Dear Charlie and Jack,

It didn’t use to be so difficult, so filled with angst and anxiety. In all my many moves, not once did my heart fret, pound in protest of something it didn’t want. What was it about our most recent move, from Davis to Woodland, that was so different?

When I immigrated to the US in 1991, I was 16 and had lived most of my life in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. (I wish I had photos of how it was back then but I don’t so a wikilink will have to suffice.) I don’t remember feeling sad or angry or devastated about leaving family and friends and everyfreakingthing behind. I didn’t have the appreciation for what I had:  my connection to the land where my grandmother’s family, Bukidnon natives, hailed from. Consequently, I also did not have the sense to grieve my impending loss of this ancestral connection. Instead, I looked forward to becoming American and exercising my “individual freedom” (to wear miniskirts instead of uniforms, to curse, to date). When the mighty wind of the diaspora blew me off to Daly City, I went. Just like that.

First Night in the US

(First Night in the US; Callan Blvd., Daly City, 1991; With Kuya Eric, Tito Boy, Ollie, Erwin, me, Tito Jun, Tita Lucy, Mommy, Tita Lucy’s mom)

Since that big move, I have moved many more times. From Daly City, I moved to San Francisco to go to college. After college, when I finally became a US citizen, I sold everything I owned to live in Florence, Italy to fulfill my childhood dream of traveling “the world” (which, in my colonial mentality, meant Europe). When I married your Papa, and later when we had you, we embarked on a series of moves: from our rental house in SF where we first lived together as a couple to the condo we bought in Emeryville on our first year anniversary; from the Emeryville condo to an Oakland house with a bigger backyard and a swing set; from Oakland to El Cerrito where the local co-op preschool promises a solid foundation of play based early childhood education; from El Cerrito to Davis where the schools rate high and greenbelts and parks abound.

I don’t remember grieving in any of those moves. Each time, I was eager to pack up our things, leave behind the few friends we managed to make, clean up the house to erase the evidence of our chaos, and move on to the next adventure in our lives. I was convinced that I was immune to grief because, like my mom who agitated to leave the country to make a life in America, like my mom’s father who left his homeland China to strike it out in the Philippines, I believed I was born with the proverbial itchy feet and, therefore, destined to roam. Because I thought myself a wanderer, not a settler, I never bothered to belong and, in return, wasn’t bothered when I felt like I didn’t belong.

I have been searching my soul for reasons behind my uncharacteristic anxiety when we recently moved from Davis to Woodland and I’m realizing a few important things:

I.

Way before our move to Woodland, sometime last year, I grappled with the question of the meaning of home for me. Somehow, I began to think myself as rootless. I lamented that I didn’t have a home, a REAL home, and, for the first time, that feeling of not belonging somewhere, anywhere, bothered me. I started to envy those able to claim to be living in their ancestral homeland. I even resented the fact that I was essentially forced to leave my own home to immigrate to the US.

I started feeling the immense need and pressure to find a home. This home was going to be the home where I imagined I would plant saplings and watch them grow into giant trees. I wanted to be where I not only knew the names of the local birds and bees but also when and where they gather and migrate. I wanted to be where the local kids would show up at our door looking for you to play with at the park or on the streets or out in the backyard. I wanted my own home where you boys would live in until you went off on your own (and maybe back again), where you and your Papa would live in until we were no more. I didn’t know it then but my spirit was longing for a home, to settle and set roots.

So your Papa and I searched for this perfect home. I searched a whole lot. I looked at home listings when I woke up in the morning, many times during the day, and again before going to bed at night. I didn’t think this was stressful but, apparently, my body and my heart felt that it was. After a year of constant and consistent home searching, my anxiety finally manifested itself and one day my heart wigged out.

My Heart

(My heart, under siege)

II.

Somehow, despite my heart, we did find a home and managed to close escrow. But my heart didn’t calm down. In fact, every time I thought of leaving our Davis rental home, my heart would squeeze itself so hard I could not breathe.

I asked my heart why it was still so unhappy. It told me, quite simply, that it did not want to leave the park behind the Davis house. Our backyard fence opened to a grove of oak trees, a pond where congregated geese and turtles and many species of birds, and big open skies that blazed during sunsets. Many nights before our move, when I thought of no longer having that park behind our backyard fence, my throat would constrict, my head would threaten to burst, and I would feel that the world was closing in on me. The park clearly mattered to my heart.

Northstar Park Pond

(Northstar Park, our Davis backyard)

My heart helped me see what it was that I lost, what immigration had taken away from me, and what I’ve not gained back ever since: a connection with the land. Since that first move, I have not lived with nature as part of my daily life. Because of this, I have forgotten the calm that comes from being under the canopy of the trees, the joy that comes from being showered by soft warm rain, the contentment from being bathed by early morning fog…But fortunately, even when I didn’t consciously appreciate and strive to remember that wildness I grew up with, my body did. Far wiser than my brain, my body remembered, still remembers all those wild years. Having finally reconnected with the land again while in Davis, my heart didn’t want to let go of that connection and it labored hard to make its desires known.

III.

I am learning to listen to my heart. It knows what it wants and what makes it happy. It is telling me two really important things: that it wants to be home and to be connected to the land.

I want back, for myself and for you, what I had: a backyard with fruit bearing trees–santol, mangga, kaimito, nangka, bayabas–we could climb anytime we feel the wiggles or want some quiet space to be; a rushing Sawaga river a few minutes away where we can go rock hopping; a neighbor’s overgrown basakan where we can hang out with the baki, dragonflies, tandu litik, gangis; kilometers of yuta to walk on, tiniilsilingan, kids and adults, who would spontaneously show up at the front door bearing their gift of time and presence…

But I know that I am one of those in the diaspora for whom a return to the homeland is not likely so instead I ask myself these: How can we, Bukidnon transplants, make a home in a way that continues our ancestral connection to Bukidnon and at the same time connects us to the land where we are at the moment, dinhi, here, in Woodland? And how can we reconnect with the land, reclaim and welcome the wild back into our lives?

I tell my heart that I don’t know yet but that I’m asking, keeping myself open to the blessings and answers the world may send my way.

Learn with me, Charlie and Jack, and together, with your Papa, let’s make our home right here, dinhi.

Dinhi with Jack

(Jack manifesting our intentions)

Dinhi

(Jack’s idea: Flowers and Grass; Day and Night and an Orange-pink Sunset in Between)

 

Advertisements