Column/The America I met

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2006

My first thought was “Why Selma … ?” but I haven’t considered the other side of the query: “Why not Selma?”

Almost five months ago, I finally stepped to the land almost everybody was dreaming to put their feet on: AMERICA.

Glamorous, grandiose, most affluent, mighty, potent, exhilarating …

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and the list continues.

One night of May, the director of medical-surgical nursing at Vaughan Regional Medical Center called my mom and interviewed her.

That time, we just felt so overwhelmed with excitement. The only thing that mattered to us was that my mom had reached the end of waiting, and so had we. We can finally go to America. After four long years.

Our plane arrived in Birmingham. Big city. In fact, the biggest in the state. When we started off the road, I still can’t believe I’m here, and I guess the rest of us shared the feeling.

Is this really America? I started asking. I haven’t realized that was I just seeing a minute fraction of it. And I’m about to realize that later.

I don’t have any idea of where Selma is, how it’s like. It sounded so foreign to me, so distant. Weeks after we arrived at our temporary home at a cozy (at least for me) village in Mountain Brook, I haven’t heard any single good thing about Selma.

I started to be alarmed. No, this is not the America I would meet. It’s not going to be a very nice first encounter. Because, you see, when you are being introduced to someone, you want to make a very good impression, and I was wondering why in the world America would not present itself in a very impressive manner.

All three of us siblings were bugging my mom and dad, telling them we don’t want to leave Birmingham and head for Selma instead.

But I have something to admit: I was lonely in Birmingham for some reasons I can’t explain. Still, I told myself, I can manage that, and that it would eventually go away. But I surely don’t want to go to Selma and live there. That was what I thought, and I’m about to eat my words.

The time came for us to leave Birmingham. We don’t really have a choice because my mom already has a contract with Vaughan hospital. From the big city, we narrowed down to this small, humble city. This is our home now and we just have to live with it. But a miracle happened.

My loneliness slowly left me. I don’t know, but for reasons I can’t explain, I became happy in this new place. I started wondering why I felt that way, but I was glad the feeling was there. And the amazing thing about it is that the odds didn’t work for me and my family. Less than two weeks since we arrived, I got a job at JC Penney.

Then when I started getting along with the job and had felt I could made a good adjustment, I decided venturing some other things.

I tried applying as a substitute teacher at Selma City Schools when a friend told me that they needed one.

However, along the way, I have doubts that it may not work out because recommendations are serious requisites for application.

I need people who could actually vouch for me, and since I only know a few folks here, that was my biggest problem.

I even had to use one mentor back home to really provide reliable and sincere judgment of my character and capability. I was about to dismiss the idea of pursuing the application since it began to dawn on me that it is not making progress at all; a typhoon intercepted my recommendation from the Philippines, my supervisor knew me for two months, and my countless trips to the office of Selma City Schools seem not to matter at all.

Then came Nov. 18. After I arrived from work, a letter was waiting for me. It was from the superintendent of Selma City Schools telling me that I was approved as a substitute teacher. When I read that, I just couldn’t believe it and my brother suddenly hugged me with joy. I can’t describe the feeling I had but it was so good. Just when I was about to lose hope, I actually got the job. But that’s not all.

Day before Thanksgiving was a plain, ordinary day for me while everybody was preoccupied preparing for the next big day.

Even though the thrill and bustle of the people around me seem to be very contagious, it just wouldn’t affect me at all.

I didn’t know that tomorrow would be “my Thanksgiving day” because of what is about to happen to me in just a few minutes.

I was so nonchalant with what’s happening around me when a customer approached me and took the time to chat with me while doing a regular transaction with the store.

She asked me where I’m from and what I’m doing here and I told her the same story I’ve used to tell when asked the question.

Then I believe she was fascinated about it, and told me that she was writing for the lifestyle section of the city paper and had the interest to maybe write something about my family. My face lit up and instantly all my instincts pushed me to tell her the passion I have for writing too. Hence, I’m now writing this paper.

Now I believe it’s time that I answer the question I posted at the beginning of this paper: Why Selma?

Because if not, I wouldn’t be able to tell my incredible stories, which I have just written, not to mention all the everyday blessings and lessons I have been getting just by learning to realize why I’m in this humble city and not elsewhere; I wouldn’t be here in front of my laptop typing the last few words to finish this article; and I think because America wants to make not just a good impression on me, but a profound, meaningful impact on our first encounter.

She wants to hear me say, “It’s nice to meet you.” That’s why she picked Selma to greet and welcome me. And I’m glad it is Selma. Why not Selma, when it gave me more than I could ask for.

Esther Joy Roxas is a newcomer to Selma.