The Son of a Filipino Immigrant

POOR correspondent - Posted on 06 July 2010

Julius Domantay is released from prison on a pardon and within minutes is seized

Tony Robles/PNN
Tuesday, August 19, 2008;

An ancestral voice draws me closer. Thick syllables weave through the air like brown leaves steeped with the wisdom of winter rain; proudly displaying its beauty like a butterfly coming into bloom--wings beyond reach.

I have no watch but I know I'm late. I scurry down Sansome Street past skyscrapers that Henry Miller described as the "Great big tombs in the sky". I reach my destination - The United States Appraisers Building at 630 Sansome. I'm met by 2 uniformed security officers with brown faces like mine. Same routine - off with the metals, belt and dignity. I deposit my metals and belt in a plastic tray. They look at me as if I'd committed a crime --no connection in our brown faces. I retrieve my belongings and walk to the elevators.

I get off. A group of Pilipinos minus uniforms and badges are gathered. I nod at them and walk through a door. A man in an orange sweatshirt sits behind a plexiglass barrier. I sit and pick up the phone. "Are you Julius?" I ask. "Yes" he replies. His is the voice I've been looking for. His is the brown face I will connect with.

Julius Domantay's face is youthful. He has spent the majority of his 50 plus years on earth within the confines of prison. His eyes are piercing yet gentle; eyes once set like stones-- eyes that now radiate passion and truth about his life and community.

The son of a Filipino immigrant father, Juluis went through hard times as a youth. He and his siblings were teased for their broken English, alienating them in a culture that placed little value upon them. The hardest relationship was with his father. The elder Domantay left Julius and the family to come to the US; sending for them later. When 11 year old Julius arrived in the US, he was in for a surprise. "When I got off the plane my father told me, this is your new mother", Julius says leaning close to the plexiglass.

As Julius and his 4 brothers and 2 sisters grew, their father had difficulty keeping a roof over their heads. He wasn't the kind of parent to reason with his kids. Julius got into trouble, landing in youth facilities. "I was a gangbanger", he says. One day in 1977 he and a group of friends went for a ride. They stopped to get beer at a corner store owned by Sam Totah. Totah was a long time storeowner who had businesses in the Western Addition of the 60's. Julius pulled a gun and the man known as "Uncle Sam" lay dead. Domantay and his crew fled, not bothering to take the beer. He was captured shortly after and tried as an adult at the age of 17 - the youngest person ever tried as an adult in San Francisco at the time. His sentence - 7 years to life.

Julius has spent more than a quarter century in various prisons in California - most of that time in San Quentin. Like many youngsters coming in for the first time, he was hotheaded and combative - alienating his fellow convicts. "Lots of guys come in wanting to be bad, to be something they're not" says Julius. Julius spent time in solitary for fighting. Julius adds, "You got to be humble. You got to be able to say I dont want to fight, and walk away".

Over time Julius has gained wisdom through examining his life. He earned his high school equivalency degree and auto vocational training. He has also attended groups addressing anger issues. The most important moment took place in the main yard at San Quentin. "I was with my homeboy when I got distracted. I walked away and came to a man preaching the gospel. I gave my life to God that day. He found me". Since then he has become an effective minister, touching and changing lives behind prison walls. I look at Julius' face through the plexiglass barrier. Id like to kick it in and embrace this brother but I can't. I can only look at his face and the hint of tattoo on his arm.

Julius has worked with at risk youth for more than a decade, giving testimony to his own life in an effort to reach kids that are headed in the wrong direction. One organization he works with is United Playaz (, based in San Francisco. Founder Rudy Corpuz describes Julius' approach in reaching the youth. "His approach is genuine, truthful, embracing and real", says Corpuz, a former convict at San Quentin turned community and youth advocate. "He has inspired many youngsters to get out of the gang life; some are in college and leading productive lives. Others are travelling across the nation spreading the message that gangs ain't the answer and some are parents themselves". United Playaz and other organizations recently held a fundraiser on behalf of the Domantay family, beset by legal costs. But the costs are not all monetary. "When you do time, your family does time too", says Julius.

Julius was granted parole several times only to have it denied by Governor Gray Davis who asserted that no convicted murderer would be paroled on his watch. Julius' parole was approved by Governor Schwarzenegger, who had previously denied him, earlier this year. Upon his release he was apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and has been held in Yuba County ever since. At issue is the fact that Julius' immigration visa had expired while he was incarcerated. The government wants to deport him back to the Philippines. "Go back to what?" Julius asks. "I have a couple aunties in the Philippines but they're in their 80's. They don't want to take care of me nor should they have to". He now waits as his lawyer and family fights to keep him in the US.

"It's all about politics", says Julius. "The governor is playing politics with my case to appeal to his constituency. I can fight it but like everything else, it's about money".

Julius waits while the courts and the politicians take their time. His lawyer has taken his case to the 9th circuit court of appeals. If he loses there, the next step is the United States Supreme Court.

I jot on my note pad. Julius' relatives are close by. There isn't much time until he is transported to the holding facility in Yuba County. Our time together is over. Before I leave I ask him if God has ever let him down. "Never" he replies without hesitation. I thank him for his time, say goodbye and hang up the phone. I walk to the elevators having just spoken to a free man - freer than most.

I walk past the Pilipino guards and out the door leaving the words that echo off the walls and into their ears: FREE JULIUS! FREE JULIUS! FREE JULIUS!



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