A couple days ago, I told our story. And it made people break out in tears.
May is Asian and Pacific Islander (API) month. My company wanted to hold a tribute of sorts to it, and so, asked me and two other Asian and Pacific Islanders to speak about our experiences. And I thought to myself, this is something I could finally own.
To prepare myself, I latched on to the word “experience”, thankful it was not something more structured and contextual like “culture” or “heritage”. “Experience” — less defined, and more open to the sense of not feeling tied to any one country. After all, I am a Filipino-Canadian who grew up in Micronesia and lives in the States. The phrase “where I’m from” means almost nothing to me.
I say it’s our story because all along the way, it’s always been you and I. Sure, there were other family members, but they were either born into the family or they had their own lives prior to rejoining us. We were always in the core, the Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of our group.
I’ve been attached to you all my life — I am, in every sense of the word, your child. Your values taught me what was important, your reprimands taught me right from wrong, your strength is the one I try to mimic.
I told the crowd of the immense sacrifices our family had to make.. That you had to make. And right then and there, in front of 100 people, that’s when my voice cracked, because I knew I would not be standing there if it weren’t for you, bullying me every step of the way, and forgiving each and every one of my mistakes.
You had to be a single mom for five children, three of whom you were away from most of their lives, and you had to bring them all to a strange country where we knew no one. Because of all your sacrifices, I stayed quiet in my anger, of being displaced frequently, of your criticisms, of having to grow up quickly. I was very Asian in my teenage rebellion. Though I didn’t have the right to be angry, I was.
You and I, we never had the kind of friend/confidant relationship some mothers and daughters fondly speak of. You were never my friend. You were my strongest critic; your tsk-tsk-tsk was the sound of my childhood. Your words were never of encouragement and support; they were always words of warning, of caution, of chastisement, taking my hope and enjoyment hostage in return for my obedience.
I understood, even back then, that your roughness was a byproduct of your will to control the outcome of our family’s success. I understood that back then, and I understand that still now. The difference is, back then I resented you.
Our relationship today, as amicable and pleasant as it is now, skirts around our lack of closeness. There are elephants constantly occupying the rooms we talk in, and as much as I enjoy visiting you, it’s always business as usual. I can’t hug you without mentally squirming in my seat.
No, we can’t get past this stage. Too much has happened. We have bruised each other too much. We are reduced to the friendliness of acquaintances. You now respect my autonomy and I now respect that you did what you thought was necessary. The restraint and fondness you now display with my brother was not shown to me. And that’s fine. I am a wilder, more contemplative breed because of it, constantly aware of the emotional dances people partake in.
I know someday, I’ll understand the type of creature you are even more. Our journey as enemies is over. You are no longer the antagonist of every obstacle in my life, just a bystander. I’m caught in the strange middle ground of acknowledging all we’ve been through together and yet, feeling like you are a stranger to me. I hope one day, you and I can begin to open up, finally start processing all that has gone on between us.