From time to time, Our Times features interesting men and women who abhor mediocrity and prefer to lead lives that contribute to positive change. Chris dela Cruz is one such person.
Young, articulate and bold in the pursuit of dreams, Chris founded his own school in January 2007. The American Institute for English Proficiency combines critical thinking with English proficiency lessons to enable students from all walks of life learn the rudiments of effective communications.
Chris had to improve his English as a little boy when half of his family moved to Hawaii from Ilocos Norte when he was just nine years old. His grandparents who have long made Honolulu their second home petitioned his father, himself and another sibling. It took seven years before his mother and two other siblings were able to follow, thus completing the family.
Looking back, the dela Cruz family did not lead an easy life in Hawaii as new emigrants. Chris described his family as “very poor”. “We led an impoverished life in Hawaii. At eleven years old, I would deliver newspapers while going to school, living on tips. I also did yard work and cleaned homes of rich people.”
Growing up, Chris encountered all kinds of discrimination, strangely enough from Filipinos of his own age. “They were cruel. They made fun of my strange accent and way of dressing. I was considered as “fresh off the boat” or FOB. It was the Filipino kids who did that to me.” Chris said his first best friend in school was a white American boy named Kevin.
Being bullied and discriminated against by people from his own race strengthened Chris’s resolve to work harder for respect and acceptance. His teacher gifted him with a dictionary which he put to good use, expanding his vocabulary and knowing right diction. He read a lot, and was very conscious about his communications skills.
Vindication came when he auditioned and was accepted for the role of Macbeth, in a high school play. “People came to see the play and to watch me. I thought, why would someone watch a Filipino with an accent? But they came, so I knew that the accent was gone.”
Chris shone even more brightly as a student leader in Seattle University. He graduated in 1999 as a champion debater, and was constantly in the honor roll. The Ilocano boy competed and was selected as the commencement speaker for his batch. He worked briefly as a writing consultant for Seattle University’s The Writing Center before joining America’s corporate world in the fields of sales, marketing and human resource management.
In 2006, Chris decided to come home while his family remained in the United States. “I wanted to teach English in the Philippines but even if I applied for teaching positions, I realized that the qualifications being asked for are extremely discriminatory with regard to age, academic background, and even gender. Despite my skills and background, I realized how difficult it would be for me to even just get a foot in the door for job interviews.”
The knowledge that discrimination in the workplace thrives and is accepted so easily and widely in the country bothers Chris. “In the United States, we have companies that put immense value on meritocracy. Here, there is pressure to lighten up one’s skin, or just choose among applicants of a certain age. Everything is also so slow, so disorganized, so unfair and so unjust.” Still, Chris is determined not to give up and instead do his share to help his homeland.
He put up the American Institute for English Proficiency in 2007 as a values-oriented school that seeks to help Filipinos from all walks of life to gain more confidence as communicators. “I believe in the concept of empowerment. We need to help others find empowerment from within, and encourage them to set goals that they can achieve with hard work and a clear sense of purpose.”
From time to time, AIEP offers free English classes as part of its mission to hone the communication skills of those who have had great difficulty landing a job. Recently, the Blas F. Ople Center sent seven of its graduates from the Microsoft Tulay computer literacy course to Chris for free English training. They were then included in the roster of applicants for call center jobs due for job interviews. Chris and his teaching staff also gives free talks in various campuses on the value of effective communications.
“A college graduate who is unable to communicate at all would likely be passed over in job interviews for a college drop-out who is confident, articulate, and capable of carrying a conversation in English. One’s failure to communicate clearly with warmth and confidence could be a major stumbling block to landing a good job,” Chris said. For those interested to avail of the AIEP’s English programs, send an e-mail directly to Chris via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit aiepro.ning.com. The American Institute for English Proficiency is located at 227 Salcedo Street, Suite 2G, Makati City with telephone number: 893-1566. (Send comments to email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople.