The Thesis Defense..

For “A Reason For Being”…

Mr. Francisco and Mrs. Fe Arnuco, ca. 1960s. Photograph by Fred Ellis.

Let me begin by stating that thesis defenses for a Master in Fine Arts is no joke. I am still in a blank space attempting to comprehend all the little bits and pieces of the defense. There were questions left, and right by my committee members–and they were unbelievably amazing–because they were challenging.

The committee had me read out loud segments from the 160+ pages of “A Reason For Being,” but one passage stood the most, and let me set the scene.

It was the funeral of my Aunt Lucy, and the funeral had concluded; everyone migrated to the reception area where there were tables endless tables of food. I was sitting next to my Great Aunt Esther, attempting to eat what was offered:


      So, we sat there.  She was eating some potato salad, and I was eating some kind of broccoli salad.  I wasn’t quite sure what was running through her mind.  But, in my mind, I was wondering if the broccoli salad that I was consuming maybe in fact, the worse that I have ever tasted in my life, and the fact that this is a Filipino funeral but there were no Filipino food being served.  It was quite fitting, really.  Lucy was cultivated into living a life of an American with all the amenities that came with such a role.  She played golf, she traveled and vacationed with her husband in exotic places, her English was impeccable without a trace of the many languages she spoke, when she traveled she was the interpreter for Satan, and she’d even changed her diet to suit Satan’s taste for processed foods (fruit cup, anyone?).  Therefore, it was not a surprise when the only time she could be a Filipina was when she was with her family.

I would know such things because I am product of her conversion.


The question that I was asked was why did I consider myself a product of what I called a “conversion.”

      My answer was simple, Filipino-Americans or for that matter anyone whose parents or grandparents were immigrants to the United States were always balancing their cultural and racial identity. They recognize the respect and gratitude for the family members who sacrificed their lives so that the future of their children or grandchildren will never know the depth of their suffering.  The product that becomes of that is an identity embedded heavily in both cultures, and that the sacrifice of such life often means losing a certain aspect of that cultural identity on a daily basis.

      My grandfather, Lolo Kiko (pictured above) may have had different plans for his grandchildren, and no one will ever know because he was assassinated before many of his grandchildren were born.  My grandmother, Lola Fe, on the other hand was an innovator and a visionary.  She knew to set the stones for the future of her grandchildren, just as she knew how to work away in her garden: setting the stones in particular areas to cultivate and encourage growth.

      I owe a lot to my grandmother, and while I only have memories of her and photos that remind me of her personality–it is a comfort to me that I, at least, fulfilled some part of her plan.

My grandmother the photobomber. Fe, and Francis Arnuco in the background. Lucy and Fred Ellis, sitting. Ca, 1960s. Photograph by Fred Ellis.


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