poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

May 9, 2010

Poem for Mom: My Pinay Nanay!

 

 

In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to reprint my mother’s favorite poem entitled “My Pinay Nanay”, that I wrote in 1998 for her and all Filipina American mothers. It was published (with three of my other pieces) in the anthology InvAsian: Growing Up Asian & Female in the United States, by Asian Women United of California (San Francisco: Study Center Press, 2003). You can watch me perform and explain excerpts of the poem on Jay Sanchez’s Fil-Am Television in Virginia Beach on WHRO by clicking HERE, or on YouTube, by clicking HERE.  You can also listen to a live recording of the full poem and some of my other popular spoken word poems on Boston Progress Arts Collective’s radio blog HERE: http://www.bprlive.org/2008/09/23/recap-emily-lawsin-graces-east-meets-words/.

 

I wrote the first draft of the “My Pinay Nanay” poem in the car, on the way to another phenomenal spoken word poetry event that was curated by the incredible Irene Suico Soriano in downtown Los Angeles. I needed a new, fun poem to read because Irene was helping to christen the Aratani Courtyard: a new, outdoor public performance space (which is still being used to this day for the monthly Tuesday Night Café, produced by Traci Kato-Kiriyama and TNKat Productions). Irene’s mother had cooked all day for the event. It was November, 1998, and I wrote on the bottom of the “My Pinay Nanay” poem:

Chillin’ under the Mikasa empire’s patio heat-lamp, amidst candle-lit trays of Irene’s mom’s pancit and empanadas, ten bottles of wine, and seventeen spoken word instigators firing up pre-war spirits in L.A.’s old “Lil’ Manila”, once “Bronzeville”, now “Little Tokyo, the new Union Center for the Arts: tonight, our “Safehouse”.

“Safehouse” alludes to the title of Irene’s chapbook, but also to the fact that the building that now houses the Union Center for the Arts (including East West Players Theatre and Visual Communications) was once a church:  a safehouse for immigrants, refugees, internees, and other outcasts of all races and generations. It was an historic night outdoors, at an historic place: who knew that it would lead to one of my most-requested poems?

The version below is what I read two years ago at my mother’s Rosary/Community Memorial, which had another standing-room-only crowd, in the newly refurbished Filipino Community Center of Seattle. Sadly, since then (and since my last blog entry), my father has passed away too, so watch for more on him in the near future.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy: I miss you and Papa very much. Happy Mother’s day, everyone.


MY PINAY NANAY

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Revised for Emma Floresca Lawsin’s Community Memorial at the Filipino Community Center of Seattle, June 27, 2008


My mother had many names:

“Mama”, “Mommy”, “Lola”, “Grandma”,

“Tia”, “Chang”, “Manang”, “Emma”, “Emang”,

But I just called her:  My “PINAY NANAY.”

MY PINAY NANAY,

She could speak Ifugao, Ilongo, Ilocano, Cebuano, Waray-Waray, Kampampangan,

Spanish, Tagalog, AND English,

Thanks to the THREE Pinoy men she married,

And the thousands of U.S. troops stationed in her island province.

MY PINAY NANAY,

She could whip up a dozen lumpias — vegetable and shanghai,

Roll it, paste it, fry it, see you joke with it like a cigar or boto/penis,

And whirl a boomerang bakya/slipper at you all-in-one-breath.

MY PINAY NANAY,

She could cook a feast for seven in as many minutes,

Spread the table with fresh mongo beans, seafood, pinakbet,

Chicken/pork/beef adobo plus tokwa/tofu chicharron sizzling on the side,

Lasagna trays of pancit noodles:  Bihon, Canton, Lug-lug, AND Malabon,

Vats of tomato-pasty Menudo, Machado, peanut Karé-karé, and

Dinaguan (“chocolate meat” — ha-ha!)

AND for dessert: platters of steamed Puto, Suman, Kutsinta cakes,

Maja Blanca/corn pudding, baked Bibingka, Biko, Deep-fried Cascaron/donut holes,

And bowls of steaming, sweet coconut-y Ginataan, with ping-pong-ball-sized-bilo-bilo dumplings,

Just like you like them,

And STILL asked you,

“ARE YOU HUNGRY?

YOU BETTER EAT!”

MY PINAY NANAY,

She could, with one hand, twirl a hundred-pound lechon

Over a fiery roast pig spit,

While smoking a Marlboro – BACKWARDS.

Guess a Mah-jong tile’s face with one finger — always her middle —

Sliding underneath. (“Ay, Mah-jong!”)

Filled the house with smells of fried garlic rice, longanisa sausage,

Sliced red tomatoes, and eggs,

So the Pusoy poker players would come back

With much “tong” to help pay for your 18th birthday debut.

MY PINAY NANAY,

She could sew First Communion dresses and Eddie Bauer jackets

Without a McCall’s pattern;

Net, pierce, gut, chop, and can Alaskan King salmon with a blind eye,

Write round-trip tickets to the Philippines,

And cuss-out the neighbor Jones kids

For throwing firecrackers down her white stone chimney,

All with her Tondo accent and ninth grade education.

MY PINAY NANAY,

She stood with a 100-member army (of all of you) in the Mayor’s office,

Demanding in nine different languages

That he give Seattle its historic Jose Rizal Bridge and Park,

Its Pista sa Ngayon, and save the Filipino Community Center

From the light rail wrecking ball and everything else in between.

Then acted like she didn’t speak a lick of English on a Metro Bus

So a greedy seat hog would scoot on over.

MY PINAY NANAY,

She had more power – more PINAY POWER –

Than all of our childhood role models put together.

My Pinay Nanay,

She was down,

She was brown,

She was the Pinay

SUPER-FLY.


An earlier version of this poem was written in Los Angeles, in 1998
and published in
InvAsian: Growing Up Asian & Female in the U.S, 2003.
Revised, 2008.

www.emilylawsin.com

divadiba.wordpress.com

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June 20, 2009

End of Mourning: Observing Babang Luksa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta go make the majia blanca. . .

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© by Emily P. Lawsin

www.emilylawsin.com

divadiba.wordpress.com

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.

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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/

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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

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