Last week, the day after the historic election, someone asked me how it felt to vote. She knew that I had lived in Detroit earlier this year, and Barack Obama’s name was not on the primary ballot in Michigan (damn it), so I never had the chance to vote for him before. Now, I live in Massachusetts: ’nuff said. After she asked me that question, I went home and wrote this poem. I hope you like it; please leave comments below. Peace and salamat/thanks!
Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008
© by Emily P. Lawsin
“I go to prepare a place for you.”
Yesterday, as I approached the voting booth,
in this bluest of blue states,
where the last senator lost his bid four years ago,
a few miles down from where
another senator — the martyr Benigno Aquino — once lived,
tears streamed down my cheeks,
my hands trembled like my heartbeat
and I took a slow, deep breath,
careful to not close my eyes
in case some fool tried to spoil this dream and my ballot,
and I whispered a prayer,
not just for Barack Obama,
but for our country and our families,
remembering all of our ancestors
who carried us here to the Promised Land
despite centuries of broken promises.
I remember my Lola Carmen,
born nine years after the revolution
and 30 years before women’s suffrage
in the colonial Philippines,
how she birthed six children
yet only five survived;
how, during World War II,
she had to resort to selling socks (not stocks) –
on the black market –
as in insulation for soldiers’ feet,
then fled to the mountainside
with a pillow up her dress
to protect her and her children.
I remember my Lolo Sergio Sr,
the stern patriarch,
how he immigrated to America
to follow his pioneer daughters, right before I was born,
then worked as a low-paid post office guard
while his wife — our grandmother — watched us sleep;
how they mailed all of us grandchildren
crisp $5 Lincolns on our birthdays
with a carefully typewritten note
to “spend it wisely”.
I remember my Auntie Nora,
my mother’s Até, eldest sister,
how as a teen in Tondo,
she rolled tobacco at the Alhambra Cigar Factory
to help make ends meet;
she never smoked herself,
yet her grandchildren always wondered why
she suffered from lung disease.
I remember her husband, my Uncle Eddie Sr,
who fought in the Philippine Scouts
long enough to re-enlist under the U.S. flag
before the Rescission Act could rescind his benefits;
how one Thanksgiving,
he showed us kids the bites on his leg
from the Bataan Death March,
denied that he had PTSD,
then passed it on to his Vietnam veteran sons,
and we were never the same.
I remember my sister’s father, Leandro,
who, with calloused hands from picking unripe grapes,
cutting asparagus and fields of lettuce,
building bunkhouses and picket lines,
like thousands of immigrant Pinoys,
struggled to put food on our kitchen tables,
moved from crop to crop
from the California Delta to Seattle,
then became a Private
in America’s 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment,
his enlistment papers checked his civil occupation off as
- "Gardeners and grounds keepers, parks, cemetaries, etc."
as if there were no other words to describe “stoop labor”,
he never lived long enough to explain it to his daughters.
I remember our own mother, Emma,
who on her death bed last June,
when the Critical Care doctors finally
let up on her morphine drip,
allowing her to wake up from a three-week coma,
a breathing tube just removed from her lips an hour before,
mouthed the words,
asking if Obama had won the primaries.
When I said, “Yes he did,”
she closed her eyes and smiled.
I remember my father, Vincent,
the only one who outlives them all,
a merchant marine who followed MacArthur
after the general declared his “I Have Returned” speech
on his hometown of Tacloban’s shores,
in forever pursuit of the American Dream,
how on the day that I turned 18,
lectured me — not on the birds and the bees –
but on the urgent importance of democracy now:
then took me to the public library
to promptly register me to vote;
how a decade later, after 40 years of his U.S. citizenship,
Papa was finally called to Jury Duty,
wore his “JUROR” badge proudly for weeks,
framed his “I Served” certificate to display in our
cracked china cabinet,
volunteered to serve three more times,
proclaiming to the judges that, aside from voting,
this was his highest honor,
to finally feel like a true American.
So yesterday, I stood there (yes I did) and I did not care
if a long line would stretch around the whole block from that polling station,
because Barack told us:
“This is our time. This is our moment.
Kaya Natin, Yes We Can.”
So I took my time, savoring the moment.
I stared at my ballot, carefully wiped my cheeks so tears would not smear it,
filled the black hole
with the smoothest black pen I have ever felt,
my hips swaying like I was birthing a newborn child,
standing on the shoulders of these ancestors
and a rainbow of so many more,
who fought for this right, who fought for this night,
thankfully remembering thankfully remembering
ang bayan ko: my country,
ang kababayans natin: our compatriots,
ang pamilya ko: my family,
ang buhay natin: our lives,
and prayed that our President, our next President will remember them too.
November 5, 2008 – Watertown, Massachusetts
Padasal = Filipino for novena, a prayer session for the respose of the souls of the dead.
“Leadership is only incidental to the movement.
The movement must go beyond its leaders in order to survive.”
~Philip Vera Cruz