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.
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
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”
“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,
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
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…”
I remember Demetri’s piercing eyes when he looked at me,
he was not pleased, “you’re not really black, you act white.”
I remember laughing at the lunch table
Talking about the funny things that parents do,
“I think your dad is really white” James said
I remember dialogue at dinner tables about stereotypes and a bunch of nothing,
Thankful that God doesn’t view others through our cracked lense.
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?