poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

June 27, 2013

DETROIT SAT 6/29: FREE FILM SCREENING & GRACE LEE BOGGS’ 98th BIRTHDAY PARTY!

Happy 98th Birthday to Grace Lee Boggs! To see why I’ve lived in the Detroit area for most of the past 13 years, see the NEW documentary, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs: www.americanrevolutionaryfilm.com The film just won the AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE at the Los Angeles Film Festival. AND there is an excellent review in Variety. Get on the mailing list, Like the film on Facebook, and/or Follow @GLBoggsFilm or @GraceLeeBoggs on Twitter to see when the film is coming to your town (or organize a screening)! The film is directed by the incredible Grace Lee (of the Grace Lee Project). And yes, if you’re paying attention, I have brief cameo shots in both films. 🙂

Join us this Saturday, June 29, 2013, for a FREE film screening at the Detroit Film Theatre inside the DIA, followed by a reception in the DIA’s beautiful Rivera Court (where the Diego Rivera murals are). Peep the flyer and help spread the word:

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February 29, 2012

HAIKU for Strong Sistahfriends

Here’s yesterday’s seventeen syllables/haiku:


For the Strong Sistahs  

© by Emily P. Lawsin

love and shout-outs to

all the sistahfriends who build

this bridge called my back.

 

February 28, 2012

Detroit

www.emilylawsin.com

* * *

July 30, 2011

5 MORE POEMS: In Memory of David Blair (1967-2011)

I’ve had insomnia since learning about the sudden death of our friend David Blair,
singer-songwriter/musician/organizer/performer and National Poetry Slam Champion. Here are some of the poems that I’ve written as a result, Blair’s parting gift, I suppose. 

1.          Denial is Always the First Stage

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 1:00 PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh NNNOOOOO!!!!! This cannot be happening.This cannot be true.Tell me something different.Not this.I need to hear something different.How can this be true?Why is this happening?Why did you leave us so early?

Goddamnit, WHY?

I keep hoping that

Maybe this is a case of the game “Telephone” gone bad:

You know, I watched you lead that once as an icebreaker

To entice a giggling circle of youth to craft bodacious poems,

Enjoying the whisper of words and lies unfolded.

So, you know, this could just be “Telephone” gone bad, right?

Or maybe the static between the sobs on the other end of the phone

Muffled the real truth: that you are really alive.

Maybe Jenny and the five other Detroit Summer doulas who called

Didn’t mean to say that you died in your sleep, trying to escape the heat.

Maybe they really meant to say that you were just “vacationing”, oh, I don’t know—“in Sleeping Bear Dunes? To escape the heatwave of the D?  Yeah, that’s it. That sounds much better. (You know I had wanted to take you there one day, Snap a photo and title it “Blair on the Bear”. Maybe we can still do that. Together.)

Maybe I can just call you right now to see if you pick up.

Maybe just to be able to hear the tenor and bass of your voice.

Maybe this is all just a dream;

Maybe I should go back to sleep now and

Maybe you will call early in the morning, like you usually do.

Maybe the heat is just getting to me too.

Maybe I have really lost my hearing and am hallucinating.

Maybe you were really an undercover agent, just assigned to Detroit to infiltrate the Left.

Maybe the FBI decided to just give you a new identity. I would be perfectly fine with that.

Maybe if I wander to a remote state, like I don’t know — Kansas,

Maybe I can wave a magic wand or click my heels three times and find you there,

A spectacled professor teaching African American music at a community college, or

A bearded bartender at your own saloon,

Listening to other people’s stories and writing your own.

Maybe my island blood has spent too many years bleeding in the Mitten

To even think that the most unbelievable could be true.

I mean, how am I supposed to believe that you, the one person who was so full of life,

You, who survived Michigan winters with no electricity, reading poetry by flashlight,

You, who survived the assembly line at Cry-Slur and the streets of the D,

You, the bravest, hottest man I know—died, maybe from the goddamn HEAT?

Yeah, I said it.

That just makes no goddamn sense at all.

————


2.         The Last Time I Saw You: Questions for Uncle Blair

         © by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 11PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

The last time I saw you,

We shared a typical Detroit summer day.

You walked in your slippers to meet us in the Cass Corridor,

Kissed me on the cheek, while slyly clicking a snapshot of my jeweled sandals,

Crooning, “Look at those shoooooooes,” and

Guessing correctly: another gift from my (other) gay brother.

We ate Mexicantown’s tres leches birthday cake together, in the three sisters’ garden,

Which, until a couple of years ago was attached to an abandoned

“Blair Hair Salon”, where I had always wished we had taken your photograph.

My five-year-old daughter sat, as she always did, bouncing in your lap,

At Kibibi’s backyard barbecue-turned-impromptu-open mic,

Where you, of course, were the unannounced featured artist,

And the five year old, for the first time ever, volunteered to be your opening act.

Your jaws dropped when she sang a Glee medley of

“Lean on Me”/”Don’t Stop Believing”, a cappella.

Well, why wouldn’t she, with you as her most influential and favorite “uncle”?

Then, when you performed your signature “Detroit, While I Was Away” poem,

As a gift to everyone in the backyard dust,

Hanging your arms like slam dunks in the sky,

We all wondered if you would notice the electrocuted squirrel right above you,

Completely thawed from its assailant snowstorm, and

Dangling from the electricity line that DTE still has not yet removed!

But even that couldn’t throw you off beat:

The depths of your Ebony Eyes have seen much worse tragedies.

Before Pat and Julia broke out the plastic bags of week-old fireworks

And host Shayla and pregnant Becca stoked S’mores in the fire pit,

You took an hour to kiss everyone bye like you always did,

With the five year old trying to anchor your leg,

And exited the party before sunset.

Your Reasons for Leaving: to have family Sunday dinner at Matt and Bev’s.

Their toddlers would be asking for you, their godfather, their “Uncle B”.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

I would have agreed to more picture taking,

And clicked my own rare candid of your gap-tooth smile –

Which I told you is a sign of royalty.

Your humble self would laugh that off, then in all seriousness say,

“I don’t know if it’s a sign of royalty, or a sign that I get no royalties.”

Then share your bellowing laugh again.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

In the purple and gold shimmer of Second Avenue,

I would have clenched you so much tighter and longer when we hugged goodbye,

And I would not have scolded the five year old to let go of you,

As she pulled on your hands and shirt tail, begging you to stay.

Now, just two weeks later, can you or someone please tell me:

How do I tell her the news about her favorite “Uncle” Blair?

What do I tell this child, the one who would always run to you,

Squealing your name, jumping up and down,

Even through a Crowded House, just for one of your big bear hugs?

What do I tell this little girl who adores you,

Who can sing all of your songs and poems by heart,

The brave soul who tiptoed to you on the border of one stage,

Passing you a block letter “E” colored with brown felt marker,

Just so you could tell her joke mid-set? (And you did: Do you want a brownie?)

Cue: thunderous applause.

This is the first-grader who only wants to hold

Your hand crossing these Motown streets,

Just so the two of you can sing Ease on Down the Road, together.

So I need to know:

How do I tell this child that you’re not going to be able to teach her

How to play guitar, what more, in a New York subway so she can pocket some change?

How do I tell her that we can’t have that sushi-making tea party we had planned with you?

How do I tell her that the idea for making Hurricane Popcorn while watching a

Passing Strange/The Wiz/Akeelah and the Bee movie marathon with you

Has to be cancelled, or changed?

How do I tell this child, who has never had stage fright because of you,

Who has danced at all of your shows,

Whose curled-up belly you kissed with your music, even before she was born,

How do I tell her — my heart and my soul — that

The next time we dance down the streets of Detroit,

It will never really be the same?

——-

3.            But I Loved Uncle Blair

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For David Blair (9/19/67-7/23/11)

Today, we told our five-year-old daughter that you died.

She cried a flood of crocodile tears like I have never seen her cry before.

We cradled her like you would,

And she asked the same questions that we have: Why?

I bit my lip so hard so she wouldn’t see it quiver with tears, that it left a scar.

“But he was my favorite fake uncle”, she said,

Her own way of saying extended family.

“But I loved Uncle Blair because he always played with me,

He never got mad at me. Did he ever get mad at you, Mommy?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“How about you, Daddy?”

“Nope, he never got mad at me,” he said.

She did that hummingbird cry, rocking back and forth in our arms,

And we told her how she could remember you,

What we would do to celebrate your life:

“On Sunday, we’ll have a parade of poetry and music with all of your friends.

We are going to feel sad for a while, but that’s ok.

It’s ok to cry and let it all out.”

She repeated over and over, a scratch in a vinyl record:

“Uncle Blair died? We can never see him sing again?”

Oh yes, we can watch all of his videos and listen to his music.

We are really lucky that he gave us so many gifts of so many of his poems and so many of his songs

That we can play over and over again.

“But that’s not the same as seeing him in person.”

She ain’t never lied.

“Uncle Blair died. That makes me so sad,” she repeated more, her face crumbling.

And just when I thought I would have to do something desperate

Like let her eat all of the candy in the whole wide world — despite her four cavities —

Or buy out the whole toy store down the street – including the display window doused by her drool —

Just to make her feel better,

This brilliant child, who you have nurtured as an artist since she drew murals in my belly,

Asked with her Ebony Eyes: “Can I have a picture of Uncle Blair? One, just by himself?”

As always, your divine intervention saved us.

Do you want one of the two of you together?

“Yeah! That too. I want to color it, make it look special so I don’t forget him.”

We printed two photos that she chose from the treasure chest of your albums.

She cut them out, shaping slowly around your halo.

She folded two origami paper cups like flower pots

And placed one picture inside each like planting a seed.

She drew rainbow colored petals and wrote:

“One of my favorite uncles, Uncle Blair. I’m sad that he died.  😦  “

Then we glued a purple origami crane to its sky and a red, white, and blue kite to the front;

She drew a ribbon of bows to anchor it near your heart.

It is, by far, the most beautiful piece of art she that has ever made.

————-


4.         Spelling B Haiku

          (c) by Emily P. Lawsin

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

“how do you spell ‘died’ ?”

our five-year-old asked us, clenched

crayon in bent fist.

  

5.    In My Child’s Dreams

Thursday, July 28, 2011, 10:45 AM

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

this morning, daughter

woke up saying she saw you

play music in dreams.

you did not say her

name or talk to her, just sang.

the other day, we

met a native owl

who said when dream bird spirits

speak your name, it is

your time to depart

this earth, soaring high above.

So thank you, brown bear,

For never naming

Names in your dream songs of love.

Rest in Peace, my friend.
 

 ———————————————————-

To read my other poem Dear Blair that I posted yesterday, see: https://divadiba.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/dearblair/  

*  *  *   

 For information on Funeral Services and how to Donate to the Memorial Fund for David Blair, please see:  www.dblair.org  

Please donate to the fund. Every bit helps. Thank you.  

* * * 

www.emilylawsin.com

April 9, 2011

Haikus of Daughter’s Hope in Detroit

I found some old journals, with a series of poems that I wrote four years ago, when my daughter was just a baby, learning to walk and talk. Here are one weekend’s worth of my favorite haikus: poems that have exactly 17 syllables, usually with three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. Coincidentally, I wrote these when she was 17 months old, a very precious age. With thanks to: our Detroiters Dream for Children group for their constant inspiration; to Julia Putnam and Jackie Victor for always asking, “Where do we see hope in the city for our children?”; and to Grace and Jimmy Boggs for always asking, “What can we be that our children can see?”

Haikus of Hope in Detroit:

17-Month-Old Daughter’s 17 Syllables

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2007


Stroller Ride Home from Preschool

“Ha? What’s that?” she points

at the working stoplight, with

cooing river winds.

 

Recycle!

“Uh-oh,” she states,

raking plastic grocery bags

fallen to the ground.


Rice and Resistance

Hope rests in toddler’s

balled fist: full of sticky rice,

she opens to share.


* * * www.emilylawsin.com * * *


June 15, 2010

NEW Publication! My Poem in Walang Hiya Anthology

http://www.walanghiyaanthology.com/

Walang Hiya Anthology: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice Just released in time for Philippine Independence Day, is a brand new anthology, featuring one of my poems! I am honored to be one of the 32 Filipino and Filipino American authors published in Walang Hiya… Literature Taking Risks for Liberatory Practice, edited by Lolan Buhain Sevilla and Roseli Ilano, and published by Carayan Press. Available for direct order at www.walanghiyaanthology.com,  www.carayanpress.org, and independent booksellers near you beginning June 12, 2010.

This is a bittersweet accomplishment for me, since it is the first poem that I’ve had published about my father, entitled “Holes”. I submitted it over a year ago, but as you know, publications take a while to see print. Given the serious content of the poem, I am a bit glad that it is being released after my father’s death. I have written others about him since then and will try to post them soon.

Copies of Walang Hiya anthology should be available for sale at the FANHS Conference in Seattle: http://fanhsis25.blogspot.com and maybe I’ll even read the poem there… Stay tuned to my website: emilylawsin.com for other upcoming reading events!

June 20, 2009

End of Mourning: Observing Babang Luksa

June 20, 2009  “She-attle” (Seattle), Washington

EmmaColor Today is exactly one year since my mother passed away. In a few hours, my cousins are hosting my mom’s “Babang Luksa”, what Filipino Catholics call the gathering to mark the end of a mourning period.  Yet how does one really stop mourning one’s mother?  It is really tough. In our clan, we do it the way our mother lived: with family and food.

Traditional Filipinos (and “neo-traditional” Pinays like me) will often wear black for a year when a close family member dies. (I have to say that I did it because that is what my mother did when her mother died, plus it made getting ready in the morning so much easier.) After one year of mourning and wearing black, they “babang luksa”, or “drop the veil”. Some traditionalists (not me) will wear white veils to a Babang Luksa and remove them after the saying of the rosary to don bright-colored clothing.  The “padasal” novenas, rosary prayers, and subsequent gatherings (usually around food) are like a rite of passage in our family. When we were children (and well in to our adulthood), my mother demanded that we all have some type of observance for deceased relatives and friends, out of respect. I think it was because she didn’t want their spirits to “visit” us. Then she would enlist all of us — her children and grandchildren — to help prepare huge trays of pancit noodles or majia blanca corn pudding, to bring to the wake. As much as I had protested, those precious moments were when I learned how to cook and when I learned the most about our family’s history.

In modern times, some families mark the “Babang Luksa” after 40 days, like Lent, to symbolize the 40 days that led to the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  My family actually has three+ observances: a nine-day novena/padasal right after one dies, then a rosary on the 40th day, and another on the one-year anniversary.  Yup, that’s just how we roll, or pray, I should say.

My cousins have been so generous and kind; they organized a private family observance for today, knowing how most of my siblings and I have been out of town, and my father is too frail to organize one himself.

Last year, when Mom died, the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc. organized a community memorial in her honor. Since she was the longest-serving FCSI council member, having served more than 35 years, her dying wish was to lie in state among her family and friends at the newly-renovated Filipino Community Center. She missed the ribbon-cutting the month before because she was hospitalized, so when then-Vice President Alma Kern gave a eulogy, she said, “Welcome Home, Manang Emma,” as it truly was her home-away-from home.  The community memorial was a standing-room-only crowd; there must have been over 400 people there, so many people I haven’t seen for decades.

Today’s private family gathering will be a slight change of pace, though only a little bit smaller, since my mother’s side of the family alone numbers over 125 people (and counting). Tomorrow, we are also having a family reunion in Seattle, with those of us from as far away as Alaska, Virginia, and Boston attending in full force.  Yes, that’s just how we roll. My mother would be happy that she brought us all together two days in a row. Or as my eldest cousin said, “I’m sure she will be smiling down from Heaven.”

Gotta go make the majia blanca. . .

*  *  *

© by Emily P. Lawsin

www.emilylawsin.com

divadiba.wordpress.com

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.

* * *

Postscript:

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

www.emilylawsin.com

divadiba.wordpress.com

February 10, 2009

Remembering Uncle Charlie

Uncle Fred just called me. I need to assign a special ring tone to him, because he only calls when it’s really, really urgent, as in life-or-death. Lately, it’s been too much of the latter. He called to tell me about the passing of “Uncle” Charlie Farrell, who, among other accomplishments, was a former Youth Director of the Filipino Youth Activities, Inc. (FYA), and a former Moderator of the FYA Khórdobah Drill Team. I had already heard the news from FYA friends on Facebook, but didn’t know the details about the services (see below): Funeral Mass, Saturday, February 14, at 10 AM at Immaculate Conception Church.

charliefarrellI am so sad to hear about Uncle Charlie’s death. Even though he was about the age of my eldest sister, I still called him “Uncle” out of respect. Manong Ben Menor, of San Jose, wrote that when he was an FYA intern in Seattle, he admired how Charlie had a certain way with the Drill Team kids, how he could make them listen and stay in line. I feel blessed to have been one of those Drill Team kids. Charlie always took such good care of all of us. When my dad made my brother and me join the FYA, I was so young and pitiful and didn’t really know any of the rest of the kids. Uncle Charlie and Uncle Stan Harris were the first ones to befriend me. They were the only ones who really talked to me at first.

 

On his way to pick up a bunch of other kids in the old FYA van, Uncle Charlie would pick my brother and me up first, and Uncle Stan would drive us home. During my first year on the team, they always let me sit in the front seat. I didn’t realize it until a year later that the back seats were where all the cool, older kids sat. I know now that they really put me up front to protect me from the backseat mischief. I loved sitting up front and being picked up first because Uncle Charlie would tell us all kinds of stories and play Motown music really loud so we could sing along. Then he would let us talk on the CB Radio with Buddah. (Gosh, do any of you remember what was Uncle Charlie’s CB handle?) On the way to parades, if Michael (“LSD”) was on the CB, all of them would start yelling drill team commands for the vans in the caravan to follow down the highway. Charlie would laugh loud, merging in and out, following all the red and white pom-poms tied to the vehicles’ antennas, while us kids would drum the beats on the back of the vinyl seats.

 

When we had the 40th Year Reunion of the Drill Team 10 years ago, a lot of our friends remembered how Charlie lived in that van, had socks and chips everywhere; how we loved to eat with him, how he used to tell ghost stories in the basement of Immaculate so we would hurry up and put the equipment away quickly. I remember his loud laugh, big Santa Claus cheeks and smile. If you ever asked Uncle Charlie for a favor, he would do it if he could.

 

I remember when I tried out for cheerleading in high school (twice) and was required to perform community service. The first

Filipino Youth Activities Khórdobah Drill Team, Seattle, 1985

Filipino Youth Activities Khórdobah Drill Team, Seattle, 1985

time, I thought I could just goof off or pretend to answer phones in the FYA office and get credit, or that I could use the FYA newspaper drive we were already doing to earn hours. No, no, no: Uncle Charlie and Uncle John Ragudos (then Executive Director) put me to work right away, typing the FYA’s mailing labels. We were fundraising for an east coast tour, so there must’ve been more than 200 families on that list. AND Uncle Charlie taught me how to properly answer the office phone. When I asked Uncle Charlie to sign my service form, he said, “No, no, no, we will type a letter, on LETTERHEAD, so they know it’s legit and not just some relative signing off for you. You dig?” Before he said that, I never knew that could be a potential problem, since they were all my “uncles” anyway. When I didn’t make it on the cheer squad, Uncle Charlie gave me a hug and said, “It’s ok. Those people don’t know no better. There’s always next year and besides, you will be busy with the drill team.”

 

He was right. The next year, before I made the squad, when I had to volunteer again, they told me to go file papers for Uncle Fred upstairs in the archives so I could learn something different. (This was before the archives were known as the FANHS National Pinoy Archives.) Uncle Charlie always wanted us to do well, to study, and stay out of trouble, so we did; he told us that if anyone ever messed with us at school, just to tell him and he would take care of it. Although I never had to ask him to fight my battles, I carried all of those lessons with me, when I got teased at school, when I learned how to drive, when I worked various office jobs to pay for college, and when I used the archives for my research in graduate school.  Along the way, whether he knew it or not, he was always there for me, as well as many others.

 

How ironic for Uncle Charlie’s funeral to be on Valentine’s Day, since he was such a loving, giving person. He taught me to love life. He was one of the first Pinoys that I met who wasn’t too “macho” to laugh and talk about romance. I remember when he met Auntie Carmen and how he told us, “I’m in love and I’m getting married!” We cheered. We were so happy because he was so happy. I am sure many others, especially those who are older and who were closer to him, will have a lot more stories to tell than I can. He had that gift of bringing people together and making us all smile.

 

Years later, I lost touch with Uncle Charlie after I moved away from Seattle, but my mother and I would sometimes bump into  him at church or at a community function. He would always kiss my mom and say, “Hi Auntie, how are you doing today?” And she would tell him about her gout or her knee pains. He would tell her that he would pray for her and that she should just take it easy. Little did we know years later, he would have those same ailments.

 

Last June, when my mom was dying in the hospital, Uncle Charlie was in that same hospital, on another floor getting kidney dialysis. Folks told me to stay by my mom’s side, that Charlie would pull through it. A few days later, when I was at the FANHS office writing my mother’s eulogy, Uncle Fred got a call from Auntie Carmen and he sped back to the hospital right away to be by Charlie’s side, only to be sent home because Charlie was undergoing more tests and treatments. He pulled through until last Sunday.

 

Charlie was more than our chauffer and self-appointed bodyguard, he was our counselor, one of the few who would really listen to our problems and not belittle them; he was our leader, our teacher, our role model, our minister, our friend, our big brother, our Santa Claus, and that true Pinoy uncle every kid should be lucky enough to have. We were all so lucky to have him, and I just hope that he knew that.

 

Today would’ve been my mother’s 82nd birthday, but I cannot shed any more tears. Instead, I am lighting a candle  and saying a prayer for her and for Uncle Charlie, because I know that both of them are tsismising and eating up a storm in heaven, smiling down on all of us. If I could be there for the funeral on Saturday, I would wear my FYA lanyard and be proud to stand with the Drill Team as honor guard, as I hope many of my friends will do.

 

I don’t remember all of the words and I’m sure I’m jumbling it all up here, but as we used to sing on Drill Team at the end of every Jhabandah (usually indoor) performance:

Halina, halina, mga kaliyag. . .

Dios ti agnina, at sa inyong lahat. . .

The FYA thanks you for everything,

Maraming salamat, salamat po, Uncle Charlie.

. . .

 

A salaam alaikum / Peace be unto you …

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Watertown, Massachusetts

February 10, 2009

Emily P. Lawsin was on the FYA Drill Team for seven years and

is a Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society.

A spoken word poet and award-winning lecturer, she has taught

Asian American and Filipino American Studies since 1992.

For a full bio, see: http://www.emilylawsin.com

 

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UPDATE 2/11/09 – Read Charles Awit Farrell’s Obituary and Sign the Guest Book at:

http://www.legacy.com/seattletimes/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=123991911

Charles Awit FARRELL Passed away peacefully with family by his side in Seattle, WA. Feb. 8, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Carmen; two sons, Conrad and Ian; 5 grandchildren; 1 brother, 6 sisters and numerous nieces and nephews. Visitation will be at Columbia Funeral Home, 4567 Rainier Ave. So., Seattle; 12 to 8:00 p.m. Thursday Feb. 12th; Rosary at 6:00 p.m. Vigil service will be held Friday Feb. 13 at 7:00 p.m. with Funeral Mass Saturday Feb. 14, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. both at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 820 18th Ave. Seattle, WA 98122

 

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Click HERE to read my previous blog post: GIVING HISTORY FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

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