Shared Stories: Journey to America

Dulce Ruelos trained and worked as a doctor in her rural hometown in the Philippines, but she had to make some professional changes when she married and moved to Manila. Always considering what was best for her family, she eventually moved to the United States.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Dulce Ruelos

In the Philippines the ultimate dream is to migrate to the United States. Most college graduates aim to come to the United States primarily for economic reasons and also for further professional training and advancement.  The exodus of young professionals has resulted in a shortage referred to as the “brain drain.”

When I was young, I had mixed feelings about the idea of migrating to the US. While it was attractive and enticing, I was not really keen on leaving my home country for greener pastures.  
In my last year of medical school, my father told me that upon my graduation, he felt it was time for him to retire. After all, he had been working as a school teacher for forty years.
With his retirement money, which he intended to take out as a lump sum amount, he would buy me a jeep to use for my home visits and transporting patients to the hospital if required. His plan was for me to serve my hometown as the first physician.

After graduating and then successfully passing the medical board exam, my college best friend left for the US. Her first stopover was in Honolulu, Hawaii. She sent me a doll with a letter describing the beauty of the place.

She went on her first assignment at a hospital in Irving, Texas. She continued to update me on her activities as a resident physician. Based on her observation, she advised me that the US is not a place for older professionals. Should I decide to emigrate, I should do so while still young.

While the prospect of migrating was appealing, I still decided to stay. Meanwhile, I got married to my longtime boyfriend and eventually had four children. I still worked in the medical field, but in a different profession.

With my family, it would be more difficult and challenging to migrate. My husband was a lawyer with the legal department of the Bureau of Customs. I worked as a medical nutritionist with the Department of Health. Our children were enrolled at a Catholic school, and we were fortunate to have domestic helpers. There seemed to be no reason to leave. We were just fine.
A time came when I felt in danger of losing my job due to department reorganization. I felt insecure and worried that I could be replaced at any time. 

Although I worked full time, I did not cease to be engaged in my role as wife and mother. I discussed my situation and my concern with my husband. He was fully supportive and assured me of his help with whatever plans or decisions I would have to make. His parents and his sisters would help him with the children.

I thought long and hard about my next move, and I decided to apply for a scholarship at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, Israel. This was a postgraduate fellowship leading to a Masters of Public Health degree. In exchange for the one-year scholarship, I would have to serve my government for two years. This would assure me of at least two years on my job. 

I was accepted in the program from November 1973 to November 1974. This was an international class with students from Thailand, Vietnam, Sweden, and the United States as well as the Philippines

Leaving my four children with my husband and family members was very hard.  My children were now two, four, six, and eight years old. My only contact with them for the year was by letter because phone calls were too expensive.

I felt so homesick that I almost thought of giving up, but I didn’t want to be a quitter.  I wrote to my husband every two weeks and included letters for each of my children. Every time I got a letter in return, I would cry before even opening it. My eight-year-old would write to me as well.

Upon completing the program, I decided to make a side trip to visit the US and Canada. This was by invitation of relatives and my best friend who had now moved to Washington state. 
The Philippines were still under martial law, and special permission was required for anyone to leave the country.  I took advantage of being already abroad. I was able to visit New York, Washington state, Minnesota, and California. My visit was an eye-opener which changed my mind about emigrating. 

After serving the required two years on my job, I finally decided to submit my biodata to come to the US as an immigrant. My priority was to find a job so that my family could join me.
When asked how I felt about taking a chance to migrate to the US, my usual answer is, “No regrets.”