I’ve stopped a passing of the rule of threes. Two months ago Courtney was in Chicago and I took a trip to the bay for my paternal grandmother’s passing. Last month Courtney and I both were in San Francisco for my brother’s wedding. Today, Courtney is once again on the road, this time with her mom and brother on a vacation in Disney World, and I…this is where the chain is broken…am in Long Beach (but in a new apartment, and occasionally with daily trips to Illyria).
Elena Espiritu de Leon was the last surviving grandparent in my genealogical traces. My maternal grandmother, Pilar Lim, passed in 1989 and I never met her husband, Jose I believe, because he never came to the US with my mom’s family, and I never went there. I think he passed on to a greater life around ’94 or ’95. My paternal grandfather, Aurelio de Leon, passed while I was going to Nuc School in South Carolina, sometime in late 2000 or the earlier half of 2001, I believe. I remember getting a page from my mom (yep, I had a pager back then) and calling her back after the phone call from my apartment line was over. I remember asking if my father was ok, and…that’s about it.
This past Thanksgiving there was a family reunion of sorts on my dad’s side. For some of us, there was no “re” about it, as I had met my dad’s oldest brother and his wife for the first time. Sometime between then and my grandmother’s passing, Courtney and I saw a show at South Coast Rep called The Language Archive. It was a clever play, and one of the most memorable bits about it is that it takes two people to keep a language alive. If those two do not talk, that language fades away and is gone…at the mercy of whatever is hopefully remaining in written records. My parents speak Tagalog to each other, and they speak it to other Filipinos. They are quite fluent and probably will be for the rest of their lives. Neither my brother, sister, nor myself learned to speak that language. My brother and I both took French in high school, and my sister learned to speak Chinese. I learned to speak on stage and publicly, my brother learned to speak computer, and my sister learned to speak for herself. The only Tagalog I know is what’s for dinner (at my mom’s house) and when I was in trouble as a kid—the important stuff. English has always been my primary language, and as long as I can remember back, my grandmother would constantly try to speak to me in Tagalog, a language that all of her children and most of her grandchildren know.
Corn. Really, stay with me, this relates. Until it dies and falls off the cob, it cannot spur further generations. That’s an interesting concept, because, as mammals, we procreate while alive and nurture the offspring. I know that corn isn’t an animal, but it IS alive, and it sacrifices itself to perpetuate it’s own genetic composition. (end of tangent)
My separation from the Filipino culture started early, in junior high and high school even. Fast forward to my time in the Navy, after boot camp (which is conducted in English, if there was any doubt) I was transferred to Goose Creek, South Carolina. Growing up in the Bay Area all I had heard about “The South” involved gun racks, Confederate Flags, pick up trucks and country music. “Culture shock” would be an understatement for the biologically Filipino boy who was in need of an identity stamp transplanted into the Carolinas as part of the greatest Navy in the world. Country music seeped into my soul. NASCAR. A southern accent (true story). I became an American of my own right. Not a Filipino-American, not a Filipino, not even an American of Filipino/Chinese/Spanish descent…but an American. That’s how I answer the questions of “what are you?” when I know full well people are referring to my ethnicity/ethnic background/cultural heritage whatever you may call it. I’m an American. I don’t do a lot of “Asian” things as stereotyped in American society: I can drive well, I don’t drive a race car Honda, I don’t own a rice cooker, or have a shrine to Jesus and or the Virgin Mary in my home. I am good at math, though, and yes I can play the violin, but I don’t play ping pong in international tournaments, and I can hold my liquor quite well.
Often I encounter other Filipinos in hospitals (surprise! Filipino nurses!), karaoke bars, or even at the post office (all places of supported stereotypes), and they ask me, but not after shiftily looking around, “you Filipino?” and I appease them with a, “yes.” They immediately crack into a big smile and most times greet me in Tagalog (which I understand, but cannot offer any other reply but in English), and ask me where my parents are from. When some see me with my white girlfriend, I’m often glared at by older generations, sometimes Courtney gets the evil eye, but you know what, not their relationship…move along.
Close to fifteen years ago, I think, my cousin Janice married a tall white boy from Indiana (who didn’t play basketball…really). I remember it being a mild fiasco because she was marrying out of race, but to me, I didn’t know better, because I just figured marriage is about those two people…not about the two families. Last month, my brother married Doreen, who is Chinese. I now have a brother-in law and a sister-in law, but I don’t feel any different. It’s going halfway out on a limb, but I don’t think my sister nor I will be marrying Filipinos. I can’t make that call for her, but I definitely don’t think I will be, I’ve actually never dated a Filipino, and don’t plan on dating one (or anyone else for that matter) anytime soon. Case in point, the Filipino-Filipino pairing won’t be happening in my immediate family, one of my cousins has, and who knows what the future may bring, but in the group of branches that belong to Bayani and Maria Elena de Leon…they’re the end of the double-Filipino punnett square.
In some cultures, the joining of two families is still that, a joining of two families, but generally speaking, in today’s American society, the term “nuclear family” is ironic because the members of whatever family might occur rarely branch out…if they even stay together. I don’t want my kids growing up not knowing who their grandparents are whether they speak the same language or not. I’ve come to the conclusion that my kids will be of “mixed race” but, you know what? Who isn’t at this point in the game? My kids will be American (unless of course, they are born elsewhere, then yeah…yada yada yada).
I didn’t really have a point or moral to this blog, but I often look at events in my life in perspective…relating to others that may or may not be related right away, but I find a way to make them so. Today’s blog is in lieu of me not being out of town for the third month in a row in the 18th. Like a letter left in a corner of a crowded room full of friends and strangers, I leave this blog to the information superhighway (which was quite the popular term for “internet” back when AOL and Prodigy meant something). Good day, sir. I say, good day. I’m going to continue being American.