From Cinder Blocks to Picket Fences: The Immigrant Journey of a Rural Paperboy

Abigail Calumpit

MHC Seminar 150: People of New York City

Provincial Philippines

At the break of dawn, a little boy woke up and cautiously tiptoed through a sea sleeping bodies, careful not to wake his siblings up. He slipped on his worn-out, holed flip-flops, glanced back at the room, readied himself, and mustered as many baskets of warm bread and rolls of newspapers as he could carry.


Living on a rice farm in a poor provincial town in the Philippines, Sid tirelessly marched from house to house, crossing unreliable wooden bridges and traversing through miles and miles of unpaved road. After selling the bread and newspapers for a meager earning equivalent to roughly $2 USD, the boy quickly traveled back home to prepare for school, located on the other side of the village. After receiving his daily dose of a third-rate education with forty of his peers, he returned home to help tend the rice paddies.


This seven-year-old newspaper and bread boy, far too industrious for his age, was named Sid. He was only one amongst the nine children in his household helping his parents supplement the scrappy earnings of a farm business. Had the family found alternative sources of food beyond what was grown, the farm may have brought more profitable earnings.


However, such was not the case for Sid’s farm: having eleven heads in the household meant having eleven mouths to feed. In just one day, the family would nearly exhaust all of a week’s worth of harvest. Some days, they would have to sacrifice their grumbling stomachs and sell their crops in return for sufficient capital to maintain the farm. For nearly ten more years, Sid would repeat his laborious morning routine with utmost diligence, fostering an intensifying desire for a better life with each passing day.


During his second year of high school, Sid arrived home to the news that his father was killed from a shot to the head by some people who opposed his father’s political beliefs. With the death of his father and the family’s breadwinner, the boy and the rest of the family spiraled deeper into poverty.


Despite being the 6th child and the youngest boy, Sid vowed to step up and fill the role his father once did. As a result of hard work and resilience, he received a scholarship to a prestigious university in Metro Manila, the capital of Philippines as well as the most populous city in the country. Upon graduation, he quickly secured a job, sending nearly all of his little wage back to the farm at home to aid his siblings.


At the early age of twenty-seven, Sid enjoyed financial independence and maintained a family of his own. He was finally able to live in his own three-story cinder block home, eat rather sufficiently, and provide adequate monetary assistance for his extended family. However, the long hours of labor as a child and the traumatic experience following the murder of his father had deeply ingrained a strong sense of desire in his heart.


Sid was neither satisfied with his meager earnings as a university professor nor was he comfortable with letting his children roam in gang-stricken streets. “Philippines was a terrible place to live in,” Sid asserted. “There were too many crimes and corruption happening everywhere. I made the choice to move when I myself was held at knife-point just for my pocket money. Right then and there, I knew I cannot let this happen to my wife and children.” Although he was now living a comfortable life, he still yearned to leave the Philippines with his family in hopes of living under better conditions, one with a safe, welcoming, and enriching environment.


Sid simply foresaw a better future in the United States for himself and his family.


After years of careful research and consultation with his wife and siblings, Sid took the first and largest step of his life towards the long and ever winding road for an immigrant visa to the United States of America.


Enchanted by the thought of fulfilling the highly sought for “American Dream,” Sid became engrossed in his application for the U.S. visa. In March 2002, Sid applied for an H1-B visa, which employs and provides financial support to foreign citizens with exceptional merit and ability. After submitting resumes to numerous U.S. IT recruiting agencies, Sid eventually accepted a promising offer from a technology firm in Texas.

Sid on his plane to America

Once Sid’s petition for immigration received approval from the USCIS, he was finally granted permission to immigrate to the United States. The firm paid for his transportation costs, allowing him to fly to America and move in comfortably into his sister’s suburban home in Houston, Texas in 2003.


Over the course of one year, Sid was able to rent a modest home with the financial assistance of his sister as well as apply for a green card. By starting the process of obtaining a green card, Sid’s family became eligible to apply for a U.S. visa under the category of family second preference.


Driven by the absence of a husband and father figure, the family almost instantaneously flew past the application process, lottery round, and series of interviews. By the middle of 2004, Sid was finally able to experience the joyous feeling of coming home to family. Sid was overjoyed. He was finally living the American dream: a house, a job, and a loving family at home. But the pay was not enough to support a family.


Like the little boy from the provinces, Sid once again cast his dreams beyond the breadth of his horizon—this time, to the widely renowned New York City. He had heard that the large city housed the world’s largest financial district and wished to leverage his skills and background into a job at a top financial institution. Plus, he would be making over twice as much as his current income in Houston. He was immediately drawn to the glitz and glamour of the busy city and in 2006, Sid prompted the family to pack up their belongings into a 12-foot Penske rental truck.

To Sid, arriving at the city of his dreams felt like a surreal experience. The street signs, skyscrapers, and red-bricked houses looked straight out of the NYC postcards he would receive from friends who vacationed there. “I was truly blown away,” Sid described. “I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the lights and the buildings with my disposable camera. New York felt so extraterrestrial that I got chills just from driving through Times Square. I thought to myself, there is no way New York is on the same planet as Manila.”

Sid, in love with city lights

With the assistance of his brother-in-law, Sid and his family was able to move into a two-bedroom flat on the second floor of a two-family residential apartment in Elmhurst, Queens. Though it may have been a small, modest home for a family of five, Sid nevertheless took pride in residing in New York City. “My wife and I would sleep in the living room using a pull-out couch that we accepted from a family friend,” Sid reminisces with a hint of a smile. “We gave one of the rooms to our eldest son, while our daughter and youngest son shared the other.”


It was no coincidence that Sid chose to reside in Elmhurst. The neighborhood was populated by immigrant families who were mostly of Spanish, Chinese and Filipino descent. Sid, knowing full well how traumatizing culture shock can be to an individual, wanted his children to grow up in an environment that was ethnically diverse yet predominantly Asian. As a result, he and his family transitioned to life in the city without too much difficulty.

Mall situated on the intersection of Grand Avenue and Queens Boulevard

At that time, Elmhurst was also an up-and-coming neighborhood. The neighborhood witnessed the construction of a new elementary school, high school, and several stores ranging from pet stores to food marts. To Sid, the apartment was situated almost perfectly, as it sat right along a brand new park called Elmhurst Park and Grand Avenue, known as the busiest street that connected three neighborhoods including Elmhurst, Maspeth, and Middle Village. Sid’s apartment being in close proximity to Grand Avenue meant that he was also close to the bus stops and major train stations. This accessibility and ease of transportation allowed Sid to travel to Manhattan for work in a timely fashion.

Elmhurst Park

For the next eight years, Sid job hopped from firm to firm until he was ultimately satisfied with his yearly earnings. His resumé listed among some of the most high-profile banks and information technology firms on Wall Street such as Chase, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters.

Thomson Reuters office based in Times Square

On the fifth year since obtaining a green card, Sid decided that it was finally time for him and his family to apply for naturalization. Once Sid and his family completed their biometrics appointment, the USCIS conducted an interview with all family members above the legal age of eighteen. Subsequently, they received approval from the Department and attended the naturalization ceremony where they pledged to the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens.


After thirty years, the little boy from the rice paddies in the Philippines fulfilled the promise he made that fateful day in high school. He left behind poverty and ensured that his family would never have to experience what he had to. Today, Sid owns a one-family home in Long Island with a backyard, driveway, and front yard. He owns multiple cars and has real estate both in the United States and in the Philippines.


While the immigration process may have been relatively streamlined for Sid, it is not the same for many others. Unfortunately, millions of people across the world do not possess the same privileges of higher education and access to food and clean water, thus making the chances of a successful immigration story nearly impossible. For many, including Sid, life after the arduous process of immigration and naturalization is not so rosy.

Skyline of New York City


However, by refusing to settle for less, Sid had traded his view of fragile cinderblock homes and farmland to a view of the oceanfront on one side and the picturesque skyline of New York City on the other. “I’m thankful for New York City. I have a well-paying job, I can leave the house without worrying excessively about the safety of my children and wife, and provide them with the education necessary to achieve their own dreams and live comfortable lives.”