Written by Henrylito D. Tacio
“Do not look at poverty as a reason or excuse to stop dreaming big then work hard to make those dreams a reality. I know it is not easy; there are times that you will feel like giving up. When that time comes, seek for something or talk to someone who inspires you, when the burden gets tougher kneel down and pray. Rest if you may but don’t give up. Chase that dream and have faith!”
Those inspiring words come from the mouth of Atty. Nicolas “Nick” Caraquel, a former resident of San Isidro, Davao Oriental who has been named as one of the recipients of The Outstanding Filipino in America (TOFA) in 2018.
A press statement said: “Atty. Nicolas Caraquel is an immigration lawyer who understands the challenges and complexity of obtaining legal status in America, having gone through the process himself. He acquired a work visa within weeks of applying and a green card after a year. He is licensed to practice law in the Philippines and in New York, and has handled more than 100 immigration cases.”
TOFA, the press statement said, “is presented to Filipino Americans who have made remarkable achievements in their profession, advocacy, and community involvement in ways that bring honor to Filipinos across the United States.”
Also in 2018, Caraquel was one of the 11 Pamana ng Pilipino awardees, which were honored during the Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas.
“A sought-after immigration lawyer based in New York who broke out of poverty through his determination and hard work. He assists in facilitating the family reunification process among Filipinos in the United States,” said the press statement.
The Pamana ng Pilipino Award is conferred on Filipinos overseas who, in exemplifying the talent and industry of the Filipinos, “have brought the country honor and recognition through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of their work or profession.”
Like most Filipinos who came to the United States, Caraquel came from a poor family. “Poverty is a source of motivation in itself,” he himself admitted. “You can become creative in finding ways to get out of poverty.”
He grew up in San Isidro, not far from Mati City in Davao Oriental. There were seven siblings in the family and he is the sixth. His father was a barber while his mother was a seamstress. Each member had to work. “I can barely remember spending time with the first three siblings because of the age gap and the fact that they too were working students while attending school,” he recalled. “Everyone had ample share in helping our parents earn a living or support our family at that time.”
He was only six when he started to help the family in making both ends meet. Every day, at 4 o’clock in the morning, his father would wake him up. Although he still wanted to sleep, he had to get up to help his mother prepare for the barbecue vending at the bus terminal. From their house, he had to walk alone going to the bus terminal to gather used barbecue sticks from the ground and wash them clean because they could not afford to buy a fresh set.
But even then, the family barely made it. When he was in third grade, his parents requested him to quit schooling. He was mad. “I didn’t talk to them for six months but would do everything they asked me to do,” Caraquel said. “I could not understand the reason why I needed to stop going to school.”
It was from this experience that he learned the value of hard work, determination, and patience. “I get inspiration from my mother,” he pointed out. “She reminded me that education is the only way out of poverty and that material things are not that important.”
She also taught him about leaning on that Someone Up There and to call help from Him. “When things get rough,” she told him, “just kneel down and pray.”
Caraquel believed that to get out of poverty, he had to finish school. And it came to pass that when he was graduating from high school, the government offered for the first time the State Scholarship Program (SSP) to poor but deserving students to study in private schools. He applied and was awarded as one of the 13 SSP scholars in the country.
The scholarship was his ticket to enroll at the Ateneo de Davao University, where he took BS Industrial Engineering. After graduation, he worked in one of the big companies in Cagayan de Oro City. However, his childhood dream of becoming a lawyer beckoned. With the money he saved, he decided to fulfill his dream. He pursued law at Xavier University and passed the bar in 2003.
In 2007, Caraquel visited the United States to look for better opportunities. Three weeks after his arrival, he attended a mass and prayed. After coming out from the church, he asked his friends to pray for him. He recalled: “If God has better plans for me in America, the Nestle USA will call my friends’ landline the following Monday at 9 am.” True enough, at 9 in the morning that Monday, the phone rang and the company called. He was hired.
In 2012, Caraquel decided to work as a full-fledged lawyer in New York City. With only three weeks approved vacation from his work, he concentrated on 13 out of 21 subjects for the 2-day New York bar examinations. The first day was the toughest; it had the NY Bar five essay questions.
After the morning sessions, Caraquel went to his hotel and prayed. He asked God to give him at least one topic he could focus on. Should that selected topic be one of those that will come out, he assumed that with God’s guidance, he would pass the bar exam. Out of nowhere, someone whispered in his ears to concentrate on libel and defamation.
So, when Caraquel went back for the afternoon session, he was ready. And lo and behold the topic was – hold your breath! – about libel and defamation. It was then that he knew he would pass the bar exam. And he did.
A few months later, Caraquel was in a quandary whether he would stay in the US or be back in the Philippines, although deep inside him, he wanted to stay. Again, he prayed asking that if his plans aligned with His plan for him, he will receive his American citizenship notification on or before April 2 (Thursday). And, yes, it happened as he had requested.
“All my life,” he says now, “I am guided by prayers in every major decision I make. It’s a trait I learned from my mother. I always ask for God’s sign to give me confidence that the decisions I make are aligned with His.”
Indeed, determination and prayers – lots of them – made Caraquel what he is today. “All my life,” he says now, “I am guided by prayers in every major decision I make. It’s a trait I learned from my mother. I always ask for God’s sign to give me confidence that the decisions I make are aligned with His.”
Today, Caraquel is one of the finest immigration lawyers in New York. “I focus on immigration law because it’s my passion to help other people and immigration is an area where I can greatly demonstrate that,” he said.