Immigration: Technical Difficulties by Danny Montemayor

Dressed in the spiffiest cobalt V-neck sweater, or in his own words, “asul na panglamig,” is my father unwinding to his soap operas after a long day in the office, which isn’t very far: he telecommutes. Rarely has working from home stopped him from yielding to outward respectability. He takes his job seriously, “I am a software engineer and [was] promoted as a systems manager of the company.” And with such a title that has taken over a decade to reach, sweatpants are simply inappropriate, even in a home environment.  It’s hard to imagine that someone like my father, who has spent years traveling and dressing for corporate-level jobs, would refrain from the assuaging convenience of wearing a t-shirt and plaid pajamas.  However, for past generation immigrants, as my father’s life has trotted, convenience has not always been an existent luxury; instead, immigration entails a plight of many trials.

Born on January 10th, 1968, in the dewing air and overlapping sounds of roosters and tricycles of Pangasinan, Nicanor A. Montemayor was a province boy. Not just any province boy, but one with a street market butcher for a mother and a hustling “Jeepney” driver for a father. Montemayor is the third eldest of nine children, which some of whom have also grown and left the nest, flying to different parts of the world: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore, London, and Canada.  It’s almost as if an immigration gene runs prominently in the family, because in a sociohistorical sense, such a trait has definitely emerged within the Filipino culture. For Nicanor, the ontology of his immigration was nurtured through attaining his Information Technology certificate at The Systems Technology Institute in 1988 and further developed in 1989 at the University of Luzon, where he completed his B.S. in Accounting. By 1990, he had moved from the provincial farmlands of Pangasinan to the urban-manufactured opportunities of Manila to fulfill a collegiate tutoring job. This brief six-month position provided him the opportunity to train as a Business Specialist and meet the nursing students on campus. “I got a lot of girls,” he jokingly reminisced.  However, not so long after this win-win situation, an earthquake devastated Luzon, reducing work opportunities for him and his family. Fortunately, the immigration gene had fully matured in knowledge, and in late 1990, Montemayor took the lucrative opportunity to work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as a Computer Operator. By the age of twenty-three, my father was officially one of the thousands of diasporic Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) that supported their loved ones through remittance.

Circa 1990

Circa 1990

During his time of continual growth as an IT in the Middle East, Montemayor—thanks to a mutual friend—found love: my mother.  Initially, it was a distant love across the seas; they had never met in person.  Annie Herrera was a ruddy-cheeked twenty-three-year-old Sunday school teacher in Pangasinan.  He, a few months older, was prospering in a desert land, taking on a managerial role of a Data Coordinator. Above all, they became writers for each other. Insouciant to their global disjunction, they formed and maintained a relationship through amorous letters, reciprocated every two weeks. Coming from a millennial world of real-time messaging, I skeptically asked my mother, “Were you ever worried about not getting a response?”

“No, because even back then, your father was so in love with me,” she bragged.

My father putting on a show. July 24th, 1993

My father putting on a show. July 24th, 1993

I’ve only heard the retelling of their unique, young love several times. My favorite part is when, after having written enough words to fill the sea between them, Nicanor Montemayor finally makes his way back to the homeland in 1993 to take Annie Herrera out to their first date, and shortly after, her hand in marriage. Sometimes I wonder: if it wasn’t for distance, would they still have had that magnetic eagerness to wed? Well, from time to time, I witness this unceasing eagerness when my father asks about my mother, as she does for him, and I’m assured that they were bound to one another.

The issue of distance has always been evergreen within the Filipino American community. UC Berkeley professor of Ethnic Studies, Dr. Ronald Takaki, theorizes that this historical distance (i.e. diaspora), prevalent in Filipino families, is a matter of “push and pull” factors. For the first wave of Asian American immigrants in the 19th century, the domestic adversities in their homeland pushed them towards the allure of high-demand labor in the US-colonized islands of Hawaii. And in the dawn of the 20th century, Dr. Takaki explains that Filipinos were “pushed from the Philippines and pulled to America by ‘extravagance.’”  With this ‘extravagance’ in question, I had asked my father about his preconception of America prior to immigrating:

“America is a land of milk & honey. That’s what they say,” he shared.

“Why is that? And who said so?”

“Well, from almost all of the people that I heard coming from America, […] my relatives, my aunts, immigrated here in the US in the 1960s and they’re saying it’s nice to be here.”

After a process that he recalls “very easy,” Montemayor, in July 1999, got to see this celebrated “land of milk and honey” for himself.  This process was answering to the US demand for computer specialists, which lead to an interview with an employer and concluded with attaining his H1B visa. To my surprise, this was so easy that when I asked my father how his move affected his family (now referring to my mother and my four-year-old self), he said:

 “It didn’t affect much, because, after three months, I was able to bring them over with me, here, in the US.” 

“Just three month?”

“Yep, you can actually bring them at the same time, but I choose to come first to see how it looks like and prepare for a place,” he said.

Our first apartment in Brentwood, California. Circa 2001

Our first apartment in Brentwood, California. Circa 2001

We had lived in an upstairs apartment in Brentwood, California. In retrospect, it was small, but as a kid who had come from an even smaller home of cinderblock walls and cousin-filled rooms, the apartment was just as good as any mansion. I remember seeing our bathtub, the first bathtub I had ever seen: “Wow, we have our own pool?!” We were happy, together.  It had seemed that Montemayor was well on his way to the American Dream:

“My dream is for my children here to settle in the US.”

“Has this perception of the United States being a land of milk and honey changed?” I asked.

“It has definitely changed after two, three years when I [had] arrived here, after that 9/11—you know—things happened in the New York Trade Center.”

“Can you go into detail with that?”

“So, the so-called ‘milk and honey’ that I was looking forward, isn’t really—you know—true for me at that point because I lost my job and it was so hard to find a job for me at that time.”

He continued, “So the whole economy collapsed and that impacted my employment here in the US”.

A few years after the collapse of the Twin Towers, Montemayor was left without a job and with no choice but to send his family back to the Philippines. However, it wasn’t solely because of the upset of his financial stability that forced his family to return. He recounted: 

“That was the situation. It was so hard to find a job so the family had to go back for a ‘vacation,’ because I lost the job, their visas had to be revoked because I had no employer that time. I [moved to] Concord, California. It was a house and I rented a room and shared it with a friend.”

For nearly two and a half years, Annie Montemayor and her three children, all under the age of eight years old, lived in a cul de sac entombed within the metropolitan of Manila City. My parents had never imagined that they would be in a long distance relationship again, only this time, instead of romance, they spoke of necessities, budgeting, the children, and if they’d be together for Christmas.

My father and I.  January 2001

My father and I.  January 2001

It came as a surprise that after navigating through his career field with so much success, Nicanor Montemayor had no legal power to keep his family with him.  If anything, he fitted the “model minority” stereotype, a paragon, even: Asian American, excelled in academia, studious in the workplace, and soft-spoken under pompous management.  With these highly-desired qualities honed, it had seemed as if my father’s immigration process was surely over.  On the contrary, it was far from the end, and for many Asian immigrants, it rarely is. While the model minority stereotype has been disguised as a societal accolade for Asian Americans’ (supposed monolithic) success, it exists as a pretense that Asian Americans, like my father and my family, have already been accepted in the United States as equals within legal and social levels.  Through my father’s situation, immigration becomes more than a finite travel; rather, it’s a continual process through legalities and assimilation—this type of migration is far greater in time and tedium than some transpacific flight. I understand that for Filipinos, immigration is a constant that exists through generations, and it always will be, as long as America remains to be the richest source of milk and honey. The United States of America will continue to grow as a land of immigrants, and surely, but sadly, the Philippines a land of prospective ones.

Through my father’s situation, immigration becomes more than a finite travel; rather, it’s a continual process through legalities and assimilation...

In 2004, Montemayor recovered and was well-established in a new company and saved enough money to fly his family back to California. He has come to believe that a distinguishing force behind Filipinos from (i.e. white) Americans is that “They [are willing] to work extra hours because they are saving money.”  I understood what he meant—this sense of responsibility. He continues to hold himself responsible; every month, he financially supports both sides of the family living back in the motherland. Statistics illustrates this cultural obligation in reporting that OFWs reached a record-breaking $26.93 billion in remittances.  Every morning, my father migrates down the stairs, through the living room, and into his office, which is really a daily microcosm of his earlier years of becoming American. Telecommuting is really just a metaphor for the ambition behind Filipino immigration: working from ‘home’ for people at home.  After all the life he has lived, I asked Nicanor Montemayor about what he wants to be doing ten years from now. He said, “Well, mama and I will be traveling the world […] that’ll be my plan.”  And I hope he does sojourn through many places, not because he’s obliged to, but it’s always been in his blood.

Fresno Wedding: Andrew & Sidnee by Danny Montemayor

I was a 17-year-old high school student when I had my first part-time job at a Panera Bread café. I ended my shifts sharing dreams of bigger things with my co-worker, Andrew. I’d tell him how great it’d be if someone would give me a chance to photograph their wedding.


I’m almost twenty-two and a few weeks ago I found myself sitting at a Panera in Fresno to photograph my sixth wedding, but not just any wedding, Andrew’s big day. Of course, it is always an honor when anyone trusts me to document the most tender of moments of their life, but to do so for an old friend, that’s extra special.


Special thanks to all the talented vendors who worked so hard on this beautiful day

Diana of Pretty and Posh Events

Simply Flowers Fresno for the floral arrangements

Bride's Makeup by Andrea

Catering by Painted Table

Cake by Frosted Cakery

And last but not least, DJ Ramzz

Here are some of my favorite photos from that beautiful day.

Quick Update on Gradual Progress... by Danny Montemayor

It's been months since I've updated this journal portion of my site, so I thought it'd be nice to return with my latest work and several spruced up pages.

The beginning of this year, I began photographing weddings, and the experience so far has brought so much growth to my craft. Of course, as long as I'm capturing moments for others, there is always room for improvement, but I'm really happy with my start in this field. 

And because I've been quiet for a significant amount of time, I've also returned with a new Services page!  I specifically created the page for those who are throwing an occasion that needs to be artistically treasured in time and interested in investing in my work. And of course, I'm always available to answer questions through my main email:

Last but not least, I added my recent work in family photography. 

Also, if you haven't noticed, Danny Montemayor Photography has a new logo! I've been told that it giving Halloween children's book vibes, so I can't say it's permanent. 

I have several things planned, so keep in touch by following me on my Facebook Page. 



Breaking Out of Routine: Morning Commute by Danny Montemayor

I wanted to tell the barista she was beautiful, but I didn’t. Instead, she handed me the coffee to make sure it was just right, I sipped and smiled and said it was perfect. Of course, verifying that my medium roast was made to my liking conveys less notability than an unexpected compliment. Being in the casual coffee shop setting, I knew that thanking her sufficed appropriately. But somehow, in some way, I still wanted to express my sentiment.  I worried that because she has probably made my order at least a hundred times and heard the customary “thank you” with each drink, my spoken gratitude had probably evaporated into nothingness, along with the steam from my cup.  However, I knew deep down, “thank you” was the best path to take. It could’ve also been the most respectful route, considering that our culture wrongfully suggests that woman proffer themselves for the world to see. With sociology in mind, because of heteronormativity, censoring myself as an average customer was better than coming across as some guy hitting on the barista. I didn’t want to be that guy. Yes, beauty is subjective, but something about her was universally magnificent. Her beauty was an axiom.  But even if my intentions were strictly platonic, being misunderstood or offensive wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.  I mean, I did study acting at the University of My Bathroom Mirror, but playing the role of a scruffy, socially conscious San Franciscan is hard to embody in one direct line: “Hey, I just wanted to say that you’re radiant.”  Eventually, I made it to the cashier who complimented my grey, wool cap and told me to have a good morning, which I did. 

A couple weeks ago, I broke out of my routine by getting off at the 24th & Mission Bart Station instead of the Daly City Station, where I would have taken the university shuttle.  After my conscientious battle at the coffee shop, I started my morning strolling past demonstrative murals, Mexican aromas, and hungover bars.  I was walking through the morning cold and over cigarette butts. I love the Mission.  The district is home to so much life—the kind of life to learn from, to share with, and to work on. My first time visiting the Mission was a few weeks before I started college, and by the end of my first year, it had become a place of memories.   Very early on, however, I became conscious of the disparity between the community and…well, the affluent newcomers. 

I’ve always had trouble expounding gentrification from a personal angle because neither have I been (severely) burdened by displacement nor elevated by it.  Regardless of my experiences, gentrification is ugliness disguised behind glistening ‘improvement,’ and sometimes, the relics of the culture it has uprooted.  As for me, it’s an issue of cognitive dissonance; the establishments I know to avoid lure me with minimalist aesthetics and wittily-worded chalkboard signs. I’ve become such a sucker for the bourgeois: the coffee shops with the fussy brewing process, the French bakeries that upsell their goods using ornate descriptions, the independent clothing boutiques with ninety-dollar t-shirts, and eclectic furniture stores that sell cuts of wood as chairs. 

 I constantly have to remind myself that these collective luxuries were once communal spaces and homes of the marginalized, and I become complicit, even in the smallest way, when I pay for what newness has to offer.  The Mission was historically a sheltering neighborhood of working class immigrant families, and now, a neighborhood of culture is punctuated by the indifference of affluence.  I hate to admit it: I’ve fantasized living in the newly renovated condos.  However, for me to move into the Mission today would require attaining a level of wealth, and by doing so, I would enter the neighborhood in the same way of any gentrifier. I can sympathize with those who have lost so much, but the only way to truly understand is to have been a native.  

I don’t have the grand solutions; I only have these opinions and the potential to make the right choice of where to buy my lunch.  I typically choose to #SMOB (Support Minority-owned Businesses).  I thought using a hashtag and an acronym would be movement-esque.

After walking ten blocks to the Church muni station, I waited for a delayed rail to school where I do the rest of my learning.  By the time I got to campus, my first class had begun and coffee was already finished. 

That morning was interesting. I think I should break out of my routines more routinely.  Maybe I’ll become a morning regular and develop a friendship with the barista so that complimenting becomes less political.  Maybe I can bring a friend, who can bring another, and eventually, I’ll have an impactful amount of people to #SMOB with.  I’m certain of two things, though; the Mission is stimulating and that barista knows how to brew.

Lolas by Danny Montemayor

Everyone’s attention was on the couch where Johann peaked his little smile which he immediately face-planted into the cushions.  We played this reverse game of peek-a-boo until his heart’s content. Over the table of leftovers, my aunt and uncle commented on their two-year-old son’s impressive growth amidst a particular setback.  “It’s so nice to see him walk and play. He actually learned how to walk pretty late because grandma was always holding him.”  We laughed at the unintentionally restraining love lolas sometimes have for their apo.  Even my grandmother did the same but through candy, which explains why my younger siblings had early tooth decay.  I understand lolas, though.  I understand that kind of love.  I understand that irrepressible desire to care.  I understand the need to feel present in someone’s life.  I understand the need to feel needed. The need to console. The need to embrace. However, I am still trying to wrap my mind around Johann.  I understand him as he is clearly presented: a fun-sized body of warmth and snacks and curiosity.  But outside of his infancy, I began to see him as the people in my life.  I saw him as the friends I wanted to nurture, even from different cities. But they are not small children, and Johann needs space to grow.  I saw him as the girl who listened to me talk about pain and then stared at me like a reflection. I stared back and never wanted to look away.  But she’s uncomfortable with being taken care of, and Johann does not like to be interrupted with care during playtime.  I saw him as the stranger that I shared my years with in a matter of nights. Spending time with Johann can be like that. Children make you slow down, grow backwards, and enter time like a physical space.  That night was my last night seeing Johann and his family until they come back to visit from San Diego.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m waiting for someone to come back. I can’t say that I fully comprehend what it is to be a lola waiting for her grandchildren to visit, but I understand why her warmth is ever-present--it’s something that’s appreciated but not needed. 

Children make you slow down, grow backwards, and enter time like a physical space.

Year One: New Friends, Trains, and The Big Two-O. by Danny Montemayor

I originally planned on writing this entry last Wednesday, the day I finished my first year of college.  However, I’ve been saturated with so many emotions from the last few days that there was no possible way for me to write objectively about my first year as university student.  Now that my life has calmed down and my thoughts have cleared, I can begin.

I’m assuming that most people know of the basic differences between college and high school on both academic and social levels.  So instead of stating the obvious—yes, college is a lot busier—I want to discuss what exactly has kept me busy this past year.

The work has been plentiful.  I can’t honestly say I enjoyed all the classes I took, but for the ones that I did enjoy, I have held on to their lessons to show for it.  I don’t want to sugar coat anything, however.  School work is still stressful.  Even with the classes that I loved, English and Ethnic Studies in particular, I still found myself apathetic and drowsy, which is my natural response to stressful situations. But unlike high school, when I would just rest until my stress lifted overtime, I actually made a proactive effort to alleviate the weight of assignments by spending time with incredible people in parts of San Francisco where I felt far from the bleakness of work.

Freezing our butts off but the view was coolio.

Freezing our butts off but the view was coolio.

The friendships I’ve made in college are, without a doubt, healing and edifying.  I promised myself last summer that I would be more conscious about the people I would let in my life.  I think that’s a common theme for most young adults entering a new setting: finding new people that are better than the ones in high school or similar to those good ones back home.  Of course, I don’t view strangers as prospects for my wellbeing, but I’ve learned overtime that even decent people can present uncomfortable situations if they don’t share the same values on friendships or basic human rights.  I won’t go too far on my politics, but I’m turned off by blatant hateful isms.

I understand the value of individualism. Society reminds me consistently how self-reliance is an integral skill to have in the world we live in;  I cannot simply go about life expecting things from people all the time and I don’t and never will.  Sometimes, however, you meet people who unintentionally, but naturally, build a safe space within a friendship.  These people are the ones you can sit next to in silence without feeling the need to fill the void with hallow words.  In fact, there is no void, just assured comfort.  When I’m stressed with the overwhelming sense of responsibility, I tend to remain quiet and can only muster up meager responses. With this kind of friendship, despite my tired presence, I’m still accompanied with patience and empathy.  Because of their initial selflessness, it’s instinctive to mirror their devotion.  These are the types of people to keep.  They bring the best qualities out of you and make them stronger.

Kathy and me being the hottest people at the beach and we're wearing a full set of layers!

Kathy and me being the hottest people at the beach and we're wearing a full set of layers!

To be honest, I hated trips to San Francisco. They were full tedious moments in traffic, sore cheeks (from smiling) in front of the bridge, and arguments with my dad about where we should eat.

San Francisco wasn’t always my favorite place to be.  Prior to my college experience, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, and Fisherman’s Wharf were the only places I have seen, the only places where my family would take me.  To be honest, I hated trips to San Francisco. They were full tedious moments in traffic, sore cheeks (from smiling) in front of the bridge, and arguments with my dad about where we should eat.  Things are different now, according to my Yelp account.  I go to Los Coyotes to revel in the goodness that is Mexican cuisine.  I go to Ocean Beach and walk along the shore of the Pacific Ocean with new close friends. And if there aren’t any butt-naked, old pink men, I go to Baker Beach to climb boulders to get a better view of the bridge.  Not too far from the ocean is the best boba place I’ve ever had. I try get there before the kids from the nearby high school are dismissed.  They always make me think of how different life must be growing up in the city.  I try to imagine how I would’ve turned out as an inner-city kid.  I can see myself honing my social awareness from the diversity and culture that’s inherent in a place like San Francisco.  All of these thoughts while I’m waiting in line for a strawberry rose milk tea with honey boba.

Earlier this month, I turned twenty-years-old.  It took me a while to accept the fact that I’m no longer a teenager. Then I realized, I’m not losing anything just for facing the inevitable. With that said, I refuse to accept any societal definition of what it is to be in my twenties. I’ll continue to live my life, unapologetically learning from my mistakes.  That’s what I was really afraid of when I was approaching the big two ‘o: being expected to have reached a level of maturity and life experiences that I didn’t have yet.  In reality, nothing just happens. The knowledge and experiences I’ve gained overtime is due to the fact that I went out there and lived it.  I’m slowly letting go of the notion that I should be living a certain way because of my age, especially as a youth.  I feel like a lot of this frustration was from comparing myself to peers who are living out the ideal American teenage life—whatever that is.  For some strange reason, I thought I was letting go of something as I grew out of my teenage but realistically, I still have as many opportunities as I did when I was nineteen. If I’m being completely honest, the only real loss about not being a teenager is losing the privilege of using my young age as an excuse for any recklessness that I may do, but that’s an issue for a different entry.

I came from beautiful, beautiful Pilipino parents who traveled across the ocean to set a stable life for me.

I have three more years to go then I have more of my life to live.  One thing I can take away from this past year is a lesson I’ve learned from commuting back and forth on Bart.  Just like living an hour and half away from campus, I learned that life is full of in-betweens. There are places I came from and destinations I’m headed to, but I always need to remind myself to make the most of the middle.  I came from beautiful, beautiful Pilipino parents who traveled across the ocean to set a stable life for me. They raised me with traditional Christian values and clothed me with warm-colored love they saw best fit. Now, I’m navigating through life on my own terms.  While on my trip to wherever I decide to go, I may bare myself to new experiences, and pick things up I can boldly wear around my neck.  In between to where I was and to where I’ll be, whether my journey takes three years or ten, I want make sure I get something out of every stop along the way.


That Was Then, This Is Now. by Danny Montemayor

Every first day of the year, I feel the need to write about something both reflective and prospective. I just finished my first semester of college, and I’m currently thinking of all the things I want from 2015. So I think I have a good amount of things to share.

I’d like to think my college experience is unique even though people around the world are sharing the same set of experiences. For the last five months, I met wonderful people, met not-so-wonderful ones, saw brand new places I am now familiar with, stressed about school work, and celebrated good grades because they mean so much more than they ever have.  Of course, college is nothing like my last year of high school: a stroll in the park. However, college is not the Hunger Games I expected it to be.  I’m still trying to form a description of what college is for me, but as of now, in contrast to high school, college work is interesting and rewarding, and nothing about it seems unproductive.  My school life and my regular life have merged together. Now, I’m always conscious about lessons, tuition, budgeting, and time.  My life isn’t as socially eventful as it was in senior year but when I do get the chance to take a break, it’s more meaningful.

For this New Year, like any new year, I want what most people (should) want, improvement.  This has always been a difficult thing for me because it’s hard to better once you’re the best. Sike. I have several goals for myself (grades, health, time management, etc…), but there is one thing I found worth sharing.

I really miss my passion for photography, but I also want to recuperate my passion to something better than it turned out to be. Earlier this year, I wrote about my struggle as an artist, which was my way of venting all the frustrations from disapproval and my work being taken for granted. One thing I did not share in that post was my permeating insecurity with my work.  I’m humbled by all the kind words I receive and honored to have been chosen to photograph such amazing people, but all the kudos and business became something I used to measure my growth as a photographer. There is nothing wrong with compliments and turning your talent into something lucrative, I encourage that for anyone. The problem with using success as a metric for artistic growth is that my life was too busy to make time for my medium.  For so long “no excuses” stuck in my head to really emphasize the lack of work I was producing.  After moving houses two weeks after graduation and starting college, photography was the last thing on my mind.  Any work that I did share was a forced attempt to encourage myself. I didn't love taking pictures anymore because even though clients and friends appreciated my work, none of those images impressed me. I was too eager about composing a stellar image that I forgot to chillax and appreciate the process of taking pictures. So the post from last May that was intended to create a leeway for unapologetic artistry was nothing more but words, until now.  Long story short, these last few months that I took to focus on school was a great step back to rethink what I want to do with this whole art form. Honestly, I’m still ideating my photography, but this time I want to learn from my mistake of pressuring myself. Photography has always came naturally to me because I anticipated the process, not just the outcome.

Day One For My 365

Day One For My 365