poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

June 12, 2009

Packing Sheets: On Philippine Independence Day

Peace, pamilya and friends. Been on hiatus from this blog during the academic year, but have a computer full of blogs to add after we move. Here’s the latest. 🙂 

Watertown, MA    7:37 AM EDT

800px-Flag_of_the_PhilippinesToday, June 12, 2009, marks the 111th year of Philippine Independence from Spain, which had colonized my parents’ homeland for almost 400 years.  My cousin, Oscar Peñaranda, has written about how his grandfather fought in the Philippine Revolution against Spain, while I, with my Filipino American life, always find myself packing sheets around this time of year, literally and figuratively. Now say it like your oldtimer uncle would say it, with a Filipino accent:  “packing sheeeiiiiiittttt.” LOL.  I always love how they can flip the “p” and “f” sounds, all puns intended.

For a long-time-student-turned-educator, June is a crazy month, usually marked with final exams, submitting/receiving grades, and graduations. With that, comes the annual clean up, and often, the dreaded moving: to a new class, a new apartment, or even a new city. Forget weddings: you’ll hardly ever see any of my educator friends getting married in June. We’re too frazzled.

As I wrote in my last entry, I spent most of June 2008 watching my mother die in a hospital bed in Seattle.  On June 12th, I whispered to her how my husband had just called and said we have an offer on our Detroit townhouse that we had just listed for sale.  In her comatose state, my mom moved her eyeballs underneath lids, still closed, and shed a tear. “Happy Independence Day,” I said.

I remember when we lived in Los Angeles several years ago, on June 12, 1994, the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found fatally stabbed in her Brentwood home.  A few days later, I watched the O.J. Simpson car chase on TV. The helicopters and sirens echoed outside my apartment as they sped down the 405 freeway, its overpass just next door. An ex-boyfriend who I hadn’t spoken to in two years called out of the blue at the exact same time, liberating us from some old demons. When I hung up the phone, I whispered to myself, “Happy Independence Day.”

This week, my siblings and cousins have been calling, emailing, and texting me with busy plans of our upcoming family reunion in Seattle.  I am just praying that there will be no blow-ups or typical drama during it all:  you know, the huffing and puffing, the “pucking sheeiittt” that happens in loud Pinoy hypertension-laden dysfunctional families.  Like mine.  God love them all.  On the day of our last family reunion, that same ex-boyfriend got married just a few miles away, down the road. My cousin attended it.  And me?  I was a good girl and stayed at the reunion, barbecuing mom’s beef inihaw skewers and unpacking picnic blankets, fighting all urges to crash his wedding, like he had wanted to do at mine, akin to Dustin Hoffman in one of our favorite films, “The Graduate”. [Cue the Simon and Garfunkel music:  And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know (wo, wo, wo).  God bless you please, [Mrs. Lawsin].  Heaven holds a place for those who pray (hey, hey, hey… hey, hey, hey).]

Packing sheit. Ah-hem, I mean, back to packing sheiiit.

This morning, it is pouring down rain here in the Boston-area.  It looks and smells like Seattle, with bus trolleys splashing puddles onto tired office workers waiting outside my front window. Our moving pod and good friends that we have made here will arrive in just a few hours. We are packing up our rental home, which we have loved for the last 10 months, so we can return to our other jobs in Michigan.  And yes, in this recession, to still have a job in Michigan is definitely a blessing.  So I leave with a thankful heart and no regrets, though we will miss our Boston friends.

tula at TLast night, my daughter helped me fold the towels and blankets her grandmother and aunties sewed and knitted for her when she was born. I remembered how last year, my husband got all of our incredible Detroit and Ann Arbor friends to help him pack up our house while I tended to my mom in Seattle. As I separated and folded sheets, wondering how we would get all of this done in time to move next week, my daughter asked, “What are you doing, Mommy?”

“I am packing sheets,” I said. “Again,” a tear coming to my eye.

She gave me a big hug and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. I love you.”

In the end, that is all that really matters. Packing sheeiittt.

Happy Independence Day.

* * *


PVC BookcoverMy Pinoy friend John Delloro, fellow UCLA alum, author, lecturer, and labor activist, just reminded me how on June 12, 1994, Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and United Farm Workers (UFW) co-founder Philip Vera Cruz passed away in Bakersfield, California. Manong Philip toiled long in the fields and on the picket lines for social justice.  I had met him two years earlier, when his oral history was published by my alma mater UCLA Asian American Studies Center’s Press.  My comadré Meg called to tell me the news and I cried.  I helped her make the calls because Manong Philip’s longtime companion, Debbie, had asked her to and she couldn’t do it by herself.  It was the end of an era.  Leave it to Manong Philip, who broke ranks with Cesar Chavez after the latter accepted an award from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to leave this world on Philippine Independence Day… 

Mabuhay at Ingat.

© by Emily P. Lawsin



December 29, 2008

GIVING: History for the Next Generation

Last Thursday was my first Christmas without my mom; she passed away last June at the age of 81. Finances are tight for us this year, not only because of the unexpected hospital and funeral expenses, but also because of our temporary move to the metro Boston area, where the cost of living is three times as much as Detroit. So our Christmas list this year was much shorter than previous years, with us trying to give more meaningful gifts.

Tula picks satsumasInstead of spending the holidays in snowy Seattle or Massachusetts, we’re spending them with my in-laws in Los Angeles, where they grow fruits and vegetables in their tiny backyard. When our toddler saw the tangerine tree in the back, she said, “Wow, satsumas!” and couldn’t wait to pick them fresh from the abundant dwarf tree. As I watched Anak pick the fruit, I remembered how when I was her age, my mom used to go down to Uwajimaya’s in Seattle’s Chinatown and buy crates of satsumas as Christmas gifts for her friends. My brother was allergic to them, so I didn’t really get their appeal.  Tula puts satsumas in boxThen I moved to Boston and saw them selling for four bucks a pound! And those aren’t juicy or organic like Grandma and Grandpa’s! Anak picked about 50 of the satsumas straight from their tree; we washed them off and wrapped them up to give to neighbors and friends. With every juicy, tart bite, I keep thinking how much my mother would have loved for me to ship her a crate too.

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Satsumas also remind me of my sistahfriend Dr. Joan May T. Cordova, who often wears the satsuma scent.  She is the President of our Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and writes a FANHS blog HERE. Today is her birthday, so I kept wondering what I should send her, since she always buys pasalubong/gifts for the whole barrio. “Should we send her satsumas?” Anak asked. Nah, she has plenty of that. Then I was reminded of the appeal letter Joanie sent last week, the first one FANHS has ever issued in its 25-year history:


Emma Lawsin, 1953

Emma Lawsin, 1953

When I got married, Joanie gave us a 10 Year Membership to FANHS (like she does for many others). When my mother died, Joanie was the first to ask to what organization friends should make remembrances. My mother was the longest-serving council member of the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc, and belonged to almost every Filipino organization in the city, so it would be difficult to specify just one. Joanie never lets me forget how, when a FANHS delegation flew from Seattle to Manila for a conference, my mother sent a bag of store-bought cookies for everyone to snack on; although I was initially bothered by their weight, during our layover, we were grateful for those cookies because we didn’t have anything else to eat. As a World War II survivor, my mother was frugal, but she always made sure we had plenty of food. And although she never had a chance to earn a college degree, my mother valued education and believed in the importance of knowing and sharing our roots. She may not have understood all that I do in terms of teaching and preserving Filipino American history, but she supported it in the simple ways that she could: through stories and food.

FANHS 810 18th Ave, Room 100

FANHS is housed in 3 old classrooms here, at 810 18th Ave

When my mother died, I had to write the eulogy, but did not have any of my material, so I went to the FANHS National Pinoy Archives in the old, converted Immaculate School in Seattle’s Central District. The archive barely fits in two rooms: one is an old classroom and the other is in the basement. When I was a teenager on the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) Drill Team, this same basement was where we learned Kulintang (ancient gong music), practiced Arnis/Eskrima (the Filipino martial art), and heard aswang/ghost stories. The National Office of FANHS is upstairs, in what was once, 25 years ago, the FYA Trophy Room, where we had “brown room” meetings and cultural classes. Twenty-five years before that, it was probably my cousin’s classroom. The FYA offices are gone, but FANHS remains. Now cardboard file boxes pile high to the ceiling, with sepia exhibit photos peeling the paint from the century-old walls. A snooty university archivist once asked me if the FANHS office and archives, with its thousands of valuable photos, interview tapes, and material artifacts, had “climate control”. I chuckled and said, “I think there’s a dial that controls the radiator.” Of course, that radiator is covered with papers too.

Fred & Dorothy Cordova

Drs. Fred & Dorothy Cordova

Joanie’s aunt, Dorothy Laigo Cordova, founded FANHS in 1982 and has served as its unsalaried, volunteer Executive Director since then. Auntie Dorothy’s husband, Uncle Fred Cordova, a retired newsman, is the FANHS archivist. When I arrived at the FANHS office (two days after my mother had passed), Auntie Dorothy shared a bowl of curry and rice she had made the night before. Downstairs, Uncle Fred had already pulled my mother’s files for me to see. They had material I didn’t even know existed: a speech my mom had written, a faded newspaper article on her parents’ arrival from the Philippines, a party invitation she had someone make. I still needed more, so I found her sister’s file, some of her organizations’ files, plus a book where part of her oral history is published.

I felt so grateful to have this sanctuary of information, where I could research and write, and still feel at home: the memory of kulintang beats and childhood ghosts dancing in my ears. Before I left the FANHS archives, I whispered a prayer, hoping that when Anak is older, she can touch, read, hear, and smell all of this too. But prayers don’t pay the rising rent (even if Uncle Fred is now an ordained Catholic Deacon)!

Remembering our pledge to give meaningful gifts, I wrote our check to FANHS and put it in the mail today, just in time to honor Joanie’s birthday, my mother’s memory, AND get our tax-deduction (since FANHS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization). My mother would have wanted that, plus the satsumas, of course.

*  *  *

Please GIVE a gift of history and support FANHS for the next generation:

Click HERE to Download FANHS Donation Form.

And Mail Donations Payable To:


810  18th Ave. Room 100

Seattle, WA 98122

UPDATE 2012: You can now donate online [in annual or monthly recurring donations] via PayPal or using a major credit card on the redesigned FANHS Website.

All donations are tax-deductible: http://fanhs-national.org/filam/donate/

* * *


Maraming Salamat!

© by Emily P. Lawsin, FANHS Trustee

December 29, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA

Click HERE for my full bio: www.emilylawsin.com


November 15, 2008

POEM: Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

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.”

~Harriet Tubman

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

For my bio, Click HERE www.emilylawsin.com


Click HERE to read my previous blog post: POEM: Seattle / “She-attle” / Personified -For Blue Scholars

September 20, 2008





The BEST part of Friday night’s show at Boston Progress Arts Collective’s East Meets West Bookstore happened when we were locking up the joint. One MC (who I don’t want to name because I’m not trying to embarrass him) started jumpin’ up and down when he found out I know Invincible. Seriously.

He said, “Hey, you’re from Detroit. Do you know Invincible?”

“Yes, of course I do. She’s a good friend of ours. She’s Anak’s Auntie Ilana.”

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, she knows Invincible! She knows Invincible!” he screamed, jumping and grabbing all the hip hop heads. Pretty soon they were all around me starry-eyed saying, “We LOVE Invincible. We LOVE Shapeshifters. Do you have her new album Shapeshifters?

“Of course I do, we’re investors.” (Partner later told me that we’re actually not “financial” investors, but I told him we should be.) Anyway, I don’t know what they would’ve done if I told them Ilana gave us the rough cut of the CD too. 

The fans continued, “Oh my god, we were waiting and waiting for years for Invincible to come out with her own album, and then when she came out with Shapeshifters this year, we were so happy!

“So happy. It is off the hook!” another said.

“Oh my god, you know Invincible. We are such big fans of Invincible. Wait, wait, how do you know her?”

“We were all volunteers with this intergenerational youth program called Detroit Summer–“

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! We know Detroit Summer. From her song ‘Locusts‘.


“Do you have the L.A.M.P. CD? They came out with a CD,” I said.

“Oh yeah, the L.A.M.P. CD, so cool. Oh my god, she knows Invincible. I can’t believe it.”

I don’t know what they would’ve done if I told them we gave Ilana half of our household items when we left Detroit (all of which are embarrassingly described in last month’s incredible Metro Times cover story, here).

“Wait, how did you guys discover Invincible?” I asked.

“We heard her track years ago on this group — the Platinum Pied Pipers CD and we loved it.”

Yes, Detroit Winter: “if you can’t take the winter, you don’t deserve the summer.” I think these fans might have a heart attack if I show them the pictures on my computer of PPP’s live show (with Invincible) from Detroit’s Taste Fest ’05.

Invincible performs with Platinum Pied Pipers at Detroit Taste Fest, July 4, 2005. (c) Photo by Scott Kurashige.

Invincible performs with Platinum Pied Pipers at Detroit Taste Fest, July 4, 2005. (c) Photo by Scott Kurashige.

“Oh my god. She knows Invincible. We would love to meet her.”

“Hey, if you guys want to bring her out here for a show, she can stay with us, no problem. Just let me know. We can call her right now.”

“That would be so dope. We should do that,” they said.


I think you’re way overdue for a Boston show.

And Anak would love to see you too!!! 🙂

Now, I tell this story because it was so heartwarming to see that these young bloods all the way in Boston love Invincible just as much as those of us in Detroit do. They recognize her true gift with words and music. After all her years of struggle and serving our community, she deserves recognition and success, especially with her new album. Shapeshifters.

If you don’t have one yet, get yours today at http://www.emergencemusic.net/store .

And tell Mike I sent you. 😛

I also tell this story because it shows how really small this world is. AND that if you find the radical/progressive artists in any city, they are going to know YOU/your radical/progressive artist friends too.

I mean, if you are currently an artist-activist from Detroit and you don’t know Invincible, then you are either:

  • a) not really an artist,
  • b) not really a community activist, or
  • c) not really from Detroit.


Minamahal/Much love to Ilana for giving me some street cred!!! 🙂

As we all told Grace during Conversations in Maine,

“Detroit is a part of us. It is always in our hearts. We will take Detroit wherever we go.”


Miss you all much.  xoxox  ;-*

Salamat: East Meets Words/Re-Cap

Saturday, September 13, 2008, 2:25 AM ET | Watertown/Cambridge/Boston, MA

So I arrived home safely a few hours ago after my first Cambridge gig at the supercool East Meets West Bookstore: what a special, historic place. I can’t sleep because I’m still fired up from the good vibes in the space (Eric Chin brought Taoist good energy in the room with everyone breathing to puff up his origami — it reminded me of the energizers I usually do on the 1st day of classes, but MUCH more chill). Anyway, I thought I would start off my blog about the performance, the people, and the place. And a BIG SHOUT-OUT to the BOSTON PROGRESS ARTS COLLECTIVE (B-PAC)!!! YAY!! THANKS YA’LL!!


East Meets West Bookstore, 934 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA

The East Meets West Bookstore is a down-home, hole-in-the-wall kind of place in Cambridge, on Massachusetts Avenue, less than a mile east of Harvard Square. When I walked in, I immediately felt at ease. It looks like one of the stores in Seattle’s (and Detroit’s) old Chinatown, complete with a back room that looks like one of those secret card rooms, except it has a two-way mirrored window. (I kicked myself for not bringing my mah-jong set.) One wall is covered with endless bookcases of what must be rare Chinese texts and across from that is a showcase of hard-to-find Asian American CDs, books, and zines. I kept thinking how the Asian American students in Michigan would buy all of this material right up if we had this store in Detroit or Ann Arbor. There are big “HELLO MY NAME IS” posters on the back wall signed by guests from all over, three small red paper lanterns hanging from a corner ceiling, and then huge speakers on the floor that looked out of place, maybe because they look like the ones the student union uses (hmmmm). The bookstore even had almost the same scent as the old On Leong office on Peterboro in Detroit, a mixed whiff of not-yet musty encyclopedias, left-over take-out boxes, and a hint of firecracker incense dust hidden in the cracks of the gated door. It reminded me of when we opened up one of the doors in the back of Mrs. Wong’s old Cass Corridor warehouse and found a box of stale fortune cookies from 1982. (Last night, Giles found beer in the bookstore’s back room. I didn’t catch if he drank it?)

As I sat down and breathed it all in, I thought, “This is what the old Kearny Street Workshop space in San Francisco’s old Manilatown must’ve been like 35 years ago.” BPAC’s use of the space for the last 3.5 years is kind of like what our Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Workgroup tried to do at the old On Leong Building back in 2004, except Cambridge obviously doesn’t suffer from the post-deindustrialization fall-out that Detroit does. At the old On Leong in Detroit’s abandoned Chinatown, even though we made that

Detroit Chinatown Mural, on Peterboro & Cass, 2003

Detroit Chinatown Mural, on Peterboro & Cass, 2003

beautiful mural, painted two buildings, and started having events there (the same space they used to organize the Justice for Vincent Chin movement 25 years ago), after the ceiling, heat and electricity went out, we just couldn’t keep it up. Luckily, the mural is still up and our Detroit Asian Youth Project still survives, but access to the performance space doesn’t. That’s why this Cambridge space is so inspiring and important, and I’m not sure if everyone here even realizes it.

East Meets West’s retail/performance space is about as big as my flat’s living room (which isn’t that big), but really, really cozy. There’s a couch and then folding chairs. When I arrived, about 20 people were already there trying to get a seat or setting up (mostly BPAC folks) and by the time I went up to perform, there were 50 people packed in there, SRO. On the West Coast, 50 people might not sound like a lot, but what I’ve learned from being in Michigan the last eight years, is that east of California, any Asian American public event that has more than 20/just the core, is truly an accomplishment. What was so impressive is that most of the audience were regulars, people who’ve shown up every 2nd Friday of the month since 2005. I mean, there was so much steam on the windows from all them warm heads; we were probably violating some kind of — oh let me scratch that before I get them in trouble. Anyway, at the end of the night, Giles emptied out the de-humidifier and there must’ve been about 3 gallons of water spilling all over Mass. Ave. (“It’s to protect the books,” Eugene said. Ah, yes. The archivist in me should know that.)



The after-crowd, some members of Boston Progress Arts Collective

The after-crowd, some members of Boston Progress Arts Collective

The Open Mic was really like none other than I’ve seen (and I’ve been to A LOT of open mics all across the country). First of all, almost every single one of the dozen or so performers was Asian American, of all ethnicities, truly pan-Asian. It’s a trip when you meet one with a Boston accent. Second of all, how many open mics have you been to where a seemingly low-key young culinary-school-trained chef who’s about to move to L.A. gets up there and quietly tells his childhood wannabe superhero stories with deep metaphors about scars (like wrinkled paper) and finding home again (like cranes) and folds origami in the air???? Eric Chin is deep. Never mind that he was only 3yo in 1989 (and showed us a picture to prove it). [Note toTuesday Nights at the Café peeps in L.A: keep an eye out for this young brotha.]

The other performers –

Albert: “an Asian man talking about the difficulties of being an Asian man in a poem, that’s meta,” MC Ash said. Word.

Kenny: who was able to play after Joey B went to get his guitar from his car in the rain. Nice.

Bonnibel: just moved from Austin, TX this week (!) spit two poems “Sesame Street” (which my daughter Tula would’ve loved) and “Passion”, was able to groove to any beat.

Kundiman fellow Mike Keo: pulled a couple of yellow pieces of paper from his back pocket, wet from the rain, shared one poem on genocide and then another called “Condoms”. (Mike later told me that he knows my poet-friend Matt Olzmann of Detroit and that he once picked up my hero-friend Ismael Ileto from the airport for a conference at UConn.) Really, 2 degrees of separation.

BPAC core member Theresa: described B-town’s streets to a T in her journal “Intervention”. (In the summer youth program she runs, they used game design to reactivate public space – like we did in DAY Project, yup yup. Kindred spirits!)

Joey B: kicked a piece about listening and imagining, from his creative writing class portfolio. YES, from his Creative Writing class portolio. (Bless all those Asian Americans in creative writing classes: where were you 20 years ago when I needed you? 😉

Pinoy brotha Pedro: used an audience member’s Blackberry to download song lyrics that remind him of his 2 moms singing, his birth mom and adoptive mom. Sweet.

Next up was Tu Phan. Remember that name: TU PHAN. That brotha will take the slam scene by storm if he hasn’t already. He just started as a freshman at Northeastern U, but you would’ve never guessed that. When he stood up there wearing his black t-shirt sporting 3 versions of the Virgin Mary: “Before, After, Way After”, with the Blessed Mother’s face silk-screened in black, brown, then white skin tones, I knew this cat was deep. TU PHAN performed a piece about birth in a straight jacket, clasping his arms around his torso and tilting his head from side to side, while spitting a riff on the constitutional right to bear arms yet being armless and just wanting to be able to touch and be free. Deep… 18yo.

At the end of every open mic portion, some of the resident MCs freestyle.

David Kong started to beat box and I thought it was just one of the CDs playing background beats forever, but it was David. For real.

Then PEN (yes, his name is Pen) grabbed the mic, rappin’ about stinky tofu and being from West Philly like Fresh Prince. Hilarious.

Next was Ash, who Giles gave a shout-out to earlier because he’s moving to NYC, dropped a rhyme about “stay[ing] out of the rewind”. Amen, Amen.

David brought up his friend Ahman and the crowd threw him some crazy words to freestyle like “hippopotamus” and “Pokeman”, but Ahman spit it just about as good as any neighborhood cipher I’ve seen.


Emily Lawsin performs at East Meets Words, Cambridge 9.12.08. Photo by Stephanie Kao.

Emily Lawsin performs at East Meets Words, Cambridge 9.12.08. Photo by Stephanie Kao.

So after the Open Mic, I performed 4 or 5 of my “classic” poems, but I’ll let others blog or comment on what they thought of the performance. (Please comment below!) I sold out of my books, and one elder in the crowd who bought one, came up and said he was moved by my “No More Moments of Silence” poem, and “mad” that it wasn’t published somewhere yet. I’m workin’ on it, I’m workin’ on it. (You can see/hear portions of an earlier version of the poem in the Philippine Studies Endowment video here.)


MANY THANKS to everyone who showed up last night: it was so heartwarming to see you! Isangmahal/One Love to all the organizers, especially founder/performer Giles Li (long live Giles Li!), who invited me to feature, gave me all the low down, and has been incredibly helpful in our transition to this new place; Van, who answered all my questions; David, who showed me the space and lit up the room when he smiled; Eugene, who recorded the show and was kind enough to give me a last-minute lift home; Ash, who gave a fabulous intro as emcee, even right after being winded from his freestyle performance; Sejal, who greeted me and told me some of the cool stuff they’re trying to do at Wellesley; Pedro, who spoke to me using the reverent Filipino “po” (so sweet); Pen, for all his energy, skillz, and his perfect name; Theresa, for welcoming me, thanking me and echoing my sentiments of “feeling blessed”; to Delia & Tae, for coming all the way to Cambridge even though it was probably past Tae’s bed time, and for welcoming me even before I moved; to everyone who designed and posted flyers/emails, to Stephanie Kao for bringing her whole house and taking pictures, and to anyone else I may have missed.

I feel so blessed to be able to now live in the same area as the Boston Progress Arts Collective! Your bookstore, your bprlive.org radio station, your collective of community conscious people, and the fact that you’re doing all of this with absolutely no money in a major East Coast, predominantly white metropolis, are all incredibly inspiring to me. (Never mind that the bookstore is down the street from the oldest and most prestigious university in the country, the same esteemed university which doesn’t even have an Asian American Studies program: that’s a whole other post/struggle.) I sensed that some of the BPAC members are worried about a few of the core people moving on, or being able to retain their bookstore space, and I just kept thinking to myself: if art and music are the avenues to one’s soul, then the beat will go on. The movement will go on. BPAC and “East Meets Words” will go on! Mabuhay B-PAC / Long live B-PAC!! Word.

MARAMING SALAMAT/MAHALO/ARIGATO/THANK YOU SO MUCH for allowing me to feature at East Meets Words. I will never forget it. Looking so forward to working with ya’ll even more.

Makibaka! Fight the Struggle!
Mahal, Salamat, at Ingat / Love, Thanks, and Take Care,


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