A post-election poem by a Filipino American

Here is a poem that Emily Lawsin, a good friend, wrote for her family and for all of you who worked so hard in the election. The preface is, obviously, hers, as well.

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emily-lawsin1

Last week, the day after the historic election, someone asked me how it felt to vote. She knew that I had lived in Detroit earlier this year, and Barack Obama’s name was not on the primary ballot in Michigan (damn it), so I never had the chance to vote for him before. Now, I live in Massachusetts: ’nuff said. After she asked me that question, I went home and wrote this poem. I hope you like it; please leave comments below. Peace and salamat/thanks!

Padasal: Novena at the Polls, November 4, 2008

© by Emily P. Lawsin

”I go to prepare a place for you.”

~Harriet Tubman

Yesterday, as I approached the voting booth,

in this bluest of blue states,

where the last senator lost his bid four years ago,

a few miles down from where

another senator — the martyr Benigno Aquino — once lived,

tears streamed down my cheeks,

my hands trembled like my heartbeat

and I took a slow, deep breath,

careful to not close my eyes

in case some fool tried to spoil this dream and my ballot,

and I whispered a prayer,

not just for Barack Obama,

but for our country and our families,

remembering all of our ancestors

who carried us here to the Promised Land

despite centuries of broken promises.

I remember my Lola Carmen,

born nine years after the revolution

and 30 years before women’s suffrage

in the colonial Philippines,

how she birthed six children

yet only five survived;

how, during World War II,

she had to resort to selling socks (not stocks) –

on the black market –

as in insulation for soldiers’ feet,

then fled to the mountainside

with a pillow up her dress

to protect her and her children.

I remember my Lolo Sergio Sr,

the stern patriarch,

how he immigrated to America

to follow his pioneer daughters, right before I was born,

then worked as a low-paid post office guard

while his wife — our grandmother — watched us sleep;

how they mailed all of us grandchildren

crisp $5 Lincolns on our birthdays

with a carefully typewritten note

to “spend it wisely”.

I remember my Auntie Nora,

my mother’s Até, eldest sister,

how as a teen in Tondo,

she rolled tobacco at the Alhambra Cigar Factory

to help make ends meet;

she never smoked herself,

yet her grandchildren always wondered why

she suffered from lung disease.

I remember her husband, my Uncle Eddie Sr,

who fought in the Philippine Scouts

long enough to re-enlist under the U.S. flag

before the Rescission Act could rescind his benefits;

how one Thanksgiving,

he showed us kids the bites on his leg

from the Bataan Death March,

denied that he had PTSD,

then passed it on to his Vietnam veteran sons,

and we were never the same.

I remember my sister’s father, Leandro,

who, with calloused hands from picking unripe grapes,

cutting asparagus and fields of lettuce,

building bunkhouses and picket lines,

like thousands of immigrant Pinoys,

struggled to put food on our kitchen tables,

moved from crop to crop

from the California Delta to Seattle,

then became a Private

in America’s 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment,

his enlistment papers checked his civil occupation off as

“Gardeners and grounds keepers, parks, cemetaries, etc.”

as if there were no other words to describe “stoop labor”,

he never lived long enough to explain it to his daughters.

I remember our own mother, Emma,

who on her death bed last June,

when the Critical Care doctors finally

let up on her morphine drip,

allowing her to wake up from a three-week coma,

a breathing tube just removed from her lips an hour before,

mouthed the words,

asking if Obama had won the primaries.

When I said, “Yes he did,”

she closed her eyes and smiled.

I remember my father, Vincent,

the only one who outlives them all,

a merchant marine who followed MacArthur

after the general declared his “I Have Returned” speech

on his hometown of Tacloban’s shores,

in forever pursuit of the American Dream,

how on the day that I turned 18,

lectured me — not on the birds and the bees –

but on the urgent importance of democracy now:

then took me to the public library

to promptly register me to vote;

how a decade later, after 40 years of his U.S. citizenship,

Papa was finally called to Jury Duty,

wore his “JUROR” badge proudly for weeks,

framed his “I Served” certificate to display in our

cracked china cabinet,

volunteered to serve three more times,

proclaiming to the judges that, aside from voting,

this was his highest honor,

to finally feel like a true American.

So yesterday, I stood there (yes I did) and I did not care

if a long line would stretch around the whole block from that polling station,

because Barack told us:

This is our time. This is our moment.

Kaya Natin, Yes We Can.”

So I took my time, savoring the moment.

I stared at my ballot, carefully wiped my cheeks so tears would not smear it,

filled the black hole

with the smoothest black pen I have ever felt,

my hips swaying like I was birthing a newborn child,

standing on the shoulders of these ancestors

and a rainbow of so many more,

who fought for this right, who fought for this night,

thankfully remembering                      thankfully remembering

ang bayan ko:                                       my country,

ang kababayans natin:                         our compatriots,

ang pamilya ko:                                    my family,

ang buhay natin:                                  our lives,

and prayed that our President, our next President will remember them too.


www.filipinosforobama.org

November 5, 2008 – Watertown, Massachusetts

Padasal = Filipino for novena, a prayer session for the respose of the souls of the dead.


“Leadership is only incidental to the movement.

The movement must go beyond its leaders in order to survive.”

~Philip Vera Cruz

www.emilylawsin.com

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One thought on “A post-election poem by a Filipino American

  1. This was sent to me today, Nov 16, by my good friend, Emily Lawsin. Emily and I went to the same graduate program at UCLA but at different years.

    Emily is a second-generation Pinay originally from Seattle, Washington. She teaches Filipino American history and literature, Asian Pacific American Women, Oral History Methods, and Community Service-Learning courses in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program in American Culture and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan (UofM).

    She joined the UofM faculty in 2000, after she completed her Master of Arts degree in Asian American Studies at UCLA. From 1994-2000, she taught Asian American Studies at California State University, Northridge, where she won awards for her dedication to students. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and volunteers with Detroit Summer, the Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Committee, Detroit Asian Youth Project, Paaralang Pilipino Cultural School, Filipino Youth Initiative, Asian American Center for Justice, and the Japanese American History Project of Michigan.

    She is the co-author, with Joseph Galura, of Filipino Women in Detroit, 1945-1955: Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan. Her poetry and essays on war brides, students, and writers have been published in numerous journals, newspapers, and anthologies. An oral historian and spoken word performance poet, she is a member of Ma’arte Tribe Artists Collective, and has performed on radio and stage throughout the United States and Manila.

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