Mount Vernon Letter: An Immigrant’s Story

Mount Vernon Letter: An Immigrant’s Story

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

July 4, 1962: I left the Philippines and arrived in Rochester, Minn. all on the same date, even though 24 hours have passed because of the different time zones. I was 23 years old, a registered nurse, college graduate and two years of work experience.

I came as an exchange visitor (EV), purportedly to learn more about nursing in the USA — although hardly any U.S. nurse went to the Philippines except for missionaries. I started working right away in one of the prestigious hospitals, St Mary’s Hospital, where all the physicians are from the Mayo Clinic and many nursing supervisors were nuns.

It was indeed a learning experience, not by design, but by sheer observation. It was learn as you go. There were not enough staff to formally teach us. It was not uncommon for the U.S. nurses to call in sick on the weekends leaving us on our own. As EV nurses, paid at the level of the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), we found ourselves the Charge Nurse overseeing the nursing care. In fact, some of us who had teaching experience were assigned to teach in the school of nursing at an LPN salary rate.

From the Philippines to Minnesota was baptism by ice. No one helped us adapt to the cold. We did not know how to dress appropriately. We stayed as close to the hospital as possible and ran to and from work, and went out long enough just to take photos. We stayed together, ate the same foods we were used to, and really did not learn the American way of life.

Six months before my EV visa was to expire, I met my husband and we got married. I applied to have my visa changed to an immigrant visa. Meanwhile, I was told that while my application for immigrant visa was being considered, no law affected my ability to work. My U.S. citizenship was granted after four years. I continued to work in various hospitals as an RN, and went to graduate school. There is such a demand for nurses that in my over 40 years of working in nine states (MN, IL, AL, VA, WI, SD, LA, MD, DC) and in 15 institutions including teaching at three universities and the Office of Inspector General for the Veterans Administration, I have not been out of work until retirement. And I do not think I took work from anyone who wanted to work. It was not uncommon to be asked, “Can you start work tomorrow or next Monday?”

The U.S. has benefited from my coming here. I am grateful to be here. I have been to many other countries and go back to the Philippines regularly. For me, there is no place like the good young USA.

Fidelita Levy