Filipino American History Month

Daly City / San Francisco born and raised. Daly City, California, is known for the huge Filipino presence. People joke around that Daly City is basically “Little Manila.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area that is so culturally diverse, but also, had people that had the same background and traditions as myself. I know that a few hours out of the Bay Area in either direction is a totally different story. So I didn’t realize until my early 20’s how lucky I was to grow up here. I know there are a lot of people that have stories about being some of the only Asians at their high school and feeling the need to conform to those around them, which usually meant acting more white.

Of course, when I was younger, I was unaware of how fortunate I was to live in an area where some people have the same features as me, speak the same 2nd language as me, and have similar traditions as my family. At the time, all of this was my normal reality. I went to a Catholic school that highlighted a Filipino-Chinese Saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, every year. And everytime September rolled around, we would have San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass during school hours. I would feel such a sense of pride. Mr. Mills’ class always “hosted” that mass, and I remember since Kindergarten going to the mass every year.

One student would recite sentence by sentence Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English, and another student would translate that sentence in Tagalog. I can still remember the script: “Lorenzo Ruiz, our first martyr.” “Lorenzo Ruiz, una naming martir…” There was a specific song we sang at the mass that was entirely in Tagalog. I couldn’t understand the whole song, but I could understand majority of it. This was my “normal” growing up. Celebrating a Filipino Saint, for example, was “normal,” but now I look back and realize it’s because we had such a big Filipino community in the Bay Area. And I took so much pride in it. I was so proud.

When I was in 5th grade I was finally in Mr. Mills’ class. I was excited because I knew that I had the chance to play a role in the mass since he hosted it every year. When Mr. Mills started to ask for volunteers, my hand was one of the first to shoot up in the air. I wanted to be a part of San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass so bad. The mass highlighted Filipinos and our language, and I wanted to be involved. Luckily, Mr.Mills picked me to have a part in the mass. I was going to be reading the English translation of Ruiz’s story. I was so excited because it was something I had watched for years from the church pews, but now, I’d be the one presenting it.

I practiced every night with my lines. The mass was going to be in front of the whole school, definitely more than 600 people. We would practice in the church, and I would have the microphone. I was known for being a loud mouth, which is probably why I was picked to read and have the role. Mr. Mills would always tell us, “Project your voice. Enunciate!” I could probably use my regular voice and people in the church could hear me without a microphone, so I was solid. I remember the day of the mass, I started to get stage fright. I looked out into the crowd and saw all eyes on me, as Ivan and I stood infront of the whole school. We told Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English and in Tagalog, and after, I felt such a sense of pride that I got to be a part of something that highlighted my people.

Even though I grew up in a place where there were a lot of Filipinos, I still didn’t understand why nobody on TV looked like me. I would get excited watching shows that had an Asian person, and it was even more heart eyes if I knew they were Filipino as well. It was to the point where my sisters and I would say things like, “Look, an Asian!” “Do you think they’re Filipino?” “I bet maybe they’re half,” when we would see an Asian on TV. So even though I came from an area that was very Filipino/ Asian dense, I knew from a young age that Asians were  not being represented on the TV screens. From Manny Pacquiao, to Shay Mitchell, to Apl.de.ap, to Jokoy, to Jasmine Trias on American Idol, once we caught wind of them being Filipino, we rode hard for them. On Balitang America, the Filipino news station that broadcasted American news through the Filipino lens, they would feature any Filipino making a name for us in America. From the music industry, to entertainment, to education. 

I feel like Filipinos are very proud of other Filipinos who “make it.” Even if they have a small following, just claiming their Filipino heritage will have other Filipinos rep them. I even remember going on Shay Mitchell’s Ask back in the day and asking if she was really half Filipino. She actually responded and confirmed that she was in fact half Filipina. It made me so proud that an actress that I looked up to was representing us on the screen. I even recall reading interviews where Shay talked about growing up in an area that was mostly white, and being biracial had her feeling left out. Seeing people that look like me on the screen was important growing up. I was the kind of kid that literally set a “Filipino For Lyfe” themed MySpace background. Jokoy described seeing other Filipinos on TV as motivation to go for his dreams and make it as well. 

When I got to high school the history books just touched on Filipino American history oh so briefly. I used to skim through the history books in middle school and see where Filipinos or the Philippines was ever brought up. It wouldn’t be much. High school was a weird time. Going to a high school in Daly City meant that there were gonna be a lot of Filipinos. It wasn’t always the case, but sometimes there would be snarky comments (sometimes from people I was even cool with) complaining about how the whole school is mostly Filipino / Asian. Being Asian or Filipino in Daly City didn’t make you special. You were just like everybody else. Which I saw was a good thing when I was younger. But then I hit my teen years and wanted to be different, I didn’t want to be “like everyone else.”

I wasn’t ashamed to be Filipino, but I wasn’t repping it hard like I used to. Why would I have to rep it if everyone and their mama was Filipino in Daly City anyways? Don’t get me wrong – I still would be happy when I saw a Filipino coming up. But at the same time I wouldn’t plaster “Filipino For Lyfe” as a MySpace background anymore because I thought it was cringe. At this age I was on the prowl for a boyfriend (cringe lyfe), and when people would ask if I would ever get with a Filipino guy, I’d respond in a way that made it seem like “never in a thousand years.” Which I thought was okay, since I’m Filipino too. “What if I find out they’re my cousin or something?!” I would say. Which by the way, isn’t too far fetched, my family on both sides are pretty big.

I would say it wasn’t until I got to SFSU and joined the journalism program did I start to get that sense of pride back again. Suddenly, my whole perspective shifted. I took on the role of “journalist” and was bothered over the fact that a great portion of newsrooms are ran by white people. White men to be exact. The lack of diversity in journalism is what ticked me off. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to represent my people and capture stories of people in my community, and branch out further. Suddenly, that pride was back. But that pride was matched with determination. Determined to make change and actually make a difference. I wasn’t giving people a “voice,” because everyone has a voice. I wanted to be so open and chill that anyone felt like they could open up to me and tell their stories, and describe to me their raw emotions.

Suddenly, I had a mission. I wanted to get more in touch with my culture, the good and the bad. And since being on this journey, I have learned a lot, just by talking to people casually about their own experiences. I started to embrace my Filipino culture with open arms again, like how I did when I was a kid. I didn’t care if I was 1 out of 2 billion Filipinos in the Bay Area. I didn’t care about the “Little Manila” jokes anymore. I wanted to learn more about my people’s history, their stories, their struggles. And I wanted to write it. Not some random journalist who is just trying to bang out another story. I didn’t want someone else to be writing our stories.

Especially being out of school, I have made efforts to try to educate myself on my own. I remember writing a paper in community College about how my dad’s side of the family arrived to America. Just by talking to the members of my own family, I uncovered historic events. My great grandfather was a prisoner of War and survivor of the Bataan Death March. This information I would’ve never known if I didn’t have the school assignment, and if I never asked for the story. I started becoming obsessed with other people’s stories. My whole life I’ve been the talker. And now, I’m taking on the role of listener and teacher.

October is Filipino American history month. Every month, we teach the kids at my school about a new country. This month, I chose the Philippines. Over the years I have seen the Bay Area, but San Francisco is particular, changing. And changing fast. And it’s nice to teach my 1.5 – 2 1/2 year old students about my culture and traditions. One of my students got picked up and told her mom she painted a flag for activity. Her mom asked if she remembered what country’s flag she painted. My student responded with, “Well, it’s where teacher Marinelle’s mom and dad is from.”

I had the right idea when I was in 5th grade, “Filipino For Lyfe.”

Toy Sounds In The Night

As we get closer to Halloween, it’s only appropriate I share a spooky encounter that happened a few weeks ago…

I’ve always believed in the paranormal. Since a young age I’ve been interested in the after life and what happens to us when we die. I feel like it’s either you believe in ghosts or you don’t, and it’s hard to find people that are inbetween. It’s safe to say that I 100% believe in the paranormal. I enjoy watching TV shows of people telling their real life experiences. I get so engulfed in it, but at the same time I spook myself out. It’s one of those things where I think it’s so fascinating, but I just hope nothing creepy ever happens to me – unless it’s a departed loved one of course.

I believe that people can communicate or give signs even after they pass away. To me, things like dreams, little coincidences, butterflies, a song playing during a significant date, etc, could all be messages from the other side. I know there are people that agree with me, but at the same time I know there’s a huge chunk of people that think I’m out of my fucking mind. And I’m okay with knowing that there is a 50% chance that half of y’all think I’m a lunatic. To me, knowing a loved one is still having your back and is somewhat still with you is cool. But the ironic and funny thing is – I’m easily frightened.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if I lived in a “haunted house,” since I am a believer. Christian, on the other hand, is not. I always tell him about dreams I have, butterflies being my “Mama” and “Tatay Celso” (my grandparents that have passed), the volume on the TV going significantly higher or lower, etc. He’s 100% a skeptic, so he would look at me with a raised eyebrow trying not to be rude. But it would beso obviously written all over his face that he thinks I’m trippin’. We have had multiple talks on multiple occasions where I give him a million different scenarios.

“What if our future house was haunted, would you believe me?!”

“What if I experienced things but you didn’t, would you take my word or you would think I’m being paranoid?”

“You better not treat me like I’m crazy!”

He’s the type that needs proof for everything. To him, and many others, things can be explained away as a coincidence or have a reason for what is happening. Christian likes to make sense of the situation before jumping to paranormal conclusions. I, on the otherhand, will see two butterflies and claim dead grandparents right off the bat. I guess a part of me always wanted to open his eyes to believe that there is some things we just really can’t explain away. And maybe – just maybe – I could change his beliefs of life after death. However, I didn’t think I would prove my point in our new living situation…

When we first moved into the new space, we were excited and getting used to the new living situation. It was weird for me because I have lived in the same house my whole life. But now, I was in a new environment, living in an old Victorian San Francisco house. I was so used to seeing the house in the daytime, that it was so weird being in the house at night. In fact, seeing the house in the night time without all the lights being turned off gave me an eerie feeling. I had to learn all the new noises and creeks of the floor and walls. I had to learn to be comfortable and not get scared off of every little thing. It was just a lot of change mixed with all the scary shit I would watch on TV.

The first couple of days, me and Christian would hear noises that we couldn’t explain away. Surprisingly, I was the one saying things like “it’s probably just the ____” or saying it’s because the house is old. And to add to the surprise, Mr. Skeptic was the one getting freaked out. I was surprised to see that Christian was the one that was more spooked from all the noises. I was a little scared, but I knew that it’s an old San Francisco house, and we weren’t used to it yet. I was shocked to see that the man who was certain he wasn’t a believer was suddenly having a change of heart. And to be completely honest, I didn’t play my usual scaredy-cat role because I figured, “Fuck, we can’t both be scared!” A part of me was really scared when he would say things like, “did you hear that? What is that?” But I didn’t want to acknowledge it, fearing that it would suddenly manifest into something bigger. Ignore, ignore, ignore, was my mentality.

What was the absolute cherry on top was when I noticed something had fallen off of the wall. It was in the morning, and Christian had already left for work. I walked passed the living room to get to the kitchen, got my breakfast and walked passed the livingroom again. This time I noticed it. The little foldable roof topper that connected to the wall was on the floor. This wasn’t unusual. The topper gets heavy and sometimes rips the 3M hook right off the wall. But this time was different. The foldable roof was neatly flat on the floor, and the 3M hook was still on the wall. How could this be? I touched the 3M hook in disbelief. How? The hook was about 1.5 inches facing up, there was no way that thing could come off on its own without the 3M hook coming off as well. But yet, the hook was still completely stuck to the wall. I asked co-workers and Christian later, and everyone had no explanation. No more ignoring – I was thoroughly creeped out.

To be sure and for some peace of mind, I invited my best friends to come over to help me sage the place. It was getting to a point where Christian and I were a little nervous everytime we heard something we couldn’t explain. Justine bought me a “palo santo” stick and a crystal, and we used the oven to light it. Justine and I went through every part of the house, saging every room, closet, and crevice, speaking words of positivity and affirmations that only light and positivity was welcome. All the while a pregnant Cam chilled in the kitchen typing out her pregnancy reveal post for Instagram and Shonalyn stayed in the livingroom staying on a roommate call that lasted about 45 minutes.

I don’t care what anyone says, it worked. I felt so much lighter after we saged the house. The house itself felt so much lighter, quieter, as if the air had been lifted. After that day, we didn’t hear anything that had us on edge. It gave us peace of mind. Over the last couple of weeks we have been getting used to the new living situation and most importantly, living with each other. We have been together for almost 5.5 years, and we know each other pretty well. But living together is a whole new thing. We now have the opportunity to see how each other really live. And thankfully, we could do that peacefully without thinking our house was haunted.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday night, we were chillin in the room. I told Christian to light our candle because the house smelled like the dinner we just finished eating. Since we just moved in, we didn’t have any lighters or matches. So Christian used the school’s birthday candle that he lit with the oven to light our fragrant candle. Christian played Fall Guys with his brother on the PS4, and I was sitting hunchback hovering over my 20 pages of notes for Blog Post #60. Y’all remember how long that story was, so I was hard-core typing, trying so hard to write atleast 15 paragraphs by the time I fell asleep.

About 30 minutes into writing, I heard a toy going off in the next room. I got a little scared, since it was about 10:30 PM and the all the lights, except in our room, was off. I knew exactly what toy it was too. It was a toy structure that you could race 2 little toy cars down, and it made car engine / beeping sounds. I ignored it. I had 15 paragraphs to write, that’s equivalent to atleast 5 pages on Microsoft Word. I continued on with my writing. About 15 minutes later I heard the toy go off again. Just something about night time makes everything seem a thousand times scarier. Christian had 1 earphone on and was talking to his brother playing the game. Something in me didn’t want to acknowledge it, nervously thinking about what could happen if I say something and it keeps happening.

For anyone that isn’t familiar with “Fall Guys,” it’s a game that basically reminds me of Ninja Warrior but with 60 opponents. Your character is a little, short, chubby chode looking jellybean that you get to dress up in funny outfits. It starts off with you and 59 other people, and you have to complete an obstacle course. If you complete it in time, you qualify to move onto the next obstacle course. Slowly, people get cut off and you don’t stop playing until you lose or you win the crown, meaning you were the last one standing and won the whole thing. Christian has been obsessed with this game recently, and I know that it gets intense where he can’t immediately get up and do something if I ask. I bet other gamer girlfriends can relate *rolls eyes.*

Anyways, when the toy went off the 2nd time I was like oh hell nah. I was getting pretty sleepy, and usually when I set a paragraph goal for myself I always take breaks inbetween – which is honestly annoying as fuck of myself because I have to regain motivation to write again and stop messing around. So, I sprawled out on the bed and began to close my eyes and dose off a little bit. I heard the toy go off. I don’t remember which came first – if I told Christian about the toy going off before or after I laid down. But I heard the toy and got up immediately, wide awake no longer about to fall asleep.

By this time Christian was aware of the toy going off. At first he didn’t hear it, but then it started going off more frequently. “Oh yeah, I hear it now,” he had told me. He explained to his brother over the mic that one of the toys in the school was going off and he needed to turn it off after the game, but he couldn’t because he was still in the competition. In fact, he had the audacity to tell me to turn it off as he played. I refused. I was not about to confront whatever was making that thing go off on my own. We agreed to go together once the game ended.

But the toy was going off every minute. I don’t think Christian got how nerve wrecking it was for me since he had 1 earphone blasting the Fall Guys music and also hearing his brother. I got so anxious. “Do you not hear that?!” I frantically asked him. He told me he did hear it but they were still in the game. My heart was beating so fast. Then it seemed to be going off every 30 seconds! *engine turning on sound* *chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga-beep beep!* I was terrified.

“Christian!” I felt like I was on the verge of having a panic attack. All the while Christian is having a conversation with his brother about them barely making it to the finish line. My heart was beating so fast and his frantic “omg we’re not gonna make it!” type of dialog added to the anxiety I was feeling.

“Yeah I hear it,” he said inbetween talking to his brother, “Yeah dude one of the toys is going crazy right now.”

By this time there was no pause inbetween. The toy was going off repeatedly non-stop. I felt like crying. I didn’t know what to do. I was fucking terrified and felt like I was gonna go into fight or flight mode. Was I going to run in that room and see what was going on? Or was I going to call an Uber back to my parents’ house and get the fuck out? Waiting for Christian to be done with the game seemed like a lifetime. I wanted it to stop. I needed that toy to stop. Hearing the sound going off non-stop had me mentally fucked. I was so scared.

“Oooo! Ohhh! Fuck yeah! Yesssss!” Christian is yelling outloud, qualifying for the next round as his Fall Guy makes it over the finish line.

The upbeat tempo was making me anxious as hell. Everything from the toy going off non-stop, to Christian yelling and winning on the game, to me sitting there being over stimulated with all the commotion. When I thought I couldn’t get any more creeped out, the toy started to freak out even more. It went from going off non-stop, to being so frantic that it wasn’t even completing the full audio anymore. It went from *engine sound, chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga-beep-beep!* for what seemed like a lifetime to *engine sound, chuga-chuga-chuga-engine sound-engine sound-chuga-chuga-engine sound- engine sound, chuga-beep-beep!* As if someone impatiently had their finger on the button and was ringing it non-stop, so much so that the full audio wouldn’t play, and instead kept getting cut off.

It went like this for about a minute. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I really wanted to break out in tears. Meanwhile Christian is yelling in excitement because he just finished the whole game and won the crown. Finally! He could come with me to turn it off. Once Christian won the game, and he told his brother he was going to turn off the toy, the toy stopped going off. Just like that. We both got up and made our way into the dark hallway.

I knew exactly what toy it was, but Christian was heading the wrong direction. When he headed for the wrong direction, the toy went off again. Almost to signal, “hey, wrong way.” We looked at each other. I was more nervous while he was still on his adrenaline rush from winning 3 or 4 crowns just in that night. I turned on the light in the livingroom, but the room was completely silent. I knew what toy it was, but couldn’t get the words out of my mouth to tell Christian which one it was, as he lifted the cover on the toy shelves to try to find it.

“I don’t know which one it is,” he said.

As he looked through all the toys, I looked passed into the kitchen, which lights were still completely off. I peered my head at an angle, not knowing if I would see someone or something or… honestly I don’t even really know what I was expecting. But when I looked into the dark kitchen, I saw something glowing. The reflection in my air fryer showed something glowing blue. It all started to piece together. Blue glowing light? Reflection? That means it’s across? That means…. that means the stove is on? I stepped foot into the dark kitchen and quickly turned left to look at the oven. One of the oven burners were on. I gasped and turned it off.

“Christian! The oven was still on!”

“What?” He came into the kitchen. I angrily explained to him that he left the burner on when he lit the birthday candle to light our fragrant candle.

“I feel like whoever was making that toy go off was trying to tell us the burner was still on,” I said. At that exact moment after finishing the sentence, the toy went off again. *car engine, chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga-beep-beep!*

We looked at each other and I immediately took the toy and turned it off. I wondered if it was Christian’s grandpa, who passed away just a few months prior, giving us a heads up that we were about to burn the whole fucking house down. What initally had me scared out of my mind, suddenly brought me comfort, thinking if it were my loved ones, or one of Christian’s having our back from the other side. I wondered what would’ve happened that night if that toy didn’t obnoxiously go off that night. It was close to midnight, so we probably would’ve just went straight to sleep after I hit my writing goal and Christian was done with video games, without even thinking twice to go back into the kitchen. I look back and realize that the toy started bugging out once I took a break and started dozing off on the bed.

I truly believed whoever was responsible for making that toy go off, was looking out for me and Christian. That was something not even Christian the Skeptic could explain away. It seemed too much of a coincidence to just be a random occurrence.