own, before I got married.
Katrina: So what made you decide to stay in America instead of
Mitas: Well the opportunity was much better, I had a better
paying job here in the US and also the weather had something to
do with it. I was tired already of just like . . . during the
winter season when you have to go through so many hardships of
just like, you know, walking in the snow and the cold weather
was just nahhh. You know after experiencing the California
weather you know people would just like (laughs) will not have
any second thought about the opportunity of being able to move
here in California.
Katrina: And did you have friends and family here? Oh, well you
parents were here . . .
Mitas: My parents were here . . .
Katrina: Who else?
Mitas: And then also my three siblings were already here. So I
have my nephews and nieces and my sisters and my brothers in
law. And I also have some friends, childhood friends back home
in the Philippines who also were here. So it was a wonderful
experience and so . . .
Katrina: So you didn’t have trouble adjusting?
Mitas: Not at all. Not at all. I didn’t have trouble adjusting.
I really enjoyed my job and so you know it was a better
opportunity so there we go.
Katrina: What jobs did you perform when you moved to America?
Mitas: When I moved to America, my first job was an assistant in
a research psychology, a research department of a a major
hospital organization here in the bay area. However, six months
or less than three months into the job, another company who
responded to my application called and so I thought you know I’d
go for an interview and all that stuff so and since it was based
in San Francisco, they offered me a higher paying job. And so I
decided to forgo my position at this hospital and even though
the position that I went into was no longer in the line of work
that I got, but I thought that it was something that was, you
know, was an okay position for me as well.
Katrina: Did you apply to these jobs on your own or did you have
like someone to recommend you?
Mitas: My sisters when I moved here they gave me a list of the
more renowned companies here both in San Francisco and bay area.
So those were the companies that I targeted. The job that I got,
I got because I responded to their ad in the newspapers. So when
I went to the interview, the day of the interview they already
gave me the offer. So since the other companies have not
responded to my application so I accepted it however three weeks
into my working in the hospital then this company that I worked
for that answered to my resume called me for an interview so . .
Katrina: Did your professional/academic experiences help you get
the job?
Mitas: The first, the one in Canada, yes it did and the one in
here in the hospital also did. However, the one that I ended up
in San Francisco, which is a multinational apparel company, it
was yes and no. It’s because of the fact that later on my three
years after I started with the company, I was sort of borrowed
so to speak to be part of the executive office of this company
supporting the president and CEO and the chairman as their
executive assistant and I figured you know, my experience or
just like my academic experience with my degree sort of helped
me navigate working with different levels of people and so it's
just one of those things that I thought maybe helped me
understand the different levels of positions of the hierarchy
within the company and allowed me to really .. . what I learned
helped me to navigate the . . . how I [inaudible] be dealing
with this people. And even though it did . . . so that was
indirectly I think what helped me but in order to be in touch
with the profess . .. or academic experience that I had in the
Philippines, I volunteered to organizations. One of them is . .
I served as a counselor, phone counselor at the Suicide
Prevention and Crisis Intervention group and so I did that for a
few months.
Katrina: Did you go back to school here in America?
Mitas: I did try. I did try because of the fact that I . . .
before I worked in the executive office at the company I worked
for for over thirty four years, I didn’t know whether . . . I
worked there as an administrative assistant to a director of a
company. However it’s just like, you know, I didn’t know whether
that was where I want to . . . where I would like to spend the
rest of my life doing what I was just doing there. I shouldn’t
say just, but it was also a very, you know, a very high paced .
. . fast paced position. So I went and studied at the community
college here and I but in the area of information technology.
Even though I passed, you know, the two the subjects I took, and
got good grades I did realize that it wasn’t for me and so I
decided to just not pursue it and at the same time that’s when I
started volunteering at the suicide prevention because that’s
still where I wanted to be connected with the psychology part of
my academic experience.
Katrina: Did you notice anything different between first
generation immigrants and the Filipino American community?
Mitas: Okay . . . say that again.
Katrina: Did you notice anything different between first
generation immigrants and the Filipino American community?
Mitas: First generation immigrants and the Filipino American
community. During the days of the first generation immigrant?
I’m talking about the first generation immigrant and they are
the children of the . . . ?
Katrina: I think the first generation is like the first . . your
parents I guess, the first people that . . . from your family
that migrated here.
Mitas: I see, okay. What . . is in the Filipino community? Well,
my . . . because my parents were really more like very active in
their . . . and they came here as retirees and they didn’t have
to work, I didn’t see much of a difference like what I said my
mom was very active in her church, she sort of had the
leadership role with the organizing community, the Filipino
communities. And so I did not think much of a difference that
was experienced by my parents. So I don’t know about other
families but even though my parents immigrated here in their
sixties, they were able to assimilate into the lifestyle here.
They didn’t have any issues that sometimes I’ve heard from other
friends who said that their parents would always want to go back
to the Philippines, or do this, or you know, the longing of
going back to the Philippines, I never, my parents never
mentioned anything like that. I don’t know if it was because
most of us were already here, so that’s maybe the difference.
They were . . . they felt right at home right away.
Katrina: And did you assimilate okay here in America
Mitas: Oh yah. I didn’t have any problem.
Katrina: No problem?
Mitas: Nope.
Katrina: Or how about your siblings? Same?
Mitas: They . . . the same yah. I think it’s because we lived in
a big city in the Philippines. We lived in Manila and so . . .
no. My siblings had very stable jobs as well. They were also had
college degrees, and so they were able to find good jobs here.
So I don’t think there was any issue among us about that.
Katrina: When your siblings went to school in the Philippines,
did they earn like . . . what type of degree. . . Did they earn
a degree in the Philippines?
Mitas: Yes. Yes, my oldest brother, I mean you know, he got a
degree in engineering. I have two sisters who umm business
administration. One sister who had a degree in education and one
sister who is a CPA.
Katrina: Did the job that they have here . . or the level . .
or the job that they have here in America, is that like. . .
Did their degree help them?
Mitas: I think so. Yah. I think so. I think that their degree
helped them.
Katrina: Because some people earn a degree in the Philippines
and then they don’t use that degree here because of the . .
Mitas: Correct, right. But sometimes on the other hand I can say
that I mean if you looked at it in terms of what I did, my
degree helped me adjust to my position very well. I worked an
executive assistant to chairman, the president, and CEO but I
mean if you look at it, even my degree in B.S psychology would
not have been good in the Philippines if I just not have any
masters degree or PhD degree, so to be able to work in that
field. So yah no . . . it helped me, it helped me, but it's just
like is it something that I you know, directly . . .you know if
I become a psychologist here? No I did not. I was doing okay in
my job and I didn’t feel that there was something . . . a need
at that point to go to a grad school or something like that. I
mean, I was fulfilled both professionally and also my psyche was
fulfilled as well. So I didn’t think I was missing anything
since I was able to make all the adjustments.
Katrina: Alright. I think that is it for the interview. Thank
you for doing this interview.
Mitas: You’re very welcome. I hope this is helpful to you and to
the organization that’s going to be using this information.
[End Audio File 23:50]
Date Added
February 9, 2021
Filipino Immigrant Oral History Project
Item Type
Oral History
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“Oral History Interview with Mitas Cuenca,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 24, 2024, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/722.