Tag Archives: Filipino

Water Music

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother and father never took us to
the ocean, we always stopped at the bay.
The waves were rarely fierce there, the
sand, I think, not nearly as fine. My mother
and father grew up on islands, which meant
they were never far from the water. I never
learned to swim, which means I stay away
from the deep end of the pool. I can’t speak
Tagalog, which means I can’t talk to my own
people in anything resembling a native tongue.
My mother and father were together for over
forty years, then my mother died; eighteen years
later it was my father. The things my mother
and father passed on to me aren’t always clear.
There are hours when everything is panic and
dread, followed by stray moments of slow moving
bliss or what some might call more simply and
plainly, like a line from the bullet-list version
of the American dream, a conventional sense
of security and well-being. Sometimes I think
I’ve learned how to breathe, how to stand tall
amidst indifference and everything that’s worse.
And whether it’s amongst trivial details or the
astute revelations of inspired suppositions,
I find that beneath the light-dimming clouds
of the burgeoning landscape, there are days
spent looking through fog and its bleak distance
to the ocean, nights of cacophonous sound and
grace, when I’m convinced I can learn how to swim.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua


On the Cool Blue Steel of Sound in 1965 or ‘66

I must have been
eight or nine
sitting on the
long bench with
the soft black
cushions at the
Filipino barber shop
on the edge
of Chinatown,
watching the old
man smoking a cigarette
while he played
his beat-up
mandolin as confident
as a rock star,
when I finally
realized that
we could
be cool

-Jose Padua

The photograph was taken sometime in the 1930s. On the left is Cosme T. Padua and on the right is a friend of his—or perhaps yet another relative I never got to know.

My Filipino-American Breakfast

My Filipino-American breakfast of the 60s
was the local Briggs brand pork sausage patties,
sunny-side up eggs, and rice, with the runny yolks
broken over the rice, and the rice and yolk and
sometimes the eggs whites, too, mixed, stirred,
or just turned yolk top over rice bottom
depending on if my Mom or me or sometimes
my Dad was doing the mixing. I gathered
it wasn’t the typical American breakfast.
I understood that my Anglo friends didn’t
eat this way in the morning and I knew
for sure that they didn’t have rice for breakfast
though I didn’t exactly know how I knew,
which was the case for a lot of the things
I knew back when I was a child. And
the thing was, I didn’t know if any other
Filipino-American kids ate like this either
because my Mom had been the cook
for the Embassy in DC and this very well
could have been her breakfast invention
or innovation. All I knew is that we were
different; I didn’t know exactly how or
by how much. All I had was this vague
child’s notion, and all I wanted was to fit in,
and one thing I knew for sure was that this
breakfast was one thing I wasn’t changing
no matter how much I wanted to think of
myself as a real American. Because some things
just weren’t worth it, while other things
were worth more than the price you paid
of feeling strange. Call it tradition, call it pride,
call it the price of admission to the exclusive club
I belonged to because even I had it back then—
looking into someone’s ice cold, blue eyes
with my brown ones as if there were an ocean
of distance between us—a symbol of what
would forever be my independence from America.

-Jose Padua

Photo (1967 or 68). Top row: Margarita S. Padua, Cosme Padua; Bottom row: Jose Padua, Tony Padua.