Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pamana: The Lolas' Legacy

Yesterday, I stood before a group of 150 SFSU students—Asian American mostly—but diverse. I shared Lola Pilar Frias’ testimony.  I stood before them and I read her words (translated of course).  I played my book trailer where every woman’s face and name appears on the screen.   I answered these questions from the students:

1.     How did you feel when you heard their stories?
2.     How did you use your tools as a fiction writer to write this book?
3.     How did you get the stories to leave your body?
4.     Did writing the book hurt you? In what ways?
5.     Is my lola one of them?

At the end of the day, the first student who came up to me did not have a book in her hand, but she had the saddest eyes.  “Can I please give you a hug,” she asked me.

Another student, a young woman, tried to keep herself from crying.  Held her breath.  Scrunched her face up and said, “I was afraid to come talk to you.  I was afraid I’d see my lola’s face on the cover of your book.”

Two boys approached me.  One Filipino American and the other Vietnamese.  They each said they were moved.  They wondered if these stories were their grandmothers’ stories too.  “I’m going to read the book tonight,” said the Pinoy.  “Then I’m going to give my mom the book, can you sign it to her?”

“Me too,” said the other boy.  “I’m from Vietnam and I think we have war stories too.  Could you sign it for my mother?”

I think the lolas would be pleased.  So many young people told me they were going to go home and ask their parents and grandparents to tell them their family’s stories of war. 

Isn’t this the first step?  To discover the stories.  To listen to the elders.  To listen.  To breathe with them.  Hold onto them. 

That’s the first step.  Then, write them down.  Put them in some historical context.  And if you see the need for justice, fight.  Push. Make sure these tales will never happen again.

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