Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The making of a Story

I've been entertaining the idea of writing a book. Well, it's a goal that I've had for a long while now, but throughout the years, I have found my struggle with it, not having figured out what type of writer I would be, or what type of things I would write. To the few that I have shared aspirations with, they're all just like write, winter - just write, and I do, but I constantly find myself getting writers' block and not knowing where I'm going with whatever it was that I was writing about.

I think what I'm really interesting in is writing about life as a Filipino - American. I feel like there have been many novels written about the plight of the Chinese-American, or the plight of the Japanese-American, but I haven't read many novels about the story of the Filipino-American, or maybe there are but I haven't found them.

I just don't know what I should be writing about. The below story is something that I've been working on just a few months ago. Haven't quite finished the whole storyline but I think what the story is going to be about the difficulty of dating an 'outsider/non-Filipino within a Filipino family.  I'm cutting and pasting the first chapter. Please, if anyone happens to come across - please let me know what you think. Do you think my writing style is okay? Do you think I have something going here? Critiques?  Let me know what you think.


My Father analyzed the contents of his box:
4 Costco packs of Spam
1 Costco Box of Rice Crispy Treats
1 Costco pack of Tuna
2 Costco Bottles of Centrum for Women
He had been making occassional trips to Costco over the course of a month, buying random goods to send to the  family in the motherland of the Phillippines.  Sending out these Balikbayan boxes was a tradition that he had done ever since I could remember, taking requests from family members in the motherland and sending it to them 3-4 times a year. It was time for another Balikbayan box to be sent.
These family members were cousins, aunties, sisters, sisters of second cousins twice removed. I had never met any of these family members in my entire 18 years, but as a child, was often forced to speak to them on the phone in what broken Filipino verses I could muster.
“Dad!” I would say in harsh whisper. “I dont’ want to talk to them!”
But he would hold the receiver in front of my face so that any words I might say having to do with me not wanting to speak to them would be seen as  embarrassing and rude, on my part.
“Halikana!” he would mouth to me. Come on!
So in broken Filipino mixed with English, I would take the phone and  formulate what few sentences I could that always translated to the same phrases in every conversation :
Hello. How are you? I am fine.
It was an awkward minute of a conversation, followed by even more of an awkward silence that would prompt me to pass the phone back  to my Father to continue the conversation with the relatives.   
“Dey want to talk to you,”my Father would say as he relunctantly took the phone back from me
“But why?” I would protest.“I don’t even know them, they don’t even know me.”
“Dey just want to talk to you,” he responded.
I eventually found ways to avoid talking to them, pretending to not hear when my dad called me downstairs to give my “Hello. How are you? I am fine” speech. When I began to drive, I made it so I was conveniently going somewhere when they called.
"Sorry dad, Gotta go write a paper," I would lie. Or "Gotta go study at the library, Im meeting my friend…” and then I would name off some randomf friend I knew that he knew as I headed out the door.   It didnt matter that I didnt really have a paper or that it was summer break and didn’t have school.  My Father was unaware of what I did  in regards to school.
if I continued to call them and have conversations with them without me, continued to take down their requests for what they “needed” from America, and continued to send them Balikbayan boxes.
Now, as my dad tried to find ways to maximize the space of his current box, I sat in the living room couch catching up with my subscription of youtube videos .
“Dee-Dee,” he suddenly called out in his Filipino accent. “Do you tink choc-late will melt in the P.I.?”
I did not correct my Father as he pronounced my name incorrectly. He had named me ‘Heather’ when I was born, had convinced my mother that I should be named ‘Heather after the actress Heather Locklier, instead of ‘June’ after his own mother, or ‘Charmagne’after his ninang. But in all the years of my life, he had always called me ‘Heidi’, or ‘De-De’.  I accepted it as it was, but it was confusing to anyone and everyone who would come over for the first time.
“I thought your name was Heather,”  they would whisper to me with a confused look.
“It is,” I would respond with a shrug of my shoulders. “My dad’s just weird like that.”
As he called me by my incorrect name, I continued to look on my phone and pretended not to hear.
“Dee!” he said my name louder.
“Yea..” I finally said  and looked up annoyingly from my youtube videos. I was in the middle of watching a video of some kid walking casually over an icy sidewalk, and then slipping and falling.  35,000 views.
“Do you tink choc-late will melt in the P.I?” he asked again
I automatically gave him my best you got to be kidding look.
“You want to give them chocolate?”
“Yea… recess...ehhh.. how do you call dat one wit dat peanut butter inside de middle.”
“Reeses Pieces?”
“Yea, recess in the pisses… I tink your cousings in de P.I. will like dat one”
My you got to be kidding look intensified.
“Really? They don’t have chocolate there?”
“Ahhh, it’s not de same,” he said, dismissing my comment as his focus went  back to the contents of the box. Taking one item out, he adjusted the remaining contents, and then put the item he took out back in the box. Taking another item out, he readjusted the items,  and put the item he just taken out back in the box. It was like a game of tetris.
“We go to Costco,” my Father said to after a couple of rounds of Balikbayan tetris. “to get some choc-late.”
The statement wasn’t a request or a comment that lingered in wonderment over whether or not we should go; it was an authoratative command that said we needed to go, we were going, and I was going to take him.
I couldn't say "no". My Father had developed a cataract in his right eye,  making it almost impossible to see in his right side, thus making it unsafe for him to drive.  A part of me resented the fact that I couldn't say "no", but I didn't know if I would have said " no" if he didn't have the eye problem. The role of the dutiful daughter role was engrained in me.

I said nothing to his "request" but continued to peruse on YouTube for more comedic videos. It would be a good hour before we left; my Father still was playing Balibayan tetris.


  1. Hi! Stumbled across this because I was looking for other Filipino American blogs. The style of writing is interesting enough, but it raises a few questions for me, especially as a Fil Am that has lived in both the States and Manila.

    I think it would be more interesting if you try to analyze what about this experience with your dad got you so irritated. Is it that he's sending the balikbayan box to relatives you've never met (and therefore have minimal emotional attachment to?) Is it partly because you're embarrassed of your dad in front of your friends, when he calls you that nickname? Which is pretty typical of Filipino families btw.

    In my experience, there has always been a fine line between having frustrating relatives that demand money and "American goods" from their relatives in the US. On the other hand, getting a balikbayan box from relatives with goods that we so often take for granted can be like Christmas for them. Just thought a little perspective might help. Keep writing! :)

  2. Thank you for your perspective :)

  3. I went through the same thoughts you are having about being Filipino American and writing about it. Finally, at the request of a Philippine publisher I wrote and published a book. You may be interested in it. Here us the publisher's link: http://www.anvilpublishing.com/shop/amadios-box/

    Also, here is my blog name: Filipino American's World

    1. Thank you for sharing. I am most interested at taking a look at it.

  4. Hi, I came across your blog as I was looking for filipino-american mom blogs...I liked what you shared in this post. It made me think of my own childhood, growing up here in the US, and only knowing my cousins from photos for the most part. I was lucky enough to visit when I was 8, but didn't return until my late-twenties. Surprisingly, even though I only saw my cousins when they were able to visit (very rare), over the years, we did develop relationships. Maybe that is something you plan to convey in later chapters?

    "Balikbayan tetris" made me laugh out loud. Please write more!