Last April 21, 2009, Joy Rojas finally arrived at Los Angeles Airport with Mat Macabe and I (Chuck Crisanto) aboard an Asiana flight. It was Joy’s first time in the U.S. and she expected to see a sea of tall and white people with blonde hair. Instead the immigration line was filled with what looked like Asians and South Americans.
After the 911 incident, the U.S. immigration officers became tough, and exercised their power to deny visa holders entry or to reduce their length of stay in the country. If the attending Immigration Officer decided after he interviewed you that you can only stay for three months, his decision was final. A U.S. visa was no guarantee that you could stay for the maximum of six months granted to visitors. The team needed a five-month visiting status stamp; if it was stamped with anything less, the planned dream run would be nipped in the bud.
After staying in line for several minutes, Mat finally faced a brown-skinned immigration officer and submitted his passport for review. He was taken aback when the officer spoke in taglish, "Anong purpose ng pagpunta ninyo dito sa States?(What is your purpose for coming to the States?)" Mat replied, "Sir, tatakbo po kami mula California hanggang New York! (We are going to run from California to New York!)" The Immigration officer was now taken aback , "Ha! First time ko lang narinig yan! (What! That is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing!)" To which Mat said, "Totoo po. Eto nasa dyaryo kami (It’s true. Here, we are in the newspapers.) He then proceeded to show the officer the April 21 article of the Philippine Daily Inquirer where Takbong Pangarap was featured on the day we left.
The immigration officer read the newspaper, and suddenly got excited. "Where’s Joy?" Joy went forward past the yellow line, and was asked if she could autograph the paper together with Mat, which both gladly did. The officer then said " Akin na itong souvenir, and Pilipino talaga palaging gustong maging first! (I will have this for a souvenir, and Filipinos, really, always want to be first!" He then proceeded to have Mat fingerprinted, take a eye retina check, and finally stamped on the passport to clear him, bidding him luck..
When Mat flipped through his passport, he saw it was stamped good for a six month stay!
Due to the no photography policy inside the Immigration Zone, however, no pictures were taken of the Takbong Pangarap team’s first step on American soil.
Photo of American flag by jcolman on flickr; licensed under Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND-2.0.