In this guest post, my dad Oscar shares memories of his experiences scouring LA for work after first arriving from the Philippines over 40 years ago. He and my mom moved to the U.S. without my three brothers, who had to stay behind because of troubles with their visa paperwork. Right now I’m about the same age my father was when he made this life-altering trip half way around the world, seeking adventure and a better life. I’m not sure if I’d have the courage to do something so bold at this stage of my own life.
My wife Lucila and I came to LA by way of San Francisco in May 1969. Like many immigrants, we came to America seeking better opportunities for ourselves and our children. On our way to LA, our flight attendants passed out job applications for the airline. I said to myself, it’s really true that jobs are plentiful in the US. I was very encouraged…until I went out on my first day of job hunting.
Lucila’s brother Tony and his wife Olive generously let us stay with them until we could get our own place. After allowing myself a couple of days to get over my jet lag and acquaint myself to the new environment, I began searching the newspaper for available positions and job placement agencies. I concentrated on those openings which might be relevant to my prior life insurance experience in Manila. I also set out to study the various bus lines to get to my appointments.
After a few bus trips to downtown LA, I noticed that Hill Street had a few placement agencies advertising free jobs. Dressed in a sports coat and necktie, I bravely went to two agencies in one day. At each place I filled up an application with my personal information, employment history and references. I also offered letters of recommendation from my previous employer. Both agencies said they would call me if one of their client companies was interested. The next day, I actually got a call. I went to a distributor of electrical products, and they wanted to hire me. But when I told them I had just arrived from Manila, they changed their mind because I lacked local experience.
I started to venture out on my own by going to the Personnel Department (now called Human Resources) of insurance companies and filling out applications. In the meantime, a big Los Angeles Times ad from State Compensation Insurance Fund caught my attention.”Wanted: Compensation Insurance Representative.” Below the big bold ad, it stated “college graduate, no experience needed, will be trained and a car will be provided.” A few days after filling out yet another application, I took a written test at 600 So. Lafayette Park Pl with about 60 other hopeful candidates. With an hour to wait for the results, I went to the nearby Precious Blood Catholic Church to pray. I waited a little longer than necessary to return, so I didn’t have to face a big crowd and be embarrassed if I failed. When I came back, I learned that I PASSED!
During the next step, a panel interview, all three male interviewers dug into my education, work experience and my reasons for coming to the United States. One of the panel members, John Havilland, liked my accent, which he thought was British. What a surprise! Shortly thereafter I learned that I was ranked number one on their list and would be notified if a position opened up.
Unsure when State Compensation Insurance Fund might have an opening, I continued my job search. My brother-in-law Tony’s apartment was behind a Safeway Grocery store, and I thought I could work in their office. However, the manager indicated all the paperwork was done at a central location and the only jobs they had were for baggers. He asked if I could stand for hours and load 20 pound bags into grocery carts. A bit frightened, I thanked him and left.
I then applied with Prudential Insurance on Wilshire Blvd. This was very promising. I passed the written test and the interview. I would have been hired on the spot, except I hadn’t received my green card. A week later it arrived, and I was hired as a clerk in the Group Insurance Department with a salary of $500 a month. I started working on June 15, 1969. At Prudential I discovered a very pleasant surprise – all the employees got free lunch. During my assigned lunch hour, I headed down to the 2nd floor cafeteria and followed the buffet line, where I got soup and/or salad, a main dish and dessert. We were warned, “Get you all you want, but eat all you get.” With a free lunch everyday, I was in heaven.
In my second month working with Prudential, I received a telegram from State Fund asking if I was still interested in a job. I completed three more rounds of interviews and was hired as a Compensation Insurance Representative in the claims department. I gave Prudential the required two weeks notice and began my State Fund career on September 15, 1969. I was given a car with a big California seal and started out earning $644 a month. After over thirty years of service, I retired from State Compensation Insurance Fund on January 2nd, 2000.