We Are The Adventurers: Thoughts on May the 4th

We have always been a family of dreamers.

My brother and I like to joke that growing up in our house set us up to be nerds. From a  young age, images of space, aliens, and other worlds were as much a part of my life as the introduction music to Reading Rainbow (and when the show visited the set of Star Trek: TNG, I nearly wept with joy).

My father loved science fiction, and I would often walk downstairs to find him watching an episode of The X-Files or Star Trek (TNG, then Voyager later). Sometimes, he would even pop in 2001: A Space Odyssey just for fun.

So, it should come as no surprise that Star Wars was, like many, a seminal part of my childhood. Empire Strikes Back was actually my parents’ second date. I can’t even remember the first time  I watched it. We had (and still have) a VHS gold box edition of the original trilogy that my brother and I would put on anytime our parents worked late or we were just looking for something to do. Our first “pets,” two tadpoles fished out of a grimy stream, were named “Luke” and “Leia.”

When I think, now, of why science fiction was such an important part of my upbringing it was because there was consistently a sense that magic was possible in our household. Growing up one of the few Latino-Filipino families in our upper-middle-class suburb, it would have been easy for our parents to err on the side of pragmatism. They had worked hard to ensure that my brother and I didn’t want for anything, and I have no doubt they wanted us to be successful and be able to take care of ourselves financially as well.

What they also did, though, was ensure that a drive for success never outweighed our ability to dream. When I wrote Star Wars fan fiction (no, you can’t see it, because I burned it) or we spent hours playing and collecting Star Wars cards, my parents never scolded us for wasting our time. When we poured over books to learn the mechanical and tactical differences between an X-Wing and  TIE fighter, they didn’t tell us to do something “better.”  When we devoured Star Wars novels to continue the stories in our head, they didn’t grab the pulp novels out of our hands, shoving “real” literature into them. They asked what we liked about the books.

My parents encouraged our imaginations, enabled our passions, and gave us space to think about other galaxies and imagine what it would be like to pilot the Millenium Falcon. When we watched Return of the Jedi together, my mom said she could understand the Ewoks (and since Lucas borrowed heavily from Tagalog, she could), and my brother and I looked at her with wonder in our eyes.

We were allowed to be weird, mind-adventurers because we lived in a household that fully supported not just the existence of magic, but also the discussion of what could be out there that was much, much bigger than us. 

So, when I hear John Williams’s opening credits, I still feel that sense of childhood wonder. My heart squeezes a little, and I can’t help but feel a smile spread across my face. Sure, in some ways it’s because I’m excited to see the familiar faces of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie come on screen.

Even more affecting, though, is the memory of my magical family. When I hear the opening credits of Star Wars, I instantly remember the feeling of my family curled up in the living room watching with wonder, dreaming together, and imagining what it would be like to live in a galaxy far, far away.

For My Parents, On Their Anniversary

When I was a kid, I was scared of a lot of things. A naturally anxious child, I fretted about whether I was a good person, what I would be when I grew up, if anyone even liked me. Despite a pretty stable existence, the world often seemed like it could change so quickly that I was sure its inconsistencies would some day bop me over the head, turn my world upside down, and try and break me apart.

Then, I would see my mom and dad, and take pause. My parents, their love for us, and their love for each other are the constant, steadying force that often helps me find my center. When everything seems to be unraveling, that love pierces through as a reminder I can look at, thinking, This, this is a pure, holy, true thing.

That’s not to say I think it has been easy. My parents have gotten through things that, as kids, we just assumed they would handle. Health issues and long commutes to LA so we could live in a nice area and go to great schools. Jobs that were emotionally taxing and kids that didn’t always understand that (mostly me). My parents love is a love of perseverance and tough choices, of looking at problems and finding a way to joyfully move forward, however difficult. Theirs is the kind of love that faces challenges head on and can look back after and laugh about how they got over that hump or out of that hole. 

At a time when, honestly, I know two-parent households weren’t necessarily the norm, I marvel that I was so blessed to have not only that, but a childhood filled to the brim with this joyful, consistent, lasting love. I know it is the kind of love that, now, helps me face my own problems head on, and look back after and smile, because I was able to make it through.

So, thanks Mommy and Daddy. Your love story is one that teaches me more than any Disney movie or fairy tale ever could, because it’s one that I get to live through and witness every single day.

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The Holy Act of Rememberance

Two years ago, my grandfather passed away. I rediscovered the below post, which I don’t remember writing, and found myself trying to re-learn the lessons he left.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I went back to California for a whole slew of events: a friend’s wedding, Thanksgiving, and my ten-year high school reunion.

I used to harbor a general dislike for my hometown, but in this trip I saw Southern California with new eyes. The city has grown more diverse, and my partner and I had an excellent time seeing family and friends.

The highlight, though, was Thanksgiving with my family. Between helping my aunt teach my mom’s family mahjong (a game I grew up playing with my friends in high school), and spending the evening looking through boxes of old photos with my dad’s side of the family, I was constantly immersed in the love of people who I knew, wherever I went, were a part of me.

In the past, I don’t think I was far enough removed to understand what it was to be away. When I first moved out to the island, my dad (who had lived in Mexico, away from home, for many years himself) warned me that moving away from what you thought was “home” is a painful, but important part of growing up.

I see now how right he was. Before, I was still wrestling with my own understanding of my place in the world, and I couldn’t appreciate the duality of a place being “home” and “not-home” all at once.

When you’re ready, though, going “home” has a way of resetting your equilibrium. It digs deep into your genetic makeup and lets you see the ridges and  bubbles that formed in your bones when they were growing. The journey to and time spent there help you understand where you come from. It’s the only real way to understand where you are now. 

So, my grandfather gave me another gift this winter and, in re-reading what I wrote a few years ago, reminded me to remember. When we seek new joy, we do so with the sacred wisdom gained by studying all the parts of you that are embedded deep down in old, weathered ways.

December 2013

Memory is a funny thing.

My grandfather passed away last Sunday. It’s been pretty hard. After the all-too-soon death of my aunt this past April, ending 2013 with another passing is just a lot.

I haven’t known how to feel the past week.We were fortunate enough to know what was happening earlier in the week, so I was able to get on the phone with him and say goodbye while he was still really lucid. I’m really happy I got to hear him say my name one last time.

Still, while that is what makes me feel much better, it also ripped my heart in half. Like I wrote last April, I don’t handle grief with any consistency. One minute, I am ok– calm, even– and with the belief that things will inevitably be ok. The next, I am doubled-over, ugly-crying in pain and frustration and anger at the whole world. I had felt fine when I started writing this post, for example, but my grandmother called me while I was writing and I’ve spent the past 10 minutes sobbing, “pero, se extraño.”

“Yo sé, todos se extrañamos, pero voy a ser fuerte contigo.”

So there’s the woman who lost her husband, my abuela, comforting me. Love, it seems, is always fully of limitless strength and always surprising.

Anyway, while there is love and strength, with grief always comes all of its stages. The anger is the worst part (though, fortunately, the most fleeting). I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what exactly I’m angry at. I spent much of the past 6 years being incredibly angry at God, and I know that will probably get me nowhere. God is there for strength, love, tough questions, but when I want to rail at the unfairness of things, He has nothing but quiet patience and understanding– this is just the way things are, and His will or my confusion really aren’t the major players here.

Frankly, I was angry at the nature of life itself. By Wednesday of this past week, I was just mad at how fucking temporary it all is. At some point, everyone I love is going to leave. They’re either going to leave me or die. So why the fuck bother with anything?

Despite my faith, despite long nights of reading and prayer, despite a loving family and caring, understanding friends and coworkers, and PJ (who has been a saint in dealing with my pretty erratic mood swings that sometimes manifest as unnecessary anger at him before I start weeping, which is totally attractive), I hadn’t really shaken that question until today. If everything I love and enjoy is eventually going to end… this fucking sucks, I thought, and I’m mad I have to even be part of this charade. What’s even left? I angrily questioned God. If you are solitary, no one even knows you’re gone. If you had a lot of love, you just leave a lot of people really sad that you’re gone. WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS ANYWAY THEN?

Ya. I was in a place.

On the flight out here, I was randomly watching whatever short film Hawaiian Air puts on. I don’t remember what it was about, but as if God was answering my frustrations, this phrase stuck out (paraphrased):

There are some times when we go to a place and, we don’t know why, but it speaks to us. We know yes, this feels good. We don’t have to know why. When this happens, we call it “ancestral memory.” When you feel it, you know somewhere, one of your grandparents is telling you this is what you need.

She didn’t say “aunt” or “uncle” or anything else. As if meant for me, the quote hung there, letting me marvel at it for a second.

I don’t necessarily have a lot of specific memories of my grandfather. I mean, I DO, but everything in my family’s history is so weaved together it’s hard to tell what are my memories and what has been embellished with the shared stories of my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I know my grandfather made me laugh a lot. I remember, once, when he sat me down at my aunt’s dining room table and gave me a book of Mexican folklore and spoke to me about history. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the feeling of warmth and sanctity, of thinking this is an important moment for me to remember.

When I heard that quote, and in looking up photos when I got home, I realized that what I knew deep in my heart, in my DNA, in my ancestral memory, in my na’au, is that my grandfather loved me. He loved all of us, a lot. Even if the colors are faded in those experiences with him, the feeling of love, caring, joy– that always remains deeply embedded in us.

Appropriate, then, that this week is Gaudete Sunday, a day of seeking joy in our lives. It seems like it might be hard to find joy in this weekend, and it might– in the secular sense. Fr. Martin, S.J. though, recently published a great reminder about the Christian idea of joy:

Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the good news is joy, one that is lasting and can endure even in the midst of difficulties.

While my grandfather is no longer with us, the lasting effect of his existence– the creation of my large, extended family, his thirst for knowledge, his quiet thoughtfulness, the fact that he is always present in my childhood memories when I think about “family,” and “love,”– that is the type of joy that lasts beyond the sadness of losing him. THAT is what we give to others by being here, despite our temporary existence in this form. The human connection to share love with others is transforming for those who give and those who receive.

So, perhaps that is my grandfather’s most recent gift to me. In his passing, he forced me to face the anger I’ve held onto all year and choose to let it go. He forced me to rip my heart open and grieve before using that pain as a reminder of how strong we all are. Now, he watches, and gives his wistful half-smile reminding me: Mija, no te preocupes. Nothing ends. There is always love.

Te extraño mucho, abuelo, y te amo siempre.

I Am (Also) the Blood of Warriors: On Veterans Day

I’ve been discovering a lot about family lately.

In doing so, some questions came up, but so did a lot of good stories I just didn’t know.

My grandmother, Rosalina, a 1st Sgt in the US Army during WWII, before she ever became a citizen. She met my grandfather while he was a guerilla fighter during the war.

My grandmother, Rosalina, a 1st Sgt in the US Army during WWII, before she ever became a citizen. She met my grandfather while he was a guerilla fighter during the war.

My grand-uncle Manuel and my great-grandmother.

My grand-uncle Manuel and my great-grandmother.

My grand-uncle Manuel, who is a WWII and D-Day Veteran. He flew in B16 bombers during the war.

My grand-uncle Manuel, who is a WWII and D-Day Veteran. He flew in B16 bombers during the war.

My abuelo, second from the right.

My abuelo, second from the right.

At a time where I am still trying to understand my place in this country, it is nice to have these stories: ones where my family grabbed life by the reigns and decided they would do their best to master their fate.

Still, they are also complex stories: they came back from the war and still struggled to understand what their lives here meant. They still worked themselves to the bone to ensure upward mobility in a system that, despite their veteran status, consistently tried to deny them of it. The resilience that helped them survive the war and the military had to be channeled into navigating a system that, while they had fought for it, was also in some ways not built for them.

If America is built on the foundation of stories like my family’s, then I am only more inspired to keep pushing this country towards true greatness. We have been warriors, problem-solvers, and risk-takers that fought demons externally for generations.

Now, it’s time to keep wrestling with our internal demons too.

Models of Allyship: A Father’s Day Thank You

I wrote recently about trying to de-center myself from spaces of power. However, with recently I’ve done the exact opposite and thought about the men in my life.

I mentioned the other day on Twitter that the most recent episode of Another Round featured Tiq Milan, and commented on the frailty of masculinity. When most men feel that the concept of their masculinity is challenged, it can have frustrating ramifications. Just looking at gendered products shows us that.

This hit home for a lot of men I’ve interacted with. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized this understanding of men didn’t really fit for one important one: my dad.

I spend Father’s Day reflecting on not just my father, but how my relationship with him affects all my other relationships. The more I thought about it, my dad has actually been an excellent role model of allyship in my life. Beyond being a great dad, he made it a point to be a great male ally to me. He listened hard when I desperately needed him to hear my voice. Growing up, he made it clear that he was not only going to stand up for me when I needed him too, but that he was going to stand beside me when I stood up for myself. He always encouraged me to not stay silent, share my opinions, and just accept my own identity.

My dad’s masculinity was anything but fragile. My dad has always asserted himself as our father, but it wasn’t oppressive. For him, being a father didn’t mean telling us what to do, but rather making sure we had everything we needed to grow into the best versions of ourselves. My father often showed us that true strength was found in being honest and vulnerable. When pride and power never mean hiding who you are, it makes it a lot easier to figure out who you are and love yourself.

I know that my relationship with my father has bled into the relationships I have with men now (well, at least the good ones). At the end of the day, it is easy to demand the best of the men in my life because I know I am complete without them. That’s what my father’s love and allyship did for me: it ensured and validated my own identity as a strong, worthwhile individual. 

Ultimately, I think that’s what good allies need to do. They stand next to you when you struggle, they do their best to listen, they encourage you to share your own voice, they love and value you as you are, to help validate the love you should have for yourself.

So, in a world that often notices the fragility of men or the silence of fathers, I’m grateful to have grown up around someone who always shouted his love and support for me from the rooftops. I’m immensely lucky to have known, always, that I was beloved by the most important man in my life. I have always had such a strong example of a great man, a great ally, and most importantly, a really awesome Dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you.


This Is for The Crazy Ones

When I was about 13, I had all sorts of ridiculous dreams– about being a dancer, or a singer. When I was in high school, I finally told my parents I was going to become an actress.

My parents, like most, wanted to be supportive. They also had struggled for decades to ensure we had a world class education, that we had every opportunity for success, that the things we needed were financially provided for. To hear that those things would be going into acting? Oomph.

My parents urged me to keep doing well in school, to go to college, and at least have “a back up plan.” When I failed my first high school math test, they immediately pulled me out of the production I was in. I threw a fit, I’m sure, but they insisted this is what I needed to do. I thought it meant that they would never support me dream of becoming ~an actress~.

Years later, as I did shows later in high school, my parents showed up to every show. Every time, my mother brought me flowers, took pictures (and sometimes video), showed me how proud she and my Dad were of me. When I was in college, they would drive the hour north to LA for even the small readings I was in. My mother did the same– showed up at every one, brought me flowers, recorded it when she could.

I don’t know how much my parents actually, internally supported the idea of me becoming an actress, but I never once doubted that they loved me, supported me, and wanted me to make the attempt. No matter what, they wanted me to be happy. Even when I left and became a teacher (and I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief), they made it a point to ensure I knew how proud I make them.

When I think of my mother now, I think of her saying, “try it!” Travel abroad, eat different food, look at another job, maybe date a few different guys after my first break up (should’ve listened to that one–sorry, Mom!). I didn’t try them all, but I knew that my Mom always wanted me to know that my dreams were valid, and my sense of adventure should never be lost. Even when I wanted to try something she laughingly deemed “crazy!” (like run 26.2 miles for fun), she was there at the finish line, telling me how proud she and my Dad were.

Even now, as we all get older, my mom has a sense of internal curiosity and wonderment about the world that I try to see it from too. As we drive around Big Island, my mom is always the one encouraging us to try a hike or eat at that new place or just figure stuff out along the way.

My mother, for all her pragmatic capabilities, is never stagnant. Even if it means some crazy things happen (like discovering that she’s afraid of heights in the middle of Lanikai Pillboxes), she is forever trying new things. My mom is always making new foods, getting into every social media or computer thing she sees– I’m pretty sure that if it still meant she could see us, she’d consider going to Mars if they offered (though, there is her things about heights…).

In a world that told women to settle down, have kids, and stop trying to “have it all,” my mom did those things extremely well then looked around and said, “what’s next?” I have often looked at her path and wondered how she was brave enough to keep going. She moved here from across an ocean at 14. She found the love of her life at 18, and they made it work for ten years before finally making it official. When one path didn’t work out, she became a stellar RN instead, and after doing extremely well by her family, made sure she and my dad followed their dream of moving to an island with an active volcano (that they drive out to watch lava bubble out of wtf). Now here, she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Some might look at this and say, “you’re crazy!” I imagine my mom shrugging her shoulders and saying, “It doesn’t hurt to try.” My mom always makes it abundantly clear that you could never stop trying to have it all, because as long as we were here there are always new things to try.

This mother’s day, and every day, I am always grateful for her. Today, I am honored to embody her spirit of “Try it!” I am privileged in many ways, one of them being that I never doubt that my parents will support and love me unconditionally.

Thanks Mom, for never making me feel crazy or silly for trying new things. Thanks for being, maybe, one of the crazy ones instead.