Mother's Day Interview: Meet Virgel, Fil-Am Mom

Virgel with her apo (grandchild) Connor, the newest addition to her family. Photo courtesy of the Tungol Family.

As a part of my plans for a Mother’s Day post, I was able to get an interview with a very special woman whom I’ve known for twenty-five years. This Filipina-American is a nurse, educator, entrepreneur, and most importantly, a mother. In this interview, we get a glimpse of how this woman was able to raise her family in a foreign country while achieving her own personal and professional growth.

Please introduce yourself.

Kumusta (Hello)! My name is Virgel Lamdagan Tungol. I’m a wife, mother, and Lola. I’ve been living in the United States for twenty-two years this August and I am very happy to share my experiences as a Filipina-American in this interview.

What are your experiences as Filipina-American in the states?

As a professional: I was petitioned to work as a nurse. The most challenging part during the start of my nursing experience was on how to communicate effectively with the patients, co-workers & doctors. Together with my co- Filipino nurses, we tried to get away from answering phone calls as much as we could for fear of not being understood. Cultural differences also played a major role. It took me some time to fully comprehend the way Americans take care of their families compared to the way Filipinos do. I cannot count the number of times I cried when an elderly patient did not have any visits from their family even at the time of their death. To me this was not acceptable.

As a mother: After being used to so much help in the Philippines,  from house helpers, to drivers and  nannies, it was so difficult to adjust to a life of  a full time working mother with three school age children  and do house chores within the family circle dividing the tasks.

Virgel with family at O'Hare Int'l Airport Chicago 1988

In the media, Filipino nurses lack the proper representation that they deserve and are always seen as a joke. As a Registered Nurse, how important is your profession and what do you feel needs to be done to change the perception of Filipino nurses?

I think this is a misconception. The media’s portrayal of nurses as a joke is on the different funny stories that the nurses themselves have shared in their experiences as nurses here in the United States most of which is focused on their communication skills. Filipino nurses are still considered one of the best nurses in terms of overall performance and dedication & commitment to the nursing profession.

As a registered nurse myself, I will continue to support our young & new nurses who just migrated to the US and encourage them to further their work experience by being always updated with the latest trends in the nursing profession and to pursue higher educational level in  nursing education.

I have helped my husband’s immigration law practice in finding employment placements for Filipino nurses from all over the world who desire to work here in the US. We always see to it that these nurses are given the proper orientation and guidance, as well as a chance to grow in their nursing profession.

What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how the world views us?

We are constantly referred to as one of the most corrupt country in the whole world. We should help educate our fellow Filipinos not to sell their votes to the highest bidder & to refrain from voting into public office candidates who are  corrupt.

How were you able to raise your children in the United States at a time when assimilation into Western culture was heavily emphasized in their everyday lives?

At the start of each school year, I always talk to my children’s school teachers that my husband & I have agreed to keep our Filipino values & for the children to speak our language. We just want them to be aware of this & to respect it. We also assured them that our children are intelligent kids & will easily keep up with their school work and activities.  We were also fortunate to have my mother followed us a few months after we migrated to the US and lived very close to where we live. Visits from mother-in-law and my mother’s presence helped us instill the Filipino values & traits as well as our deeply rooted Catholic faith to our children.  It is with great pride that we looked back to our years of hard work, discipline, unconditional love and prayers that we have raised successful children who can speak the English language & our Boholano dialect fluently and are very proud of their being Filipinos.

What advice can you offer to Filipino parents, who are raising their children in countries outside the Philippines and want them to never forget their roots?

Always talk to your children about the life you have in the Philippines and let them understand through pictures, books and videos how beautiful our people & country is.  Let them keep in touch with their Lolos & Lolas if they are still around, or their uncles, aunts & cousins. Encourage your children to join Fil-Am youth organizations and to attend Filipino gatherings that will give them some insight to our Filipino lifestyle and culture.  And when you can do it, bring them to your place in the Philippines & show them the beautiful place that you were born & raised and the many places of interest that will make them appreciate our Filipino way of life.

Virgel with her husband Renato and their twin apos (grandchildren)

Do you look up to any famous Filipinos as role models?

My Filipino role models are people who have shaped me in what I am today & not a celebrity made famous by the media. I looked up to my own mother for her patience, being kind hearted and generous to those who needed her help and a much loved teacher. These are attributes that have helped me achieved my professional success. I also looked up to my mother-in-law, who with her words of wisdom and guidance, have helped me be the wife & mother that I am today.  I cannot forget my school teacher, Sister Soledad, in my early days in Holy Spirit School. Her soft and assuring voice and her calmness during my first day of school helped me overcome my fear and will always stay in my mind.

What are your favorite Filipino dishes?

I love fresh lumpia, adobo and biko cooked by my husband.

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