The following story was written by Renato Santos
There is a long history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines because of Spanish colonization. After the Spanish American war there was American colonization and during WWII, Japanese occupation, so the Philippines in many ways is also a land of immigrants. My grandmother on my mother side was from a Spanish Castilian family although she was born in the Philippines. My grandfather was an ad mixture of many cultures and he and my grandmother were both native Spanish speakers although the primary language in the Philippines is Tagalog. I know less about my father’s side of the family, just that they are from Pampanga, which is infamous for the location of Camp O’Donnell where the Bataan Death March ended.
Many of the stories I heard when I was young had to do with World War II. My mom’s father was an engineer and a ham radio operator and so he was very helpful to the US military in designing antennas to track the earliest space satellites. Because of that affiliation with the US military he was sought after and captured by the Japanese and sent to a war camp. My great uncle on my father’s side was in the Bataan Death March and escaped from the Japanese when they marched through his village. My dad was just a teenager at the time and he was part of the resistance and helped support and rescue US and Filipino soldiers who were captured in the death march.
My dad later went to medical school in Manila and after graduating he met my mother who had attended classes at the same university. My dad built the first public health hospitals around the islands at the direction of the Philippine government. He then was sent to the United States where he attended Washington University in St Louis to train in invasive cardiology. He left in 1966 to begin internship and one year later, my mother, brother and I moved to meet him. I have very fond memories of those early days but I know my mom recalled some very tough times. Although my father was fully trained and practicing in the Philippines he was required to repeat internship, residency and then attend fellowship. Money was very tight but we were fortunate to have many kind people to help us, most of whom were associated with our Catholic Church in St. Louis.
When my father finished training he was recruited to Des Moines, Iowa to begin a cardiac program at Mercy Hospital. He performed some of the first invasive cardiac testing in the state of Iowa in the early 1970s. It was a very interesting time for us. Des Moines was a very friendly and welcoming city and was a great place to grow up. As you can imagine there was essentially no diversity in that part of the country. My high school had nearly 2000 students but I can only remember about a dozen of us that were of color.
When my dad started work in Des Moines, Iowa it became very clear that we wanted to remain in the United States. There were many reasons but I guess primarily due to the opportunities in America as well as leaving behind the struggles and the poverty that remain in the Philippines. Although I don’t recall the intricacies, because of my father‘s original training visa we had to convert to resident status and then it took many years before we could apply for citizenship. I find it very ironic that although all my grandparents and parents were born during American colonization under the US flag, we were required to be naturalized to become US citizens.
I finished medical school at University of Iowa in 1990 and then I moved to Durham, North Carolina where I began training in cardiology at Duke University. That is where my wife Sharon and I met. North Carolina was quite a change from Iowa. For the first time I really experienced multiple cultures and races in large percentages. On top of that, medical training at Duke was quite intense and it was a very busy time for both Sharon and me. I think what kept both of us moving forward and working hard was knowing all of the struggles that both our families went through just so we could be where we were then and are today. I know that both of us felt a huge sense of obligation to be successful not only in our careers, but even more importantly to find ways to help other people through clinical medicine, research and community service. I think those kinds of sensibilities that we derived from our families, cultures, the Catholic Church and in particular our parents continue to motivate us today in everything we do at home and work and community. But I think this is true for so many people who have come to America to make this the great country that it is. Whether you immigrated from Europe, Africa, Latin America or Asia we are all alike in our sense of family, faith and community.
“…We have all made each other what we are. O family of Jesus, Watch over this Family.”