i have discovered that i do not know anything about my people.
the other day,
i met another filipina.
she asked me
what type of filipino i was.
it had never been asked of me like that before:
had always been asked,
“where are your parents from?”
“what part of the philippines?”
“what type of filipino are you?”
never have i faced the acknowledgement
that more groups than i know how to comprehend
call the archipelago i consider home theirs as well.
i did not know what to say, at first,
before i managed to stammer out,
“my mother is boholano,
my dad is from cagayan de oro.”
and she replied, “oh,
my family is visayan also.”
i nodded and smiled,
as if i understood her words’ significance beyond knowing
what that meant geographically.
i did not know what that meant.
i looked up ‘boholano’ today for the first time
and learned that they are also considered visayan.
looked up ‘cagayan de oro’ and learned it means ‘river of gold.’
it shamed me to realize i had never known this before.
shamed me to realize that all i knew of my ancestors’ heritage
was the food and a smattering of language
i can only understand in some contexts.
for a while,
i hesitated to call myself ‘filipina-american,’
as if hyphenating my identity was laying claim to something false.
i do not feel ‘american’:
blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned
with an inexplicable love for football and hamburgers
but i do not feel i can call myself ‘filipina’
when i cannot even count to ten in tagalog.
my great-great-uncle was a president of the philippines.
i wonder sometimes if he is ashamed of this girl
who calls him relative
when she cannot tell someone how to cook adobo.
told me stories about individuals:
how my grandfather met his first wife hiding in a well,
how my other grandfather rejected japanese treasure
but i do not know if i had other ancestors
who fought against the americans when they came.
i was told stories
about glass slippers and princes turning into frogs
but i do not know the folklore of my homeland
beyond the half-truth tales my father told me
about the ‘dwarf’ in his basement.
did not speak tagalog to me after a certain age.
i think they told me once
it was because they did not want me to have an accent
i do not know if that is truth or false memory,
but i know
i can speak the languages of the countries that colonized us:
leave me in the streets of madrid or milwaukee,
and i will get on fine,
but if you take me into the heart of manila,
i may only just get by.
and i cannot say
even in poetry
what it feels like not to know these things.
like there is a fundamental part of myself missing
that i can never regain
like i am failing the people who came before me—
even as i assimilate into the world they longed
or were forced to be a part of.
i do not know anything about my people.
but i know enough to know it feels so much
like not knowing anything about