Tag Archives: Filipino American

Days and Nights in the City Where I First Opened My Eyes

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother worked nights at home, daytime too,
in the house, at the sewing machine, making dresses
for women who could afford to have dresses made
for them. We bought our clothes at the store, though
sometimes she would sew something special for us–
a vest, a Barong Tagalog made out of sheer white
fabric which I never wore because I thought it would
make me look even less American than I already did
with what the kids at school sometimes called my
Chinese Checkers eyes. I liked jeans and tee shirts,
sneakers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and
I’d never think of playing The Reycard Duet with
Tony Maiquez and his Ukelele Gang singing
“Oh! Baby” which was wild and raw and—though
I didn’t know the word for it at the time—badass.
My father took care of the ambassador’s residence,
made sure water ran through every pipe, and lights
went on in every big, fancy bedroom and in the
grand dining room where every piece of furniture
was hand-carved with ivory inlays and where the
long narrow halls were big enough for us to live in.
At nights he served drinks and appetizers to the class
of people who could drink strong drinks and
eat gourmet meals, hoping each night for good tips
and maybe good leftovers which he could bring
home to us—strawberries in custard in a miniature
pie shell, flaky black and white pastries that came in
layers that fell apart like the times as we bit into them,
staying up a little later than we were supposed to,
waiting for our treats, but mostly for him, which
was when my mom would turn the sewing machine
off for the night and come into the fluorescent light
of the kitchen, where we’d sit, the sweet taste on
our tongues interrupting every stray question and
tidy answer, our eyes getting heavier, happy, content
with long tiring days ending in long bright nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Rice and Mirrors

If you substitute rice for potatoes
you would have my version of
growing up in America. When I
was thirteen and had high blood
pressure the doctor said “no gravy
on your potatoes,” but we didn’t eat
potatoes that often and to make
a difference in my diet it would
have had to be less adobo juice
on my rice or less salty soy sauce.
How, exactly, do you tell a doctor
when you’re thirteen that the example
he gave is a bad one, that it may apply
to him but not to me? Then there were
the things we used to do like cover
all the mirrors in the house with blankets
when there was a thunderstorm, practices
that carried over from the old world
that took decades to fade from our lives.
I don’t remember the first time we left
the mirrors uncovered during a storm
but I imagine my mother and father
felt tense, wondering if our house
in America would get struck by lightning,
that maybe the old superstitions
were still right after all these years,
and after all the things they left behind.
I wonder about the first time
my mother and father had a dinner
here without rice.
Did they still feel hungry afterwards,
did they feel slightly lost, standing
as tall as they could on uncertain feet,
in this strange, exotic land?

-Jose Padua

The photograph of me and my brother Pat was taken at the family house in Washington DC in 1972.