When we were young, Michigan never figured in our dream as a place where we would live someday. Michigan was not even a figment in our imagination or did it ever occur in our wildest dream because to us then, it was a place that was unheard of.
And while it was true that we were in search of a greener pasture, we did not purposely take the road to Michigan. Yet we now find ourselves living here in the Great Lakes state. Indeed, destiny is written in the stars.
But how we – the elderly – were able to come here is an immigrant’s story worth telling. This is so because it is a tale of sacrifice, sweat, tears, tenacity and back-breaking labor. Yes, the road to Michigan is a difficult and wearisome one, but we persevered.
And perseverance is the key virtue that enabled Joe Roallos and his wife Zenaida (nee Gomez) to reach Michigan. This couple faced a Herculean job when they were sending their three children to school but they were undaunted. Joe, a native of San Jose, Batangas, believed in the Tagalog saying, “Kung may tiyaga, may nilaga (If there’s patience, you have a delicious dish of boiled meat).”
And indeed, his patience seems endless.
One day when he was a teenager, he left their home and went on an adventure. He did not know where to go as he just wanted to see new places, but his adventurous spirit brought him to Oriental Mindoro where some relatives lived.
Living there for some time, he helped his farmer-relatives do the farming chores. One time during harvest, he and his two relatives were contracted to reap palay (unhusked rice grains) in a field infested with blood-sucking leeches (linta). Nobody in the village
would dare do the harvesting for fear of the swarms of leeches that were difficult to pull off once they bit one’s feet, arms or body. And the slimy, elastic earthworm-like creatures could suck a lot of blood that could weaken their prey.
But Joe and his kin knew how to beat the leeches. They wore long pants and long-sleeve shirts which they had soaked in diesel oil whose smell drove the leeches away. They quickly reaped the palay, and by mid-afternoon, they finished the job. They were amply rewarded for their work as they were given one-half of the quantity of the palay they had harvested.
A few years later, Joe found himself in Camarines Sur where at first, he did odd jobs. Afterwards, he engaged in coffee trading, renting a space in the public market in Calabanga town where he sold grounded Batangas coffee.
It was a business that yielded him good profit. Much later, already married to Naida, he set up a carinderia (eatery).
It was this livelihood from which the couple generated money for the education of their three children – Tina, Owen and Glen. A difficult livelihood, the business required Joe and Naida to wake up very early and sleep late. Time fleeted away, and soon Tina and Owen became nurses. Later, they migrated to the US. Tina now works at a hospital here in Michigan, while Owen is employed at a hospital in Florida. Glen also took up nursing and is expected to join the family here in the US some day.
Later, Tina petitioned for the immigration here of her parents. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. That was how the Roallos couple overcame the seemingly overwhelming obstacles they had encountered in their travel along the long, winding road to Michigan.
And now in the cool comfort, if not lot luxury, of their spacious house in Commerce township, Joe enjoys eating “nilaga” complete with beer and dessert as he watches an NBA game.