I believe I have been reborn twice in my life. I was first born in Cavite, City Philippines in the 70s. I was reborn in Oakland, California in the 80s, and again in Fairbanks, Alaska in the 90s.
Monique Truong wrote about her being reborn from a child born in Vietnam, to her childhood in the south. Truong had written that such things are significant as they define one’s own sense of self.
My family was rooted in the Philippines until they all slowly started migrating to the states. I was born 70s and spent a part of my early years during the Marcos regime where the country was under Marshall Law. Children are innocent of such politics that their lives were centered on eating, sleeping, playing, pissing the nanny off (in me and my sisters’ case, of course), not pissing our mother off, and Dad’s homecomings. I went to a private school ran by strict nuns, and I slowly incorporated English as part of my vocabulary.
The foundation of my childhood began to root itself with the way I was absorbing everything around me. I realized that my sisters and I were isolated from the neighborhood children, and were only allowed to play among each other, or with our cousins. Perhaps it was my grandmothers, my mother, or anyone else for that matter who did not allow us to play with others. I remember our nanny telling us that our grandmothers did want us to catch lice or get dirty.
There was a woman who came to our house with her son. I remember that she had long jet-black hair, and was very skinny. She had a mole on the side of her mouth, and when she smiled, she genuinely meant it. Our nanny looked at this woman with such compassion in her eyes. She would stopped by to visit with my mother, and we loved it when she brought her son with her. He was only one year old, and my sisters and I wanted to play with him. Our nanny always scooted us away each time she visited so that my mom and this woman can have their time to gossip.
One day, she stopped by without her baby. I caught a glimpse of her crying to my mother and I recalled that she was pleading for help. I don’t remember my mother’s response–only that she was trying to comfort this woman.
A few days later, I overheard our nanny tell a neighbor that the woman’s son died.
Poverty claimed its victims without discrimination.
I remembered thinking that only if I had been wearing my Wonder Woman costume, I could have saved that little boy with my Wonder Woman powers.
It was my Nanny who taught me about the different social classes. And, I learned which class my family belonged.
I was reborn when we lived in Oakland, California. My Dad was in the Army, and I remembered the day we realized that we were going to leave the life we lived in Cavite City to move to his duty station at Oakland Army Base, California.
I was still a child, perhaps at kindergarten age when I became aware of the excitement surrounding our move. In all truthfulness, I only wanted to meet Wonder Woman and moving to California meant one step closer to meeting her and her invisible jet. My mother promised me that there would be tons of Wonder Woman costumes in California, and that she will make sure to get me one.
It was a promise that mothers often forget, and children always remember.
I remember waking up one morning in my new room at our apartment on the army base, Jackie was still asleep (we shared a room growing up), and immediately kissing the floor to make sure that I was actually there. I had the dream the night before that I woke up and I was back in Cavite City without the playground that I fell in-love with when we first arrived in Oakland. To me, it was more of a nightmare than a dream: to live without the red slides, the bright yellow ducks that you get to ride, the swings that elevates you to the sky, the white sand that prevents a hard fall on the face, the merry go-round that drove you with dizziness that you wanted to vomit this concoction of peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If I had been back in Cavite, none of that would have existed.
I remember I kissed that floor as if I had been deprived of happiness all my life.
The kiss was also a goodbye to a part of a cultural identity, as well as, a kiss hello to peanut butter jelly sandwiches instead of pan de sal, and French fries instead of rice.
I went to Emerson Elementary school in Oakland. The school bus picked us on from the Army base and took us to the heart of Oakland. I was the only Filipino in class, and my teacher, Mrs. Curtis-Holmes was the only Caucasian, and all of my classmates were black. I loved every minute of school. I ate lunch in a cafeteria where Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes were all the over the walls, and I read them every day as I sat there and ate my lunch. I grew up thinking that “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” was a quote from MLK Jr., and it was during my undergrad studies that I learned it may not have been. I had no baseline for different racial backgrounds or racial identities. I did not know anything about racism. I went to school, I ate lunch, I played with my friends, and I read books.
I had a friend named Samara. We spent our summer days together playing in playground and we rode our bikes all over the army base. We were in the same baseball team, and we spent every waking moment together One day, we had a game at Treasure Island in San Francisco. She and I sat on the bus together, and we ate our lunch on the bleachers watching another game. She and I were talking about the Now and Later candy we bought from the concession stand. We didn’t like the brown ones with the chocolate flavor and had hoped to get the pink ones that were strawberry flavors instead.
“Samara, did you want me to buy some more of the pink ones?” I asked.
“Yes! And we can give the brown ones away!” she answered.
“Ohhhhhh—they don’t like the brown ones. Whyyyy? You two should eat more brown ones because that’s what your kind of people look like!!!!” I turned around to see that two white boys in their baseball uniforms (they were the Pirates, and we were the Giants) were mocking us, and had been listening in on our conversation.
They were sitting one bench below us.
I remember titling my head to one side and wondered what they were talking about. I turned to look at Samara and I saw her look down at the candy she had in her hand and I knew she was trying not to cry. While I didn’t understand what those boys meant or intended, all I knew deep in my gut was that it was bad, and I had the greatest urge to do something.
Instinctively, I turned around and looked at those boys as I raised my leg up (I was wearing my baseball cleats) and kicked one of them with such brutal force that he grabbed on to his friend’s shirt and both of them went tumbling down the bleachers. I remember that I was breathing hard through my nose. The two boys looked at me standing there still breathing fire like a beast, and as all the other kids were laughing and pointing at them, they had a look of terror on their faces as they took off running. I turned to Samara and her mouth was wide open in shock and she looked at me and started to giggle.
I shrugged my shoulders, and started to walk down the bleachers when a woman grabbed me gently by the arm, “Honey, there are going to be many more of those boys and people right there,” she nodded towards the boys who just took off, “you can’t go around kicking them when you get older. For today, that was good. For tomorrow and every other time, you have to beat them in smarter ways, you hear me?” she said.
I nodded. I even pouted for getting called out. She smiled at me, and patted my arm. I walked down the bleachers, and as soon as she was out of my view, I skipped to the concession stand to buy Samara and I some pink Now and Laters.
It was a black woman who first taught me about racism, and that going around kicking white boys in their guts was not the proper response to such hatred.
I was born the third time in Fairbanks, Alaska when I was in my 20s. There were two important things in my life at that time: my family, and our survival. I needed to work to help support our young family and a job was the means to an end.
I realized that when the universe has plans for you, such things are thrown in your path to make you wake up. I was working at a JC Penney when it closed down. I decided to go back to college to get an associates degree.
The Associates degree turned into a Bachelor’s degree, the BA degree turned into a Master’s degree, and the Master’s degree paved its way for another Masters.
The academic journey contributed to my awakening. I learned about the vital importance of autonomy, I became cognizant of political issues, and I started to become an advocate for appreciating the self through acquiring knowledge.
In my third year of undergraduate studies, I remember walking in the middle of campus along with the traffic of students heading to and from their classes. There was a man who was preaching the word of God. He was belting out controversial statements, and some college students were telling him to shut the fuck up as they hurried along, while others just shook their heads and ignored him. It’s well known that students who decide to study in Alaska develops a thick skin, not only for the extreme winters, but also for such controversies being screamed at them.
I heard this man say “You! Your religion is satanic!” I turned and saw my professor who taught the French course I was took that semester stop in her tracks.
The man kept going, “what you believe in is Satan’s religion!” he yelled at her. Madame, as what we called her in class is of East Indian descent.
“You, sir, need to mind yourself. You do not know who I am and what I believe in. Religion is love, and love is religion. Speak freely as you must, but please be respectful of those who walk by that must now be subjected to hearing your idiocy,” Madame replied as she continued to walk on.
All of us who stood there that day clapped our hands.
It was Madame who taught me the vital importance of possessing a voice, and having the ability to use it with dignity.
When a child is born, there are people present in the labor and delivery room to gently guide the birth. There’s the doctor, the nurses, the family members, and the mother. The focus becomes on the mother who pushes her child into the world. After the child is born, he/she is passed on immediately to other hands in the room to weigh and to measure, extract blood for tests, to be wiped from the afterbirth, and to silently receive some form of happiness within such hands.
This process is the same with life. There are those who will walk into our lives, and without knowing it, contributes to our ability to be reborn.
We are forever evolving, and with each evolution comes a revived newly born sense of the self.