immigrants joe
Image: Pete Stone

NAME Joe Apperson
BORN ON January 4, 1959
BORN IN Olongapo, Phillipines
WORKS AS Lead Mill Worker, Bright Wood Corporation
LIVES IN Metolius
NATURALIZED ON April 24, 2008

I WAS BORN ON January 4, 1959, in Olongapo City, near the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay. My mother was named Rosaria Murillo, and my father was an American sailor named Jack Apperson who was stationed at Subic Bay, but I never knew these things until later in life.

I grew up with a different family, in a town in the province of Tarlac, north of Manila, and though I didn’t know my background then, I remember kids called me “White Fish” because I looked more American than Filipino. I even looked different from my brother and four sisters. My skin was a lot lighter than everyone else’s.

One night, when I was 7, I got in a fight with one of my sisters, and my dad yelled at me, “You are not our son! You are just the son of a buffalo!” That’s when my mom showed me two black-and-white pictures: a wallet-sized photo of a man in a sailor suit and a snapshot of a woman that had been taken at my baptism. “Here,” she said. “This is your real mom. This is your real dad.”

She said that after my mom got pregnant, my dad offered to marry her and take her back to America. But she was from an important Filipino family, and she refused to marry my dad because he came from a family of farmers. The day before I was born, Jack Apperson was sent to Vietnam, so he never got to see me. He never knew if I was a boy or a girl. My mom met another sailor and went to America with him. But she left me in the Philippines with her very good friend—my stepmom.

My stepmom never saw or heard from my real mother again. But she kept a note that Rosaria Murillo had written to me. It said, “When you grow up, I hope this letter will help you. This is a description of your dad: He has a burn on his back on the left side. When your father was 7 years old, his dad, that’s your grandpa, he was burning weeds on the farm and your dad fell into the fire. Your dad has green eyes but sometimes they turn blue.” That’s it. That’s all she wrote.

I kept the picture of my mom and dad by my mattress, and each night when I went to bed, I kept saying to myself, “I will find you.” My stepparents said that after I learned the truth about my past, I became a different person. It’s like I was done being a kid. I wanted to be an adult. I wanted to find my father. Every time I went to school, I told the kids I played with, “One of these days, I’m going to be gone. I am not from this place.”

When I was 14, I left home and went to live by myself in Manila. I worked as an elevator operator, a janitor, and a waiter at a catering company. With all those jobs, I was making maybe $20 a month, but I was saving all of my money so I could come to the United States to look for my father.

In 1984, I heard they were hiring Asian workers in the Middle East, and I found a job with good pay at a factory in Saudi Arabia. After seven years there, I had saved enough. I went to Boston because I had some friends who happened to live near the Central Library in Copley Square. Every morning at 7 o’clock, when they left for work, I sat in front of a microfilm machine, looking through hundreds of military records until the library closed for the night.