poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

April 12, 2013

POEM: “Salmon Run” (in 6 incomplete Tweets) #NaPoWriMo Day 12

Advertisements

July 27, 2012

Memories of Auntie Isabel Navarro (November 19, 1928 – July 18, 2012)

3 Sisters: Isabel, Emma, & Nora, 1991.

 

Memories of Auntie Isabel Navarro (November 19, 1928 – July 18, 2012)

  © by Emily P. Lawsin

 

My mother’s last remaining sister, Isabel Navarro, passed away peacefully in Seattle last week at the age of 83.  After a short hospitalization, she died from a sudden blood infection. Auntie Isabel, or “Auntie Chebeng”, as my cousins called her, was the feistiest Pinay I have ever known. Born on November, 19, 1928, in Tondo, a tough town in Manila, Philippines, she came of age at the onset of World War II. She was the pioneer Pinay, the first woman of our family to immigrate to Seattle in November of 1948. She spent the next 30 years bringing her parents, two sisters, two brothers, and their children to Seattle. For that, and so much more, we are eternally grateful.

 

In 1991, when I was doing research on Filipina American women, Auntie Isabel was kind enough to drive to my parents’ house in the south end of Seattle so I could interview her. I emphasize the driving part because she was also the first Pinay I knew who actually did drive, as my mother, their other sister, and my grandmother did not. Any student who has taken my Oral History Interviewing Methods class has heard of my Auntie Isabel. She is one of the examples I use when I recommend interviewing women in a quiet, private room, without men around. I often retell how Auntie Isabel told me her story in our living room, as my father, who NEVER lifted a finger when it came to chores, was all of a sudden banging dishes around in the adjoining kitchen, yelling answers like, “Tell her, tell her! You know, your Auntie was the one who taught the war brides how to make lumpia wrappers from scratch so they could sell it as a fundraiser! Tell her!” I adored Auntie Isabel because she was the only woman I knew who could stand up to my sometimes-belligerent (and hard-of-hearing) father. “Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up already!” she yelled back at him. Imagine trying to transcribe all of that.

 

In the interview, Auntie Isabel told me about growing up in Tondo during World War II. She said, “I was like the ‘achay’ of the family. You know what ‘achay’ is? Like maid. . . My eldest sister was working at the cigar factory, my other sister got married and left home at 16, my two brothers were still young, so I had to take care of them and then have lunch and dinner ready when my parents came home.”

 

When I asked Auntie Isabel how she met Juan Ordonia, an Ilocano manong from Seattle, who was a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army, she said,

 

“Well, actually when I was 16 years old, in 1945. . . my responsibility was going to the market and buying the food. . . no means of refrigeration, so. . . Nora, my older sister, went with me at that time we went to the market.  The market is at least about three. . .or two miles from our place. . . . To go to the market, we had to pass [my old] school. . . Rizal Elementary School.  And then we cross the bridge, [to] the Pritil Market. . . coming back, I met my future husband. . . He was attached to the P-CAU they call it, capital P, capital C, capital A, capital U. I don’t know what it stands for, but. . . he was stationed out there.  They took Rizal Elementary School to be their headquarters.  And he was on guard at the time.  So we passed him by. . . [almost everyday]. . .”

 

Indeed, many Filipino American soldiers served in the PCAU, Philippine Civil Affairs Units, which were stationed in 30 provinces for “mop-up operations” during World War II.

 

When I asked Auntie Isabel about their wedding, she continued,

 

“[He] proposed to my mom and my dad that he wants to marry me, then all this process. . . it’s a big meeting, you know. . . They agreed, so they set up the wedding.  At the time, Manila was just recovering from the war and there’s no clothes to be had. And so my wedding dress was made out of a parachute. It’s a white parachute.  I had a short dress and I was married at Santa Monica Church, June 10th, 1945.”

 

Meanwhile, one population study showed that before the war, males comprised an overwhelming 95 percent of all Filipinos in the State of Washington. By 1935, exclusion laws and immigration quotas had limited Filipino migration to the U.S. to only 50 per year. However, this all changed with the passage of the War Brides Act of 1945, which temporarily waived quota restrictions for alien spouses and dependents of servicemen. Auntie Isabel was one of these war brides that helped the Filipino population of Seattle triple in size in the post-war period.

 

  After giving birth to her first child, Josie, and completing rounds of exams and applications through the American Red Cross, Auntie Isabel landed in Seattle aboard a military transport ship in November, 1948. They lived among other Filipinos and veterans in the Central District of Seattle. She and Uncle Johnny eventually bought a house on Capitol Hill, where the Gene Lynn School of Nursing at Seattle University currently stands. In 1949, Auntie Isabel became a founding member of the Philippine War Brides Association of Seattle, an organization that is still in existence. She claimed that the organization was conceived of and founded in her house, during a party, of course.

 

Auntie Isabel gave birth to three more children in Seattle: Elizabeth, John, and Carmen. When I asked Auntie how she managed to survive with all these kids and none of her family around, she said that it was hard to do at first. She said, “I had to perfect my English. So you know what I did? I used to turn the radio on and listen to country music on the radio. I would imitate and repeat everything they said. That’s right, that’s how I did it.” I laughed, finally realizing why she had such a twang to her voice and why she always spoke English instead of her native Tagalog to us.

 

Still, Auntie was lonesome and used to write her parents in the Philippines of how homesick she was. After ten years, she convinced her elder sister, Nora Español, to move to Seattle with her army husband and children. A few years later, my mother Emma, decided to visit. Auntie Isabel introduced her to Uncle Johnny’s cousin, Leandro Floresca; they fell in love and my mother stayed. In the 1960s and 1970s, after a change in immigration laws, Auntie Isabel successfully petitioned her parents, her brothers Junior and Felipe, and their wives and children, to all move to Seattle.

 

Auntie Isabel and Uncle Johnny, who was 20 years her senior, eventually divorced and she later remarried; this was another way that Auntie was ahead of her time, as divorce was largely frowned upon in the Filipino community. In her interview, she said that she and Uncle Johnny were better friends after they split and that she was there when he died. She joked, “That son-of-a-gun got me back by dying on my birthday. I will never forget it.”

 

Auntie Isabel said she had originally intended to go to school to become a nurse, even at one point working as a nurse’s aid. She worked many different jobs, moved to West Seattle, and eventually retired from a successful career at the Seattle branch of HUD (Housing Urban Development), where she got my sister a job. In the early days of her retirement, Auntie loved to travel to California, Reno, and Vegas. All of us cousins remember how Auntie Isabel loved to dance and show off her “sexy legs”. She would drink whiskey on the rocks with the fellas and laugh loud, slapping her leg like a cowgirl. The fellas would all show their legs too. Then she would laugh and lecture them in her Taglish: half Tagalog, half English, with a twang.

 

When she first got a mobile phone (with free long distance), Auntie Isabel would call me in Detroit to check on me. We would tsismis about recipes, celebrities, and the latest fashions. She would tell me the latest local news, as she read the Seattle Times religiously. In her later years, she slowed down and became more of a hermit, but she still loved spending time with her eight grand children, nine great-grandchildren, and her most recent great-great grandchild, taking our family now into its 5th generation.

 

When my mother was in a coma four years ago, my cousins kept vigil with us at the hospital for three weeks. On the night before my mother passed, the staff let us stay in a room with recliners set up for our family across from my mom’s room. That night, Auntie Isabel stayed up with us, talking story about my mom late into the night. She said she hated seeing her sister go like this. Then she shook her finger at us and said, “Hey, when it’s my time, I don’t want none of this gud damn sheeit. And if you don’t listen, I will come back and pull on your toe, you hear? I want you all to stick together and have a party.” Then she leaned back and started snoring. We were so cramped in that little room, Auntie Isabel’s big toe was in my cousin Carmen Espanol’s face. Carmen took a photo – two actually, one with flash – and we all slapped our legs, laughing. Auntie did too.

 

Maraming salamat po, thank you so much, Auntie Chebeng, for a lifetime of love and laughter. Thank you for all you did to bring and keep our family together. Minamahal kita. We love you and will miss you very much.

 

———–

 Obituary, Published in The Seattle Times on July 25, 2012:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?n=isabel-porcincula-navarro-chebeng&pid=158742446

 

 

 Isabel P. Navarro

 November 19, 1928 – July 18, 2012

 

Isabel passed away peacefully at the age of 83. She was born on 11/19/1928 in Tondo, Manila, Philippines and is survived by her four children, Josie Whitehead (Stephen Banks), Elizabeth (Paul) Trias, John (Laurie) Ordonia and Carmen Ordonia-Lindal (Martin Lindal). She is also survived by a brother, Sergio Porcincula Jr. along with 8 grandchildren, 9 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild as well as numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her sisters Nora Espanol, Emma Lawsin and her brother Felipe Porcincula.

 

Funeral Information

At her request, there will be no viewing. Funeral services will be held at Evergreen Washelli, 11111 Aurora Ave. North, Seattle, WA. A Rosary will be held on Friday, July 27, 2012 at 7:00 PM with a Mass of the Christian burial to be held in the Chapel on Saturday, 7/28/2012 at 12:30 PM followed by entombment at the Washelli Mausoleum.

 

* * * 

July 27, 2012

www.emilylawsin.com

 

February 14, 2012

LOVE POEM: Powerful Scent of Sampaguita

Over the years, I have written several poems about the Philippine national flower, the Sampaguita, which is a hardy type of Jasmine/Pikake that I love to watch grow. Here is one poem that I wrote in 2004. Happy Valentine’s Day! 
 

The Powerful Scent of Sampaguita 

© by Emily P. Lawsin

These petals bloom poems only for you:

They carry the scent of my Lola

Who smuggled their seeds in her suitcase

Four generations ago,

Surviving the waves of the Pacific, 

Packing only what she could carry.

Ignoring the weeping Washington winters,

She planted the sampaguita inside the belly of her hearth

For anak ng bayan — us, children of the land —

With high stakes, but no borders:

Only deep, brown roots of love.

*

You can choose to desert, out of fear,

Her fragile flowers flickering on the fireplace,

Leaving her, lying dry and dormant in the dark.

You can break her branches until they bleed white,

Kiss the buds of neighboring thorn bushes,

Snip her dead vines that cascade like a bouquet of tears,

Yet sing a spray of songs through summer,

And her heart shaped leaves of fragrance,

Anchored by one leg of bamboo or flying free,

Will still dance, grow, and blossom

Ten times stronger than ever before.

* * *

Friday, August 6, 2004

Detroit

www.emilylawsin.com

July 5, 2011

POEM: Ode to Pinoy Hill: On the Centennial of Seward Park, Seattle

I was feeling a bit homesick yesterday, so I wrote this poem about our family’s favorite picnic spot, Pinoy Hill, located in Seward Park, in the southend of Seattle. Please post comments below. Salamat/Thanks.

Ode to Pinoy Hill: On the Centennial of Seward Park, “Shatil”

 © by Emily P. Lawsin

Oh, Pinoy Hill:

As little brown kids growing up in the Central District and the Rainier Valley,

We looked up to you.

Uncle Fred made our FYA Drill Team march five miles around your waist to build stamina,

Keeping in step with congas and cut bamboo canes tapping at your feet.

Afterwards, waves of forbidden boyfriends blasted beats

In bouncing low-riders, kissing Lake Washington’s shores.

Every Fourth of July,

Marveling  at the Magnificent Forest of conifers and Madrona trees

And ignoring the poison oaks and ivy that embrace your bluffs,

Our Filipino Community of Seattle partied and danced with you, Pinoy Hill,

With the grace and style of our social box queens,

Long before the August moons and the pageantry of Pista sa Nayon of SeaFair.

Oh, how we remember, Pinoy Hill, every Fourth of July, when

Auntie Mercy threaded beef inihaw skewers between your bedrock boulders

And Uncle Eddie butchered and barbecued fifty pounds of Acme chicken

Next to a roast pig clenching a Wenatchee Red Delicious in its mouth.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, in the bend of your elbow, just beneath your silver clouds,       My sister and mom on Pinoy Hill, July 4, 1964

The puttering burr of the cotton candy machine twirled your skirts:

With me always dropping my jaw at how the old-timers rigged that one.

Propped up on your back slid a towering block of ice for halo-halo,

All of us begging to shave it and flip open the metal scraper housing summer’s snow.

Before the dawn of Pambihira and Beacon Market,

Nanay soaked her own red azuki beans in syrup so we could slurp the island treat,

While Auntie Isabel taught the other war brides

How to make rice-paper-thin lumpia wrappers from scratch,

Their sales helped pay off the mortgage

Of our old bowling-alley-turned-Community Center,

Just a mile jog down your neighboring Juneau Street.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

Waltzing in the willows of your wilderness, we won coins at watermelon-eating contests,

Spitting black seeds into your singed hairs of grass to see if they would take root.

Did any of us ever win the annual Seward Park pie-eating contests down by the beach,

Pinoys ever getting even one piece of the elusive American pie?

As we grew older, one of the manangs who worked at Dairigold off Genessee

Would burp you with a caravan of carved flat spoons atop Creamsicle cups

To prevent us from getting run over by the melodies of your ice cream trucks.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

We can still hear the cha-cha-cha laughter of the manangs’ mah-jong table,

The silent shuffle of the manongs’ five-card stud,

See the puffs of Winstons and Marlboros scored from the Commissary,

Rings of smoke signals:  pinching your lips with the nod of your flat nose.

And who among us never emerged from the bosom of your blackberry bushes

Only to be met by our mamas beating the fingers of your branches across our bottoms?

Oh, to wander lost in your woods again.

Between ballets of tackle football with no borders or boundaries,

We raced relays in rice sacks from Uwaji’s,

Or potato sacks that the manongs carried home from the fields,

Knowing, except for maybe one solo summer working at canneries in Alaska,

They would never let us follow in their footsteps,

Their fedoras and worn shoes too big to fill.

At dusk, renegade cousins would tickle your ears with

Firecrackers pirated from the Yakima Indian reservation,

Their elderly fathers baptizing the widows peak of your forehead

With holy water that Uncle Junior forklifted right off the line from Rainier Brewery

And flasks of whiskey pulled from purple felt bags:

Their liquid medicine to forget the double shift they have to pull tomorrow.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, we still salute you, especially on America’s Independence Day,

Reclaiming the colors of a colonial era

That once dubbed July 4th as “Philippine-American Friendship Day”,

When your heart gave us shade: the only open space where Pinoys could play freely.

Oh, Pinoy Hill, our memories run deep as the soils of your brown soul.

Does the post-65 generation still love you like we did?

Do they still park down by your tennis courts to make out,

Pray at the pagoda statues beneath your sakura cherry blossoms,

Swim into the shining streams off your shoulders,

Leap frog to your landing pad to sun themselves,

Then stomach your winding hill to stoke the fires in your belly?

For a century now, you stand tall: the roots of our family tree.

Oh, Pinoy Hill,

What I would give to tango and swing in your arms again,

Despite the scars from my youth,

Salted with salmonberries and wearing your evergreen firs,

Itching to savor and breathe in the scents of those days long ago.

* * * 

July 4, 2011

Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan

With thanks to Allan Bergano, Carmen Español, Carmelita Floresca Bridges, Harry Rivera, and Vanessa Ventura Valencia for their input.

Emily P. Lawsin grew up in Seward Park and teaches at the University of Michigan.

www.emilylawsin.com

   

May 8, 2011

Building Community: Papa and Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao won his boxing match last night against Shane Mosley, which allows the boxer-turned-Philippine Congressman to retain his Welterweight World Champion title. Pacquiao is the only fighter to ever win eight different titles in various weight divisions too. While today is Mother’s Day, I know that my father is also smiling in heaven about the “Pac-Man” win.

The last time I watched a whole Pacquiao fight was in March 2010, on the night of my father’s funeral. After the church and burial services, the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc, graciously hosted the wake at their Community Center, where my father spent most of his free time. He had served as President of the FCS during one of its most controversial moments in history. After he retired from the ferries, he later hung out at the FCC weekly, for their Senior Lunch Program, which my late mother used to run.

When Papa died and we were trying to schedule the funeral, the one concern FCS President Alma Kern had was for us to not have it too late in the evening because everyone would want to go home early to watch the Pacquiao fight.  I said, “I know, my father would have been the first one rushing home or to a bar to watch it!”

Then it struck me: Papa loved sports, especially boxing, what more when his fellow kababayan/countryman was fighting, so why don’t we just all watch it together? I asked Tita Alma if the Community Center had cable television.

She said yes.

And a big screen?

Yes, with the new remodel, of course!

“Can we get Pay-Per-View? We’ll pay for it!” I said.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that. We will look into it and take care of it. This was your mother and father’s second home. That is the least we could do,” Tita Alma said.

Papa would’ve loved watching the boxing match with all of his friends, especially at the Center for which he fought so hard to save from debt and the light-rail wrecking ball.

On that Saturday, after the funeral services, the FCS board members and family friends laid out a spread of all of my father’s favorite food for the wake. Board members and the building manager also set up chairs in the FCC’s new vestibule and lobby. There, a flat-screen TV hangs on the wall, between the Restrooms and the Board Room, where my father’s picture hangs above the Board Room’s head of the table, with all of the other past FCS Presidents. Many of the folks who had been with us all day – all week, really – did go home, but about 70 of Papa’s friends and family actually stayed to watch the fight. Folks even paid a small donation to the FCC for the pleasure.

That night, I sat next to my best friend’s father, Larry (who I grew up really just calling “Dad”). When I was a kid, Larry and his wife Edie owned a house on the corner of Juneau Street, right behind the FCC. At the wake, their daughter Andi explained to the crowd that is how we actually met as young kids, playing outside the FCC. Larry used to always talk sports with Papa, both of them loving Muhammad Ali. And just like when we were kids, Dad Larry narrated the whole Pacquiao fight, sitting on my right.

Sitting behind me was one of my father’s closest compadres/friends, Uncle Rick Beltran, a past FCS President too. Earlier that day, at the cemetery, Uncle Rick was one of the last ones to place a rose in my father’s grave, saying, “Goodbye, old, dear friend. I will miss you.” After Pacquiao won the fight, I thanked everyone at the FCS for everything. Uncle Rick placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Look at all these people. Your Papa would have really loved this.” Yes, I know.

And here’s another Pac-Man win for you Papa!

*    *   *

© by Emily P. Lawsin

www.emilylawsin.com

June 20, 2010

POEM for Papa


Vincent & Emily Lawsin at FANHS Manila Conference 1998

Papa and me at FANHS Conference in Manila 1998

As I wrote in my previous post, this is a particularly poignant Father’s Day for my family and me, since it is not only the first Father’s Day since my Papa passed away (last March), but it is also my mother’s 2-year-death anniversary, and my Auntie Pacing’s one-year death anniversary. My father, Vincent A. Lawsin, even up to his death at 85 years old, was a fighter, with a strong will and unique character, that is sometimes hard to describe. I wrote this poem for Papa 12 years ago, in 1998, before he and I went to visit the Philippines together. I printed an earlier version and mailed it to him for Father’s Day that year. He told me he brought it to the Community Center and showed it to everyone because he liked it so much. I performed it at Ohio State University last month, for the first time since Papa passed away, and an African Amerian woman in the audience came up to me afterwards and told me that it made her cry, as she remembered her own parents and their struggles in the South. Please feel free to leave comments here too.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I love you and miss you much.

Vincent Avestruz Lawsin 1995 Papa’s Two Worlds

© by Emily P. Lawsin

His mama nicknamed him “Teting”, back home in his Babatngon province,

A shelled seaside village near Tacloban, Leyte,

A city whose two great claims to fame became:

1) The infamous landing of General Douglas MacArthur’s bloody “I Shall Return” and

2) The birthplace of the Queen of Shoes, the Dictator’s dictator, Imelda Marcos.

Two claims Papa would feverishly explain to mga puti

In his adopted land of America.


My proud Papa would explain to his engine-room mates

That his roots lie in the heart of the islands,

Penciling a map of the Visayas in the center of the archipelago

On any available napkin or newspaper or oiled rag,

Sometimes telling dirty white lies of going to high school with the First Lady,

Even though Imelda is five years his junior.

Any poor listener who seemed even remotely intrigued

Would get a faster tale of how he

Could have dated her,

Could have married her,

Couldhave—

Then “Just imagine where we would all be now,” he’d say.


So I wonder, what would have happened if my father had married Imelda?


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have joined the Philippine Guerillas in 1942,

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have a scar of shrapnel poking his lower left back.

Perhaps then

Papa would have kept editing his high school newspaper

Instead of enlisting in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

Perhaps then

Papa would’ve stayed in engineering college

Instead of fighting MacArthur’s war.


Perhaps then                                                    

Papa wouldn’t have migrated from port to port:

Korea, Japan, Guam, New Guinea, Germany, Vietnam, Africa, and Arabia,

Or from dock to dock:

San Francisco, New Orleans, Texas, Norfolk, New York, and eventually Seattle.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have been so segregated from his family

Like when his captain wouldn’t even allow him to sail home from New Guinea

For his poor mother’s funeral,

A faded black and white photograph of her coffin, his only remembrance.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have remained a bachelor until after his mother’s death,

Leaving me with a father the age of my classmates’ grandfathers.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have lost his hearing

After being relegated to the confines of two too many ships’ boiler rooms.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have kept his seafaring union’s news clippings,

Where in the 1950s, his beer-drinking shipmates

Nicknamed him “Chico”, meaning “Small”,

Because they couldn’t pronounce “Vicente”, much less “Teting”.


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have the memories of the 1980s either,

When Washington State Ferry workers nicknamed him “E.T.”,

After the shriveled up alien from the movies,

Even circulated a glossy cut-out from a magazine of the Extra Terrestrial:

With Papa’s name scrawled beneath it.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have faked laughs at it in front of them,

Wouldn’t have secretly crumpled the clipping,

Shoving it into the pocket of his grease-stained overalls.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have brought the insult home for our mother to find

As she washed laundry,

Taping it to their bedroom mirror,

Giving us kids a quick lesson in “workplace diversity”.


Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have gambled at finding the American Dream,

Wouldn’t have clung so tightly to his faith.

Perhaps then

Papa wouldn’t have sought a haven in local politics,

Wouldn’t have become President of Seattle’s Filipino Community,

At the height of martial law,

Heading the Reform Slate, with anti-Marcos activists engineering his victory

and his infamy.


Yes, I often wonder

Which world, perhaps then,

Would have been better or worse for my father,

Ang Papa Ko, Teting, Vicente,

Legally: “Vince”, or “Vincent”.

Which world, perhaps then?

The Iron Butterfly’s world of lies and corruption,

Or, Papa’s corrupted world of white lies?


North Hills, California, 1998.

www.emilylawsin.com

Click HERE to read my previous post: “Babang Luksa II: Memories of Auntie Pacing”


Babang Luksa II – Memories of Auntie Pacing

Filed under: Memorials,Pamilya,Seattle,Tributes — EL @ 3:38 pm
Tags: ,

© by Emily Porcincula Lawsin

Today, June 20, 2010, is Father’s Day in America. It is an especially poignant day for my family and me, since not only is it our first Father’s Day without my Papa, but it is also my mother’s 2nd year death anniversary. In an ironic twist of fate, today, my cousins are also commemorating the “Babang Luksa” death anniversary of their mother, my beloved Auntie Pacing Porcincula.

Last year, I wrote here on this blog about returning to Seattle for my mom’s “Babang Luksa” and our large Family Reunion. What I didn’t mention was that on June 20, 2009, in the early morning hours, as my brother and I were getting ready to leave the house for our mother’s one-year memorial, the phone rang.  I knew it had to be bad news. Auntie Pacing had just passed away, only one week after she had returned to the Philippines with her eldest children. That day, we dedicated the rosary to our mother and her sister-in-law, my Auntie Pacing.

Only two weeks prior to that, Auntie Pacing had just discovered that she had Stage 4 cancer. Our entire family was shocked and devastated. She then decided that she wanted to leave Seattle and return to her native Philippines to live the last days of her life. Although it was sad news, I was proud of her children who had the courage and dignity to support her last wishes.  A couple of days before she left, my cousins held an impromptu “despidida” farewell for her to celebrate her life with her while she was still living. I wished I could have been there. Instead, I offered these fond memories and humble words as my delayed and long-distance tribute. The following are edited excerpts of what I wrote for Auntie, her children, and grandchildren, while I was in New York City:

I have so many fond memories of growing up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley because of Auntie Pacing, who was married to my mother’s youngest brother. My siblings and I are the closest in age to their children: Teresita, Alan, Arnel, and Rene. Our childhood homes were exactly one mile apart, so we would walk to and from each other’s houses for family parties, and, as Arnel reminded us last year, to do chores like mowing the lawn to earn money for candy.  They lived across the street from Brighton Elementary School, so we would always go there with their neighbor, Harry, and play on the jungle gym, despite the hard concrete. Then we would go buy Slurpees down at the old 7-11 on Rainier.

I loved going to Auntie Pacing’s because there was always lots of food and music, luau barbecues in the back yard, and late-night parties in their basement bar. In our younger years, our Lola and Lolo (grandparents) went between living with us and them, so that made their house even extra special. We would all roll lumpias with Auntie Pacing on the vinyl tablecloth in her kitchen, listening to the elders laugh and tsismis late into the night. One Christmas, the entire clan all piled into Auntie Pacing and Uncle Junior’s house. Lolo was passing out silver dollars in the sunken back room, the one that had a few steps going down into it, and we all raced back there, tripping over those steps. Auntie Pacing simultaneously yelled and laughed at us, telling us to slow down, while we all cracked up.

When I was in elementary school, my parents never let me spend the night at my classmates’ houses, unless they were Filipino. The only place I could stay was at my cousins’. She probably doesn’t even know this, but one of the earliest sleepovers I remember was at Auntie Pacing’s. I think she, Lola, and Tessie were baby-sitting me one night. I remember Auntie gave me a bath and then set my hair in rollers because I wanted to look like her. She told me that old Filipino superstition in her Kampampangan accent, “Hoy, you’re not supposed to go to sleep with your hair wet because you will go crazy or get sick.” This was before blow-dryers, so I was scared to go to sleep. She tucked me in, rubbed my back, and told me it was going to be ok. The next morning, I woke up and she made us champorrado, chocolate rice, to eat for breakfast: yum. I can’t remember if I did get sick, but I will always remember how much fun that was.

One summer, years later, when I was in college, I worked as a temporary office worker, and was placed in various offices around Seattle, sometimes for one day, other times for a few weeks, depending on the need. One of my longest and most favorite assignments was as a medical transcriber at Harborview’s Medical Building. I will never forget how on the first day at work, my boss was showing me around the premises, and she took me across the street to the cafeteria for lunch. She said to the cashier, “Hi Pat.”  I turned around and lo and behold, it was my Auntie Pacing! Everyone knew her on a first-name basis (granted, it was the Americanized nick-name version of her Pacita).

“What are you doing here?” Auntie said to me.

My boss said, “Oh, you two know each other?”

Auntie and I both said at the same time, “She is my niece!” “She is my aunt!”  I smiled from ear-to-ear. When my boss walked away, Auntie winked and whispered to me in Taglish, “You come here on your breaks and lunch and I will take care of you.”  And took care of me, she did!  I ate well during that month there, with Auntie sneaking me apples and pastries. I looked forward to my breaks so I could go see her across the street. After that first day, I told my mom about seeing Auntie Pacing, and she said, “Oh, you are so lucky,” in that tone like she already knew. The coconut tsismis wire had probably already told her before I even got home.

I didn’t even realize that Auntie Pacing had worked there, because when you’re a child, you just love your aunties in the context that you see them: their homes or yours. Now I wonder if my own daughter knows where her favorite aunties work.

Last year, as we gathered for my mother’s Babang Luksa and our Family Reunion, everyone said, “Isn’t it ironic that Auntie Pacing died on the same date as Auntie Emma?”

My eldest cousin said, “They were like sisters, the oldest of friends.” Indeed, these are the moments that bond the several generations of our family together.

Maraming salamat po, Auntie Pacing, for always taking such good care of me and all of our extended family. We love you and miss you very much.

June 20, 2010

Detroit

www.emilylawsin.com

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

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

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: