Charles A. Lara

Charles Lara Bio

I was born and raised in the town of Lasam, Province of Cagayan, Island of Luzon, Philippines, on June 19, 1946. I am the 2nd of 10 children of Samuel Agatep Lara and Juanita Atanaya.

I married my wife, Larina Sagisi, in May 4th of 1970, in Lasam. We came to the United States on December 3rd of the same year. We came directly here and settled in Santa Maria. My wife have families here. She has a sister, and a brother who was then a farm supervisor so I went to work in the farm with him. My wife was pregnant when we came here and had our first child, a girl, in December of that year. She was a stay home mom until she got her first job at a plastic factory in Nipomo in March of 1971.

My impression of life in the United States when I was in the Philippines was that this place is so rich that money is everywhere. All you have to do is pick. Modern Promise Land. In a way, it is true. I worked stoop labor cutting Lettuce, Broccoli, Cabbage and all sort of produce in the farm. You also stoop picking strawberries. You bend over to work and you get paid for it. That is picking money. It was hard but it pays good. I make 2 times more than what the people working in town such as those that work on fast food places makes. I do not have any skill, technical of otherwise, to be able to compete in the job market that pays good so I settled for farm job. I average about $300.00 a week. Not bad for a new immigrant like me. My greatest handicap, which I have a few even up to now is communication. I had a hard time understanding the way Americans speak and I noticed that they can’t understand me half of the time. I listen to the ’Old timers’ and I wonder how Americans understand them. I learned one secret however, that when you talk to Americans, look them in the face or make eye contact and they read your facial expression, combine with some hand gestures they understand me better. I had some experienced with Americans that use to teach at my school in the Philippines so, that gave me an edge. Another handicap I had was the weather/climate. I came from a tropical and torrid country. I arrived in this cold world in December. Winter time.

My first morning, it was so cold. I wondered aloud why the roof of that house across street is white. My brother-in-law’s wife said it was ice they called “frost”. Another experienced I had that made me appreciate hard work was the way some of the ‘Old timers’ treated me at work. We worked by contract or piece work and we all share the money we make everyday. They expect you to work like them or even better because you are younger. They don’t consider the factor that you just arrived in this country, in this weather, and that you are not used to this kind of work. I was a policeman in the Philippines before I came here so what do I know about this job? They said that they are the one making payments on my car, my groceries or whatever I buy for myself. They should have the right to sleep with my wife. Although I was taught to respect my elders, I can’t help but to talk back and talk down at them. I use to call them “goopee” They are not working for me but for the ‘whore’ ‘patunog’ that visits their camp every Friday, payday. They signed their checks get the stubs and give the check to the women. That is why they are still working even they could hardly pull their blankets at night. I told them to just wait until I learn the job. My second year cutting lettuce, I choose to partner with those guys who use to give me hard time before and make them work. When it’s my time to pack, I grab the lettuce that they are cutting and put it in the box. I made them learn although late in their lives that they need young people as we need old timers to teach us how to survive the discriminations, and prejudice in this country. The old timers that I worked with learn not to treat new arrival like ignorant-don’t know - anything Filipino. I got more respect when I told them I was a policemen before I came here.

My experienced with the American born/Mestizos is different. A few of them goes to school and come to work only during summer break. They are alright and cool. They don’t act like ‘Panggulo’. Of course they are mediocre when it comes to work. The Mestizos that are full time worker are some kind of bossy. Some are critical on the way I speak or talk. In the Philippines, we are use to big words. Good vocabulary, correct grammar. Some of them they don’t really appreciate it because you look smarter than them. You do not have a number with them. Later on I learned to talk like them, speak like them, and do things their way.

I worked in the farm for 30 years. At the same time my wife and I grow strawberries as sharecropper. We did this business from 1973 up to 1995. My wife and I was able to save money to pursue the American Dream. We were able to afford to buy a home. We bought our first house in 1972. I had my first car a year before that. My wife works for several packing houses and freezers here and in Guadalupe during winter when Strawberry season is over. I dabbled in Real Estates and Insurance as well. It’s been a good life for me and my family. That, I can proudly say. I was able to get all my family here in the States. First, my parents. They were the one who petitioned my younger brothers and sisters. They all came in the late 70s. Seven of my siblings came in mid to late 1975. As we were getting crowded, my wife and I purchased another house in 1977. My wife and I filed papers for our married siblings in 1977. We know that we are going to be crowded again when all of them and their families come. When I was doing the Real Estate business, I was able to buy a lot, then built my dream home in it in 1987. My wife’s two sisters with their husbands, My brother and a sister came with their spouses as well. Each brought 2 of their children. They all came in 1993. The Lara family in Santa Maria is getting bigger. Larina and I are our family’s ‘Pioneers’.

Our second daughter was born of December 21, 1977, Seven (7) years and 4 days after her older sister. Cheryl just graduated this month as a Massage Therapist. She also is into Dancing and teaches dances in Los Angeles. She is still enjoying her life as a single woman. Like her father, she is self-made. Our eldest, Charina, is now Mrs. Elifonzo Yanez. Although she graduated top of her class at Santa Barbara Business College, she choose to work with the United States Postal Service. She works at the Arroyo Grande Post Office for almost 15 years now. Her husband, Junior Yanez is a Correctional Officers at Lompoc Penitentiary. Both of our kids have the culture of both world.

We thought them our traditional values. They appreciate what they have because they know that if they were born in the Philippines, life would be different, and for sure, would be harder. Both of them still speaks my dialect. We used to take them to the Philippines every 3-5 years when they were young to see their roots. They don’t have difficulty adjusting and also communicating with their relatives there because they understand them and can communicate with them. When we visit relatives, they don’t need to prepare special food for them because they eat Filipino food, to the surprised and amazement of our relatives.

In the late 80s, I started getting myself involved in some civic organizations. I joined the Filipino Community of Santa Maria Valley. I helped organized the Islanders Lions Club. I joined the group that revived the Filipino American Association of Santa Maria, I organized an adhoc group, CCFC Central Coast Filipino Coalition, and now I am a member of FANHS Filipino American

My wife and I form our own business the CHARINA’S HOME CARE, RCFE. This is a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly. We also have a secondary home business; Pre-paid Legal Services, Inc. This deal with any legal needs for anyone that cannot afford the expensive legal representation or legal services they need.

Life is good. Looking back to where I came from, I can say ‘No Regrets’. I have done the best I can for my whole family. My thought is, one should stop trying to measure success because it doesn’t mean anything. If one has a lot of money because the business is good, he or she still needs something. Life is just a dash between two dots. How you spend that dash is what matters. For this reason I cannot and will not consider myself settled yet. I have been and always will continue to search for something that makes my self better, as a person, for my family and for my friends.

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