Open letter

Three months after the election and still
I scratch my head at the incongruity
every time I learn about yet another
Filipino American who’s voted

for the current president. Some of them
are friends! former classmates! A student
reported the day after the election,
glumly, that his own parents also voted

for the sadly now incumbent. I want to shake
them by the shoulders— gently, but shake them
nonetheless— and say brother, sister, kapatid,
what’s the color of the face that looks out

at you from the mirror when you make hilamos
every morning? And did you hear that our
country of origin has been added to the list
of seven on that Muslim ban? Even if you’re

naturalized; even if you have a green
card; even if you’ve lived here most of your
adult life, dutifully sending money and an annual
Balikbayan Box back to your folks in the province,

amply furnishing that fantasy of the American Dream
with your two-car garage, your two-door refrigerator
with programmable ice dispenser, your Magic Sing and
Singtronic Karaoke Machine— one misplaced lisp

and they’ll think you’re FOB; one look at you
and they’ll ask why you’re falsely practicing
medicine or nursing and will ask for a “real”
professional; one look at you and they’ll demand

proof of your ability to teach history or English
or mathematics to their child. And is it this
that’s fueled your love for designer this
and that and everything? that fear of being

mistaken for the maid or the driver or the houseboy,
leading to a carefully curated list of expensive
desires? Ah is it still so hard to love our many
times colonized bodies, that memory of indios

stuck in the mud and muck of the fields
while the landlord rode by on horseback
or picked one of our wives or daughters
to take to the shed and bed?

Why else did we laugh and jeer
back in the day at Elizabeth Ramsey,
half black (Jamaican father) and half
Filipino (Visayan mother) as she belted

out her meanest Proud Mary on live TV?
She would have made Tina Turner proud,
but all we did was point to her ‘fro,
her full lips and dark skin,

and chant Negrita, Negrita, as if she
too was like one of those Aetas
we were always scaring our children
would come down from the mountains

to take them away if they were bad.
I have news for you, said Carlos
Bulosan during the emaciated years
of the Great American Depression—

a phrase so full of ambivalence it’s
like an Alt Fact for that poor sad time
in 1920s America when the crops—
garlic, asparagus, grapes— would all

have rotted in the fields or on the vine
were it not for cheap stoop labor—
migrant labor— provided by some of our
forefathers up and down the California

coast. I have news for you, and it is that
I have discovered it is a crime to be
a Filipino in America today.
Then
and now, Carlos; then and now—

unless we join with our other sisters
and brothers protesting in the streets,
refusing to be written off, fucked over,
or otherwise relegated to history.

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