poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

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. . .

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© 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

 

* * *

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

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:

http://fanhsis25.blogspot.com/2008/12/support-fanhs-for-next-generation.html

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:

FANHS

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


Click HERE to Read My Previous Post: POEM: FOR CORKY PASQUIL’S BIRTHDAY

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.


www.filipinosforobama.org

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


October 7, 2008

Remembering Uncle Sam + Poem

Remembering Uncle Sam + Poem

I lost a lot of important people in my life this last year, including my mother, who I will definitely write more about, here or elsewhere, at another time. And today, as always, I’m remembering my “Northridge/FANHS-L.A. Dad”, Uncle Sam.

It’s been exactly one year since I received the phone call from Uncle Fred Cordova about his brother, Sam Balucas, who passed away October 7, 2007, in Southern California, at the age of 75. “Uncle Sam”, as many of us called him, was a fellow Trustee and National Treasurer of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and President of the FANHS-L.A. Chapter.

I would have never survived the nine years that I lived in Los Angeles without Sam. By way of background: I had the good fortune of being raised in “SHE-attle”, Washington, a major port of entry for thousands of Filipino immigrants since the early 1900s. I grew up on the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) Khórdobah Drill Team, the only one of its kind in the nation. The FYA Cabataán Folk Dancers started in 1957, and the FYA Drill Team followed in 1959. In the form of what I call a pioneering cultural/freedom school, the FYA was founded by Fred and Dorothy Laigo Cordova with other Seattle families. They wanted to teach their children pride in our cultural heritage at a time when racism and discrimination made it not so popular to do so. The FYA later became a United Way social service agency. As many Seattle Pinoys are, I am actually related to Auntie Dorothy by marriage (through my Floresca sisters and Ordonia cousins). Ever since I was 12 years old, Uncle Fred and Auntie Dorothy have been my mentors, then my college professors at the University of Washington, and then the officiant and godparents at my wedding. With the FYA drill team, we traveled everywhere, including Washington DC and California, where as Maharani/Team Leader, I must have briefly met Fred’s brothers, Phil Ventura and Sam Balucas.

So when I moved to UCLA for graduate school, Uncle Fred, the archivist and information specialist that he is, sent me with a care package and a list of phone numbers. He said, “These are my brothers in L.A, call them, and they will take care of you.” And take care of me, they did.

A couple of years later, when we chartered the FANHS-Los Angeles chapter in 1993, Uncle Sam served as our first chapter Treasurer. He went on to serve two terms as FANHS-LA Chapter President before he became a National Trustee/Treasurer and then was re-elected L.A. Chapter President the year before he died.

If you ever went to a FANHS Conference (held every two years), Sam, a widower, was usually the one counting the money or buying all the ladies drinks (probably so FANHS could make its quota on the bar tab). When my partner and I decided to move to the Valley to be closer to my work (CSUN) and a rental opened up one block away from Sam’s house, we jumped on the chance to live so close to him.

Whenever any students would meet Sam, or his brothers, sisters, or cousins,

Back L-R: Sam Balucas, Emily, Darline & Phil Ventura. Front: Fred & Dorothy Cordova, at FANHS Conference in Honolulu, July 1, 2006

they would be amazed at meeting a Filipino American elder that “didn’t have an accent”, because Sam was SECOND GENERATION. He and his siblings are from what we call the “Bridge Generation”, those Pinoys — Filipino Americans — born in the U.S. to the pioneers of immigrants before 1945. You can read more of Sam’s obituary HERE. Leave it to Sam to pass away during October, which FANHS established as Filipino American History Month, a nationwide observance.

Below is a poem that I wrote amidst a flood of tears on the day that Sam died. It is titled “Tale-Gating” because Uncle Sam was famous for “tail gating” and hosting huge Superbowl parties, as well as telling the funniest tales. I tried to remember all the moments I was blessed to share with him… His daughter, Sami, was kind enough to ask me to read this at the funeral last year. I will always be grateful to her and her family for sharing their dad with us.

Here’s to you, Uncle Sam. I know you’re cookin’ up a storm with my mom, Thelma, and many others in heaven. “Love you darlings.”

 

“Tale-Gating with Sam”

In Memory of Edward Samuel Balucas

August, 1932 – October 7, 2007

© by Emily P. Lawsin

“Social change begins in the kitchen.”

~ Joan May T. Cordova, 1989.

This is a poem for Uncle Sam,

who drove me up and down long and short paths,

crossing highways and building roads

to his Bridge Generation and so many more in the Southland,

the only way a Pinoy ever could: through food.

Half the time we talked about Filipino Americans,

the other half the time, he cracked jokes, or nuts, or ice,

while all the time, we talked about food,

all kinds of food: his nilaga and sinigang, his brother Phil’s mongo, and garlic rice.

Dinuguan became “did not go on”, pusit became “opposite”.

It was like growing up in Seattle again listening to his brother Fred’s jokes.

We shared recipes while driving to meetings,

cooking techniques while flying to conferences,

called each other when we found a yummy new restaurant in the Valley,

jumped in his truck to get a few fresh Tilapia fried at Seafood City market.

He showed me how to poke the eyeballs to test if the fish was still fresh,

then he screamed when its gills moved; he laughed about his fishing trips with Jerry,

asked me if my dad ate the eyeballs too. Who’s doesn’t?

One minute he explained tax forms and financial statements

and the next minute we compared grocery prices and the quality of Albertson’s meats.

We set up booths at festivals and community centers,

just so we could people-watch and tsismis.

A Santa Claus twinkle in his eye lit up his hacking laugh over a cooler at our feet,

with enough sandwiches, water, and sodas for the whole barrio.

While sharing 100 Ways to Tell You’re Filipino

and 100 ways to cook asparagus,

he talked story about growing up brown in the delta,

and the politics of water-cooler trash talk at Hughes Aircraft, many years after he retired.

He spoke proudly of his grandkids and his “girls”,

his daughters, who, whether they know it or not,

through his stories and their actions,

taught me to be a better daughter myself.

Sam was more than our President/Treasurer/Manong/Brother/Uncle/Friend/Cook/Taxman/Fisherman.

He was our Dad too,

who gave birth to a whole new generation

of Los Angeles Pinoys and definitely Pinays

who are proud to share his-story,

who bless the day we first met

in his kitchen.

I love you and will miss you, Uncle Sam,

but I know you’re saving us all a seat at the table.


October 7, 2007 – Detroit

www.emilylawsin.com

 

 

Click HERE to Read My Previous Blog Post: Podcast of Spoken Word Performance at East Meets West Show

 

 

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