My Filipino is a party trick
Reserved for Pacquiao boxing matches and Jollibee commercials, tagging friends in SFT memes that I don't always get
My mother’s lilt seeping out when they haven’t eaten enough, or when I’m full of fury.
But like any good trick I know when to put it away.
I play telephone with my Lolo’s last words through layers of Google Translate, and find the references for this poem in BuzzFeed articles. Choke on Tagalog syllables like fish bones caught in the gum.
I am in the canteen line at JoFen, trying to order in a tongue deserving enough to appreciate these flavors
A trial: A plea
To prove that I belong to this culture as much as I insist it belongs to me
I’m gasping for air, grasping at air
As I rack my brain for the right word for pinakbet but settle for
“That one, please, thank you.” White, Styrofoam, Thank You Come Again plastic
For my class presentation on the Philippines, I am a blank slate. I look online
In the hopes of scraping some semblance of identity from the Arial script.
I play the Wikipedia game with my heritage.
See also: Diniguan
See also: Blood
See also: Sacrifice
Redirects to: We gave up everything for you to be here.
Redirects to: My father’s tears on rejected job applications for poor language skills
See also: Whitewash
See also: Identity (disambiguation)
Uncanny, lock-jawed salmon swimming upstream
I type in, “How do you pronounce home in Filipino” into the search engine
Google Translate spits back out, in English of course, “What do you tell a house?”
What do you tell a house when its walls are made of glass but you can’t find the key
When the flickering TFC white noise sounds more like a foreign film
When you can smell the pancit from miles away but the hearth used to cook it is sputtering.
Just as I’m wondering how to confess to this crystal mirror chapel if I can’t pronounce the apology
I realize the door is open, I walk in
I’m greeted with a wave of humidity and the cicada hum of electric fans, the smell of bulad and the
crackling of mahjong tiles tripping over each other.
I hear the shadows of my Lola’s prayers sink into the drywall
And I feel her calling on the ghosts of ancestors I will never know the names to.
But as the cigarette smoke of my kuyas fill the room, I realize that I know this.
I may never know the beauty of the sun rising above the hills of Bohol or the correct way to pronounce “Pakikisama" but I sure as hell know what it means .
I know this.
I know this
I know you.
Thank you for being living, breathing proof that home is so much more than a house
And even then, when have you ever known a Filipino household to turn away the hungry?
I know that I am home.
Even if it means having to carve our initials into the doorstep,
Sing late night karaoke til the windows shatter
Mano po, show respect, to the hands of mahal that welcome you into their warm embrace
Even when you arrive late.
Cherilyn Mendoza (she/her/hers) is from the suburbs of Chicago, and attends the University of Kansas to pursue a degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences. She enjoys pole dancing, cartoons, and spicy food, even if her stomach doesn't.