I had a profound moment the other day with my friend Cha. We were

Pagsanjan Falls

traveling back from Pagsanjan Falls (an amazing trip upriver through rain-forested cliffs and free-flowing falls), packed in a jeepney and I was explaining how it was starting to wear on my nerves a bit how most people react when I tell them I’m half-Filipino: “Oh really, you don’t look Filipino”, then later on ” I mean, where did you say your Mom was from?”. As if it’s not hard enough coming from the “melting pot” of America where your family shed it’s heritage to embrace the ability to work three jobs including the night shift to make sure your three kids can go to American schools and eat American food, buying American dreams with no money down and a cemetery in your backyard. That’s what my grandma did (the cemetery always creeped me out as a kid!). And now that I’ve come here, worked so hard to come here, to learn about my heritage, to listen to the stories, and I get slapped in the face with a ‘ you don’t look like us’ comment. And yes, I am a foreigner, I do come with a LOT of privileges, I’m not trying to deny that, but what I am trying to do is reconnect with something larger than myself that is inextricably a part of me, it runs in my blood and turned my hair black, my eyes dark brown and my skin somewhere in between my white father and brown mother.

And that’s when I told Cha that when I visited the village where my family is from on my first trip to the PI five years ago, they showed me a picture of my grandmother’s father, and we look very similar, the lighter skin, smaller face, sloping nose. And in a very excited response I could see the light in her eyes go off as she exploded that of course, I am a Spanish Filipina! She has cousins who look similarly and they are of Spanish-Filipino decent. Now, this was not news to me, I mean the PI was colonized and ruled by the Spanish for hundreds of years, so of course Spanish blood ran through my lineage, but to hear that she had cousins that had similar features as me made it all the more real. And it was what she said next that stunned me, two things really: the first was that she could now see me as Filipino, I felt like a ghost stepping into the light, the sun turning my skin browner, my rightful place with my people being resumed; the second was what stopped my heart ” You are the product of colonization. You have Spanish blood and American citizenship.” The sounds of the now full jeepney, once dull and useless chatter, now came into sharp focus– the woman sitting next to me texting on her phone, the loud, choking exhaust of the motor, the baby staring at me and drooling on the lap of the elderly woman, the smell of steamy rain colliding with asphalt as we raced through it, soaking the metal floor and the backs of our seat. I couldn’t breathe and yet I felt like I was breath, air- particles of oxygen that had once been in the lungs of my ancestors, long since dead and silent, and here I am- the end product generation. I am war and occupation, treaties and religious dogma, love and suffering, fear of death and immigrant dreams, re-written histories and crossed boundaries. All of a sudden, I was now a dot on a map speeding through time, something I had never been before.

When I was younger I used to ask my grandma to teach me Tagalog, and she would to tell me that someday she was going to give me book, but that book never came. Now I have history books written in a language I cannot read, and a sense of belonging that burns with a purpose. I try and tell myself that this was not what I was looking for, that this claim to my lineage is an unexpected bonus to this trip, but in reality I have been looking for this all of my life.



6 responses to this post.

  1. Amazing story, amazing moment. Thanks for sharing it with us Vanessa. That conversation alone would make the whole experience so worthwhile.


  2. Posted by natalie on July 26, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    thank you for sharing this…it seriously brings tears to my eyes.


  3. Posted by elizabeth on July 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Gorgeous. What a profound moment of connection and haunting. Your writing triggered a memory of something I wrote awhile ago that you may connect to in this moment …

    Remembering never stops. In a way, remembering never starts. From the moment of
    conception, survival depends on memory. Living is remembering. Involuntary biological
    processes are the body remembering. The maternal body’s blood, bones, sinew, and spirit
    imprint the life inside her. With ambivalent reciprocity, the growing person feeds from, and
    responds to, her host. From zygote to birth, a child negotiates the treacherous territory of desire
    for absolute identification and an imperative to separate. Womb is the first space, surrounding
    the emergent life in amniotic waves of wet impressions, communicating the mother’s legacy in
    whispers, fragments, intuitions, and (ways of) knowing. During gestation, family secrets are
    transferred, re(de)posited in the body of the child. Every daughter is born haunted by her
    mother. Her survival depends on it.


  4. Posted by dthefix on July 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    this is amazing writing… when does your book come out? can i get my copy signed?


  5. Posted by Charmie Grace on July 27, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Let me say this, Vanessa — and so, you are the BEST product of colonization! Make that my third statement.

    I hope you’d never forget how much I appreciate your love for our country. Remember our conversation about JUDGMENT, HEAVEN, and HELL? At the end of the day, if Filipinos would be judged according to their sense of nationalism in order to go to heaven — I am pretty sure, you’ll go to heaven. We will party there! =) After all, it’s not about your color, it’s not about your tongue, it’s not about your looks, it’s not about where you grew up — it’s about what’s inside your HEART. I’ve seen that Filipino heart from the ‘who gets to eat that last piece of food on the plate’ scenario to that ‘trial-and-error’ attitude. People just don’t know. What do they know, anyway? ^^

    Ngiti na kaibigan! Ngiti na…


  6. Posted by Grandma Fixmer on July 29, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Vanessa, you have it all! The soul of the poet, the skill of the novelist, and the passion to “do it all”. . Whatever career you follow, it must include writing and publishing!
    Grandma F.


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