When I first came to the U.S. my mom would quiz me on spelling and math. Come to think of it, I think I was also held back a grade, staying 2nd when I should’ve started in 3rd.
I’ve been learning about how English language acquisition was important for assimilation and that many Filipino immigrant parents like my mom allowed if not encouraged their kids to perfect its use even at the expense of unlearning Tagalog/Filipino or their native language. Of course, this felt like a given growing up, but I didn’t know what it meant in the larger context of colonization. My mom did what she was taught would be the best, and so did other parents.
I was always so pleased with myself whenever someone would tell me how good my English was when I told them that I wasn’t born here. There’s a lot to unpack.
Right after I finished college and moved back to San Diego, I wanted to stay involved in art stuff and community service stuff, partly to delay the life of office work that I was destined for given my non-lucrative major (Art History). I was really interested in African art and culture because of all the classes about it that I took, and found a UCSD-student-run, non-profit organization called Africa Aid who were trying to organize an art auction to raise money for a group of craftswomen in South Africa. I signed up to volunteer and my task was to find local artists and ask them to donate their work for the auction. Somehow, I found a list online (the internet ca. 2006 was not exactly the information smorgasbord that it is now) of nearly a hundred artists who worked in San Diego and contacted all of them, one by one, either via phone or email, hitting them up for art. I’m bummed that I don’t have pictures of the actual auction because a surprising number of artists came through and donated some really beautiful pieces, most of which sold for hundreds of dollars each.
While I was and still am proud of the work I did with that group, the experience left me with a negative opinion about non-profit charity groups for a long time. I felt like a ghost at the meetings and most of the contact that I did have with the organizers was over the phone where I simply reported the quantity of donations being committed and by whom. I knew very little about how the event was coming together (they didn’t even tell me where it was going to be until a week before the event) and what was expected. I even had to buy my own shirt. After the auction, I never heard from the organizers again– not a recap of how it went, how much was raised, or a thank you message or anything. It all just seemed like a bunch of kids who were wrapped up in their “cause”, schmoozing it up at the auction. The experience put me off on doing community service for a while.
Last stop on the ride to adulthood.
Continuing down my path of crime.. This bus transfer pass is from the afternoon I got caught trying to steal a bottle of CK1 from Bullock’s (now Macy’s) in Horton Plaza. I thought I’d gotten away with it. Me and my friend Jeanette even went to a souvenir store next door to window shop. Maybe that’s where I messed up? As we were walking out of the shop, a security guard came up to me and took me aside. The jig was up.
I remember feeling out of breath. It sucks being caught. I carried that guilt unnecessarily throughout my teens. Even though my mom got my record expunged, for the next five years, I would always write about this little incident on employee applications, the section where it asks “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” I thought these businesses needed to know what they would be risking, having a hardened but reformed 15-year-old high school girl bagging groceries. Think of all my missed opportunities at employment! What would my life have been like had I worked at Whole Foods?
So, TMI, I have post-nasal drip. Always had it, and when I was a kid it was pretty bad. Snot would just constantly leak from my nose and I always had to blow my nose like I was sick. Except for a near-brush with death from a still-inexplicable illness when I was 6 or 7, I was generally in good health, so my leaky nose was just my lot in life. We didn’t know about Neti Pots back then, which I think would’ve helped.
Anyway, because of the all the snot, I had to carry around a handkerchief. I had a few of them in circulation at any given time. I remember once, my aunt gave me one for Christmas that was really nice, I didn’t want to use it. These were the two that I took with me when we moved to the U.S., but they became defunct when I realized that here, we use disposable Kleenex, to keep things sanitary.
For a good part of my young adulthood, the good folks of the MTS carted me around to and from school, work, and other parts of San Diego. There was a summer where I’d ride the trolley on Saturdays and just read the whole time. I think this is my first bus pass. My mom bought it for me every month. Even though I loved to walk and roam the city on foot, getting a bus pass taught me how to get around, to look at maps and timetables and plan my trips. The Trip Planner wasn’t available back then, so you just relied on printed information as well as the knowledge of the bus drivers, who were never wrong, not then or now.
I don’t remember how it ended up in our classroom, but we were able to play around with a new-fangled picture-taking device called a digital camera. It was silver all over and was about the size of my 6th grade teacher’s giant, coiffed head. The flash was blindingly bright and made my skin tingle. I wonder how that technology all panned out.
Me and my friend, Moneé, were obviously not prepared for this shot. We probably didn’t even know wtf was going on. I am wearing my brother’s JNCO shirt that I had to sneak out with- he hated when I wore his stuff.
Our neighbors from across the street ended up coming to the U.S. a couple of years after we did. Me and my brother were friends with the daughters: Jenny was a couple of years older than me, and Cherrie (“Ching”) was my brother’s age. They were the ones we visited in Wichita, KS.
I had always looked up to Ching and I think she was the first person to show me the internet! She even made her own website (on Angelfire) and was just generally a cool person. She was a girl who had good taste, knew her way around a computer and whose voice never really wavered.
She sent me this letter the year after we visited them in KS. It’s written on a page off of a Rolling Stone issue (cool stationery!). We recently got back in touch on Twitter, though social media hasn’t really given way to re-connecting for reals just yet. I’m hoping I can visit them one of these summers, when I finally make it for that bike across Kansas thing that I keep meaning to do.
Some time during the 7th grade, I started shoplifting makeup at the neighborhood Thrifty’s (on Robinson Ave. between 5th and 6th, Rite Aid now, I think). At first, I was after eye pencils and then it moved to powder and their selection of fine, drug store fragrances. After a while, I was doing it just because it was something to do, and my best friend at the time, Thoeun, got in it with me. We started doing a little business where I would steal the stuff and she would sell it. It was cool for a while, but one time, I got cocky and careless and decided I’d try to swipe a bottle of CK1 from Bullocks (now Macy’s) at Horton Plaza. I got caught and, well, it raised flags with the parental unit.
As a way to “rehabilitate” me, my mom sent me off on a road trip with one of her Filipina co-workers, whose family was taking a road trip up to Morro Bay for a few days. Complete strangers, these people. All I knew about them was that my mom would not stop talking about their 2-acre house and property in Bonita, which somehow qualified her and her family to be my new life coaches.
The trip sucked. I didn’t know them, they were really kind of uppity, and no one seemed to understand why I was there, including me. It was the first time I ever put a finger on the fact that I really don’t like how clique-ish Filipinos can be, because all they seemed to talk about was other people they knew, like it was a contest to see who knew the flyest and rolled the deepest.
However shitty the company, though, I always remembered camping right on the beach next to that big rock, and the way that dusks felt like there- windy and warm. I went for long walks by myself and thought about how I could make money now that the jig was up (hah). I was surrounded by strangers but didn’t feel lonely. I loved that feeling. If nothing else, the place itself was therapeutic, and is somewhere I often long to be.
I saved this! I saved this Valentine. It meant a lot to me because Raphael Ruiz was cute, a good big brother, and even better at kickball. We had been love-hate friends since the second grade. Also, at 11 yo, I thought the play on words was really clever.
Newly divorced, my mom decided to send me and my brother to Wichita, KS to spend the summer with our family friends, who had also immigrated to the U.S. I was 12 and my brother was 16. I thought for sure we’d get lost or miss our connecting flights. Airports are marvelous and bewildering places. Luckily, my brother has more wits about him than I gave him credit for, and he got us to where we needed to be. He’d actually work for Delta Airlines once we got back from our extended vacation.
How hot is it in Kansas in the summer, Ichiro?