Love never fails: A Filipino marriage in Melbourne

Community News & Features Oct 25, 2019 at 2:38 pm
Morris and Lisa Rivera in Melbourne

Morris and Lisa Rivera in Melbourne (Photos provided)

By Patty Rivera

The diaspora has claimed many Filipino families, ours among them. Migration has sent siblings on both sides of our family to several continents. Thus, when an invitation came from my husband Joe’s youngest brother Morris, whose only child, Blue Iris, was getting married to her sweetheart Peter Dorkota, we considered it a great opportunity for another family reunion. Statistics from 2018 report that Australia is now home to close to 278,000 migrants of Filipino descent.

We had seen Morris and his family only once since we migrated to Toronto in Canada decades ago. The great reveal for us when we reunited last November was how Morris, who lived an intrepid life in Manila, would carve a life of his own for his young family in Melbourne. We never doubted Morris’s resolve. As a young boy, he was adventurous, a fast-learner and enterprising.

Before Blue’s wedding, Morris recounted how he pursued the love of his life, his wife Lisa Bermejo, then a medical technology student at Central Philippines University in Iloilo. At the time, he was ten years a seaman, landing on many ports all over the world, but never finding peace. He thought marriage would tame him, and ease his longing for home. He found Lisa through pen-pal writing. Many, many, many love letters later, she finally said yes.
He continues: “We’re celebrating our anniversary this October. We came to Australia in 1996: I was 38, and Lisa, 28. Blue was just four years old.”

A month after arriving in Melbourne, Morris found a job with a small printing company. The company has grown since then, and Morris’s job responsibilities along with it. He began as an apprentice printer then rose through the ranks to become lead man and supervisor.

This October, Morris and Lisa Rivera will celebrate their 30th anniversary with a cruise and a coast-to-coast trip to the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to visit ports where Morris landed during his decade as a seaman.

This October, Morris and Lisa Rivera will celebrate their 30th anniversary with a cruise and a coast-to-coast trip to the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to visit ports where Morris landed during his decade as a seaman.

To fill his weekends, Morris ventured into small business: renovation, metalwork and woodworking (decking, building pergolas and timber flooring) as well as sidelined as a machinery maintenance mechanic. But he had to stop when his weekend jobs zapped his energies. “I lost the zest for life: sa sobrang in demand, nawalan ako ng buhay sa kahahanapbuhay. Parang kanta ng Beatles…working like a dog: “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Four years ago, he opted to step down from his post to lessen his work responsibilities and stresses from his job.

When asked about his feelings after Blue’s wedding, Morris says: “Happy, not because I have no more responsibility. Happy, because I’m confident that Peter loves my daughter and that Blue loves Peter too. I look forward to having a grandchild. In fact, in the middle of my speech at the wedding, I felt I was going to tear up. My voice was shaking. I just had to hit the right notes to blend with my tears of joy, in case I could not stop. I am happy because there was an opportunity for our families to be together after so many years.”

In their early years, Morris’s wife Lisa started working at a public hospital as a patient services assistant. Feeding patients, cleaning, for almost 12 years, after which Lisa was promoted to phlebotomist. Soon after, she was accepted to study in their hospital’s fulltime nursing program which she completed in three years. She now works as a surgical ward nurse in the same hospital.

Morris says he is happy with the choices they have made. “We share a common ground: whenever we have saved a bit, we try to unwind and to stretch out our stress. Material things are short-lived and don’t last. Lisa has always told me: ‘Love never fails.’”

Lisa admits that her first few years in Australia were quite difficult. “Morris and I were always at odds because it was like an adjustment period for us, the first time that we were going to live with each other for a long time. Morris usually stayed with us in the Philippines for a month— and the longest, a month and a half.”

At first, she felt lonely in her new surroundings. “In the Philippines you can always talk to your neighbor. Here, not always, that’s why I often called my family back home, and so our phone bills went way up. And the cold weather—it was hard to adjust at first, until my body adjusted to the cold as well.

“My greatest fear was speaking English. In the Philippines they always correct your grammar. That kind of thinking stuck in my mind. I was scared to go to the doctor thinking that I wouldn’t explain myself properly so it would be better not to go. In the end, I mustered enough courage to speak English all the time because I wanted to help Morris by working.”

When Lisa applied for a job in the hospital, she felt more confident with her English skills. “I’d volunteered with Blue’s kindergarten school. With work, I wasn’t choosy. I’ve always been flexible. I didn’t mind the work, even if my first job entailed mopping patients’ rooms.”

Peter Dorkota and Blue Iris Rivera

Peter Dorkota and Blue Iris Rivera

Lisa admits that she was excited to migrate to Australia because they would be with Morris again. “He didn’t have to work overseas. I love Australia. My life changed dramatically here, especially when I got involved in church and found friends who encouraged and supported us during our difficult years.”

Morris views it from another perspective: “When I landed in Australia, I wanted desperately to be reunited with my family and to provide them security. I experienced bullying probably because of the color of my skin, but I endured it and returned spite with friendship.”

Morris never wavered coming to Australia because he sailed at sea as a seaman: “I’ve worked with people from various countries before, with their own ways, culture and character.”

Morris and Lisa who began their early years in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Melbourne managed to save enough to put a downpayment for a three-bedroom bungalow in the yet-to-be developed Caroline Springs, a suburb west of Melbourne. Today, Caroline Springs is a treed community with a manmade lake, groves of olive trees and lush gardens. It is among the top suburban Australian cities where Filipinos have chosen to settle with their families.

Says Morris: “We live in a multicultural community. I like it here. It’s been my big dream to go and live abroad with my family. It’s a dream come true.”

CODA: The young newlyweds: Blue Iris Rivera was adopted by Morris and Lisa as an infant. Lisa, then 23, and still back in the Philippines, decided to adopt her after Blue’s birth mother, still in her teens, told her she could not take care of her baby.

A gifted singer, writer and musician, Blue, who first taught at a junior public school, has recently decided to become an entrepreneur. She now runs an indoor plants store (https://www.facebook.com/The-Kicsi-Folk-325059551509741/) midtown. Hungarian-born Peter Dorkota works as a coffee barista by day, and at night, drums for his band at gigs in Melbourne.

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Patty Rivera is a writer in Toronto, Ontario. Her fourth poetry collection, The Time Between, was released by Signature Editions (Winnipeg, Alberta) in Spring 2018.)