Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kababayan Ko

For Via and Mo on the Go

At the gates of the White House, rain fell steadily as we waited to get through security.  Our tour of the East Wing would begin at 10:30 that morning.  We had been instructed to bring no more than a wallet, a cellphone and if we were to carry an umbrella, let it be blunt and compact, let it be harmless.  We were not to carry bags or purses or cameras with removable lenses.  We were warned that such items on our person would prohibit us from entering.  The Filipino American Heritage Month invitees were scattered among other groups waiting to get in.  Umbrellas popped bright colors all the way up to the guardhouse.   
     Some of the manongs and manangs, elders of our community, stood in line, leaning on walking canes or seated in wheel chairs.  It seemed that while we recognized one another as Pinoy, not many people knew one another.  In front of me, two old titas and a young woman dressed in a beautiful blue suit and a red and white bow tie huddled under one umbrella. One tita held onto the young woman’s arm.  After 15 minutes or so, we started to see people being turned away or being sent to a little tent for shelter.   
     A Filipina rejected at the checkpoint walked away from the line, shouting,“You can’t bring these in!  They turned me away!” She held up a ziplock back of meds. Another woman with a big purse full of make up and extra hankies and what-not did not bother to zip the bag back up.  She just turned and left the line.  The women in front of me got all the way to security. The younger woman gave the umbrella to the titas as a guard came over and escorted them to the tent.

            “Was that a special tent for elders?” I asked.  I looked at the shoulders of her jacket, how they were dark with rain. 

            “No,” she said.  “That’s where they sent them for not having the right ID or for carrying too many things.” I held up my umbrella, offered her shelter.  She shook her head, “No thanks, I’m okay.”

             “So you left them there?” I asked.

            “Who me?”  she said.  “I just met them now, in line.  I let the tita have my umbrella.”
     The young woman’s name was Via and we made friends in a hurry.  Inside the White House, the photo ban had been lifted and we were given free reign to take selfies and photos, and group shots and shots of shots.  Gorgeous frames held groupings of historical photos—first families, first ladies, first pets.  Via and I took turns, standing before the China room or Red, Green or Blue Room, and we took photos of one another.  I was in my long barong dress and she in her blue wool suit.  We looked like we were going to a wedding. 
     In one of the rooms stood a huge gold fireplace, just beyond the velvet ropes.  Another stranger said,“Do you want me to take a photo of the two of you?”
     “Sure!” we said.  “And do you want a photo too?”

     In this way, Via and I met Mo on the Go.  Via was from New York, and Mo from the Bay Area, and I was from Miami.  The three of us looked like characters from the Wizard of Oz, on the road to catch a glimpse of President O, if he would allow it.  All day long, we kept an eye on each other, as we continued our tour of the East Wing and then leaving that grand White House, finding our way to the KAYA town hall meeting for Filipino Americans and then to the reception back at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  Every time we left the White House, we went through security and every time we returned, we stood single file, waiting to get in. We were sisters looking out for each other, meeting other brothers and sisters on the way, making mano to lolas and lolos, seeing old comadres and compadres along the way, folks we’ve organized with, people who have modeled the life of leadership, who supported each of us in various times of our careers. 

 We were all there, standing in line at the White House, umbrellas raised, wet from heaven’s rain and full of wonder.  Kababayan to the core.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Filipinana At the White House

for myself 

The invitation to the White House Celebration of Filipino American Heritage month suggested business attire or Filipinana.  What? 

For this daughter of immigrants, this first generation American born girl, this on the ground and canvassing for President Obama two election cycles in a row volunteer, the thought of wearing Filipinana to the White House was the ultimate physical manifestation of being a hyphenated U.S. citizen.

I had been to the White House on a number of occasions and I had been dressed in business attire.  I had been all red, white and blue.  Throwback to my elementary school days when everyone thought I was a foreigner.  When I was bound and determined to differentiate myself from my Filipino cousins.  I was a brown girl in a white world.  I was going to fit in and ignore my Filipinoness.  I would not be caught dead in a butterfly sleeved, barefoot dance between two bamboo poles garment if it was the last thing I would ever do.  I wore Levis.  I floated around in gauzy peasant tops.  I wore clogs, for God’s sake. 

Since those days I have traveled quite a bit.  I have gone from wanting to fit in and be one of them—the white girls—to finding out who I am. Gone are the days when I cringe at the thought of being in a loud group of Filipinos—aka the Galangs.  Gone are the days when I reject the question, Where are you from?  (Miami is where I am from now, Chicago before that.  And before that Milwaukee.) Gone are the days when I am embarrassed to say to the old ladies next door, “Mi familia es de las islas Pilipinas, pero yo soy de Wisconsin!”

I ran to my closet to look for the perfect outfit.  A dress that said I am Pinay—but modern and of U.S. citizenry.    Two years ago, as I was planning my wedding to my White Southern Man (progressive and blue-eyed and beautiful), I asked Filipina dress designer, Bong de Ocampo, to make me a modern barong.  I told her I wanted it to be long and sleek.  A shift.  No sleeves.  I wanted a shawl.  I wanted a dress that I designed myself. 

I was all set to wear it, even posted it on Facebook, when Hurricane Joaquin threatened the DC area.    I would have to stand in long lines to make it through security and into the White House.  I would have to hold a flimsy no-point umbrella over my head.  No, said my comadre Bing Branigin from DC, wear something warmer. 

I had to think about it.  For like a nanosecond.  The White House was not only acknowledging Filipino American Heritage Month, it was celebrating it!  I was invited to show my Pinay pride in the way I carried myself, in the way I took on my identity, in the way I wore that dress. 

With Jason Tengco | Deputy Director
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
I stood in the rain at least twice that day.  The wind turned my White House-approved umbrella inside out. My long sheath barong was covered up to my knees in a sassy dress coat. The hem of my barong was soaked.  My hair was damp, falling straight.  I felt like a drowned rat. I was kissed by rain and it didn’t matter.  The dress was a beautiful sampaguita from my garden in Miami—the pineapple weave shining like gossamer and the joy from inside me radiating all kinds of heat.

Ako ay Pilipina-Americana taga Miami, one of the 4 million in the United States.  Her Wild American Self had arrived.