Shadowy Trails: Stories of the Undocumented
by Cher Jimenez
SAN FRANCISCO — His voice reverberates in a downtown San Francisco train station as
passersby, residents and visitors make their way to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART),
the city’s main subway system.
Train-goers from all over the world hear exceptional music as Ruben Kalinga sings
Tagalog songs from way back. Many Filipino commuters and foreign travelers drop coins
and sometimes one-dollar bills into the neongreen plastic box Kalinga has kept for months,
ever since he decided to pursue a long-time dream.
With a guitar and a harmonica, Kalinga sings rock ‘n’roll and occasionally sits down to
croon country and folk songs to the delight of his Western audience.
The 50-year-old former merchant seaman is no stranger at BART stations.
Every day, he lugs his musical instruments and performs for hours, most of the
time without food, unless he decides to take a short break.
But unlike other Filipinos who are illegally staying in the United States, Kalinga is
not in hiding. In fact, despite his illegal status, he exposes himself by performing almost
daily in parts of San Francisco where police, tourists, and locals pass by. He also insists that
his real name be mentioned in this story.
“They know who are illegal here, but I’m not afraid. I know they won’t deport me. You
can’t call me TNT (for the Tagalog tago nang tago or “always in hiding”) because I’m not
hiding,” he says with confidence.
Kalinga can afford to be nonchalant.
San Francisco is one of few US cities that have remained friendly to undocumented
immigrants like him.
So This is Home for Soma’s Pinoys
by Christian Esguerra
SAN FRANCISCO—The cramped space they call home in a five-story apartment building on Mission Street is a seeming affront to Jose “Joe” Ferrer and his roommate, Mang Aurelio Domingo.
Those who know them—at least who they used to be back in the Philippines—
know they deserve something better. Not a place like Unit 225, which they share with yet
a third occupant, a fellow Filipino surviving on financial aid from the United States
Ferrer, 51, and Domingo, 65, are former professors in reputable universities in Manila,
with the older of the two having authored a college textbook. But here, they are ordinary
joes—Ferrer is a teaching assistant cum department store clerk, Domingo a security
guard—trapped in their own humble space.
Their shared apartment is more of a bodega, a pile of used clothes, seldom-used
appliances, balikbayan boxes, and an overall accumulation of American junk. There’s
very little room left for decent sleep on their old double-decker. Not to mention the gas
pipe hanging under the ceiling, a makeshift clothesline.
The rest of the Mint Mall and Hall, also known as Apartment 957, gives the general
feeling of despair—its reeking garbage depot, smelly carpeted corridors, vandalized elevator,
to name a few—for many of its roughly 500 occupants, mostly Filipinos.
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