By Marivir R. Montebon
Racial discrimination is a product of ignorance. I have not encountered a lot of racial discrimination but the few that I’ve seen are from people who are so much less educated and so much less traveled with not a lot of culture and breeding. – Gisela Doherty Bitz
Some things never change. Gisela Doherty Bitz, fondly the Brooke Shields of her high school batch at the Colegio dela Inmaculada Concepcion in Cebu, Philippines was lovely, friendly and accessible. Today she still is, as a sales engineer in East Bay, California, running off in flip flops with friends if the need be, just for the sake of laughter and being together.
OSM! seized that accessibility and now she shares how her life has been, little high, little low, nonetheless meaningful. “If women can learn from my words, that will be very fulfilling.”
1. When did you relocate to the US and what pushed that decision? How old were you then?
I’ve always been a very independent person. When I was a kid during summer time, I ran off in my flip flops with friends just wandering around, exploring and having such a grand ol’ time, all the time.
So, when I was 19, I decided it would be a good idea to finish my studies in the States. I was going to Cebu Doctor’s University then. My sisters were already here living on their own with their respective husbands. All by myself, I went to Manila and filed for my visa. My dad and grandpa were Americans, so we automatically got green cards. Bravely and very much alone, I flew to California, joined my sisters and started my new life.
2. Did you study here or work here as a young adult?
The boyfriend I left behind did everything in his power to get a visa and came after me! He came after a few months and I decided this was devotion enough, so I married him. A month before my 20th birthday, we got married and then a few months later, had our first baby!
I was in love with my new husband and more in love still with my new baby boy Adrian! But times were hard for a couple of young immigrants. We lived with my sisters for a couple of years and bought our first home together. My second son Alfie was born the next year. It was hard juggling work, school and kids! I had to work full time to help make ends meet and achieve our dream of owning our own house. When Alfie turned 5, we bought our very own house! It was a dream house! We worked hard to achieve our own American dream! We reached our goals, to be together, have a family and amazing home and a place on earth we can call our very own.
3. Based on your experience, would you ever promote marrying early, that it is beneficial to both individuals?
Getting married at our age might not be the wisest decision, but we were both so much in love and it was the only thing to do. To be together was the most important thing for us. And our children were just a great bonus! I have NO REGRETS, except for the fact that I should have known then what I know now. And I’m sure he feels the same way. The maturity level was not there at 19 and 23 years of age. I believe, in any marriage, one must reach a maturity level to be able to live harmoniously with each other. After 15 years of marriage, we had so many differences and reached a point where we had to divorce.
4. On being a young mother, how was it? As a parent, we have conscious effort at how we want our kids to grow, in your case, how did you consciously raise your boys to become?
My boys turned out just fine, they are both professionals now. My only regret about raising them was not being able to have more time with them because I was at work. I wish that I could’ve been a stay-at-home mom and be there for them 24/7.
I would like to think that we had great memories as a family. We made sure we took lots of vacation to Hawaii, Philippines, to Disney World in Florida, a Caribbean Cruise. We even bought a boat and jet skis so during the weekends, we can spend family time together and ride our boat and skis at the lake. It was a fabulous time of our lives! What went wrong? Personality conflicts between me and him. I was headstrong and so was he; we were like two rams butting heads all the time because we disagreed so much. Again, I attest that to lack of maturity.
5. Was there difficulty in raising them in a mix of Filipino and American cultures? How did you resolve that? Please cite instances.
American versus Filipino was not an issue for me because having an American grand-father and father, I was raised like an American. Although I was Filipino in so many ways, I wasn’t 100% Filipino by any standard. I’ve always loved the American culture and learned so much about it, through books and media.
6. Many years later, you became a mom again, would you say you are an expert at raising boys at this time? Has your parenting style changed or improved?
So, my life went on. I met my soulmate and partner Larry Bitz, who accepted me for the whole that I am, he said I’m perfect in my imperfections! I thought that was devotion enough so at the age of 37 years old, I married him! Funny how our priorities change as we grow older. We had a baby after a couple of years of marriage and our perfect baby boy Zachary brought so much joy. I haven’t done anything different to parent Zachary. The plus side is now I have Larry to help me with so much when it came to raising him. He is such a hands on Dad! I consider myself a great parent, and my children can tell you the same. I so love my boys with all my heart and I know that they love me back as much! I might not have been perfect but I am an awesome mom!
The only downside is, I have to be a working mom. This was taking a lot of time away from them. But I had to be a working mom to help financially and maintain a lifestyle.
7. On profession, why choose this job? Who honed you, inspired you?
I love my job as a sales engineer at Puretec Industrial Water. It is a family owned corporation making it a very personalized and intimate work setting. As a Sales Engineer, my profession requires a great deal of technical knowledge, a good understanding of water chemistry, an outgoing, gregarious personality with great communication and prospecting skills. I love interacting with people and winning that account gives me a great adrenaline rush I just want to win some more! I’m having so much fun! I plan to stay with this company for a long time. I feel blessed to have this opportunity and I’m giving it my 100%! The accounts that I take away from our competitors are the best wins since our competitors are two of the largest water companies in the US, Siemens Water and GE Water.
The sales people I compete with are seasoned sales people who have been in their profession for 40+ years. Me, being a rookie and winning those accounts against them is a great feeling, indeed!
Racial discrimination is a product of ignorance. I have not encountered a lot of racial discrimination but the few that I’ve seen are from people who are so much less educated and so much less traveled with not a lot of culture and breeding. I consider that just another nuisance and ignore it, not losing any of my confidence as a talented and outspoken professional.
I’m very lucky that my parents are able to afford the best schools for me and my siblings. My education at Colegio de la Immaculada Conception helped me tremendously to mold me into the woman that I am now. I’m bilingual, speaking fluent Filipino and I speak English very well. That alone gave me an edge ahead of so many other immigrants. The impeccable curriculum at CIC and the colleges I attended, STC and CDU, gave me a tremendous edge not only with immigrants but also other peers who were born and raised in the US. I can say that with great confidence.
9. What makes you happy the most?
What makes me happy the most is my family, my husband, my children and the fact that I’m one of the luckiest people on earth to live in such a wonderful country with great opportunities and luxuries! One just needs to work hard for what they want to achieve. Be it a career, a wonderful home or a great lifestyle. The sky is the limit! It’s an amazing life! I have wonderful friends, great co-workers and wonderful children. I have to also mention, my witty, intelligent and beautiful step-daughters Melissa and Brianna who had helped make my life full, who are achievers and upstanding citizens as well a true testament to my husband Larry’s great parenting!
Next stop: RETIREMENT! Aren’t we that age where we have to plan for it now?
11. Would u have changed anything that happened in your life? Why?
I wish I would’ve have taken some financial classes to learn how to handle money more efficiently! I guess it’s not too late, I can still do that, life after all is full of opportunities and I’m one not to take advantage. Things happen for a reason, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change anything in my life. I feel fulfilled and I can only achieve for more.