poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

April 10, 2013

POEM: Anting-Anting [NaPoWriMo Day 10]

January 20, 2013

The Winds of January: NVM visits

I know this blog has been MIA, but life happens. I’ve been sick for more than a week, woke up and tried to post this on Facebook and *poof* it was gone! (augh) So I typed it out again here. Follow me on Twitter for more daily updates: @emilylawsin

NVM Gonzalez plays violin at his Hayward, California home, after the Pangarap: Filipino American Literature Symposium, 1992. Photo by Emily Lawsin.

NVM Gonzalez plays violin at his Hayward, California home, after the Pangarap: Filipino American Literature Symposium, 1992. Photo by Emily Lawsin.

The Winds of January: NVM visits

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I was awakened twice in the middle of the night by 60 miles-per-hour winds, silver maple and birch branches crashing and rolling down our pitched roof. When I was finally able to fall back asleep at 5 AM, I had a dream about my former professor, the late author and Philippine National Artist, NVM Gonzalez. We were at a ceremony honoring him, I’m not sure where or why.

I kept getting voice mails from my late mother and her friend, Auntie Flori Montante, founder of Pagdiriwang and the Filipino Cultural Heritage Society of Washington, who passed away two weeks ago. They said, “Peter Bacho says that you should give the award, anak.” Peter is a family friend from Seattle, an American Book Award winner, and my former professor too. “He said he can’t be there, so you should do it.”

“What?” I was frantic, running in circles, “What award, a plaque? Where? Hello?”

As I tripped down a hall, a glowing NVM walked in, with an entourage spanning the bright yellow walls. He squinted through his glasses, waved me to him with his cane, stretched out his arms, and said, “Emily, my dear!”

My jaw dropped. “What are you doing here?” I said.

“Do not be afraid,” NVM said. “These nice fellows just wanted to have a party. What are you writing these days?”

“You remember me?”

“Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?” he said. Then he was whisked up to the stage, where his violin sat on a gold altar. He sat in a throne and played the most beautiful song: the music of wrinkled eyebrows, with each bend of his bow, then wide-eyed smiles as he plucked upbeat notes.

I looked up to take a photograph and noticed a white placard on an easel next to him that said, THE WINDS OF APRIL”.

In the dream, it was supposed to be the title of the song that he played. In reality, it is the title of the last book that he signed for me when I visited him in Manila, the last time that I saw him.

Then I suddenly woke up, with a smile and a tear in my eye. The winds had died down and the sun was shining through my bedroom window on this cold January day.

Salamat po, NVM, thank you, for visiting me.

Michigan 10:56 AM

www.emilylawsin.com

# # #

1:04 PM ET:

Detroit Free Press reports 195,000 without power in Michigan due to 60 m.p.h. winds.

http://www.freep.com/article/20130120/NEWS06/130120021/Winds-60-m-p-h-180-000-homes-no-power?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

September 19, 2012

My Favorite Blair Poems and Songs: Happy 45th Birthday Blair (RIP)

I am thinking of my brotherfriend, the late David Blair, on what would have been his 45th Birthday. Here are some of his poems and songs that I love and listen to the most. I feel so thankful for all the gifts that he shared with our family and the world. 

http://www.thebestphotographerindetroit.com/davidblair

Blair, 2006. Photo by David Lewinski.

Excerpt from “Behind the Garage” Poem

by David Blair, 2002 National Poetry Slam

. . . I know people think I’m crazy

Because I dare to believe

That stars can fall into my cereal bowl

And mingle with the milk swirls.

And I know it’s irrational to

Throw crayons at God

And ask him to color the sky purple.

Yet, I remember the time that I did,

And the next morning I awoke to royalty skyward

To a majestic landscape of fantastic above.

And I remember later that evening

Finding the ladders tucked away behind the garage

Strewn amongst thousands of Crayola boxes all missing violets.

Does my memory serve me correctly or was there none of this?

Am I mad?

I won’t be angry.

It’s just that you’ve been dead for so long now

But I still wake up from dreams of you running through fields of flowers

The sound of one hundred acoustic guitars strumming and picking a beautiful music.

Today, I heard a music that could make the snow shine,

That could make the dead leaves claw a path through the lawn away from me.

Today I saw the beautiful shadow of a bird soar across a concrete wall,

Was that you?

 ~by Blair

* * *

Blair’s performance of “Behind the Garage”¬† helped the Detroit Slam Team win the¬†National Poetry Slam in 2002. Coach Aurora Harris said she told him that the opera singing would be a good addition, that it would blow everyone’s mind. Sistahfriend ain’t never lied. Now that Blair has passed away, the most poignant stanzas to me come at the end (transcribed above). Watch Blair’s 2002 “Behind the Garage” winning performance here:¬† http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/55781888¬† and a 2010 Performance at the Detroit Institute for the Arts (DIA) Film Theatre, for TedX (where Blair begins by taking a photo of the crowd), below: ¬†http://youtu.be/AiheqPT0vL4

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“Detroit (While I Was Away)”: ¬†I love watching this when I’m on the road traveling. There are several, more polished video versions online (including Detroit Lives! and TedX 2010); I like this one because it reveals Blair’s own feelings and the way strangers in the audience responded to him. Despite his decades of award-winning, amazing performances, Blair would still get nervous at events like this. Because he was human. And the best at what he did: http://youtu.be/6CCnRr1dQvw

Video: Detroit (While I Was Away) by D Blair at TedX 10/21/09

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Less than a year before Blair passed away, InsideOut Literary Arts Project commissioned Blair to put Emily Dickinson’s songs to music. This one is my favorite. In this video, he says he was working on a new album called “Reasons for Leaving”, as if he knew that he would leave us:¬† http://youtu.be/lIRu0eW9hig

Video: Blair Performs “I Haven’t Told My Garden Yet” a Poem by Emily Dickinson, at Wayne State University, February 28, 2011

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More of David Blair’s music, poetry, and merchandise are on his manager’s website: http://seriousartists.com/honor/

Blair’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/BlairandtheBF

Obituary on the memorial website is here: http://www.dblair.org/

For some poems that I wrote about Blair, see elsewhere on this blog: https://divadiba.wordpress.com/?s=blair

Happy would-have-been 45th Birthday, Blair. Rest in Peace and Poetry. We love you and miss you.

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www.emilylawsin.com
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August 31, 2012

POEM: In Memory of John Vietnam Nguyen (1993-2012)

I can’t sleep. Yesterday, I stayed offline, worked all day and night, then found out about the sudden passing of a gifted poet,¬† hip-hop emcee and b-boy, John Vietnam Nguyen, who drowned while trying to save a friend’s life yesterday, at the age of 19. When he was a high school student, John was a member of the Multi-Cultural Youth Program in Chicago. He lead an interactive youth workshop and performed at the “Out of the Margins: Asian American Movement Building” Conference that our Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program sponsored in March, 2011, at the University of Michigan. I am thankful to UMich alum Steve Hosik Moon for introducing me (and so many others) to John.

When I can’t sleep, I write. I wrote this poem in the middle of the night, for John, for Steve, and for everyone trying to make sense of this tragedy. A talented optimist, John would always sign off messages, telling folks to “stay up” and I always liked that better than “hang in there”. Rest in Poetry, Peace, and Power, John Vietnam. Love and prayers to you, your family, and friends always. Thank you for being you.

John Vietnam Nguyen performs at an Asian American Movement Building Conference at the University of MIchigan, March 2011. Photo by Ahmad Fuad Rahmat.

trying to “stay up”: a rough draft

in memory of John Vietnam Nguyen (1993 – 2012)

 

© by Emily P. Lawsin

 

 

i met you in person only a few times,

honored to have shared the stage together,

spinning rhymes with inter-generational revolution.

 

the last time we spoke,

you called me “auntie”,

always respectful and real.

 

i told the audience i felt old and proud,

like i could be all y’all’s grandma,

you, MCYP’ers fiercely rockin the mic.

 

in the front row, you spit your big laugh,

pointing your smile to the sky,

patting your chest like a heart beat escaping.

 

you, always the first to thank me

for being Hosik’s teacher,

so he could teach all of you.

 

yet, i am the one who is thankful, like so many others,

to have been taught by you,

when you were only 17, 18, 19 years young.

 

today, we gather and sing your songs,

thankful to have received your gifts of words and music:

stories that made the dancing streets cry for our people.

 

everyone asks why, on this eve of a blue moon,

why did you leave us too soon,

leaving us drowning in lakes of our tears?

 

today, we wear purple (your favorite color and mine),

we weave a wreath of your warrior wisdom,

remembering your voice in the wind,

 

no doubt, rapping in the heavens with the elder angel poets,

as you quietly skip your usual encore cue:

“one love, stay up, and peace‚Ķ”

 

 

 August 31, 2012

Detroit

 

Emily P. Lawsin has been performing spoken word poetry since 1990.

She teaches Asian American Studies at the University of Michigan.

 

http://www.emilylawsin.com

* * *

John Vietnam left us lots of good videos of his performances. (See his YouTube Channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/johnvietnam13) Here are a few:

If a Minute Would Reverse (with clips and quotes of Grace Lee Boggs) http://youtu.be/LOU_vQBsW2s

A Day in The Life: http://youtu.be/YBAYhbbCDg0

Rest in Power John Vietnam Nguyen, footage by Tom Callahan: http://vimeo.com/48573282

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9/1/12 UPDATE: FUNERAL SERVICES FOR JOHN VIETNAM NGUYEN

Here is funeral info from the family’s Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/

“Please join John’s family, friends, and communities in honoring his memory, spirit, and love. Services will be held at

Cooney Funeral Home,  3918 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL.

Monday Sept. 3, Visitation: Noon-9pm
Tuesday Sept. 4, Visitation: 9am-11am, with Eulogy and funeral to immediately follow.

“We are planning to carry out John’s wish to print his t-shirts. We will be figuring out the means to accomplish this and will have information available at the services for anyone who would like to pre-order shirts in their size. Once we get it set up, we will edit this to provide the link here. https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/

“If you are unable to attend the services, you may make a donation to help offset the costs by:
1) Sending a payment to John’s paypal account under his email address, nguyenjvn13 (at) yahoo (dot) com
2) If you don’t have a paypal account – you can donate at the following link: http://www.gofundme.com/14l28s

We know very well how loved and admired he was by everyone he came across, and we would like to thank everyone for their support and love.”¬† ~ From John’s Family (For latest updates, check: https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/ )

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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 Espa√Īol, 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 ‚Äď two actually, one with flash ‚Äď 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 РJuly 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.

 

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July 27, 2012

www.emilylawsin.com

 

December 15, 2011

Tomasa Parinasan Balberona (1923-2011), Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

Remembering Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

(December 29, 1923 – December 8, 2011)

© by Emily P. Lawsin with Joseph A. Galura


    It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, one of the three women narrators of our book Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, died last Thursday, December 8, at the age of 87. As one of the first Filipinas to immigrate to Detroit in 1947 under the Fiancées Act, which temporarily waived immigration quota restrictions for alien fiancées or fiancés of armed forces personnel, she was a pioneer in the local Filipino American community.

Tomasa, or “Aunt Masy” (pronounced “MAH-see”), as she was affectionately known, was born on December 29, 1923, in a rural area of Cebu City, Philippines. The eldest daughter of seven, her father was a farmer and carpenter, who, with her mother, protected their family when World War II erupted in their hometown. After the war ended, Aunt Masy took shorthand and typing classes, and one day accompanied her sister to the nearby camp to do laundry for American servicemen stationed near their province. There, she met Homer Sheppard, who had just arrived in the Philippines after serving in New Guinea. Homer courted Masy, slipping letters to her in his shirt pockets via her sister. After a year, Masy moved to the barrio of Esperanza, on Camotes Island, to finish school and worked as a first grade teacher. Meanwhile, Homer continued mailing letters to her two or three times a week, even after he was discharged and had returned to his previous job at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. He asked her to marry him and move to Michigan and after much contemplation, she agreed.

In a 2001 interview with University of Michigan undergraduate Elizabeth Varas, Aunt Masy recounted her immigration story by saying, 

My parents were in Cebu. I did not tell them [that I was leaving]. . . because I know they are not going to let me go.¬† And I cried, because it is not the right way to do it.¬† But (laughs) I wanted to go to the United States, to be with my husband-to-be.¬† So, I left.¬† I was so brave, traveling alone.¬† I had all my papers ready because the Philippine Red Cross help me and the American Red Cross, also. . .¬† I took the Pan American World Airways.¬† It‚Äôs a big plane but it is propeller type. . . It takes a long time.¬† We stopped on almost every island from Guam to Wake Island to Midway to Honolulu to San Francisco. . .¬† It‚Äôs a long trip, it‚Äôs a long trip, honey.¬† I slept in San Francisco at the YWCA, free.¬† I did not have any money.¬† Well, I had money but I didn‚Äôt want to spend it.¬† Then I arrived in Willow Run Airport.¬† It is not Romulus, it is not big Metro Airport, it is Willow Run, close to Ann Arbor.¬† So I was there and I called my husband-to-be to pick me up. He didn’t know whether I was Downtown. . . or at the airport, so he went Downtown. That is quite a ways from Dearborn and then he went to Willow Run. . .¬† I arrived at his brother’s house in Royal Oak. . . early morning, about five o’clock. I stayed with his sister, his brother and family for two weeks, while our papers were being processed so we could get married. And, July 25, 1947, we got married at Most Holy Trinity Church, Sixth and Porter, Downtown [Detroit].

A patriotic person, Aunt Masy never wanted to admit that racism existed in America, even as she remembered tales of being questioned of her ethnic identity when she first arrived. “They thought I was from Hawai’i because of my brown skin,” she said. Instead, Aunt Masy found happiness in making new friends and creating community. When new Filipina/o immigrants would arrive in the area, she and her husband would pick them up, drive them around, and host them in their home in Detroit. They lovingly connected local Filipina/os together in the post-World War II period, when there were few families in the area.

In 1952, Tomasa and five of her friends founded the Filipino Women’s Club of Detroit, a mutual aid, social-civic organization that provided scholarships to students and promoted Filipino and Asian American culture. Tomasa was elected President twice of the Filipino Women’s Club, proudly co-sponsoring events like Rizal Day Banquets in the 1950s, Christmas parties with folk dancing at the International Institute in the 1960s, and the annual Far Eastern Festival on Detroit’s riverfront in the 1970s.

In our book, Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, Joseph Galura remembers fond memories of his childhood in a photo spread titled “I Saw Masy Kissing Santa Claus,” as Masy’s husband always dressed up as Santa for the Club’s annual Christmas party. Joseph states, “As a young child, I remember asking Aunt Masy why she and Uncle Homer didn’t have any children.”

“You are all my children,” she replied, “the children of the Filipino American community.”

Indeed, Aunt Masy was the “ninang”, godmother, to two-dozen Filipino American children. Moreover, as a housewife, she would raise money by sewing wedding gowns and tailoring ternos ‚Äď intricate Philippine ball gowns with butterfly sleeves ‚Äď for Detroit area relatives and friends, then send the money back to the Philippines so her niece could go to school.

After Homer Sheppard died in May of 1974, Masy remarried a widower, Victor Goloyugo, a year later in 1975. Victor was a Filipino American commercial artist in Detroit, whose painting of Jose Rizal now graces the main hall of the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan. Masy and Vic were married 18 years until his death in 1993.

Tired of being lonesome, Masy traveled the world. In 1994, on a visit to Singapore and the Philippines, her god-niece introduced her to Lolito Balberona, who had been working for the Central Bank in the Philippines. Masy remembered, “When I meet him, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you are such a young man, what are you trying to do, tease me?'”

“Age doesn’t matter,” Lito replied, smitten. Lito courted her, called, and wrote letters to Masy, even from Australia. On another one of Masy’s visits to the Philippines, she married Lito in a small ceremony in November, 1998, and she brought him to Detroit. (They just celebrated their 13th Wedding Anniversary this past Thanksgiving.)

Aunt Masy was disgnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2006, yet she insisted to Lito that they continue to travel, returning often to the Philippines to see her relatives. Lito fondly states, “She was petite, but strong, proud, and independent, even in her last few months. I loved her so much.”

When we launched our book in 2002, Aunt Masy and¬† Lito¬† traveled with us and the other narrators of the book, her longtime friends Rosalina Regala and Isabel Galura, to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Conference in Los Angeles, with over 500 people in attendance. As audience members posed with them in pictures and asked for their autographs, Aunt Masy said, “Thank you for this. I feel like a rock star.”

We thank you, Aunt Masy, for sharing your journeys and paving the way for future generations of Filipino Americans in Michigan.

In addition to her husband (Lolito Balberona of Detroit), Tomasa is survived by her sister, Vicenta Laurito, of the Philippines, her nieces Dolores Ramia of Maryland, and Milagros Lictawa of St. Clair Shores, grandnieces Charissa Ramia of Maryland, Naimi McAndrew of Louisiana, and Rey (Tess) Parinasan of St. Clair Shores, and several great-grandnephews/nieces and relatives all over the world.

A Funeral Mass will be held for Tomasa Balberona at 10:00 AM this Saturday, December 17, 2011, at St. Clement Catholic Church, 5275 Kenilworth, Dearborn, Michigan.

* * *

Emily P. Lawsin and Joseph A. Galura teach at the University of Michigan and are the co-authors of Filipino Women in Detroit:  1945-1955, Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan. Emily is a Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Joseph is the President of the FANHS Michigan Chapter.   

OralHistoryProject (at) umich (dot) edu 

www.emilylawsin.com

August 27, 2011

MORE POEMS: For Blair (While I Was Away)

Blair 2006 David Lewinski Photo

Today, another memorial for our brotherfriend, singer-songwriter / National Poetry Slam Champion, Blair, will be held in his hometown of Newton, New Jersey. I wish I could be there, but have family obligations here in Detroit. Here are more haikus and poems I wrote after I heard that Blair died. Hearing such tragic news while out of town makes one realize what makes a city a home. I love and miss you, Blair. Thank you for everything you did for me, our family, and our world.

.

Haikus for the Haiku Champion, David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Monday, July 25, 2011, Del Mar, California

Sunset near Del Mar, the day after Blair died.

In Exile in Del Mar

.

most would enjoy this

self-imposed exile at the

foot of the ocean

.

thousands of miles

away from where they found you

in the Corktown Inn.

.

Sir Duke belted on

my phone; i thought it was Grace.

the news numbed, threw me.

.

i locked myself in

the bathroom to cry all day

humming “no, no! why?”

.

Blair 2008 Photo by David Lewinski

.

Lost South of L.A.

remembering your

last visit here to help your

friend, queen of type keys.

.

.

Blair Had a Fear of Flying?

despite your fear of

flying, you soar far and wide

above all others.

– – – – – – –

 

There’s No Room at the Inn, Blair (Or, Anger is the 2nd¬†Stage)

Blair 2006 David Lewinski Photo

 © by Emily P. Lawsin

 Tuesday, July 26, 2011 2:43 AM Pacific Time, Buena Vista, California 

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

.

for the second night in a row since your sunset

i sit in a strange motel room

struck with insomnia amidst the inquiries of your passing

.

a man cussing, paces drunk outside my window

i can hear his voice above the rumble of the a/c

ten minutes past last call

.

i want to scream back at him,

throw the spikes of my high-heeled shoes at him,

show him how we would take care of this problem in the D

.

i imagine lighting his foul mouth on fire

with the stench of the incinerator

just a few blocks from your many homes

.

i wonder what has wounded this stranger

that would allow him to crash my private pity party:

afraid to lie down and innocently rest like you did

.

just to catch my breath.

¬†¬†– – – – – – –

   Blair, You Made the Earth Quake

Blair in Detroit. Photo by David Lewinski

© by Emily P. Lawsin

 Thursday, July 28, 2011, 4:55 AM Pacific Time, Culver City, California  

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

On the night you left this earth,

The ground shaked,

While everyone else in this Crowded House slept.

.

A 3.3 earthquake centered near Gardena,

For just the length of an Urban Folk verse,

Jolted me awake.

.

I searched for a news report

To see if anyone else felt it,

Or if it was just the washing machine in the garage,

Or my imagination, spinning.

.

On the radio, Purple Rain played.

.

Tell me: when the soils shook this sunbelt sliver of our shores,

Was that you

Trying to find us to wave goodbye?

.

Or the angels

Lifting you up to your violet colored sky?

.

Or the gardens of bees rumbling

Because you had not yet bid them Farewell?

.

Or the ancestors’ spirits, trying to ground you,

Who knew it really wasn’t your time to leave?

* * *

www.emilylawsin.com

For my other poems/blogs about Blair, click HERE  https://divadiba.wordpress.com/?s=blair

The New Jersey Herald just published an article on Blair, HERE.

To read the cover story Remembering Blair in Detroit’s¬†Metro Times,¬†click HERE.¬†

To read  the article by Scott Kurashige eulogizing Blair, in The Michigan Citizen newspaper, click HERE.

To read The Michigan Citizen article about Blair’s funeral in Detroit and the text of his “Detroit (While I Was Away)” poem, click HERE.

To see videos of Blair performing songs and poems, see his manager Serious Artists, HERE. 

Thank you to David Lewinski, for the beautiful photographs of Blair: http://www.thebestphotographerindetroit.com/davidblair

Donations for Blair’s family and a healthcare fund for Detroit artists are still welcome at www.dblair.org

Rest in Peace and Poetry, my friend.

.

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 ‚Äď 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‚ÄĒ“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‚ÄĒdied, 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď

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. ¬†ūüė¶¬†¬†“

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

July 29, 2011

POEM: In Memory of David Blair (1967-2011)

Blair, 2005

Blair. 2005 David Lewinski Photo.

Dear Blair

© by Emily P. Lawsin

In Memory of David Blair (September 19, 1967 Р July 23, 2011)

Like all the poets you’ve linked as kin, I want to write that epic poem for you,

With your favorite Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Tracy Chapman songs

Crooning between the lines,

Where strangers pour out beneath the lamplights of Crowded Houses like

Bittersweet, Xhedos, Urban Break, and Circa Saloon,

Clapping and clamoring to buy you a beer

If you belt out a song or poem or both, again, just one more time.

As your biggest fans, we want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to show the world

The brilliant light that shines from your pensive eyelids

As you strum your beloved guitar.

How you would hug it with your arms and knees

In the front seat of our car,

Skipping dinner if it meant leaving it out in the open:

Never wanting your livelihood stolen.

I want all performers to learn your level of humility and grace,

Replay for them our long discussions about how

All talented artists need patrons,

How we should all put our money behind healthcare for indie artists

How maybe that would give you a crown for your missing tooth,

And an EKG to detect any suspected heart irregularities

From your days at the Cry-slur plant or the racial tauntings of your childhood in Jersey.

Given this, I want to film you walking down Woodward,

Where all the shopkeepers, the bus drivers, and

Even the bag ladies pushing stolen shopping carts know you by name.

I want to eat dinner with you at Union Street again,

Watch the manager admonish the host for not seating you sooner again,

Take a sip of the draft he just poured you, on the house, again.

Ask him why he’s not piping your music or poetry overhead

And whip out seven or eight of your albums to stop his stuttering.

I want to watch your fans come up to shake your hand again,

Talk to you like they’ve known you forever,

Have you nod at me with one twitch of your lip, which was code for:

“Tell them your name so they will tell you theirs; I’ve forgotten. Please help!”

I know this because for years, I was one of those same fans.

At our age, our minds start to slip, but at least we know our routines.

We want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to fly to Berlin, Copenhagen, South Africa, and Siberia with you,

Take you to Hawai’i, Japan, Jamaica, and the Philippines too,

Not just for the adventure and stardom,

But to be able to hold your calloused hands

On the transcontinental flights that only your closest friends know scares you,

You, a denizen of Greyhound and Amtrak.

I want to always remember how one time,

I bought you a train ticket to speak to a class in Ann Arbor

And you showed me the brand-spanking new kicks you bought by the station

During a train delay.

I laughed when you told me you left your old funky shoes with worn holes in them

On the train, under the seat, in a box for someone else to discover.

“Do you think I should’ve taken them home?” You asked.

That sounds like a poem-in-the-making, I laughed:

“Even if the air hangs like your dirty dogs hummin’ on the train, I still miss you.”

We want the never-ending encore, my friend.

I want to paint a chocolate picture of you

Taking photographs in the Cass Corridor

With the second camera that you’ve lost this year,

Highlight how bumper stickers Emerging from stop signs could move you,

How graffiti that told an ironic story never needed any captions,

How on one recent day, on Second Avenue in Cass Park,

Some young punks yelled at you to put away your camera,

Patting their baggy pants by their crotch like they had a pistol in their pocket,

And you tried to talk them out of it, tell them a story and listen to theirs like you always did.

You told me it was the first time that you ever felt even an ounce of fear in this hood,

In 15 years of living here. That’s when I should’ve started to worry about you, shaken.

For all your humble, gifted talent, I want to put your name in lights at the Fox,

Have you sing “I Rise” with Maya Angelou on Oprah,

Cheer when Burying the Evidence wins a Tony Award on Broadway,

Uncover your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next to Aretha or Paul Robeson.

I want to name you the Poet Laureate of the United States of America,

Or a Macarthur Genius Award Winner,

Or a Resident Artist as the Langston Hughes or Jimmy Boggs Endowed Chair,

Give you all the Kresge, NEH, Sorros, and Fulbright fellowships you could possibly need

So you don’t ever go hungry again, living from paycheck to paycheck,

So you don’t ever sit in a cold empty apartment reading with roaches and flashlights again,

So you don’t ever get so thirsty or so hot that you find some sleazebag motel

In the heat of the night to find peace in, just because it has air conditioning.

You deserve so much, so much better, my friend.

I hope somehow, in your short life, you realized that.

* * *

 I love you, Blair.

Thank you for all that you did for Detroit, for our world, and for my family.

Rest in Peace and Poetry. 

More poems to come.

www.emilylawsin.com

* * *

For information on Memorial Services and how to donate to the memorial fund for David Blair, please see:  www.dblair.org   Every bit helps. Thank you.

* * * * * 

Update 7/30/11: 

To Read 5 More of my Poems – on 5 Year Old’s Uncle Blair, click here:

https://divadiba.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/blair/  

 

May 2, 2011

Remembering Al Robles (1930-2009)


Al Robles at UCLA 1996. Photo by Tony Osumi.

Today is the two-year death anniversary of the incredible poet Al Robles (February 16, 1930 – May 2, 2009). Manong Al and many of our ancestors who have gone before us have largely influenced my poetry and oral history work. As the people’s recorder and founding member of the Kearny Street Writers Workshop, ¬†Manong Al was like a ninong (godfather) to all of us Filipina/o Americans who are spoken word performance poets, oral historians, cultural artists, and/or activists. When I was just a teen, I was blessed to have been able to read his poetry and to learn about how he fought to save the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown, through my elder cousin, his good friend and fellow Kearny Street poet, Oscar Pe√Īaranda. Many years later, when I was in graduate school and when I started teaching Filipino American Studies, I would see Manong Al at various conferences and community events. He would always give me a hug or slap on the back and say, “Hey sistah, what’s shakin’?” Then a crowd would gather in a circle around him while he cracked jokes or played piano, talking story late into the night.

L.A. Poets with Jessica Hagedorn & Al Robles at Pilipino Studies Symposium at UCLA, 1997. Photo by Carlo Medina CDM Foto.

Throughout the 1990s, long before “Poetry Slam” competitions became ¬†popular, we had Filipino American spoken word poetry and open mic nights all over Los Angeles (and beyond), often organized by Wendell Pascual, Irene Suico Soriano, or the Balagtasan Collective. Following in Manong Al’s footsteps, we knew we couldn’t just study how Filipinos came from an oral tradition, we embraced it and embodied it. In 1996, when my alma mater UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center Press published Manong Al’s book of poetry, many of us poets were ecstatic and honored to be able to perform with and for the legendary Al Robles. During the 90-minute drive from West L.A. to one book launch that Theo Gonzalves had organized at UC Irvine, I wrote this letter to my cousin Oscar to tell him that Manong Al was in town. It turned into this poem (below). I performed it later that night and it was published several years later in disOrient Journalzine. ¬†Afterwards, Manong Al said that we have to keep writing about the streets because we have all walked down them, no matter what the city. We recognize them as Pinoys: streets like Kearny, El Dorado, Temple, and Jackson, because for generations, that’s where “cats would hang out”, talking story late into the night.

The week that Manong Al passed away in 2009, I was living in Boston, and I performed a modified version of this poem at the East Meets West Bookstore in Cambridge, with the Boston Progress Arts Collective’s (BPAC) house band: Charles Kim on guitar, Nate Bae Kupel on drums, and Pedro Magni on keyboards.¬† I had said that night that Manong Al would have loved that space, which hosts the country’s only year-round monthly Asian American open mic series, like Kearney Street did in the early 1970s. As a call to the ancestors, I played a little bit of kubing (Philippine mouth harp), swayed to BPAC’s jazz, then looked up at the younger generation overflowing onto Massachusetts Ave, and felt Manong Al’s warm spirit talking story with us, late into the night.

I love and miss you, Manong Al. Thank you for being our voice. Rest In Poetry.

Al Robles and Emily Lawsin at UCLA 1996

Oscar Pe√Īaranda, T, and me 2006

Dear Kuya Oscar   

© by Emily P. Lawsin   

On the book launching of Al Robles’ book¬†

Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabaos¬†in The Dark

Irvine, California, May 17, 1996.

______________________________________

Manong Al visits the Southland today,  

bringing us fish heads and carabaos

together to jam.

Our Pinoy Luck Club barkada

skips its regular meeting of

Friday night “X-Files and Tiles,”

saving lost quarters for lonely bus rides

and smoggy lattes;

how could we ever fill your shoes?

Our Doc Martens and Birkenstocks

are no match for Mama’s boomerang bakyas and tsinelas.

We’re fortunate though, this new Flip generAsian,

tempted by you Kearny Street tamaraws:

we shout via E-mail, reclaiming recl√°mo.

Irene’s Babaye Productions started

our call, herding us to greez in brown fields

of Temple, Melrose, and Westwood,

where Wendell’s Downright Pinoy self,

more than just a t-shirt man,

throws us props, rappin’, producin’,

dekonstruktin’ all our funk-shuns.

With Dawn and Allyson,

sistahs fightin’ in struggle,

brewin hungry champorrado dreams;

the Villaraza and Parre√Īas clans

and Allan’s gothic poetry

blowin our freakin’ minds, and

nappy flip Nap Napoleon

swingin his sharp bolo smile, scars,

and Zig-Zag-wrapped cigarettes.

¬†We’re fortunate, yes, tonight,

the Liwanag 2 crew lassoing our ranks,

sistah Darlene’s multiple tongues searing our plates,

brotha Theo’s jazz as loud as his psychedelic zebra tie, —

a noose left by you, Al, the Belales, and others —

oh, da man wishes that you’d quit pumpin him up as the

doctoral candidate/professor/cultural critic/musical genius/taxi-dancing/PCN god

that he is

and return to the SF State days when you once peddled

a crushed box of black-and-white Liwanag books

fading from sun stroke in your beat-up, unwaxed coche.

I wonder, was it the same car you

used to push up to Seattle?

Bringing Nanay and Tatay an endless supply

of canned salmon and me diaper tales of

your wayward Alaskan ways.

Decades later, your AIIIEEEEE!

buddy Shawn gave me an A,

not knowing I was your

cousin/niece/wanna-be hija poet,

the only student in his class of 200

raising her hand when he asked,

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† “Who has ever read Carlos Bulosan?”

          Never thanked you for those days.

Another decade later,

Manong Sam Tagatac, with his sleepy eye,

Ifugao tales, and Ilocano twang

returned with me to the UCLA campus,

left his Manila Cafe apron on Santa Barbara’s beach

to add a hint of bagoong to our new stew,

blamed your teaching-ass self for it all:

poets perpetrating as professors,

thinking this is how carabaos

will crush coconuts in the Ivory Tower.

Now he’s vanished, his ailing wife calling,

his film cans fading, and we young bucks

fry his tuyo not knowing where it came from.

We never thanked your barkada for those days,   

for adding light to our fire,

for excavating ghosts from the mountain tops,

for bringing us the songs of the Syquias,

Jundis’ jingles, Cachapero’s cacophony,

Cerenio’s seriousness, Tamayo’s teasings,

Tagami’s Tobera teachings, Ancheta’s anitos,

Robles’ rallies, and even Hagedorn’s hell-bent heresies.

So, Kuya Oscar, as we Kababayans

kick back, chillin amongst jasmine vines,

Southern Cali’s substitute for the sampaguita flower,

with Manong Al’s smoky white hair jammin’,

and Russell, our adopted Chinese cousin, taping — always pullin’ for us Pinoys —

I scribble on this bending bamboo,

throwing you our shout-outs, our salamats,

for dodging the draft, for pushing our pens,

for publishing Pinoys and Pinays before

anyone knew what that was, is, and

always will be,

and for plowin’ the fields,

for plowin’ these fields,

for plowing the fields

before us. 

*   *   *

Angel Velasco Shaw, Jessica Hagedorn, Curtis Choy, Al Robles, Norman Jayo at UCLA Pilipino Studies Symposium 1997. Photo by Carlo Medina CDM Foto.

Dedicated to Oscar Pe√Īaranda, Al Robles, Sam Tagatac, Shawn Wong, Russell Leong,

¬†the Kearny Street Writers’ Workshop,

Wendell Pascual, Dawn Mabalon, Allyson Tintiangco, Napoleon Lustre,

Irene Soriano, Darlene Rodrigues, and Theo Gonzalves.

   

Al Robles reads poetry with Theo Gonzalves on piano at Royal Morales' retirement at UCLA 1996. Photo by Tony Osumi.

 Performed live at UC Irvine by Emily Lawsin with Theo Gonzalves on keyboards, May 17, 1996.

Originally published in DisOrient Journalzine, Volume 9: 2001.

www.emilylawsin.com

 

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