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.

Family Traditions

What’s one family tradition you’d like to carry on in the future

When I was younger, my family and I had plenty of traditions, and I’ve always wanted to uphold all of them for my future family and kids. From meeting for Sunday lunch at Mama’s house after 1 o’clock mass on my mom’s side, to opening presents right at midnight on my dad’s side, these are all little traditions that I remember as a kid. As us cousins and kids got older though, the traditions started to change as well. Meeting weekly became hard given people’s changing schedules, availability, etc. Waiting until midnight to open presents got harder to do since the adults were getting older and struggling to stay awake, as well as the kids being so young that staying up until midnight was more of a hassle than a treasured tradition. Like everything in life, things change.

Especially with big families, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Everyone’s schedule is all fucked up, other priorities, some just don’t end up coming, people move or live far away, and with time, everyone just kind of branches out and does their own thing as their own little families expand. Major holidays and gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Tatay Jacinto’s birthday, Mama and Tatay Celso’s death anniversaries, are all days out of the year that are basically mandatory for my family. Those are the holidays that I take seriously and know that I can’t miss. As I get older, in the back of my mind I’m thinking of how I’m going to celebrate holidays with my kids. I quickly realize that my family events and holidays will be something that I have to thoroughly plan out as well, because I’ll have a whole other side and family that also celebrate those holidays.

I think back to pre-COVID, when my older cousins with kids have to leave some holiday parties early to make it to their in-law’s side. Some alternate year to year what holiday they will spend with which side. The compromise of divvying out holidays is something I know is in my near future, especially since I do have plans on having a family of my own one day. To be honest, it’s kind of foolish of me to previously think that every single tradition I had growing up would be continued when the time comes for me to have a family. But, a girl could dream. I came to the unpleasant realization that I can’t uphold all of those traditions – but that’s okay.

But one tradition that I would like to carry on in the future is celebrating “death anniversaries” for family members who have passed on. This is a tradition that my mom’s side upholds. For outsiders, it may be a little weird to celebrate the day when somebody died, but for us, it’s a reminder of the departed’s life. It’s a time to pray for your loved one’s soul that they continue to rest in peace on the anniversary of their passing. Growing up Catholic, anything surrounding death usually involves prayer. Given people’s differences in religion, and my own beliefs on religion, I would take this tradition and tweak a few things – turning it into a celebration of life, either on the death anniversary, or the birthday of the departed, maybe even both days.

This is something that my mom’s side practiced since I was a little kid. My mom’s eldest brother passed away before I was even born, but I have fond memories of us praying for him and having a bigger than normal Sunday lunch to celebrate. The painted portrait of Uncle Rolly was displayed every death anniversary. They would light candles and gather in the Livingroom of Mama’s house to begin the rosary. Even though I never knew who he was or got the privilege to meet him, I knew of him because we celebrated him and remembered him on his death anniversary.

Mama would orchestrate Uncle Rolly’s death anniversary rosary. And when she and Tatay Celso passed away, we continued the tradition for them. When July 12th and November 10th roll around, I know we are due for a family party. I black out that weekend because I know we will be celebrating with a family gathering and prayer service, no question about it. Because everyone is off doing their own thing, this is the 1-3 times out of the year we are all guaranteed to be together as a family to remember a family member who is no longer with us. It gives the family time to catch up, bond, and see each other. If nobody told you it was a death anniversary party, you would think it’s somebody’s party. And that’s basically what it is – a huge party with a lot of food and people.

Celebrating death anniversaries is definitely a tradition I want to continue for future generations to come. I think it’s a beautiful thing to honor someone in the family who is no longer there physically. It gives a chance for the younger children who never knew them, to still get the gist of what the person was like through stories and memories. It takes a sad memory – for those who remember – and turns it into a celebration of life and good times for the people who are still around. Even if this tradition evolves over time and eventually turns into a dinner at a restaurant instead of one of the siblings hosting it at their house, it is still the same concept of celebrating and remembering someone who has passed on.

That’s something that is very important to me – letting my future children know of their relatives that have passed on that played a big part in their parents’ lives. I’m really big on family history, and making sure that nobody is forgotten. Celebrating someone’s birthday or death anniversary is also a great way to cope the loss of someone important in your life, even if it is years after the fact. For my Mama and Tatay Celso, we celebrated every year until COVID hit. Even the random 2-9 year death anniversaries, because we want to remember and we want to keep their memory alive, letting them know that even though they’re not here physically anymore, we still celebrate and remember them. It’s super important to me for my future children to know their lineage and know where they came from, who were the people that helped raised me, and how we remember and honor those that came before us.

Asians Experience Racism Too

In the middle of my “LoveYourzStory X My Small Business” series, videos and stories started to trend around the internet – Asian hate crimes. I knew that once my series was complete, this would be a topic I wanted to address right off the bat. I watched the video of 84-year-old, Vicha Ratanapakdee, getting knocked down to the ground by that loser too many times. I sat there, watching the video on loop, feeling sick to my stomach. The more I watched, the more I wanted to break down and start crying. All I could think was: WHY?! Why would anyone do something so horrible to an elderly man that was out minding his business? I tried to put myself in Vicha’s shoes, what those last moments must’ve felt like. Though the video was grainy and low quality, I could only imagine the confusion and fear that raced through his mind as he saw a young adult charge at him.

Sadly, Vicha Ratanapakdee’s story was not the last. It seemed like the elderly Asian hate crimes started to trend one after the other. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch the footage for every new story anymore. It was violence overload. Especially the fact that most of these victims were elderly. It’s upsetting and disgusting to know that there are people out there that will pick on senior citizens that can’t defend themselves. When these assaults are captured on camera, it has its pros and cons. On the bright side, it is evidence. The suspect can be identified, and it is solid proof of the crime. It also brings awareness to the issues at hand when the footage goes viral. It makes people be more aware of their surroundings and what’s going on in their area. However, these viral videos can also trigger the losers out there that feed off of the attention, and try to keep the trend going.

With the help of social media, these hate crimes against elderly Asians were caught on camera and have since went viral. The world scrolled through in horror as these videos were uploaded one after the other. For all the verbal and physical attacks that weren’t caught on video, social media is still being used as a platform to tell the stories of these instances. Though these hate crimes are very unfortunate and upsetting, at the very least, I’m relieved that it is shedding light on some deep rooted issues that need to be brought up. We are living in a time where video evidence is almost necessary, or everyone will doubt the credibility of the victim. And even then, video or photos will sometimes still have people believe that there are two sides to every story. But this isn’t anything new to the Asian community. A lot of the time, Asians have to give proof and keep tabs on racially motivated hate. It is a huge misconception that Asians do not face racism.

Asians experience racism too.

People are surprised and shocked about Asians being targeted in assaults, but sadly, this is nothing new. Especially with COVID-19 and Trump referring to the illness as the “Chinese virus,” there has been a spike in anti-Asian beliefs and crimes since the pandemic started. In the years that Trump was president, we saw this country’s rotting underbelly of racist beliefs burst out at the seams. Some thought these racist beliefs and ideals were of the past, but they quickly realized that that was not the case. Having Trump as president for so many years changed the climate of America. And racists didn’t just come out of nowhere when Trump was president, they have always been there. But suddenly, racists felt bold and empowered, no longer hiding their true feelings of people of color when the “leader” of the country was spewing the same hate. We saw the climax of racial tension in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter Movement rising back up again after the death of George Floyd. People took it to the streets all across the country – even the world – to show solidarity with the black community.

The Black Lives Matter movement brought attention to injustices that black people face from law enforcement and society. This has opened the doors for other minority groups to express their struggles and feelings on the topic of racism as well. Having a melting pot of stories from people of different backgrounds make people feel like they are not alone. And even though 2 people come from 2 different cultures and backgrounds, that doesn’t mean that 1 person experiences oppression and racism while the other doesn’t. All parties can co-exist at the same time without taking away attention from the other group. People from different cultures experience different microaggressions, discrimination, and deal with stereotypes. Having this “but my group of people deal with more than your people,” mentality is where people start to divide and stray away from the bigger picture. And this is where I think Asians get cheated.

The common misconception is that Asians don’t face racism as severely as other people of color. Asians are seen as the “model minority.” thepractice.law.harvard.edu describes model minority by saying:

…The term “model minority” has often been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups. The term could, by its definition and logic, be applied to any number of groups defined by any number of criteria, but it is perhaps most commonly used to frame discussions of race. In particular, the model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic, and cultural domains—successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.

Growing up in the Bay Area, the model minority myth is very prevalent. I remember being a freshman in high school in my advanced English class. I forget the subject we were talking about, but we were working in small groups, and one of my classmates said something along the lines of, “Well, Latinos are hard workers, doing the field work that no one else would do, unlike Asians who just sit in a cubicle and type in the office.” It’s that kind of mentality that pins other races against each other because one group thinks that they have it worse than the other, and instead of realizing that each group faces different stereotypes and forms of racism, they almost turn it into a competition of, “well my people suffer more than yours, so your suffering doesn’t matter.” And that mentality is dangerous. It dismisses a whole group of people’s experiences and deems it “not worthy” or “less important.”

My classmate was not trying to be hurtful with that statement. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see anything wrong with that statement at all. In fact, those that are not Asian may be thinking – “What is so wrong about being under the umbrella of model minority? Doesn’t that mean that you, as an Asian, have it easier?” That is not the case. Especially when we group people of color into categories like: Asian, Latino, Black, Indigenous people- it causes us to think they we are all just lumped into one group, assuming everyone in that category has the same experiences, and that is not true. In fact, there is even racism within the Asian community. When people think of “Asian,” they think of light-skinned Asians, but there are darker skinned Asians as well. Asians face racism from their own community and from outsiders. Asians are expected to be successful, excel in academics, and be the model minority group, and though that is a “positive” stereotype, it can have negative effects.

Since Asians are seen as the model minority group amongst people of color, that can sometimes have other people of color look at the Asian community with hate. Bullying, making fun of, or making racist comments towards Asians is more acceptable and not seen as a big deal. When the videos of Asian senior citizens were released, I watched in complete horror. But when I scrolled down to the comments, I was so disheartened and angry. A lot of comments were saying that these crimes are nothing compared to what black people face on a daily. It made me so upset because these comments were basically saying, “since my community is suffering, I don’t care if your community suffers.” So many Asians support the Black Lives Matter movement and other marginalized groups, and it’s just so disappointing that some people genuinely refuse to stand with us because their community goes through similar acts of violence. That should be more of a reason to stand in solidarity with the Asian community. And it’s such a shame that there are some people out there that refuse to empathize with the Asian community because of their underlying hate and resentment they have towards the group.

By default, Asians are usually excluded from talks of racism. And even when Asians speak out about the racism they face, it is swept under the rug, doesn’t get much attention, or is dismissed because “other groups have it worse.” Society tells Asians that they should just suck it up, take the abuse, and just be thankful that they don’t have it as bad as others. This puts Asians in an awkward position where we will never be “white enough” but at the same time we are denied by other people of color because we “don’t know / can’t relate” to the magnitude of racism that their particular group faces. We neither fit in nor can relate with others – not even other Asians outside of our nationality since we have totally different experiences as well. For example, what I go through as a Filipino American is completely different from an Indian American, or a Japanese American, even though we fall under the category of “Asian.” The truth is, the Asian experience is disregarded and is seen as less important compared to our allies.

Asians have always been subject to proving that they also face racism. This is nothing new. However, what is new is the media coverage on these assaults and trends – targeting elderly Asians. As horrible as these assaults have been, the first step is recognizing that Asians are being targeted, and all of these cases are not just random. Now you can find articles, news coverage on TV, and specific social media pages dedicated to the rise in Asian hate crimes that have spiked over the last year. It takes a trend like elderly Asian hate crimes to finally make it on your TV screen. However, I truly believe that times are changing. These crimes are bringing the Asian community and other minority groups together, standing in solidarity, instead of ranking who has it worse amongst the races. Over the last year, I have seen a great shift in how people of color are banding together and uniting, having each other’s back and supporting one another, realizing that racism is intersectional, and we shouldn’t focus on denying other people’s reality. One group of people’s reality can co-exist with another group’s reality without being dismissed, downplayed, or compared. You can stand in solidarity with one group without taking away from another. We are fighting the same fight.

I love that celebrities are using their platform to express the injustices that Asians face that go unnoticed. Jeremy Lin has opened up about his disgust with the recent hate crimes towards elderly Asians, and has shared that being a professional ball player doesn’t exclude him from racism either. He has shared that he has been called “Coronavirus,” by other players, but refuses to name drop. He is using his platform to inform and educate his followers.

It’s very upsetting to see all of the videos of elderly Asians being attacked. It’s disgusting to know that there are people out there that will attack senior citizens that are defenseless and don’t stand a chance. It’s scary because a lot of people are already afraid to go out in fear of COVID, but now they have to fear for their safety as well. It’s hitting too close to home – as footage from the Bay Area surfaces. It’s crazy because the Asian population is so big in the Bay Area, it’s shocking to know that even somewhere so Asian diverse could be a hot spot for Asian hate crimes. A lot of people have organized rallies, have digged deeper into the microaggressions Asians face, and have started educating themselves on racism towards Asians. The first step is starting the conversation – we’ve been quiet and passive aggressive for too long.

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”

Kapwa Baking Company

Faye remembers it fondly – using a big fork to mash all the ripe bananas that were in a huge white plastic bowl her mom handed her. Smashing the bananas was Faye’s special job every time they made banana bread, and she was happy to do it. Her mother would eyeball the recipe, adding a splash of milk, mixing in flour and sugar, and somehow getting it perfect every time. Making banana bread with her mom are the earliest memories Faye has of baking. And now with her own children, Faye has passed down the banana smashing torch to them – remembering how excited she would get to help her mom in the kitchen.

Growing up, she had always watched both of her Lolas cooking, and her parents were pretty nifty in the kitchen as well. Faye has always felt like baking was always in the “background” of her life, and didn’t realize at the time how much baking meant to her. With time, Faye saw it clearly – baking was her passion that lit a fire in her soul. With the help of her husband, Ryan, and COVID, Kapwa Baking Co. was born. And now, Faye and Ryan are serving classic Filipino desserts, selling out almost every time, while balancing their full-time jobs and raising their 3 children.

It has been a journey to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where it is today. The business was formerly known as Bake Me Happy SF, but with the help of COVID, it took on a new look, menu, and name in 2020. Faye shares her small business’ story, but Kapwa Baking Co. is so much more than a business to her. It has been her dream for years, and her and her husband are finally laying down the foundation of their business. Her goal is still the same – to one day have a café or bakery where she serves her regulars their usuals, a place where the community can gather and enjoy her delicious food. This is why she named her business “Kapwa,” the Tagalog meaning for “community / neighbor.” She was 9 years old when she left the Philippines for the US, and the desserts she offers are some of her favorites that remind her of home.

“My family moved here when I was 9, so I was still pretty young,” Faye said. “But I was old enough to have some concrete memories from the time time I spent there. I admit, a lot of my memories revolve around food haha!”

Ironically, the baking dessert connoisseur’s dream growing up was to be a dentist. Faye’s mom had a dental practice in the Philippines, and for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be just like her mom. Faye wanted to make that dream come true, so she went to college to pursue being a dentist. At the time, she didn’t even think twice about baking and owning a business. She continued with her studies, but found herself spending every break – before and after school – in the Culinary Department’s library. Every time Faye stepped foot in a bookstore, she would go straight to the cookbook section. She wanted to learn more about everything and anything related to desserts and baking. And when she wasn’t reading about food and baking, she was watching it on the Food Network.

Faye knew that she probably loved baking more than the average person, but didn’t give it much thought, other than being a hobby she really enjoyed. Baking was a stress reliever for her during her high school and college days. Faye would bake cookies pretty consistently, and just give them away to her classmates in college. When she started becoming aware of her new found passion in baking, she still continued with her original plan – she never switched her major to pursue the culinary arts. Faye has no formal culinary or baking training – everything she has learned has been through cookbooks, Food Network shows, other cooking channels she would religiously keep up with on YouTube, and of course, trial and error. She is 100% self-taught and humbly acknowledges that she is learning new techniques and information everyday.

“I never really looked at the underlying interest I had in sweets and desserts,” Faye said reminiscing on her college days. “I spent a good chunk of my college life working towards a career that I thought was my dream. In the end, I finally realized that baking and creating fed my soul and that it was what I was most passionate about.”

So, Faye fed that passion when she could. She felt as though baking and creating desserts was just the natural path for her to take. Her very first official “order” came from her dad. He ordered a Shako chocolate cake. If you look it up, a Shako is a cylinder shaped military hat that has embellishments and pompoms and feathers coming out of the top. Faye’s dad took her to get all of her materials to make the Shako cake, and she felt a little overwhelmed. At that point, she had only worked with American buttercream. In the end, she completed the chocolate Shako cake – decorated with fondant, a Styrofoam feather pompom decorated with royal icing, and edible gold dust for the embellishments. This tough first order of hers really opened her eyes to all the different mediums she could use in her dessert making. She started researching all the different ways she could use edible decorations and mediums.

From there, Faye started baking cakes for her friends and family’s birthdays or for special occasions. And usually she would give the cake as a gift. With time, she started experimenting with cake pops, personalized sugar cookies, macarons, and other small desserts. Faye jokes that the time she spent in the Culinary Department’s library finally came in handy! But it wasn’t until she had her son that her business started to slowly take form, about 8 years ago. This is when dessert tables started to gain popularity for being the highlight of parties.

When Faye’s son had his 1st birthday, she wasn’t working at the time. They couldn’t really afford to pay someone to make the anticipated dessert table, so Faye put her baking skills to the test and made all the desserts herself. Friends started to ask about all the desserts that were at the party, so Faye gladly started to take orders. A couple years later, Faye and Ryan welcomed their daughter into the world, and that’s really when the ball started rolling. They started their first small business, Bake Me Happy SF, where Faye catered desserts for birthdays, parties, showers, weddings, and any occasion that required treats.

Kapwa Baking Co. has been an idea that Faye and Ryan sat on for some time, but never pursued. It wasn’t until they took a trip to Portland 3 years ago that re-sparked their interest in having a small business that they could one day have a physical location for. When they were in Portland, they were inspired by all the mom and pop shops that they saw. Still, Bake Me Happy SF was doing well, and they were content with what they were doing for the time being. That all changed when COVID hit. When one business fell through the cracks, another business was born.

Faye admits that COVID and the Shelter in Place orders were the catalyst for starting up Kapwa Baking Co. It was the push that the needed since a lot of events that Bake Me Happy SF had were canceled due to the pandemic. Faye and Ryan had no choice but to pivot their business. That’s when the couple decided that Bake Me Happy SF would change into Kapwa Baking Co. Faye closed down Bake Me Happy SF ‘s websites and Instagram account since she was no longer going to offer the same desserts as she used to. Faye was very hesitant when they were going to launch Kapwa Baking Co. because she didn’t know how her followers would receive it. Her dessert menu was completely new – serving classic Filipino desserts, and some with a new twist, like her Pastillas Milk Jams. Since these were products that were different from what Bake Me Happy SF was originally known for, there were some doubts about how successful the new menu and business would be.

“The first week of our launch, I was fully prepared to only receive 1 or 2 orders from family members because our first product was something completely new,” Faye said.

To their surprise, Kapwa Baking Co. launched successfully! They have only been in business for about 6.5 months, but have already received so much success and support. They consistently sell out of their items, and can get booked pretty quickly. The max amount of orders that Kapwa Baking Co. can take each week varies based on Faye’s work schedule. She works as an administrative assistant at an elementary school, and even though there are no kids present because of the pandemic, COVID has made the job more demanding. There are weeks where they sell out pretty quickly, and that can be due to the limited orders they can accommodate, and then there are weeks where they can take a lot more orders because her work load isn’t as bad. It really all depends from week to week.

Kapwa Baking Co.‘s menu includes: Pastillas Milk Jams, Ube Monster Bread Pudding, Ube Cheesecake Fudge Brownies, Ube White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies and Cream Bread Pudding, and their most popular item – the good ‘ol classic Pastillas. Pastillas are a milky sweet candy that’s very popular in the Philippines. The recipe Faye uses is the same recipe her sister taught her over 10 years ago. When her customers drive by to pick up their orders, their pastillas are soft and fresh. Around the holidays, Faye was selling out of their milk jams because people were buying them to give as gifts. And usually one person will order on behalf of other people like their coworkers, family, and friends, and Kapwa Baking Co. will be greeted with a hefty order. This isn’t something Faye and Ryan complain about, though. They are just happy and grateful that their products sell out and that a lot of people enjoy them.

It’s definitely a blessing to have your products be so popular and selling out very often. Because of the business’ success, Faye and Ryan are still trying to find the middle ground of balancing Kapwa Baking Co. , their 9-5 jobs, and spending time with their 3 children. COVID has brought its own level of craziness to her full-time job, so Faye does all the work for Kapwa Baking Co. after hours. It is chaotic to say the least, but Faye thanks Ryan for having her back, because without him she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. Their daughter has commented on how busy her parents have been, and how they aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this comment, Faye has made a point to have “break” weeks where they don’t take any orders so they can have quality time with their children. Thankfully, her two eldest children are very helpful and self-sufficient, and love to help their youngest sibling, so when it is time to get down to business, all hands are on deck.

And that is exactly what is needed on baking days. That is the most chaotic time of the week – when it’s time to make and bake all the orders that came through. Faye does prep work throughout the week, like measuring out ingredients, prepping packaging, and tiny steps that can be done ahead of time. But all the baking and food preparation are done the night before the pick ups / deliveries. It may get crazy, but Faye does it to make sure that her customers have the freshest products from their company. Faye handles all the bookings, communications, and baking, while her husband, Ryan, handles the packaging aesthetic and deliveries. They have been meaning to find a time where they can have official “business meetings” between the two, but haven’t had the time to pencil that in permanently yet. For now, the flow and balance that they have now is working well.

There are days when Faye feels discouraged, exhausted, and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it has never gotten to the point where she feels like throwing in the towel. Faye admits that there have been a handful of nights where there were some tears and a lot of frustration because things didn’t go as planned. She deals with it by letting herself feel the emotions, but letting it go after. Faye knows that for the time being, she has to hustle to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where they want it to be. There are days where her full-time job drains her and she is overwhelmed with her “to do” list, but she knows that this business has been her dream for a long time, so she has to push through those difficult days. This mentality is part of the reason why Kapwa Baking Co. is so successful.

Faye has also been successful when advertising her small business online. When they were planning to launch Kapwa Baking Co., Faye made an Instagram and Facebook account for the business. They have gained a lot of their followers through friends and family sharing their page and posts. Faye recognizes that this is why Kapwa Baking Co. has been so successful – because of the support of friends, family, and customers sharing their content online. Faye makes it a point to add a personal touch to what she posts on the business’ Instagram and Facebook page because she doesn’t want to just post their menus from week to week. She tries to switch it up and have that personal connection with those who interact with the business page.

The positive feedback that they have been getting from customers and those around them is what surprised the couple the most. The support that they get from other small businesses is very heartwarming and encouraging. That’s why Faye’s advice for other small business owners is to support one another. This builds connections and awareness of other small businesses, especially during a time where small businesses are most at risk. She believes that supporting other small businesses will shed light on what’s important – raising up the community, her “Kapwa.”

“We are also looking forward to working with many many other small businesses and doing our part in raising our kapwa business owners up,” Faye explained as she went into collabing with other businesses.

When Bake Me Happy SF turned into Kapwa Baking Co., they revamped their whole menu. Faye was inspired by her favorite desserts and foods that she ate when she was a kid living in the Philippines. Their very first product, Pastillas Milk Jams, were inspired by her favorite candy – pastillas. Instead of having the pastillas in candy / solid form, the Milk Jam can be served on top of bread, ice cream, or even by itself! Faye and Ryan do a lot of experimenting with flavors and testing their recipes. Taste testing is Ryan’s primary job, and though they let their kids in on the tasting fun, they are aware that anything sweet is good to them! So, they will sometimes ask friends and family to taste their new treats. For now, their dessert menu is centered around them taking their own spin on traditional Filipino desserts and food.

Faye laughs and says she wants her customers to know that she is “extremely shy and awkward.” She wonders if people at curbside pickup notice how “awkward” she can be, but wants people to know that despite her shy demeanor, she loves to meet new people! A lot of their customers are friends, or friends of friends, or somehow know a mutual connection, and Faye enjoys building friendships with those who buy from Kapwa Baking Co. There are times where she is very hard on herself, and is working on celebrating her own victories, since she loves to celebrate others’ victories.

Their goal for 2021 is to partner with more local businesses and possibly expand to Farmer’s Markets. Faye wants to dedicate more time to Kapwa Baking Co. so she can consistently take more orders. They are really hoping that opening a physical location will be in their cards somewhere down the line. It has been Faye and Ryan’s dream to one day open up a brick and mortar for their small business, and that’s where the conversation always leads to when they talk about their dreams and goals. Faye loves that she has her husband’s support through it all. She describes him as her #1 supporter, business partner, and all around helper. This is their dream, their goals are aligned, and they are keeping their eyes on the end goal.

“That’s always what it came down to – to own a place where people can come together, share their talents, and enjoy our treats,” Faye said. “A place where people came in as strangers and left as family, where we would know our customers by name and serve them their ‘usuals.’ We wanted a place where we could feature other small businesses and their hustles, hold open mics and art shows for local musicians and artists. Hence the name we chose… Kapwa.”