I didn’t watch a lot of movies growing up like most kids. I didn’t go on field trips and I never rode a bike but I spoke English. I wasn’t allowed to play sports, or join clubs but I spoke perfect English. I barely understood my native language and as I was told, I should be ashamed of myself.
My parents worked hard to get us to move from a tiny apartment, to a small house and finally a bigger house that they live in today in Los Angeles.
I had parents that didn’t speak perfect English but they were proud to be an American and I was proud with them. And I tried as they did to become American as much as I could. I grew up in a predominately white school. The kids would comment about my long black hair and my brown skin. And I told them, “I’m American.” They would always look at me with curiosity. I got into trouble a lot for some reason and then decided that I would never speak. I hardly talked and decided that was best. Other kids and teachers thought I hardly spoke English. I became a recluse.
My Papa worked as accountant and my mother was a nurse. And as my father would say… they are professionals and should be respected as such.
What I didn’t realize was that I was already American. My whole soul and being was about being an
American. I watched Happy Days, played monopoly, and played Atari. I had ping-pong wars with my brother and played “Around the World” basketball. For dinner, I had pancit, and chicken adobo and fried rice. I also had McDonald Happy meals, and drank Coca-Cola. I mimicked the Filipino dialect grasping a few words and spoke broken Spanish. For breakfast I had eggs with rice and soy sauce. And I drank coffee with my parents since the age of 12.
I listened to my Grandma who my father called “Inay” pray in a different dialect as she kept garlic with her to ward off evil spirits but then she’d pull out vanilla wafers from her pocket to give to us when we were hungry. She was erratic, emotional and amazing all at the same time. Every weekend she would go dancing. I wish I appreciated her more when she was alive. I wish I understood more how amazing she really was.
My mom’s mother would cook fried rice for us every afternoon and we never understood a word she said. She spoke very little English but she would cook and fold our clothes and tend to us every day. She was even-tempered, calm and did her scheduled walks. She would watch reruns of “I Love Lucy” because although she didn’t understand it she would laugh throughout the show.
I was lucky to have two grandmother’s living with us. They were both different from each other and they cared for us.
My father was strict with us, raising us the best he could and he was a very stern man. His look always meant business, and he lectured us on life, always guiding us along the way. He made us work hard all the time. We all learned to play the piano, we would read every day, and had our assignments to tend to (home and school.) We cleaned the house, and the garden and he made sure he checked every time to see if we did a good job. We had scheduled dental cleanings and he would always make sure we learned to cook and pick up after ourselves. Nothing was taken for granted. In the end we appreciated the structure. We would set up schedules of chores, checking off each one.
My mother worked hard, working 12 hour days, holidays, etc. We felt lucky to see her when we could and would wait for her when Papa would pick her up from work.
I thought that it was difficult times, but I realize now that this is what molded us. We are who we are now because of what we went through. We were appreciative.
I look back and I think about how growing up made us different. I am Filipino. I am Spanish. And most importantly, I am American.