Tag Archives: Filipino

From the Belly to the Head

Photograph by Jose Padua
In my twenties when I was still living
with my mother and father and brothers
in the house I grew up in, I would always
hear from certain friends, “Why are you
still living at home?” The short answer
was that they wanted me there; the long one
that we ate rice for breakfast, eggs with
marinated pork for dinner; had paintings
of tiny houses on stilts with thatched roofs
that let in a lot of air, a plaque displaying
The Weapons of Moroland that reminded
my mother and father of the islands
they came from; displayed on the living room table
wooden carvings of caribaos pulling heavy carts,
headhunters carrying their enemies’ heads;
if you came into our house you ate in our house;
those of you who wouldn’t eat, how could you
expect us to trust you? In my immigrant culture
the custom was for children to live at home with
the family, to contribute to that home, and continue
to do so until they had families of their own,
but I never said that, never explained, never
wanted to say my people do things differently
because there’s nothing like having to state
the obvious for breaking already tenuous bonds
and at the time I wasn’t quite ready to be on my
own. Because being my friend was like going to
one of those stores where nothing has a price tag:
if you had to ask how much it was you couldn’t
afford it, and if you had to ask why I lived where
I lived, you couldn’t be my friend for very long.
And although I wanted to be American like
everyone else, I understood what it meant to stay
in touch with ground that wasn’t right beneath me,
a home that was on the other side of the earth,
teaching me, molding me, giving me strength.
Today I live in my own house with my own
family; if you know the right questions to ask
and what not to ask, I welcome you to come in,
rest your feet, have a drink and a bite to eat;
I welcome you to come in and look around
so you can see the world from here, so you’ll
know and feel, from your belly to your head,
what’s going on now.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Advertisements

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

Dad_GlamPhoto_30s_SquareCropTwo
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
too.

-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

Family_1966_67
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.