poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

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

October 7, 2008

Remembering Uncle Sam + Poem

Remembering Uncle Sam + Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Tale-Gating with Sam”

In Memory of Edward Samuel Balucas

August, 1932 – October 7, 2007

© by Emily P. Lawsin

“Social change begins in the kitchen.”

~ Joan May T. Cordova, 1989.

This is a poem for Uncle Sam,

who drove me up and down long and short paths,

crossing highways and building roads

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

the only way a Pinoy ever could: through food.

Half the time we talked about Filipino Americans,

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

while all the time, we talked about food,

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

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

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

We shared recipes while driving to meetings,

cooking techniques while flying to conferences,

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

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

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

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

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

One minute he explained tax forms and financial statements

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

We set up booths at festivals and community centers,

just so we could people-watch and tsismis.

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

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

While sharing 100 Ways to Tell You’re Filipino

and 100 ways to cook asparagus,

he talked story about growing up brown in the delta,

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

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

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

through his stories and their actions,

taught me to be a better daughter myself.

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

He was our Dad too,

who gave birth to a whole new generation

of Los Angeles Pinoys and definitely Pinays

who are proud to share his-story,

who bless the day we first met

in his kitchen.

I love you and will miss you, Uncle Sam,

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


October 7, 2007 – Detroit

www.emilylawsin.com

 

 

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

 

 

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