I Am From

Today I have the honor of having my wife Jen share a part of her story with you. What she shares offers a glimpse into a life that has been captivated by the love of Christ. Not going to lie: it’s moving and quite touching. Hope you enjoy.

Photo credit: Michael Menard (Creative Commons)

I believe that culture is a way of life, grounded in beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. All of these experiences point to the our greatest need of all… Christ. Through His perfect life, ministry, and death on the cross, He continues to teach me and bless me through the body of Christ. This poem was written nine years ago, and is still a work in progress.

::

I Am From

I am from between two worlds
With a family of African Americans and Filipinos
Who view life and its experiences through a wide-angle lense.
My father is Bruce —strong and proud—he believes in education as the great equalizer, but I can see that he grows tired sometimes.
He is tired of carrying the weight of a foreign name,
Who is this “Mason” that we call ourselves?
My mother is Estrellita —a little star who’s light can be seen from Atlanta to Lubang.
She is a small voice, but a relentless one—she believes in the “American Dream”
but is not naïve to its consequences.
She can be whoever the boss needs her to be
But inside she is still “Etey”
She is still a small island with lots of green and little electricity
She is still a country girl,
With big dreams  and a few pesos
Poor in materials, rich in family.

I am from Mom’s extended family that is knit so tightly we are busting from the seams,
A house filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Weekends of food and familiar faces—“you had better bring a pillow because we’re not leaving until the morning”.
Filipino American Association of Rockland, birthday parties, anniversary parties, holidays, graduation parties, and just parties—any excuse to get the family together.
Titos and Titas, Kuyas and Ates, everyone is your relative and it doesn’t matter if you’ve only known them for a minute
A family that is immigrating one person at a time,
Welcomed into a community that you can call “home”.

I am from Dad’s family who has found their sunshine in Texas, their snowdrifts in Denver, and their ambiance in Washington D.C.
Our circuit is built in a different way—the phone rings once a week, right on time,
I always know when it’s Uncle Otis… “How’s my favorite niece?”
“Haha Uncle, I’m your only niece.” Seven cousins, five boys, one baby girl.
A 60th wedding anniversary brings us home to Grandma and Grandpa
Who remind us that humble beginnings have always been what we’ve come back to
Marshall, Texas
where everyone knows your name, your second cousin, and your last boyfriend
A place you can call “home”.

I am from great expectations and lots of room to fail,
A mom who was so expressive it made me cry,
A dad who had the same face for every occasion.
Arguments with mom that would end in a trail of tears and hurt feelings—
“I was never like that to my mother, I had respect”
to
“What is her problem?”
Dad would play the mediator and I would retreat upstairs
He is trying to explain to Mom that “things are different in American culture, kids are different”.
I don’t know who changed, was it me or her?
There were days when I thought that I could never do enough to change his face,
To make him smile,
Should I make better grades? Should I clean my room more often?
I felt the sting of disappointment
I couldn’t see that he had been smiling all along,
on the inside.

I am from “Filipino Time” and “American Time”
Mom said it was customary- “there is no party without the people”
Dad opted for the punctual approach- “it said 7 o’clock on the invitation”
We figured it out some way or another.

I am from the red autumns and sandy snowdrifts of Nyack, New York
A town striped with colors of the nations,
Where my best friends were like a national geographic magazine at best—
from Taiwan, Indonesia, Peru, and India.
Local shops, dead end streets, and sprinklers in the summertime
Then my world became the flip-side—
An unexpected promotion took us to peach trees and pollen clouds,
Suwanee, Georgia
Big business, cookie cutter homes, and a Starbucks on every corner
And we thought we were moving to the country…. HELLO suburbia

I am from memories that I’ve tried to forget
When this thing called “color” started to matter
Where brown was never black enough
But was brown enough to lose the South Pacific
Enough! LOVE is more than enough
Flushed cheeks, sweaty palms, and shifty eyes
Wondering
Why am I so different?

I remember the gentle voice of my teacher when she pulled me outside and into the hall
“Jennifer, do you consider yourself black? Because there is this Black Achievement Award that I wanted to nominate you for…”
Uncomfortable, Awkward
I remember Demetri’s piercing eyes when he looked at me,
he was not pleased, “you’re not really black, you act white.”
Embarrassed, Ashamed
I remember laughing at the lunch table
Talking about the funny things that parents do,
“I think your dad is really white” James said
Stunned, Frustrated
I remember dialogue at dinner tables about stereotypes and a bunch of nothing,
Thankful that God doesn’t view others through our cracked lense.
Redeemed, Restored

I am from two languages,
Tagalog began with Lola and Lolo-
Bringing some of the islands to 37 Laurel Rd.
A sweet sound that makes everything else seem so empty sometimes
It’s hard for me to speak now, but I can understand.
The richness of language
Standard American English–“Your dad speaks so ‘proper’
I used to laugh at his “emptying the receptacles” and careful not to “puncture the membrane”
The language of school, work, all things “American”
The power of words

I am from a window left open for a world to look in
See the scars of imperfection
Warm memories, stinging tears
Difficult moments, trembling laughter
Just a glimpse-do you see me?

::

Where are you from?

73 Responses to “I Am From”

  1. Michael September 14, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    I’m from Wheelersburg, Ohio, a place where people feel stuck.

    • Dustin September 14, 2011 at 7:57 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. Now that you’re “out”, how is it to look back at those you grew up with who are still there?

  2. Jason Vana September 14, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    Wow – beautiful poem Jen!

    I am from small town suburbia – the runt of the litter in way of Chicago suburbs – but I live in an even smaller town, surrounded by corn, where people also feel stuck.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

      Thanks, Jason! It is so interesting to hear the different takes on small town life. My grandparents lived in a small town all of their lives, and they have always loved it! Although I can’t picture myself living there, I appreciate the familiarity and sense of community there.

  3. bill (cycleguy) September 14, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    I am from near Pittsburgh where people used to feel stuck by the steel mill life. Then they felt stuck by the pull of a Recession that became a Depression for them, as mill after mill closed. Now they feel stuck by the rush of life. Me? I escaped and love the small town. Thanks for the glimpse into your life Jen. it would be fun to sit down and talk with you and Dustin.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Bill! Sometimes Dust and I will be on a drive and play the whole, “Could you live here?” game….. I always go for small town! :) You said, “stuck by the rush of life”…what do you mean?

      • bill (cycleguy) September 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

        Pittsburgh has transformed into a very tech city. In the 70s when the country hit a recession, they hit a Depression. Steel mills closed left and right and some places became ghost towns. I think they vowed that would never happen again. Thus they diversified in all directions-mostly tech. Pgh is still considered a blue collar town but only in name only. In their world, tech=rush.

        • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:32 am #

          Ah, I get it. Thanks for sharing! I’m always down to learn something new :)

  4. Jim F September 14, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Really a great post.

    I am from Altoona Pa. – a place where some feel stuck and others leave right away. Now I live in a small village of 400 with cotton, corn, and soybeans on every side where some feel stuck, others leave, and some feel proud.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

      I am always interested by the “relationships” we have with the places we live. We can attribute a place/community to our sense of value, emotions, esteem, etc. One person’s paradise can be another person’s rut. Thanks for the thoughts!!

  5. Tom September 14, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Powerful Jen thank you! We each have an I AM to touch others in love to let them know it is oK to be who they are. Loveyours, thanks for sharing!

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement, Tom!!

  6. John September 14, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Wow Jen should be a writer. This was so good.

    I am from Texas. And although I have been stuck here all my life, I don’t mind at all.

    • Moe September 14, 2011 at 9:33 am #

      She is a writer. Didn’t you know she writes all of Dustin’s posts? All he does is come up with the title and posts them online.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Thank you, John! My dad’s side of the family is scattered all over TX– Marshall, Houston, Austin, Dallas, etc. Austin is a favorite spot!!

  7. Moe September 14, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    This is absolutely breathtaking. Dustin did warn me that he had an epic post. I was thinking “Dustin is not very humble when it comes to his writing”. Then I see now, he was boasting of the writing and heart of his wife. So cool!

    Oh, and let it be known, Jen can make an insane broccoli salad. Man, I was licking my fingers and the container afterwards. That was the bomb!!!

    I’m from the coffee country of Colombia. I grow tired of the stereotypes of cocaine and coffee and gerillas and a kidnapping nation. I’ll have you know that Colombia is a country rich in love and passion and music. Exotic foods, hips that don’t lie (true story), and hugs and kisses. I love the atmosphere over there.

    I’m also from the city of New York. The melting pot. I love being stirred with so many different nations and cultures. I can eat chinese, thai, spanish, italian, portuguese, greek, caribbean meals withing a 1 mile radius from my job.

    Thank you for sharing Dustin and thank you Jen for sharing your heart and your culture. It’s absolutely beautiful.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

      Moe!!! Thank you for the words of encouragement! We count our family as blessed that we can experience that, “love, passion, music, etc” through you and your fam– how neat it is to experience life through the body of Christ! Ahhhh, nothing like the NY!!

  8. arny September 14, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Wow…great story…so real and honest…

    I’m from houston texas, I’m from a congenital heart disease born life and still living…

    I’m from a royal priesthood and from a chosen people now…

    cause I’m from my Savior…

    • Moe September 14, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      Did you just Jesus-juke us?

      • Dustin September 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

        that’s what Arny does … part of who he is! :)

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Thanks, Arny! “I am from a royal priesthood…a chosen people..” Love that!!

  9. Alex Humphrey September 14, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Absolutely beautiful

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      Thank you, Alex!

  10. Tony J. Alicea September 14, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    *snaps*

    As I read this I pictured you standing behind a mic at a smokey night club with a cool cat playing the upright bass as you delivered this in staccato verse.

    I loved it, Jen! So beautiful and even though I’m full-blooded Puerto Rican, I can relate to so much of this. More than I can express.

    • Tony J. Alicea September 14, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      And I’m from Spanish Harlem, NY…then Miami,FL…then Okinawa, Japan…then Biloxi, MS…then Palm Harbor, FL…then Tampa, FL…then Fort Lauderdale, FL.

      Home is where the heart is. It’s gotta be because my city changes with the seasons.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      I will have to try this via the nightclub circuit! :) dust did take me out one night to hear spoken word in ATL– very cool and definitely out of my usual realm! I appreciate your thoughts!

      • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

        Agreed- home is where the heart is!

      • Dustin September 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

        And boy was that an experience? :)

  11. Jason Wert September 14, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Holy crap. This is EPIC. In a good way.

    I’m from Pennsylvania which explains the devotion to the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers. Outside of that, I’ve traveled a lived in so many places I really don’t have a home.

    • Jen September 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

      Thank you, Jason! Where is the place you’ve lived the longest? Of most impact?

      • Jason Wert September 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

        Outside of where I grew up, I lived in Missouri the longest. That’s where I went through most of the horrific things I’ve had to experience in life.

        Holy crap. Typing that just had God hit me with something I have to write about for my Day 257 post on my blog.

        Thank you for that question, Jen. God just used you.

  12. Jon September 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I’m from Northvale, NJ–a small little town that prides itself in stores and tons of companies; a place where people keep to themselves.

    -This was great…thank you for sharing! Sidenote: I live right next to Nyack! :)

    • Moe September 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

      and you are… proud of that? Nyack= cool. Next to Nyack= not cool! :)

      • Jon September 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

        O please…you’re not even from Nyack…so I guess you’re not cool.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:18 am #

      Northvale– I know it! :) My dad used to be in a bowling league there! Thanks for the comment, Jon!

  13. Terry Valencia September 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Jen!! That was amazing writing and painted a picture of your life!! I am blessed to be your mother in law and I love you SOOOO very much and am SOOO thankful you are a part of my life! I love you like my own daughter!!! You bring me joy, you make me laugh, you love my son SO amazingly, you are an awesome mom to my 3 beautiful granddaughters!!! Bottom line is I LOVE LOVE LOVE you!!!!

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      Thanks for the love, Mom! I love you too!! This made me smile :)

  14. rachelle September 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    absolutely beautiful.

    I’m from Philadelphia, home of the most violent sports fans, TastyKakes, and cheesesteaks. Actually, I like to think of it more as a place with amazing culture, museums, and friendly people. (we really are friendly, not as rude as we’re made out to be!)

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:21 am #

      Isn’t it funny how there is still that “Northerners are mean” idea around? I think the whole Industrial Revolution was a major cause in fueling that fire…. but another idea for another day :) “TastyKakes and cheesesteaks”… love that!

  15. jenn September 14, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Beautiful post. I love this!

    I am from Seattle where you don’t talk to strangers and you mind your own business. Where it rains all the time but if you were born there you love the rain.

    Now (since I was fourteen) I am from a small town in near Nashville where everyone talks to strangers and everyone knows your “mamma’s brother’s best friend’s dad”. After sixteen years I still can’t get used to friendly (nosey?) strangers and people showing up on my doorstep with no warning. I’m kind of stuck here now because I have a free place to live and two more years of college. After that, I hope I can leave, although I feel like I need to be near a few friends or family members in case of emergency since I’m a single mom. I would love to move near my sister in GA.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:24 am #

      Thank you, Jenn! I’ve heard Seattle is beautiful, I’ve never visited there yet, but definitely on the list! I’ve run the Nashville Country Music Half twice, and I have to admit, I have a thing for Nashville! It reminds me a bit of Athens where I went to college (UGA). There is nothing like being close to family though- whereabouts in Ga is your sis?

      • jenn September 24, 2011 at 2:04 am #

        Nashville isn’t so bad really. I live in a small town just far enough from Nashville to be really redneck (in my grew-up-in-Seattle opinion). My sister lives in Cumming. It’s close to Alpharetta. North of Atlanta I think. (Can you tell I was never good at Geography?) Of course I want to move to GA and my sister and her husband want to move to Nashville. Go figure. :)

        My sister is running a half in Nashville in November. I’ll be on the sidelines, but I’m no where near ready for a half. I’m going to run the Pred’s 5k in February though.

        • Jen September 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

          Awesome! We live in Cumming :)

        • Jen September 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

          Awesome! We live in Cumming :)

  16. Cindy Holman September 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Jen – this is beautiful. Very moving. I was born in Canada – moved to Seattle when I was 8 – always felt like a part of me remained there. I am simple and very complicated – deep, sensitive and loving. I am from a strict Assembly of God background – but I’ve learned to think and reason for myself – learning that rules are sometimes good – and sometimes bad. I am from a family touched by divorce, although my paternal grandparents – it had long reaching consequences. I am from love, without understanding – a family that does not know me and never will. I am from strong stock and people who are proud in what they stand for and believe. I am still on a journey to discover how that all fits into my life today – but it is important to acknowledge and embrace it – even if we don’t feel we fit in with it.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:26 am #

      Thanks, Cindy! “It is important to acknowledge and embrace it – even if we don’t feel we fit in with it.”. Whenever I slow down to remember or just think upon life and how it’s led me to this very moment, the Lord always shows me something new. Thank you for sharing!

  17. ThatGuyKC September 15, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    That was beautiful. Thank you Dustin & Jen for sharing.

    I am from the whitest, angelo-saxon, protestant background you can find.
    I’m Irish, German, French, English, Scottish and yes, Canadian.
    I am from an island in the Pacific Northwest, but didn’t get to put Pacific Islander on my college applications.
    I am from my mother in NYC, a street smart city slicker with a sailor’s sarcastic tongue.
    I am from my dad in Massachusetts, an asphalt cowboy with a love for country music and beagles.
    I am from a history I know little about because I grew up 3000 miles away from any relative.
    I am from a dysfunctional family background filled with divorce, depression and substance abuse.
    I am from hard working parents who woke us up early on Saturday to do chores, but also attended every single soccer game and swim meet.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:28 am #

      “A street smart city slicker with a sailor’s sarcastic tongue” — I am such a nerd, but that alliteration is just awesome!!!! Thanks for sharing- neat to learn a little more about you and your journey to the here and now! :)

      • ThatGuyKC September 16, 2011 at 10:44 am #

        Thank you, Jen. I do have my moments. Been inspired by spoken word poetry lately. Have you considered recording audio for this post?

        • Jen September 27, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

          The thought of recording audio makes me nervous….. Not sure I can do it yet!!

  18. Ryan September 15, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    Cool to learn your story Jen.

    I am from suburbia and tired of people who try to live in a bubble. It’s great to hear from someone who’s been in a lot of different circumstances and has more perspective on life.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 7:30 am #

      Thanks, Ryan! I definitely think suburbia has it’s stories too :) I’ve enjoyed checking out your blog!!

  19. chris vonada September 15, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    thank you Jen for sharing this, very touching. KEEP BEING GREAT!!

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 9:13 am #

      Thanks, Chris!

  20. jbussell September 15, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Great post, Jen. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m from Nashvile, TN via Nashville, TN–>LaVergne, TN–>Columbia, TN–>Knoxville, TN–>Lexington, KY–>Smyrna, TN.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

      Thank you, Jeremy! Wow, you are a Tennessee connoisseur! I heart Nashville and Franklin, TN!

  21. Logan September 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Very cool post; I can see why Dustin was bragging about it now! :)

    I am from Stephenville, TX; the self-proclaimed “cowboy capital of the world!” We lived about 3 miles outside of town, surrounded by horses, cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and so on and so forth. I live in Lubbock now, but I’m still very much a country boy at heart.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

      Texas Forever (in the words of Tim Riggins…Friday Night Lights…Best.show.ever.)! Thanks for the props, Logan! I am going to Google Stephenville – cowboys are awesome! I have family in Lubbock as well :)

  22. Keri September 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    So cool to read your writing, Jen! :) And, to meet the woman beside the man!

    I am from Kailua, Hawaii and am definitely a “mixed plate” as we say. I’ve always been asked “What are you?” People can never seem to figure it out that I’m English, Swedish, Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese. It would be easy to take people’s questioning as a negative statement, but I’ve found that it’s opened up so many conversations about my past, my life, my family, and what it all means. I’m blessed to have grown up in a place that is extremely welcoming and loving towards people of all backgrounds. I remember as a little girl {prob 8-9} my parents getting a Time magazine in the mail that had a picture of an African American child standing next to a white child. I really did not understand what the picture was saying. When I asked my parents to explain it, they told me about racisim and it made me really sad and confused. How could anyone ever think that about another person?

    p.s. Do you cook Filipino food? BC it’s the bomb biggity, yo.

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

      “It would be easy to take people’s questioning as a negative statement, but I’ve found that it’s opened up so many conversations about my past, my life, my family, and what it all means.” — Agreed, and thank you for this reminder of the opportunities we get to share what we’ve experienced, and that ultimately our life and the experiences that make it up always point us back to Christ! Ahhh, Hawaii… I’m jealous :) I have cooked Filipino food before, but my variety is limited. My mom and I never had that “you cook with me and I’ll teach you my secrets” kinda relationship in the kitchen, but I did first try my hand in college for my roommates. Dust is certainly a fan of pancit, kutchinta, egg rolls, lumpia, etc etc. Mom loves cooking for friends/family, so we make sure to take our to-go plates whenever we visit :) Thanks for the e-love!

  23. Zee September 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    This. is. awesome.

    I’ve read and although I’m Ukrainian, I always felt as if I am of mixed cultures as well. Not by birth, but it seems like there were always Americans around starting when I was 6 years old. A lot of people see me and think that I am American… even when I speak Russian or Ukrainian. *Sigh*

    But yes – I am from Kyiv, Ukraine (part of the former Soviet Union… but NOT a part of Russia)…

    • Jen September 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

      Thank you, Zee! I would love to hear more about life in Kyiv! Top 5 things that anyone traveling there should experience?

  24. seekingpastor September 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Great words.
    I am from Knoxville, the son of 2 hardworking, faithful people.

    • Jen September 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      That is a blessing- hope my kids will talk of us that way when they grow up :)

  25. Lizzie September 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Wow. This is powerful and so beautifully written.

    My little sister is Mexican and was adopted into a white family, so I think she also struggles with her skin color sometimes. Breaks my heart, because I just see her as my sister, plain and simple.

    • Jen September 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      Thank you, Lizzie! “..I just see her as my sister, plain and simple”- awesome.

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