Columbus, Ga (WRBL) – May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It was established in 1992, by then President George H.W. Bush. To start off a series of stories about Asian American Pacific Islander stories, WRBL News 3 This Morning Anchor Rex Castillo spoke with his father, Felicisimo Castillo, about immigrating to the United States.
Felicisimo, or just simply Felly, grew up in a small town of Naic, Philippines. Which is just two hours south of Manila the nation’s capitol. He grew up to graduate with a degree in both Electrical and Mechanical Engineering from the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila. However, in the early 1970’s Felly made the decision to leave his home country after a dramatic shift in the local government.
“In 1972, they declared martial law. So the Philippines is basically under military rule and there’s not much freedom. And it so happened I had an application for immigration to the United States,” said Felly.
Then Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos put the martil law in place for the entire country. Felly knew that America gave him an opportunity for a better life. By 1975, he already had three children and purused a career in the United States. However he had to make that trip alone at first. He arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii and interviewed for an engineer position but his credentials were dismissed.
“What kind of engineer are you? I said I’m a mechanical and electrical engineer. Where did you graduate? I said in Manila, Philippines. He said you graduated outside the United States, so I don’t recognize your degree. So we cannot hire you. It was very, very disappointing. I didn’t get mad I said I will prove to you that I’m a qualified engineer and I said later. So it became an obsession to be an engineer. My first job was counting plastic bags,” said Felly.
Eventually he found other better paying jobs, and found that engineering position. For a while he was living in America by himself, since it was very expensive to bring his family over. While he was starting to thrive in his job he kept sending money back to the Philippines because he wanted to take of his family.
“My kids are still in the Philippines. So I still have to send money to my mother in law because my children, three of them, are with my mother in law. And as for my whole family I’m the oldest. I’m the only one that went to college and finished college. But I promised my brother and sister that I would help them go to college,” said Felly.
Those humble beginnings in Hawaii gave way to Rex’s father. He remarried and eventually Houston, Texas became home. Another big chapter in Felly’s career was when he got an opportunity with Aramco, an oil and gas company that required Felly, Rex and the rest of the family to move to the Middle East.
These days Felly is enjoying retirement and splitting time between the United States and his retirement home in his native Philippines. Four of his five children now live in America and have all graduated from college. He reflected on his decision to come to the United States and is confident he made the right choice.
“First of all, all of you are now on your own. You’re successful. I don’t even worry about you being homeless or whatever. Everybody has a degree that they can be proud of. So that alone to me is, you can not put a monetary value on it,” said Felly.