By Melina Chalkia, Medill, Immigrant Connect                                                May 2021                                                                       

It’s Sunday evening, summer of 2019, and I slowly pull the heavy, kitchen door open to grab dinner. As I take another step, the aroma of basil and onion tickles my nostrils. Roxane has just finished cooking dinner and is sitting on the brown kitchen table, looking at her phone. As I hear the creaking sound of her movements on the wooden chair, my eyes rest on her face. She’s smiling.

“Come, look at my daughter,” she says.

I sit next to her. She turns her phone in my direction, showing me a video of her youngest daughter, Deniese, dancing in a living room.

She scrolls through her camera roll and shows me photos of her other three daughters. I can sense her feeling of pride, intermixed with a hint of sadness — of nostalgia.

Roxane often reminds me how much she misses her daughters, and her whole family, and how hard it is to see them only through a screen or brief visits to the Philippines.

Roxane (left) with her four daughters and her husband, in Oct. 2018, in Laoag City, Philippines. [Photo credit: Lorena Jane Roldan]

In 2006, Roxane Roldan left her family behind in Laoag City, Philippines, to work domestically in Athens, Greece. Her husband had immigrated to Greece a few years before to earn money for their daughters and give them a better life.

Roxane and her husband have been working in my family’s home for 14 years. Their four daughters are living in the Philippines, taken care of by Roxane’s mother.

I often catch Roxane hunched over her phone, in the kitchen, in the living room, in her bedroom, looking at photos or watching videos of her kids.

With a smile radiating from her lips and a trace of reminiscence in her eyes, Roxane often shares how proud and grateful she feels to have her family. She does anything for her children. I recall her saying that she’s saving up for a bigger house or for a daughter’s college.

One day, later in that hot summer of 2019, I glide onto the marble kitchen floor and I sense something different. Roxane’s eyes look at me with desperation. Her voice is breaking up as she speaks.

She tells me her mom has cancer, and there’s no one to care for Deniese. She breaks down, and my heart shatters with her.

As I climb up the stairs to my room, I think more about Roxane’s plight. It stays with me for the rest of the day.

Imagine being so far away from your family, I think to myself. Imagine not being able to take care of your mother. Imagine not being able to raise your kids, to not see them grow up.

I admire her for her devotion and her unconditional love for her kids. She embodies the value of family, of commitment and of sacrifice. Always ending the day with a “God bless you” to everyone she sees, she personifies what thankfulness is.

After spending time with Roxane, I often remind myself of everything my parents do for me. How much they sacrifice. She’s shown me what it means to be a family. How to be grateful for my family.

Roxane has found someone to take care of her daughter and mother. Even though her mother is still sick, at least her children are cared for. They are her priority.  Her commitment to her daughters comes first. Someone will look after little Danielle.

Roxane continues to share her special moments with us.

Roxane’s mother (middle) celebrates her birthday with other members of her family in the Philippines in Dec. 2020, while holding up Roxane’s video call. [Photo credit: Jaysherine Pablico]

“Μελίνα, έλα εδώ,” Roxane says in Greek. “Come see my daughter. Look how big she is now.”

  • *Pagpalain ka ng Diyos: “God bless you” in Filipino