Some of my friends have wondered why I decided to settle down in Regina in this cold country when I was born and raised in Manila in the warm and paradisiacal Philippines. I could blame Marcos but let me tell you what triggered it.
In the summer of 1968, I had just completed two semesters of teaching math at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S. C. when I got a phone call from the Dean of Science. He wanted to know why I gave a W instead of an F to a student of mine in my calculus class. I explained to him that the student had come to my office midway in the semester and had told me that he was withdrawing from the class. He was one of two black students in my class of about thirty and he was involved in the civil rights movement.
If you have read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, you would get an idea of what it was like for blacks to live in the Deep South in the 60s. I was sympathetic to this student and I told him I’d give him a W when he dropped the subject. Apparently, he had not filled up the proper form for withdrawal with the usual fee. Now the Dean wants me to change the W to an F.
“What difference does it make? He still did not pass.” I told the Dean.
“Quite a lot. With another F, we should be able to discontinue his studies here.”
“Oh. But I promised him a W when he came to see me to drop the class.”
“No, he has not officially dropped the class.”
“Sorry. I cannot back down from my word.”
“I’m telling you that giving him the F is the proper thing to do.”
I politely told the dean that he may change the grade if he thought that was the right thing to do but I wouldn’t and I hang up.
Moments later, I realized that I might have just curtailed my career with this state university in the South. That evening, my wife and I started to talk about returning home to the Philippines or moving on to another university. It was summer, just a short time before school started in the fall and the classified ads in the American Math Society Notices carried very few items. One item that caught my eyes was the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan. So I thought I’d give it a shot and I sent my resume.
A couple of weeks later, I got a long distance call from Dr. Cecil Kaller who was head of the Mathematics Department in Regina. He acknowledged the receipt of my application for an assistant professorship and told me that the Appointments Committee was quite impressed with my teaching and research. He just wanted to hear me speak. I thought that was strange and he explained that their department had three Asian mathematicians, a Chinese, a Japanese and an Indian and the students had a hard time understanding their English. As I am an Asian, he wanted to talk with me.
I told him, “I am a Filipino and we learned English from grade one onwards.”
He was quite happy with our small chat and he offered me the job indicating how much my salary would be. He asked if I could be in Regina first week of September. I said, “Sure. I shall apply for visa for myself, my wife and two kids as soon as I receive the letter of appointment.”
As it was mid August then, Dr. Kaller told me to just drive up to the border at North Portal, North Dakota and ask the Canadian customs people to call him collect at the phone number he gave me. I told him I would try my best to arrive there in about two weeks allowing for closing personal business, packing our stuffs and travel time.
I had never been to Saskatchewan or even the Dakotas and I had wondered what insane venture I was getting into, my whole family in tow and with no travel papers. (I was thirty some and I was brainlessly fearless. Siga-siga!) My wife and I had given serious thought of returning to the University of the Philippines but the idea of working under a government of the corrupt and self-aggrandizing dictator Marcos turned us off.
I talked to my colleagues in the Math department and some were quite pleased with the offer. Dr. Bob Philips said the Medicare Program was good for the family. He mentioned some other social benefits. But Dr. Bill Caldwell was wondering what we would do on August 17.
“August 17? Is that a holiday of sorts?” I asked.
“That’s the day when the sun comes out.” Bill said drawing laughter from everybody. (After we settled down in Regina, I learned that we get more days of sunshine in Saskatchewan than most provinces in Canada.)
Anyway, in the last week of August, 1968, I was driving north through southern Saskatchewan with my wife Dony and two small kids in our new Chevrolet Malibu with no visas and nary a search or X-rays at the Customs. (Now fast forward to 2012. Dony and I just flew back from two weeks in California and we had to take off our shoes and everything with metal (belts, wallets, coins) before we could go through the X-ray scanners at the airports.)
And we have been in Regina since.