Kenneth: Crescenciana

This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started as an art project Kenneth did with his Lola (grandma) in 2014 when he moved back home to help care for her. She did the water color paintings and shared stories from her life and childhood in the Philippines, and he would draw on top of her paintings to accompany the stories and memories she told. He promised her that he would finish whatever she started. When Lola passed away in 2016, Kenneth felt so lost. He could barely touch the remaining paintings that Lola made, and at most got to 1 or 2 of them every year after she passed.

It wasn’t until the pandemic and shelter in place in 2020 that forced Kenneth to really evaluate what he wanted to do with his life. He took out all of Lola’s paintings and decided to keep his promise. 4 years after she passed, Kenneth was back and fully immersed in The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Finishing the drawings turned into finishing writing her stories, which turned into the idea to turn her stories into a memoir and artbook, which led to Crescenciana. Now, Crescenciana, named after Lola, can be found in a handful of independent bookstores throughout the Bay Area and the east coast. The book is also available through their website: https://www.lolaxkenneth.com/crescenciana

It has been a wild ride, indeed. Kenneth takes a trip down memory lane with LoveYourzStory to start from the very beginning of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. He had no idea that almost 8 years later, the project would transform into Cresenciana. For Kenneth, it’s more than their project being published into a book, it’s him and his Lola’s bond, love, and memories being forever a part of history. Lola is such an important person in his life, that it only made sense to do something in honor of her.

Lola helped raise Kenneth and his sister growing up since his mom was an overnight nurse. He comes from a line of strong women, being raised by his mother and Lola. Their relationship was so close that he considered Lola to be like another parent. There is a spectrum of “Lola energy,” but Kenneth knows he’s lucky to have had a very nurturing Lola. Her love was so overwhelmingly present in all stages of his life. He shares that he often thinks about what kind of person he would be without his Lola, and Kenneth is confident that he wouldn’t like any version of himself that wasn’t touched by Lola in some way. He credits his great characteristics to his mom and Lola raising him.

“My Lola taught me about love,” Kenneth shared. At this moment, birds began to chirp. “How to love and how to be loved… My Lola made me feel seen, just by loving me.”

The chirping was so loud, I had to interrupt and ask, “Kenneth, do you have a pet bird?” He didn’t. It was the birds chirping outside of his window as we conducted our interview over Zoom… at about 8 PM at night. The birds’ chirping were so overwhelmingly clear and audible that it sounded like it was straight from a movie when the main character wakes up to a beautiful day. The chirping began when Kenneth started talking about how much he loves his Lola and thanks her for shaping him into the man that he is today. I didn’t know what his views were, but I couldn’t help but blurt out, “I don’t know if you believe in signs–” “I do,” Kenneth said in disbelief. “Wow,” he said repeatedly, feeling emotional and believing that his Lola was with him in that exact moment. Her love transcends even after she has passed on. How beautiful it was to witness his Lola giving him confirmation and signs from the other side, letting her boy know that she was still around.

Lola taught Kenneth so much about love. He never asked to be loved, and she never made him feel like he was hard to love. Lola’s love was definitely unconditional. So much so that Kenneth wanted to be a better person and someone that is worthy of her love. They communicated in English, even though Lola’s original tongue was Ilocano. Lola’s English was pretty good, and Kenneth thanks her favorite shows, like jeopardy, for expanding her vocabulary. But Kenneth never felt like there was a language barrier with Lola, and didn’t feel like they could’ve been any closer had he learned how to speak Ilocano.

Like many first generation kids and their immigrant parents and grandparents, there is a generational gap in showing affection towards one another. Lola was the master of unspoken love. She didn’t have to explain herself verbally, she just radiated her love for those around her. On Kenneth’s end, he was the opposite. He always knew that with her age, it’s inevitable that time is limited, so he would over do the “I love you’s,” saying it every time he left the room while giving her a sweet kiss on the forehead. “Me too,” Lola would say, never saying the words back. When she was feeling sassy, his “I love you’s” were returned with, “I know.” Kenneth laughs at the lack of verbal affection, but knows that their way of saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry” came in different way like cutting him up fruit, or other acts of service.

After graduating from college, Kenneth had a tough time finding a job in the Bay Area. The post-grad blues were hitting him hard, especially since it seemed like his peers were all landing jobs and moving forward with their lives. He grew up on the notion that if you go to school, you get a job immediately after, and since it didn’t happen that way, Kenneth was growing frustrated. He decided that a change of scenery was necessary and decided to move to Southern California to live with his sister. It was still hard for him to find a job, but with some time, finally landed a job in LA.

“I was a Bangos (Milk fish) out of water,” he told me when describing how LA was treating him.

Southern California was so different from the Bay Area, Kenneth felt completely out of his element. He was living in SoCal for a little less than a year when he got the phone call from his mom. She let him know that she was getting knee surgery. Kenneth volunteered to move back home and help out with caring for Lola. Even before her call, Kenneth was already on the fence about moving back home. He was extremely homesick, knew Lola was getting older, and his contract at his job was coming to an end. When his mom called with the news, he felt as though the “stars aligned” for him to come back. Lola had a heart condition and had a fall back when he was still in school, so she was walker and wheelchair bound. But Kenneth admits that if his mom didn’t get knee surgery, he would’ve returned home not too long after. SoCal just wasn’t the place for him and he wanted to be back home – and home was wherever mom and Lola were.

Kenneth was back in his element when he moved back to San Jose in 2014. He gives all credit to his mom for being Lola’s #1 caregiver, and him coming in at #2. Mom still worked, so when she worked, Kenneth would be with Lola. Quickly, they came up with a daily routine. In the morning, Kenneth would use a wet warm towel to get out the eye mucus out of Lola’s eyes, he’d assist her in the restroom, and then they’d be off to breakfast. Lola would always ask for “something good,” which usually meant something sweet or dessert-like. Medicine would be after, then they’d paint, and spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. She loved her mystery shows and anything with a strong woman character. Once a week, they would do exercises with 2 pound weights, and even did Lola-friendly baseball and basketball! He would pitch crumpled pieces of paper and Lola would try to swing. During this time, the Golden State Warriors were killin’ it as well, so they would use a basket and see how many shots she could make out of 10.

Kenneth enjoyed his time with Lola, but there were still some low points that were happening at the same time. It seemed that every time he went on social media, he was bombarded with his peers’ accomplishments – getting jobs, falling in love, getting engaged, getting married, having new cars, and so on. All of these accomplishments seemed so far off from what he was doing. It made him feel like he was behind or not on the right path because he wasn’t hitting the same milestones. His worries manifested physically with shaky hands, feeling lightheaded, lips going numb, so much so that he called an advice nurse that let him know that it all boiled down to stress. It took him a while, but he soon realized that social media only shows you people’s highlights in their lives, when in fact, a lot of people feel the same way and are on the same boat.

Even though Kenneth was conflicted about his place in life, he still wouldn’t change anything about helping care for Lola. He valued his time with her so much, and if anything, wishes he had more time with her. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t missing out on anything, because the best gift there is is the gift of time. Kenneth admits that he never confided in Lola about his stress or feelings of being behind in life because he didn’t want to worry her with his struggles. Instead, he would have “me time” when him and his mom switched off from watching Lola. In that time, he would do things like take hip hop classes over the weekend or just hangout. Kenneth and his mom were really good at switching off and giving each other breaks. Lola was their life, and they wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

When Kenneth was little, he was known as the kid in the class that liked to draw. His mom once asked him what he wanted to do when he grows up, and Kenneth let his mom know that he wanted to draw comic books. His mom brushed off his hobby as something he could do for fun on the side, so Kenneth didn’t really think to take drawing seriously as a profession since it wasn’t an option as a kid. So, he continued to draw for fun. The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started because of Kenneth’s artistic interests.

The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration first started in 2014 when Kenneth was trying to raise money to get a chair lift for Lola. The only bathroom in their home was on the 2nd floor, making it really difficult to get Lola up and down the stairs. He describes it as a “whole production” on bath days. Kenneth thought it would be a good idea draw and sell their prints, in hopes to raise enough money to get the necessary equipment to care for Lola. When people started to buy the prints, Lola would tell Kenneth, “Use the money for you.” That was just her personality – always looking out for him and being as selfless as can be. This is why Kenneth wanted to do The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration, because he wanted to do something for her. They never raised enough money for the chair lift, but it was the start of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Kenneth lightheartedly laughs and adds that the first 2 years of the project, they might’ve even lost money trying to make money.

When Kenneth looks back, he realizes now that Lola has always been a storyteller. Back then, her stories sounded more like fairytales to be age appropriate for the things he was asking. He didn’t realize until he was a little older that all the fairytales she was sharing wasn’t just made up, but her real lived experiences. Kenneth remembers being a little boy and asking Lola, “Where is Lolo?” “He’s on vacation,” she would tell him tenderly. It wasn’t until he had to record Lola’s interview for a class documenting her immigration story that he learned the truth of his Lolo. After World War II, Lolo was most likely suffering from PTSD. He was paranoid that Japanese soldiers were going to attack him, and he carried a lot of trauma from the war. Lolo was Chinese and originally from China, so his family sent him back to try to get some help and recover. Lola never heard from him again.

Lola would share stories about what it was like to grow up during World War II, being occupied by the Japanese. These stories still captivate Kenneth, and he often asks himself, “What was Lola doing when she was my age?” His favorite story that he’ll always remember is when Lola shared that she went to a secret dance. It was during Word War II, Japan occupied the Philippines and took over her village. She was young and just wanted to have a good time and dance. Lola caught a ride to the next town over for a secret dance where she could freely tango and 2-step as she pleased. Next thing she knew, someone was saying that the soldiers were coming. Suddenly, everyone scrammed, running as fast as they could to not get caught. Lola jumped in the back of a cart and hoped it was going in the direction of her town. In all the chaos, she lost an earring, but managed to get back to the village where she washed her shoes in the middle of the night. That story holds such a special place in Kenneth’s heart because it showed her daring personality when she was young, and how not even a war could stop Lola from dancing!

Lola was full of stories. He remembers when he was in his 1st semester of college, he come home to San Jose to visit. Like most students, he brought back work that he could work on when he had downtime. Kenneth was trying to read a book on the couch, but found it really hard to focus. Lola was next to him and was non-stop talking, so he was rereading the same sentence over and over again. He knew he wasn’t going to get any reading done and closed the book with a sigh. He wasn’t trying to be rude, but he knew that the likelihood of getting any productive reading done was impossible with Lola talking his ear off.

“I’m so sorry,” Lola laughed as she covered her mouth. She was thoroughly entertained. “I’m just so happy to have someone to speak with.”

That definitely pulled at Kenneth’s heart strings, and that stuck with him. He put his book away and gave Lola his undivided attention. He made it a point to be present and listen whenever he visited home during college. It was important to him that Lola knew that he was there and listening. And when she wasn’t telling stories, Lola was trying to beat him in whatever game she could. She was a huge fan of games, especially cards and Chinese checkers. Lola was as competitive as a lola could be and loved to win. When she had a feeling that Kenneth was going easy on her and trying to let her win, she would tell him to play again so she could beat him fair and square. But Kenneth admits that even if he really tried, he probably couldn’t beat her anyways. She was just that good.

Painting came to the grandma and grandson organically. The idea to turn Lola’s memories into a book was never preplanned. One day, Kenneth asked Lola what she wanted to do that day, in other words, what did she want to watch on Netflix. To his surprise, Lola shared that she wanted to do something “with a purpose.” Jumping off of that, Kenneth and Lola started a family tree. She drew a huge tree and wrote down all the family members’ names that she could remember. Then Kenneth saw in the newspaper seniors doing art therapy. He didn’t know what that meant, and honestly didn’t even do any research on it, but he thought it was a good idea. One summer break when he was still in college, he tried to get Lola to paint on canvas, to which she didn’t show much interest in. This time around, she was open to the idea of painting with watercolor. Kenneth loved that this activity got Lola talking, because throughout their usual routine, it could get pretty quiet with just Netflix playing.

Lola would start the paintings, and Kenneth would draw on top of them to reflect the stories she told while in the zone. There were times when she would just start talking on her own, being very talkative and detailed. When they got deeper into the project, Kenneth would ask questions and poke around more. In one sitting, Lola would make about 4 to 8 paintings, while Kenneth trailed behind her trying to keep up. He laughs that Lola probably thought he was really slow in matching her productivity. The paintings that he drew on top of while they worked at the kitchen table together are more directly correlated to what she was saying in her stories. It was really convenient to ask Lola in the moment what she was trying to paint. It gave him the opportunity to ask more questions about her story. They collaborated side by side for 2 years, always asking the questions, “What are we going to make?” and “What were you painting here?” for clarification.

When Lola passed away unexpectedly in 2016, Kenneth’s world fell into a million different pieces. He felt so lost, confused, and didn’t know how to move forward with her gone. Even though Lola was in her 90’s, Kenneth never pictured what life would be like without her. Even now, 6 years later, Kenneth still finds it hard to talk about her in the past tense. When she had just passed, he found it interesting how people were so quick to refer to her in the past tense. He really appreciated a friend who wrote him a card speaking about Lola in the present tense, because it’s what he needed at the time. He was grieving the loss of Lola and trying to figure out his own life now that he was no longer caring for her.

Feeling lost was an understatement. He felt the same way he did when he first graduated college and tried to find a job. Only this time, it was worse – he was older, out of college for some time, and would have to apply to entry level positions. Kenneth felt as though he couldn’t do anything because the lack of experience he had, but now looking back, he realizes that he could’ve done essentially anything. He put so much pressure on himself to find his calling in life, but up until that point, Lola was his life. From 2016 to 2020, he did odd jobs here and there to test out the waters in different fields.

Kenneth was still doing The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration on the side after Lola passed, but it was really hard for him to fully dive into it again. When she passed in 2016, Kenneth could only manage to complete 1 to 2 of her paintings a year. Collaborating next to each other in person to doing it solo was too hard for Kenneth to come to terms with. That all changed when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The pandemic played a crucial role in the making of Crescenciana. Kenneth had no choice but to shelter in place. He was cooped up in the house with nothing to do and decided to take out all of Lola’s paintings.

“Okay, this is it,” he told himself. “This is the time. I’m going to finish everything we started, Lola, we’re going to finish this.”

From 2020 to 2021, Kenneth was focused on completing all of Lola’s paintings. This time around, drawing on Lola’s paintings were more complex – it was more like a puzzle, almost like a guessing game. He had all of her unfinished paintings and had to guess which stories matched with which paintings. There are over 80 drawings in the book, but not all of the originals are drawn on. Kenneth decided to switch to digital drawing so he could preserve her original paintings. In a way, he switched to digital because he didn’t want the collaboration to end. If he were to draw on all of her paintings, that would be it. But digitally meant that there is no end, it could go on forever.

“We will always have work to do,” Kenneth said when asked about The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. “I’ll always be grieving for her.”

He decided to publish Crescenciana because he wanted to preserve the stories of his Lola’s life. Kenneth wanted to make sure that he doesn’t have to rely solely on his memory to remember the stories she had once shared with him in person. He pictures the time in his Lola’s life, before he was even born, when she worked at a department store. Her job was to fold the clothes in the fitting rooms. Of course, Lola was happy to have an income, but Kenneth can’t help but think of all the people that might’ve passed by her in the store and treated her like she was invisible, just help, and not anyone important. It killed him to know that there might’ve been people that just looked at her as nothing more than just a worker who folded clothes, because she meant the absolute world to him. Writing and publishing Crescenciana is Kenneth’s way of making Lola feel seen and heard, they way she always made him feel.

So with that, Kenneth self-published in October 2021. He knew the self-publishing route was the road less traveled, but he wanted a say in every part of the book. The whole process was a constant reminder to him that Lola is still present. Kenneth wants people to know that Crescenciana happened organically – just a grandson expressing his love and gratitude for his Lola. It warms his heart to receive messages from readers saying how much they can relate, how they feel heard, and how the book was a starting point to ask their elders about their stories. He once heard his mom talking about Crescenciana on the phone with someone, stating that their story is not unique or “anything special.” Their family was not the only family to suffer or live the way they did – and that’s what makes it all the more beautiful – that many people can relate. Kenneth wants his readers to see themselves in Crescenciana, and wants others to feel seen and heard as well.

“Her story needs to live and breathe, and I want to make sure of that.” Kenneth said.

ORDER CRESCENCIANA DIRECTLY ON THEIR WEBSITE: https://www.lolaxkenneth.com/crescenciana

Kiana: Behind The Scenes

This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Kiana credits her love for film and documenting memories to her father. Growing up, her dad would always have an action film playing in the background. He was always behind the camcorder documenting whatever the family was doing. There are countless family home videos of Kiana throughout the years. He mostly recorded for the family to have home videos to look back on, but also because he was into photography as well. As his daughter, Kiana feels as though she got his creative gene.

When Kiana was about 10 years old, her dad bought her her first camcorder. She was fully immersed in capturing moments visually. Just like her dad, Kiana was always behind the camera. Kiana and her cousins would come up with random skits, and she would always be the one recording it. But it didn’t just stop at recording the footage – Kiana would take it a step further and edit the videos as well. She laughs at the idea of editing her family content through Windows Movie Maker, but a girl gotta start somewhere!

“When I used to film stuff when I was younger, it was more for fun on the spot skits with my cousins,” Kiana explained. “I think that’s where my love for documentaries came from because when you’re filming a documentary you’re literally getting footage on the spot. Nothing is scripted.”

Kiana always had a gut feeling that she wanted to turn her love for documenting, editing, and being behind the camera into a career pretty early on. She remembers a school project her senior year of high school that stuck with her. Her and 4 other classmates had to make a video about domestic violence in Polynesia, and that’s when she upgraded from Windows Movie Maker to iMovie! Her contribution was shooting all the of the videos and editing the footage. In the end, they didn’t even do the project correctly, but Kiana was very proud of the final video.

Even though Kiana knew she wanted to pursue film, she still ended up taking classes for a major she had no business being in. She chose occupational therapy. How the hell did she end up with that? When it was time to try to figure out what she was going to study in college, her mom and cousin threw out the idea of occupational therapy. This is partly due to the the fact that her cousin was an occupational therapist. The game plan was simple – the goal was to study to become an occupational therapist, work as an occupational therapist for a couple of years so she could pay for film school. Looking back, she admits that idea was nowhere near practical.

When it came down to it, Kiana just couldn’t be in those classes. Her heart wasn’t in it, and she knew that occupational therapy wasn’t a road she wanted to take – or never really wanted to take from the get. She had a talk with her parents and decided to drop community college and go to Academy of Art the next fall. The talk with her parents was really difficult to have, but it was so relieving at the same time. Her parents were iffy at first and needed some convincing – they had no idea how she could possibly make a career in film or TV. Kiana had to explain that there are so many different career paths that she can take in the industry – it’s not just directing, screenwriting, and all the roles people first think of when they think of film. Even though her parents were hesitant with the switch, they couldn’t deny how much Kiana was struggling trying to pursue occupational therapy. They knew their daughter’s heart wasn’t in it, so they supported her decision to make the switch.

Kiana’s glad that she made the switch because it changed the direction of her whole career and future. She graduated from Academy of Art University with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Motion Pictures & Television with an emphasis in editing. Now, she’s a Studio Technician for NBC Sports Bay Area, and freelancing on the side! There’s many different tasks as a studio technician, but she mostly works as a tape operator, working on live pre and post-game shows for the Warriors, Giants, and A’s.

To build her portfolio to be qualified for NBC Sports Bay Area, Kiana just kept creating and collaborating with others. One of the most important things that’s a must in this industry is networking. She kept creating, kept networking, and kept putting herself out there, and that’s how she landed her role in the industry. At first, seeing all the professional equipment was really intimidating for Kiana. She’s seen the equipment in some of her classes at the Academy of Art, but actually operating it without the help of her professor was definitely something she had to get used to.

“I personally prefer editing,” Kiana said when asked what role she prefers. “I love editing because it allows me to create and shape the story that the director and cinematographer envisioned. It’s kinda like I have the last say on how I want the film to be seen.”

Being an Asian woman in the sports industry can be pretty intimidating, but Kiana finds solace in the fact that she gets to represent. For her, it’s so much more than just her having a job, it’s letting the generations after her know that someone that looks like them did it as well. Everyone relies on the media for entertainment, so it’s important to Kiana to be that representation for them, it’s something that she wishes she had. Kiana didn’t grow up seeing too many Asians in sports or on TV, and even though it’s currently headed in the right direction, media still has a ways to go to make things diverse.

Creating and documenting is equivalent to Kiana writing in a journal. It’s her way of expressing herself, from whatever she’s thinking or going through in life. Majority of her work and projects are somehow related to her own journey and personal experiences. If she’s working on someone else’s project, Kiana would have to resonate with their story or relate to it in some way. It’s hard for her to put her all into something if she doesn’t feel connected to it, that’s why she’s so passionate about what she does. She takes pride in knowing that what she produces will only come from her and nobody else.

In fact, her film, “Love, Kiana,” started off as a journal entry. Kiana always wanted to create a film focusing on mental health. During that time, she was really diving into mental health in Asian families, more specifically, Filipino families. She wanted to create something where people who look like her could relate. She is well aware that the Filipino community is still very dated when it comes to talking about, accepting, and dealing with mental health. It was really important for Kiana to explain her own journey with mental health because the film also acted as an explanation to those around her. It was different for her to be in front of the camera rather than behind it, but she felt compelled to do so.

“…Whenever I tried to find visual examples I could show my parents, or my cousins, or anyone actually, the content was very limited,” She said when asked why she chose to make the film about her own personal experience. “So I wanted to put the spotlight on it. I needed it to be real, raw, and authentic because I wanted to show people how I’ve been really feeling deep inside.”

Kiana’s work is inspired by the people she’s met, the places she’s been, and the things that she has seen. When creating, her goal is to make something she hasn’t seen on the screen before. She loves watching other people’s work. The different styles of writing, directing, or editing always inspires her to think outside of the box for her own projects. It’s a crucial part of growth – to take everything in around you and find a way to make it your own.

Aside from her sports editing job, Kiana makes sure to feed her creative side whenever she has the chance. Most of her personal side projects start off as just for fun. But there are times where she gets emails announcing film festivals that are open for submissions, and when she sees one that aligns with what she’s working on, she’ll submit it. Currently, she’s working on a “Stop AAIP Hate” campaign and a personal project focusing on San Francisco State’s women’s basketball players’ work ethic and journeys. One of her favorite projects that she’s worked on is a project called “The Crossover” for MYX Global. The Crossover highlights popular artists crossing over to new international markets for the first time like Inigo Pascual, Kiana V, KZ Tandingan, Moira Dela Torre, and more.

Most of the jobs and gigs that Kiana has gotten are through networking and referrals. Kiana tries to capitalize on all of the events and sets she attends where there are a lot of people that are in the same industry. She scopes out the place and tries to make out the individuals that she would want to work with in the future or get to know more. She is one that respects people’s time, so she always tries to think of what she’ll talk about with them before approaching. Kiana’s advice is to try to leave a lasting impression with whoever you’re connecting with because you don’t want to waste their time. Don’t be afraid to follow up with the conversation in the future. Kiana has found that networking casually in person is a lot less intimidating than a formal interview. It allows her to be herself and make natural conversation.

“I feel like as a creative, the most important thing you can do is collab and network with other creatives/filmmakers,” She said. “I love surrounding myself with people who are open-minded and also like-minded when it comes collaborating.”

Even someone like Kiana, who has successfully found her niche in her profession, still has doubts from time to time. With all of her success, there are still moments when she doubts herself as an artist. Kiana tends to compare her work to other people’s and will overthink her own ability, accomplishments, and talents. “Do people even like my art?” “They’ll probably hire someone else,” are some of the thoughts that cross her mind. When those thoughts of self-doubt creep up, Kiana tries to remind herself that her art will reach the audience it’s supposed to and everyone has their own different style when creating. She is aware that she’s her own worst critic. Another thing she likes to do is take a social media cleanse and draw inspiration from reading, watching movies, and just hanging out with family and friends. Her family and friends have been her biggest supporters throughout her whole journey. They’ve been there through it all – her burnouts, her long days, the times she’s sitting for hours on end at the computer editing. The love and support they give her does not go unnoticed.

Kiana doesn’t let her own negative self-talk sabotage her art, so she practices every time she gets the chance to. There are times she goes out and films random things to edit when she gets back home. Other times, she goes into old project files and messes around with them to see how different her cuts and style is now. It’s the perfect way for her to see her progression as an editor, to look back on her old content and edit again with more experience and different techniques. Those old pieces that she dibble dabbles in every once in a while is a constant reminder of where she started, and it truly humbles her.

It usually takes Kiana about 1-2 weeks to complete a short doc. But she admits that she gets very picky with her cuts, so she’ll watch something over and over again until she’s satisfied with it – and she’s completely okay with that. Her goal in film is to finally make her short narrative film come to life. She feels as though her whole film career has been focused on making documentaries, so she really wants to tap into the inventive and imaginative side of storytelling.

Kiana’s advice to other creatives is to keep creating what you want. It doesn’t matter if others think your idea is dumb – you are allowed to create what you want to create. She tries to remind herself that the best part of working in a creative industry is meeting new people and building connections and relationships with them. Somewhere out there will resonate with your work.

“It’s gonna sound hella cliché, but I would tell younger Kiana to never give up,” She said when asked what she would like to tell her younger self. “It’s gonna take some time, there’s gonna be people who doubt you – especially being a woman of color in this industry. You have to work 10x harder than some other people but it’ll be worth it.”

Filipino-American Representation: Easter Sunday

I’ve been following Jo Koy’s career for over 15 years, back when he was a panelist on the Chelsea Lately show. I had no business being 12 years old watching that show religiously every night at 11 PM. Those were the days where I thought 11 PM was late… My sisters and I got into the show because our older cousin put us on. He’s a huge Chelsea Handler fan and let us know that there was a Filipino comedian that was on the show pretty often. He would describe funny comments and the banter that would happen on the show until we finally started watching it for ourselves.

It seemed like every single joke Jo or Chelsea told was in relation to him being Filipino, and I wasn’t mad at it. In fact, I waited it for it. That’s the thing about Filipinos – we take pride in our people that make it big and rep us. Jo Koy took every opportunity to let people know that he was half Filipino and grew up in a Filipino household. At a time where the only well-known Filipino was Manny Pacquiao, it felt good to see another Filipino making it big. Jo Koy is a Filipino-American born in the US, so his upbringing and experiences are pretty similar to a lot of first generation Filipino Americans. Through his comedy, he expresses not only what it’s like to grow up with the typical generational gap between parents and their children, but also showing the dynamic between first generation American-born children with their immigrant parents. After the show ended, I still kept tabs on Jo Koy’s career and followed his projects.

From my own personal experience, growing up there were little to no Filipinos in mainstream media in America. When my sisters and I would see someone that resembled a Filipino on TV, we would get our hopes up and do our research. I think we were desperate to see someone that looked like us in shows and movies that we liked. Not only would my sisters and I have suspected Filipino stars on our radar, our parents would too. “Did you know ______ is Filipino?” they would ask proudly. Usually because the person ended up on Balitang America confirming their Filipino lineage. The Philippines, and Filipinos in general, love to keep up with Filipino stars that make it in America.

It was a good feeling to know that a Filipino comic was selling out venues, getting Netflix specials, got his own Funko POP!, and making headlines. After seeing his come up, we all feel a sense of pride, and can’t help but feel like a milestone is being made in Filipino-American history with his movie, Easter Sunday. I believe this is only the 2nd Filipino movie to play in theatres, the first being The Debut. Jo Koy makes it a point in all of his stand up routines to say that he did not grow up with Filipino idols to look up to. He mentions his sense of pride seeing Manny Pacquiao’s rise to fame. I’m sure he knows that he is that Filipino idol to Filipino-Americans right now.

Jo Koy’s movie, Easter Sunday, that debuted on Friday, August 5th, touched on so many topics in the Filipino community while still keeping it lighthearted. I personally felt like I could relate to almost everything in the movie, given that a lot of these topics and issues are so embedded into the Filipino culture. These have been topics that I have covered on my blog, talked about extensively with cousins and friends, and have thought about on my own time. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing some deep diving into who I am, what makes me me, and how I was raised. Easter Sunday shows how families may have unhealed trauma and unhealthy family dynamics, but they can still be a family full of love with the best intentions at the end of the day. Filipinos know this firsthand.

In the movie, Jo is conflicted whether or not he should sellout to secure a spot in a sitcom show. It is apparent that they only want Jo in the show if he agrees to do his Filipino accent. He has mixed feelings about it because he believes he’s funny without the accent and doesn’t feel like it’s relevant or necessary for the part. His agent makes light of his torn decision, and encourages him to just agree to do it for the sake of securing the deal. This is an interesting take since Jo Koy is known for impersonating his mom and her accent. It really shows the point of view that there’s a difference between poking fun at your culture versus being told to make a mockery of your culture by people who are 1. not that ethinicity, and 2. seek to profit off of it.

Jo is in a dilemma because he feels the need to prove something to his family. He wants to prove that he is successful in his stand up career despite going against his mom’s wishes to pursue nursing. The long standing joke is that Filipino parents expect their children to go into the medical field. It’s a profession that has a huge Filipino presence. When Filipino children choose to take another career path other than nursing or the medical field, it could get ugly. Filipino parents take this opportunity to use scare tactics to discourage their children from choosing a career path they are passionate about.

This discouragement could be interpreted as being unsupportive and controlling, which let’s be real, it is. However, the nagging encouragement to pursue nursing is really an unspoken desperate plea to avoid the unknown at all costs. Filipino parents don’t know how to put into words that they are worried for their child’s future. They don’t know how to express that they just want the best for their kids and don’t want them to fail. And they definitely can’t put their pride aside to admit that they are afraid of the road less traveled and would prefer tradition because it’s familiar. The lack of communication translates to anger and doubt. For the most part, Filipino parents want the best for their children. They want them to have stable jobs that they know will be in demand and would prefer their children take the safe option. Exploring creative passions professionally goes against the work familiarity that so many Filipinos are used to.

Filipinos are so used to busting their ass to make ends meet. That means starting from the bottom and working your way up. Work wasn’t meant to be something they enjoyed, it was something they had to do to have food on the table for their families. Surprisingly, pursuing a career in something you actually like and are passionate about is somewhat a new concept for traditional Filipino families. Thankfully, my parents never fell into the stereotypical Filipino parents who push nursing onto their children. I’d be lying if I said it was never suggested, but my parents just wanted my sisters and I to finish college in anything we wanted. Being a college graduate was all that was important to them, so going for what we wanted to do was never the issue. My sisters and I were lucky, because I know a lot of people whose Filipino parents weren’t as lenient.

To Jo’s family, he’s the big shot that made it in Hollywood, so it’s totally understandable why his character felt pressured to agree to something he was strongly opposed to if it meant landing the role. As a Filipino kid whose mom didn’t want him to pursue comedy, he’ll do almost anything to avoid letting his family down. Introducing this internal conflict in the movie sheds light on the fact that a lot of Filipino adults still feel the need to be successful because they dread being viewed as a disappointment to their parents. The sad truth is this: not wanting to disappoint your parents doesn’t just stop when you’re a kid, it continues on into your adulthood. Especially when you feel like you have to make them proud, but also outshine others.

There’s a lot of pressure to be successful and make your Filipino parents proud. But there’s also a lot of pressure to be better than those around you because you’re always being compared to someone. We see this play out in the movie with the relationship between Jo and his cousin Eugene. Clearly, Eugene’s character is the typical loser cousin who means well but just can’t seem to get their life together. Even though Eugene’s flaws are ridiculously apparent, Jo’s mother has her beer goggles on. She insists that Eugene is a “good boy,” even though it’s clear that he has tangled himself in with the wrong crowds. Jo rolls his eyes multiple occasions when hearing his mom say that Eugene is a good boy, not because he’s jealous of his life, but because he knows that she means Eugene is a good boy in comparison to him. In this instance, what’s being compared is how attentive Eugene is with Jo’s mom while he’s away trying to jumpstart his career.

As Filipino children, we are no stranger to being compared to our siblings, cousins, or family friends. And nothing is off the table for bragging rights – it can be about success, appearance, how big their house is, the person they married, what material things they own, what field they work in, how they treat their parents, what life choices they made, what school they got into, etc. It can be a very toxic game elders play because it can either motivate you or make you jealous and bitter. Putting everyone else under a microscope just opens the doors for judgment and gossip. In the Filipino culture it can seem like everyone is concerned about everyone else except themselves.

Religion plays a big role in the Filipino culture. I grew up around the Santo Niño statues, praying before eating, and going to church on Sundays. It was interesting, but not shocking, that Jo Koy decided to have a church scene in the movie. After all, the movie’s setting is supposed to be for Easter Sunday – resurrection day. Filipinos are known to be very religious and attending church on Sundays is a typical thing. When Jo is forced to give a speech in front of everyone in attendance, he calls out his mom and Tita’s feud. In a way, Jo is calling out his family members for not practicing what they preach. Exposing his family’s drama in church revealed something deeper. It’s not just about the petty drama, but the underlying meaning behind it.

The movie tastefully shows the Filipino family dynamics when it comes to feuding within the family. However, in real life, these scenarios can get straight up ugly and petty. We see how Jo’s mom and Tita take little digs at each other throughout the movie. They play it petty by threatening not to go to each others’ parties, not eating food the other made, leaving early, stealing recipes, trying to out-do each other on presents to the Philippines, and making rude unnecessary comments to diss each other. It’s funny for the sake of the movie, but we know scenarios like this that played out in real life. And it all boils down to pride.

Every Filipino family can relate – you have the aunties or group of elders that like to stir the pot and talk shit. It’s all fun and games until someone gets butthurt off something and it turns into a he said she said moment. In Easter Sunday, Jo’s relatives couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for the argument – and this is very true in real life as well. They tend to give their side of the story to whoever will listen, and then these people have to act like they don’t know the drama when the other person gives their side. Everyone is aware that this is going on, but the chisme is just too juicy to not listen to. So many sides and points are made that by the end, you don’t even remember what came first, who dissed who, or what the real argument is about. But it just shows the pettiness and pride Filipinos have when it comes to confronting an issue.

But the problem is, the issue is never confronted. Instead, the flames are fanned and the problem just gets bigger because everyone is just in everyone else’s ear. Both parties know that the other is angry and talking behind their back, which is the reason why they feel the need to get everyone to rally behind what they are saying. But that’s the issue – things are never resolved. It’s always passive aggressive anger. Instead of confronting each other respectfully, it always needs to escalate further to be resolved, or resolved for the moment. Filipino families are traditionally tight-knit, but they are notorious for grudge keeping. There is no such thing as things being forgiven and forgotten for our elders sometimes. It can be swept under the rug, but the next time something comes up, that shit is coming out from the backburner and being used again. Filipinos love hard but fight harder, over the pettiest things sometimes too.

A lot of built up resentment can cause these family feuds. And it all boils down to this – someone gets their feelings hurt, and they don’t have the tools to properly express those feelings. In the Filipino culture, admitting your feelings are hurt or that something bothers you is almost like a sign of weakness. Everyone wants to come off all bossy bad-ass, but the truth is, everyone is just butthurt and it’s a front to cover up those hurt feelings. And because we are not taught to express those feelings, they bubble up in other ways – anger, petty remarks, jealousy, acting like you’re better than others, acting like you don’t care, and being a straight savage in the worst way possible.

We see the result of hurt feelings manifesting itself into ill-mannered behavior in the movie when Jo’s mother tells him that he’s not a good father. Jo’s mom is hurt over what his Tita said – that she’s a bad mother. So she tries to lessen her shame by saying that if she wasn’t a good mother, maybe he isn’t such a great father either. It’s a chain of unnecessary hurt, and honestly everyone’s reaction in the movie was priceless. His post office uncle got me with the, “What is wrong with you?” comment after his mom blurted that out. Of course, this is a movie, so a resolution was made after the climax of insults and childish behavior. But it gave us a glimpse into how far things can go when pride and hurt feelings are commanding the ship.

Easter Sunday hit closer to home since the movie takes place in Daly City! That’s crazy to me. My city, the city known for its Filipino community, is the setting for a movie. Daly City is often shadowed by San Francisco, so it felt good to see us being put on the map for once and not piggybacking off of San Francisco or the Bay Area as a whole. I loved that Easter Sunday was in my city, it showcased food that I eat, Tagalog was spoken throughout the movie, and the mannerisms of each character made me think of my own family – That just made the movie that much more relatable.

Overall, the movie is exactly what I expected it to be. I watched it on opening night and then took my whole family to see it a few days later. I felt like it was a big moment for Filipino-Americans and wanted my parents to be a part of it. My parents really enjoyed it and I feel like every Filipino in that theater could relate to something in the movie. For once, we were watching our experiences play out on the big screen. That’s a big deal. For so long I’ve wanted to see the Filipino experience in media, in our textbooks, in the arts, and now I feel like we are finally getting that representation.

1 Year Without Tatay – A Year Of Change & Lessons

It’s crazy to think that it’s been 1 year since Tatay passed away. One thing I’ve always known is the fact that time waits for no one. Whether we like it or not, life moves on with or without our consent. How is it possible for time to move so fast yet so dreadfully slow at the same time? I’ve always felt this way, but especially this year. So much has changed, is changing, and will change. I’m notorious for resisting change at all cost, but this 1 year without Tatay has forced me to accept the things I know I can’t change. These last 12 months without our Tatay Jack has had its ups and downs to say the least. The theme of the last 12 months have been: CHANGE.

For the first few months after Tatay passed, I had no dreams of him whatsoever. This may seem like a “…okay, and?” moment for others, but for me it was a big deal. I consider myself a very intuitive person, and have always had vivid dreams that I would read as signs either from the universe, loved ones from the other side, or things of that nature. I’ve always felt that I have a third eye to some degree. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked for the deeper meaning in things and always believed in signs. I’ve always believed that those we love are still around us after they pass. For me, I’ve always got those messages through dreams. So I was devastated when weeks had passed by with no dreams from Tatay. I was pretty bummed that he wasn’t visiting me because I desperately wanted a sign.

It took a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, for Tatay to start appearing in my dreams. When that moment happened, I was so relieved and felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. If he wasn’t with me in the physical world, at least I could still see him again in my dreams. It’s a comforting feeling to know that he still lives on in my subconscious memory. Every time I have a dream of Tatay the night before, I wake up feeling content with life. Losing Tatay is the void that I will forever be trying to fill for the rest of my life, and dreaming of him makes this change without him a little easier.

Even though it took a while for me to dream of Tatay, once it finally happened, it happened consistently. Some I remember vividly, and some very faintly. You know that feeling when you know someone was in your dream the night before but you can’t really remember all the details? You just remember envisioning their face and wishing that they were there and it were real life. For a while though, I had a few regular occurring dreams of Tatay. This frequent dream, I admit, is a bit morbid, and I would wake up feeling like I wanted to cry each time.

I dreamt this regular occurring dream over the span of a couple months. I wouldn’t dream of it everyday, but I can think of 3 or 4 different dreams where basically the same thing happens. In these dreams, I would be trying to convince people that Tatay was still alive, that it was all a mistake, and if they’d only listen to me, he’d be back with us. Like I said, these dreams were pretty morbid, but they always ended the same way. The dreams differed in small ways, but it was always the same gist. It was always that Tatay’s death was a misunderstanding, and he was in fact, still alive. In some of my dreams, we were even at the cemetery, the digger present to reopen his grave. Sometimes, it would even be me digging his plot, anxiously trying to prove that Tatay was buried alive. I had no doubt in my mind that he would come out, living, breathing, and perfectly well – a huge misunderstanding that we could easily fix.

I would wake up sad as fuck, wishing that that was actually our reality. But I knew it wasn’t, and it never could be true. I had this dream in different forms for a long time. One day, I casually told my sisters about my morbid occurring dream of Tatay. My older sister said, “That’s your subconscious not coming to terms that he passed away.” And I knew that was the case. It took such a long time for me to process and come to terms with the fact that Tatay passed, how he passed away when the state of the world was in shambles and had many restrictions, and feeling robbed of more time. It took a couple months for me to accept all of these things, and I guess it took my subconscious even longer to register in my brain that he was actually gone. For me, my dreams are always revealing what I push deep down and avoid. Just a few months ago, the reoccurring dreams of me thinking that Tatay was buried alive stopped. I guess it finally sank in, 1 year later.

I will admit though, there have been plenty of times where I simply forget that Tatay has passed on, even 1 year later. It’s crazy because I think about him all the time – he’s one of the first things I think of when I wake up, and always on my mind before I go to sleep. But there are still times when I enter his home and think that I’ll see him. There are still times I think we’re going to get him bread and drop it off for a quick visit. There are still times I think I’m going to be welcomed by the smell of Vick’s and hear his cane coming down the stairs. My head has adjusted to the fact that Tatay has passed on, but my heart still needs to get used to this new reality. Different places, smells, and times of the year bring me back to different memories of Tatay.

These last 12 months have brought on so much change for the Cabillo family. Extended family are starting to relocate elsewhere, and it’s a change we all have to get used to. For all my life, the core of the family has been in the Bay Area. Tatay was in the Bay Area with 5 of his 7 children. We got so used to family coming in from Vegas for Tatay’s birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmas’, that it’s unfathomable to think that that’s most likely a thing of the past now. Things were bound to change – our family is forever growing – but we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly.

I have never been one that conforms to change easily. I’m such a nostalgic person by nature – I’m big on family traditions, family time, and preserving things from the past. So when 1 by 1 we got news that family planned to relocate elsewhere, of course it made me sad. Because that meant that our family dynamic would soon be changing – everyone scattered around and no longer a short car ride away. But I’m aware that nothing stays the same forever, and if Tatay’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that. Change is inevitable, it’s a part of life, and it can be really sad. But in the midst of all this change, I’ve learned that it’s how you adapt to change that really matters. Feel those feelings and do whatever it takes to come to terms with the changes at hand, but pivot after and learn how to adjust.

Like I said many times, Tatay’s passing made me realize what and who is most important to me in this life. With Tatay gone, family moving away, and everyone doing their own thing, the family is well aware that we need to make a conscious effort to prioritize making time for each other to keep our family close. Effort and time is something that money can’t buy. The last 12 months without Tatay has taught me to be more mindful of being present for events for those I care about, even if that means expensive Ubers, plane tickets, and taking time off of work. Because at the end of the day, you can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time. Show people you care about them now, while you still can.

It has been a long, yet short, 1 year without our Tatay. One of my worst fears is that with time, I will forget tidbits of Tatay. From here on out, more and more time will pass. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my children will never meet their Tatay Jack in the physical world. But one thing’s for sure, my kids will hear many stories of their funny, gentle yet aggressive, animal-loving, likes things a certain way, Ray-Ban wearing Tatay Jack. 1 year ago, we lost such an important person in our family. But Tatay’s death has brought us closer in many ways. For my cousins and I, it definitely strengthened our desire to make the effort to keep our family close.

No matter what changes happen or where we all move to, home will always be where Tatay is.

I’m Sorry I Find It Hard To Say I’m Sorry

Per my last post, I have definitely been in the position where I had to forgive others without an apology I felt entitled to. In the past, I have let the absence of apologies control my inner peace and the ability to get closure on certain topics. I would, and sometimes still, get so passionate about feeling entitled to an apology that I cling onto the thought for some time. But I’ve also been on the other side of the situation where I owe someone an apology and can’t find the words to say it. Yes my friends, surprise surprise, there is some hypocrisy and double standards present. Nobody is perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not. If I claim to keep it real, I have to keep it all the way real. This is the opposite side of last week’s post, the other side of the coin, not being able to apologize.

Growing up, apologies weren’t given in my household. And when this topic was brought up with cousins and close friends, I realized that my personal upbringing is not too far fetched from the experience of others. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, a generational gap thing, or what it is, but it seemed to be somewhat the same talking to others about their family dynamic. I can only speak for my own personal experience and the experiences of others that I have talked to, but it seems to be the gap between first generation Filipino Americans with their Philippines-born and raised parents. We have a lot of similarities with apologies and not being able to admit wrong doing through the generations.

Growing up, and to this day, apologies are not common in my family. That is not to say that apologies were never called for – because ohhhhh they definitely were – but they simply were not normalized in my household. I don’t know how “normal” or “not normal,” that is, but it seems to be a common experience for first generation Filipino Americans and their parents. There was no saying sorry, and if there was an apology being made, it was very rare. So rare, that I can’t even think of a specific time where I received a serious apology from someone in my immediate family without it being said in a silly downplayed voice. My parents rarely apologize to us, we rarely apologize to them, and my sisters and I don’t apologize to each other. This may be weird to some, but that’s our family dynamic.

So you’re probably wondering, how does your family move forward after an argument or after hurt feelings? Great question. The answer is this: you’re salty for a couple of days, or however long it takes you to get over it, and then you make up for it by either over compensating with food, or acting like nothing happened. There’s no conversation after to talk over your feelings, there’s no taking ownership of your part, there’s no acknowledgement of what transpired. You suppress that shit until the next time you explode. Yes, unhealthy, I know. But that’s the reality of it all. I’m not saying it’s the right way to go about things, but it’s how we go about things.

In my Filipino household, we express our love language in different ways. Just because there was an absence of apologies, didn’t mean we were never sorry. We definitely felt bad, reflected on our actions, and regretted poor choice of actions or words. Our problem was never lacking empathy, it was expressing that empathy verbally. So, instead of facing conflict head on, we learned to express ourselves through acts of service and food, completely ignoring and avoiding the real issues. I didn’t get it until I was older, but it’s a cycle being repeated. A cycle that we are not so proud of as we are aware that there are better ways to deal with post-conflict. But I get it, it’s how my parents, and their parents, and my grandparent’s parents (and so forth) were taught to behave. It was different times then, and I come from a long lineage of strong individuals who endured even the roughest of times with grace. They handled their shit because they had to. In their times of struggle, they had no time to communicate their feelings, they had to keep it moving and be strong. But times are different now, and maintaining that strong persona and not expressing emotions properly has it’s repercussions. I can appreciate and admire my ancestors’ resilience and strength while simultaneously analyzing how harmful these coping mechanisms can be.

Culturally, Filipinos are taught to be strong, respect their elders, and never speak out against those superior to you. However, this way of thinking pushes the notion that some people are entitled to apologies while others are not, completely disregarding someone else’s reality due to pride and status in the family, relationship, or setting. Filipinos are taught to never disrespect their elders, and a lot of the time, that meant disagreeing or articulating your stance on a topic. This creates a damaging cycle that enables an echo chamber of beliefs that are not necessarily true or correct, but more so upheld to keep the peace. And that generational gap from first generation Filipino Americans and their parents / family members is a significant shift of beliefs. First generation Filipinos are in that awkward position trying to juggle two cultures with very conflicting beliefs when it comes to standing up for what you believe in, standing up for what you think is right, but also respecting the cultural differences.

This cultural difference was more apparent, for example, when I would watch some of my favorite family sitcoms like Full House, The Cosby Show, That’s So Raven, Boy Meets World, The Parkers, and many others. Anytime there was a scene that got too sappy with the characters expressing their feelings, I would lowkey cringe. And if I was watching it with my sisters, we would comment and make fun of the characters having a moment with their parent or people close to them. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to say things like, “Ew,” “Yeah right,” “Haha, hella ugly,” while watching these moments on TV. To us, it felt unrealistic, just because our upbringing was so different. We didn’t have sappy moments where we expressed ourselves to be vulnerable. In fact, we used to label is as an “American” thing – we weren’t brought up to communicate those difficult feelings. For us, we kept a mental note and kept it moving.

This is where it gets confusing, because in my personal relationships and friendships, communication is key. Accepting and taking ownership of your own actions is key. Being open about what I feel and what I like and dislike is key. But that’s not what I’m accustomed to. It’s ironic that these are things that are important to me, but at times I am unable to do them myself. Now that I’m an adult and know what characteristics I want in a partner, friend, and future children, it also makes me reflect on what kind of characteristics I need to have as well to make it successful. It comes so easy to me as a teacher, teaching the kids to express their feelings, validating them and letting them know it’s okay to feel the way they do, and that I hear them. It’s important to me talk things out with kids and give apologies when apologies are due so they know that just because I’m an adult, it doesn’t mean I am above making mistakes. I have no problem setting the example for the youth, but find it very difficult to take my own advice and express myself to others.

You never really know your flaws until something happens and you reflect on why it happened the way it did. For me, that self-realization moment was when I realized that I have a really hard time apologizing. For the record, I have no problem apologizing to people when I’m completely in the wrong, being an asshole, or messed up in some way. I can admit and own up to my shortcomings if necessary. I also know that my sense of humor can sometimes be high key banter, so I can acknowledge when I cross boundaries with others. The scenarios that I’m talking about where I persevere with my pride, are the times I’m arguing with someone to make a point, to express my opposing point of view and reality, and any scenario where there is arguing involved. Those are the times I push on with my stubborn ways and find it difficult to apologize to others.

Deep down I always knew that I had a lot of pride and found it difficult to apologize to others in an argument. My excuse used to be “that’s just how I am,” and rolled with it. Obviously being young and immature, I didn’t care to reflect on the “why” behind the struggle to say “I’m sorry,” to others. It wasn’t until I started dating and being in relationships did I realize that my unapologetic nature could be more than a minor complication. It wasn’t that I was remorseless, because I am a deeply empathetic person. However, when I think I am right in a situation, I stick to my guns.

I am very confident in my opinions, and I got the time to hash it out. When I get upset, I can say the nastiest things. My goal is to win – whether that be spitting facts, saying the better come back, or just saying the most hurtful things. And it takes a lot for me to verbally apologize. On the inside, I could fully articulate how I feel in my head, even through text. But when it comes to verbally giving apologies, I just can’t do it. And when I do, it takes an insulting amount of time for the words to fall out of my mouth.

It wasn’t until my current relationship did I realize it was a problem I had to change and fix. In the past, I was aware of the problem, but just took it as a slight personality flaw that could be tucked under the rug. I soon realized that there was no rug big enough in the world to tuck this shit under. It was no longer “cute” or acceptable to have it be that hard to give an apology, especially when an apology is owed. This wasn’t just petty arguing with my immediate family anymore. This time around, it was with someone who is choosing to be with me, but definitely doesn’t have to stay in my life. It was with someone who was willing to work with me through my very ugly moments in hopes that I would grow and learn for future reference.

That’s when I realized it was a huge problem – when I realized that a small (but obviously big) action like apologizing was one of the hardest things for me to do. When I reflected on why it’s so difficult for me to do so, my upbringing was obviously one of the first things I thought of. But it was deeper than that. Giving someone an apology is acknowledging your faults, letting your guard down, and it takes some level of thought provoking deep diving into one’s own actions. As childish as it sounds, I grew up believing that saying “I’m sorry,” was a sign of weakness. Apologizing first meant that you’ve admitted to all the blame, you acknowledge that they’re right and you’re wrong, and shows that you’re the “loser” in the argument. That’s why in the past I never caved into giving apologies first. I refused to be vulnerable and express my emotions.

Vulnerability is scary and uncomfortable. Especially when you are not used to expressing yourself verbally, emotional vulnerability is nearly impossible. I feel like I’m a lot better with expressing my emotions and allowing myself to be vulnerable with others. I have to consciously make the effort and think it out in my head before I verbally express myself. But in the past, it wasn’t easy at all. In arguments and fights, I avoided opening up. To open up back then, a huge argument where unkind words were spoken would have to happen first before there is any emotions being expressed. There was no way around it. You want me to open up? You have to weather the storm with me first – see me at my absolute worst so you can get the apology or clarity you need from me.

It’s not that I can’t apologize period, but that I can’t be the first one to apologize. I can say it in return, but being the first to apologize was as rare as snow in San Francisco – possible, just highly unlikely. I preferred the other party to initiate reconciliation, and I’m very stubborn about it. There were plenty of times where I simply did not budge at all. “There is no way in hell that I’m admitting to my faults before you do. That would be asking too much of me,” I would think to myself. I needed the other party to be the bigger person and let their guard down first. How can I possibly let my guard down when my defensive walls are built so high? How does someone even attempt to chip away at the thick emotional barrier I surrounded around my hurt feelings? Opening up that dam of emotions first was a sign of weakness that I simply couldn’t show.

That right there – not wanting to come off as “weak”- was the root of it all. The satisfaction of someone else apologizing first and me just following their lead was a game that I couldn’t play for long. At one point, I had to give in. And not because I had to, but because playing mind games to be the winner only made me the biggest loser in the end. It only brought hurt feelings, invalidation, and resentment. It wasn’t worth it. Pride can be an ugly emotion. It can drive you to act a certain way that is completely different from what you feel inside. It no longer felt good or like a victory to push others to their absolute worst. I would feel horrible about myself and hated the way I went about conflict and confrontation. I hated that I found it so difficult to apologize.

It seemed I could only healthily communicate my hurt and my frustration through text message. No matter how many times I rehearsed a conversation in my head, it would never turn out the way I had anticipated. Once I vocalize my emotions and how I feel, the flood gates open up. It didn’t matter if I was sad, mad, or felt any other difficult emotion, the simple act of verbalizing that emotion brought my inner bad bitch bad ass to her fucking knees. And that was a feeling I hated – being vulnerable. That vulnerability would have me in a crying fit of rage, aggravated that I had to express myself. It’s so much easier to be upset and angry than it is to express your emotions. But no one is a mind reader. And your point won’t be understood until it is made.

Growing up not expressing frustration, hurt feelings, or anything that will stir the pot is probably a big reason why I write. It’s not that I don’t have the words to verbally communicate my feelings, it’s more so that I don’t know how to control my emotions to make sure that my tone lines up with what I’m feeling and thinking in my head. A lot of the time I go into defense mode because I feel attacked. Sometimes it can be because I’m actually being attacked, but others times it’s because I’m not used to being confronted with verbal expression. As a little kid, I turned to writing to fully express myself, mostly through fictional stories where the main character resembled me.

But even as an adult, I find myself dealing with conflict by writing. Most of the time that means through text. I have the ability to think out what I want to write, sit on it, read it over, and make sure I’m getting my point across in a mature manner. Communicating my hurt feelings verbally is something I have yet to master. For me, it can go south really fast. The moment someone responds in a way that wasn’t what I expected, I can lose my cool when I have promised myself to keep my composure. Writing allows me to reply on my time, and take time to cool down. It allows me to pick and choose my words wisely, and set the tone for the conversation at hand.

This is still something that I am working on to this day. I know I usually write about things as if I have already figured it out and mastered whatever topic I’m writing about. But a lot of the time, that’s just me being self-aware and adding onto what I know is the right way to handle things. We are all a work in progress, and I know I have a lot of healing and relearning to do as an adult. I know that I need to nurture my inner child and dig deeper as to why I have difficulty in some scenarios. It is okay to know what the “healthy” thing to do is but still choose old ways of handling it. It’s okay to take 1 step forward and 3 steps back. It’s okay to still be learning. Nobody knows it all, and nobody is perfect. Apologizing and owning up to my shit is still something that I struggle with. This is still something that I’m working on. And that’s okay. The first step is being aware and attempting to better your ways. Like everything else, it will take baby steps.

Learning to communicate is something you work on for the rest of your life. Acknowledging your own short comings and flaws is the first step to actually changing those habits. I know I have a tough time apologizing to others and verbally communicating how I feel, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be stuck in my ways. Breaking the cycle is not an easy thing to do, but it’s not impossible.

The Last Birthday

This is story 7 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

As Tatay’s 98th birthday drew near, I remember basically pleading with God, the Universe, any higher power that would listen to me, to please let him reach his birthday. If he was going to leave this Earth under these unfortunate circumstances, the least they could do was let him celebrate one last birthday surrounded by family. By this point, he was barely eating, his good memory days were a thing of the past, and he lost a significant amount of weight. He no longer went downstairs because he couldn’t walk on his own, let alone sit up on his own. He was completely bedridden.

I remember thinking, “If Tatay can make it to his 98th birthday, I’ll be at peace when he passes.” He made it to his 98th birthday, but of course I still wasn’t content with that tradeoff. It was so ironic greeting him happy birthday as our gut feeling knew that his time was very limited. Everyone’s “happy birthday” greet to Tatay that day was matched with a lump in their throat. It was a mix of emotions for sure – feeling grateful that he made it to another year of life, hopeful that his health would somehow miraculously get better, depressed that we have to see him that weak, and feeling selfish for wanting him to live longer in his current state.

Tatay’s birthdays have always been a big celebration in our family. His birthday falls on July 3rd, so we usually lump it together as a multiple day event since July 4th is a holiday and family usually comes into town. We had a lot to celebrate, each year was a reminder of how resilient, strong, and blessed Tatay was to reach another year of life. With the exception of his 97th pandemic birthday, we went all out every year to celebrate with food, family, and gifts. And for his 98th, we all came over the house despite the pandemic. This birthday was one that I was grateful to attend since his 97th birthday was so downplayed with everyone sheltering in place. But if I’m being honest, it was a really sad day.

We made the usual route up the stairs to Tatay’s room. “Happy birthday, Tatay!” we said happily. He laid in his bed before us, completely unresponsive to our presence and what we just said. His eyes were barely open, he looked the weakest I’ve ever seen him. He was on a new medication that he had started the day before. He was totally out of it, completely lethargic. Tatay looked so small in his bed, and as we tried a few more attempts to see if he’d respond to our greets, he didn’t. We tried to shrug it off, “Let him rest,” as we made our way back downstairs.

It was a “party” but it felt like anything but. The atmosphere was gloomy downstairs as the adults took turns going up and down to and from Tatay’s room to check on him. My cousin’s wedding was the following week in Florida, and the majority of the aunts and uncles had planned to make it, flights booked and everything. They announced that Tatay’s health was declining fast, so they all decided to cancel the wedding trip. They started to plan out a schedule where all the siblings took turns helping Tita with Tatay throughout the week, especially during the night. He was completely unable to stand, sit up, or do anything independently. On top of that, he would get frustrated and would try to stubbornly deny help, making it even harder to assist him. It was a lot for Tita to do on her own. The majority of the siblings are retired, while my dad and Auntie Salvie still work. They all had to Tetris their schedules to be there for Tatay. This schedule would continue indefinitely.

At one point during the night, we asked when we were going to cut the cake. With everything going on, the cake was the last thing on the aunts and uncles’s minds. Tatay didn’t have a cake. This was blasphemy to our ears. This is the first birthday party for Tatay that I can think of where we all got together and didn’t have a cake for him. Sometimes, there were even more than 1 cake. And my gut feeling was telling me that not only was this going to be his last birthday celebrated on Earth, but also some of his last memories with family, it was necessary to get him a cake. My sisters, my younger cousins, and I debated on who would go on the quick car ride journey to get Tatay’s cake. I didn’t want to leave Christian at Tatay’s house alone with all the adults, so I told them that them 4 could go get Tatay’s cake while I stayed back.

They eagerly put on their shoes and headed for the door, excited to go on an adventure together. I’m glad that they got to have a little break from the melancholy toned birthday party. I realized that my dad was missing, so he was probably in Tatay’s room. I told Christian that we should go up and see how Tatay is doing, at the very least, keep him company. We entered Tatay’s room and not much had changed. He looked completely out of it, totally feeling the effects of the medicine. You couldn’t tell if his eyes were slightly open or all the way closed. He didn’t speak much, just groaned every now and then. We sat on the chairs that were lined up against his bedroom window.

My dad and Auntie Lilia were in the room while Christian and I took a seat. I couldn’t help but look at Tatay knowing damn well that his time was coming up soon. He was so different from the week before, such a drastic change for the worst. I remember just the week before we were telling him that his birthday was coming up. He didn’t remember how old he was turning, but he was a lot more coherent than the Tatay that laid before me. The medicine he was on truly had his head in the clouds. I couldn’t stand to see him like that, but at the same time I wanted to be there with him on his birthday. It wasn’t about me, it was about him, and I wanted him to know that we were all there to celebrate him. However, this wasn’t your typical birthday party. This was the saddest birthday party I’ve ever attended. It was celebrating Tatay reaching another year of life, but being slapped in the face with reality that death would be knocking on his door soon.

After about 10 minutes in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to cry as I looked at Tatay on the bed, so frail, so small, in and out of consciousness it seemed. Christian reached over as his eyes began to water too. I know being around Tatay in that state was probably bringing up memories of his own Grandpa who passed away about a year prior. My dad tried his hardest to fight back tears, but started to cry as well as I had my moment. I could tell my dad was trying not to look at me or acknowledge that I was crying, but the harder he tried to focus his attention on something else, the more emotional he got. We don’t do well with talking about our emotions or expressing them, but I know my dad gets more emotional when he sees his girls in distress.

My Auntie Lilia looked at me, completely aware that I was crying, but tried to change the subject. She let me know that just 3 days before, on Wednesday, Tatay was on his feet and walking independently. She started with, “Can you believe that just 3 days before he was walking outside?” That was news to me. She explained that Tita went to the store to get some groceries, leaving Tatay alone at home. Tatay was resting and most likely asleep, so she thought she’d make a quick run. He no longer could get up on his own at that point, or so they thought.

When Tita arrived back home, Tatay was missing from his bed. Where was he? They found Tatay down the street with his walker in hand, not properly dressed for the cold Bay Area weather. When they asked him where he was going, the answer alone made me clench my jaw trying to hold back tears as Auntie Lilia continued with the story. Tatay said that he was going back home – to Roland’s house. His mind still believed that he was living with my family at our house.

“Can you believe that? He got up by himself, put on his shoes, carried the walker down the stairs, opened the door, walked down the steps to his house, and was down the street!” My Auntie Lilia said in complete amazement.

I couldn’t believe it either. Tatay managed to carry his heavy ass walker down 2 flights of stairs, not a single scratch on the walls. What was more amazing was the fact that before this incident, he couldn’t walk downstairs on his own that well anymore, he needed assistance. I was relieved that Tatay was still close by when Tita realized he was missing. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he was missing for even just an hour, especially during the times when Asian hate crimes were at an all time high.

That was my Tatay – he never failed to surprise you with his strength and perseverance. It was then that they decided to install cameras in his house. They wanted to make sure that he was safe at all times, and if he needed help, we would know. I wondered what was going through Tatay’s head at the time to be so motivated to go back to our house. That was his last hoorah outside, his last adventure, the last time he walked independently. And now 3 days later, he was totally immobile, could barely open up his eyes, and totally out of it. It’s amazing what 72 hours can do when time isn’t on your side.

When my sisters and cousins came back with the cake, they had stories to tell of their own about how difficult it was to get it. But all that mattered was that we had a cake, that Tatay’s last birthday wouldn’t be cakeless. Getting Tatay a cake was really important to us cousins, and I’m glad that we got to give him a cake one last time. Because it was an ice cream cake, they quickly prepared it so it wouldn’t melt.

Since Tatay was feeling the effects of his new medication and was completely bedridden, the whole family came up to his room. The room was dim, adding to the already somber mood. Michael came in holding the cake, the “98” candles already lit. My dad took one side of the cake as they positioned it in front of Tatay as he laid on the bed. We all began to sing happy birthday, hoping that Tatay would at least open his eyes. Tatay laid there, eyes closed, unresponsive to our singing. It was the saddest happy birthday song I have ever sang.

After the cake, they started to give him his gifts. Tatay loved receiving his envelopes during birthdays, so it lightened the mood a little bit when he started to open his eyes as they were putting money in his hands. They joked that Tatay woke up at the right time to receive his presents. However, that was short lived as he got drowsy again.

Tatay’s lethargic state was partially due to his new medication that he started taking the day before his birthday. The siblings decided that night that they were not going to continue to give it to Tatay since it made him so out of it. The next day, we visited again. Tatay was completely coherent, and even though his time was coming soon, at least we got to see him be somewhat aware of his surroundings. We asked him the day after his birthday if he remembered anything from the day before, he said no. That was the last birthday Tatay spent on Earth with us. It wasn’t ideal, but at the very least, I’m happy that he was surrounded by family.

Somewhere Deep in Tatay’s Memory

This is story 6 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This might be weird to some, but sometimes I think of what my life will be like when I’m an old grandma. What kind of life would I have lived? What things have changed? Who are the people closest to me? What accomplishments did I make in life? What lessons have I learned? Will I still be able to remember and recall my past? And as I witnessed Tatay’s mind start to drift further and further from the present day, I started to put myself in his shoes. I wondered what he was thinking, who he still remembered vividly, and what memories played in his mind. Visiting Tatay every Sunday was like a gamble. Was he going to be aware of who we were and what time frame it was, or was he going to ask for people who have already passed on a long time ago? It made me wonder…

Where do people’s minds go when they get older? What memories stick out to them the most and why?

I remember my Uncle Cris sharing that when Tatay first came to America, he hated it and wanted to go back to the Philippines. I wondered how hard it must’ve been to leave his home and family in the Philippines to reunite with his children and in-laws in America. Out of all his siblings, Tatay was the only one who resided in America. He must have felt so torn – feeling homesick being away from the place where he grew up, leaving behind his siblings and all of his extended family, but also feeling “at home” reuniting with all of his children after 7 long years apart. All I know is, I’m grateful that he decided to call the Bay Area his home and vacation to the Philippines every so often, instead of the other way around. Deep down he probably knew that this was a sacrifice he had to make for the future generations to come.

One of Tatay’s last wishes was to be back in the Philippines. But because of a volcano eruption and COVID following not too long after, we were unable to do that for him. Tatay was known for his flip floppiness when it came to where he wanted to permanently reside. There have been a couple of times where he swore up and down that he was going to stay in the Philippines, but with time he always came back. It seemed like wherever he was, Philippines or the US, he always wanted to go back to the other country eventually. His children would take his decisions with a grain of salt because they knew their father too well – he was always changing his mind. Give him a month or 2 in the Philippines and he’ll be ready to willingly come back to the US, complaining about the weather when it gets too hot. Give him a couple of months to settle back into the US and he’s already requesting his next trip back to the Philippines. That was Tatay, he called both places home.

Pre-pandemic and pre-volcano eruption, Tatay wouldn’t back down with voicing his desires to go back to the Philippines. I truly believe that he believed he would spend his remaining days on Earth in Batangas. He was so adamant. By this time, 2019-ish, it was well over a couple of years since Tatay’s last trip to the Philippines. With his old age, he just couldn’t handle the 15+ hours on a plane. But he was persistent. My aunts finally decided to give him what he wanted, a 1 way ticket to the Philippines – not because they believed he was going to stay there permanently, but because they knew that with time he would want to come back home to the US. They were just unsure of how much time it would actually take this time around for him to come back. So they bought him a 1 way ticket there and planned on a return flight with a date that was to be determined. I can only imagine what that might’ve felt like to finally get your wish to return back to Batangas, and then be told that you no longer could go. The volcano eruption delayed it, but they still planned on rescheduling. When the pandemic happened, there was just no way. At one point during the pandemic my cousin tried to get Tatay dual citizenship. It was the only way he could travel to the Philippines during these times – but he was denied.

Tatay couldn’t make sense of it all. Why couldn’t he go?! Tatay took every opportunity he could to bring up wanting to go back to the Philippines throughout the pandemic. And as his memory started to teeter-totter back and forth between present day and the past, the Philippines became a regular topic for him. Some days he would think that we were friends visiting from another part of the Philippines, other days he’d be asking my dad when he was going back to the Philippines, and other times he would ask on repeat why / when can he go back. My dad and Tita would avoid talking about the Philippines or anyone going to the Philippines in front of Tatay. The topic alone could set him off into a question frenzy. He wanted to go home so bad. His mind was constantly thinking about the Philippines, so it only made sense that he talked about it all the time and sometimes believed that he was there.

I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it felt like a blow to the heart when he could no longer recognize who we were. But Tita would share what Tatay would ask and say on a day to day basis. A lot of the time, he still believed that he was living with us. The time frame he was thinking of would have me and my sisters as little kids. He would ask Tita where my dad was, where my mom was, where my sisters and I were sleeping, and when he’s going back to his house, our house. Tita would have to remind him that he has his own house and we live separately. I wondered what about this time frame stuck out to him. Tatay lived with us for about 6 years, and that is a very short amount of time in his very long life. Regardless, it made me feel a little better to know that we were still somewhere in his memory, even if it was more than 20 years dated.

Tita would also tell us stories about Tatay asking for my dad’s mom. She died during childbirth over 50 years ago. He would call for my dad’s mom in the middle of the night. “Conching,” was the nickname he called my grandma. At times he would ask Tita where his wife was and why does she keep leaving. Tita would simply tell him that she was his wife. “You look different,” he would tell her. Tita would have to remind Tatay that my dad’s mother died over 50 years ago and she’s his wife. Tatay and Tita were married for over 20 years. But that didn’t stop him from talking about my Nanay Conching. So many decades have passed, but his memory of my grandma was still there. He never forgot her.

One Sunday Tita shared with us that Tatay woke up in the middle of the night and called her by my grandma’s name, Conching. He asked if she was awake and she told him she was, but she wasn’t who he thought she was – she wasn’t Conching. Tatay proceeded to tell Tita that he had a dream that there was a lot of people telling him to go with them and sit in a chair with them. Tita tried to make light of it and advised him not to go with the people in his dream because it’s a pandemic. Of course we all thought about the Filipino superstition – when you have dreams of people who have passed on and they’re telling you to come with them, you will pass away in your sleep if you choose to follow them. There would be other times where Tatay would ask for random people that he wouldn’t bring up regularly in the past. But it so happened to be that everyone he was randomly asking for had passed away for some time.

There was another dream he shared with Tita, who later told all of us. In his dream, he saw my Nanay Conching. They were at their old house in the Philippines and she had prepared a lot of food. A lot of people were at their house for some type of party. My aunt, who was 2 years old when my grandma died, desperately tried to get answers from Tatay. “How do you know it was my mom? Did she say it was her?” She asked in Tagalog. He said no, she didn’t introduce herself, but he knew it was her. My aunt continued, “If you see her again, ask her how is Merlinda. Ask if she’s big now.” Merlinda passed away with my grandma. She was a stillborn birth. Tatay seemed to be a little uncomfortable with what my aunt was saying and his expression looked a little sad.

As Tatay’s memory began to fade in and out, it brought me a great sense of comfort knowing that he still remembered my Nanay Conching. She has been gone for 55+ years, and he was still calling out for her in the middle of the night. I’d like to believe that those were not just dreams he was having of her, but signs from the other side to let him know that once he passed on, he would be welcomed in by familiar faces. Even though Tatay’s memory went back and forth between the present day and the past, he always spoke of people and places that meant the most to him. I wondered if his life was playing like a reel in his head – reflecting, remembering, reliving – like a movie.

I guess I’ll never really know how Tatay’s memory was working as he neared the end of his life. I just know that at times it made me sad to know that his memory was all over the place. But he brought up so many different people, places, and reminisced on different parts of his life. It just reminded me that he lived such a long life filled with so many memories that of course his inner RAM was getting all jumbled up. It had 98 years to account for!

The day after his birthday, we all visited him again. He was weak, but still managed to give me a smile when I walked into his room. “Hiiiiii Tataaayyyyy!!” I said in my usual tone. “That’s the first time I saw him smile like that!” My Auntie Salvie said. I secretly hoped that he smiled because somewhere in his memory, he remembered me.

Sundays at Tatay’s House

This is story 4 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

Ate and I teaching Tatay how to do a Boomerang

If my dad doesn’t see signs of my sisters and I motioning to get up by 5 PM on a Sunday evening, he starts up again. “LETS GO! GET READY NOW!” he says throughout the house. Whether someone is sleeping on the couch, going pee in the bathroom, or literally already about to head downstairs to get ready, they get the same reminder. It’s Sunday, so it’s time to go to dinner at Tatay’s house. We partially ignore my dad’s irritated orders because we know we’re still going to be the first ones to arrive anyways. Depending on my mom’s mood, she’s either making food to bring to Tatay’s, or we buy take out. It’s the last scramble to get your belongings, phone charger, water bottle, computer, any work that you’re “going to work on” while at Tatay’s, before we hear my dad again. “LETS GOOOO!!!” Depending on his mood there might be a honk or two while he’s in the car.

We make our way to Tatay’s house and make the same walk that we always do from the apartment parking lot to his front door. We doorbell, but end up opening the door anyways. We greet Tita and bless her, quickly trying to claim a spot on the couch. The smell of food is already in the air. One thing about Tatay’s house is that there’s never a time where you leave and don’t smell like food. Little by little everyone starts showing up with food in hand, going straight to the kitchen. Tatay makes his grand appearance down the stairs, his cane not even touching the ground. We all line up to bless Tatay and greet him. We all wait until everyone has arrived before we pray and start to eat.

At Tatay’s service, something that all my cousins brought up during their speech was the language barrier we all faced when trying to communicate with Tatay. Every Sunday that we were there for dinner, my sisters and I would struggle to try to attempt to say something in Tagalog. Sometimes it was successful and we could carry out a simple conversation, but other times he would look at us like “….?” We would burst out laughing in embarrassment that our Tagalog was not understandable. We could understand what he would say to us in Tagalog, but we would need some time to process how to say what we wanted to say from English to Tagalog. But when our Tagalog wasn’t successful, we would tell our dad to translate what we wanted to say. We would use my dad as the human translator to tell Tatay information or ask him something.

Regardless of the language barrier, we all still found ways to communicate with Tatay. It’s crazy because even though we couldn’t communicate smoothly, the bond was still there. Maybe it’s because he lived with my family and I until I was about 7 years old, or the fact that there was just a mutual love between grandfather and grandchildren. Whatever it was, I still felt very close to my Tatay. When we were little he would take bus all around the city and come home with random things for my sisters and I. We showed our love through food, acts of service, and trying to show him things through the TV, our phones, or pictures.

Tatay’s house doesn’t have cable, so we were always trying to look for shows about animals. Animal planet was Tatay’s channel. He has always been so entertained and intrigued by animals. Ever since we were little, it was Tatay’s staple in his personality. Anything that had to do with animals, he loved. For a period of time, we would enter Tatay’s house on Sunday and immediately put it On Demand – a show about animals that he couldn’t get to on his own. He would always ask how we got on that channel, probably so he could try to watch it himself when we left. But the remote control for a 90+ year old is like the smart phone for Boomers. We just let him know that we would put on the channel for him when we came. We would watch animal documentaries while eating food, everyone huddled around the TV. Tatay would be totally fascinated. I don’t know when the switch happened, but over time we moved on to America’s Funniest Home Videos, and it was a plus that there was an animal segment.

When everyone is done with eating dinner, we just chill and hangout. This is usually the time when Tita will take out and offer the ice cream. Not just any ice cream, Mitchell’s Ube and Mango. Whoever takes the offer of getting ice cream always ends up being the server for everyone else. On the sidelines you will find cousins who are typing hard away on their laptop, people doing homework, great grandkids screaming from the top of their lungs running throughout the house, for some reason wrestling always ends up happening in the middle of the livingroom floor, some chisme in the kitchen with the adults, and cousins chopping it up in the livingroom. It’s a small apartment, but we made it a home. All of us crammed in there every other week to just hangout and be together as a family. Tatay would be in his designated chair either watching TV, or just observing the beautiful Sunday chaos going on around him.

And then there’s the pictures. I feel like we bonded with Tatay through taking pictures together and showing him filters. I always wondered what he was thought of them. Imagine being in your mid 90’s, and a little screen is showing that there’s a cat on your head. At times he would laugh and make a surprised entertained noise, and other times his reaction was like what the hell is that?! Seeing his reaction to filters and seeing his face when he saw himself on camera was priceless. I have so many photos of Tatay with a filter on, and they all put a smile on my face because I know he was truly shook with every single one.

One Sunday Tatay took an interest in my phone. I was on it and he asked if it was mine. The curiosity in his eyes and in how he was asking led me to believe that he was interested in playing around with it. I was doing homework at the time, so I put in my password and handed it over to him. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing because I was focused on what I was working on. In less than 30 seconds Tatay quickly hands it back to me and says something along the lines of “Here, I’m done now, take it,” in Tagalog. He was a bit distraught and to be honest, a little frantic. I looked at my phone to see that a couple of my apps were open and moved around, my Amazon cart was was open in the process of adding something random to my cart, and so many things were rearranged and done in such a small amount of time that I couldn’t help but laugh.

That’s what I mean when I say that even though there was a language barrier, it didn’t get in the way of Tatay bonding and interacting with us. Especially the relationships he had with his great grandchildren. All the kids knew his house as “Tatay’s House.” To them, Tatay’s house is where you go to play with your cousins, scream and run all night, and get scolded for going on the stairs. Tatay’s house was a place that they looked forward to going to because they knew that all the family would be there. They knew that there would be pizza, puto, and cousins to play with. Tatay was very loving an affectionate to his great granddaughters. They would come up to give him kisses and hugs, sit on his lap, and eagerly greet him when they came in. He would use his cane to play with them, and even though he probably didn’t know who’s kid belonged to who, he was thoroughly amused by their rambunctious ways. I’d always hoped that Tatay would be around long enough to meet my children.

There would be many times where I found myself observing Tatay as he observed the room himself. When the kids were yelling and having a great time, he would smile to himself, not bothered by the high pitched screams of enjoyment. Tatay was always lingering around. He wouldn’t be in the main conversations, but more so chillin on the sidelines hanging out. When we had our first Sunday dinner after over a year of being apart, I saw the spark in Tatay’s eyes again. Seeing everyone together, being in the thick of the chaos to see great grandchildren reuniting after so long, the apartment that was so quiet throughout the entire pandemic finally got brought back to life. I’m glad we gave Tatay a few more Sunday dinners despite the pandemic.

Now, Sundays look a little different. We are continuing to go to “Tatay’s house,” – because it will always be “Tatay’s house” to me – every other Sunday to have family dinner. This time around, we visit the cemetery before heading over. My dad’s “LETS GOOO, GET READY NOW!” announcements are now a little earlier so we have time to swing by the cemetery before it closes. We still make it a point to see Tatay every Sunday. It’s only right that we drop by and say hello, even if it’s only for a quick 2 minutes like what we did throughout the pandemic. If I think about it for too long, I get sad knowing that Tatay’s house will never be the same. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that still thinks he’s going to walk down those 2 flights of stairs, cane in hand, making his grand appearance into the livingroom. As time goes on, I know things will continue to change, people will move away, and things won’t always be the same. But for the time being, while we are still resuming family gatherings, I’d like to think that Tatay’s watching over us. I hope he’s glad that we’re continuing to come together as a family at “Tatay’s house” for Sunday dinner while we all still can.

Emotional Constipation

This is story 2 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

I’ve always considered myself very close to my Tatay, “Tatay Jack,” as I grew up calling him. I’ve always looked at him like he was a living relic because of his old age. 98! The things he witnessed and lived through always intrigued me. How he carried himself, how his mind worked thinking things through, where he came from, and how he grew up was so fascinating to me. He was 98 years old, but I expected 98 more. As naïve as it sounds, I never pictured my life without him. Of course I knew that with his old age, and given the life expectancy of your average person, it was childish and absurd to think that we would be on Earth together for as long as I lived. But, it was still my train of thought. To me, he lived against all odds, he was invincible.

With time, Tatay’s health started to decline little by little, and then drastically throughout the pandemic. When we would visit him, I couldn’t help but look at him with a heavy heart and wonder to myself how much time he actually had left with us. I know that’s a wretched way of thinking, but my brain was already mentally preparing my heart for the worst. At the same time, it made me cherish the times we went to see him even more because I knew time was not on our side. We all knew it was going to come one day, but I didn’t want that day to be now – or ever for that matter. But I knew I had to come to terms with the reality of life and death.

I expected to be an absolute wreck because I know myself to be a very emotional person when it comes to death. I expected myself to be more obviously distraught, crying at just the thought of him, and a ball of nerves and emotions. Instead, I find myself numb, withdrawn, and avoiding my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly sad, angry, and grieving, but my response to the passing of my Tatay is not the reaction I had prepared myself for. I find myself grieving in waves.

After receiving news of Tatay’s death, it’s like I was watching a movie, a total out of body experience. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, like it wasn’t even reality. As a family, we all had to process his death, but also go immediately into planning mode for his service. I found it easier to busy myself with tasks like writing his eulogy and looking through pictures to send to my sister to put on his slideshow than to deal with my sorrow and anger. For me, I didn’t have time to be sad. My main concern was capturing Tatay’s life in the best way possible for his eulogy and doing my part in giving him the best service, because that’s what he deserved.

Coincidently, Tatay passed a day before my last day of work before a 2 week long summer break. I was looking forward to this break for so long to finally unwind and relax. I soon realized that I would be using these 2 weeks off to mourn and bury my grandfather. Trying to make light of the situation, I would tell people closest to me that at least I had two weeks off of work to deal with his passing, oppose to grieving while still having to work 8-5 Monday through Friday. Christian and I had planned a week long stay in SoCal to visit his family before Tatay passed. Our Airbnb was non-refundable, so I decided to go for a couple of days instead of a full week to not entirely waste our money. The plan was for me to go to SoCal for a couple days and cut the trip short so I could be present for all of Tatay’s services, and Christian left SoCal shortly after me so he could be there in time for Tatay’s funeral.

It was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was on summer break, but I was so sad that it was under these circumstances. On my last day of work I got my nails done at the salon to prepare for my long anticipated vacation, even though all I could think about was the fact that Tatay wasn’t here anymore. I tried to force myself to get excited for the trip and have it be something to take my mind off of my reality for a while. I picked white for my manicure and pedicure so when I came back from SoCal, I was – dare I say – “funeral ready.” My aunts wanted all of us to wear white the day of his funeral.

The whole time I was in SoCal, I knew I had to write my speech that I would read during his viewing service. I brought my laptop and everything with me to type it up. But I couldn’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop and get started. Instead, I was mentally writing it in my head, drafting down nothing. I stalled on writing my speech because that would crystalize my reality – Tatay is gone, this is your last goodbye. So I stalled and stalled some more until I was back in the Bay Area. There was so much I wanted to say, so many memories I wanted to include, so many points I wanted to make, but no words on my screen. All that stood before me was a blinking cursor.

I procrastinated for so long, but it got to a point where I had to finish the speech because his viewing service was less than 24 hours away. This is part of the reason why I decided to write a series for Tatay. I had so much to say, but knew that his viewing wasn’t the place or the time. I wanted to go in depth about some topics and give my honest feelings about my grief, but I knew it probably wasn’t the appropriate setting for it. So I made the speech short and sweet, brushing over the topics I wanted to rant about. Thinking about it now, that probably added to my repression.

The viewing and the funeral was such an emotional rollercoaster. I’d have intense sadness that would result in audible weeping and uncontrollable crying. But then there would be other instances where I’d just have this out of body experience and just be seeing things play out right before my eyes. My grief was coming in waves, and I didn’t know how to let it all out. I felt as though I had an on/ off button for my emotions, but I had no control over it. As they lowered Tatay’s casket into the ground, I remember feeling completely numb. I didn’t cry, I didn’t look away, I just thought to myself, “damn. This is really happening.” I felt emotionally constipated. I had that feeling in my throat where I knew my soul wanted me to cry more tears to relieve my sadness, but nothing was coming out.

And shortly after his funeral, life went “back to normal,” and work started back up again. Only 2 weeks had passed, but I felt like a completely different person. The day Tatay died, I was telling everyone that I was okay, that my family and I were expecting his departure. It took me 2 weeks to realize that I actually wasn’t okay. On the outside, I was continuing with day to day tasks, keeping up with work, doing everything I did before Tatay passed. But on the inside, I was bursting at the seams with emotions, yet at the same time, empty and emotionless. The more I wanted to simmer in my grief and heartache, the colder I got. I couldn’t figure it out. Internally I felt emotionally constipated. And my gut feeling was telling me that all of my buried emotions were about to burst out and surface at a time when I least expected it. I didn’t know that out of all things, my manicure and pedicure would be the thing to set me off. Yup, nail polish is what made me crack.

I usually change my manicure color every week. I have my own gel curating machine at home and a ton of gel nail polish sets. I get tired of my manicures pretty quickly, and the moment I see a chip in my nail polish, I’ll take it as a sign to peel those bad boys off and change the color. My manicures last at most, 1.5 weeks, and that’s part of the reason why I do my own nails and rarely get them professionally done because ain’t nobody have time or money for all of that. I have no problem taking off a manicure and switching it up, it’s something I’ve been doing for years. But the manicure I got the day after Tatay passed was different. I was clinging onto that manicure for dear life.

I refused to change my white gel manicure. It was done with salon gel nail polish, so to be fair and honest, they did last way longer than my gel nail polish that I get from Amazon. This manicure was on week number 3, going on 4. I realized that I was getting fixated on changing my manicure, but brushed it off. “I’ll deal with that later when it actually comes time to change it,” I thought to myself. It’s the longest manicure that has ever lasted on my hands. My nails were growing out, and it was definitely time to change the color. But I was so hesitant. Why? Because time.

For me, seeing my nails growing out and doing a new manicure meant that time was passing. This is obviously a given, but in my head, my manicure was a measurement of time. Since I got it the day after Tatay passed and picked a color that was appropriate for his funeral, to me, changing the color meant significant time had passed since he left the physical world. My nail polish color is something so small and irrelevant, and I didn’t expect to be so fixated on the concept of what changing the color meant to me. Changing my manicure meant that time was passing, that his death was no longer “recent,” that time was moving forward and there was nothing I could do about it. I burst out into tears and started wailing.

I knew I had a lot of emotions that I had to sort through to cope with Tatay’s death. Grief is a tricky thing. One day you think you’re okay, and then another day you’re in complete shambles. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m worried that I’ll forget him. Writing this series is my way of letting it all out. I know I have to sort out all of my grief and lay it all out on the table or I’m just going to keep avoiding these feelings.

I’ve had enough of the emotional constipation…

Last Year

Every first of the month, I stalk Susan Miller’s Twitter to see if she posted her monthly horoscopes. May 1st was no different. I went on and read about my Aquarius horoscope for the month of May. I paused. Wait, MAY?! It’s crazy to me how we are already in the month of May, and I can’t help but feel like this pandemic is speeding up and slowing down time simultaneously. To me at least, it’s like ever since March 2020, the months are just bleeding into each other, and all sense of time is completely fucked up. The pandemic has been around for such an extended period of time that pre-COVID life seems like ages ago.

I couldn’t believe that it’s May 2021 already. Not in the actual sense – given that I don’t live under a rock – but it’s crazy to me how fast time is flying, and how much things have changed. It made me think back to this time last year, and I realized that it is the anniversary of when my life drastically changed. To those that have kept up with my journey, I bet you’re like “omg, girl, you moved out, calm down.” To others, moving out is something exciting. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life to date. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.

Around this time last year I got an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of my parents’ place. It was the end of April when this opportunity was brought to my attention, and little did I know that for the next 2 and a half months, I would be in a constant state of stress. This opportunity would give me the privilege to start saving money, live in expensive ass San Francisco, and take the next step in my relationship – but it also gave me headaches and countless sleepless nights. From the end of April 2020 – July 2020, this decision weighed heavy on my mind 24/7.

At that time, I just wanted to look into the future. I wanted to channel my inner “That’s So Raven,” and see what my outcome would be. I was so mentally stuck and conflicted that I didn’t know how to go about my life anymore. I was put in a position where whatever decision I chose, whether I accepted or denied, my life would drastically change either way. I was so stressed out. I feared change and didn’t want to mess up my family dynamic, but at the same time I was so curious to know what life would be like if I accepted the opportunity. There were pros and cons to both decision, and I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I begged the universe, my ancestors that have passed away, God – anybody or anything – to give me a sign on what the fuck to do with my life.

One of the months while I was in silent mental torture, I read my horoscope forecast for the new month. I can’t remember which month it was, but I remember reading it in awe. My horoscope basically described that I was going to be put in a position where I had to make a big decision. Now here me out, I love reading my horoscopes. It’s something that I think is fun to read and feeds my curiosity of the universe, future, and my life. But I don’t make big decisions in my life based on what my horoscope says. At this time though, I wanted a sign. I read my horoscope by Susan Miller, and not only did the whole thing seem very relevant to my life and my current scenario at the time – it seemed creepily spot on. It said I was going to have to make a tough decision, but whatever decision I chose, I could never go back to how life was before. Susan Miller described this transition like as if I were crossing a bridge, and that bridge falling apart right after I made it to the other side. Meaning, I was moving forward with my life, and whatever decision I made could not be undone. She also mentioned how I would make a commitment for at least 2 years – which tripped me the fuck out because the deal that was on the table required at least a 2 year agreement. I was shook. The universe doesn’t lie.

However, I didn’t make the decision I made because my horoscope was spot on at the time. But I do think of my mindset one year ago, and how I so desperately wanted to know what life would be like if I chose either decision – to move or not to move. It’s like I wanted a crystal ball to help me see what was the “right choice.” A year ago, I was so stressed out and really felt like I couldn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like no matter what I chose, someone would be upset or disappointed with me. Fast forward to now, the present day, I look back and think damn, 1 decisions really changed my whole ass life. And here I am now, 1 year later, in a totally different headspace, happy with my choices, and growing as a person. It’s crazy what time can do. It’s true that 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. – your life can drastically change. I kind of chuckle at how stressed I was a year ago – not because it’s funny, but because I should’ve known I’d be just fine. I’m exactly where I need to be.