Friday, December 16, 2011
Chapter 6: A Christmas Story-The Ugly Americans
Early Fall in the Foothills of Eastern Sacramento County
Is it too early to talk about Christmas? Tomorrow is Halloween, but the nights are getting colder here in Fair Oaks. The trees in the surrounding area of Eastern Sacramento are starting to turn dark yellow, orange, red and gold. With Fall season in full swing, I can not help myself thinking about Christmas. I can not think of any article in the past that I have written, that is more appropriate than this article I wrote for our employees newspaper at Stauffer Chemicals, Richmond, California in 1983. I titled it : A Gift from the Ugly Americans-A true story. Here's the full article as published in the Stauffer News, Christmas Edition, Vol.14, 1983, page 11.
December, 1959. It was my first year as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. As a foreign student from the Philippines, away from home, wife and family, I was lonely, homesick and almost ready to quit school. However, my burning ambition to get a Ph.D. in Chemistry and not to be labeled a quitter, forced me to hang on for another year.
All my co-graduate student assistants realized how much I missed my newly wedded wife. They had been inviting me to their homes on weekend and holidays. I wrote to my wife almost every week, but how I wished I could afford to talk to her via overseas call, even just for 10 minutes. My stipend as a graduate assistant of $190 a month was barely enough to pay for my room and board and an overseas call was beyond my means.
Realizing my need, ten of my classmates arranged to pay for a call as a surprise Christmas gift to me. They organized a potluck party in one of the assistant's apartment and called the Philippine operator ahead to arrange for an open line to my wife. In the middle of the party, I was told I had a telephone call. What a big surprise to hear my wife's voice after one year of separation. I was dumbfounded.
I stuttered like a three year old kid as tears streamed down my face-tears of happiness and appreciation of what the group had done- the best Christmas present I have ever received. I will never forget that act of kindness and thoughtfulness from people I once called the "Ugly Americans"**. With that surprise gift, my preconceived ideas that most Americans were clones of Lederer and Burdick's characters went down the drain. Gone were my impressions that Americans were imperialists or colonial pigs, selfish and heartless people.
Today, we have lived in this country for 24 years, and pledged citizenship in 1972. From the beginning of our time here, we have made it a family tradition to invite foreign students into our home every Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This is our way of saying "thank you", to the ten "Beautiful Americans" who gave $2.00 each to pay for the telephone call so that a poor and homesick student could enjoy the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas Lantern(Parol) made of Mother of Pearl -a symbol of the Christmas spirit in the Philippines
Note: William Roberts, Manager Employee Communications of Stauffer wrote me a personal note as follows:
Dr. Katague: Your story has been chosen to be published in the 1983 issue of the Stauffer News. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that you will received shortly in the mail a $75 U.S. Savings Bond to thank you for sharing your memories with us.
*The term could now be changed to " Beautiful Americans ".
**The Ugly American is the title of a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. The novel became a bestseller, was influential at the time, and is still in print. After the book had gained wide readership, the term "Ugly Americans" came to be used to refer to the "loud and ostentatious" type of visitors in another country, rather than the "plain looking folks, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty like Homer Atkins" to whom the book itself referred"(source Wikipedia).