Pinay’Merican: Dreams From My Mother

Pinay’Merican is a series of personal entries about exploring identity, as a Filipino-American, an aspiring writer, and a millennial. This is also kinda sorta for my final project in Asian American Media this semester.

[Originally written on Oct 15th, 2013. Recent additions/edits made throughout.]

At some point in our lives, we all feel the need to learn about our past and extensions of our pasts (e.g., family, heritage, childhood). Looking into the histories of our parents, our families, and our cultures helps us to gain a grounded sense of who we are. When we think of our parents or ancestors that set roots in the country we live in, we feel pride and gratitude for all the sacrifices that have been made, even if we don’t always show it.

This comes from reading Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father. We hear stories of a certain relative and form this image that glorifies the person. It becomes a surreal moment when meeting the relative, and there is the fear of shattering the image when we come to know the person better. There is also the struggle of finding our own identities, when thwarted by new situations and circumstances that test our ability to adapt and survive. We internalize what people say to us and about us, if repeated enough times to really dig deep into our skins. It is a continuous process, and we must try to make our own definitions.

Growing up, I was often told to focus on my studies. That was the only important thing I had to do to make my parents proud. If I failed, even if it’s a bad mark on a test, it meant that I was being ungrateful for the sacrifices my parents made to ensure that I did not have to struggle like they did. This especially comes from my mother, whose story is like many other immigrants who pursued the American Dream. Except my mother never imagined come to the United States…

She grew up in a working class family in Bicol. The lush green hills and palm trees provided her family with sustenance of beans, fruits, and vegetables. The difficulty was going to school: my mother and her siblings had to walk down a winding dirt road to the main street–for about 10 miles–to get to the nearest elementary school. My mother would tell me about the three dresses she owned that served as her school clothes. She would alternate the dresses, washing the one she wore during the day and hang it up to dry overnight. There was one time when her school bag, made of material similar to a burlap sack, had a hole at the bottom, causing her pens and pencils to fall out. She couldn’t get a replacement bag, which devastated her because of the ridicule from her peers. But nonetheless, she persisted in her studies and became the top student in her class. By the end of her primary education, my mother was to be the valedictorian, but the title was given to another student, who so happened to be related to a member of the school administration.

As my mother grew older, she became interested in the arts: poetry, drawing, painting, and photography. She wanted to be an artist, to attend art school in Manila. But her parents could not afford it and opted to send her to a vocational school for agriculture. Again, devastation struck my mother when she could not pursue her artistic potential. But it was not until a generous uncle in Guam that offered to fund for her education, on the condition that she study nursing. My mother took up the opportunity and did excellent in her studies. She graduated summa cum laude in her college and worked as a nurse and as a midwife. But during her studies and work, she still experienced hardship when it came to adequate nourishment and dorming with other girls.

Skip to a few years, after my mother married my father and gave birth to my brother, when she decided to move to the United States. It was less for pursuing the American Dream and more for seeking medical care for my brother, who had a congenital heart disorder. My mother immigrated to New York by herself and was out of work for two months before getting a nursing position at a hospital in east side Manhattan. Soon, she transferred to New York Presbyterian’s newly opened hospital in upper Manhattan and has worked there ever since. My father and brother would move to the States a few years later, and my family settled in Queens. Thanks to my mother’s connections at the hospital, my brother was able to undergo two heart surgeries at one of the best hospitals in the nation.

I have pride in my mother, an important female role model in my life. There is much more I can say about her, but this post does not do her biography any justice. We all have that need to pay back what our parents/relatives have given us, but it never seems enough. What we try to give back does not equate to the amount of love, care, and sacrifice that our parents/relatives give us. The best that I can do, as a daughter, is to carry on the artistic dreams that my mother was unable to pursue at my age.

Granted, it is difficult to be an artist in modern times, especially in this economy… It has been difficult for me to persuade my parents that I want to pursue a writing profession, even if I wasn’t sure what my focus would be. When it came time to apply for college, both of my parents advised me to consider nursing, but I knew that that wasn’t the kind of career I saw myself in. I also did not want to fall into the stereotype that all Filipinos were nurses; I wanted to pursue my own interests and not make the mistake of appeasing others instead of myself. It did take a long time to convince my parents, but eventually they accepted that I wasn’t going to change my mind. (At least, I would assume so.) The important thing is that I am actually acting on my pursuits, by getting involved in the literary community in my college and studying literature and creative writing.

Recently, I talked to my mother about my literary goals. It was then that she told me about how she wanted to study photography in Manila. (Explains why she loves taking pictures. A lot of pictures…) In her heart, she is an artist. She has that vision of seeing beauty in the simplest things, from flowers to tablecloths. Even though she has been regarded as an excellent neonatal nurse in her hospital, my mother wants to pursue her artistic endeavors when she retires. My mother encouraged me to continue writing, knowing that it is my passion and an extension of her own artistic spirit. So in a way, her dreams became my own, or at least, my own dreams have a stronger meaning.

Happy birthday, Mom.

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