Last month marked my second year of living in the U.S. I remember traveling for 17 hours from Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis, where I was welcomed by an immigration officer who was married to a Filipina and knew my language.

When asking for my fingerprints, I was startled when he started using Filipino words to indicate each finger: “Hinlalaki, hintuturo ” Even I couldn’t immediately recall the vocabulary since their English equivalent are used in most official transactions back home.

After several hours at the airport, where I put on an extra layer of clothing in preparation for South Dakota, I was headed to Rapid City. It was Halloween night, and I’ll never forget a fellow passenger who was dressed as Super Girl.

I thought: Is she in such a hurry to get to a party that she can’t change clothes in the airport bathroom? Or maybe it was all in the spirit of celebrating Halloween in America. I regret not taking a photo of her as she waited by the airport luggage carousel, her red cape and boots hard to miss.

Waiting in Minneapolis
Waiting in Minneapolis for my flight to Rapid City. The only photo I have from my trip from the Philippines to the U.S.

Two weeks after I got over my jet lag, I found freelance work at a local newspaper. Two and a half months later, it turned into a full-time job covering the cops and courts.

I told the paper’s executive editor during my job interview that I wasn’t sure I was right for the position. I wasn’t familiar with laws in the U.S., having never studied them in school or learned about them in day-to-day American life.

“We’ll work it out,” the editor said.

The first thing I had to learn was the difference between the federal and state court systems. Next, I had to understand the process that various courthouses use to keep track of the numerous cases that are opened and heard each week. Along with this came knowing who to talk to when certain questions came up.

Inside the Pennington County Courthouse
Inside the Pennington County Courthouse, where I spend most of my days.

After nearly two years on the beat, I’ve noticed that more and more people are now willing to talk to me. Most people don’t mind answering questions to explain the law, the criminal justice process or to confirm official information.

On most days in court, or when I’m running around town reporting, I even forget that I’m an immigrant.

2 thoughts on “Coming to America — and covering crime and courts

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