Monday, May 9, 2011

How Manny Pacquiao Saved Me

November 13, 2010. I had just arrived at JFK International Airport in New York and was standing at the immigration counter. I had just been in NY a few months before, so I thought this would be nothing more than the routine finger-printing and photo-taking. And then...

“Uh-oh,” said the woman behind the counter, as she double-checked the screen. In under no circumstance could I think of “Uh-oh” heralding something good. She asked if my middle name was...something that wasn't my middle name. I said no. She proceeded to stuff my passport and some documents into a folder.

“Come with me,” she said, as she stepped out of her booth. I fell into step beside her, trying to quell the panic rising in my gut.

“Is there a problem?” I asked as casually as I could, trying not to let my voice squeak.

“You have the same name as a fugitive,” she replied solemnly. She lowered her voice, saying, “I'm not even supposed to be telling you this much.” We plodded on in silence.

She brought me to a holding room; one side was lined with chairs, the opposite side had a long counter. Behind the counter were all these hulking security men. If this were a movie, they would all be played by the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. Immigration Lady handed my papers over to one of them, and told me to take a seat before heading out the door.

I sat by myself and waited. I caught snippets of the security guys' conversation—they were talking about the Spartacus series—and tried to stay calm. I thought about WWJBD--What Would Jason Bourne Do in this situation. Minutes went by, and finally, one of the men, wearing a stern expression, motioned for me to come forward.

I took my place in front of him at the counter, feeling even smaller than my 5-foot-1 frame. It didn't help that the counters were elevated, so he was literally looking down at me. He shuffled through my papers, glanced at my passport, and said:

“Do you like boxing?”

For a couple of terrifying seconds, the wildest thoughts raced through my head (e.g., “Is my namesake highly trained in hand-to-hand combat?”). And then I remembered what day it was...

“Oh, the fight!” I said like an idiot, after realizing why he had asked (Philippine passport!). We talked a little about that night's main event. I asked him if he was rooting for Manny Pacquiao. He was. He was!

After about a minute of conversation, he closed the folder and handed me my passport. “You can go now,” he said in a pleasant voice. “And good luck!” Whether it was meant for my fellow Filipino, or for me and my unfortunate name, I didn't quite know.

So Manny Pacquiao kind of has a special place in my heart. More than being our pambansang kamao, he helped me—fugitive's name and all—get through immigration!


  1. LOL! something like this happened to me in australia. i was brought inside the immigration and my mom panicked! but they only asked me a few questions and let me go. :)

  2. Haha, a true hero! But your experience must have been so nerve-wracking.


Oh, so sweet of you to drop a line!:)