Fostering Change | Teen Ink

Fostering Change

December 4, 2008
By Paolo Cloma BRONZE, Paramus, New Jersey
Paolo Cloma BRONZE, Paramus, New Jersey
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I never had the opportunity to say goodbye: not a word to my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother, nor my absent father. Maybe I was naïve, but I had a right to be, I was four. When I try to recollect my childhood, I envision myself riding a bike with two training wheels down a hill in downtown Paco. Paco is a province of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. I lived in a dilapidated project with 3 tenant families. We lived on the third floor; there were two bedrooms and one large living room that doubled as our kitchen and dining area. I slept in the larger bedroom with my younger cousin, my aunt and my mom; my grandmother slept in the other bedroom along with my uncle. My grandfather slept in the living room on the couch by the window because in our area, there were numerous thefts and break-ins. Though it was a crammed area we made the best of it, I don't recall any of them complaining about our meager living conditions nor about the poverty that surrounded us. We were just happy living.

Back then I had one mom; she gave birth to me. She was young and beautiful, roughly about the age of 18. I can only remember but a few things about her, she was 5'6 with long dark hair and large sad eyes. She had a decent amount of acne and her teeth were in poor condition. She was uneducated, but I remember her being very smart, she taught me how to speak Tagalog, the national dialect of the Philippines. By the time I was three I was fluent in both that and English, and I knew that she had been the reason. I have but one picture of her, it was taken before I was sent to America. She had a large smile on her face, it matched mine; when I look closely at it, it looks as if she was tearing or at least getting ready to cry. Back then I couldn’t understand what was happening, and for a while I felt abandoned and detached from the family that welcomed me. It didn’t occur to me that it might’ve been hard on her, that she must’ve loved me so much that she gave me up in order to save me from the poverty and the hardships that accompany an extended family with no significant income. For a while, I was confused, frustrated, lonely, and most of all homesick.

My second mom is older, has short hair, small black freckles, perfectly white and straight teeth, and a very kind-hearted voice. I met her before I was sent to America, and I was told that she was my second mom. I thought that was normal of course, again I was four, and I even bragged about it to the kids I played with at the playground. She bought me everything I desired when we went out, playing cards, fishballs (fried fish meat shaped into a ball that is sold in cart stands in the Philippines), Power-Ranger action figures, and all my basic necessities like clothing and milk. I loved her right away. She is a microbiologist in the states; she specializes in bacteria, and parasites. She is well educated and successful in contrast to my biological mom. It was convenient for me that she worked at the hospital. If she hadn’t I would’ve probably died. She brought medicine to cure my Pneumonia and to extract the tapeworm that was inside my stomach. These were the ramifications of living poor in a classified third-world country.

My second father, her husband, is the brother of my grandmother, so I guess that makes him my granduncle. I was told it was his idea to take me in and call me his son. He is an ex-marine turned carpenter in the states. He had a strong well-built body, but a chubby face. He wares a light mustache and his now thinning hair was thick back then. He is very humble and generous and gave away money to the children that asked him while he took me to the playground. As soon as they saw the Rolex on his arm and the gold cross on his neck they knew he was American. He has a gentle voice when he is happy, but when agitated he is the scariest man I know. His voice is fierce and strong, and when he spoke to me I would listen. He taught me how to carry myself when around women, box, and to be humble. He is more than just my father, he is my role model.

My biological father left me when I was 3 months old. He was an abusive man; I’ve heard countless stories about his drug addiction, and the way he stole from the family. I’ve heard how he once strangled my biological mom for the money she was going to use to buy me milk. I don’t know much about him; I don’t know what he looked like, who he was, how he reacted to my birth, or where he went off. I don’t care, and I will not make the same mistakes he did. If I ever saw him today, I don’t know if I would be able to contain my anger and disdain for that man. I’ve had so many dreams about what I would do and say if we ever met face to face. None of them were passive. I hope that he’s dead.

My grandfather was perhaps the most influential figure in my life. He taught me how to walk, taught me how to ride a bike, fixed it each and every time I would break the training wheels, he taught me how tie my shoes, and just loved me as much as any father would. I called him Lolo, which means grandpa in Tagalog; it was the first word I learned to say. He was very skinny, picture the Ethiopians you see on the television commercials that ask you to send money, except with a little more meat. He smelt of cigarettes and had thick black hair that was combed neatly. He worked as a part-time mechanic even though his legs looked like they could barely hold him up. He was a strong-willed man eager to provide for his family. He would often give me his share of the rice knowing that I was unsatisfied with only my portion, and told me he was fattening me up so he could eat me. He was the kindest man I ever knew.

When I immigrated to meet my foster parents in America, I came with three other people: my uncle Ray, aunt Anna, and my cousin Lauren. They are my link to life back in Paco. Anna is my mother’s sister, I was born premature, and she gave me a pint of her blood and saved my life. She often teases me that I look like a mongoloid, due to the large head I had as a child but grew into. She was the one who informed me of my adoption, and told me the stories of my father. She gave me the picture of my biological mom and told me not to forget where I came from and who my family truly was. On September 10, 1994 we arrived in Paramus, New Jersey. I was four and it was to be our new home. They lived with my parents and I for about four years after our immigration to America. This was enough time for Anna and Ray to gain careers as nurses and build a home of their own.

My first year in America was very difficult. It was a transition period in several ways. I was introduced to several people who were now my relatives. All of them welcomed me, but through the years I felt a slightly detached to most of them with the exception of a few of my cousins. We were not blood and they made sure I knew it. I was teased by many of my older cousins about my adoption, and my being in the family. They ridiculed me and often beat me up as a child. As I grew older however, it slowly stopped, mainly because I learned how to fight back. There were several incidents in my cousin Jake’s pool where they took turns dipping me in water, and throwing me in the deep end where I couldn’t swim. I hated visiting them because, I couldn’t complain to my parents for fear that they may take their side. I just took the abuse and after a while I learned how to swim. As I grew older the abuse I suffered dwindled. It was becoming clear that not only was I learning and maturing, they were too. I forgave them for what they did to me as a child, and to be honest I have no hard feelings. However, I will not forget. I vowed to myself that I would be more successful and driven than any of them, that I will not be the black sheep of the family. This is where I received my drive to put education first in every aspect, to develop my intelligence, because as they say success is the best revenge.

The other half of the transition came along with getting used to my surroundings. Prior to my arrival in America, I ate once a day, took showers only when it rained, wore the same clothes at least three times a week, pumped water from a well, and never went to school. When I arrived in America it was completely different. The water ran with a simple turn of a faucet, I could eat anytime I wished, I had a choice of wardrobe for every day, I had toys to play with, and a room to myself. I even had a television. The first year of that transition period was the happiest year of my life. I had everything I desired, and to be honest, I forgot my family and my entire life. I was spoiled, I had everything I ever wanted, and what I didn’t have I was given. Paco was the last thing on my mind; I was free from it and its memory was easily thrown away. It seemed as if it were just a nightmare.

March 11, 1996, I was six years old in Mrs. Protano’s Kindergarten class when I first heard the news. My grandfather had died because of a stroke. I was shocked, and it hit me very hard. I wouldn’t eat for three days and my parents weren’t able to get me out of bed. I wanted to go back so badly, to pay my respects to my grandfather. My parents wouldn’t let me; said school was too important. For a while I didn’t understand their reason for keeping me away from being able to mourn him properly; and I hated them. On two separate occasions that year, I ran away, ending up at the Newark Airport by way of a bus that had stopped conveniently three houses away from mine and a path train which I rode into the city. My parents picked me up from the Newark Airport security station and though agitated, never screamed or yelled at me. I hated them for not letting me go, for keeping me away from my grandpa, from my old life. I made it very difficult for them to keep me, but they did and raised me with the same amount of love that any child would receive from their parents.

I have yet to travel back to the Philippines, and I’ve yet to speak or try and contact my biological mom. As far as I’m concerned, my life is here and so are my mother and father. I have thought and wrote about what I would say to my biological mom when I finally gain the courage to contact her. I often wonder how she is, if she’d recognize me, I wonder if she’s working and has a new family, I wonder if she still loves me and if she still thinks of me as her son. My curiosity and eagerness to learn the answers to these questions is contained only by my fear of how I will feel. I don’t want the relationship between my parents and I to be tainted; I don’t want them to think of me as their foster child. I don’t want to feel detached from them, like I have no home to return to. I fear that if I ever try and contact my mother, it will lead to a more distant relationship between my parents and I.

Ever since the death of my grandfather, my past has never left my mind. I know where I came from; I know the meaning of struggle and poverty. I’ve never taken anything for granted, and always remained thankful for the blessings that I’ve been given. I’ve shaped my whole life around my past, and will continue to do so in the future. My goal is to dedicate my life to those who live in such countries as the one I came from. I want to help those who don’t have the same escape route as I did, to try and make my grandfather proud of the man I’m in the process of becoming. I strive so that when I finally do greet them again, I’m worth all their sacrifice.

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