Catherine Carpio is a mother of three and a sister to five other siblings. As the eldest sibling, a need to take care of her family came naturally to her. After living most of her life in the Philippines and working nearly a decade in Singapore, in early 2003, Catherine decided to move to the US to keep her family together. Her family later moved with her to Koreatown in late 2003.
Where is your hometown?
In the Philippines, [my hometown] is a province called Cainta Rizal. Cainta Rizal is on the outskirts of Metro Manila, but it’s still considered a city because it’s just within the border of Metro Manila. It has the same environment as a big city. Cainta Rizal was a rice field before. And then, because the population grew the developer [of the village] had to find other places to build. Ever since I came to the US in February of 2003, my hometown is Los Angeles.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I have lived in Koreatown since December 2003 up to the present day, so for about 16 years. When I first came to Los Angeles and I was living with my friend in North Hollywood, it was an hourlong commute from home to my work in Koreatown. I took buses and trains because I was still a new driver. The winters were brutal because I had to wait out in the cold. I wasn’t used to cold weather since I’d lived in warm areas like the Philippines and Singapore for all my life. Every winter I had to wait for the bus, and if I missed it, I’d have to wait for another 30 minutes out in the cold. In 2003, there was a Metro strike that closed down all the transportation in LA. I then had to live with my other friends so my commute wasn’t any harder. The strike lasted almost a month, and I didn’t want it to happen again. So, when the immigration papers were ready for my children and my husband I had to look for a new place near my work. Eventually, I found affordable housing just a block away from my work. Then, I wouldn’t have a long commute or drive to go to work.
How did you start working in Koreatown?
Tito Sig told me that there was an opening at KDG, so I went there and took the AutoCAD exam, where I was then offered the job. Tito Sig is a friend of a friend. He used to work with my husband, but just for a couple of weeks. He was a friend of Tito Johnson, who was [me and my husband’s] friend. He was my coworker in Singapore, but then he left for another company and met Tito Sig. They became coworkers in Singapore. Then, the two of them came to the US together. Tito Sig got employed with KDG and Tito Johnson was with another company. And then, I was looking for a job. I went to Tito Johnson’s company and applied there. I didn’t get the job. So, Tito Johnson told me to go to KDG since they had an opening. Tito Sig was working there and he said to [his boss], “This is Cathy, but I haven’t seen her work.” So, I had to take an AutoCAD test and see my ability if I really know how to do CAD. AutoCAD is the program that [architectural designers] use to draw the floor plans. Then, I passed and had three months of probation. I started working in Koreatown in May 2003 as an architectural designer for Kennard Design Group. I’m getting projects from architects, although it’s very minimal because of the pandemic.
Why did you live in Singapore?
My husband worked in Saudi Arabia as a draftsman. When his contract finished in Saudi Arabia, he came to the Philippines and then to Singapore. At that time, [Singapore] was booming in construction business, so they needed to hire a lot of people. When he got the job after one and a half years, I also came to Singapore to work.
Why did you come to the US?
I was working in Singapore while my two kids were living in the Philippines. I didn’t want to miss their lives. I had to make sure the family was together, and the only way to do that was to come here. I first came here as a tourist, and then checked with my friends’ employers and applied. From there KGD, my employer, petitioned for my H-1B which is the visa application.
What do you like about each of the countries you have lived in?
The Philippines is very laid back. You have someone who can do the household chores at home, so the only thing I had to do was work and sleep. Singapore is very clean and disciplined. You can live without fear because it’s very safe. It’s also very convenient, the public transportation system is great because it’s such a small country. The US has most of my family here. Most of my brothers and sisters and their children live here, along with my parents. I also like Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth, and it makes you feel like a child again.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
It’s very congested. The people are nice, and it’s very convenient because you have everything within the block. You’ve got the library, the grocery store, the church. The school is a little far, but it’s still walkable. The metro is helpful. I really like Korean barbeque and Korean groceries. Our neighbors are also very nice. Koreatown is clean and is like a little Korea outside of the Korean country.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
I like Madang because it has so many places. I like the CGV Cinema because it’s a convenient and cheap movie theater where I can watch Marvel movies. It’s a reasonable size, and it’s comfortable. I also like Daiso since it’s cheap. H-Mart has good Korean groceries. There’s a new supermarket called Zion Market that opened up in Koreatown, which has really good and affordable produce.
How has living through this experience made you feel?
It’s overwhelming and frustrating. It’s overwhelming because you have to do a lot. You have to put on masks, you have to social distance, you have to clean the groceries and everything. You cannot go out, even if you wanted to. It’s frustrating because you’re confined to the four walls of this small apartment. It’s easy for blood to boil when you’re inside a room with someone you’re not used to seeing 24/7.