I’ve never seen you cry, but I can imagine your large tears in reflection. With a proud back you exchanged curves for lines and colors for bricks. With rough hands you held old frail patients, their bones soft and white and wanting. Did you wonder, then, how America nurses its people? Or were you fragile, at twenty one, with a forehead like smoothed tissues, and lips that hadn’t yet found a home? Home, Papa, where did you find your home? Did you find it in the fat glass windows and pointed rooves? In the sun-soaked apartment squat next to the deli? The pictures show you in a red Abercrombie shirt, slouching and almost drunk, then in a rosy theater with pressed flowers on your tuxedo. Which one is you, Papa, or did you not know yourself? I wonder: did the hyphen in Filipino-American haunt you until you morphed your mouth, until you bought J. Crew to smother your brown skin? Or were you proud, like your parents were proud, like their broken Skype calls at 1 AM? The dollar was why you could pay their peso debts, their education. The dollar was why you immigrated. Yesterday a girl said to me, in this century, “Immigrants shouldn’t have guns.” As if immigrants had not already been shot and killed by America – this country that struggles on the syllables of your name, that speaks no language but its history. As if immigrants did not have hearts. Everyone should see you, Papa. Everyone should see you breathe in with your laugh. You knock out everyone, like dominoes, with the strength of your chest, but nothing knocks you like the Philippines, so I will let you go. Because that was your first love. Because that was where you could exist.
Cathleen Balid is a writer from Queens, New York. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the New York Times, and more, and she is an alum of the online Ellipsis Writing Workshop and the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. When she is not writing, she loves to journal and cuddle with her dog.