Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


for Ligaya

On the occasion of my 50th birthday, a few years ago (yes), my nieces came to Miami to visit me.  Ligaya must have been eight.  And for years, I knew she was looking at me askance, wondering what was wrong with me.  Soon as she learned to speak she was asking me why I wasn't married yet.  Once when she was three, she wanted to know if I had put an old boyfriend into time out.

"Did you tell him to think about it?"


"Did you tell him that even if he thought about it and you disagreed you'd still love him?"


He was on permanent time out.

So when I turned 50, I took Ligaya and her sisters to my office at the University of Miami.  I was now the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing.  I had written several books and had many on the way.  The sisters ran their fingers along the spines of all the books.  Picked up photos and knick knacks given to me by my students, nephews, and nieces.  I thought it was a pretty cool office.

After a long moment, she asked me again.  "So why didn't you get married?"

I'm sure she's not the only person to wonder.  I told her that not every woman wants or needs to get married.  I told her I was having a great time writing books--because I was--and that it took up a lot of my time--which it did--and that I didn't want to get married just to get married--that was a no brainer.

I thought of the book I gave her long ago--it was the story of Princess Smartypants, a feminist take on fairytales, kingdoms and the institution of marriage.

I thought I was Princess Smartypants.  And in the end, yes, I am.  I want it all.  I want to be in a job that I have chosen (check) writing books about the stories I want to tell (check) and if I marry (and I will in 30 days) I will do it because I choose to.

When I began dating my fiance, Ligaya looked at him and she smiled.  When I announced the engagement she said, "Just so you know, the cousins talked about it and we knew it was going to happen."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mommy ko

for Gloria L.T. Galang

She is the original wild American self.  She was born and raised in the Philippines to a family of two older brothers and three older sisters, a little brother and a mother who had been widowed at a very young age.  She had been born watched over by all who loved her.  Her brother Frankie was the one closest to her age and he was her constant chaperone.  The boys could not get close.  When they courted her--that is to say--when they came to the house to see her, she sat with them, but without interest.  Seems nobody could turn her head.  Until she met my dad and that was in the United States of America--sans chaperone, sans pamiliya.  She was concentrating on her books when she met my dad.  She was organizing a cultural show when he turned up at every corner to be her official escort, her chaperone. 

They thought she might return home with her Kapampangan husband where they could live in Quezon City, perhaps in a house not far away from the rest of the family, where she might employ a yaya for every one of her children, and a cook and maybe even a labandera, to free her up and give her all the comforts of a good life.

But her husband's practice took her back to the U.S., and her mother gave her blessing, said, "Go with your husband," and that meant she would have to learn the housewife duties she'd never have to perform back home.  In her early thirties, she learned to cook, to clean house, to raise six children.

Now my mother, their lola, his wife, is the best cook of healthy Filipino cuisine.  She was the one who designed the house we grew up in, working with the architect and contractor, placing all the dream elements into that perfect house in Wisconsin.  In our Filipino American community, she has been a leader and community organizer--something she might not have had a chance to do "back home." But here, she has taught us all what it means to be Pinay and American at once.  She, along with my dad, have created an immediate family of 22 and counting.

My mother has taught me how to do it my way.  To see what I want and go for it.  Even if it's new territory.  Even if it's unexpected.  Isn't that, after all, the true American way?