Dear Charlie and Jack,

Over the last few weeks, your Tito Eric, Tito Erwin, Tita Ollie and I traded old family photos.

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(My favorite. Cagayan de Oro, circa 1976, during one of our many family trips to Bonbon or maybe Chali beach. )

Many of the photos were of us when we were your age and still lived in the Philippines: butt naked and free ranging in the backyard along with chickens; dancing the “pearly shell’ during Christmas parties with our Lola; floating on salbabidas at the beach; grinning and posing with a knife over the lechon’s head during a birthday (or baptismal or graduation or New Year’s or fiesta) party…

Many more were taken in the nineties, during our first years in the US: your Lola and your Tita Ollie eating a McDonald’s burger at the Serramonte Mall; your Lolo and your Titos standing in line for the roller coaster ride at Great America; all four of us siblings in front of somebody’s garage door wrapped in Christmas gift wrapper…

As I pored over the photos taken here in America, I was struck by how young your Lola looked. I have forgotten how thick and long her hair used to be. I have forgotten that there was a time when she wore hats that matched her leather boots. I have forgotten that she often wore red lipstick.

I realized that your Lola was 42 when she first came to America in 1989 in search for what she deemed to be a better life. Already 42. Only 42.

At 42, your Lola left the home that she had helped build with her own hands, that little square house with a door made of pine wood that wept gummy sap, especially during the summer.

At 42, your Lola came to America to live among people whose ways made no sense to her, like dressing their dogs in fancy costumes, sleep-training their babies by not responding to the babies’ cries at night, and putting their elderly in a nursing home away from the rest of the family.

At 42, your Lola came to America to become a professional caregiver, somebody she never thought she would be.

At 42, your Lola left everyone she loved, even us, her children.

What did she hope to find “out (t)here” where, according to Fievel in the then popular movie, American Tail, “dreams come true”? How did her hopes match with the reality of living in foggy Daly City? What does she think about her journey now, twenty five years after she left?

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(Christmas, circa 1984)

I’m 42 now. I marvel at how different my life is from how your Lola’s life was. My current midlife identity/spirituality crisis seems like a gentle breeze compared to what must have been a typhoon that uprooted your Lola away from her home.

I feel no attachment to this Central Valley land where I now tread. I don’t own a home that I’d be sad to leave. If I had to immigrate, I could likely re-train myself to work a job that I currently have no skills for. I could get used to people’s strange ways. But could I leave you?

Today I take a moment to acknowledge that I am privileged to not have to make those tough decisions that your Lola made. I owe it to her for making those decisions, for putting her whole being on the line, for daring to venture into an unknown, because in doing so she provided me with a life that does not take me away from the people I love.

So, Charlie and Jack (and Ella, too), love your Lola (and Lolo) with all your hearts. She has given me, and therefore you, everything she has.

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Happy Mother’s Day, Lola!

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