Oral History Interview with Russ Rino
Interview w/ Russ Rino
Transcription completed by: Tara Rino
TR: Okay, so can you please introduce yourself?
RR: Russ Rino.
TR: Okay, so we’re just gonna be talking about your experience as a Filipino immigrant, and moving to America. So, when and where were you born and raised?
RR: I was born and raised in Pililla, Rizal, Philippines.
TR: When were you born?
RR: February 18th.
TR: What year?
TR: Okay, so can you please share any memories or experiences growing up in the Philippines?
RR: Well, I came from a family of 11 siblings. So, my father was receiving what we call pension from the American government. And my mother was always a housewife. And it was a challenge for a big family like ours. And so from my childhood I was always aspiring to do something better. I want the better version of myself.
TR: What were you aspiring to be at that time?
RR: During those days, I really wanted to be a lawyer. But later on as I get a little older, I realize that it would have been a very expensive proposition. And during high school days, raised as a Catholic, going to Catholic high school, I actually wanted to be a priest. Then I looked at my younger siblings, and I said, “Well, if I go to priesthood, I don't think anybody can provide education to my three younger brothers.” So I keep on with my dream of becoming an engineer, and I did.
TR: So, can you talk about some challenges that your family had?
RR: Yes, one of the challenges in a big family is we have sufficient food, having abundance of rice, vegetables, and daily needs. But the biggest challenge for me, myself, is finances. So, during elementary school I learned how to sell bread. Back in the Philippines, we call it Pandesal. That is the most popular breakfast for Filipino people. Then during the day, this is during my elementary school, I will sell what we call here ice cream. And I save money to help myself go to school. And then in high school, my father, being politically well connected, high school days I was working for the government in the highway construction. I was what we call a timekeeper. I keep track of all the highway construction workers’ time. And again, trying to save money. And then college, my first two years of college, I was fortunate enough to academically qualify for a two-year scholarship from the biggest oil gas company in the Philippines: CalTex, which stands for California-Texas oil, a joint venture of Texas oil and standard oil here in Californa and Texas. And then after my two-year college, I worked for the Philippine government during the day and then at night time, I will hop on the bus, go to the University Belt in the Philippines that is in what we call a place called Quiapo, then I was going to my night school, going for my chemical engineering degree.
TR: So how much did you make selling Pandesal and ice cream?
RR: Oh, I don’t know.. Pandesal and ice cream? If I make 10 pesos a day, during those times, that’s plentiful. And then during high school years, working for the provincial government, I was earning the minimum wage of 4 pesos an hour. So again, that money was basically for myself. Saving it for my college years. And then, my first two years, as I said, I was a two-year scholar of the oil company CalTex and I was receiving a monthly… not salary but it’s a scholarship expense of about 350 dollars a month. For the next 2 years of my college scholarship.
TR: So, were you the first in your family to move to America from the Philippines?
RR: Yes I was. And then I brought seven siblings after I obtained my US citizenship. So, except for one, all of those siblings are still here in America.
TR: Can you talk about your experience moving here? How did it happen?
RR: Well again, I was always aspiring for a better life. Always looking for what we call in the Philippines “greener pasture”. High school days and college days, that young age, most young men will be maybe looking for a girlfriend, but I wasn’t. I was focused on my studies because I have an ambition to one day come to America. And good enough, I was able to do that, with focusing on my ambition. So here I am, fifty years later, still doing what I think is good for my family.
TR: So how did you move here?
RR: Well, again, life is tough in the Philippines.
TR: No, how did you get to America?
RR: I am what you’d call first batch of Filipino professionals to come to America, meaning college educated. And so I applied at the U.S. immigration office in Manila, Philippines.
TR: So, what are some of your favorite memories of growing up in the Philippines?
RR: Coming from a big family, siblings of eleven, it was always fun playing with my brothers and sisters. Those were my priceless moments. So when I came to America, November 2nd, 1968, for months, I could not adjust to American life. My first year in America, I always wanted to go back to the Philippines and be with my family. There were moments in time that I will say, “Oh, I wish I had stayed there.” That’s how much I missed my family. Although I was always aspiring to come to America, but once I got here, it wasn’t as easy I thought it would be. Because then again, I was longing, I was missing my family. And it got to the point where… and I came you know, November timeframe, cold, and not knowing many very many people, I was really homesick.
TR: So, when you first came here it was just you by yourself?
TR: So where did you get situated in America at first?
RR: Well, not knowing any better, I ended up living with strangers, people that I’ve never met, people that I did not know. I was just introduced to them by some folks in the Philippines. So my first three months, I was living with a couple.
RR: Again, not knowing much about the area, I settled in East Palo Alto of all places.
TR: So what happened after that?
RR: Well, soon after, within a month of my arrival, through people that I did not know, I was able to get a job from a electronic manufacturing company in San Carlos. And for what it’s worth, to this very moment, I still remember this company’s name, which was Lenkurt Electronics in San Carlos, California. And not owning a car, I was carpooling with a woman that I was introduced to and her husband.
TR: So did you get the job because of your engineering degree from the Philippines?
RR: No, actually, having a degree coming from the Philippines, I felt like that was used against me in the sense that I was overqualified for the job that I first landed. It was an electric manufacturing company and I did not have to disclose my degree otherwise I probably would have not been accepted for that assembly position for an engineer coming from the Philippines. All I had was $300 in my pocket and a need to survive, a need to find a job quickly so I can settled in East Palo Alto.
TR: So did you get that job right when you came to America or how long did it take?
RR: Yeah, within a month of my arrival. And it’s rather easy during those years to find a job because there were plenty of job openings in manufacturing, although Vietnam War was getting to its end and there were also many job applicants.
TR: So you were in America around the time of the Vietnam War?
RR: Yeah, I arrived here in November 2nd, 1968 and the American government was beginning to pull out the American troops from Vietnam. So many Vietnam War veterans were out there looking for a job. And you know, they had the priority over other applicants and they so well-deserved it. After all, they served for the country.
TR: So are you still an engineer today or did that change?
RR: No, just to backtrack a little bit, I always wanted to practice my chemical engineering profession. So when I first arrived here, my first month, this was before I took that electronic manufacturing job, I went to Chicago, Illinois. I applied for a chemical engineering position. I had a good letter of recommendation coming from the vice president of the oil company back in the Philippines, CalTex. Highly recommended to Standard Oil of California and I went to their San Francisco headquarters on Sansome Street. But you know, there was not very many demand for chemical engineers in California. And that’s why for about two weeks, I went back East or Midwest, I went to Chicago and looked for a chemical engineering job. I found one, but by that time, I realized how cold Chicago can get. So I declined the job offer and instead flew back to California.
TR: So you came from the Philippines to Palo Alto, and then you went to Chicago, and then you came back?
RR: Yeah, I was just staying, I had a coworker from the government agency in the Philippines that I worked with and so for two weeks, I stayed with him in Chicago. And I went as far as Miluwakee, Wisconsin, which is neighboring state of Illinois, looking for a chemical engineering job. But again, I found one in Chicago area but did not take it.
TR: So you said that your first couple months in America was hard, so what did expectations did you have of America before you came?
RR: Well, it’s probably the same expectations which is not really the way it is, by many people in the Philippines. People in the Philippines think that money in America grows in the tree, which is not at all. Soon after settling here, then I realized that beginning your life in America can be very difficult and at times very disheartening, not the way I was expecting it. But someone has to adjust.
TR: Once you started to get settled in, did you feel disconnected from the Filipino culture, or did you find a way to stay connected with your culture?
RR: Well, just to give you a quick background, my father was well politically-connected in the Philippines. Actually, my plan was to stay in America for five years and go back after that because at the time, it was president Marcos who was in the government. And a very good and close family friend of us, a good buddy of my father, Senator Salonga was going to, well the assumption was going to be the next president after President Marcos. And being a close family friend, I was hoping that after five years here, and when he becomes the president, I would go back there and probably get a good paying, good position in the Philippine government. But as I look back, I have no regrets. If that had happened, if President Marcos did not declare Martial Law, and Senator Salonga became president, I can only predict that knowing how the Philippine government runs, I could have been working for a good position in the government but I would have been corrupted. So again, you know, destiny was on my favor that I stayed in America. So here I am, working hard on my own, achieving American dreams, and helping not only my family, but other extended families or friends. So I had no regrets.
TR: Yeah but did you feel like you were still connected to the Filipino culture or did you feel more Americanized at all, throughout your life here?
RR: After my first ten years here, I sort of disconnected with the Philippine culture. And now, I don’t even go back to the Philippines for like every eleven years, thirteen years. My family is here, and to me this is home. I love the Philippine culture, I love the Philippines being my native country, but at the end of the day, America is my home.
TR: Do you still have any Filipino traditions and values that you keep alive in your family today?
RR: Well my number one would be the religion. I try very hard to do my obligation to God and then next to my fellow men. I tried very hard to pay tribute to God, attending Sunday masses when it is possible. Eighty, eighty-five percent of my Sunday commitment to God almighty. I’m able to accomplish that by going to mass. Not until the pandemic happened, then I do the virtual mass during Sundays.
TR: So what does being Filipino-American mean to you?
RR: Well again, I’m very proud to be Filipino. But by the same token, for what it’s worth, I am more Americanized in more ways than one. Politically, I’m totally disconnected in the Philippines. I don’t know (and not in a bad way), I don’t care who runs the Philippine government but at times when I watch the news when I get on a Filipino channel, it hits home when I see beautiful places back in the Philippines which I never travelled. I was pretty much contained in Manila. What is very disheartening to me though, watching Filipino television channels, is how oppressed and how poor the Filipino people are. So you know, to me that is heartbreaking.
TR: So how many times have you visited the Philippines since you moved in America?
RR: In my fifty some years living in America, five times only.
TR: What are those experiences like coming back?
RR: Well, overall, it was good experience seeing my siblings, relatives. But after ten, maybe twelve days at the most, I am looking to fly back to America. I don’t think I can ever adjust to Filipino way of living anymore. As I said earlier, this is home for me.
TR: So you don’t enjoy being in the Philippines anymore?
RR: Well the time, the number of days that I stay there. I love the Filipino culture. If anything else, and even here in America, I enjoy food. I always tell my friends the two things that I truly love [about] being alive is eating and playing mahjong. Mahjong is a very traditional way of spending your time with friends. And to my opinion, it also, especially for someone my age, it also sharpens your mind. It makes you think. So yeah, those are the two things I enjoy in life.
TR: So do you try to pass on any parts of Filipino culture onto your kids, like the language or anything?
RR: Not really, because everyone in my family speaks English. At times, I will ask them to pay a visit to the Philippines, but with all candidness, I’m totally (for the most part) disconnected with the Philippines.
TR: Do you have anything specific you want to share? Like about your experiences throughout your life, anything about being Filipino/Filipino-American?
RR: As you get older, you appreciate life more and you really want to give the best you can to your family. Just trying to do the right thing and still, I’m very active in what I do in life which is real estate and also I am slowly developing a second business venture which is helping a family, getting them educated, how to make money and how to invest wisely, and this other business venture that I am focusing more and more, we have a saying that “No family is left behind.” In the financial world, unless you have $250,000 sitting in your bank account, there is no financial advisor that will even talk to you. They won’t give you their time to give you financial education on how to make and save money, how to avoid paying too much on your income tax. So, more and more, I am focusing on this new business venture. But by the same token, after forty years of real estate life, I am still out there, helping families and I am very competitive. My company obviously is owned by Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway. It’s a very competitive environment, and I’m telling you, I’m saying this with no bad taste, that I’m giving those young realtors a run for their money. I’m out there helping families whether buying or selling homes, and I’m good on what I do. After forty years of being a real estate agent.
TR: So you’re obviously very educated and successful. How would you compare yourself to your siblings that live here in America? You said you have six, seven?
RR: Eight siblings as we speak.
TR: How many are in America?
RR: Four of us here in America. The other sisters had gone back and retired in the Philippines. Well, I don’t know. I try not to compare myself with other people and not to compare myself with my siblings, but I feel good. I think I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in America. I feel very successful and I think financially, owning multiple real estate properties, I think in my own little way, I am very successful.
TR: Did you help your siblings get here to America?
RR: Yes indeed. I brought them all one by one, Some of them took me seventeen years. Some of them took me eighteen, nineteen years to bring them over. But that patience at the end of the day pays off. So they are all here, well still three of them (four including myself) are all here enjoying the American life.
TR: Do you think you could talk about the process for bringing each sibling? And you can use their names. In any order, doesn’t matter.
RR: Not anymore. The US government, and I think I can look back to the years of Bill Clinton, President Clinton. I think that’s when the Immigration Law had started shifting. Prior to that, you have this… I don’t know if you would call it US citizenship “privilege” that you can bring your siblings, whether it’s brother or sister, you can petition for them. And as I said, depending on the priorities, some of my siblings came here after eighteen years of me filing petition on their behalf. Some of them eighteen, nineteen years. But the US government had stopped doing that from the Philippines, anyway. I don’t know of any other countries and other parts of the world that are still privileged to bring their siblings to America, but at least in the Philippines, that immigration benefit for Filpino people had stopped couple decades ago.
TR: Wait why did it take so many years, like eighteen, nineteen years for some of them?
RR: Because of many applicants. Can you imagine, every single country in the world, from small countries, island countries to even big countries, everybody wants to migrate to America. So just the immigration process is just very cumbersome, for that very reason that people want to come in to America. And I don’t know why, I think nowadays it’s sort of late to migrate to America because now, it’s not what it was like twenty-some years ago.
TR: So you said when you first came to America, you were in Palo Alto. How did you end up here in San Jose?
RR: Well, soon after that, I think I stayed in East Palo Alto for about a year, adjusting life, working, and always trying to better myself. And then after that, I start making a little more money, I was able to buy a brand new car, and then I moved to Santa Clara. Still living in an apartment. I had no real estate background, nobody had given me any education on real estate. So at some point in my life, 1969 to 1971, I moved down to Southern California because I was getting tired of working for the electronic manufacturing and so I reached out to a company that I worked for in the Philippines after I left the Philippine government. I worked for a company, that was shortly before migrating to America. A company called Philippine Standard, which is the Philippine operations of America Standard. There in that company, I was able to practice some of my chemical engineering background. I was a lab technician for American Standard in Torrance, California. All it took was one phone call and I introduced myself to the vice president of operations for American Standard and I told them that I worked for their Philippine plant. Gave them a quick background of myself and January 1970, they invited me to fly down to Torrance, California for a job interview and after that interview, I was accepted. Then I moved down to Southern California. I lived there for about twenty-five, twenty-six months. After that length of time, I realized that that is really not the place I wanted to live the rest of my life [in]. It was very crowded, and so I moved back to now what we call Silicon Valley. So here I am in San Jose, California.
TR: Did you end up living with your siblings at any point when you were in America?
RR: No, pretty much on my own. I bought my first house in Santa Clara and my first sibling that came to America, he lived with me.
TR: What’s his name?
RR: Roland. At that time, I was working for a company in Mountain View called Spectra Physics. And so I got my brother Roland a job at Spectra Physics. I was in that company for about thirteen years. Until I did not want to be a part of a manufacturing environment anymore. So May 1980 is when I passed my real estate exam from the state of California and I worked real estate for five years after I got my license in 1980. So by 1985, I completely disconnected myself in the manufacturing company. By then, I had established my real estate career and now after all those years, I’m still doing real estate strongly. Still making a difference in families’ lives.
TR: So what was it like moving to America and being away from your parents?
RR: Tough. Again as I said earlier, there was a point in my life that I said, “Oh, I probably should have stayed in the Philippines. I will probably be still poor, but at least I am with my family.” But you know, after all those years, again, I have no regret. Keeping on, always striving to do better, always wanting to improve, always wanting to bring the best version of myself, and so again here I am. Fifty-some years after, living happily in America with my family.
TR: So when you moved from the Philippines to America, was it just a straight flight to America?
RR: I can tell you this much, and that was my first experience to fly. I flew Northwest Airlines. And our point of entry to America from the Philippines was Seattle, Washington. And so that was a two, maybe three hour layover from Seattle, Washington airport and then Northwest Airlines flew us down to San Francisco. And that was the beginning of my American life.
TR: Do you think you were able to fulfill the dreams you had growing up in your life now in America? Like your dreams and aspirations?
RR: Here in America?
RR: Oh yes, definitely. I would have not been in this stage of my life had I not migrated in America. And who knows, knowing the life in the Philippines, I may not have lived this long. Here, healthy environment, peaceful surroundings, healthy food. If I need any doctor attention, I can easily get it, although at my age, I’m very healthy, I have no health issues. The only issue I have as far as my health is I have a minor case of asthma and that is under control. And then enjoying eating and until about ten, twelve years ago I wasn’t eating healthy, I did not know any better. Eating red meat to non red meat. So I learned that to live healthy, you just have to watch your diet. And I am doing great on that. For the most part, I only eat chicken and fish. And again, thank God. No health issues at this point in my life. And with God upward watching me and me doing my part as far as behaving on what I take in, I intend and I plan to be around for a little while longer.
TR: Have you ever made any observations between your family here in America and maybe like your siblings’ families that live in the Philippines?
RR: Well there’s no comparison. In the Philippines, just to track back a little bit, that was one of my motivation to get out of the country: it’s either you are poor or you are rich. My family, fortunately, we were not poor. But I would not even call us in the middle because there’s nothing in between. But we were fortunate enough because of my parents’ land holding. We were able to plant rice, vegetables, fruits, the daily stipend, the daily human needs. So, we were not deprived of the common commodities. Not financially rich, but we were okay.
TR: How valuable do you view the Filipino-American community in your life?
RR: At one point in my life, I was well connected with Filipino associations here in Silicon Valley. But as I continue working real estate, I am doing less of that and spending more time in real estate. After all, that is my passion. So I have not been involved in any local Filipino associations, but I would at times attend different regional Filipino association gatherings. Whether it’s from Central Philippines, Northern Philippines, or whatever part of the Philippines, when they reach out to me, I was always there for them. I will give financial support through advertising my real estate business. So, I’m still there whenever I’m need by the Filipino communities.
TR: So you’re happy living here in America?
RR: Very much so. That’s an understatement.
TR: Is there any final statements or memories you wanna share?
RR: Well, I think from my experience on my childhood, always working, doing the things that I did in elementary school, selling bread, selling ice cream. Then high school, I had my own banana, papaya plantations so on weekends I can reach out to three, four buddies and say, “Hey, help me pick vegetables so I can sell it to the market so I can use that money for my high school expense.” And then, moving to America, you know, never stopped. Just like in the Philippines. At my age, I am still working. I think I will get bored if I stay home because I am used to always [being] out there helping families achieve their American dream of home ownership, nothing put a smile on my face than handing a house key to my home buyer, first time home buyer because I was able to help them “Put a roof on their head,” as they say. So to me, what I am doing is my passion. And then this added value in my real estate business, the insurance business that I am slowly but surely developing, I am even able to help other families by educating them on how to leverage on their income by not paying too much income tax return to the government. There are ways to do that legally. I mean it’s something that I wish I could discuss here but for respect of time, I won’t do that. It can be very time-consuming. I am and truly enjoying my life in America.
TR: Okay, thank you!
RR: You are very welcome. I hope this will help a little bit for whatever use this video interview.
TR: Thank you for your time.
RR: You’re very welcome. Enjoy the rest of your day.
- Immigrant experience
- Bay Area Filipino-American
- First generation
- Date Added
- January 5, 2022
- Filipino American Experiences Oral History Project
- Item Type
- Oral History
- Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, “Oral History Interview with Russ Rino,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 29, 2023, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/769.