What it Took to Get Here

Don't you wonder sometimes where
to trace your line, how it is
your forebears came to claim states
or provinces from which they derived
their names? The 1852 California census
lists at least five men citing Manila
or the Philippines as their birth
place—one was a seaman, two
were laborers, the fourth was a cook;
the other two did not list their
occupations. In the crew aboard
galleons that plied the route
between Manila and Acapulco in the 1800s,
who among them were your great-uncles,
your great-grandfathers? Which of them
wielded the compass and plane, laid
brick or peeled turnips in the ship's
dank hold? Which waded ashore
somewhere in Louisiana, sick of dark
nights rocking in the wet belly
of the boat, homesick for sun
and salt? After the World's Fair
and traveling carnivals packed up,
who traded in their feathered head-
pieces for a parcel of land
and a plow, a field of drying
tobacco in Virginia, a dog
and a plate of fatback?
Do you look some mornings
in the mirror and wonder at
the shape of your nose and brow,
the stirring you feel in your bones
for places you vaguely know?

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