poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 27, 2012

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

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

 

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

  © by Emily P. Lawsin

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

———–

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

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

 

 

 Isabel P. Navarro

 November 19, 1928 – July 18, 2012

 

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

 

Funeral Information

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

 

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July 27, 2012

www.emilylawsin.com

 

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

 

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

http://www.legacy.com/seattletimes/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=123991911

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:

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/

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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

November 15, 2008

POEM: Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

Last week, the day after the historic election, someone asked me how it felt to vote. She knew that I had lived in Detroit earlier this year, and Barack Obama’s name was not on the primary ballot in Michigan (damn it), so I never had the chance to vote for him before. Now, I live in Massachusetts: ’nuff said. After she asked me that question, I went home and wrote this poem. I hope you like it; please leave comments below. Peace and salamat/thanks!

Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

© by Emily P. Lawsin

“I go to prepare a place for you.”

~Harriet Tubman

Yesterday, as I approached the voting booth,

in this bluest of blue states,

where the last senator lost his bid four years ago,

a few miles down from where

another senator — the martyr Benigno Aquino — once lived,

tears streamed down my cheeks,

my hands trembled like my heartbeat

and I took a slow, deep breath,

careful to not close my eyes

in case some fool tried to spoil this dream and my ballot,

and I whispered a prayer,

not just for Barack Obama,

but for our country and our families,

remembering all of our ancestors

who carried us here to the Promised Land

despite centuries of broken promises.

I remember my Lola Carmen,

born nine years after the revolution

and 30 years before women’s suffrage

in the colonial Philippines,

how she birthed six children

yet only five survived;

how, during World War II,

she had to resort to selling socks (not stocks) —

on the black market —

as in insulation for soldiers’ feet,

then fled to the mountainside

with a pillow up her dress

to protect her and her children.

I remember my Lolo Sergio Sr,

the stern patriarch,

how he immigrated to America

to follow his pioneer daughters, right before I was born,

then worked as a low-paid post office guard

while his wife — our grandmother — watched us sleep;

how they mailed all of us grandchildren

crisp $5 Lincolns on our birthdays

with a carefully typewritten note

to “spend it wisely”.

I remember my Auntie Nora,

my mother’s Até, eldest sister,

how as a teen in Tondo,

she rolled tobacco at the Alhambra Cigar Factory

to help make ends meet;

she never smoked herself,

yet her grandchildren always wondered why

she suffered from lung disease.

I remember her husband, my Uncle Eddie Sr,

who fought in the Philippine Scouts

long enough to re-enlist under the U.S. flag

before the Rescission Act could rescind his benefits;

how one Thanksgiving,

he showed us kids the bites on his leg

from the Bataan Death March,

denied that he had PTSD,

then passed it on to his Vietnam veteran sons,

and we were never the same.

I remember my sister’s father, Leandro,

who, with calloused hands from picking unripe grapes,

cutting asparagus and fields of lettuce,

building bunkhouses and picket lines,

like thousands of immigrant Pinoys,

struggled to put food on our kitchen tables,

moved from crop to crop

from the California Delta to Seattle,

then became a Private

in America’s 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment,

his enlistment papers checked his civil occupation off as

  • "Gardeners and grounds keepers, parks, cemetaries, etc."

as if there were no other words to describe “stoop labor”,

he never lived long enough to explain it to his daughters.

I remember our own mother, Emma,

who on her death bed last June,

when the Critical Care doctors finally

let up on her morphine drip,

allowing her to wake up from a three-week coma,

a breathing tube just removed from her lips an hour before,

mouthed the words,

asking if Obama had won the primaries.

When I said, “Yes he did,”

she closed her eyes and smiled.

I remember my father, Vincent,

the only one who outlives them all,

a merchant marine who followed MacArthur

after the general declared his “I Have Returned” speech

on his hometown of Tacloban’s shores,

in forever pursuit of the American Dream,

how on the day that I turned 18,

lectured me — not on the birds and the bees —

but on the urgent importance of democracy now:

then took me to the public library

to promptly register me to vote;

how a decade later, after 40 years of his U.S. citizenship,

Papa was finally called to Jury Duty,

wore his “JUROR” badge proudly for weeks,

framed his “I Served” certificate to display in our

cracked china cabinet,

volunteered to serve three more times,

proclaiming to the judges that, aside from voting,

this was his highest honor,

to finally feel like a true American.

So yesterday, I stood there (yes I did) and I did not care

if a long line would stretch around the whole block from that polling station,

because Barack told us:

This is our time. This is our moment.

Kaya Natin, Yes We Can.”

So I took my time, savoring the moment.

I stared at my ballot, carefully wiped my cheeks so tears would not smear it,

filled the black hole

with the smoothest black pen I have ever felt,

my hips swaying like I was birthing a newborn child,

standing on the shoulders of these ancestors

and a rainbow of so many more,

who fought for this right, who fought for this night,

thankfully remembering                      thankfully remembering

ang bayan ko:                                       my country,

ang kababayans natin:                         our compatriots,

ang pamilya ko:                                    my family,

ang buhay natin:                                  our lives,

and prayed that our President, our next President will remember them too.


www.filipinosforobama.org

November 5, 2008 – Watertown, Massachusetts

Padasal = Filipino for novena, a prayer session for the respose of the souls of the dead.


“Leadership is only incidental to the movement.

The movement must go beyond its leaders in order to survive.”

~Philip Vera Cruz

For my bio, Click HERE www.emilylawsin.com

 

Click HERE to read my previous blog post: POEM: Seattle / “She-attle” / Personified -For Blue Scholars


October 30, 2008

POEM: Seattle / “She-attle” / Personified -For Blue Scholars

 

I wrote a “Shuffled!” article about some of my favorite Filipino American songs for today’s Boston Progress Radio, see http://www.bprlive.org. It includes a riff on songs by the Seattle hip-hop duo, Blue Scholars, and I promised to post my old “Seattle” poem here for them.  I wrote this poem six years ago, during a Free-Writing session facilitated by my sistahfriend, 2003 Detroit Slam Team poet Angela Jones. She instructed us to write about our hometown, using personification (giving inanimate objects human qualities). Here’s what I wrote in the 10-15 minute Detroit Summer Poetry for Social Change workshop. Maraming Salamat/endless thanks to my pamilya and Angela for the inspiration. I wish I could perform this with Blue Scholars in Seattle someday. (Geo?) Now that would be fun. 😉

Seattle / “She-attle” / Personified

(Free-write at a Detroit Summer Poetry for Social Change Workshop)

Inspired by Angela Jones, Nov. 20, 2002

© by Emily Porcincula Lawsin

“Chief Sealth”, “Sha-til”, “She-attle”, “Sea-Town”,

From the South End to Downtown – Seattle, a native part of me.

She climbs Rainier Avenue to the C.D. and the I.D.

Like a hiker on its mountain tops, raking gutters of rain

Past the Phó Noodle shops, the ghosts of Chubby & Tubby’s $4.99 Xmas Trees, and

Franklin High on an emerald night.

Her evergreen veins curl up 23rd to the heart of her hood,

Marching down MLK, formerly Empire Way,

To drum beats the FYA plays at the Black Festival, where she reigns.

She feigns summer’s SeaFair, its parade of pirates posing crooked smiles of

Thrown chocolate doubloons that couldn’t brush or floss Lake Washington clean

Despite the Hydroplane Races and Floating Bridges wrapping their legs around her,

Pushing and squeezing gas-guzzling SUVs back to their cold cul-de-sacs of suburbia.

That Queen is smart, she is.

Only giving a small hiccup during Mt. St. Helen’s violent overthrow,

Only giving a small buckle of a burp

at the quakes of the earth called Phinney Ridge.

She held that rage and anger in for 2000 years she did,

Until the Stock Market crashed, Microsoft injunctioned, Boeing went bust, and

dot.coms didn’t come no more.

The IMF brought a charade of bribes to her parade,

Trying to trade – all lies – underestimating that she knew the “WTO”

Didn’t mean “Washington’s Ticket Out”     of the rut of corporate greed.

Her strong fingers of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Avenues

Erupting in an intertwining, internationally televised spectacle

Of necessary anarchy.  Burning dumpsters –

Sweet karma for her sister city’s secret sweatshops,

Bringing Niketown to its shoeless knees.

That Emerald Queen plays smart, she is.

Hid her army of blood lines down Broadway where homophobes dread to tread,

She cruises down “The Ave” to cradle her chorale,

Whips up Wallingford to Woodland Park, setting all the zoo animals free.

Her crossed eyes of Elliot Bay and Puget Sound cries to witness the

Displacement of Asian ancestors from Jackson Street and Chinatown

For a Kingdome stadium that only ended up torn down

For damn luxury skyboxes and a retractable (read: RAINABLE) roof.

The irony of the fault lines quaking through Yesler Terrace’s Projects and

Old Skid Row streets, masquerading as Pioneer Square:

An underground over Underground Seattle.

Still, this Queen smoothes the wrinkles of her face: Aurora and Old Highway 99.

She stretches the stretch-marks of her stomach: I-5

Screeching with pride through traffic and lay-offs

Keeping the moon up all night, she dances through rocks of jazz and grunge clubs,

Holding her crown high on top of her neck of The Needle,

Standing guard on her ribcage of rusted rooftops rustling in the wind,

Claiming this green space.

This city, she is, this Queen, SHE-attle, “Sha-til”,

Seattle: my home.

*     *     *

“Joe Metro” – Song by Blue Scholars

AND because I love it and in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the Blue Scholars’ MTV video of their song “Joe Metro”. That Pinay sitting in the back could be me. And the elders could be my mom and dad. MAKIBAKA, Geo & Saba! Check it:

http://www.mtv.com/videos/blue-scholars/189605/joe-metro.jhtml#artist=1918439

Homesick.

Watch “Back Home” by Blue Scholars’ too:

http://www.mtv.com/videos/blue-scholars/166934/back-home.jhtml#artist=1918439This video brings tears to my eyes. Bring the troops home. Peace.

 

Click HERE to READ and LISTEN to my Shuffle! of my top Filipino American songs on Boston Progress Radio.

 

Click HERE to read my previous blog post: REMEMBERING UNCLE SAM BALUCAS + POEM.

 

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

 

 

September 23, 2008

P.S. YES, PODCAST! of East Meets Words Show

PODCAST: Emily Lawsin at East Meets Words

MINAMAHAL / MUCH LOVE to Eugene Shih of Boston Progress Radio (www.bprlive.org) for posting an edited podcast (audio recording) of my Sept 12th East Meets Words show. Click http://www.bprlive.org/2008/09/23/recap-emily-lawsin-graces-east-meets-words/  to listen and enjoy. 

It includes my most-requested spoken word performance poems:

  1.  “My Pinay Nanay”  
  2. “Notes from a University Writing Group (Or, From the Woman Who Told Me To Write White)”
  3. “Detroit’s Pinay Voices”
  4. “No More Moments of Silence (In Memory of Joseph Ileto & Chon Buri Xiong)”
  5. “Maré is a Diva, di ba?” 
Here are more photos (below) to go along with the audio too. 
Please write a comment below or on the bprlive.org site and tell us what you think.
Maraming Salamat po sa inyong lahat / Many Thanks, ya’ll.
Peace.
See my previous post for a full re-cap of the East Meets Words show
and the P.S. Love Letter for Invincible & Detroit Summer

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