by Analiza Quiroz
My dad grew up in a poor barrio of Angeles City, in the Philippines, 55 miles north of Manila. He was one of 10 children, and they all lived in a cramped one-room shack.
He grew up in a family that failed when it came to schooling. My grandpa told my dad, “Education is basura, a waste of time. Go make yourself useful and sell pan de sal.” So beginning at age 8, my dad would diligently wake up at 4 a.m. every day to peddle the warm bread.
When my dad told my grandpa that he wanted to join the U.S. Navy, my grandpa’s mouth turned up into a rare smile, and he roared with laughter, “Boy, not even the brightest in the barrio can pass the tests. Go back to your pan de sal.”
My dad did. The next morning, he carried his pan de sal to Clark Air Base, five miles down the road. He greeted the gate guards with the delicious aroma of fresh bread. “Would you like some?”
A friendship began between my dad and the U.S. soldiers. Every day my dad would visit the guards and practice his English. Six months later he took the tests to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He passed, and soon after, he moved to San Diego and met my mom, and they had me. He served in the U.S. military for more than 20 years, including as senior chief officer during Desert Storm, before retiring in 1994.
I grew up in a more hopeful and supportive environment. When I told my dad that I wanted to join the U.S. Air Force, he encouraged me. “Take advantage of opportunities to push yourself,” he said.
I decided to follow his advice. I did my officer training through the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at San Jose State University while studying at Stanford University. After graduating in 1999 from Stanford, where I majored in industrial engineering and economics, I was assigned to Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
The Air Force was not what I expected. I served as an officer for 4 1⁄2 years, including 18 months as the Air Force junior desk officer for the Philippines, where I was responsible for advising the commander of the Asian-Pacific region on geopolitical affairs in the Philippines. I saw a positive side to the U.S. military’s presence abroad — helping local residents build schools and keeping the peace in Mindanao, a region known as a refuge for al-Qaida.
But I also saw a dark side: prostitution. It had been more than a dozen years since the U.S. military had closed its bases in the country (including Clark Air Base, which was evacuated after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991), but the Philippines was still known as an “entertainment” destination. In the late 1990s more than 400,000 adult women in the Philippines were engaged in prostitution. What drove these women to continue such a life?
This question inspired me to apply for a Fulbright to study the effects of Clark Air Base on Filipinos. Soon I found myself meeting “mamasans,” women who recruit young women into prostitution. Later, I also got to know the girls, their stories and why they made the choices they did.
Through my Fulbright project, which I later presented at the U.S. embassy in the Philippines and to the Filipino National Conference, I discovered that the entertainment industry in Angeles City has continued to flourish because of the reputation it developed during the operation of Clark Air Base and because the U.S. military presence fostered a colonial mentality in the Filipinos. Women continue to flock to Angeles in the hope of meeting a foreigner who will marry them, support them and bring them to the promised land abroad.
It is ironic that I ended up doing my Fulbright research near the former Clark Air Base, now Clark International Airport, the same place where my father practiced English. It is ironic that the stories from the prostitutes and my dad would be so similar — both stories of hope.
My story too is about hope. Building on my Air Force and Fulbright experiences and my business education, I plan to start a charter school for disadvantaged children. My story is about giving youth hope that the world is open to them and with hard work and dedication they can accomplish whatever their hearts desire.
Analiza Quiroz (KSM06) spent part of the summer volunteering at schools in India and Kenya.