A self-deported immigrant’s long goodbye

The author on his last night in L.A.

The author on his last night in L.A.

By Richardmomar Yapo Cuanang

The final verdict on my American journey was handed down on May 8, 2013. The immigration judge asked if I understood the consequences of a voluntary departure plea. I said yes.

It was bound to happen. My lawyer James Cyrus III had prepared me for the possibility of self-deportation in view of my complicated legal status. I accepted the decision with humility and sadness.

May 31 was a nice Friday. I resigned from the fusion restaurant, which has been my source of income in my home base in Bluffton, South Carolina. I told the owner chef that things didn’t work out. He understood, nodding quietly. He drove me around so I could say goodbye to my friends.

I dropped by a self-help church to bid farewell. The church has sustained me spiritually during my difficult moments. The pastor gave me a warm blessing as I was leaving.

I was in awe for I have accomplished many things and did a bit of sightseeing before I left America: I was able to pass my real estate license in New York and had the great opportunity to meet Jose Antonio Vargas, whom I chatted with about deportation. In Fresno Valley, California, I attended a housewarming and an early celebration of my godson’s birthday.

From California, I drove with my friends to the Grand Canyon in Arizona for several hours. The sight was majestic and grandeur, Mother Nature has not missed a thing. I’m a fan.

Las Vegas was our next destination. I was visiting the Sin City for the second time, but I had to be there because one more high school friend wanted to take me around. We hit the bar, drank beer out of a keg and played pool. I actually won. We stopped by another joint to listen to a good band.

On our way back, we swung by Oxnard, California. It was my aunt’s invitation for me to join her for some crabs and great laughs. Another classmate from L.A. joined us. We climbed the Sequoia National Park, and from its peak had a breathtaking view of the city.

Enjoying the company of  friends and family and Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga

Enjoying the company of friends and family and Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga

Fourth of July still in California was truly a solace of good burgers, fries and blueberry shake with my buddies. I wore my Obama family shirt for the last time.

The Delta flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii was smooth. I read a book on Manny Pacquiao by Gary Andrew Poole. It was effortless. My cousin had warned me about the book being mediocre. Affirmative.

In Hawaii, I met many more relatives from the Acosta family, old friends in high school and college. We relived the good old days. My high school buddy kneaded dough to make me ‘miki’ noodles. Auntie Ester was the ever solicitous host. She would serve me when she saw my plate was empty. My Auntie Francine treated me to Max Fried Chicken lunch the following day.

I bid everyone a goodbye and thank you, thinking to myself how was I going to carry all those boxes of Mauna Loa chocolate-coated macadamia?

August 18 was my departure for Guam, the final leg of my voyage. There was a flight delay but we loaded up on snacks and beverages. When I landed, I realized I had no cell phone network. I was disconnected from the digital universe. I felt uneasy. It was a momentary feeling. After getting my passport stamped, I would be greeted with warm Hafa Adai by my welcoming Gagarin relatives who offered me their homes with Wi-fi connections.

Guam completed my American journey. I will be departing on September 4. It would be the finale of my psychological preparation before setting foot on Philippine soil to face social upheaval and judgment.

Through this narrative, I share my life and my story. Through my American journey I have met with a tsunami of great friendships and acceptance. There were hate and blame tossed my way but when the sandstorm had settled, what’s left is a bedrock of friends who have been supportive and loving.

Richardmomar Yapo Cuanang came to the United States legally in 2001 and became out of status after his visa expired. He was a resident of South Carolina, working in the food and restaurant industry. He tried his luck in New York for about a year until he learned his case was up for review. He returned to Bluffton where he awaited the decision of the immigration court.

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