Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

American of Pinay Descent, Daughter of Pampanga, Quezon and Brookfield, WI

for the record

"When I said I am an American of Pinay descent, don't get me wrong. Pinay ako. Sa dugu. Sa puso. Sa lahat ko. The stories we are writing here by authors and poets of immigrant nations are the stories of Americans."

at the Filipino American International Book Festival in San Francisco, CA

Monday, October 21, 2013

Home (Writing Our Way Home III)

for Melissa Rae Sipin and all my literary sisters

Home is where the dirt is.  Home is the early mornings when the whole world is sleeping and I am seated in the red metal chair, cup of joe in my palms, under the avocado tree, next to the mango tree, right of the lemon tree.  In the yard behind me a thump.  And the peacock has leapt from a branch to the neighbor’s roof and she is honking and guffawing and looking for her man.  Mine is asleep.  Mine is in a world all his own.  For now, I am here with the seedlings of kale, and bok choy, of peppers and tomatoes and eggplants and lettuces.  For now I am watching the branches sway and bow and I am eyeing fat avocados bobbing like Christmas tree ornaments.  For now the squirrels are chasing one another, rattling branches, stuffing fat cheeks with bites of ripened fruit.  For now I am dreaming of quiet time.  Miami sky time.  Home at last time.

No, really, for now, I am sitting in seat 27D, the aisle seat, typing.  Since the flight has lifted off the ground the man two seats away from me has been chatting loudly with the stranger he has just met, his new best friend.  All I want is quiet.  All I want is peace.  The man on the other side of the aisle, is sympathetic.  He motions for headsets.  “Do you have them?” he asks me.  Nope.  When the fly attendant waves a cheap set in the air, I raise my hand.  I want one.  For now I am wanting to think about this past weekend.

Writing is a solitary act.  I always say that.  And that is true.  To do it, you have to sit your ass down and just write.  And yet, every time I am on the west coast, where Philippine American Studies has a house in almost every university and community college, I am reminded, I am not alone.  That even as I sit before the computer – in the garden, in the office, a coffee shop or in seat 27D, I have been blessed and I am not alone.  I am grateful to the students I met this weekend at the Filipino American International Book Festival.  You make me realize, I’d do anything at all just to connect with you.  Fly back and forth from Miami to LA, to San Diego, to San Francisco, far far from my sweetheart, from my garden and my kitties, just to be reminded how important our stories are. 

Reading them and writing them.  We do that to find our way inside.  To find our way home.  To find our way to each other.  To be reminded that the stories we write, stories so new to the contemporary American canon, are just as important (maybe more?) than the ones that have come before us.  Ours is the story of these United States.  We are not the margin.  Not anymore.  Now we are planting stories into the weave of Americana.  Now we are growing images and metaphors and Sampaguita are blossoming everywhere.

This then, is writing our way home.  The planting of stories.  The naming of sisters.  The memory of our fathers and light of our ancestors.

Thank you to PAWA.  Thank you to the Philippine Consulate.  Thank you to our hosts at the San Francisco Library. Maraming salamat to the booksellers of Philippine Expressions and Arkipelego.  Thank you to my colleagues, writers and poets planting, planting.  And to my little sisters, Pinay poets and writers and readers.  I am touched by the mere image of you.  Thank you.

Reading from Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing Our Way Home II (Define "home")

for the organizers of the Filipino International Book Festival in San Francisco -- in gratitude.

All I know is that I was born in Pennsylvania and we didn’t stay there long enough for me to know the city of Harrisburg, the landscape of our neighborhood or color of the sky.  Right away I moved, a transient newborn, flying off to Wilson and Baltimore and Manila and Saskatchewan, Peoria, and finally Milwaukee, no finally Brookfield.  All before I was ten.  All that was constant in my universe were my mom and dad, my two brothers, my sister and finally the little brothers born in Dairyland.  We were a family that roamed the earth in search of a house, but we were always home. 

I have a memory of waking up on a plane at the age of three  My brothers and I were lying on blankets on seats turned down into make-shift beds.  I remember wetting that bed. We were traveling from the Philippines to Canada.  And there I would see the snow pile tall as the horse of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  There it would snow in the middle of my birthday month, April.  And I would ask my mom to invite Gidget (aka Sally Fields) to my birthday party.  And there would be a memory of my mom in the hallway of our little apartment, a phone to her ear, the long cord swinging back and forth in the shadows, taking that call from Gidget.  "You know, I'd love to, but I can't make it. Wish her happy birthday for me."  I’d hear my mother thanking her for calling.

I was just beginning to acclimate to the snow, when the family packed it up again and moved to Illinois.

My fiancé, a man from the hills of western Virginia, has the mountains in his heart.  There are days in Miami where he will breathe sadness, longing for the land he grew up on.  He calls it homesick.  He feels the need to hike up and down the sides of mountains, reading the deer tracks, the turkey trails, the brush in the valleys.

But me, when I am homesick, I am dreaming of the noise that comes from the voices of large families.  I long for morning talks with my mother.  I long for the honky tonk piano of my father.  I long for the embraces of all my nieces and nephews.  I want to give and take shit from my brothers and sister and be in the company of Galangs. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dalaga Na Ako (Writing Our Way Home I)

for preteen Evelina

Dalaga na si Evelina.  Dalaga na ako.  Back in those days when my hormones were just beginning to move about this body, grow these legs that long, shape these hips out, draw that waist in, fill up you know where, I was quiet and moody.   I had feelings.  I was in a house where the boys were loud.  My dad played all kinds of piano by ear and his voice filled our home with stories.  My mother ran a household of eight. The little ones, smaller than the loud boys ran from room to room, doing their thing.  I babysat a lot. During the day I followed my youngest brother about the house to make sure he wasn’t into anything.  At night I bathed him and powdered him and wrapped him up in diapers and footy pajamas. In the quiet moments, I read.  I was not the wild American girl of my day dreams.  I was not the girl boys wanted.  Those girls had blonde hair and blue eyes and their skin was fair.  I was not that girl.   

I found ways to express myself.  I played piano in the dark. Classical music.  And I am not sure if I swayed with the music because its what I felt or if I thought the drama of rocking back and forth, hair falling into my eyes, shoulders sliding down close to the keyboard, was romantic. 

I had notebooks I scribbled in late at night.  I wish I had those notebooks now.  I tried to hide them from my brothers who would find them and quote from them, sing from them, embarrass me about the latest crush I had.  When the rest of the house was quiet, when the last diaper had been changed and all that I could hear was the faint sound of late night television coming from my parents’ bedroom, I’d sit at my little white desk, bent over a nightlight and I’d scribble my heart out.

In my notebooks, I was beautiful. I did not babysit, change diapers or cook rice for the family dinner.  I wrote stories.  I imagined I was Jo from Little Women.  I dreamed of writing books and publishing them.  I found ways to ground me to the earth, to feel comfortable in my skin, to meditate on life and God and everything I knew I was to become.  I’d write until the only sounds were crickets from the backyard, until moonlight filled the bedroom, until I found my way home.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

San Diego Mountain Dance

for Jen Derilo

I stood under a tree and I watched the dancers move like mountain birds, flapping wings and skipping to the beat of the gangsa.  They circled the green in follow-the-leader fashion.  I have seen this native dance and heard these bells rung always oceans away from las Islas Pilipinas.  The dalagas dancing reminded me of my nieces, of my friends, of myself (as a geeky awkward teen in Filipino costume), dancing traditional dances in nontraditional ways.  Then the leader of the dance troupe invited the community to join them.  I didn't think they would.  But then this blonde mommy in a ponytail, with toddler on hip ran across the hill to join them, and then a kid in shorts stumbled after the line of dancers, then one of the Pinay dancer's tall white boyfriends, hairy beard and all, arms up and hollering danced his way into the line.  In a moment there was a swarm of people coming out from under the shaded trees, from the canopies beyond the green, from picnic tables and from under rocks, from ribbons of blue sky and out of thin air, all coming out of nowhere, swirling like a flock of mountain birds, laughing with their heads thrown back, calling out to seven thousand islands on the other side of the world.   Everybody coming home at once.