Atilano and Carolina talk about how Atilano was able to immigrate from the Philippines to the United States, even though he had to leave his family, including his new wife and young daughter behind.
For this story, we recorded the speakers separately over FaceTime, and blended their stories together with Adobe Audition.
Amanda (Am): Would you have done pathology in the Philippines, or you just chose to go to the States?
Atilano (At): there was a lot more prestige if you can get into a program in the States. So I went and did it in Boston, right? I was in internal medicine for two years. The last six months of the second year I started applying. I got accepted in Canada, New Jersey and Boston. But because Boston was the most prestigious of all, I decided to go to Boston. And it took those six months after writing to Boston, Dr. Leonard Berman accepted me before my program was finished. So I said, okay! Good. But I could have gone to Toronto, I could have gone to New Jersey. They all accepted me anyway. 'cause I had, by that time I had good grades at least in medical school, right?
Carolina (C): They needed doctors, there was a need. So wherever they could get them at the time – but I think there was, the screening program was the ECFMG. The Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates. There was a big exam you had to take, and if you passed that, you were eligible to apply. I don't think I passed it, or I took it once, or I got cold feet and didn't take it or something like that, so.
At: That's an examination given by the United States. Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. They give that exam to all the other countries and if you pass that then you're eligible to be accepted into a program, a residency program. So it's kind of like a mini board exam. Right? For them. Or an entrance exam. And so after that, when I came to Boston I had to take the – we called it FLEX, which is short for Federal Licensing Examination. They give that in all the States. So I passed that in Boston, which allowed Boston Medical Board to issue me a license. Then I got a license from Boston that way.
Am: To practice medicine in Boston.
At: In a limited capacity as a resident. (laughs) Yeah, so I was very excited. Even though on the plane ride from Manila to Boston, I was nonstop (gestures crying, tears down cheeks). (laughs) Because I was leaving Mommy and Almira, who was only eight months old then, right? We were just starting to bond, and that kind of thing. Really like being torn apart from – because our plan was to be together.
C: We just kept on applying. We just kept on looking for ways to go, but they never happened.
At: We had the process going the whole time. We didn't hire a lawyer, but she would go back and forth to the US consul. It was a very spotty enforcement of the law. The consular officers were given a lot of latitude in deciding who to give visas to and who not to. And I guess it all depends on how persuasive you are during the face to face interview. the consul that interviewed us had this mindset of, “I have absolutely no guarantee if I give you a J1 visa, and get your family a J2 visa, you'll all come back here. And so to ensure that you will come back then we will withhold their visas so you'll come back.” at that time, we didn't have anybody to vouch for us that we will not be dependent on the United States government. we didn't have any very good reasons, economic or whatever reasons, to actually come back.