Chona Abiertas Tenorio is the type who only dreams big.
“When you dream big, even if you don’t realize that dream, that’s an achievement already especially when you have done all you can to get it,” explains Tenoria.
A woman of many talents, Tenoria considers finishing law school at the age of 50 as well as starting her own law firm in Barcelona as her biggest accomplishments to date. She was given the Dr. Jose Rizal award for “most outstanding Filipino entrepreneur” by the nongovernment organization Centro Filipino Tuluyan sa San Benito in Barcelona in 2012.
Tenoria had initially wanted to migrate to the US. In fact, her entry to Spain was simply her way of getting a Spanish visa that she thought would help her go to America without a hitch. That was the plan. Fate would have it differently.
In 1987, Tenoria arrived in Barcelona, Spain. For five years, she fought to get her residence permit. She worked as a babysitter while pursuing several studies that included information technology, nursing, and business administration.
“When I was working as a babysitter, I was often crying, thinking of my one-year-old daughter in the Philippines,” Tenoria narrates, adding she also supported her brothers and sisters in the Philippines.
Tenoria’s luck changed when she landed a job as a housekeeper for a prominent businessman; something she did during weekends. Realizing she was capable of doing more than household chores, Tenoria’s boss hired her as his personal secretary. Her employer’s old age and declining health made her think of her future. This Filipino expat, at 45, decided to study law.
“I barely made it on the last day of the qualifying exam for the College of Law at the University of Barcelona but I still ended up having one of the highest scores,” proudly recalls Tenoria.
According to Tenoria, studying law, especially for someone like her who could not speak Catalan then, had been difficult.
“When I started law school, it was so hard. The medium of instruction was Catalan. I could understand Catalan but not speak it. I had to translate the words in three languages in my head and that was very tiring,” shares Tenoria.
Tenoria specialized in labor law, finishing law school in five years while juggling a fulltime job.
“I did not have much social life, spending countless nights in front of piles and piles of law books,” says Tenoria.
Starting her law firm
Tenoria could have worked for other law firms but she preferred to have her own company, Habeas Corporation, to be able to help her kababayans more.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose to specialize in labor and employment as well as in social and security. These are the areas that concern most Filipinos in Europe,” confesses Tenoria.
Tenoria partnered with her Mexican schoolmate Sonia Rosales to start Habeas Corporation.
“During my first year of living here [Barcelona], I saw many injustices that our kababayans regularly experience. And it is still happening up to this day. I want to help,” points out Tenoria.
Tenoria and Rosales regularly organize free seminars and special conferences for Filipinos to help them be informed about their rights as well as obligations in their host countries. Habeas Corporation works on cases like immigration, criminal, tributary, fiscal, taxation among others.
“I know that many Filipinos who come here are professionals and they are very smart. My advice to them, especially to those who have come here without going through the right process, is to be legally recognized. There are so many ways. For example, I am encouraging them to look for scholarships or government grants. And if you want to have a business here in Europe, it must be registered,” finishes Tenoria.
Habeas Corporation partnered with The Filipino Expat Magazine to give free legal advice to our kababayans in Europe, especially those living in Spain. Send in your questions to email@example.com.
This article was first published in the 3rd edition of The Filipino Expat Magazine. CLICK to read or download back issues.