Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

People are still very persistent in their efforts to separate us. They appraise me, “You got your father’s brains,” and claim me, “You have the Guyton pinkie finger.” They say, “You are your father’s daughter.” Does that mean I am not yours?

I remember when people guessed you were anyone but my mother. They asked if you were my nanny. These things were funny facts of life. They were things I miscalculated. Things that, years later, kept me apart from you like a Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Did you hear them tell me I’m lucky? That I should use my skin, my name to get by in the world? How desperately they need to see me only as the White person. How much easier for us all to agree to an Imitation of Life.

You know what they say about selling yourself out, though. You attract irreversible debt in the end. I came to realize that meant in small ways I had lost you and Lola, and all the aunties and cousins who tried to raise me Filipina but let me drift to the tide of what is easiest. We fell apart to what “makes sense.”

But that was during the pressures of child rearing–one of the few times culture feels real. Now, in necessary moments, you and I can gesture from a distance to each other: “Really, though, what in this world makes sense?”

You are my Filipina mother, but I am White.

You are my Filipina mother, so I am not White.

You are my Filipina mother, who herself wonders what that means. This, I guess, is what more truly makes you my mother. We are growing always alongside one another into related questions.


Your Mango Baby

Imitation of Life. (1959).

Rabbit-Proof Fence. (2002).


Waiting for the Wave

I use creative writing to work through thoughts and emotions encountered in my research. This is a poem I go back to and work on from time to time. In interviews, people living in impoverished coastal neighborhoods fear another storm surge from a typhoon. Their homes are only single story wood panel houses with corrugated metal roofs. When it rains, the sound of rain on the metal rooftops is louder than any rain I’ve heard while in my concrete two story boarding house. The sound brings back traumatic memories, and parents worry about how to console their children. I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to live in fear of water when you are surrounded by it every day. I chose to write in second voice because I think it represents me trying to understand my interviewees point of view.

“Waiting for the Wave”

You hear rain fall like rocks,
Upon your metal roof,
You imagine they gather into an army,
An army of water,
The wave that could arrive at any time,
And push you from your home,
Push you all the way downtown,
Under the San Juanico Bridge.

The army of water can push you anywhere,
Like the people who once helped you.
They now push you from their neighborhoods,
And you are here waiting,
For the wave,
For the people,
For the rain to stop.


These are two thoughts I am working on to express my experience here in the Philippines.   I started writing these in response to submission theme of bawal, which means “forbidden” in Filipino.  The U.S.-based journal intended this topic for creative reflection on the Filipino-American experience, but I thought my experience settling into the Philippines as a Filipino-American could be a permissible twist.


A videoke ballad crashes over the plantation; it gels into the night.  Sound fills the heavy wet spaces between the palms, rests on the broad leaves.

The videoke pauses between songs, and insects descend again upon the canopy.  A warring ebb and flow above.  The ripple of the insect, and the flood of a drunken human noise.  All sounds here are unnatural and ring like strange news, atemporal and unintelligible.

There’s a mystery of what pulls into the palm shadows overhead.  Hovers there in this country that I am supposed to know.  A frond bends, exposing the thrush of an alien moon against the waning sky.  I feel I am being watched.


Packets tuck into each other, obscuring their strange brand names.  A woman behind the counter either waits for my order or waits for me to concede her territory, her face as blank as the smooth faces of the pandesal stacked in the display case.

I say a word in the language I’m supposed to know.  The misbent letters of my tongue dissappear into some world that falls between me and her.

A pan of fish it seems are following into that dry atmosphere.  Laying elegant in silver, suspended in school mid-flight, opaque eyes.