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Yesterday we honored my grandfather, Salvador Borja, who recently passed. He was my hero.
He was born in the Philippines in 1931 and, after going through medical school, moved to the United States in the 1950s to complete his residency, leaving everything he knew behind for the American Dream. While he was working at a hospital in New Jersey he met my grandmother, a white woman, who was volunteering there at the time. The two fell in love and married shortly after, despite the blatant racism of the time.
They moved around the United States for his work, from New Jersey to Ohio to Illinois, and finally settling in a small town in Iowa. Along the way they had four beautiful children and adopted two others, as good Catholic families do. They fostered children, took in foreign students who wanted to study in the US, paid to get refugee families out of war-torn countries, hosting them in their own home until they got on their feet, and quietly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to other worthy causes.
I remember him being a strong presence throughout my life. A quiet, proud man who adored his family and worked hard to ensure they had a good life. His compassion and faith in people was unwavering, welcoming you — no matter who you were — into his home with a smile that would light you up.
Growing up in a small town in Iowa where 98% of the population didn’t look like me, you don’t realize you’re different until someone points it out. But being Filipino was something I was never going to apologize for because I was so proud to have him as my grandfather.
In his final years in his battle with Alzheimer’s I watched him slowly deteriorate, but I would still catch glimpses of that magic smile.
I hope I can be half the man my grandfather was, but I know no matter what I do I’ll come up short. How do you live up to that? Despite the odds he created a beautiful life for his family and so many others and I’ll forever be grateful.
37 13136 days ago
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