The Smiling Photograph

My dad’s mom, Conching, passed away during childbirth over 55 years ago. At the time, my dad was about 5 years old. Tatay was left to care for 7 children, ages ranging from about 14 to 2. Like their ages, what each sibling remembers of Nanay Conching ranges as well. Some remember the day she passed away vividly, some remember bits and pieces of isolated moments, and some remember nothing at all. Because my dad and aunt were the 2 youngest siblings, they heavily relied on the memories of their older siblings to get an idea of what kind of person their mom was.

From what I have gathered throughout the years, my grandma was a very kind and religious woman. She was the eldest of her siblings, and had a very nurturing personality. Every new piece of information lit up my family’s faces. Each story, memory, and photograph was like striking gold. My cousins and I wanted to know more about the woman that left such an impact on everyone that knew her. We have all wondered what our family would be like had Nanay Conching and my Auntie Merlinda survived. We’d probably have more aunts and uncles, more cousins, and a way bigger family – which is hard to believe, given that our family is already pretty large.

Since Nanay Conching passed away so long ago, and at such a young age, there are only a handful of photos of her that we’ve seen. I personally have only seen a total of 4 photos of Nanay Conching: a solo photo of her in a traditional Filipino dress, the picture of her and Tatay on their wedding day, a photo of my great grandparents (her parents) and all of her siblings holding a painting of her after she passed, and her and my aunt’s tomb stones in the Philippines. These are the only photos that the family has to remember her by. I’m sure that there might be more photos in the Philippines in the albums of very distant family members, but these are the few gems the family’s aware of.

My family is known to have a big family “story time.” We all gather in the living room – you know it’s about to be story time just from the vibe. They turn off the TV, everyone grabs a seat nearby, and it becomes a family group discussion. This usually happens when family from out of state visits the Bay Area – it would routinely happen during Tatay’s birthdays. I don’t know when these family story times started becoming a thing, but they seem to be happening more often as us “kids” start to get older. We feel more comfortable to ask the adults more thought-provoking questions on how they were raised, what they remember, and what life was like immigrating to a new country right after their mother passed away.

Each story told, each point of view shared, each memory ingrained in my aunts, uncles, and dad’s pasts, helps us understand their upbringing and how it has personally effected them as parents, partners, and individuals. Because we know our loved ones’ pasts, it brings to light all the unspoken emotions that their generation couldn’t find the words to express properly. Understanding our family’s generational trauma has planted the seed of change in my cousins and I’s heads. For me, love is many things, one thing that love is is wanting to try to understand. Trying to understand means that you not only want to listen, but that you want them to feel heard. Attempting to understand other people’s pasts and lives brings healing for them, and can connect the pieces in your own mind about why they are the way they are.

I’ve heard many sides and point of views of the day my grandma passed away. Some details vary from sibling to sibling, as time sometimes clouds the memory. One thing that everyone could agree on – regardless of what they remembered and how old they were – was the fact that my grandma’s death put Tatay in a frenzy. He was left widowed with 7 children to care for. Tragedy brought my family closer together and made the stitching of their bond to each other that much tighter. Because they lost a parent so early on in their lives, they cherished Tatay that much more, regardless of how flawed and irritable he was.

Now that Tatay has passed on, a lot of change has happened in our family in the last year. A lot of family are moving out of the Bay Area – something that I never thought would happen in my lifetime. For some reason, I’ve always believed that my extended family on both sides would stay in the Bay Area for life. Looking back now, I know that’s pretty unreasonable, but when I think of “home” I think of the Bay Area. As family starts to branch out outside of California, I think it’s important to try to maintain the closeness and bond that we are all so used to.

A few months ago, we took a trip to visit family that recently moved out of state. It was an amazing experience to explore a state we’d probably never think to visit otherwise. It was hands down one of the best family trips I have ever been on. When entering a home I’ve never been to before, I love to look at all the pictures that are up in the house. I feel like the pictures that are up in someone’s house says a lot about them and what’s important to them. I made my way around my uncle’s living room, dining room, bedroom, and anywhere with pictures up.

I analyzed all of the photos in my uncle’s home, each tucked away in a frame, some big, some small. As I admired the collage frame hanging next to the front door, I noticed some faces that looked very familiar at the top right. It was a photo of Tatay and Nanay Conching on their wedding day. But this wasn’t the wedding photo we were all familiar with, this was one I’ve never seen before. There in front of me was a picture of both my grandparents smiling ear to ear. It dawned on me that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a photo of my grandma smiling.

I immediately took pictures of the photo and sent it my dad and aunt who couldn’t make the trip. They also shared that they have never seen the photo before either. My aunt texted me, thanking me for sending it her way. Being the youngest sibling, my aunt was only 2 years old when her mom passed away. Her and my dad have no memories of their own of their mother. All that they have gathered about their mom has been stories passed down from their older siblings. She shared that this was the first picture she ever saw of her mom smiling, and it brought tears to her eyes. There is nothing that can fill the void of losing a parent so young, but a picture of both of her parents smiling was the next best thing for my aunt. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture left us speechless.

It was a nice surprise to discover that photo that day. Especially with so much change happening, it’s nice to get those signs from the other side that they’re still around. Or at the very least, a reminder of the people that started it all. Sometimes discovering a photo that you never knew existed could really move you in ways that are unexplainable. For me, the smiling photograph filled my heart in many ways.

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.

Tatay Jacinto P. Cabillo

This is story 1 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 had the honor of writing my Tatay’s eulogy. This is an edited version of the original*

“Our Tatay, Jacinto P. Cabillo, was born on July 3, 1923 in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines. He was the third child out of six siblings. As a young man, Tatay helped his family raise chickens, pigs, and cows.

 In 1950, he married Concepcion “Conching” Tagle, and together they had 8 children: Lilia, Peping, Luz, Delfin, Cris, Roland, Salvie, and Merlinda. After 15 years of marriage, Nanay Conching, who was 36, passed away during childbirth along with their 8th child, Merlinda. Tatay was widowed at the young age of 41, and was left with 7 children to raise on his own. From eldest to youngest, his children’s ages ranged from 14 to 2 years old. His in-laws, Tarcela and Ricardo Tagle Sr., stepped in and proposed the idea to adopt all 7 children to bring them to America for a better life. 

At first, Tatay was hesitant. But he knew that he couldn’t provide for all 7 children all on his own, so he agreed with one condition. Tatay believed that Roland and Salvie were too young to join their siblings in the States. He feared that they wouldn’t remember him because they were 5 and 2 years old. He wanted the two youngest children to keep him company because he was worried about his mental health – dealing with the loss of a wife and now his children. So the 2 youngest children stayed back with Tatay in Batangas, where they lived until 1974. 

In 1967, his 5 eldest children left to immigrate to America with the help of their Tatay Ricardo and Nanay Tarcela. It was a bittersweet decision for Tatay, but he knew sending his 5 eldest children to plant roots in the States would be the best decision for the generations to come. The saying is true, it really took a village to help raise the Cabillo children. Tatay and the 7 siblings are forever grateful for the sacrifices and help they received from their grandparents, aunts, and uncles after the passing of Nanay Conching.

After 7 long years, Tatay finally reunited with all of his children in 1974 when he arrived in San Francisco. Everyone in the family had to make a lot of sacrifices and do their fair share to make a living in America. To provide for his family, Tatay worked custodian jobs at Riordan High School and Treasure Island. He was also a flower picker in the city of Colma, which was very on brand with his love of nature.

In his long life, Tatay enjoyed exploring the Bay Area, spending time with family, and of course, going back and forth to the Philippines. Even though he was in the States, his heart always remained in Batangas. And on July 18, 2000, Tatay married Adeleida “Tita” Cortiguerra in Pasig, Philippines. From that day forward, Tita never left Tatay’s side. She cared for him and was at his bedside as he took his last breath. 

Tatay lived 98 long and beautiful years. He had the support and love of his children, wife, and family every step of the way. The Cabillo’s are truly blessed to have had Tatay for as long as we did. He had 16 grandchildren, and was fortunate enough to be around while his grandchildren had children of their own. Tatay’s legacy will forever be passed down to the 8 great grandchildren that had the privilege to meet him, and the future generations to come.

Tatay will always be remembered for his signature Rayban aviators, hats, and impeccable swagger. You’d most likely find him sitting on the sidelines of family events observing and finding little things to do to play with his great grandchildren. Tatay always found a way to connect with each great grandchild, despite the language barrier. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, he did so with intent.  He knew exactly what he wanted. 

Before the pandemic, Tatay longed to go back to the Philippines and live his remaining days in the country he grew up in and forever loved. Unfortunately, due to a volcano eruption, Tatay’s flight to the Philippines was canceled, and shortly after, the pandemic hit and borders to fly overseas were shut down. Tatay never got to return back to the Philippines, but our family is grateful that we were able to spend the remainder of his life with him here in the Bay Area, despite the pandemic. 

Tatay passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 6:10 PM peacefully in his bed, accompanied by Tita and family. When our family was sending news to Tatay’s extended family in the Philippines about his passing, they had a surprising revelation to share that brought peace to our hearts. As his soul left his body in South San Francisco around 6:10 PM, a blue colored bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. Family members who are residing in the house couldn’t get the little blue bird to leave, and luckily, they recorded it. We were all at a loss for words. He finally made it back home. 

Tatay, our hearts are heavy to know that you are no longer here with us physically, but we are overjoyed to know that your soul is back in the Philippines. We will miss you, our bi-monthly Sunday dinners, watching animals on TV, and seeing your face light up when you received gifts. Tatay’s wish for his children, grandchildren, and future generations to come was this: To have unity in the family and stick together. We love you, Tatay. We promise to live out your wish.”

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.”

“Are You Filipino?”

It was Thursday evening, I just got off work at 5 PM and was waiting on a reply from the group chat with my sisters and cousin. Where were we going to freakin’ eat?! And when I mean “waiting” on their reply, I really mean I was blowing it up because nobody was responding to me. I told them to figure out where we were eating by 5 PM so I could Uber there ASAP to save time. But here I was, 5:05 PM with all the crickets. Anyways, that night, we were going to watch Jo Koy, a Filipino comedian. We followed him throughout his career and that night, we were finally going to see him live at Chase Center in San Francisco.

Finally around 5:15 my cousin texted the destination spot. The show started at 8, so I didn’t want to risk it for the biscuit by being cheap. I called an UberX to get to Mi Lindo as soon as possible. I waited outside on the sidewalk waiting for my Uber. All I could think about was how tired I was. I was thinking of taking a nap during my Uber car ride, but I was hesitant because of all those creepy Uber ride horror stories. My Uber driver turned the corner and in no time was pulled over right in front of me. I got in and did the basic greetings and confirmation on who the ride is for.

After about 3 minutes into the ride I feel myself wanting to doze off. Working at a preschool full-time got me going home at the end of the day pooped. I was thinking of taking that power nap, my eyes struggling to stay open. I usually have my earphones on during my Uber rides alone, but I was too lazy to reach into my back pack and put them on. Which was probably for the best, since this car ride would give me all the feels. There I was, tired, exhausted, not to mention hungry.

“Are you Filipino?” My driver asks me. He was a middle aged Filipino man, I would guess late 50’s barely early 60’s. But he later told me was almost 70.

“Yeah I am,” I responded happily. I had to turn on my customer service voice on. But honestly, I wasn’t really in the mood to have a full on conversation.

“Can you speak Tagalog?” He asked through his thick accent.

“I can understand Tagalog, and I can speak it,” I said. But then I started explaining myself. Yes, I can understand Tagalog completely when it is spoken to me. Yes, I can speak it, but it takes a while for me to translate what I mean and formulate it into a Tagalog sentence.

“Ah, it is because you were born here, ha?”

“Yeah. I was born here. I can speak Tagalog, but you can tell I have an American accent.”

“Oh, that’s okay. You know, as long as you can still understand, that is good.” He told me.

He kept the conversation going. He told me he was almost 70 years old, and has been in America since 2009 or 2011 (if I’m remembering this right.) He currently works 3 jobs total, Uber being his part-time gig. He is a caregiver for his other 2 jobs. He cares for elderly patients in their home, and does over night shifts. I told him I was on the way to see Jo Koy. He knew him as the “bald guy.”

“Wow, you work a lot,” I told him.

“Yes, I work a lot. To be honest, I don’t really sleep, just always work.” He explained further that of course he does sleep, but it is while on the job as a caregiver. When he’s doing his overnight shifts and his patients are asleep, he sleeps in a separate room, while occasionally checking in on his patient throughout the night.

“So when do you find time to do things you like and have fun since you work so much?”

“I don’t,” he laughed. “I like working. I’m old already. I don’t need to go to parties or anything.”

He told me how he enjoys working a lot. Working makes him happy. Sometimes when people talk about working a lot, its ususally negative. Its ususally followed by a “life is hard” speech or “all I do is work and it sucks” speech. He genuinely seemed to be content with his work load.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in America,” he told me. “You know that? If you are a hard worker in America, you can make a lot of money.”

We continued on with the conversation. He asked what part of the Philippines my parents are from, told me about his 2 kids back in the Philippines, how he came to America on a tourist Visa years ago, then had to work to remain tourist-ing. He married here in America, and his wife works at Kaiser. His daughter is graduating college in the Philippines soon and he was going to return back home for her graduation. In about a year or 2, he plans to move back to the Philippines for good.

Throughout our conversation I understood why he asked if I could understand Tagalog. He was struggling to speak English, probably the same way I would be struggling to speak Tagalog. The point was getting across, but it took a while. I thought about telling him to speak to me in Tagalog and I would just answer in English, but I didn’t know if it would come across as rude, or discourage him from speaking English. I tried to compensate by throwing in Tagalog phrases so he could understand more.

He asked about my name, and said how beautiful it was. I laughed and said my name is very Filipino since my name is a combination of my mom and older sister’s name. Filipinos love combining names to make a new name. He eagerly chimed in that both of his children’s names are a combination of his and his wife’s (the one in the Philippines) name.

He was shocked to discover that I’ve never been to the Philippines. He tried to sell the idea of me visiting with my family soon. “Oh you will love it there,” he went on. He spoke about all the Filipino food he cooks, and how his wife is chubby because he’s such a great chef.

I could tell that he just wanted to talk. I got zero percent creepy vibes from him. He never said it, but I felt like I reminded him of his daughter or something. He told me she was 20 or 21, me being 25. I think the fact that I’m Filipino made him feel comfortable. Just hearing about his life made me want to invite him to one of family parties or something. He told me it’s just him and his wife, that they met here, in America. Because of his busy schedule, I commented that he and his wife probably don’t get much alone time. From what he described, it seemed like he goes from job to job to job. The whole time I thought of how lonely that must be.

When I told him I graduated SFSU in Journalism he got happy. “Oh, you know, that’s like on the TV? Like broadcasting? You should apply! Just apply! You have a beautiful voice!” I laughed a little in my head because it’s a running inside joke with my sisters and cousins how deep my voice is. But I accepted the compliment.

He said something to me earlier in our conversation that stuck with me. When we were talking about Tagalog and if I could understand and speak it, he reassured me that it was okay if I had an American accent.

“It’s okay. You were born here, but your blood is Filipino. You might be from here, but your blood is 100% Filipino.”

We finally got to my destination. He pulled up infront of Mi Lindo. I told him that I really enjoyed talking to him, and for him to take care.

“Send my regards to your mom and dad,” he told me while waving.

I got in the restaurant, and my sister and cousin could see me from the window. My little sister commented that I was way too happy getting out of the car, prolonging getting out and saying 1 last thing before finally closing the car door. I told them that I just had such a nice conversation with my Uber driver.

Chase Center was only about 2 miles away from the restaurant we were at, so we were doing great time wise. We parked a couple of blocks away from Chase Center, but the short walk seemed longer. That San Francisco cold hits you differently at night. The kind of cold that makes your back hurt and body tighten up. Anyways, it was well worth it, paying $10 cheaper than the Chase Center parking garage.

Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors. It was a magnificent sight. It’s a beautiful stadium, and the outside of it was just as dope. It was a sea of Filipinos. We joked that we would all see people we knew. And turns out, we all did. All 4 of us.

We got to our seats, and waited for the show to start. The crowd was huge. And it was a sold out show. Finally, after much anticipation, Jo Koy finally entered the stage. He got an automatic standing ovation. I could only imagine how he felt, the stadium is huge, there were so many people. You could tell by his face that he was genuinely like, “damn, I made it.”

What makes Jo Koy’s jokes so much funnier is the fact that we can relate to everything he’s talking about. He’s half Filipino half white, raised by a Filipino mother. He may not be full Filipino, but his experiences growing up are exactly like mine. Feeling like you can relate to someone is such a great feeling. Especially since he’s made a name for himself, he’s telling the Filipino narrative.

I’ve watched Jo Koy since he was on the Chelsea Lately show. Honestly, I would get a little bummed when Jokoy wasn’t in an episode. They would cap on him for being Asian, and the running joke was that they never got the right type of Asian. He would always talk about him being Filipino, and growing up I got a sense of pride from that. Nothing more rewarding than seeing your people on the screen, and it’s a cherry on top when they claim being Filipino publically, and make an effort to rep it.

During Jo Koy’s act, he talked about growing up and not seeing Filipino people on the screen. He goes on to talk about representation, and how that shit is important. He tells the story of how his sister stitched on the Filipino flag on his jacket right before an interview. Why?

To represent all the Filipinos out there, but to also inspire other Filipinos to dream big. He went on to talk about Manny Pacquiao, and how he was killing the game in the name of the Philippines. And how proud he was to see Manny on the screen. And I can relate to that so hard.

I remember when Manny was first coming up, before he was the main event, before all the fame. We were in my aunt’s living room, and he was an under card fight. When Manny won, they lifted the Filipino flag behind him. “Oh, he’s Filipino?” I remember my dad saying. And then Pacquiao got bigger and bigger, and made/ is continuing to make history. I felt that shit. The pride and admiration Jo Koy was talking about, I can relate.

Everytime there is a known Filipino doing big things in America, best believe that person will be on “Balitang America” (a Filipino news station that reports on American news that relates to Filipinos). Jo Koy is right, growing up, there wasn’t enough Filipino representation in the media. So when there was a known Filipino, we repped them, claimed them, and supported them regardless.

From Manny Pacquiao, to Jo Koy, to Apl.de.ap, to Rob Schneider, to Bruno Mars, to Shay Mitchell. Once we learned of their Filipino heritage, us as a community support them like super fans. It gives us a sense of pride to see someone that looks like us on the screen.

Jo Koy tells the Filipino narrative through jokes. He sheds light on issues in the Filipino community, like holding grudges and not talking things out. This is a topic I’ve talked about with my cousins and friends! It’s some real shit. And as a comedian, Jo Koy jokes about some of the toxic Filipino traits, and even though he is making people laugh, it sheds light on the issues at hand.

“Stop that shit,” Jo Koy said when talking about holding grudges and going mute, “Talk! Just talk! Communicate!”

Seeing a Filipino like Jo Koy make it big makes me so proud. Having someone that represents your culture, in media that is predominately Caucasian, really does inspire other Filipinos to dream big. It’s an even better feeling when you’ve followed somebody throughout their career, and finally see them reach the top. Jo Koy said he wore that Filipino flag on his jacket to inspire other Filipinos out there, and it makes me proud. Because I have the same mentality. All these Filipinos in different professions, making a name for all of us in those fields is a beautiful thing.

I want to be successful, not just for me, but to represent my people. I come from Daly City, one of the most Filipino dense communities in America. But the fact of the matter is, once I go out of Daly City or the Bay Area, the Filipino community gets smaller and smaller. There are parts in America where people don’t even know what the Philippines is.

If you keep up with my blog, you already know I want to make it big to represent the Filipino community and shed light on Filipino topics with my writing. I can relate to Jo Koy and his need to rep his Filipino-ness hardcore to inspire other Filipinos.

Even everyday people, like my Uber driver, takes pride in talking and relating to another Filipino. When we see someone make it big and rep us, it’s a proud feeling. And I aspire to make my community proud like that in my lifetime.

One day this journalist will be getting interviewed, and they’ll ask me, “Are you Filipino?”

And I’ll respond with a proud, “Fuck yeah I’m Filipino.”

To My Filipina Girls

Filipina girl,

Please just keep doing you.

Don’t let these beauty standards tell you what to do.

Fuck those products that make your skin lighter,

I feel like this is something I need to address as a writer.

You don’t need products or surgery to change what you were given,

I wish you inner peace and accept the features you’ll forever live in.

However, I am not one to judge if you go down the surgery route,

But let’s be real we know what this epidemic is all about.

Society and culture tells you that you have to look a certain way,

These things were molded into our minds so young as if our brains were clay.

You’re confused as to why your family tells you to eat more, but will later throw it in your face,

And now you’re wondering why you stare in the mirror and look at your body like its a fucking disgrace.

You’re looking at the people on TV and can’t help but stare,

You’re stuck wondering if you’d feel better about yourself if you were fair.

Fuck that shit, let me say this once cuz I’m a lil’ fighter,

Those people want you to stay insecure and have you wish that your features were “whiter.”

The running joke is that of a Filipino’s nose,

Well let me tell you this, and this is how the new story goes…

I love my nose, my color, and all my Filipino features,

I’ll never deny my background, preachin’ like I’m a preacher.

There’s nothing more sad than discrimination from your own people,

They think if your “Filipino” don’t look the same as theirs then you are not their equal.

Growing up, I never saw people in shows that look like me,

I would get excited and feel pride when there was a known Filipino on TV.

When they repped Filipinos publically it made me even prouder,

So that’s why I’ll say this message again, this time even louder:

Filipina girl,

You are more than your outer beauty,

Educate, inspire, grow that brain, that’s your fucking duty.

Because when you do that, only then will you know,

They want you to stay insecure so they can sell you things, and damn now it shows!

My mission is to make it for the people that look like me,

I’m Filipina and I’m proud, and that’s the fuckin’ tea! 🐸☕