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Chef Otto

Chef, Author, Speaker, Humanitarian.
Taste the Freedom!

My Wife and Life is Asian

I spotted a decal on a late model black Camaro. I like to read such things. They are usually funny, and at times make you think.  Paul Harvey had a segment on his weekly newscast called bumper snickers. The listenership from all over the nation would send in the comical messages they saw while driving.  While at a stop light my eyes zoomed in on the lower bottom left of the rear window. It questioned, Are you as close to Jesus as you are to me right now? I pondered, about the power of food. When we break bread, it’s a communion of souls gathered to nourish one another. Be it a baguette, tortilla, roti, naan, sourdough, or lavosh. What if we loved the worlds ethnicities, and nationalities as much as the food they blessed upon our brothers and sisters.

To love Mexicans as much as tacos. To embrace blacks like a satisfying plate of soul food. An affection toward the Vietnamese, deep and warming as pho. A togetherness with the Rastas, close as pigeon peas and rice. An adulation for the Japanese, zealous as our fondness for sushi. Embracing Middle Easterners liberally as hummus on pita. Theres some brain food for you to digest. In the words of Paul Harvey, “And now for rest of the story.”  

My wife, Dorothy, better known as Doti entered the USA on December 17, 2019. She is a natural born citizen of the Philippines. If you never met a Filipino, they are the happiest people on Earth. I’m not saying this as a biased husband, nor am I a clinical expert on personality traits of varying ethnicities. This opinion comes from 6 decades of life experience. Four years in the military. Visiting 30 countries on 5 continents, traveling to 45 of these here United States, hanging my hat in 15 of them. I’ve enjoyed expat life too, living in the Bahamas and Turkey.  Filipinos are a picture of contentment. Loving, unassuming, always cracking jokes, largely at themselves. They are incredible caregivers. Where there is a hospital, there is a Filipino nurse providing utmost compassionate care. You’ll never met a pissed off Filipino, and if you do, you better bolt like Usain Bolt. 

When Doti first met my 92-year-old father, she took to him like he was her own dad. My father was grinning like a kid at Disney World. Doti transported dad to the Magic Kingdom for his last days on Earth. He left this small world after all, departing happy surrounded by love and warmth.  We were married on February 15, 2020. Doti is now a legal resident, gainfully employed, and on her way to citizenship. Immigrants are present, they are a present, and they are not going away. They built this country. Accept the gift, embrace it and be thankful for their contribution to the greatest social experiment in civilization, the United States of America. 
An attack on Asians, Blacks, Latinos, or any other minority is a fissure within the bedrock principles that our Founding Fathers crafted on parchment with quill and ink 240 years ago. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Wrote Thomas Jefferson. 
While those words are great on paper, and having achieved incredible advances in science, medicine, technology, always innovating, as a nation daring greatly. The USA has fallen short to achieve equality in this R & D of humanity that TJ envisioned. We are not merely the greatest country in the history of civilization. But a nation of nations. A land built on the graves of the Sioux, Cherokee, and Navajo. Our southern states achieved prosperity by kidnapping Africans. Shackled in the bowels of a ship tighter than a prison lock. Naked, stripped of all dignity for the 1–2-month journey to the cotton fields south of Mason Dixon. 
The first Chinese arrived in America in 1860. That ignited the spark that continues to fuel the cyclical Asian hate today. Flamed by fear, ignorance, jealousy, and white superiority. It did not help matters when the 45th POTUS called Covid the China Virus, and the Kung Flu. Stirring concerns of the pandemic into a cauldron of hatred. Could you imagine President Reagan in the eighties, during the peak of AIDS calling it the African Virus, or the Afro Flu? As America goes, so goes the world. We are the global leader, the example for our planet. Earth is ripe with racism; we do not need to promote it with incendiary oratory. When the leader of the free world condones violence and racism, we no longer rotate on our axis. Rather spin angrily out of control until love rights our wrongs. We all need to adjust. To balance our social equilibrium with a ton of tolerance, a case of compassion. A hoard of humanity speaking out against injustice. An attack on anyone, anywhere, at any time is an attack on the 7.9 billion souls hurtling through time and space on the mothership known as Earth. We are far more alike than we know or willing to acknowledge. We are phantasms, flesh and blood covered skeletons. Pressurized stardust, compressed ash from ancient Homo Sapiens, clenching onto a ginormous boulder blanketed by the Milky Way. Isn’t that amazing, and so are you.  

Homo Sapiens, from Latin, homo-human, sapien-wise or astute. But just how intelligent are we humans? Homo Sapiens go back 300,000 years. How far have we advanced as these wise humans? The irony and reality is exasperating. My profession has blessed me with travel, a gift to nourish souls substantively and spiritually. Having made lasting friendships, a considerable number of friends are immigrants. Here are two of their stories.  

The Caturay family from Manila came to the US in the 70’s. Benjamin (Ben), Epifania (Fran) and the three C’s, daughters, Chonnie, Candice, and Czarina. Fran is a pediatrician and did her residency in Dallas while Father Ben and extended family raised the girls in Manila. The theme song to the Philippines should be We are Family. An admirable trait of the Filipino culture, everyone is related. It is quite common to refer to each other as your cousin regardless of relation. There is a network within every barangay. Everyone at an early age is taught they are their brothers keeper. Family is everything, along with faith and food finalizes the F triumvirate. That trio is the lifeblood pumping joy throughout the archipelago of 7,641 islands covering 116,000 thousand square miles of happiness.  

Every penny was invested into the three C’s education. It punctuated the importance of the girls being fluent in English before disembarking on American soil. The Caturay’s were mindful of the master plan to immigrate to the US and they sacrificed. When the Caturay’s arrived in America they first settled in Hawaii. Then moved to San Francisco. Ben was an accomplished businessman in Manila, yet his first job in America was a bus boy at Denny’s. They eventually moved to Texas where he was employed at Taco Bueno as a manager. With Fran, now Dr Fran, they began to adjust to their new life in the Lone Star State. Ben went from tortillas to a new kind of dough and worked his way up to a VP position at Bank of America. Dr Fran excelled as a pediatrician. She was offered high paying positions at prominent hospitals throughout Texas and refused them.   

Dr Fran could have very easily chosen a well-known hospital, collected a healthy paycheck, moved up the leadership ladder and became the Chief of Staff making a generous 6 figures. In true Filipino fashion she stuck to her roots and answered the call to tend to the needy.  She founded the Pediatric and Adolescent Center of Grand Prairie & Arlington in 1995. For the last 26 years she has been simply serving the medical needs of deserving children in a historically underserved community. She is now caring for the children from the parents who were once her patients. Her practice has 30 employees and provides medical attention to nearly 10,000 patients.   

The Caturay’s did not come to America to get rich. Conversely, they have enrichened lives. They came to serve and continue to do so. Here, and in their Motherland. They never forgot where they came from. Given their roots and story, they live honorably, I admire them. I once asked Chonnie, “Would your parents adopt me?” “Get in line.” She replied. With their parents loving example of service and community, the three C’s have all gone onto remarkable accomplishments and successful careers. Chonnie created Independence Gardens. A NPO in-school program for 6th grade students in TX and AZ where students plant vegetables, care for them, harvest, and with local chefs they learn how to prepare delicious dishes. They learn about nutritional content, cooking, and the importance of stewardship of the earth. Her vision is to have Independence Gardens as part of the curriculum in every middle school in America. She holds an MBA and is finishing up her MPH at George Washington University. She serves as the COO, that’s Chief Optimistic Officer at the Pediatric & Adolescent Center. She is a wife, mom of three and crafty maven in the kitchen. To the point my nickname for her is Martha, as in the Filipina Martha Stewart. Candice is a social worker at the VA extending emotional rescue and support to our Veterans. Czarina is a nurse, providing first class care indicative in the Filipino DNA. She blogs, Accidental Purpose, Living my life one F word at a time, Faith, Family, Food. That is the mantra of the Philippines. Czarina does not have the faith of a mustard seed. She carries a five-pound bag and dutifully plants seeds every day to unsuspecting souls and patients. 

My dear friend Doctor Eleanor Concepcion “Connie” Mariano, is the eldest of three children. Her mother was a dentist, her father was a career Navy man, a Steward he was an E9. A Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO), the highest enlisted rank attainable. Born in Sangley Point, Philippines Connie traveled frequently. Every 2-3 years Chief Mariano and family would relocate to a different duty station. After her father’s retirement the Mariano’s settled in San Diego County. Connie, an unassuming go-getter graduated Valedictorian from high school and never looked back. Blazing a trail and leaving shards of glass behind from shattering glass ceilings. Dr. Connie is a quiet soul of confidence, intelligence and drive. As she states, “I had to be strong but humble, I had to become my father and my uncles while at the same time transcending my roots.”   

Transcend she did! She received her bachelor’s degree with honors from Revelle College at the University of California at San Diego then obtained her Medical Degree from the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, the nation’s military medical school.  Commissioned a lieutenant in the Navy upon graduation she set sail for a naval career accomplishing many firsts.   

She served as General Medical Officer and Medical Department Division Head onboard the USS Prairie, a destroyer tender from 1982-1984.  Those were the early days when females stationed on ships was a rarity. I can imagine the racism, sexism, and any other ism she faced onboard a ship with nearly 700 men. But she gave as good as she got. Guided by her high moral compass she set those sailors straight and did it with a smile on her face. Anchored by her faith, discipline inherited from her father and a laser focus she set out to be the best she could be. Dr Connie often speaks about the journey, truly the driving force, the very essence of who we are and how we became that way. 

In 1992 then Commander, Dr. Connie Mariano received shore duty orders to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the first military woman in American history to be appointed White House Physician. She served Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43.  She was quickly promoted to Captain. In 1994 she was named Director of the White House Medical Unit and selected by President Clinton as his personal physician. Clinton promoted her to Admiral. Imagine the astounding joy her father, MCPO Marino felt. As a child Connie watched her father work hard and sacrifice for his adopted country to reach the highest enlisted rank. Her father watched his little girl grow up to become the White House Physician and advance to Admiral.   

In the state dining room at the White House MCPO Mariano pinned the shoulder boards onto his daughter Admiral Mariano’s blouse. Just as he had placed shoulder boards thousands of times before on the officers he served. He was now placing them on his flesh and blood. The state dining room was chosen because so many Filipinos served there. Quietly, observing decades of history while serving the most powerful man in the world and his global guests. That room, dripping in opulence, a chandelier suspended high in the baronial surroundings. It pervades power of imperial proportion. A crown of white plaster, oak paneling with Corinthian pilasters and a fanciful frieze conveyed old-world elegance at the seat of power in the new world. At the massive marble fireplace, there is an inscription on the mantle from a letter written by John Adams on his second evening in the White House.    

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.  

Above the fireplace there is comparably sized portrait of Lincoln. Painted by George Peter Alexander Healy in 1869. Lincoln, poised in a chair, leaning forward, right hand clasping his chin, pensive. Left hand grasping the arm of the chair. It is below that very painting, viewed by millions, from all over the world MCPO Mariano placed the Admiral shoulder boards on his daughter. Her father, wrought with emotion was shaking. It was his personal Emancipation Proclamation. His hard work, sacrifice, dedication to serve 30 years in the US Navy laid the foundation for his daughter to care for the most powerful man on Earth. Reflecting on TJ’s words, that all men, and women, are created equal…  

Only in America.   

 Dr. Connie served 24 years in the Navy and retired as a Rear Admiral (two star). She became the first Filipino American in history to become a Navy Admiral.  Dr. Connie founded the Center for Executive Medicine, a medical concierge practice which provides presidential-quality medical care to CEOs and their families in Arizona.  

She played the old boys game on the high seas and on shore. Playing by the rules and beat them at their own game. In the process she became a role model for millions of women and minorities. She never set out to be that role model. It happened organically, by sticking to her core beliefs of honesty, transparency, righteousness, kindness, and compassion. Challenging herself, how am I going to fit in? How can I best be of service. Dr Connie’s story is that of the underdog, and Americans love the underdog, it’s our pioneering spirit. Dr. Connie is the humblest badass woman I have meet in my 6 decades of living. It’s an honor to call her shipmate and friend.  

We can learn volumes from immigrants, their story is an American story, making it our story. Woven within our collective red, white, and blue fabric. Dorothy Quemada Borsich, The Caturay Family, Dr Connie Mariano, three stories, three reasons, among millions of immigrants that make America great. Immigrants get the job done! They are vital to the longevity of our nation. They galvanize the vision of the Declaration of Independence and honor the legacy of the founders while personifying the future of our world.  

Imagine if we all dropped our national identity, just drop I’m Mexican, I’m French, I’m Chinese, I’m Columbian, I’m Ethiopian, etc. Then simply state, I’m a human being. Followed with, my religion is love, my temple is my heart, and the entire population is my tribe. Or as the great Santana said, “One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart.” 

 Taste the Freedom! 

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