overseas Filipinos

No boundaries: Immigrant Filipino moms on sacrifice and success

Jannelle So Productions
No boundaries: Immigrant Filipino moms on sacrifice and success
From tears to laughter, from sorrows to joys, these stories show the many sides of Filipina motherhood

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

Filipina moms are the same, wherever they may be in the world. They want the best for their children and sacrificing whatever they can in order to support their kids, at any age. And this was recently underscored by stories of immigrant Filipina moms highlighted by Fil-Am media pioneer Jannelle So on her weekly TV show So Jannelle.

So opens their Mother’s Day Special with a touching story of a mother’s suffering as told by Stephanie Doby delos Santos, Filipina mom of 27-year-old Miguel who was shot five or six times by police officers during an intervention that was supposed to help him address a mental health breakdown triggered by losses in the pandemic – jobs, time outdoors, spending time with family and friends.

Miguel, who had a fairly normal and happy childhood, according to his mom, suddenly turned quiet during his teenage years. It wasn’t until his early adulthood was he diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“He once mentioned that he was having thoughts of killing himself. But after a few days, he took it back and said he was feeling ok. So I shrugged it off. I wish I had taken that more seriously,” recalled Stephanie, who added that it was also in her son’s nature to not to complain or cause trouble or concern.

“He’s a great partner, and an even better father,” added Miguel’s fiance, Cielo Esquivel, who called 911 one morning after seeing him on the side of bed, largely unresponsive, shaking, and with his eyes rolled back. When the paramedics arrived and took Miguel away, Esquivel told So in the same interview, she thought he was getting the appropriate help and medical attention he needed.

Instead, she said she saw him within a few hours, visibly shaken and very paranoid, complaining that people were out to harm him. She called for help two more times at her home within the next 12 hours, and these calls ended in gunshots that sent Miguel to the emergency room with critical injuries. He survived, but spent one week in the intensive care unit.

The whole experience made Stephanie and Cielo realize the importance of paying attention to the whispers, tendencies and clues that are usually swept under the rug, as they feel Filipinos still have much to learn about the gravity of mental health.

Silence can mean communication is needed, and suicidal clues must be given attention before they become bigger issues.

As for her wish for other moms, Stephanie told Jannelle: “A lot of people think that childbirth is the most painful thing that the mother would ever go through. But that was nothing compared to how I felt that night. He was not safe the whole day. I thought that was the last day. I can only imagine you want the best for your children, you don’t ever want to see them hurt.”

Her Mother’s Day wish is for no other mother to witness and experience that kind of suffering.

Service and sacrifice

In the second segment of the program, esteemed Filipino-American leader Steven Raga talks about what sacrifice and service mean to him. He witnessed it every day through his mom, Adela Cabildo Raga. He shared with So how he and his mother, who was a single mom, would wake up at 4:10 every morning to take the subway so she could drop him off at the home of a family member who could take care of him while she worked.

She then went to Saint Vincent’s Hospital to work the first of her three jobs. The second one was at night and the third one was on weekends.

His mother passed away in 2019, but not before instilling a good example that would guide Steven for a life of service to others. Steven also recalled to So that he regularly saw his mom give out a bundle of groceries to the homeless in her neighborhood. It’s in this same neighborhood of Woodside, Queens in New York that Steven hopes to take the next stop towards becoming the first Filipino American Councilmember in the city’s history in the 2021 Democratic primary elections this June.

Raga said he believes the training of his mom worked. He understands now that she was raising him to be generous, concerned, and empathetic, with an abundance mindset that values hard work and sharing resources for the community.

“The sacrifice that she did on a daily basis over the years hopefully has paid off,” Raga said. “Hopefully I’m living the life that she thought I should. I think she is.”

Humor of Tita Josie

In the third segment, Josie Harrison, the mother of comedian JoKoy, shared with So her thoughts and learnings after having raised her own children. And the theme that came out was raising kids with humor.

“It’s so obvious that Jo got his humor from you because you’re this jokester as well and you’re so bibo. You’re such a public speaker,” said So, to which TitaJosie responded by sharing the story of how she was also raised by her mother who used to love making others laugh.

But apart from the comedy at home, Tita Josie also spoke about their number one rule: respect.

“And it starts at home,” she said, adding: “Whatever you want your kids to follow or imitate, you have to model it to them.”

When Jannelle asked if she had any regrets, Tita Josie said that one regret she has is not being able to finish her education, “because I advocate for education for everybody. As you can remember, some of JoKoy’s jokes are about how I make fun of him being a comedian and because that is also true to the T. I wanted him to be a nurse or a doctor or lawyer, something that he can hold on to.”

Jannelle reminds Tita Josie that what happened to JoKoy may change her view about education because he’s very successful. “He is now even more successful than people with bachelor’s degree,” So said.

“That is also true!” Tita Josie conceded and shared: “Even JoKoy says to me, ‘But who pays your mortgage now?’ And yes, he may be right!”

Tita Josie has indeed seen the fruits of her sacrifice in her kids. But she has a message for them as they continue to face the future:

“As a mom. I love all of you and I’m always here. You know, people will turn their back on you or things will be not the way you expected it to be, but you have a home in Vegas, you have a mother in Vegas, and as long as I’m alive, you’ll be okay.”

The show ends with Jannelle’s first born, Lilly, who with the help of her father, So’s husband, filmed a video as their unique and special Mother’s Day present to her, in addition to hosting the show’s special intro and outro. Lilly said she’s learned how to dress, nurture, cuddle, love and cook for her “own (bunny) children” from her own mom. Apparently, she’s learned how to host too, at five years old! Talk about role modeling! Teaching Lilly is a nice strategy to get a day off – not just on Mother’s Day.

From tears to laughter; from sorrows and joys – the stories of Stephanie, Steven, Josie and Jannelle show the many sides of motherhood Filipino moms from all over the world, and certainly in the US, can relate to. – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

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