Doyle Velasco
English 165 AK
Ms. Erpelo
Final Draft

The Working Nurse

           The definition of a nurse, is person educated and trained to care for the sick or disabled. The job of a nurse is to listen, care for, and tend to a patient’s every need, while learning and developing more as time goes on. Nurses come from all over the world, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. From the 1960’s until today, the Philippines has been the leading exporters of nurses and with the 1965 Immigration Act, many Filipino nurses are coming to the United States. The 1965 Immigration Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson brought an end to quotas based on national origin, instead immigrants were being admitted by their skills and profession rather than by their nationality. Now more and more nurses from the Philippines and all over the world were coming to the United States to find a good job, great opportunities, and a better life, and that was the plan of Marlene Velasco. In a recent interview, I’ve learned that Marlene Velasco is part of Filipino-American nursing history by being born and raised in the Philippines and studying to become a nurse there. I wanted to learn more about her background and her struggle to become a nurse. I met with her in her night job at St. Francis Pavilion, Daly City. We talked in a lobby-type room during her break and I asked her questions like where she was born in the Philippines, what schools she attended there, about her family, how she came to the United States. I started the interview knowing very little about the life in the Philippines and how it is hard to make a living there and ended the interview having a whole new respect for the Filipino population. Marlene arrived to the United States in late 1985, Marlene’s father, who was living and working in the U.S. already, petitioned for her and her siblings to come to America. Marlene had a degree in nursing from the Philippines and like many nurse from the Philippines, she adapted to the American life style and shaped her future.
Americans began training the first Filipino nursing students in 1907. Nursing students in the Philippines studied many of the same subjects as the nursing students in the United States, however the curriculum in the Philippines was not the same as the American nursing curriculum. The Filipino nursing students also studied subject that were more relevant to their patients, such as the nursing of tropical diseases and industrial and living conditions in the islands. In addition, the Filipino nursing students studied English; today, the Philippines is the third largest English-speaking country in the world. Even with learning English, the Filipino nursing students didn’t loose their native language because Philippine schools of nursing believed the best way to promote physical health was to have a select few medical professionals spread their knowledge in the dialects of their own people. Marlene talked about how she knew five languages, three Filipino dialects, English, and a little Spanish. She said that English is a class taught in the Philippines and that everyone knew how to talk English in the Philippines. Through the 1930s, the Philippine schools of nursing continued to adopt those aspects of the American professional nursing they thought was relevant and appropriate, such as higher admission standards and the specialization of public health nursing. Marlene said that it was hard doing nurse schooling and similar to what she does here in the U.S. During the Japanese occupation in 1942, the training and practice at the hospitals of nursing were disrupted, but it soon returned in 1945 after the U.S. reclaimed the country, and even after the Philippines gained its independence from the United States on July 4, 1946. Marlene was born during the 1960s, after World War II and after the Philippines got its independence from the U.S., so nursing was available to her and she wanted to become a nurse ever since she was young. The history of nursing in the Philippines paved the way for young nurses, like Marlene Velasco.

The first wave of Filipino nurses coming to the United States began with the establishment of the U.S. Exchange Visitor Program. The goal of the program was to fill a post-World War II labor shortage and to give a better understanding of the U.S. in other countries to combat hostile campaigns directed against democracy, human welfare, freedom, the truth, and the United States by the Soviet Union and other Communist Parties throughout the world. The Exchange Visitor Program brought more than 11,000 Filipino nurses participating in the program between 1956 and 1969. The 1965 Immigration Act included new occupational preferences, which enabled Filipino nurses to settle as permanent residents. By 1967, the Philippines had replaced European and North American countries as the world’s biggest exporter of nurses to the U.S., which was experiencing a nursing shortage of 125,000 vacant positions. With the passage of a U.S. public law in 1970, fewer exchange visitors had to meet a two-year foreign residency requirement to become permanent residents. Between 1966 and 1978, about 7,500 Filipino exchange visitors amended their status to become U.S. permanent residents. Marlene’s father, immigrated to the U.S. in 1972 and worked here as a professional, but she doesn’t recall if he was part of the Exchange Visitors Program. Marlene’s father worked hard here, sending her tuition money for nursing and visiting her and her siblings during graduation time and the Christmas Holidays. While working here, Marlene’s father petitioned for her and her siblings to come to the United States, and when Marlene finally finished nursing school and got her degree, they arrived to the U.S. in late 1985. I asked her if her degree in nursing from the Philippines was recognized here, and she said that it was, all she had to do was take a test and she passed. I guess it was recognized here because of the higher admission standards of the Philippines. At first she could not find a job right away because at the time she was pregnant with me, but she eventually found a job in a little convalescent home called St. Francis Pavilion which she has been working in for fifteen years, and that is the place were we were having our interview. Immigrating to the United States with nothing but a degree in nursing and starting a whole new life was a huge hardship for Marlene, but she found success in ambition and hard work.

            The reasons why Filipino nurses came to the United States is mainly the heavy recruitment by U.S. hospitals and travel agencies, the low nursing wages and poor working conditions in the Philippines, and the simple desire for travel and adventure, and it was no different for Marlene. Marlene admits that life in America is harder than life in the Philippines because everything is to be done by yourself with no one to help you. Marlene was not only talking about nursing but household chores and assistance because in the Philippines they have maids to do their work for them like, the dishes, cleaning, cooking, and other chores people are too lazy to do, and in America there are no maid for her. The maids in the Philippines are mostly poor, so they have to become maids to support themselves and their families, but they become part of the master’s family after a while says Marlene. Marlene and her brothers and sister’s dream was to come to the U.S. to get a better and start a new life from what they had in the Philippines. Marlene’s mere finding a job and keeping it for fifteen years shows her success and her dreams coming true.

           Marlene Velasco shows me that it is possible for your dreams to come true and that to get what you want, you have to work hard. Marlene has a kidney problem that living with for quite a while and recently her conditions has gotten worst, but she still works two jobs everyday, back to back, 16 hours, six days a week. She balances all that work with raising her three kids and getting some rest and says that it takes a lot of participation from her family and co-workers to help her go through her day. It impresses me how she is able to do all of the things she does. I have discovered that it is hard, not only for nurses coming from the Philippines, but any person coming to the United States to start a new life. I have a new respect for all immigrants coming to the U.S. working to support themselves and their families. After interviewing Marlene, I was motivated to work harder in school and to just try my best at everything I do. The key to success is to work hard even if you have nothing because to get somewhere, you have to start somewhere.


Work Cited

Espiritu, Yen Le. Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, And Countries. Berkley and Los Angeles, 2003.

Nurse Week: Proud Nursing Heritage. 14 Dec. 2005 05-04/NursingHeritage_SC.asp - 33k