That challenge began in the classic form of the immigrant's struggles against the obstacles of language barrier, race and culture in mainstream society. Not as much, he realized later, in his pursuit of his profession as in his social and personal life.
He went through a smarting, put it mildly, process of assimilation. Polished his English, shed much of that hard-vowel and purely academic Philippine accent and developed a taste for burgers and fries, pizza and American Chinese. Not without anguish, he avoided that comfortable ethnic magnet and bonding where people take refuge from the hurts of the mainstream on the one hand but get trapped in its limitations and polarity on the other.
That, perhaps, is the toughest of all the challenges he felt of being here, choosing to be here in America, and mingling. Because, all at once, it was daunting, angering, hateful and lonely, but at the same time it could be, and had been, rewarding, triumphant and enhancing intellectually, spiritually and, to be honest, materially.
The choice not to confine himself within the ethnic fold opened up the whole picture of America quicker, and where he had to think more than once whether to venture into a closed door or not, turn up a stone or leave it alone, at least he knew that that one door, that one stone, was there and he had the opportunity to decide whether to dare even touch it or not. In the decades since and to this writing, Jaime had stood before many closed doors in America. Behind them, he discovered many things that weren't true to what he learned about the U.S. since he was a boy in the Philippines, things that either shattered his better perceptions of America or simply made him see life for real, here, looking back where he came from, or anywhere.
The American character had always been tall, white, English-speaking with no accent, rich, always in a dress coat-and-tie, a military uniform carrying a gun or riding a horse in a cowboy outfit. And the women -- they're the most beautiful, most desirable creature anyone could ever dream of.
Getting over many of the stereotypes was not an easy process. It's sort of a self- reindoctrination he goes through constantly since that first six months, since New Jersey several decades ago where he discovered firsthand that there are short Americans too, shorter than his five-ten, and poor ones too, as poor as he had been when he was down to his last sixty bucks the day he started his first job in an architect's office in West Orange as an apprentice draftsman. And then there were those who had little or no education at all, spoke bad English or no English at all, immigrants too but unlike him came to America under more desperate circumstances.
And there were the 'other' Americans, the minorities, the different ethnic and cultural groups, and the blacks. Everytime a stone is turned or a door is opened, it was like rediscovering America over again. Or revising his idea of her, awakening to her anew. She was like a book that gets rewritten over and over again in his eyes, to his touch, to all his senses, depending on the events occurring in the country and how he perceived himself a part of it, or not at all.
Over the years, he had ideas about America that stuck to this day, and ones that didn't. One that stuck is the idea, the belief that the United States is not an evil entity, that it is one that means well [to other countries], but that the unification or integration of the cultures and the races in the country, however, is one of its problems that has no end in sight.
Jaime has been a U.S. citizen most of his life now. He has lived in America more than any place else on earth. Life has been good to him here in many ways, and yet there are moments, personal experiences, that continue to dog him and alienate him from America, or the idea of being an American.
There are many other [thoughts and feelings] that have built up in there for years since he left the 'old country' not just about America but about life itself, and Jaime has been assiduously recording them as he goes along. Most of them he has captured in several books of fiction and a memoir in the form of an autobiographical novel. Many of them recount his encounters with the beauty and ugliness that abide in the American society. Beauty in terms of the basis of the founding of this nation which is fundamentally the preservation of human dignity, personal freedom and justice for all, and ugliness when he sees this foundation hold up only for some and not for others.