|Dane and Vimah Temporal, Bridgett Rian, Lina and George Tabangcora|
In November 1976, six nurses arrived in Paris to work for St. Joseph’s Hospital, the first of many Filipino nurses who were to enhance the medical community of Lamar County. Recently, I spoke with two of the original six, Lina Tabangcora and Bridgett Rian, as well as four other members of the local Filipino community – George Tabangcora, Dane and Vimah Temporal, and TJ Gorley. Their travel stories reflect the history of Filipino nurses in the United States.
To counter communist propaganda, the United States instituted an Exchange Visitors Program in 1948 to bring young people to America for two years to learn our way of life and expand knowledge in their fields. Because of U.S. influence from its colonial days in the Philippines, many Filipino nurses had been trained by American methods. They soon became the dominant participants in the Exchange program where 80% came from the Philippines. In 1965, immigration laws were revised and no longer favored European immigrants, thus allowing more Filipino nurses to apply. As demand increased, so did their local nursing schools – growing from 17 in 1940 to over 300 today.
Lina and Bridgett were originally recruited to work in Georgia but a friend enticed them to Paris because St. Joseph’s hospital would sponsor them for permanent residency. Bridgett remembers being depressed as they arrived noting Wal-Mart was the only place to shop. But the Sisters were very accommodating, helping with furniture, and Dr. Bercher even brought by some food.
Both Lina and Bridgett were single but that would change, thanks to the “inter-relative” network, a precursor to internet dating services. Bridgett’s cousin, George Tabangcora, had also come to the United States via the Exchange Program and was living in Pennsylvania, studying embryo transplants for cattle. He met Lina in 1978 on a visit to Paris and they married in 1981. George introduced Bridgett to Levi Rian, another Exchange Program participant in Ohio, and they married. After a correspondence course with California College under the supervision of Ed Schaffer, both George and Levi became certified respiratory therapists and joined our local medical community.
By the time fiancees, Vimah and Dane Temporal, finished nursing school, recruiters from the U.S. were all over the Phillippines including an alum from their school who worked out of Houston. It was 1983, a time of recession, and the offer looked good. Dane remembers looking at a map of the United States in the recruitment office in Manila and couldn’t find Paris, Texas on it. After landing in Houston, Dane and another nurse were put on a Trailway bus to travel by night to Dallas and then to Paris. Vimah came two months later.
Dane and Vimah wanted to marry immediately. They paid $7 for a marriage license and found their way to Justice of the Peace Chester Oakes’ office. Judge Oakes thought they were Native Americans and bewildered the couple by speaking in Cherokee. He also couldn’t pronounce her name and asked if Dane wanted to marry Vimah “whatever her last name is.” Dane wondered aloud if they were legally married.
|TJ Gorley soon after her arrival in Paris|
At age 23, TJ Gorley came to America because it was prestigious and she knew her parents would be proud. TJ had to choose among El Paso, San Antonio or Paris – selecting Paris only because she recognized the name. In January 1984, she disembarked from the plane in a mini-skirt and immediately wondered why all the trees were dead – having never experienced winter in the Phillippines. She joined eight other nurses staying in George and Lina’s home until accommodations could be found. Lina said they had women sleeping everywhere.
Even though many of the recruits moved on, Dane believes there are over 100 Filipinos living in Lamar County, with most coming directly or indirectly through nursing recruitment. They all had big adjustments to make. Although English classes begin in second grade in the Phillippines, our local idioms were challenging. “Move your noggin,” “over yonder,” “come back directly”, or “fixin to” all had to be explained.
This group stayed in Paris for many reasons. They wanted their children to have a hometown. They felt if they worked hard, they could earn respect as well as financial success. They appreciated then and now the lack of red tape and our efficient government bureaucracy. They see their taxes used on good roads and schools and believe opportunity still exists here.
Because of America’s increased emphasis on nursing, Filipino nurses no longer are needed to fill our needs. Many of them now go to the Middle East. But we were lucky that some of their best made it to Paris and that they stayed.