Ely is a long way from the Philippines, but it’s home


Matt Hufman

Roela Peacock was born and raised in the Philippines and is now living a version of the American dream in Ely.

Roela Peacock works quickly to clean up a continental breakfast at a hotel because she doesn’t want to miss her bus. She has to get to her second job as a housekeeper at the local hospital.

She works 17 hours a day, four days a week, to help provide for her family. It’s her version of the American dream — she and her husband own a house, have a car and plan to send their children to college — not that she ever planned to live the American dream. Especially in Ely, which is about as far away from her home as she could imagine.

Roela, 35, grew up in Manila, Philippines. And although there are no other Filipinos in Ely to support Roela culturally, she seems to have embraced the Nevada ethic that is evident in travels across the state, that Nevadans try hard to take care of themselves.

She came to America not to look for work but for love. She met the man who would become her husband, Derek, in South Korea; she was working there, and he was a soldier stationed there.

A relationship blossomed and he wanted to marry her, but she wasn’t so sure. She had a young daughter, and she had seen other women who were wooed by foreigners only to be let down. Her own mother was advising her to resist Derek’s advances.

Derek didn’t give up. His family showed its support by writing letters to her family; his parents sent gifts to their “future granddaughter.” Roela’s mother finally consented, and Roela told Derek that if he left the military, she would marry him — and he did.

So she moved to Nevada eight years ago, thinking Las Vegas. Instead, Derek picked her up, drove out of the city and kept going past mountain ranges and open space. “I thought, ‘Where the hell is he going?’”

The answer: His hometown, Ely.

She had hoped for the big city, but instead she landed in the heart of White Pine County, population 10,000. Just 2.3 percent of the county is foreign born and only 1 percent is Asian. There is no Filipino community.

“I cried for six months — and drank,” she said with laughter.

Coming from big cities, this was an adjustment. Ely has all of 4,200 residents. Peacock says she was told there were chain restaurants, and there are – McDonald’s and, at gas stations, Arby’s and Subway, to name a few. What passes for a mall is the Family Dollar store, Roela says with a laugh.

There have also been some bumps in the road. Her daughter, the only Asian in her school, was bullied, and there are people who complain that “foreigners are taking their jobs.”

Roela rolls her eyes; work is there for people who want it. She repeats a saying she learned in the Philippines: Work hard today, no worries tomorrow.

She has come to enjoy Ely and the area. Her husband’s family has been supportive, the people are nice and her daughter quickly adapted and learned English.

At work, she has enjoyed the American sense of egalitarianism. She doesn’t tell people in the Philippines that she’s a housekeeper — it’s a job that’s looked down upon. But in Ely, she knows the CEO of the hospital and the doctors.

“In my country, you can’t meet them without an appointment, they have bodyguards,” she said. “Here you can eat at one table. It’s America.”

She is insistent that her children get a college education and go on to careers. Her daughter is 13. And the couple have a 3-month-old son.

The long hours can be difficult, but she and her husband, a truck driver, are paying off their mortgage years ahead of time and putting away for college funds. She and her 13-year-old daughter are already looking at colleges.

She took two months off after her son was born in December before rushing back to work. People she knew suggested she apply for government programs to help so she could take more time off, but she saw no sense. She can work. And she does.

“It’s the momma’s job to give the kids a future,” she said. “I can make sure their future is in good hands.”

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