Trafficking Victim Now Advocates For Others

Member of the CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus Angela Guanzon was interviewed by Rachel Martin on NPR Weekend Edition on November 10, 2013.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: Congressman Royce heard testimony from victims of trafficking this past week. One of them was the woman he mentioned in the conversation you just heard – Angela Guanzon, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2005. She arrived in Long Beach, Calif., thinking she had it made.

ANGELA GUANZON: If you ask a lot of Filipino if somebody approach you go to work to the United States, it’s like winning a lottery. That’s how we feel ’cause there’s not much opportunity in the Philippines. But when you come here, if you’re going to think that, you know, you come here to work – especially the equivalent of the money in the Philippines – it’s a very big thing. So it’s a very big help for us.

MARTIN: And what was your living situation? Were you living with family? Were you married, or living with parents?

GUANZON: Well, I lived with a family. But my father was – my father gets sick so when somebody approached me – like, you know, hey, you want to go to work for the United States? – I said, since I’m single, I said, well, why not? You know, it’s a big opportunity. And I said, well, I’m thinking, wow, I’m going to get – earn money. I can help my family, especially my father.

MARTIN: So you arrived in Long Beach, and the woman who hired you approached you, and what did she say about what you would be doing?

GUANZON: Well, she told me that I’m going to work as a caregiver. And she told me that I’m going to get a day off twice a month. She hugged me, and she told me that we’re going to be like a family. You help me, and I will help you. So – you know how that feels, even though you’re in a strange land and somebody like, told you that OK, you’re going to be like my daughter, I’m going to be like your mom.

And she hugged me, so I feel – so OK, I’m so lucky that, you know, I get the – I met her, and she didn’t even know me. But then she helped me to come here. She give me a job so I’m thinking, I’m so lucky, and I’m going to work for her.

MARTIN: Who were you taking care of?

GUANZON: Elderly.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. In like a nursing home?

GUANZON: Yes, it’s like – they call in board and care. It’s like a house and we have six residents.

MARTIN: When did you start to realize that something was wrong?

GUANZON: I worked there for two and half years. I think for two years, I get tired and my father was so sick that he needs more money to buy medication. But then I have only $300 a month.

MARTIN: You got paid $300 a month?

GUANZON: Yeah. When I came, she told me that she’s going to pay me $600 a month. But since I owed her $12,000 – she told me that I owed her $12,000 for the transportation and visa. So she said that she was going to take the $300 – to deduct the $300, so I can get the $300 every month.

MARTIN: And what was your living situation?

GUANZON: Well, we sleep on the floors in the hallways. Or she said that we could sleep in anywhere that we get comfortable. Sometimes we sleep in the recliner chair for the residents…

MARTIN: So you didn’t have a room. You didn’t have a bed.

GUANZON: No, we don’t have a room. Then we put our clothes either in the garage or in the closet from one of the residents. And she has this dog that, according to her, it helps with the residents. But then we have to take care of that dog, too. And we ate table scraps. Like, so I cooked the food for the residents. So all the bones that they didn’t eat, we eat that.

MARTIN: You didn’t have your own meals.

GUANZON: No. So if you want to have seen a good one, we have to buy from our money.

MARTIN: And how many hours a day were you working?

GUANZON: We worked 18 hours. But every two hours we have to get up and we have to check our residents.

MARTIN: I mean this is a horrible situation obviously, Angela. Did you think about going to the police? Why didn’t you just leave?

GUANZON: Because she threatened us that if you try to escape, she was going to call the police and tell the police that we stole something from her. And I’m alone here, I don’t know where to go.

MARTIN: But a neighbor did know where to go – to the authorities. He had noticed that Angela never seemed to have a day off, and he was suspicious about what was happening in that facility. He called the FBI and the FBI reached out to Angela. They set up a sting operation and eventually, Angela testified against her trafficker in criminal court. The woman got a five-year prison sentence.

Angela Guanzon could have gone back to the Philippines, but she decided to stay in California and start over again.

GUANZON: Now I’m a certified nurse assistant. I work in a facility – in a big facility – and I am a member of CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus.

MARTIN: So you’re still a caregiver?

GUANZON: Yes, I am.

MARTIN: So although something about that work, even though it was so miserable that you connected to.

GUANZON: Yeah, I think even though she took that two years of my life. But my compassion of helping others, I still have it.

MARTIN: Angela Guanzon was brought to the United States under false pretenses from the Philippines. She was forced to work here against her will. She now advocates for victims of human trafficking in California.

Angela, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story.

GUANZON: Thank you.