The Conversations I Never Have

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‘Twas the season indeed.

There was tinsel. Presents. The ability to listen to *NSYNC’s Christmas album—arguably their best and most amazing work, ever (I mean, who could forget JC’s “O Holy Night”? Lance’s super deep and perfect “YOU” when he sang “The only gift I wanted was you”? And the sexual undertones and overtones of “Under My Tree”? They weren’t just talking about conifers, am I right?)—without judgment.

There was also home.

And for people living in New York City, a.k.a. land of the people from elsewhere, home is a familiar, comforting, and ever-so-frustrating place.

Continue reading “The Conversations I Never Have”

20 Aprils

The girl cried. Hard. Her aunt tried to soothe her: you’ll be back, don’t worry, it’s only for a little while. Nearby lay the youngest, 7 at the time, 8 in a month to be precise. She was annoyed. Very, very annoyed. Crying, she thought to herself, is for wusses.

It was 1992. The next morning, they were headed for America.

***

The youngest woke up. What time it was she wasn’t sure. Even more difficult to tell was where. Flying over the ocean, perhaps, into the abyss. No one else stirred. She cried.

***

It was cold, this New York. There were people everywhere. They walked everywhere. To the laundromat. To the grocery store. To the Rockefeller. What happened to the trees? The grass? The dogs and cats and rabbits and chickens? Here, they were quiet. The neighbors could hear every creak and squeak and thump.

***

“Where are you from?”
“The Philippines.”
“That’s where your parents are from. Where are YOU from?”
“The Philippines.”
“You left when you were a baby?”
“I was 8.”
“Why don’t you have an accent?”

***

So much happens in 20 years, yet 20 years pass in a blur. The girl is now a nurse. The boy wizard a computational biologist. The youngest a journalist. All in different cities. One in New York.

They never did go back; it wasn’t for a little while.

It, it turned out, was home.


Embattled Mindanao

Embattled Mindanao

Mindanao, Philippines, October 2008.

My dad was a journalist in college (maybe even post-college) in the Philippines, but he gave it up because he said it was too dangerous. He was right.

Of the top 20 most dangerous countries for journalists listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranks fifth, with 38 dead since 1992. This number doesn’t include those killed in the recent Maguindanao massacre, in which more than 30 journalists died, bringing the total to 88 and earning the Philippines the unfortunate distinction of second place, right behind Iraq.

The CPJ actually now considers the Philippines the most dangerous country for media. Interestingly enough but unsurprising, most of the 38 listed on their site covered corruption.

Mindanao, the island where the massacre took place, has long been plagued by political conflicts and violent attacks from militant Islamic groups. Just recently, in July of this year, a bomb went off outside a Christian cathedral and killed 5, injuring dozens more.

My dad is from Mindanao. My mom was so terrified of it that, despite spending much of her life in the Philippines, she never set foot in Mindanao until last year, when my family and I visited (the first time my dad, sister and I had been back since we emigrated in 1992).

My friends warned me to steer clear of the island, repeating horror stories we’d heard many times before. Even though we were in the northern part of Mindanao, away from the usually targeted areas, I admit I was a bit apprehensive when we landed.

But in the few days I was there, my fears were unrealized. The people were incredibly nice. A cab driver even returned my dad’s bag carrying his laptop and wallet when he forgot it in the car. Much of it is really beautiful.

It’s a shame that amid such beauty, so much violence pervades.

A security guard keeps watch in the hotel lobby.

A student at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro.

The streets there aren’t as chaotic as Manila’s.

Tricycles and Jeepneys are usually in vibrant colors, often decorated to the drivers’ liking.

A neighborhood stand.

A woman surveys the streets.