poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

February 29, 2012

HAIKU for Strong Sistahfriends

Here’s yesterday’s seventeen syllables/haiku:

For the Strong Sistahs  

© by Emily P. Lawsin

love and shout-outs to

all the sistahfriends who build

this bridge called my back.


February 28, 2012



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February 10, 2009

Remembering Uncle Charlie

Uncle Fred just called me. I need to assign a special ring tone to him, because he only calls when it’s really, really urgent, as in life-or-death. Lately, it’s been too much of the latter. He called to tell me about the passing of “Uncle” Charlie Farrell, who, among other accomplishments, was a former Youth Director of the Filipino Youth Activities, Inc. (FYA), and a former Moderator of the FYA Khórdobah Drill Team. I had already heard the news from FYA friends on Facebook, but didn’t know the details about the services (see below): Funeral Mass, Saturday, February 14, at 10 AM at Immaculate Conception Church.

charliefarrellI am so sad to hear about Uncle Charlie’s death. Even though he was about the age of my eldest sister, I still called him “Uncle” out of respect. Manong Ben Menor, of San Jose, wrote that when he was an FYA intern in Seattle, he admired how Charlie had a certain way with the Drill Team kids, how he could make them listen and stay in line. I feel blessed to have been one of those Drill Team kids. Charlie always took such good care of all of us. When my dad made my brother and me join the FYA, I was so young and pitiful and didn’t really know any of the rest of the kids. Uncle Charlie and Uncle Stan Harris were the first ones to befriend me. They were the only ones who really talked to me at first.


On his way to pick up a bunch of other kids in the old FYA van, Uncle Charlie would pick my brother and me up first, and Uncle Stan would drive us home. During my first year on the team, they always let me sit in the front seat. I didn’t realize it until a year later that the back seats were where all the cool, older kids sat. I know now that they really put me up front to protect me from the backseat mischief. I loved sitting up front and being picked up first because Uncle Charlie would tell us all kinds of stories and play Motown music really loud so we could sing along. Then he would let us talk on the CB Radio with Buddah. (Gosh, do any of you remember what was Uncle Charlie’s CB handle?) On the way to parades, if Michael (“LSD”) was on the CB, all of them would start yelling drill team commands for the vans in the caravan to follow down the highway. Charlie would laugh loud, merging in and out, following all the red and white pom-poms tied to the vehicles’ antennas, while us kids would drum the beats on the back of the vinyl seats.


When we had the 40th Year Reunion of the Drill Team 10 years ago, a lot of our friends remembered how Charlie lived in that van, had socks and chips everywhere; how we loved to eat with him, how he used to tell ghost stories in the basement of Immaculate so we would hurry up and put the equipment away quickly. I remember his loud laugh, big Santa Claus cheeks and smile. If you ever asked Uncle Charlie for a favor, he would do it if he could.


I remember when I tried out for cheerleading in high school (twice) and was required to perform community service. The first

Filipino Youth Activities Khórdobah Drill Team, Seattle, 1985

Filipino Youth Activities Khórdobah Drill Team, Seattle, 1985

time, I thought I could just goof off or pretend to answer phones in the FYA office and get credit, or that I could use the FYA newspaper drive we were already doing to earn hours. No, no, no: Uncle Charlie and Uncle John Ragudos (then Executive Director) put me to work right away, typing the FYA’s mailing labels. We were fundraising for an east coast tour, so there must’ve been more than 200 families on that list. AND Uncle Charlie taught me how to properly answer the office phone. When I asked Uncle Charlie to sign my service form, he said, “No, no, no, we will type a letter, on LETTERHEAD, so they know it’s legit and not just some relative signing off for you. You dig?” Before he said that, I never knew that could be a potential problem, since they were all my “uncles” anyway. When I didn’t make it on the cheer squad, Uncle Charlie gave me a hug and said, “It’s ok. Those people don’t know no better. There’s always next year and besides, you will be busy with the drill team.”


He was right. The next year, before I made the squad, when I had to volunteer again, they told me to go file papers for Uncle Fred upstairs in the archives so I could learn something different. (This was before the archives were known as the FANHS National Pinoy Archives.) Uncle Charlie always wanted us to do well, to study, and stay out of trouble, so we did; he told us that if anyone ever messed with us at school, just to tell him and he would take care of it. Although I never had to ask him to fight my battles, I carried all of those lessons with me, when I got teased at school, when I learned how to drive, when I worked various office jobs to pay for college, and when I used the archives for my research in graduate school.  Along the way, whether he knew it or not, he was always there for me, as well as many others.


How ironic for Uncle Charlie’s funeral to be on Valentine’s Day, since he was such a loving, giving person. He taught me to love life. He was one of the first Pinoys that I met who wasn’t too “macho” to laugh and talk about romance. I remember when he met Auntie Carmen and how he told us, “I’m in love and I’m getting married!” We cheered. We were so happy because he was so happy. I am sure many others, especially those who are older and who were closer to him, will have a lot more stories to tell than I can. He had that gift of bringing people together and making us all smile.


Years later, I lost touch with Uncle Charlie after I moved away from Seattle, but my mother and I would sometimes bump into  him at church or at a community function. He would always kiss my mom and say, “Hi Auntie, how are you doing today?” And she would tell him about her gout or her knee pains. He would tell her that he would pray for her and that she should just take it easy. Little did we know years later, he would have those same ailments.


Last June, when my mom was dying in the hospital, Uncle Charlie was in that same hospital, on another floor getting kidney dialysis. Folks told me to stay by my mom’s side, that Charlie would pull through it. A few days later, when I was at the FANHS office writing my mother’s eulogy, Uncle Fred got a call from Auntie Carmen and he sped back to the hospital right away to be by Charlie’s side, only to be sent home because Charlie was undergoing more tests and treatments. He pulled through until last Sunday.


Charlie was more than our chauffer and self-appointed bodyguard, he was our counselor, one of the few who would really listen to our problems and not belittle them; he was our leader, our teacher, our role model, our minister, our friend, our big brother, our Santa Claus, and that true Pinoy uncle every kid should be lucky enough to have. We were all so lucky to have him, and I just hope that he knew that.


Today would’ve been my mother’s 82nd birthday, but I cannot shed any more tears. Instead, I am lighting a candle  and saying a prayer for her and for Uncle Charlie, because I know that both of them are tsismising and eating up a storm in heaven, smiling down on all of us. If I could be there for the funeral on Saturday, I would wear my FYA lanyard and be proud to stand with the Drill Team as honor guard, as I hope many of my friends will do.


I don’t remember all of the words and I’m sure I’m jumbling it all up here, but as we used to sing on Drill Team at the end of every Jhabandah (usually indoor) performance:

Halina, halina, mga kaliyag. . .

Dios ti agnina, at sa inyong lahat. . .

The FYA thanks you for everything,

Maraming salamat, salamat po, Uncle Charlie.

. . .


A salaam alaikum / Peace be unto you …

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Watertown, Massachusetts

February 10, 2009

Emily P. Lawsin was on the FYA Drill Team for seven years and

is a Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society.

A spoken word poet and award-winning lecturer, she has taught

Asian American and Filipino American Studies since 1992.

For a full bio, see: http://www.emilylawsin.com


* * *

UPDATE 2/11/09 – Read Charles Awit Farrell’s Obituary and Sign the Guest Book at:


Charles Awit FARRELL Passed away peacefully with family by his side in Seattle, WA. Feb. 8, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Carmen; two sons, Conrad and Ian; 5 grandchildren; 1 brother, 6 sisters and numerous nieces and nephews. Visitation will be at Columbia Funeral Home, 4567 Rainier Ave. So., Seattle; 12 to 8:00 p.m. Thursday Feb. 12th; Rosary at 6:00 p.m. Vigil service will be held Friday Feb. 13 at 7:00 p.m. with Funeral Mass Saturday Feb. 14, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. both at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 820 18th Ave. Seattle, WA 98122


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Click HERE to read my previous blog post: GIVING HISTORY FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

December 29, 2008

GIVING: History for the Next Generation

Last Thursday was my first Christmas without my mom; she passed away last June at the age of 81. Finances are tight for us this year, not only because of the unexpected hospital and funeral expenses, but also because of our temporary move to the metro Boston area, where the cost of living is three times as much as Detroit. So our Christmas list this year was much shorter than previous years, with us trying to give more meaningful gifts.

Tula picks satsumasInstead of spending the holidays in snowy Seattle or Massachusetts, we’re spending them with my in-laws in Los Angeles, where they grow fruits and vegetables in their tiny backyard. When our toddler saw the tangerine tree in the back, she said, “Wow, satsumas!” and couldn’t wait to pick them fresh from the abundant dwarf tree. As I watched Anak pick the fruit, I remembered how when I was her age, my mom used to go down to Uwajimaya’s in Seattle’s Chinatown and buy crates of satsumas as Christmas gifts for her friends. My brother was allergic to them, so I didn’t really get their appeal.  Tula puts satsumas in boxThen I moved to Boston and saw them selling for four bucks a pound! And those aren’t juicy or organic like Grandma and Grandpa’s! Anak picked about 50 of the satsumas straight from their tree; we washed them off and wrapped them up to give to neighbors and friends. With every juicy, tart bite, I keep thinking how much my mother would have loved for me to ship her a crate too.

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Satsumas also remind me of my sistahfriend Dr. Joan May T. Cordova, who often wears the satsuma scent.  She is the President of our Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and writes a FANHS blog HERE. Today is her birthday, so I kept wondering what I should send her, since she always buys pasalubong/gifts for the whole barrio. “Should we send her satsumas?” Anak asked. Nah, she has plenty of that. Then I was reminded of the appeal letter Joanie sent last week, the first one FANHS has ever issued in its 25-year history:


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:


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


September 20, 2008

Salamat: East Meets Words/Re-Cap

Saturday, September 13, 2008, 2:25 AM ET | Watertown/Cambridge/Boston, MA

So I arrived home safely a few hours ago after my first Cambridge gig at the supercool East Meets West Bookstore: what a special, historic place. I can’t sleep because I’m still fired up from the good vibes in the space (Eric Chin brought Taoist good energy in the room with everyone breathing to puff up his origami — it reminded me of the energizers I usually do on the 1st day of classes, but MUCH more chill). Anyway, I thought I would start off my blog about the performance, the people, and the place. And a BIG SHOUT-OUT to the BOSTON PROGRESS ARTS COLLECTIVE (B-PAC)!!! YAY!! THANKS YA’LL!!


East Meets West Bookstore, 934 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA

The East Meets West Bookstore is a down-home, hole-in-the-wall kind of place in Cambridge, on Massachusetts Avenue, less than a mile east of Harvard Square. When I walked in, I immediately felt at ease. It looks like one of the stores in Seattle’s (and Detroit’s) old Chinatown, complete with a back room that looks like one of those secret card rooms, except it has a two-way mirrored window. (I kicked myself for not bringing my mah-jong set.) One wall is covered with endless bookcases of what must be rare Chinese texts and across from that is a showcase of hard-to-find Asian American CDs, books, and zines. I kept thinking how the Asian American students in Michigan would buy all of this material right up if we had this store in Detroit or Ann Arbor. There are big “HELLO MY NAME IS” posters on the back wall signed by guests from all over, three small red paper lanterns hanging from a corner ceiling, and then huge speakers on the floor that looked out of place, maybe because they look like the ones the student union uses (hmmmm). The bookstore even had almost the same scent as the old On Leong office on Peterboro in Detroit, a mixed whiff of not-yet musty encyclopedias, left-over take-out boxes, and a hint of firecracker incense dust hidden in the cracks of the gated door. It reminded me of when we opened up one of the doors in the back of Mrs. Wong’s old Cass Corridor warehouse and found a box of stale fortune cookies from 1982. (Last night, Giles found beer in the bookstore’s back room. I didn’t catch if he drank it?)

As I sat down and breathed it all in, I thought, “This is what the old Kearny Street Workshop space in San Francisco’s old Manilatown must’ve been like 35 years ago.” BPAC’s use of the space for the last 3.5 years is kind of like what our Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Workgroup tried to do at the old On Leong Building back in 2004, except Cambridge obviously doesn’t suffer from the post-deindustrialization fall-out that Detroit does. At the old On Leong in Detroit’s abandoned Chinatown, even though we made that

Detroit Chinatown Mural, on Peterboro & Cass, 2003

Detroit Chinatown Mural, on Peterboro & Cass, 2003

beautiful mural, painted two buildings, and started having events there (the same space they used to organize the Justice for Vincent Chin movement 25 years ago), after the ceiling, heat and electricity went out, we just couldn’t keep it up. Luckily, the mural is still up and our Detroit Asian Youth Project still survives, but access to the performance space doesn’t. That’s why this Cambridge space is so inspiring and important, and I’m not sure if everyone here even realizes it.

East Meets West’s retail/performance space is about as big as my flat’s living room (which isn’t that big), but really, really cozy. There’s a couch and then folding chairs. When I arrived, about 20 people were already there trying to get a seat or setting up (mostly BPAC folks) and by the time I went up to perform, there were 50 people packed in there, SRO. On the West Coast, 50 people might not sound like a lot, but what I’ve learned from being in Michigan the last eight years, is that east of California, any Asian American public event that has more than 20/just the core, is truly an accomplishment. What was so impressive is that most of the audience were regulars, people who’ve shown up every 2nd Friday of the month since 2005. I mean, there was so much steam on the windows from all them warm heads; we were probably violating some kind of — oh let me scratch that before I get them in trouble. Anyway, at the end of the night, Giles emptied out the de-humidifier and there must’ve been about 3 gallons of water spilling all over Mass. Ave. (“It’s to protect the books,” Eugene said. Ah, yes. The archivist in me should know that.)



The after-crowd, some members of Boston Progress Arts Collective

The after-crowd, some members of Boston Progress Arts Collective

The Open Mic was really like none other than I’ve seen (and I’ve been to A LOT of open mics all across the country). First of all, almost every single one of the dozen or so performers was Asian American, of all ethnicities, truly pan-Asian. It’s a trip when you meet one with a Boston accent. Second of all, how many open mics have you been to where a seemingly low-key young culinary-school-trained chef who’s about to move to L.A. gets up there and quietly tells his childhood wannabe superhero stories with deep metaphors about scars (like wrinkled paper) and finding home again (like cranes) and folds origami in the air???? Eric Chin is deep. Never mind that he was only 3yo in 1989 (and showed us a picture to prove it). [Note toTuesday Nights at the Café peeps in L.A: keep an eye out for this young brotha.]

The other performers –

Albert: “an Asian man talking about the difficulties of being an Asian man in a poem, that’s meta,” MC Ash said. Word.

Kenny: who was able to play after Joey B went to get his guitar from his car in the rain. Nice.

Bonnibel: just moved from Austin, TX this week (!) spit two poems “Sesame Street” (which my daughter Tula would’ve loved) and “Passion”, was able to groove to any beat.

Kundiman fellow Mike Keo: pulled a couple of yellow pieces of paper from his back pocket, wet from the rain, shared one poem on genocide and then another called “Condoms”. (Mike later told me that he knows my poet-friend Matt Olzmann of Detroit and that he once picked up my hero-friend Ismael Ileto from the airport for a conference at UConn.) Really, 2 degrees of separation.

BPAC core member Theresa: described B-town’s streets to a T in her journal “Intervention”. (In the summer youth program she runs, they used game design to reactivate public space – like we did in DAY Project, yup yup. Kindred spirits!)

Joey B: kicked a piece about listening and imagining, from his creative writing class portfolio. YES, from his Creative Writing class portolio. (Bless all those Asian Americans in creative writing classes: where were you 20 years ago when I needed you? 😉

Pinoy brotha Pedro: used an audience member’s Blackberry to download song lyrics that remind him of his 2 moms singing, his birth mom and adoptive mom. Sweet.

Next up was Tu Phan. Remember that name: TU PHAN. That brotha will take the slam scene by storm if he hasn’t already. He just started as a freshman at Northeastern U, but you would’ve never guessed that. When he stood up there wearing his black t-shirt sporting 3 versions of the Virgin Mary: “Before, After, Way After”, with the Blessed Mother’s face silk-screened in black, brown, then white skin tones, I knew this cat was deep. TU PHAN performed a piece about birth in a straight jacket, clasping his arms around his torso and tilting his head from side to side, while spitting a riff on the constitutional right to bear arms yet being armless and just wanting to be able to touch and be free. Deep… 18yo.

At the end of every open mic portion, some of the resident MCs freestyle.

David Kong started to beat box and I thought it was just one of the CDs playing background beats forever, but it was David. For real.

Then PEN (yes, his name is Pen) grabbed the mic, rappin’ about stinky tofu and being from West Philly like Fresh Prince. Hilarious.

Next was Ash, who Giles gave a shout-out to earlier because he’s moving to NYC, dropped a rhyme about “stay[ing] out of the rewind”. Amen, Amen.

David brought up his friend Ahman and the crowd threw him some crazy words to freestyle like “hippopotamus” and “Pokeman”, but Ahman spit it just about as good as any neighborhood cipher I’ve seen.


Emily Lawsin performs at East Meets Words, Cambridge 9.12.08. Photo by Stephanie Kao.

Emily Lawsin performs at East Meets Words, Cambridge 9.12.08. Photo by Stephanie Kao.

So after the Open Mic, I performed 4 or 5 of my “classic” poems, but I’ll let others blog or comment on what they thought of the performance. (Please comment below!) I sold out of my books, and one elder in the crowd who bought one, came up and said he was moved by my “No More Moments of Silence” poem, and “mad” that it wasn’t published somewhere yet. I’m workin’ on it, I’m workin’ on it. (You can see/hear portions of an earlier version of the poem in the Philippine Studies Endowment video here.)


MANY THANKS to everyone who showed up last night: it was so heartwarming to see you! Isangmahal/One Love to all the organizers, especially founder/performer Giles Li (long live Giles Li!), who invited me to feature, gave me all the low down, and has been incredibly helpful in our transition to this new place; Van, who answered all my questions; David, who showed me the space and lit up the room when he smiled; Eugene, who recorded the show and was kind enough to give me a last-minute lift home; Ash, who gave a fabulous intro as emcee, even right after being winded from his freestyle performance; Sejal, who greeted me and told me some of the cool stuff they’re trying to do at Wellesley; Pedro, who spoke to me using the reverent Filipino “po” (so sweet); Pen, for all his energy, skillz, and his perfect name; Theresa, for welcoming me, thanking me and echoing my sentiments of “feeling blessed”; to Delia & Tae, for coming all the way to Cambridge even though it was probably past Tae’s bed time, and for welcoming me even before I moved; to everyone who designed and posted flyers/emails, to Stephanie Kao for bringing her whole house and taking pictures, and to anyone else I may have missed.

I feel so blessed to be able to now live in the same area as the Boston Progress Arts Collective! Your bookstore, your bprlive.org radio station, your collective of community conscious people, and the fact that you’re doing all of this with absolutely no money in a major East Coast, predominantly white metropolis, are all incredibly inspiring to me. (Never mind that the bookstore is down the street from the oldest and most prestigious university in the country, the same esteemed university which doesn’t even have an Asian American Studies program: that’s a whole other post/struggle.) I sensed that some of the BPAC members are worried about a few of the core people moving on, or being able to retain their bookstore space, and I just kept thinking to myself: if art and music are the avenues to one’s soul, then the beat will go on. The movement will go on. BPAC and “East Meets Words” will go on! Mabuhay B-PAC / Long live B-PAC!! Word.

MARAMING SALAMAT/MAHALO/ARIGATO/THANK YOU SO MUCH for allowing me to feature at East Meets Words. I will never forget it. Looking so forward to working with ya’ll even more.

Makibaka! Fight the Struggle!
Mahal, Salamat, at Ingat / Love, Thanks, and Take Care,


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