“All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me.” – Tupac Shakur
NEWARK, New Jersey — Sometime in 2015 when I discovered a Chinese restaurant on corner 82nd and Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York, I tipped off several fellow Filipino friends.
The restaurant, a tuto-turo (point-point) style, does not only display ample selection of oriental eat-in cuisine, it also offers a budget meal (two items for $3 and three items plus soup for $4.50 are the most popular).
As a regular customer there, I met 29-year-old restaurant male server Jennifer in summer 2016.
“Ano po ba ang trabaho ninyo kuya? (Mister, may I respectfully know what is your profession?)” asked Jennifer, who had no doubt about my nationality the moment he saw me.
“I’m a newsman in our country. Here in the U.S., I’m a J.T.S.A.,” I retorted.
“Ako po pala si Jennifer. Ano po ba ang J.T.S.A.?” he inquired.
“Jack-of-all-Trades and Strike Any-where,” I quickly answered with a smile.
Jennifer, an LGBT, totes scars on both faces inflicted from an ugly scuffle with a former lover’s family in Hagonoy, Bulacan. He left the Philippines “to escape the wrath of a powerful political clan.”
He is a confessed former lover of a fellow male town official, allegedly the nephew of a certain “Gob Obet” whose conservative family begrudged the “scandalous” dalliance.
Jennifer, a look-alike of former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) star Bogs Adornado, doesn’t have plans to go back to the Philippines soon. At least, not yet, he said.
He was contemplating on converting his status from “tourist” to “asylum” because of alleged political threats he received in Bulacan, a province in Central Luzon located 11 kilometers north of Manila.
“Kuya may alam po ba kayo na mapasukan kahit under-the-table lang? Maliit lang po ang suweldo ko dito alam nio na ang ibig kong sabihin (Do you know of any temporary job for me? I really need to earn extra money),” explained Jennifer, who arrived in the US via Kuala Lumpur in spring 2015.
Our conversation was cut short as he needed to serve other customers; I needed to pay my order in the cashier.
I learned in spring 2017 that another Filipino customer, a woman in her 60’s, whom Jennifer had approached for help, recommended him for a job as inventory taker in a 7-Eleven store, a 24-hour convenient food and drinks establishment (Jennifer requested not to mention the store’s location).
In November 2017, Jennifer, who had overstayed his tourist visa and did not have a U.S. social security number, left the 7-Eleven store for a “better-paying” job in a Manhattan laundry and dry-cleaning shop owned by a Korean investor.
On Wednesday, January 9, 2018, agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swooped down on 98 (not 100 as reported earlier) 7-Eleven stores in 17 states, including New York, and netted 21 workers with no valid permits and believed to be illegal immigrants.
It was not immediately known if there were Filipinos among those arrested whose names and nationalities were not yet disclosed as of this writing.
ICE’s Acting Director Thomas D. Homan said, their actions “send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce. ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”
“Thanks God (sic) I olridy left wen d raid ws conductd (sic),”Jennifer, a Hotel and Management graduate, said in a text message.