Oral History Interview With Cynthia Salonga Pizarro


Oral History Interview With Cynthia Salonga Pizarro


Oral History Interview With Cynthia Salonga Pizarro, interviewed by Therese Pizarro




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




Therese Pizarro


Cynthia Salonga Pizarro


[Begin Audio File]
THERESE PIZARRO: Okay, it is June 9th, 2019 and it's 5 p.m. This is Therese interviewing for the Filipino Immigrant Oral History Project.
THERESE PIZARRO: Today I'm interviewing:
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Cynthia Salonga Pizarro.
THERESE PIZARRO: So where and when were you born?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: I was born in Manila, Philippines, on May 23, 1958.
THERESE PIZARRO: Where and when were your parents born?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My mother was born in Manila, the same place where I was born, on February 19, 1918. My father was born in Pampanga Philippines on September 4, 1919.
THERESE PIZARRO: Where were your grandparents born?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My maternal grandparents were both born in Bulacan, Bulacan, Philippines while my paternal grandparents were both born in Macabebe, Pampanga, Philippines.
THERESE PIZARRO: What jobs did your parents do?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Both of my parents were lawyers. My father worked for the government, Bureau of Internal Revenue for the counterpart of our International -I'm sorry-Internal Revenue Service. My mother had a private law practice, and at the same time, had a small business that served as a middleman for fishermen in the fish market owners in the Philippines.
THERESE PIZARRO: What jobs did your grandparents do?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My maternal grandparents are the small loan company that accepted parcels of land and residential houses. My paternal grandparents were both farmers.
THERESE PIZARRO: How many siblings did you have? And did you come from a big family?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Oh, yes. I come from a very big family. I have two elder brothers and four elder sisters. Unfortunately, my eldest brother passed away twenty-eight years ago at the age of forty.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did any of your family members moved to America before you?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Yes, one of my sisters moved to America ten years before me. She moved here because her husband was assigned by the government to work at the Philippine Embassy as a commercial attaché.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did your sister who moved to America before you ever talk to you about her experiences? How would she describe America to you?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My sister who moved to America before me talked whole a lot about her experiences when I moved here. I have experienced at least 80% of what she had experienced. It may be because we have both come from the same background thus we have very similar expectations. The thing that we highly agreed upon is the limitless opportunities. Both of us agree that hard work and determination are required though. I remember quite well that she told me that America is a beautiful country where you can be your own person and you would be able to support yourself and your family if you work hard.
THERESE PIZARRO: What was your academic experience in the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: I graduated in 1983 from a medical school in the Philippines. After passing the board examinations, I specialized in infectious diseases for two-and-a-half years in a government hospital. The training gave me a very good exposure to my chosen field of interest.
THERESE PIZARRO: What is your elementary school or middle school, high school, college or medical school like for you?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: When I started elementary school, I was very much intimidated because the medium of instruction in the Philippines is English, which I could hardly speak. I only spoke Tagalog and a dialect, Kapampangan. Spanish was also taught in grade school, high school and college although I did not find it hard because it was quite similar to Tagalog. Ultimately. I learned English after a year in grade school. High school and college would have been fun but the pressure to get high grades to get to medical school made it otherwise. Medical school requires a lot of studying and sleepless nights, but I was willing to give it my all because my childhood dream was to be a doctor. It was not the best four years of my life, but it made me realize that it was something I would want to do for the rest of my life.
THERESE PIZARRO: What were some struggles you faced growing up?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My life was not a bed of roses, but I cannot complain because I had so much blessings. The only thing I wish I had was my mom. She passed away when I was a baby. My dad had to struggle with it too since he was left with seven children. When there were important events in school, most of my classmates would have both parents unlike me. My dad did the best he could for me not to feel the void. There were issues that my dad cannot relate but I am sure if my mom were alive she would have.
THERESE PIZARRO: What was your professional experience like in the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Before I started my infectious disease residency, I worked in a community hospital as a general practitioner seeing both young and old patients for a year and a half. 50% of cases for obstetrics, prenatal visits, and some subsequent childbirth. The rest of the patients' visits were because of hypertension, diabetes and common childhood diseases. After my training in infectious diseases, I put up my own clinic and practiced for two years before migrating to America.
THERESE PIZARRO: Why did you decide to move out of the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Leaving the Philippines, where I was born and raised was not an easy decision to make, but the prospect of learning more, especially the new trends in medicine was very encouraging since the U.S. is the pioneer in almost every field of medicine.
THERESE PIZARRO: When did you move to the United States?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: I have visited the United States two times before I decided to move here in 1991.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did you move anywhere else before settling in the United States?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: All my life, I've been living in the Philippines before I moved to the United States.
THERESE PIZARRO: What were your thoughts about America before you moved here?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: While in the Philippines, I have met a lot of Americans living there and through them, I got a good idea of what American culture and every life would be. Since the Philippines was under the Spanish, American- I'm sorry- the American rule for 33 years and since the Americans were the first teachers, as I said previously, the medium of instruction is English in school. We were taught U.S. geography, U.S. literature, and more importantly, U.S. history. My thoughts of the U.S. was that it was a country where equality exists and opportunities abound. What even made it more attractive was the thought of diversity and tolerance among its people.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did your thoughts change after you arrived?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: There were things that changed after my two visits, and after moving and living here. It was not exactly how I envisioned it, but quite close. The beautiful places and the cleanliness was just as I had thought, read and seen in pictures. It was a little unfortunate that the equality that I thought was limited to a certain extent. Somehow, I saw isolated cases of racism towards American Africans, Hispanics, and Asians. This, however, gave me more motivation to learn and work harder to prove my worth and to gain success. The belief that here in this country, hard work and determination will lead to success is very true. The limitless opportunities that attract people of all races, religions, and backgrounds is very visible.
THERESE PIZARRO: What was different about living in America as opposed to living the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Two things that are very different here in America are the availability of opportunities and the transparency in government. I also have noticed that most Americans followed the law which seems second nature to them. Significantly people here learn to be independent at an early age, which is hardly seen in the Philippines because there are so many help available back home from family and friends.
THERESE PIZARRO: Where did you first live in the United States? Did you stay with your family or were you alone?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: I first lived with my sister in Chino Hills. In the Philippines, I only drove occasionally, but in Chino Hills driving became a necessity since public transportation are not available then.
THERESE PIZARRO: Have you lived anywhere else in America besides Chino Hills?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Yes, because of my husband's profession, we actually moved everywhere. I have lived in Delaware, where my children were born, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island aside from California.
THERESE PIZARRO: What jobs did you perform when you moved to America?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My first job was medical assisting and medical transcribing. The assisting part was easy, but transcribing was difficult for me because I did not have any computer background, but eventually, I was able to cope up.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did your professional or academic experiences help you get the job? Was the job related to your previous profession in the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My professional experience and academic experience helped me secure the job, although initially, I was told that I was overqualified. I assured them that I'm willing to accept any job related to medicine to gain experience and support myself financially. I have performed other jobs in America. I have not actually- I have to change it. After this medical assisting, medical transcribing, I was not. After I got married, I decided to devote my time to my family, especially my son, who at that time, had so many medical needs. To this day, I do not regret giving up a lucrative career for the sake of my family and as I look back, it was one of the best decisions I have made, although it was not an easy one.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did you go back to school here in America?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: I went back to school in America, but it was a review of school to prepare me to take up the U.S. Medical licensure exam which I successfully passed. Although the method of teaching and books are the same, the approaching clinical practice is quite different and more updated here because there were so many ongoing medical researches.
THERESE PIZARRO: What was your experience like in review school? And how did it differ from school in the Philippines?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: My experience in the review school here was very different from the schools I attended in the Philippines. I have never studied that much in my life. Sometimes, my friends and I would start with studying from 7 a.m until 11 p.m. The pressure to pass the board exam was extremely high and the pressure was too much. I don't know how I was able to survive the gruesome ordeal that I was confronted with, the chance to practice in America was a chance of a lifetime for me then.
THERESE PIZARRO: Did you notice anything different between first-generation immigrants and the Filipino American Community?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Well, the first generation immigrants have a very distinct cultural identity compared to the Filipino American communities who have been living here for quite a while. With each succeeding generation, I noticed that they tend to lose their attachment to the Filipino traditions and values. They tend to be more American as they learn to assimilate in this country, which is very understandable. If we take it, there's an old Roman saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
THERESE PIZARRO: Were there any challenges you faced when immigrating or living in America? How did you overcome them?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: The change in lifestyle and adjustment to the new surroundings was a very big challenge. More so being away from most of my family was quite devastating. Somehow, I also experienced loneliness. Back home, there were people doing things for me. But here I have to do a lot of things myself mostly, domestic though.
THERESE PIZARRO: What is an important lesson you've learned in your life or in your journey?
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: Well, an important lesson I've learned is that you cannot control everything in life, no matter how hard you try. You can give it your best shot but if it was not meant to be then it will never happen. Adjustments and compromise need to be made once in a while. It is also important to note that happiness always comes from within; it does not come from people places or events. You make your own happiness in life.
THERESE PIZARRO: So it is 5:15 and this concludes our interview and I just want to say thank you for your time.
CYNTHIA PIZARRO: You're welcome.
[End audio file]
Date Added
February 9, 2021
Filipino Immigrant Oral History Project
Item Type
Oral History
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“Oral History Interview With Cynthia Salonga Pizarro,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 18, 2024, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/728.