Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Origins (inspired by JuDonn's TFA Diversity session)

O Leilani ko’u inoa, and I come from the ones forgotten
                            The ones who tried to forget
                    And the ones who savagely erased. 

 I come from those
                    whose bloodline dates back to  Maui and the Big Island
                Proud people with shark aumakuas,
          and stewards of ancient Hawaiian homelands
                  dotted with verdant greens from where echoes
        of mele and pule resonate like the drumbeats
                and heartbeats pulsing through history’s bones
        and coursing through my existence. 

But now I come from the chiefs of Wall Street
           tyrants whose eyes are closed and who foreclose
                          generations-old homes where grandmothers in slippahs and curlers
            stand over the stove that fill four walls with the scent of 
kalua cabbage, lau lau, and loco moco. 

             Love. For Sale.

                  I am from Ahawi, half of whose bloodline
walked on at Fort Knox during Nunna Daul Isunyi
              In this Trail of Needless Tears that spans from one generation to the other to the other to the other to the other, my bloodline became another--
deemed the other.

              Trickled down through the years,
              I am from the one who was stolen from the wide open spaces of the rez and into closed doors and suffocating walls of  boarding schools by missionaries who believe in the salvation of savages through a god who picks selectively the worthy through a singular word supposedly written in stone

                        I am from the one whose Native tongue is silenced because he wants to be a human being, not a savage

                    I am borne from the genocide of a people who existed long before time had a name
but now invisible and forced to prove their existence by a government who wants us to check one box this box what...categorization
all for federal dollars and recognition

and my shame...

                For I am also from the ones who savaged and ravaged and pillaged

It is my self-imposed and inherited  shame, my dishonour, my brokenness that
Coursing through my veins is the echo of colonization and subjugation, 
am also 
from those

who came to these lands on white-washed ships, bearing promises of salvation draped as blankets riddled with diseases. 

                                 I am from the borderlands of shame and pride,
                                             of hope and despair
Of being too much of different races and identities,
yet never enough of one

I am from “what are you?” and “if you had your father’s hazel eyes and your mother’s rosy skin, you would be beautiful” and racial ambiguity
                    I am from “Is Leilani an Arabic name?” post-911
                             “Are you Mexican?” post-Dream Act

I find it hard
To fully belong in a place other than the one I call my own

Mestizaness hapaness mixed-bloodedness
I belong to many tribes but at times feel alone in this
struggle to make sense of contradiction and duality

But still I try to navigate through these mazes in the hazes of faces layered across places and time

I am from the ones forgotten,
and so I remember

I am from the ones who tried to forget
and so I speak

I am from the ones who tried to erase
And so I see

I am from the Trail of Broken Treaties and annexations of a kingdom,
And so I stand here today and I speak
because though I come from history,
I am today,
eyes full of intent
shoulders straight
soul intact
heart full of hope and strength and fight
I am here
My people live on



Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Cancer (Re-Post)

***I wrote this piece years ago, when I was in undergrad, and am re-posting this in memory of one of my aunts. She passed away today after her second battle with cancer. Cancer. Cancer's taken away so many beautiful people who lit up the world with their kindness. Whenever I hear of yet another death from cancer, incandescent rage threatens to rise from the depths of my soul, and threatens to consume me. But then I remember that if I let rage win, it would dim the legacy of the person who walked on...Beneath anger is love. Always love. And love is what I choose to honour. Vaya con Dios, auntie P1***

I knelt at her feet, said goodbye and bared my soul; an intensely private moment juxtaposed by the hubbub of an airport’s international departure lounge. Her coal black eyes rimmed with cataract’s tell-tale blue, she held my gaze with the ferocity of a woman with a thousand years’ worth of wisdom to impart, but rushed by eternal twilight. They later told me that her passing, at half past noon, was serene. Across the Pacific, in the midst of a chilly New England autumn, I already knew. I knew, just like I knew the exact moment my father died. It is both a blessing and a curse to be sensitive to these things, to inexplicably see and feel the things skimming just below the surface of what people instinctively recognize. I felt the sudden charge in the air, and felt the sudden loss of the colours that were uniquely hers. Gone. I knew she was gone. Off to someplace that has yet to be unequivocally named and defined. Off somewhere that separates, divides. Unbidden, a memory of her and my mom singing Besame Mucho popped into my head. La ultima vez, I heard her voice singing softly, just as my phone vibrated. Patay na sha. It is with these words that certainty became a confirmation.

She was the grandma I always wished I had. With her there were no conditions in order to be worthy of being loved. She was born in a time and place that didn’t offer women much choice other than being a wife and a mother. Sometimes she’s haunted by what could’ve been; her longing is palpable when she sees women her age with careers and money of their own. But she knows she’s raised 8 children well, one of whom immigrated to the Land of Milk and Honey and ultimately brought her here as well.

She cooks well. Or rather, I meant to say she cooked well. Cook with an ed attached to denote past tense. But wait; she’s still a presence in my heart. An is, not was. So can she still be a present tense? Is there room for a future tense as well, just as love and memory defy timelines? Even as a linguist, language and grammar still have twists and turns I cannot make sense of. It’s not that different from the stages of grief, if memory serves from those psychology classes I took and loved. Yet despite the intellect people say I have in spades, I was--and am--still lost. In both literal and figurative sense, where do I go? Which turn should I take?

“Masakit pala (So it hurts, then)” were her last words to me when we parted ways. Bago lumipad ang aeroplano. Paano ba mamamaalam sa isang taong hindi mo na makikita pang muli? You say “see you later” and “get well soon” as manners dictate, when what you really want to say is, “Huwag mo kaming iwan.” You want to beg. You want to beg to  God, Allah, Saints, Buddha, doctors and loved ones. You want to beg for time, a cure, hope and miracles. Out loud you say it’s in God’s Hands and that we must accept whatever is in His Plans, but deep down you rage in defiance and questions. You say Hail  Mary and Glory Be, and take comfort in rituals because it gives you a purpose. Faith, hope and miracles give you something to do and postpones the inevitable confrontation of an ugly truth: people die, with or without prayers. It is a fact of life that transcends novenas and scientific breakthroughs.

“Masakit ba?” She always asked me.

Sakit. Pain.You see, when I had cancer and would lay on the couch while the extended family was eating and singing off-key karaoke, she would always check up on me. She kept me company. Makulit kasi. We talked about everything: mangoes, the weather, Pilipino languages. Her English was limited and my Tagalog was stilted, but we understood each other. Love communicates in ways that defy linguistic limitations. She would laugh and shake her head whenever I’d mention  my grand plans of covering up cancer’s battle scars with tattoos. And always this: she’d look at my grimace and ask about my “microwave” session (a.k.a. radiation). “Masakit ba?” Did it hurt? I could never find the words to answer that question. I could not bare my soul, afraid of the darkness that could come into being like Pandora’s secrets. I had to keep shards of dignity intact. When your body has been prodded, pierced, cut into, lasered and intubated by strangers, there is nothing you can do but bear it all. Cancer becomes your identity. Cancer had my body then, so I decided to fight to take whatever pieces were left. What was left was my dignity. I clung to it desperately to keep something for myself.

More than anything, I’d like to go back in time, back to to when I was a child and heard of cancer only in passing, as something that runs in my family like baby-fine hair and full lips. An inheritance, per se. A few years ago, I was innocent--unmarked, untouched,  unscarred--and only knew of chemotherapy and radiation as treatments. Never even heard of the funny word de-bulking. But that was then and this is now. Did you know that chemotherapy is a strategic assassin, like long-range missiles often talked about in political war on terror debates? It is your own private, ingestible terrorist. It is liquid fire that courses through your veins, humming and throbbing like the distorted drone of a hive. Mahapdi. It stings like a hundred bees feasting upon the fading of your strength. You want to scream until your throat is pierced raw. But you don’t. You can’t. Because it is uncomfortable. It makes people squirm to see cancer girls cry. It makes the tenuous bond between life and death all too real, too visceral. People may be okay with acknowledging that you have cancer, but they’re never really comfortable with the process and journey of cancer. More importantly, you have to be brave. It is cancer girl’s responsibility to inspire through quiet grace, strength and dignity, even if you want to shove any notions of hope and kittens up where the sun refuses to shine. 

Radiation is science and geometry--all about angles and alignment that precede a calculated beam of light. Its precision is both a homing beacon that takes you to a safe haven and a nuclear missile that won’t quit until every cell in your body is dead, collateral damages be damned. I learned to appreciate math and science that way, and understand the necessity of war as a journey towards reconciliation.

Cancer does not have a face; it has many. Some are moon-faced, bald, skinny cancer dudes with panda eyes; the ones most people associate with St. Jude commercials. And then there are the undercover ninjas who look like all’s well in their world as they battle the decay within. Uncle Fester bald, Robin Williams hairy. Skeletal, chunky. Just like how America is a melting pot held together by citizenship, people are brought together by a relentless stalker called cancer.

Having cancer is like sitting in a staid room, waiting for your name to be called. For death or for life, you can only speculate. Hope. You’re always almost home free, but never really home free. What’s certain is that a shadow will always be there. Lurking. Waiting. Stalking more persistently than a Lifetime: Television Movie Event (starring Harry Hamlin and Gail O’Grady) stalker. The fear is there. Una vida sentenciada. Once the dark mark is there, there is no turning back and no redemption like Severus Snape from being a Death Eater. I fear remission for me would be like driving after a rain and seeing a rainbow in the distance: just as I see it up close, it’s gone. I’d have driven past it.

Masakit ba?

Yes, it does hurt.

But I don’t know  which hurts more: leaving behind, or being left behind.

When the rainbow fades, I will let you know. Or maybe you will. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post Secret Sunday: Happiness in Unlikely Places

People who work in service-related industries can be all shades of awesome. Despite earning minimum wage, working different shifts, and dealing with the occasional demanding/horrible customer, I've found servers to be some of the kindest, most hardworking, and cheerful people ever. Thoughtful, too.

Here's to my favourite waitstaff and baristas, who not only work really hard to earn a living, but also bring joy to the people they encounter. Linda, thank you for preparing my pancakes smily face-style during finals; you never fail to make me smile during stressful times. Joe, thank you for humming "Sweet Leilani" as you make my latte, and for constantly applying to be my gay boyfriend. Mei, thank you for always leaving a pitcher of iced water on my table, knowing how much I love water. You are all amazing, and a billion shades of wonderful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best friends make this crazy, hectic life more beautiful and worthwhile

We don't get a chance to see each other as much as we'd like, but that just makes the times that we do all the more precious. We've been through a lot together, J and I, and I can't wait for a lifetime more of memories. Here's to BFFs; best friends are the sisters and brothers we chose. I love you, J!

L-R: W, J, and a meatball

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sleep(less) in New England

These past few days I've had a triumphant and joyful reunion with an old friend, sleep. For the first time in a very long time, I was able to ignore my internal alarm clock's insistence to wake up *now* and instead burrow deeper into my warm comforter. Of course, "sleeping in" means waking up at 7 instead of 5 during the weekdays and at 8 or 9 during the weekend. But still. Sleep is sleep, and it is such a simple yet beautiful treasure.

I got all As in my classes and averaged about a 99% in all coursework. Although I'm proud of my grades, there's a little part of me that's a little bit disappointed in myself. I did work very hard, but was definitely not 100% charged. Optimum performance, it was not. My professors were absolutely brilliant and they deserved a 100% performance, nothing less. Two of my professors, Drs. JS and MM, were some of the best, and that is saying a lot because I've had some phenomenal professors in undergrad that to this day, I rave about and recommend people take classes from.

In both Dr. JS's and Dr. MM's classes, we studied about inequity and privilege and reflected upon their impact on personal, communal, and societal levels. As a woman of colour, I am well aware of inequities and disadvantages that stem from the -isms, chiefly among them sexism and racism. Representations of my races, ethnicities, and cultures will always be skewed or underrepresented. Young women of colour unarguably do not hold the most power in society; middle-aged White men traditionally do.

However, being a woman does come with privileges that men do not. One, in particular, remains very powerful and prevalent in society. I hesitate to use the word "privilege" because in this instance, the aforementioned privilege is something no person would like to have bestowed upon them. In cases of rape or domestic violence, even though women are for the most part believed and aren't blamed, the existence of both is accepted. Men who are victims/survivors of rape and domestic violence are often met with disbelief. "How can a woman rape a man? How can a man be a victim of domestic violence?" Societal belief is that because men are the physically stronger sex, they could easily overpower and/or avoid being victims of violence done by women. "Not a real man" or "sissy" are often the reactions people have when hearing about a man who was raped by a woman at gunpoint or beaten up by their girlfriend. It is a widely held belief that "real" mean fight back, and failing to do so is an incomprehensible concept to most people. In that regard, I suppose that men do not have the privilege of having their victimhood validated as easily as women do.

I am humbled and grateful to have had Drs. JS and MM as professors. Their classes have definitely made me examine privilege through more than just the lenses I have become accustomed with. They have challenged me to become not just a better scholar, but a kinder and better human being as well.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Post Secret Sunday: Horizon

Regret is in the things I didn't do and in the words I didn't say. He was, and still is, it for me. "It," meaning The One; the man whose name is always at the tip of my tongue and whose voice is the quiet song that plays softly inside my heart. The man whose touch is imprinted upon my skin, and whose kindness touched my soul. The man whose presence makes even the scariest and most unfamiliar of places home.

Adele, the singer, has one of those rare voices that hits at the core. The emotions and truth with which she sings is bittersweet; her voice is at once beautiful and painful. "Someone Like You" captures one of my greatest fears. It hasn't happened yet, but given that Horizon is a great man, it is not too much of a stretch that he will find someone else. I'm torn between fighting for him abd letting him heal so that one day he can find the happiness that I was unable and unwilling to give to him. And so for now, for always, here's the truth laid out bare: he is it, and I don't want someone like him. I just want him. 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Post Secret Sunday: Enough

This is singularly the most important lesson I've had to learn, and the closest thing to the "Key to Happiness" I've discovered.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Post Secret Sunday: Surviving

It's a strange thing about surviving: guilt. It doesn't matter if you're a survivor of genocide, war, conflict, rape, natural disaster,'s going to be there. Guilt. Why did I survive when so many did not? Why did I not fight back? Why me, not them?

Sometimes surviving can be ugly. There are nightmares you can't quite wake up from, and scars that time can't quite heal. There's anger and rage, and a palpable grief. There's a loss that can never be replaced. You can never go back, never be the same. Sometimes you walk through pathways littered with stolen innocence, broken dreams and taunting vestige of what should be. 

Whether we persevere or merely endure as survivors, the most important thing to remember is that we are still here, and there is a reason for it. The narrative of our lives have meaning, and by examining our stories and listening to our own voices, we empower ourselves to give a purpose to our lives. 

We are still here. Our presence means we've won.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

365/30 Lists: October, Day 18

Favourite Sayings or Quotes:


"We must never permit the voice of humanity within us to be silenced. It is Man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a Man." 

(Albert Schweitzer)

"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to wchich he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." 

(W. Somerset Maugham)

“When I say, “I love you,” it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are.” 

(Spike, BtVS)

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”

 (AmerIndian Proverb)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

365/30 Lists: October, Day 10

Favourite Films:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

365/30 Lists: October, Day 2

Who would you want to be stuck in a lift with?


1. Prince Hector of Troy, from the "Iliad," one of the most badass warriors in antiquity.

2.  Paulo Freire and Maxine Greene, educators.

3. Viktor Frankl, writer.

4.  Albert Schweitzer, theologian and philosopher.

5. Mevlana Rumi, Sufist.

6.  Giacomo Puccini, Italian composer.

7. Maria Callas, opera diva who sang the most heartbreaking rendition of "In Questa Reggia," an aria from Puccini's "Turandot."

8. My da, because it was from him I discovered the magic of the seven people above. 

Yes, it'd have to be a huge lift!  



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Open Letter to Filofax, SlamPR and Helena Bloomer


Aloha Kakou!

     My name is Leilani—Lilo for short—and I am a third generation Filofax user. You can count my foster cat Kedikofte as a fourth generation Filofax user, because when he’s placed into a permanent and loving home, he’ll come with a fat grape Domino Filofax that comes loaded with information about his diet and food preference (he hates fish, go figure), medical records, dental records, personality traits and odd behaviours (hissing in anger when you play Rihanna’s music).

            Contrary to the results of your survey, I do not primarily use a Filofax because I like to write notes. If that were the case, then all flat surfaces within my reach would be decorated with my cheesetastic musings. You see, I’m on a James Franco-y intellectual masochism quest: finish my 2-year graduate program within a year. Add in volunteer work, literacy advocacy, Native rights and language revitalization activism and independent honour crimes research and then SPLAT! That’s the sound of Google Calendar collapsing without the help of my trusty 4-year planner/Month on 1 Page with Notes/Week on 2 Pages/ 2 Pages Per Day powerhouse combo sandwiched inside a personal-sized red Topaz. Unlike my SmartPhone, whose usefulness can be as erratic as Amanda Bynes’s driving, I only need to flip through my Filofax (ooops…sorry…I meant to say Filofax organizer) to access whatever information I need.

            On a personal note, I primarily use a Filofax instead of another brand of organizer because it’s what my late da used. At the risk of sounding even more of a sentimental meatball, I carry my da in my Filofax just as he carried me in his. An emotional attachment is the strongest, most lasting kind of attachment to a brand. Filofax is, to use Saatchi and Saatchi’s term, my love mark.

            Today’s economy is as unreliable as the completion of the Big Dig in Boston, so it is understandable that you’d want to pursue other strategies to strengthen the company. However, SlamPR’s decision to “re-invent” the brand is misguided at best and offensive at most. By pursuing the fashion world like Katie Price/Jordan pursues oompa loompa orange skin, you are abandoning your core client base. It’s pretty much the same as a Midlife crisis afflicted-husband (Filofax) abandoning his wife of 20 years (Philofaxers)—the one who raised his kids (Filofaxes…ooops….ORGANIZERS) and had to make do with a meager income (crappy inserts)—for the younger, ditzy woman (yep, that would be, like, oh my gawd, fashion bloggers).

            Look, the divorce papers haven’t been signed yet; there’s a chance for reconciliation. I respectfully urge you to please contact us—anyone of us—and engage in a genuine dialogue. Listen to us; we’ll listen to you.

Mahalo Nui Loa

Below is another Open Letter penned by David Popely.

Dear Ms Bloomer

This letter is a response to the interview recently conducted with you by FeaturesExec Media Bulletin, and is being posted simultaneously (more or less) on a number of blogging sites in the UK, the US and beyond.

What binds us together as bloggers is that we are all members of an international community and website devoted to all things Filofax, and are all passionate about personal organisation, and the Filofax brand in particular. We have read, as a community, and with increasing disbelief, your comments concerning the Filofax brand, and this is our response.

We note from your comments that, as a result of a ‘usage and attitudes study’ you have conducted, you have been led to the conclusion that the distinguishing features of Filofax users are that we ‘like to write notes’, and that we are ‘very interested in fashion/stylish accessories’. We can assure you this is not the case in either respect, and that we find being pigeon-holed in this way to be demeaning and insulting in a way you most probably cannot understand. We are a community whose passions are for good organisation and a flexible, functional system to underpin that organisation. Some of us, perhaps a minority, have considerations of fashion, but all of us care that our systems of personal organisation assist us in the lives we live and the tasks we undertake.

In short, if all we wanted to do was to ‘write notes’, it is highly unlikely we would invest in relatively expensive binders, refills and systems such as your client provides. We wonder just who you have asked to participate in your ‘usage and attitudes study’. Whoever they are, we can assure you they are unrepresentative of your client’s core customer base, many of whom have been loyal customers for over twenty years and now feel ignored by your client.

We want to suggest to you that the direction you are taking your client in is ultimately going to prove fundamentally damaging to their business. The fashion ‘business’ is notoriously fickle and fast-changing, and you seem to have convinced your client that ignoring and alienating their loyal core customer base will bring dividends in terms of a new, fashion-conscious, high-spending corpus. We want to suggest to you, and by extension to Filofax themselves, that when the fashion ‘carousel moves on, your client will be left neither their newly promised client base, nor the client base you have led them to abandon.  Do you really think this is smart business advice?
You say in your interview that you consider your brief with Filofax to ‘make (your client) fashionable again’. We would suggest to you that your client’s products, if they were ever ‘fashionable’ at all, were so because they fulfilled a function and a need which was perceived to be important to their customers. We now have growing evidence of a lowering of standards of manufacture in Filofax binders, of poor paper quality in refills, and of a lack of willingness to listen to your customers’ opinions. Several of our members, on voicing opinions similar to these, have been invited by Filofax (or whoever runs their Twitter feed) to communicate those opinions directly to your client. This has been done, and no further comment or reaction from your client has been forthcoming. We would like to know whether this is really the kind of public relations you wish for your clients? Or are you merely concerned with putting fashionable, well-heeled ‘bottoms on seats’ at London, New York and other Fashion Weeks with the aid of free give-aways of ranges of binders priced beyond the reach of the average core Filofax user and similarly poorly manufactured? We would suggest that your ‘fashion focused press office’ would be better employed communicating with the loyal, core customer base of your client, the majority of whom, it now seems, are on the point of abandoning your client’s brand in favour of providers who will listen.

We write as concerned individuals and not as representatives of the community to which we belong. However, it is worth noting that many of us have a very high annual spend on Filofax and related products, and we suggest that Filofax is in danger of sacrificing this loyal customer spend in exchange for something far less reliable in the long term.
In conclusion, we have every confidence that these opinions will be ignored as ‘unfashionable’ by your ‘attitude studies’ and ‘fashion focused’ executives. However, we care enough about the Filofax brand to communicate these opinions plainly to you, and to hope that Filofax will one day return to the business in which it flourished for over seventy years, of providing highly functional, attractive but reasonably priced, personal organisation systems to those who need them, which is an increasing number of people in the societies in which we live.



We must never permit the voice of humanity
within us to be silenced. It is Man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him a Man.

--Albert Schweitzer

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

--Viktor E. Frankl