Not this, nor that. I you we us hesitate, unsure, undecided, displaced floating ethers of mist trying to make the hardest decision of all decisions whilst starving to certain death.
Which land do we have permission to land on? Which land will not spurn us, burn us, or eat us alive? The decision is not a decision because no one ever asked for our opinion
and, besides, there is no choice.
The answer : no land.
America: Get out of here, you dirty brown monkey
Islas Pilipinas: And we don’t want you either. Sige na. Paalam. Bye Bye. Get out, you disgusting American
Ka musta ka, manong, I you we us say.
Mano po, I you we us do
because this has been practiced and perfected to death for just this moment. When we come out of our genuflect, his spotted hand still in ours, his warmth cooling on our forehead, he smiles. He points a finger at us and jabs it into our shoulder three times.
Po, he says.
Hmm ?, we respond in earnest.
Po, he repeats. You need to show me respect.
He turns to his companion and an exchange of Tagalog is volleyed between them in rapid succession. We attempt to decipher the conversation; the words are moving too quickly for us to meticulously capture, separate, and define. But we try anyway because that’s what we should do. But then we hear the word American followed by a raucous laugh. “American” stands out like a fluorescent light to the moth, like a brown face amongst a sea of white, like a dropping bomb we cannot turn away from
as it obliterates every possible bridge we had to our motherland.
We look down respectfully as if we are not listening to their conversation. We stare at our brown hands folded into one another as if their warmth is enough to protect them from injury
and god fucking damn it.
we fucked it up
How many times does a Filipino/a have to try before I you we us are finally considered Filipino/a?
That’s such an American sentiment.
A Filipino/a just is.
How is that different from what I you we us are doing?
Hindi ko alam. But it just is.
And the light fades just a little darker all over again.
But you know, we shouldn’t even be calling ourselves Filipinos. It’s just an extension of Spanish sovereignty. Why should we call home the Philippines like some perpetual genuflect to a past tyrant?
Isa: You’re not even from here.
Dalawa: Why do you Americans have to intellectualize everything?
The abuelita admonishes I you we us. Spanish falls from the sky like rain and our ears are slowly parsing up the vowels and inserting their English equivalents. We understand that she is asking for directions. We also understand that she can’t understand how we have fallen so far from our mother tongue.
This reprimanding is centuries old, and we’re still fighting the sovereignty, refusing to acknowledge that we understand the Spanish more than we do the Tagalog. But a point needs to be made. We can’t let her assume that we are something that we are not.
Tell her we’re Asian. Watch her eyes scrunch up in confusion. Point at ourself and say, “I speak Tagalog” even though it is a lie.
It’ll get her to walk away.
News of our lola’s death arrives via invitation to the mourning. And yes, the invitation is to mourn, not to bury, not for a funeral, but to join in the collective cry that will rise in crests and peaks, brown women in swaths of black with lace upon their faces, stumbling through dirt roads in procession behind the Virgin Mary. Our tay opens the letter, reads that it is to take place back home. I you we us watch him, holding our breath. Our imagination has already begun to run. We add special pigmentation to our idea of the islands, of the sky, and of the waterline. I you we us imagine the cousins we don’t know, and we imagine the food we all will eat as we watch the setting sun. I you we us wonder if we would eat the food with hands or with fork and spoon. We hope for the former. Our tay balls up the letter and throws it in the trash bin. I you we us swallow. We chastise ourself for our own silliness. Of course. We already knew he never wanted to go home.
I you we us leave the room to retrieve three bottles of Sarsi. As we come back, before we enter the room, we are standing by the door unseen. We hear one cousin say, “She is so spoiled.” And the other says, “And also dumb. She doesn’t even know how to speak. It’s like listening to someone chop onions. Chop. Chop. Chop.” The two fall into a fit of laughter. We imagine one taking their hand to the air and cutting like a knife. The bottles sweat in our hand.
They are our age. They are the same skin color and they have the same hair. Their words remind us of our inay insisting that we learn even though no one in America would ever speak to us in that foreign tongue. So I you we us learned. Their words remind us of our inay crying because for yet another month, she will have to be late with rent and the landlord has become threatening. We are spoiled and our words are like diced onions. We don’t have the right to contest this.
The Philippines/America is a different beast all together.
What is bahay/home?
not ours, surely.
I you we us are paying our way through college, and we work at Starbucks. There is a white boy in a school uniform. He orders a mocha frappucino rudely. We ask him to be respectful. He answers back that his father is a lawyer and that he’s going to be going places we could never imagine, though we never asked. He laughs and reminds us that we are there to serve him. After we hand him his drink, he says that it must suck to work at Starbucks.
Instantly, our memory takes us back to the sandbox where once we had accidently knocked a white boy in a school uniform off the jungle gym. His mother had rushed up and inspected him for injuries. Our inay had rushed up as well. We didn’t see him, our eyes tell our inay as she looks from us to the other mother, fervently apologizing. Go back to your country, the white mother spits as she walks away, leaving ourself and our inay standing in the sand. Our inay’s lips have seemingly closed shut.
We wonder, then, when it was that we first started learning about silence.
Some days are so much longer than others.
America thinks that I you we us are beautiful. She fantasizes about our dark skin oiled, tribal tattoos littered like stars across our chest. She imagines us under the treetops atop her, her back sinking into the softness of cacao soil so rich a forest can bloom. Her fingers grip tightly to our back, hoping that she could draw that bright red blood birthed in a different nation. She screams in delight, overwhelmed by something forbidden.
America thinks that I you we us are beautiful. He fantasizes about our dark skin oiled, long hair twisting in coils between his fingers. He imagines us under the treetops on our knees, his hands running the length of our back as if it were a pathway some foreign river had carved out. He tries to keep hold of all our curves, hoping that he could own allof this different land. He groans in pleasure, overwhelmed by something exotic.