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Brown Girl Consumed

Dear Brown Girl,

This is just to say, motherfuckers love your food!


Bon Appetit says the latest craze is popcorn and Gummi Bears® in your halo-halo, and

you’re looking at this sideways as others nod in gratitude,

Andrew Zimmern also swears by sisig, you’re the latest craze, you’re an episode of

Bizarre Foods,

He says Americans can’t get right with creamy pig brains, so he alters your recipe to

make it acceptable,

He exits the metropolis in search of the authentic, he slurps worms dipped in vinegar,

pulled straight from a fucking tree, and then he pales at your “dirty” ice cream. What
a dick.

You are Parts Unknown, and so Anthony Bourdain also comes to bat for your balut. He

throws back his head and swallows Emily Dickinson’s beaked and feathered hope,


Next time, he’ll sip this strange little salty bird, he’ll crunch this little baby’s bones, wipe

his mouth, and the world will learn Filipinos are so poor they’ll eat anything, a people
with so much resilience —

Your archipelago is a culinary adventure! You should be so grateful! You are on our


Remember when your classmates teased your stinky lunch, your marrow bones, soup,

patis, and rice, your spoon and fork,

Remember when they told you that you eat dog food, and you didn’t know how to go

home and cry to your mom because she was just too busy working —

Well, fuck all that, because now you’re cool,

you’re pork bellies sizzling in cast iron cool, you’re organic free trade leche de coco

simmering cool,

you’re edgy piquants and aromatics, you’re umami, you’re pricy specialty grocery items,

spilling out of the suburban supermarket’s ethnic aisle,


you’re urban food trucks at an art show cool, you’re vegan man bun hipster cool, you’re

deconstructed lumpia cool,

you’re wine pairings lightyears from the go-to passé Rieslings (yawn),


you’re cooler than California rolls, than chop suey, and people freaking the fuck out over

kung pao chicken at Panda Express don’t know how cool you are (they’re gag
reflexing at the innards we third worldlings eat) —


They’ll never know the 12 hour workshifts of TNTs sweating into high end catered meals

for lesser than minimum wage, under the table, nevermind subsistence,

they’ll never know about street kids scrounging for pagpag,

they’ll never know the recipes of our cataracted grammas who stayed home and never

learned to read, or the ones who can still recite José Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós,” from
the heart as the nilaga stews,


Dios mío! The tsismis around tables of itchy gabi leaves and roots and malunggay

fronds, elders’ manicured hands like luya (sige na, anak, they say, clean these
tables and we’ll play mah jong later),

Dios mío, talaga! Our spinster titas, who singlehandedly took the sharpest machetes to

the pigs’ (and to some men’s) throats, bled those tasty motherfuckers, flipped
handrolled tobacco with their tongues, with their chorus of boning knives, these
works of art no metropolitan museum would ever show,

Dios mío! All the breaking necks and bleeding, all the flaying and the cutting, in

pambahay, tsinelas, gold rings, anting-anting. All this after morning mass, all this
before noon. This is where you told them about your broken heart, this is where they
said, ay babae, he was never good enough for you. This is where they wiped away
your tears, and said, anak, you are a good girl,

Fuck these first world gourmands swearing Filipino cuisine is the next big bandwagon to

ride to the bank, fuck their rebranding for bourgeois Western palates,

Fuck all that, girl, go on get down with your kamayan and your banana leaves, your

slurping fish heads, your extra rice to soak up the crab butter, your chicharon and

San Miguel with your crooning titos, your dad’s canned Ligo sardines, salted eggs
and tuyo cooked on the backyard grill, your green mangoes with ginisang bagoong,
dear deep red, so sweet, so cool.

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, Diwata, To Love as Aswang, Invocation to Daughters, and Letters to a Young Brown Girl. She teaches in the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program at University of San Francisco, and lives with her husband, poet and educator Oscar Bermeo in Oakland.

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