Author’s Note: The following is a prose poem separated in six stanzas that describes the Filipino American story. It is not the intention of the author for this piece to be the ultimate authority of all Filipino experiences. However, it is an interpretation of a Filipino experience.
Origins (Morro Rock)
In 1587, the crew Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza saw Morro Rock from the decks. The sailors were from a land their captors named after a king they would never meet.
They were the first from the far east to come to the far west.
As time passed, more Filipinos came to stay.
In 1587, there were only three. Today, there are almost three million.
A painting hung in the living room of my grandparents’ house.
It is of my great grandparents on their wedding day. In it, Big Umma sits in a chair, her hair tightly tied back. Little Papa sat on one of the chair’s arms and covered his leg with Big Umma’s veil to look taller. His Spanish blood gave him an aquiline nose and fair skin that contrasted Big Umma’s.
During the war, Big Umma fled the city with her children to the hills. Little Papa was forced to march fifty miles to prison camps. They found their own ways to resist.
When the war ended, Little Papa and Big Umma came to America.
This was the first generation.
You were born on the islands during the war. Others were born in two room shacks outside Stockton with the aid of Mexican midwives. You were born while your mother squeezed your sister’s hand because your father had to work and couldn’t be there.
You spent most of early childhood moving wherever your parents found work. They were campus maids in Berkeley, gardeners in Palo Alto, teamsters in Lodi, babysitters in Marysville.
Most of the time, your parents worked in the fields. The seasons you knew were named after fruits and vegetables––oranges, grapes, string beans, tomatoes.
Your parents found permanent work and they bought a house. You helped your mother grow onions and tomatoes in the front yard and you surprised her one year by lining the garden with tulips.
Your parents wanted you to be Americans. You were the second generation.
Your children were more American than you— which made your parents happy.
In school they were cheerleaders and football players. Some of them got in trouble and switched schools often. Others were class presidents and choir leads. All of them graduated.
They were the third generation.
My great grandfather was imprisoned and tortured during the war by the Japanese. He bought his American groceries at Mrs. Hanui’s market.
In community college, I met Kiyo Sato, a survivor of internment. She had committed her life to sharing her story with anybody who’d listen–– me being one of them. We talked for hours in a donut shop owned by refugees.
I am the fourth generation.
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Zachary FR Anderson
Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Co-Editor
Zachary FR Anderson is SoCal born and NorCal raised. He is an Occidentalist, writer, and lover of books. He resides in Sacramento.