July 4 is a day for Americans to reflect with gratitude on the freedoms and rights we have as citizens of the United States. But for immigrants like Utility Clerk Lina Wray, every day is a reason to be grateful to be an American.
Lina was born in the Philippines. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 with one of her nine siblings, a brother. She was 21 at the time. She and her brother settled in California with family members who served as their sponsors.
Back in her home country, Lina was used to a life without the kinds of creature comforts most of us born in the U.S. take for granted, such as a bed.
“I slept on the floor,” said Lina. “We didn’t have any of the things Americans take for granted. We didn’t have electricity. We didn’t have a toilet. We didn’t have running water, we had to use a hand pump and bring water to our home.”
Cooking was done over an open fire in a big iron pot. “We used our hands as utensils,” she said.
And household tasks like ironing required using chunks of charred wood due to the lack of electricity.
Hard work has always been part of Lina’s life. To pay tuition at the Catholic high school she attended, Lina worked as a school custodian.
“People here complain about small things,” she reflected. “They don’t know how hard life can be.”
Lina entered the country as a legal alien (now referred to as a resident alien), which means she was legally and lawfully considered a resident of the U.S. She was able to get a job to support herself and build her own American dream.
Two years after arriving, Lina met her husband, Mike, at Toys R Us, where they both held down part-time gigs.
“I worked full-time for an insurance agency and part-time so I could send money to my family back home,” said Lina.
After dating a few years, Lina and Mike tied the knot in 1985. Before long, the duo became a foursome with the addition of sons Anthony and John.
In 1996, Mike’s job at United Airlines brought the family to Indiana. Mike and Lina fell in love with the pace of life and the great cost of living compared to the coast. But the move didn’t come without a cost. “I’m the only one of my family living in Indiana, everybody else is in California,” Lina said.
The couple loves to travel, but early in their marriage that wasn’t easy because Lina wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
“It was hard to travel internationally because I had a Filipino passport and I would have to get visas and fill out other paperwork,” Lina explained. So in 1991, Lina took her citizenship test.
Six years later, Lina joined the Brownsburg Police Department as a part-timer. She worked a variety of full-time jobs in Town Hall before landing her role in the Utilities Department in 2003.
“I love my job,” she said, noting the variety of tasks she performs. “I prepare the bills before they are sent out to customers to make sure meters haven’t been misread. I collect payments from customers at the drive up window. I post payments and do other things.”
When she’s not in the office, you’ll likely find Lina outdoors. She loves visiting campgrounds both here in Indiana and across the Midwest in the camper she and Mike own.
Or she’ll be spoiling her four grandchildren.