Oral History Interview with Isabelo Somebang


Oral History Interview with Isabelo Somebang


Oral History Interview with Isabelo Somebang, interviewed by Kim Somebang




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




Kim Somebang


Isabelo Somebang


[Session 1, June 8, 2019]
[Begin Audio File]

K SOMEBANG: Hello, so I’m going to interview my dad. Okay. Where and when were you born?

I SOMEBANG: I was born in Bangaan, Sagada, Mountain Province. On December 24, 1956.

K SOMEBANG: And where were your parents born?

I SOMEBANG: They were also born around that area.

K SOMEBANG: What kind of jobs did your parents do?

I SOMEBANG: They are both farmers.

K SOMEBANG: What kind of farmer?

I SOMEBANG: Farming vegetables, rice. They have rice fields. They have garden and that’s it.

K SOMEBANG: Do you know what your great grandparents did?

I SOMEBANG: All of, most of the people who are from that area do the same thing, farming. Just to survive.

K SOMEBANG: So, you came from a big family correct?

I SOMEBANG: Oh yes, yes.

K SOMEBANG: So how many siblings did you have?

I SOMEBANG: I have 6 brothers. No no no. 5 brothers and 1 sister, so there’s 7 of us. Yeah [laugh] because 6 including me and 1 sister. I’m the youngest among us.

K SOMEBANG: Cool, do you know if your parents came from big families?

I SOMEBANG: Uh, yes. Both of them, my dad, there’s also 7 of them, siblings. And my mom, there’s 6 of them siblings. And all of them have their own family. Except my own my dad’s side, one didn’t get married.


I SOMEBANG: But the one that didn’t get married also helped a lot of her nieces and nephews. She helped them get their education.


I SOMEBANG: By providing financial and also telling them about the United States because among us, she is, I think she among the family relatives, I think she’s the second one that came here to the States. And then she came here to the States as a nurse.

K SOMEBANG: Uhm, were your parents. So, was anybody educated?

I SOMEBANG: Uhm, I think both my parents – no. They are not educated. My dad, uh since, uh, where we came from the American missionaries came there since I believe it’s 1898. Missionaries came to Sagada and that’s where my dad learned how to speak English by going with them. And sometimes, my dad will translate from the Missionaries to the people over there because at that time, most of the people there were Pagans. They were practicing Pagans. So, on my dad’s side, according to my dad, our grandfather was one of the first one to convert to Christianity – Episcopal or Anglican in particular. The agreement of the American missionaries and the Catholics were [that] wherever the Catholics are, the American Missionaries will not go to those places. They will go to the places where the people are still Pagans or Atheists as they say. And those are the ones that the American missionaries went to convert them to Episcopalian or Anglicans.

K SOMEBANG: So, when the American Missionaries came, were they welcomed in?

I SOMEBANG: Oh yes, yes. They very much welcomed. And actually, because of the Missionaries, a lot of the people from that isolated area became educated. Down the line, one of the first ones that became bishop of the Philippine Episcopal Church is from that area.


K SOMEBANG: Okay. So as being the youngest in your family, who were the main people taking care of you growing up?

I SOMEBANG: Growing up, mostly it’s my parents because my brothers, when they grow up, they will go to like, go to my uncle’s and they help over there. Or they have better opportunity if they go to other places, go to my uncle’s. And then my sister left early. She was a maid of a priest I think, in Camp John Hay. Camp John Hay is one of the, uh, vacation areas where the American Missionaries or the US military set up over there in Baguio, Philippines. So, it’s mostly – I was – I lived with my parents until I finished high school. I was the one that always stayed with them. Help them, they help me. They nurture me

K SOMEBANG: Okay. Were you, being the youngest again, were you concerned about being a role model to any other younger cousins?

I SOMEBANG: Actually, no because among us, uh, I have cousins that [are] a little bit younger than me but mostly of about 1 or 2 years younger. So, it’s basically I kind of the same age–

K SOMEBANG: Just friends?

I SOMEBANG: Yeah so, not really. But when my nephews and nieces were growing up, yeah of course I was concerned because as I said, I stayed with my parents, uh, until high school and some of my brothers got married early and their kids come to see their grandpa and grandma at our house, and yeah. I was concerned, taking care of them, showing them the right verses the wrong.

K SOMEBANG: What was your academic experience in the Philippines?

I SOMEBANG: Unfortunately, it’s not good because of lack of funds or lack of financial support. I didn’t do good in the Philippines. High school, you know, is good because I studied in a Christian school, Saint James High School in Besao, Mountain Province and, uh, it was good there. But when I went to college, I didn’t do good. And over there, unfortunately during our time there, most of my peers, they smoke and they drink. And of course, ended up drinking and smoking with them instead of going to school. So it wasn’t that good.

K SOMEBANG: In high school?

I SOMEBANG: In college. Because I went to college over there for 2 or 3 years. But I barely pass any subjects because of that.

K SOMEBANG: What college were you going to?

I SOMEBANG: I went to –

K SOMEBANG: And what were you studying?

I SOMEBANG: I was – I went to Mountain State Agricultural College that is right now, it is called Benguet State University. It’s in La Trinidad, Benguet. And when we were growing up, most of the people that – I have cousins that finished forestry in UP Los Banos and I was also encouraged to take forestry. But I didn’t do good.

K SOMEBANG: Did you have any jobs in the Philippines?

I SOMEBANG: No, just a little bit of carpentry, helping, just a little kind of handyman. Not really handy, handy man. But it’s just a labor day job. We have to sometimes, if we just mix, mix cement all day, concrete, that’s all we do. And sometimes just cut a wood or just do some, just do a little work here and there basically.

K SOMEBANG: What were you building?

I SOMEBANG: We were, at that time, my aunt bought a house and we were improving her house.


K SOMEBANG: So, did any family members move to America before you?

I SOMEBANG: Oh yeah, there’s a lot of them. And actually, how I came here was – I have a cousin who opened a restaurant in Natchitoches, Louisiana and offered me to go over there in Louisiana and, uh, the arrangement was good. Uh, he will pay my tuition to college and in return, I have to work at his restaurant. Unfortunately that didn’t, that didn’t materialize. [cough] I stayed with them but, uh, I noticed that from the get-go, I noticed that they were more interested in me working at the restaurant, making money. And in return, they weren’t really concerned about my studies so that’s why it didn’t work out.

I have to support myself. I studied over there in Northwestern University in Louisiana and I have a degree. But when I finished, I didn’t use that degree to find a job unfortunately.

K SOMEBANG: So, did you wish you did something in that field?

I SOMEBANG: Yes, I wish I studied more of – the thing there is, not making excuses, but when I was going to school and at the same time working hard, when I left my cousins restaurant, I worked in, uh, fried chicken restaurant, Farmer’s Brown. And then I don’t know if you have heard of Church’s Fried Chicken – I worked there and actually, I became a manager and I thought I was doing good. I was promised a franchise store later on down the line, but that also flamed out.

K SOMEBANG: Okay, so, when exactly did you immigrate to the Philippines? I mean, to America?

I SOMEBANG: I came here in the States in August of 1981 and I came as a student. I have a student visa because as I said, the arrangement with my cousin was: I come here to pursue my education and then work at his restaurant. So I came here as a student at first, to learn English as a foreign language. That was on my application.

K SOMEBANG: So when you came here, was there a huge language barrier for you or with your education with a background of American Missionaries, was that helpful?

I SOMEBANG: Yeah, actually no because when I came here I already – not good, good, good, polished English. But I already – I’m already – I can already speak English. So there’s no problem. Actually, it’s interesting because when I was in Louisiana studying at university, I was helping some of the students from other foreign countries like Thailand or Japan, Taiwan, even the Middle East – Israel and Iran – I have some friends that yeah, they really have a hard time, so I was helping some of those.

K SOMEBANG: Did you wish you travelled or went other places before coming to the US?

I SOMEBANG: Uh, not really no.

K SOMEBANG: Was it ever your goal to come to America and stay here?

I SOMEBANG: Not really because, uh, I have another cousin that has, that was offered by my cousin to come to work at his restaurant, but I don’t know what happened between that [cough], between my cousin and our cousin in Louisiana, I don’t know what happened because he was just waiting for his plane ticket to come to America. Then next thing you know, I was told that if I was asked if I am interested in to come here, and of course, everybody at that time in the Philippines, everybody wants to come here. So, and without hesitation, I said “yes, I want to go” and that’s how I ended up here.

K SOMEBANG: What were your thoughts about America before you moved here?

I SOMEBANG: It was, uh, everybody’s goal to come here. Yeah, as I said, I have an aunt, I have an uncle, I have some cousins that’s already here and every time they always talk about how good is America compared to America, so of course I wanna [cough] – I want to come here also.

K SOMEBANG: Now that you’ve been living here for, how many years?

I SOMEBANG: I – 81 – now it’s 2019… That’s what, 81, 91, 2001, 2011… What, 30 – 37, 38 years? It’s uh, it’s good, uh you know, I still have a feeling about my home country the Philippines. Uh, so, by grace of God if I retire, maybe I spend some time here with my kids and some time, go back to the Philippines. Maybe 6 months here, 6 months there.


K SOMEBANG: So what was different about living here opposed to living in the Philippines?

I SOMEBANG: Living here is of course, the environment is a big, big, big, big difference. Pollution in the Philippines is really bad. Over here, well, clean air and also the food. The food here is a lot cleaner or even, you know, food poisoning – not very common here, over there, yeah it is very common. Sanitation also. And then, most importantly, me and my wife are getting old. Health insurance and medical care is also important to us. That’s why if we can live there for 6 months and then come here for 6 months, get ourselves checked and then go back again, that’s the goal.

K SOMEBANG: What was, what would you say was the biggest obstacle to overcome when you first was trying to assimilate here?

I SOMEBANG: I guess, hey, that’s an interesting question because when I [cough] – the place, the town where I went in Louisiana, maybe there’s not even 10 are considered Asian Americans, there’s very few of us so that’s the difficult one because everything you see is either white or black. So you keep communicating in English. And of course the cultures is – culture is different. Louisiana is, you know, over there in the Philippines it’s okay, but when I went to Louisiana, it’s very conservative state. And then racism, I noticed that where I stayed in Louisiana because as they say, there’s white neighborhood and there’s black neighborhood. So those are kind of hard to adjust to. You have to learn to, [think] “Wait a minute, I’m in a black neighborhood, I better behave like ‘this’.” The same thing if you go to a white neighborhood, you have to behave differently, like try to be one of them but, I of course, I’m not. Yeah.

K SOMEBANG: Were you ever motivated to bring your siblings here?

I SOMEBANG: I was. Unfortunately, by that time that I have a chance, well they also have their own family. And they have some to take care of, so I was thinking of nieces and nephews but what I did was try to help them, some of them, to get their education first and tell them what kind of jobs that they would be better off if they study like, well of course Filipinos, not just Filipinos, but all the people there, nursing is very uh, common. Here, there’s a lot of Filipino nurses here so some of them, I tell them, “If you want a better way to come here, study nursing. I will help a little bit, whatever I can do to help for your tuition.” And we did that, but unfortunately, uh, nobody ever graduated because of our help. Instead, the money that we sent, they use it for other stuff such as smoking or drinking or whatever.

K SOMEBANG: Uhm, now that you’re here, how has it been teaching your kids about your background? Because, because, both of your kids are both born in America, were there, are there – did you have goals in teaching them your background and the culture?


I SOMEBANG: Well yeah, of course, uh, over here, luckily where we came from, and there’s as I said, we are from the Mountain Province, and Mountain Province used to be called Bontoc. And there’s this organization where the nearby provinces called “BIBAK”: Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao, and Kalinga – they have a big organization and 1 of the missions or goals of that organization is to pass on the culture to the kids, and that’s what we’ve been doing. My wife and I try to educate our 2 girls of the culture that we came from, the traditions that we practice.


The same thing, they are very lucky that, uh, when we first went home to the Philippines, my parents were gone. But my wife’s dad was still alive, so we were able to introduce them to my wife’s dad and yeah, he was telling them about the traditions that we do – we practice as, uh, we call ourselves “Igorots,” what we practice. And also of course, we are Christians, so we do it both ways according to my wife’s dad, we can do our own culture and then on Sundays, we can also go to church.

And luckily, I was able – we were able to uh, pass that on to our kids. And so far, uh, they learned because like, Kim, when Kim came here to Davis, there’s this Filipino cultural night and for 2 years she was able to showcase the traditions or the practices that we do from those 5 provinces.

K SOMEBANG: Okay, well I think that answered a lot, thank you for your time.

I SOMEBANG: Of course! [laughs]
Date Added
February 9, 2021
Filipino Immigrant Oral History Project
Item Type
Oral History
, , , , , , , ,
“Oral History Interview with Isabelo Somebang,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 24, 2024, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/732.