Ronnie's Lola outside the yellow house where he grew up.

OPINION | Willow Street Reflections

by Ronnie Estoque

I grew up in a yellow house on Willow Street just a block away from Brighton Elementary (now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary), where I attended school. Many of my childhood memories consist of me riding bikes with my friends around our hilly neighborhood. We would race each other and order ice cream from the local driver on summer days that seemed to breeze by way too fast.

In 2008, my family ended up having to sell that yellow house, which had been a multigenerational anchor in my family since the 1980s. The recession in 2008 hit us hard, and I had to become accustomed to instability in my housing situation as I bounced around houses, until I ended up at one of my other Lola’s home on Beacon Hill for the remainder of elementary school to high school.

Visiting the street I grew up on, and was displaced from, is always a bag of mixed emotions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve recognized that the memories I created there are what I hold on to the most, but I often still feel sadness from the loss.

My Lola was a volunteer at Brighton Elementary, assisting the Filipino support staff, Mrs. Dela Cruz, with coordinating the various Filipino dances and performances for our annual Multicultural Nights. She would also help supervise recesses and field trips.

I remember how my classmates, all from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, would prepare themselves months in advance just for that event, practicing during certain parts of school days. The food, music, and dances on Multicultural Night brought joy to my Lola’s face. She had been an elementary school teacher in Bauang, La Union, in the Philippines before immigrating to the U.S. While she couldn’t pursue her teaching career here in the U.S. due to racial prejudice, she held a commitment to sharing her knowledge with youth in her community at my school and at Beacon United Methodist Church, where we attended church on Sundays.

After school and on weekends, I would help my Lolo with his garden in both our backyard and front yard. Every year, roses would spring up from the ground, and we would often collect plums from our trees in the backyard and distribute them to our neighbors around the block. Our neighbor, Uncle Ben, would often sing to his plants while he gardened, because he believed it would make them grow taller and more vibrant. He was also from the Philippines, and like my Lolo, learned the skill of farming when he was younger back home. My Lolo and Uncle Ben would often share knowledge with one another about gardening and conversed with each other about when they were planning to go back home to the Philippines where their families resided.

A young Ronnie stands and smiles with his Lola and Lolo
Photo courtesy of Ronnie Estoque

When I was younger, the Holly Park Nursery on Willow Street was a place my Lolo and I would frequent to find plants, flowers, and vegetables for our garden. Now, that site exists as a development for 44 townhomes that is a block away from the Othello light rail station. The past decade has brought many changes to the South End in regards to diversity, with a white population that has now emerged as the most populous racial group in the area according to data collected in the U.S. 2020 Census.

While I find myself reminiscing and seeking moments of nostalgia while driving through the South End, I can’t help but feel pain for the places and spots that are gone and for all of the people who were displaced from their childhood homes and communities. At the same time, I’ve learned that all these experiences I’ve had growing up in this community have also been as a settler, as this land is not indigenous to me or my family.

I think about how my Lolo and Lola dedicated their lives to instill values that I still adhere to today. They helped nourish my soul to keep a strong connection to my roots, and to stay motivated to keep communication with relatives in the Philippines who experienced growing up on our ancestral land back home. Home can be many places, and I suppose it can even be found in the memories of those who impacted us most in our formative years. It can also be created in those we choose to share our memories and stories with as well.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured image courtesy of Ronnie Estoque.

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