February 28, 2008
Hope. It can be the hardest thing to have.
Of the many homes and families I had been fortunate enough to speak with, Jorge Castro was undoubtedly the most memorable personality. In a community with an overwhelmingly black, white and Hispanic population; Jorge passed as Chinese, but was truly a Filipino American. Jorge lived next to a Catholic Church and across from a continuation school, which was overrun with prostitutes every day at dusk.
It was around 4 p.m. when I first knocked on Jorge’s door. Laid out on his rough brown couch, with hands in his pockets, he got up and nudged the door open with a slight kick of his foot and said, “Come on in.” This would be the first of many visits.
Jorge is short and stocky with silky white sideburns. He lives in a two-bedroom house with his two working sons and an ailing wife. He offered me a seat as he lay down across the couch.
Jorge Castro’s stories were never complicated. He had no phony ideas. No loosely tied moments, no complex conversation. He was filled with stories about the stuff that stopped, and the stuff that was going, gone or away.
He was everything I had learned about in that Filipino American History class in college. The class that vilified my wide-eyed youthful politics, and gave birth to societal revelations: That we be brown and less American, that we be resistant and less privileged, that we be extreme for the sake of being uncompromising.
He was the young pensionado, well-read and keenly versed in the myth of the American Dream. He was a young enlisted military youth who washed officers’ dishes all over the world. He was an accomplished professional in the Philippines who “escaped” to America, to the golden streets and glamor that all well-adjusted Chevron gas station attendants hope to encounter.
Jorge was everything that could bring reason to a young man’s rebellious socialist rhetoric. He was the forgotten immigrant left to labor in the economic fields of Philip Vera Cruz, where politics were forged by foot and hand, raised inch by inch though hardship, bolstered by unions and voices that were the power of the people.
Jorge was the reason I was there, a privileged child of the suburbs, the reason why I was ripe and ready for new things.