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Interview with Marissa Theis




Marissa Theis was born in San Simon, Pampanga, Philippines. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early life in the Philippines - her family - leaving the Philippines for Saudi Arabia to work - working as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia to financially support her family back in the Philippines - meeting her husband in an online chat room - coming to the United States and arriving in Baudette, Minnesota - running a business with her husband - her family coming to visit her in Baudette from the Philippines.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Marissa Theis Interviewer: Pa Yang



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2012 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980, and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

James E. Fogerty Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans


Marissa Theis during her time in Saudi Arabia.


Felix M. Garcia and Milagros V. Garcia, Marissa’s parents.


Amie Garcia and Marissa Theis in Saudi Arabia.



Marissa Theis and Steve Theis during his first visit in the Philippines.



Marissa and Steve having dinner with Marissa’s parents in the Philippines. From left to right: Marissa Theis, Steve Theis, Felix M. Garcia, Milagros V. Garcia.



Left to right: Steve Theis, Marissa Theis, and Mayelte Garcia.

Steve Theis and Marissa Theis in the Philippines.

Marissa Theis with Steve Theis when she arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Marissa and Steve’s wedding. Left to right: Step-daughter Jena Theis, Marissa Theis, Steve Theis, and Step-son Steve Theis Jr.



From Left to Right Glen Modjeski, Pat Modjeski, Steve Theis, Marissa Theis, and EJ Jovdet.





Marissa Theis Narrator Pa Yang Interviewer November 2, 2011 Williams, Minnesota

Marissa Theis Pa Yang


PY: Good morning. Today is Tuesday, November 2, 2011. My name is Pa Yang. I’m in Baudette, Minnesota. My first interview will be conducted with Marissa Theis. PY: Marissa, when and where were you born? MT: I was born in San Simon, Pampanga, in Philippines. PY: Who were your parents? Where were they born? MT: My dad is Felix Garcia, and he was born also in Pampanga in the Philippines. And my mom is Milagros Garcia, and she was born in Pampanga, and that that’s also in the Philippines, so they have the same province. PY: What did they do for a living and what were they like? MT: Okay. Dad is a writer, a journalist type. He doesn’t work anymore. But he writes a lot. He writes poems and he also has a book. And he’s also a columnist in one of the local newspapers in Pampanga. And it’s also all on the web. He is also cultural. They are trying to revive the culture of the Philippines. Especially in our province. And Dad is not so tall, but he’s not so . . . small. He was here probably two years ago. And Mom, she’s . . . I think she’s almost like my build. And she has curly hair. She has a pointed nose, not like mine. And she loves to sing, so I think I got the singing from Mom. PY: What is your strongest image of your father? MT: I guess . . . I think his nose. And I think it’s . . . some people say it’s a mix. My cousin Estrella said, “Oh, you’re a mix of your mom and dad,” so probably, yes. Maybe the height is from Mom! [Laughter] PY: What is your favorite memory of your mother? 26

MT: Oh . . . there’s a lot. Because she’s this mom who didn’t cook for us because when we were born, she was still young and it’s grandma who cooked. That’s dad’s mom. And so she’s the one who would do the cooking, but mom is the one who raised us. She’d do all our needs, you know. And then she helped dad with the business before, when I was in grade school. And yes, she’s a good mom. But still, because she also grew up like that. She had someone to do the things for her. That’s why I kind of blame her that she doesn’t . . . yes. But she’s trying to cook now. [Laughter] PY: How many children were in your family? And where were you in the lineup? MT: That’s easy. So I am the firstborn. Maybe there’s a purpose why I was the firstborn. We are nine in the family. I have four sisters and four brothers. I am the eldest and the youngest is boy. And they’re all grownups and married. PY: Describe your childhood home and where it was. MT: As long as I can remember, in the province, when I was still very, you know, very young, I didn’t go to school. And I remember when we left; I saw Grandma was crying, because, you know, we went to Manila. Dad put up a business, because he’s a tailor. And so we grew up there until probably . . . I was in grade six. And then we moved back to Pampanga after that. There are a lot of good memories. PY: Do you remember how your home looked like? MT: Oh, it’s . . . I think it’s an apartment, that the first floor is for the business and the second floor is for the family, you know. They did have a lot of people working for Dad and then we moved after that to a bigger place. But then, the front portion was the business, and then the back side of the house is where we lived. And so, yes, it’s pretty enough, pretty nice. It’s along the highway. It’s a very nice home. Not as big, you know, but it’s a very nice home and family is really close together. PY: What dialect did you speak at home? MT: We call it Kapampangan. In Pampanga the dialect is Kapampangan. When I was growing up, and we lived in Manila, therefore we needed to learn the national language, which is Tagalog. It was way for us to get use to speaking the language, so it will be easy for us. Because in the school they teach you how to speak English. So sometimes we practice in the house and then Dad would say, “Oh, no, that’s not how you would pronounce that.” We had a second teacher. [Laughs] PY: Did you speak other dialect did you speak beside Kapampangan and Tagalog? MT: I spoke Kapampangan, Tagalog, and English. But I also know how to speak Arabic, Tagalog intonation, and a little Spanish. It’s kind of mixed. 27

PY: What did you enjoy doing as a child? MT: Play, of course. That’s the first and foremost! And then I really loved to do some cooking. Because I remember the first time I made rice is when I was probably eight years old or nine. I asked the maid, “Can I cook the rice?” You know. And then they told Dad and Mom that I’m the one who cooked rice. Of course they were so surprised. Oh, sometimes Dad would, you know, give us a little spanking. Because, you know, kids don’t always do the good stuff right? Sometimes, I was kind of naughty, like skipping school! [Laughs] PY: Did you have a favorite outdoor activity? Describe it. MT: I did not really play activities like basketball because I mostly played with my sisters. The most common outdoor game we played was you go hide and I will try to find you. Another great game we played in the Philippines was simple, we would draw a square, then we’d put the other square and you step. And we also played with jumping rope. We would also take turn role playing as the mom and the people working in the grocery store. We would pretend to cook the stuff we collected from the grocery. We did not have special outdoor toys to play with so we played with un-physical items. But now, most children stay indoors and sit by a computer and play on the computer. It’s just so different. PY: Who were your grandparents? Did you know where they were born? MT: My mom’s dad was born also in Pampanga. I really don’t remember if my grandma from my mom’s side was born in Pampanga. But mom’s dad, he was in the army before. I think he served with the General Douglas MacArthur. And he came back to help the Philippines from the Japanese. So that was a long time ago. I just get the story from mom. And then my father’s mom, she was a farm girl. And a little kind of hardheaded farm girl. And my dad’s dad, he’s Spanish. That’s why my last name is Garcia. And Dad said he was the first one who had a car in their community. But his mom wanted to go back to the farm, so that’s the reason why they separated. Dad did not even see my grandfather. My grandfather’s sister told dad about him and showed pictures. Grandpa almost looked like my dad, but he’s taller and he’s light skinned, you know, because he’s Spanish. I think he had a good life because Grandma, you know, they have a car. The first one in their community. Boy, oh that’s awesome. PY: Describe your most important friendship. Friendship when you were growing up in the Philippines. MT: Well, when I was still in grade school, I had lots of friends. It wasn’t until I reached the teenager life, when I had closer friendships. It’s kind of funny because my best friend here is named Beth and my best friend way before is also Beth but then we separated since I moved to work, to Saudi Arabia. But she’s still there. She was really my best friend. I can tell her my problems and sometimes I had sleepovers at her home, it was really neat. PY: Did you attend church or religious services? 28

MT: Yes, I did. I was brought up as a Catholic. Like I shared last night, by six o’clock in the morning or six o’clock in the afternoon, you need to kneel down in front of the altar and you say prayers. After the prayers, we have to go to Grandma, Mom, Dad, and to whoever is the older to us, and kiss their hands as a respect. So yes, I went go to church. Easter to us, it’s much more than the bunny thing. In the Philippines, it’s more on Christ, Jesus Christ. So how he, you know, carried the cross. And sometimes we’d sing in the church. We would sing about his journey, from the first day that Christ carried the cross until the time that he was on the cross; he was nailed on the cross. I had a really good experience this one time when we were still in Manila. I was watching the parade, just like they do in the movie; they parade with Jesus carrying the cross. There was this one gentleman who was a part of the parade who came up to me and stared at me. He just came to me and looked at me and I didn’t know what he wanted, it was just weird. Scary, too, you know! [Laughs] PY: Where did you attend grade school? MT: I attended grade school in Manila, from grade one to grade six. I did not go to preschool. It’s automatically went grade one. And I stopped when we moved to Pampanga, because of Dad. I think Dad got sick, so we moved back to Pampanga, and we left our business in Manila. I think I took grade six twice. PY: Did you attend high school? MT: Yes, I went to Pampanga Central High School. That’s in Pampanga. And when I went to high school, I was a little older, because I stopped schooling. We went to another province to find a good life, a better life. By this time, we were broke. We didn’t have a business anymore. And I don’t know how it happened that we lost everything. We lost our house, we lost the business, and we lost all our machines. Of course, I didn’t have the right to ask my parents what happened. And I was too young to understand that, probably. And so I go to school at night and I go to work in the daytime. And I was still in my teenaged years, you know, I was sixteen, seventeen. So it was kind of a struggle. But it was really nice because I am the youngest in the place where I worked, but I was the one who managed them, you know. I finished high school in 1982. Yes. Thank God! [Laughs] PY: What did you want to be when you grow up? MT: I really wanted to become a nurse, but financially speaking, can’t afford that. And there were many things that I really wanted to be, you know. I wanted to be a cook, to put up a little restaurant. But it was kind of next to impossible. Because how will you do that there? Where will you get the money to do that? Because this time around, we are struggling now. The people we helped before, now didn’t look back to help us. And so we just did it on our own. I wanted to be a nurse. Sometimes I wanted to be more than that, but you know, there’s no harm in dreaming. You never know, it could have come true, right? [Laughs] 29

PY: Where was your first job in the Philippines? And how did you get it? MT: The first job I had is helping the small tailoring that dad put up for us to survive. I helped when dad traveled to Saudi Arabia. He was in Saudi Arabia because he was trying to find a job, a better job. I was the one who was left to run that. But I still go to work, so the first job I had no job description in it! So I did whatever the boss asked me, like, “Marissa, can you decide on this style or something? Or can you make this?” So if you decided, you have to sew it yourself. I’m not sure what kind of job this is? [Laughs] Aside from probably being a sewer, or in the garment factory. Yes. I think I was seventeen at that time. PY: Do you remember how much you were paid? MT: I think its twelve pesos a day. Twelve pesos, that’s only like a dollar or something. Yes. The food was free, the owner of the company was Chinese, and she liked me, I guess. They provided me the food from breakfast to dinner, which is nice. I can save the money for my family. That was my first job. PY: Can you tell me more about your father’s tailor shop? MT: Yes. As far as I can remember . . . it was really a neat tailoring shop. And the shop’s name was Marvel’s Tailoring It was named after my brother, he was the first boy and son, but he was the fourth one from me. I have two sisters after me, then it was my brother Marvel, and so the name of the shop was like Marvel Tailoring, like that. We had probably, oh, like six workers. And mostly are mom’s relatives from the province. It’s very nice then. Then after that, we moved into another one, too. We had the chance to have two tailoring shops. Before it was gone. PY: Now going back to your younger years in schooling, do you ever remember or recall being punished for something you did? MT: I don’t think so. Sometimes they’d just yell at you. Especially when I was in Saudi Arabia. Because of course you don’t know how to do the stuff, because it’s just like stepping into something that you don’t know if it’s going to kill you or hurt you. My boss would call me, and he would yell, and call me with a different name, because my name is Marissa but he called me Marcy. He said, “Marcy!” Then he told me that I did not clean the vegetables really good. They only eat fresh vegetables. Just like lettuce for salad, you know. And of course I cried because I’m not used to being yelled at, you know. But nobody punished me. PY: At what age did you leave the Philippines to Saudi Arabia? MT: I went to the airport twice and ended up going back home. And it is kind of embarrassing. Because the first time I should have gone, they told me I would go to Kuwait. But then I went to the airport and then I didn’t go to the plane. And the second time, it happened again. I got a little scared to do it again. But then my dad has a friend before in our tailoring shop and he called me, and said, “Because I know your dad, I’m going to send you to a place where I know the person.” So that was on March 12, 1987. 30

PY: Why did you leave to go work in Saudi Arabia? MT: I went to school, you know. You go to school because you want to have a good job. Yes, you want to have a good, you know, paying job. But it’s really hard to get a job in the Philippines. Sometimes there’s a little discrimination, too, when it comes to school. Because the school I went to is only in the province. Even though I graduated in the computer programming, it was really hard to find a job. And so I decided to go to Saudi Arabia because that was the easiest way to find a good job. I didn’t know if it was going to be a good job. I wanted to help Dad to raise the family, because my youngest brother was only in grade four or grade five, he was just so tiny. That was the one thing that really pushed me to, you know, go to Saudi Arabia. I didn’t know what kind of place I was going to, you know. You just have to be brave, you know. I mean, it seems like there’s no choice. So yes, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to help my family. You know. My decision to leave was mainly because I was thinking about my family much more than myself. I’ve been through a lot. So I said, “Oh, come on. I’ll just; you know, help the family and provide some stuff for them.” PY: So you left to provide more financial . . .? MT: Financial assistance. PY: Assistance for your family. MT: And send the kids to school. So I can help my sisters. I have some sisters who also graduated, but still it’s kind of hard to find a job. They’re helping Dad, but that’s not enough. And Dad was done working abroad, because the last time he was abroad was in Iraq. And, you know, Iraq, how is it. And so he said, okay, time to go back to working now. So after that, I don’t remember that Dad went abroad again. So Dad started writing. That’s him. PY: Do you remember how you felt when you first arrived in Saudi Arabia? MT: I know that it was scary! At first I was so excited, because I thought, oh, this is the first time I’m going to go on the plane! We went to Saudi Arabia in a group because we came from the same agency. And I was the only lady. When the plane landed, I was thinking, God, what will happen to me here? You know, I don’t have anybody. And so I was waiting for someone to pick me up. I had no idea. And here came a guy wearing a robe. And he doesn’t say anything, but maybe because he doesn’t know how to speak English. He just came and got my passport and took me to the car. While I was in the car, we drove about probably fifteen, twenty minutes. And I was praying. Oh, my God! Am I going to be raped or something? And then when we reached a house, you couldn’t see if it’s a house or what because it was fenced with very high fence made of concrete. And then he knocked on the door, a steel door. And then another guy who looked like an Indian from India—and I was right, he’s an Indian. And so his wife came with him to the car. I think I changed from one car to another, I don’t 31

remember. The new gentleman spoke to me in English. And I said, “Oh, thank God! There’s someone I can speak to!” [Chuckles] And his wife was nice and she said, “Hi!” Like this. I asked, “Sir, where am I going?” Then he said, “Don’t call me sir! Because I am also a worker like you, you know. My name is Mohammed. And then my wife is . . .” I forgot what her name was. And then he took me to another, you know, fence. [Giggles] A concrete fence and big, big, very big steel gate. And then I went inside. Then they left. And then Madame came to me and she said, “Oh, how do you do?” So she speaks English. So I was so relieved. I was not sure if the house was going to be where I would be because the agency said I was going to work in a hotel, but I ended up in a house. The house was really nice and the lady and the boss were really nice. And they have only one child. When I got there she was only nine and she was so nice. I couldn’t sleep that night because, you know, I think I started to get homesick now. Nobody spoke English, because they are all Indonesians. So they just look at me but then I eventually fell asleep, then I woke up, I was screaming. I don’t know why. And so the following day, they gave me these clothes, which is so different from the clothes I am wearing in the Philippines. And then they gave me a turban, they put it on my head. And I looked like a bum! [Laughs] They told I have to put the turban on when serving food. I could not eat the food. It was so different. I don’t know what it is. It smells really different. Madame came and she said, “Marissa, we will go to our house.” She said, “Oh, this is not the house.” You know. It’s a big house! I said, “Oh, God, another house!” So she took me to the car, and then we drove maybe for fifteen, twenty minutes. When we arrived at the house, she told me this is her house and then she showed me, the living room. They have a lot of living rooms, because they need to have one for the men and one for the women, because they’re not supposed to see each other. And so there is the regular family room. And then she showed me the kitchen. That was really nice. Not so big, not so small. And so there goes the start of my journey to becoming a house maid! [Laughs] PY: Were there other workers besides you in this household? MT: No, it was only me. Yes, it was only me. Which I guess it’s much better. PY: What kind of domestic work did you perform in this household? MT: I did cleaning. Cleaning bathrooms, cleaning the living room, vacuuming. You know, house work. It’s just like house chores, but it’s different because there you have to wear a different garment because they don’t want your hair to go into the food. Because one time that happened and I was scolded. They all leave to go to school because Madame is a teacher. And my boss, he’s a teacher, too, in a college. And the girl, she’s in school also. So they go all together. They don’t have a driver. So I cleaned the car. I did most of the stuff. PY: How long did you stay with this family? Or was this the only family you served? 32

MT: Yes, I guess that’s the only family I served. Oh . . . of course, they were so nice to me because when you go to work abroad, there is a contract. Then the shortest one is two years. School session ended and the family wanted to go to the U.S.A. And so they asked me, they said, “Marissa, do you want to go home for, you know, for a break?” “Of course,” I said. “Of course I do,” you know. Because there’s a chance I will not get to go home for a while because it’s not yet two years yet. After the two year, I chose to go home to visit. I traveled back and forth between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia a lot. I would spend at least two months in the Philippines before I’d go back. You know, and the more you come back, the more you go home, the more homesickness you get, so, yes. It’s kind of hard going back home. There were no cell phones, you know, there’s no Internet, so that’s really hard. Because if they write you a letter, you won’t receive it for at least two weeks. [laughing]. And if I write back, they receive it after two weeks. And then when you call them then you have to spend money to call. So when they call me, that means something happened there. Yes, and I don’t call them up until I have to go home. So I can tell them my arrival date and time. During one of my breaks back home, I almost got married. But then I went back to Saudi Arabia because I don’t want to gamble to go to another place. You know, at least I know them. At least they know me. PY: How long was your contract to stay in Saudi Arabia? How long was that contract? MT: The regular contract is two years. So that will start from the day you arrive but my Madame and her husband did not really follow that because maybe they find me nice and wanted to keep me longer. They find me a good worker. I knew other stuff so that they don’t have to hire somebody else to do it. So sometimes I do sewing for Madame, I do some of her dresses. Madame would give me some gifts. The salary is not really that much, you know. One hundred fifty dollars, because that’s the contract. I have to send money to the Philippines. I tell myself sometimes “I really cannot believe it. Sometimes I just can’t, like I’m only here for three days, I’ve already gotten my salary for a year.” Because I have to send money back to Philippines, you know. But I don’t regret it, it has helped me a lot. It helped me to stronger. And to lead life by myself. Yes, it helped me a lot. And then it changed me in a lot of ways. Because before, I would get agitated so easily. I didn’t have patience. And then sometimes they called me grumpy when I was a teenager. I think I changed for the better, which is pretty good. PY: On your trips back home to the Philippines, you said that you met someone and you almost were married. But you decided to go back to work in Saudi Arabia. How did you meet this person and what made you decide to not get married? MT: That was in . . . 1997, I guess, 1996, 1997. I met him in Saudi Arabia. He’s my brother’s friend. Some of my brothers were old enough to go to Saudi Arabia and work. My youngest brother works in a computer store. And my brother, he’s the second from the youngest. I brought 33

him with me to Saudi Arabia and he became our driver. It was really nice having a family member close by. At times it was still hard, too, because when he does something, you know, something wrong, then I am at fault. So, you know, like I was one who was the punching bag. This guy, he’s from the Philippines. When I went home, because we talked about being together, I had already decided not to go back to Saudi Arabia. We planned a wedding. He took me to his family. I met his mom, dad, and his sisters. And then he took me to his sister also one time. And so then I was planning a wedding. And here comes the rain, and our place got flooded just a week before the wedding. Because it’s only a simple wedding, so I don’t have, the wedding dress or stuff. It would just be up in our house. And so we talked, and I said, “I’ve got a cousin, you know and their house is little but our place was really flooded by then. We can’t do anything about it because it’s almost up your waist! So how will you get married there, right? And I don’t want to get married in Manila. Because I want to be there in Pampanga. And you know what happened, after how many days, my cousin’s place was flooded, too. [Laughs] I don’t know why it happened. Probably he changed his mind. He did not show up. He did not come back to Pampanga to visit me. And so my mom, my dad, and my brother we went to their place in Manila. And he wasn’t there. And he did not show up. So Mom and Dad left me there and . . . for that day I spent the night in their house. He didn’t show up. And I was crying. Well, I think he showed up. Yes. I think . . . alright, yes. I’m sorry to say that. I think he showed up and he talked to me. But I was crying. I was not crying because I missed him. Even my parents said, “How can you . . .? You know, you can’t really marry this guy. He’s not even that handsome!” They say he is lesser compared to me. I was crying because I lost everything now. I don’t have a job. You know. I lost so much. Okay, I lost him, that’s fine. I can find another guy. But I lost my job! How can I go back? Because I told them, you know, I am not coming back already. And then I am so embarrassed, too, because we planned for the wedding but then nothing happened. And so I cried, I cried, I cried. And I just wanted to go home in the middle of the night, because he left after that. He did not come back to . . . to even talk to me anymore. And I don’t have Mom and Dad because they went back to the province. And so, what I did, I just go home! Just went back home. I was crying, crying. But . . . I said [to myself], “Oh, gosh, Marissa, don’t cry! That’s fine. You know. You know, nobody will help you except yourself. So what I did, I woke up early. I took a shower. Then I went to my sister at her work in the province. And she got so surprised to see me. She said, “Hey sis, what are you doing here? Are you okay?” She knew I had just lost someone and lost my job. I said, “Yes, I’m fine.” And she said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yes, I am fine.” She’s my sister next to me and she just wanted to help me. She said she would help me find something to do. So I can forget what happened to me. And so I did let her help me until my boss’s daughter called me. I was still in Manila. She called me and told me that she missed me. I went back to Saudi Arabia. And that was in 1999. Yes. And at that time I took my sister with me. My boss found out that I had a brother who worked in the computer store, so sometimes he asked my brother to help with the computers. And then so my brother is also a part of how I went 34

back to Saudi Arabia, because he told my boss that, “Oh, my sister is wanting to go to a different place.” And so my boss got so, you know, excited and he came back and he got for me a visa and my sister. Then so I went to Saudi Arabia at this time with my youngest sister. PY: And was she a domestic worker as well for the family? MT: Yes. And when we got there, there were two Sri Lankans. One is the one who makes Madame’s clothes and one is the one who did the cooking and cleaning. And one is married, so she had to be with the husband. But I think the husband is the driver. And so that’s when I started working more closely with the computer in my boss’ office. I started doing the research for my boss. And my sister is the one who helped the other Sri Lankans clean the house. My sister got homesick very bad, so she’s always crying. And then sometimes she just stayed upstairs in the room. She didn’t want to do anything because she missed her kids, you know. And I understand. So I just did what is supposed to be done by her. So she had to clean the toilets, she had to wash the bathrooms. So I just did that, you know. So of course I don’t want my boss to get mad at my sister, you know, because that will bring a little friction between my boss and me. I cook their own food and then the other cooks there will cook for us. And so when someone comes there and says, “Is that Marissa?” I said, “Yes.” So Marissa came back. So I stayed there up to 2001. PY: Tell me about how you got promoted to be the researcher for your boss? MT: I just wanted to impress him. And even there before I left, I was the one who’ll write . . . the things like the faxes, and then I fax it, because they have their own fax machine in the house. The boss would tell me, “Okay, you fax that to China.” And then I learned how to do the fax. I mean, I know how to use it. Because the computer was not so common, he was surprised that I knew how to operate a computer. Not a lot of people have computers in their houses. My boss would ask me if I can, you know, search for him like stuff for the hospital. So I’d go search for it. Then I’d print it out. So that was when I climbed from just a domestic house worker to being an assistant.. but I still sometimes would cook when we have parties. I helped with chores still even after they removed the Sri Lankans and it’s only me and my sister just left. Because they didn’t need them anymore. PY: How long did you stay in Saudi Arabia? The total number of years? MT: I think that it was . . . fourteen, fifteen years. Because we have to remove the one year that I did not . . . work there. Because I started in 1987 and from 1987, yes, to 1997, so that’s . . . that’s ten years. And then so after that I went back, 1999. So it’s like fifteen years. No, it’s not fifteen years. Madame said that, she misses me after fifteen years. So maybe she forgets too. So that’s from 1987, March, to 1997. Then I went back in 1999, and to 2001. That’s only twelve years. Twelve years, that’s still a lot of time! [Laughs] PY: How did you meet your husband? Can you tell me about how did you meet your husband? 35

MT: I met my husband on Easter in 2001. That was April 11, 2001. I still remember that day. That was because it’s only my sister home alone, because the bosses now went to Colorado. I was kind of bored, you know. So I thought, why don’t I go to chat? I opened up an account. I did have a previous account but I had no personal picture. When I opened the new account, I used my nephew’s name to create the new account. And so I went to the chartroom. And I found that chartroom that says . . . an Asian for American guy. I was nervous because sometimes there are some bad chartrooms. So I started and I said, “Hi, I am a Filipino. I am an Asian from the Philippines.” And then he replied, “Hi! I’m from Canada.” Like oh, seems like this is a real one. And so I closed the other windows from the different guys. And then . . . then he said, “Hi.” And I said, “Oh, hi, how are you?” We chatted for a while and I really enjoyed talking to him. And then he said, “What kind of paper work and what it takes for me to take you to U.S.A.?” And then I said, “Of course, you know, a visa. And then I need pass . . . you know, I need a visa and ticket.” It was because I thought he was just bluffing me. PY: [Chuckles] MT: I remember that he asked for a picture, he wanted to see how I looked like and I said, “I’m sorry but I don’t give my picture to strangers. I don’t show pictures to strangers.” Then he typed a smiley picture again. Then he said, “Am I a stranger?” I said, “Of course, you are.” Then he gave me his telephone number. And then he . . . he gave showed me his picture. But then I said, “How can I see you?” And about the only thing I see in that picture is the fish! [Laughing] The picture he sent had him holding a fish, and he’s wearing a hat, and so the face was kind of dark. And then he had curly hair. I think he probably had feelings for me . . . he felt something, maybe. And so every time I go on the Internet, his server is on. I have always wondered if he just leaves it on in case other girls come online. He would ask, “Hey can I see a picture now?” He felt that it was unfair that I did not send him a picture. I told him, I don’t know him well enough. He then said to me, “Call me.” And so I called him. And then there’s a woman who answered the telephone! And so I put it down! [Laughing] I felt bad because I was not sure if I dialed the wrong number. [Laugh] And so I told him, “Hey, forget it. Your wife was the one who answered the phone.” He said, “I don’t have a wife!” That’s what he said. And he said he sent me his kid’s picture. And he said that he was divorced. And then he went back again to, “Can I see your picture?” And so maybe this time, I thought . . . you know, he seemed so sincere. And so I gave him my other account. I said, “If you can find that, then you can see my picture.” Then he found it. When he came back to online, he said, “You are so beautiful. Can I take you home?” [Laughs] And he showed the picture that he found. I thought, you know, I found him sincere. And then I called him once. And I liked his voice. Oh, gosh, he sounds so good on the telephone. But I still don’t know how he looks like. I told myself that I am not getting any younger. Yes, I think I deserve to have a life of my own, too. I was still unsure . . . See, I didn’t like to marry an American. I didn’t want to go somewhere 36

in America. And then so he asked me if I will marry him a month after that. That was May. So I said yes. He asked me first, he thought he’d come to the Philippines and ask my parents for permission first. He said, “I want to talk to your parents.” And then that’s the time I told him, “I have to tell you, I am not in the Philippines.” And he said, “Where are you?” And I said, “I am in Saudi Arabia.” He said, “What are you doing there?” So I told him what I am doing here. So I didn’t hide anything from him. So I told why I’m there, I am working. And so it’s like this, blah, blah, blah, and I have . . . my contract will finish in October. And he’s like, “Can I talk to your parents?” And I gave him my boss’s telephone number, and, you know, in the U.S. And I think he called my boss, because my boss told me he called. There is someone who called him. So that means he’s really sincere. And so when he asked me to marry him, I said okay. The problem was, how do I tell my boss that I will cut my contract short? But then I talked to Madame, and they understood me. So they let me go. They just asked me to, you know, for them to find someone else first before I go. But then I did not have the chance to wait for the other one. And so I left Saudi Arabia on September 6th of 2001. And Steve came to see me on September 10th. He was in the airport between September 10th and 11th. On September 11th, when they bombed, you know, when the plane crashed in New York, he was there in the Philippines. Yes. So that’s scary, I think, for him. Because he was scared. And so that was the first time I saw my husband cried.. PY: So you went back to the Philippines, and then your husband came to the Philippines to meet with you. How was your reaction to seeing him for the first time? MT: I didn’t know how to feel. Kind of mixed emotions. You don’t know if you’re scared, you don’t know if you are nervous. You don’t know if you are excited. I was thinking, what if he doesn’t like me? You know, because sometimes a picture doesn’t speak for everything. It’s only a picture. My dad and brother came along with me to the airport to pick up my husband from the airport. My dad said, “I think that’s him.” And I told Marvel, I said, “I think that’s him.” And he was wearing a white shirt. He went and got his luggage. It’s not even a luggage; it’s only a bag with his clothes. And it’s red. And he’s wearing jeans. And so he paged me before I approached him. Even though I can see him, I was still looking because I am not sure. I said to myself, “Okay, this is it.” So I went to him. When I approached him, he said, “Here she is.” That’s right. So he put his arm on my shoulder. I took him out of the airport and then my brother recorded our meeting on the video, and then my brother put the video down and I introduced him to him. So I introduced him to Dad, and we went to the hotel. And we talked there. [Laughs] PY: Now were you able to come back to the U.S. right away? Or did you have to wait for the paperwork to process first? Did he have to come back out to the Philippines? MT: It took a little longer on my passport, because I had to change a lot of stuff. Because when I went to Saudi Arabia, my birthday was changed. And it took longer than we were expecting. My visa came out September . . . a year after that. So I came here on September 16, 2002. So that’s a long wait. 37

PY: If you can re-experience one thing in your life before you came to the U.S. to be with your husband now, what would it be? MT: Well, there’s really nothing that I can think of, because my life had it’s up and down. If I could choose something, maybe when my father left to work and we had that hardship for that period of time, you know. PY: So did you travel to the U.S. by yourself to come and meet your husband and be with your husband? MT: Yes, I did. Yes. I flew but I was used to flying. So it was not new to me. And so it was the first time I was in Japan, because I had to go to Japan first. And I got lost in the airport, it’s so big. But there you have to . . . you know, you just have to ask. I landed in Minneapolis. And there’s my husband and my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. My . . . my stepdaughter and my stepson and my brother-in-law. They’re waiting for me. And I have a picture there, so the first time I came here. PY: How did you feel when you first arrived at the airport in Minneapolis? MT: Oh, it’s something different! Because sitting in the plane you can see it’s so nice. Minnesota is so . . . so beautiful. It was almost fall. I was excited. But then a little . . . oh, I think just a little sadness, too. Because it’s too far. It’s too far. PY: Did you realize that you weren’t going to be in Minneapolis, that you’re actually coming up to Baudette? MT: Yes, my husband told me about this and so . . . It’s good, because there’s an Internet, so you can see the map, you know. But I . . . I wasn’t expecting it will be that long drive from the airport to Baudette! [Laughs] So I think I fell asleep on the way, because I did not have really good sleep on the plane. I don’t think I felt shock because he really explained to me before that it’s so quiet and so peaceful. And I said, “Oh, my gosh. That’s the place I want to live.” And . . . because I grew up in the city and I don’t like it. PY: What was your first reaction when you arrived in Baudette? And who did you first meet in Baudette? MT: When we got to Baudette, it was almost night time. And so he took me to the store right away, because I didn’t have a toothbrush and that’s the most important thing. And so he took me to the store, but he never talked. The first one I met is his helper, Greg. Greg said, “Hi, Mrs. . . .” You know, “Mrs. Theis,” like this. Yes. I was impressed how nice everyone was.

MT: I met a lot of people. But I think my husband told everybody! [Laughs] That he had a girlfriend from the Philippines. And so everyone said, “Oh, Steve told us about you!” I was like, 38

that’s embarrassing. I told my husband, “Why did you tell everyone?” And he said, “There’s nothing wrong about that.” You know. Because they know that Steve’s been divorced for so many years. And so they were so excited, and then one of them came with flowers, you know, like that. And that was sweet. It’s . . . its really nice. And it was the best experience I ever had, that when you go to town, then you don’t know people, then they will say, “Are you Steve’s wife?” You know. [Laughs] “I heard that you speak different kinds of languages!” [Laughs] Yes. Now that’s really neat. PY: So you said that your husband has kids. How many kids does he have and when you met them, were they older? MT: Before, he told me he has two kids, one girl and one boy. Stevie, Jr. He showed me pictures when he came to visit, and I remember that I said to myself that his son looked like Harry Potter because he’s wearing glasses! [Laughs] And he said he’s the firstborn, so he’s much older than the girl. Yes. I met him because he is living in the city, I just don’t know where. And when I came here, they were so young. I think Gina was only . . . maybe not even sixteen. And Stevie was thirteen. But now they are grownups now. Yes. But they aren’t that close to me, because they don’t live with us anyways. PY: What was your husband’s occupation? Did you guys have this business already? Or was it smaller? MT: He was already running a bait shop. I mean . . . it was in a little convenience store. But we don’t have this. And so when I came here, I helped him with that, so I cleaned. I am the one who’d do the cleaning. We didn’t have a helper the first time, because, you know, it’s Greg. Yes, Greg. It was mostly my husband and I. So we worked. We have a mini golf course in here, you know. And there is trees all around here. And then in 2004, we decided why not put in a liquor store? Because there’s a lot of people asking us in the bait shop and we have customers who would ask, “Hey, where’s the nearest liquor store?” So we say, “Oh, in town,” which is far, like twelve miles, so twelve minutes to thirty minutes, depending on how you drive. I went back to Philippines in 2004 for my youngest brother’s wedding. And when I came back, we started to build this. We were living in a not so big house. Just nice. Nice for the two of us. And sometimes Stevie comes to sleep in our house. But we have a very big yard. Which is not so . . . really clean. Because of my husband . . . loved garbage before. So we have some stuff in that. He filled up the garage. He told me that I would run the liquor store; I think I started from scratch. I didn’t know anything about liquors. I don’t know anything about wines. I started there by myself . . . just by myself for how many years. And people are asking me, “Hey, Marissa, do you need help with it?” I said, “No.” Because I was thinking, I cannot afford it yet, because the money that I will spend on help I can still use it to buy more stuff. You know, so now you can see how . . . people say, “Oh, Marissa, you did a good job.” I feel it, oh! You know. The lady who helps me there, she says I did really well. So I think I do! [Laughs] Yes. Just . . . work a little harder. [Giggles] 39

PY: How many times have you gone back to the Philippines to visit your family? MT: I’ve been there in 2003, with Steve. That’s his second trip. And no trip after that for him. So that’s 2003, 2004, and then 2006, 2007, when it was Mom and Dad’s fiftieth anniversary. So 2009 was my last trip there. I haven’t been home for at least three years now. PY: And you said that your father came to visit you two years ago? How was his experience here? MT: When was that? In 2007, because you have to become a U.S. citizen to be able to petition, it was back in June of 2009 when my dad visited. He could have come, you know, earlier, but because he’s got some writings to finish. I think he was very impressed. He came from Minneapolis to International Falls and he missed his flight for International Falls. [Laughs] Because, you know, he was new to the airport. So he said it’s a big, big airport. And so they had to check him because he missed the plane. And then they put him on the second plane. And so instead of arriving at two o’clock in the afternoon, he came at ten o’clock in the night. So I waited so long! [Laughs] When we were in the car, he said that he thought my car was red. I said, “No, Dad, Steve, you know, traded the car.” It’s because it was so small for him. And so we were driving. I never drove in the Philippines, although I tried, but it’s too much traffic, you know. I can tell by the way that Dad was so impressed that . . . here comes my daughter, you know. She’s got a car. She is driving me! And from International Falls to here, that’s more than an hour. And I said, “Don’t worry, Dad, we’re almost home.” When we arrived to Baudette and we went inside the house, he was looking, you know, like this. He was just looking . . . really, it’s too different. And so . . . and so, I said, “Dad, just, you know, take a rest and tomorrow night we will open the stores, so I will take you to the stores.” The next day, my dad went with me in the store. And he was just looking, looking, looking, look! Just like a kid in a candy store. So I can tell that he really had a good time with me here. Although sometimes I find him, you know, seems like he’s sad. But we have a computer in the house, so he can do his writings. And I provided him with a magic jack, so he can call every day and . . . he has a magic jack here at the shop, we have a magic jack in the house. So everywhere he is. And so I don’t want him to be bored. But I guess he got a little bit bored, especially when winter came. But then because we have a big vegetable garden, he was the one who he took care of that and my flower garden and he watered in the morning and afternoon. And my garden was so nice, you know. And he . . . he loved to mow. [Laughs] And he got a lot of pictures mowing, gardening, oh, yes. So I filed that album for him only of all his pictures. And in the wintertime, he still wanted to come here with me. And he’d have to clean the snow in the front. You know, so I said “Dad, are you not cold?” He’s like, “Oh, I’m fine!” He had this coat, and always had gloves. That’s what the people here remembered of dad during his stay here. They would always tell me that they remember that dad would always have gloves in his hand and his jacket on. He helped me a lot in the liquor store. There is never a time that he doesn’t go to inside the cooler and 40

pulled the shelves to stock. I gave some money for that. Sometimes I tell him, “Dad, don’t you feel bad because your daughter is your boss?” [Laughs] PY: [Chuckles] How long did he stay in the States and up here with you? MT: Well, he didn’t stay that long, although he got his green card and his social security number. He left in March of 2010, last year. But then I . . . I never thought about asking first in the United States immigration on how he can come back because he was just visiting me, but then we did not have a chance to ask what to do. I did not file for him a re-entry, so . . . because after one year, you cannot come back in here, even if you have a green card. I think that he had a good memory. We have many videos during his visit. And he has a lot of pictures, yes. Yes, he had a nice stay. PY: When people look back at your life, how do you want to be remembered? MT: Knock on wood, like when I am gone I want my siblings to know and understand how hard I tried to be to a good sister. [Laughs] PY: What are you most grateful for in your life? MT: Most grateful for? [Laughs]. I’m becoming sentimental. Let’s see. When I came here . . . of course, when I met my husband. So my life has changed a lot. PY: I’m about to conclude our interview. MT: Okay. PY: Would you like to make a final statement? Perhaps maybe some word of wisdom? MT: Oh, words of wisdom? [Chuckles] Like what I told Julianne last night. I said, “Julianne, everything happened for a reason.” For example, if you lose your boyfriend, pick yourself up and move forward. I always say this to my nieces too because my nieces now are grownups. Now they are in the age of, you know, like having a boyfriend. And. I already have a nephew. It’s kind of funny, because when I left they were so tiny. And now I already have a granddaughter. I have another granddaughter with another niece, because she got pregnant when she was sixteen. And so I told her not to marry because, you never know, she might find something just like me! And so . . . don’t lose hope. Sometimes, the bad things in life just become like a shield, you know. It helps you. I mean, it makes you grow stronger and then you learn from things, you learn from bad times. You learn a lot and then it will become like a blueprint, you know. So at least you can see, oh, I don’t have to do that again. Sometimes mistakes help you. And yes, just . . . don’t lose hope. If you have a problem, it can be solved. There will always be a way to solve or work through the problem or situation.


And then when your life becomes better, you still have to share. Your family, they are the ones who, put me in here, this situation. But because Dad is lucky to see me here. I remember dad saying, “I saw you. I saw how your life is. So I’m happy.” So I’m sending money to my family because it’s not for them to become, you know, lazy. I think that’s my way of saying, you know, I have a good life. So . . . here’s some of it. PY: Thank you very much, Marissa. It’s been a pleasure doing this interview with you.