Author and her mother, photo courtesy of Rayna Mathis

OPINION: I Have Always Been Proud of My Mother

by Rayna Mathis (Tagalog translation by April Jingco)

This is a speech I performed at Hing Hay Park for the #StopAsianHate rally organized by Seattle Rice Society on April 3, 2021. When asked to perform, I only had a few days to decide my direction, and once the anxiety settled, I realized that the only, genuine approach I could offer was to tell everyone about the person I love most in this world: my mom. We experience the world quite differently and even though we may not always understand the other’s experiences, I have never doubted for a second how much my mom and I love each other.

I have always been proud of my mother. At just 19, she followed her family across the ocean to come to the States, where she enjoyed a successful career, earned two degrees, raised four children, and now dotes on six grandchildren. She is the strongest and easily the funniest person I know. She can make anything out of scratch and to this day, still won’t even give ME her recipes. I fight her for them every few weeks. She is observant and calculated, brave and humble, and shows her love in food. When it was time for her to finally retire in this country, she knew it was time to travel back across those same waters that first brought her here, to return home. I have always wondered since she left, does she feel the time here was worth it all?

As anti-Asian hate crimes steadily rose at the beginning of the pandemic — and then when the shootings in Atlanta happened — I thought of my mother. I felt grateful that she was out of harm’s way away from the violence here, tucked away safely in the Philippines, but I missed her even more so in these moments. The 15-hour time difference meant constantly doing the math to figure out the best times to call each other. On top of that, the pandemic had separated us across two different continents for over a year now. And all I wanted was to lay across my mother’s lap again, falling into a food coma she put me in, only to wake up to her banging around pots in the kitchen already plotting the next meal. 

My relationship with my mother has always been complicated, especially when it came to race. I walk through this world as a Black woman with Asian heritage. My Blackness is clearly more visible than the Filipina in me. I know my mom loves me, but she didn’t know what it meant to raise a Black child in this world. She didn’t know how to care for Black hair, or how to love my dark skin the way I needed her to, or to stand up for me when the white kids mocked me. She didn’t understand why my fears under Trump’s presidency were so different from my half-white and white-passing brothers. She didn’t understand what I meant, the night he was elected, that I could see myself dead in the next four years and how much it killed me that night to not only face my mortality but to tell my mother about it in the same breath. As I’ve gotten older, her comfort around my Blackness has gotten better. But the intergenerational trauma and messages she had internalized from assimilating into this country eventually found their way into me. So even though I actively work today to unpack it all, I know that the wounds I carry won’t ever properly close until my mother’s do. 

When I do this work, I think of my mom. How she gets angry at me when I try to talk to her about race. She will tell me it’s not that interesting and question why I even want to know in the first place. She will get defensive and tell me I just want to argue and cause trouble. So I tell her no, I just want to learn more about you. You don’t talk about yourself and you guard yourself so fiercely, even from your own children. Out of my siblings, I am the youngest — the “bunso.” I have known you for less time than anyone else. I want to hear your stories. I want to know who taught you how to cook and what brings you joy. I want to know the feeling you have around your birthday. I want to know what your mother was like. I want to hear the story of how you would steal sugar canes again. I want to know who hurt you. I want to know what you did with that pain, so that I know how to move through the world when I feel it, too. I want to know everything.

The author and her mother. (Photo courtesy of Rayna Mathis)

When I tell her this, she relaxes her shoulders a bit. She shares a small story about being young in the American military and the racism she experienced and then closes back up. For today, that’s enough. And I am proud of my mom. 

You see, I know some of these stories are painful for her to tell me and they will be painful for me to hear. My mom can speak three languages fluently — Kapampangan, Tagalog, and English — and yet she still struggles to talk about her feelings. I think of how much she holds in and how much she hides away from us. How she only wants to show me her new plants and tell me she loves me by asking me if I ate, then go about her day. 

But I think it’s important that we learn the stories of our elders. And vice versa — that our elders trust us enough to share them with us. Include us in the narrative; include us in your struggles, because we don’t want you to carry this alone. As an educator, it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge the young folks today here in the crowd. We must do our part to assure them, that we will hold them in their vulnerability and only do right with their wisdom. And, we need our elders to trust in the power of the younger generations. Please don’t write us off for our youth. Believe that our youth hasn’t hardened us to the world completely yet, so there’s still enough power, creativity, and spark in us left to create a world where we never experience the pain you have felt. 

And, finally, this is my message for the Black kids with Asian parents. We are loved by our parents, no matter what picture the media will try to paint about Black and Asian relationships. Please don’t fall into the ideology that our enemy is each other, when it has always been white supremacy. Give each other grace when this violent mindset turns us against each other, but also hold each other accountable. As children of Black and Asian heritage, I see you right now. I know this last year, in particular, has been extremely difficult. To see both of our communities experience this unjust amount of pain and violence has made us feel trapped, frustrated, and afraid. But I hope you look at your skin and feel pride. I hope you can step into the sun and embrace the melanin flowing through your body. I hope you look with admiration, respect, and empathy at your mothers, the way I look at mine. I hope you learn their stories. And I hope you remember that throughout history we have fought together before and we have created families together.

We are PROOF of that.

Tagalog translation:

Palagi kong ipinagmamalaki ang aking ina. Sa edad na labing siyam, sinundan niya ang kanyang pamilya sa kabila ng karagatan patungong Estados Unidos, nagkaroon ng matagumpay na karera, nakamit ang dalawang titulo sa mataas na paaralan, nagpalaki ng apat na anak, at ngayon ay nag-aalaga ng anim na apo. Marunong siyang gumawa ng anumang bagay mula sa simula, at kahit hanggang ngayon, hindi nya binibigay sakin ang mga sangkap ng niluluto niya. Palagi ko siyang kinukulit para sa mga sangkap. Siya ay mapagmasid at maingat, matapang at mapagpakumbaba, at ipinapakita niya ang pagmamahal niya sa pagbigay ng pagkain. Nung dumating ang panahon para siya ay magretiro sa bansang ito, alam nya na ito na ang tamang panahon para muling tahakin ang karagatang tinahak na unang nagdala sa kanya dito para bumalik sa tahanan niya. Palagi kong naiisip mula nang siya ay umalis, nararamdaman kaya niya na sapat na ang naging karanasan niya dito?

Tulad ng mga anti-Asyano na krimen may poot at patuloy na dumarami sa simula noong pandemya, at nung nangyari ang pamamaril sa Atlanta, naisip ko ang aking ina. Nakaramdam ako ng pasasalamat dahil malayo siya sa kapahamakan dito at siya ay ligtas sa Pilipinas. Namimiss ko siya sa mga sandaling ito. Dahil may labing limang oras na diperensya sa amin, lagi kong kailangan na kalkulahin ang oras para matawagan siya. Mahigit ng isang taon na kami ay magkawalay dahil sa pandemya. Nais ko lang na muling mahiga sa kanlungan ng aking ina, makatulog dahil sa sobrang kabusugan at muling gumising sa tunog ng mga kaldero sa kusina para sa susunod na kainan.

Ang relasyon ko sa aking ina ay palaging komplikado, lalo na pagdating sa usaping lahi. Naglalakad ako sa mundong ito bilang isang Maitim na babae na may kultura ng Asya. Ang lahi ko na Maitim ay mas nangingibabaw kaysa pagiging Pilipina ko. Alam ko na mahal ako ng aking ina, subalit hindi niya alam kung paano magpalaki ng batang Maitim sa mundong ito. Hindi niya alam alagaan ang buhok ng batang Maitim, o paano mahalin ang maitim na kulay ng aking balat, o paano niya ako ipagtatanggol kapag kinukutya ng mga batang puti. Hindi niya maintindihan kung bakit ang takot ko sa panunungkulan ni Trump ay kakaiba kaysa sa mga kapatid ko na may lahing puti at yung mukhang maputi. Hindi niya naintindihan yung ibig kong sabihin nung gabing siya ay nahalal na nakikita ko ang aking sarili na patay sa susunod na apat na taon, at kung gaano nakakamatay ang gabi na yun na harapin ang aking kamatayan at paano sasabihin sa kanya. Sa aking pagtanda, ang kanyang pakiramdam sa pagiging Maitim ko ay bumuti. Subalit ang sakit at mensahe na kanyang naranasan mula sa pakikibagay niya sa bansang ito ay kalaunang napasa akin. Kahit sinusubukan kong unawain ang lahat, alam ko na hindi gagaling ang aking mga sugat hanggang hindi gumagaling ang mga sugat ng aking ina.

Kapag ginagawa ko ang trabahong ito, lagi ko naiisip ang aking ina. Kung paano siya nagagalit sa akin kapag sinubukan ko siyang kausapin tungkol sa lahi. Sinasabi nya na walang halaga ito at kung bakit ko kailangan malaman. Siya ay nagdadahilan lamang at sinasabing nais ko lang makipagtalo at gumawa ng gulo. Sinasabi ko sa kanya na gusto ko lang malaman tungkol sa kanya. Ayaw mog pagusapan ang sarili mo at lagi mo pinoprotektahan ang iyong sarili kahit sa mga anak mo. Sa aming mga kapatid ko, ako yung bunso. Kilala kita ng mas konting oras kaysa sa iba. Gusto kong marinig ang mga inyong kuwento. Gusto kong malaman kung sino ang nagturo sayong mag luto at kung ano ang nagpapasaya sayo. Gusto kong malaman kung ano ang pakiramdam mo kapag malapit na ang iyong kaarawan. Gusto kong malaman ang tunok sa iyong ina. Gusto kong malaman ang kwento kung paano mo ninakaw ang mga tubo. Gusto kong malaman kung sino ang nanakit sayo at kung ano ang ginawa mo sa pananakit na yon upang malaman ko kung paano gumalaw sa mundong ito kapag naramdaman ko rin ito. Gusto kong malaman ang lahat.

Kapag sinasabi ko sa kanya ito, siya ay nagkikibit balikat. Siya ay mag uumpisang mag kwento tungkol sa pagiging bata sa loob ng militarya ng Amerika at ang pangungutya na naranasan niya, at muling titigil at sasabihing tama na yun para sa araw na ito. Ipinagmamalaki ko ang aking ina.

Alam ko na ilan sa mga kuwentong ito ay masakit para sa kanya na sabihin sa akin, at magiging masakit din para marinig ko. Marunong siyang magsalita ng tatlong wika (Kapampangan, Tagalog, at Ingles), pero nahihirapan siyang pag usapan ang nararamdaman niya. Naiisip ko kung gaano karami ang tinatago nya sa amin. Gusto lamang niyang ipakita sa akin ang kanyang mga bagong halaman, sabihing mahal niya ako, tanungin kung kumain na ako, at pagkatapos ay tatapusin niya ang mga gawain para sa araw na iyon.

Sa palagay ko, importante na alamin natin ang mga kwento ng mga nakatatanda sa atin. Gayun din na kailangang ipag katiwala ng mga nakatatanda na ibahagi ito sa atin. Isama mo po kami sa mga kwento; isama mo po kami sa kahirapan kasi hindi namin gustong magdusa kayong mag-isa. Bilang isang tagapagturo, hindi magandang halimbawa na hindi ko kilalanin ang mga kabataan ngayon dito sa karamihan ng mga tao. Dapat nating gawin ang ating bahagi para masiguro at gabayan sila sa kanilang kahinaan at gumawa ng tama gamit ang karunungan. Kailangan ding magtiwala ang mga nakatatanda sa kakayahan ng mga nakababatang henerasyon. Huwag po nyo kaming baliwalahin. Maniwala po kayo na ating kabataan ay hindi pa po pinatatag sa mundong ito; at dahil doon, mayroon pa ring sapat na kapangyarihan, pagkamalikhain, at kislap sa amin na natitira upang lumikha ng isang mundo kung saan hindi namin mararanasan ang sakit na naramdaman mo.

Bilang pagtatapos, ito ang paalala ko sa mga batang Maitim na may magulang na Asyano. 

Mahal tayo ng ating mga magulang, kahit na ano pang sabihin ng mga manunulat tungkol sa relasyon ng mga Maitim at Asyano. Huwag tayong mahulog sa ideolohiya na ang ating kaaway ay bawat isa, dahil yung totoong kalaban natin ay ang pangingibabaw ng mga puti. Bigyan natin ng gabay ang bawat isa kapag ang marahas na pag-iisip na ito ay laban sa isa’t isa, ngunit maging responsable bawat isa. Bilang anak ng Itim at Asyanong lahi, nakikita ko kayo ngayon. Alam ko na itong nakaraang na taon ay naging sobrang mahirap. Sa nakita natin sa dalawang pamayanan na maranasan ang hindi makatarungang pagdurusa at karahasan, ay nagbigay sa atin na pinaramdam natin na tayo ay nakakulong, nabigo, at takot. Pero, sana, tignan nyo ang inyong balat at ipagmalaki. Sana ay kaya nyong mag-bilad sa araw at tanggapin ang nalalaytay na kulay sa iyong katawan. Sana, tumingin kayo na may paghanga, paggalang, at pakikiramay sa iyong mga ina, tulad nang pagtingin ko ang akin ina. Sana, matutunan ninyo ang kwento nila. Inaasahan ko na maaalala nyo na sa buong kasaysayan ay sama-sama tayong nakipaglaban dati at magkasama tayong bumuo ng mga pamilya. Tayo ay patunay sa lahat nang ito.

Rayna Mathis (she/her) is a graduate of the University of Washington with a B.A. in history. Her work at the SAM as a museum educator, seeks to amplify the work and voices of teen artists and activists. In her spare time, Rayna can be found tending to her Little Library in Beacon Hill, outside of The Station coffee shop.

📸 Featured Image: The author and her mother. (Photo courtesy of Rayna Mathis)

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