Thoughts from the journey… Excerpts from a day in the life of Sherry McLaughlin

22Oct/090

True Liberty

The love of liberty is the love of others. –William Hazlitt

As a new immigrant to the U.S., my father traveled to New York City on a quest to view a symbol. Hopping in his car and making his way toward the East Coast, he fought the traffic jams and hordes of people to make his way to Liberty Island. Though he had been in the States for several months, I believe that was the day my father first felt his freedom. Gazing up at the 250,000 lb. statue with tears in his eyes, that was also the day he vowed he would share it with everyone he met.

My dad was a visionary and a “get-it-done-er”. He was notorious for dreaming up grand schemes and making sure they came to fruition. No task was too small when it was a great idea coupled with some good, old-fashioned passion.

In the late summer of 1973, my father was a young physician practicing in Michigan. During his day, he would come in contact with other immigrant Filipinos, many of whom were employed at the same facility. He quickly recognized that the Land of Opportunity was doling out some hard lessons to most of them. Freedom came with a price and many young Filipinos were struggling to make ends meet.

He commiserated with a couple of his fellow Filipino physicians. “It is a shame that people come to this country and never get a chance to really see it,” he said. “I have a great idea. Why don’t we rent three Greyhound buses and take as many Filipinos as we can to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.? We can pick up some extra hours moonlighting in the ER to pay for the buses.” I can picture my dad saying it with a twinkle in his eye. I imagine his friends laughed until they realized—he wasn’t kidding.

So, the plan was put into motion. They divided the cost by three and arranged for the buses to be rented. They proceeded to invite every Filipino they ran into—some friends and some strangers—to come along for the trip of a lifetime. As the deadline for the big payment approached, his two comrades realized they would fall short of the goal. They had not been able to work the extra hours they had planned on. It appeared the big trip was off.

I imagine my father sat for a moment, picturing the disappointed looks of all the people they had invited. Not to be deterred, he flew into action. He applied for an American Express card and rented the buses. He shouldered the cost by working even more hours in the month he had to repay his debt, and I imagine he did it with joy in his heart.

The trip must have been incredible. Can you imagine being one of those invited who had never before met my dad?

“Hi. I notice you are Filipino. Would you like to go on a trip to Washington DC?... No…it won’t cost a thing…really.”

Actually, that is my version of how I think the conversation would have transpired. In reality, my father probably greeted them in his native tongue and if they answered back—they were in. Young and old. Professional and non-professional. Old friend and soon to be new friend. All were handed the gift of freedom to move about a free country.

The details of the trip are sketchy to me. I was too young to remember much of it. But at his funeral, someone told the story—and I saw the picture.

If you think you can fit a lot of Filipinos into an averaged size kitchen, just imagine how many you can pack into three Greyhound buses. The picture was worth a thousand words and probably a thousand stories since. A sea of brown-skinned people with cameras slung around their necks, grinning from ear to ear, standing aside the giant vehicles. Happy. Eager. Proud.

I looked at the photograph and smiled. So, that’s what freedom looks like.

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