By: Aria Mallare
In an episode of “Parts Unknown” taking place in Manila, Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian said that Filipinos are “probably the most giving of all the people on the planet.” In a country that has seen colonialization and corruption, in a country ridden with poverty, there is an awareness of the importance in smiling while you open your house up to someone, while you prepare their food, while you help watch their children. My grandparents brought these values with them when they came to the States. Unlike their house or beloved family members, their virtues could be folded up and kept in their pockets, something they could keep on the palm of their hand never to be forgotten. Their virtues could be the greatest gift that they could ever bestow upon their son, something that he could never misplace or damage, something he could pass down to the future generations. It was this innate kindness that kept light in their eyes even when they were alone in a new country where it was hard to find jobs and their son had to wear shirts with uneven sleeves. They never complained.
Thus, when he thinks about this country, he feels no regret. He tells me that we are blessed to live in this country because even with the flaws that it has, it’s a lot better compared to where we could be. He looks around his house and to his children and in his eyes, I can see that he is thinking This, this is the American Dream. He has everything he ever dreamed of, and he is content. America’s flaws are just a small tax his family has to pay for being able to live in such a great country.
However, while it makes me immensely happy to know that my father has found what his family was looking for in the United States, I was born here. I am confidently able to call myself a true American and going through the American education system, I know my history. I know that I am an equal that deserves equal pay for equal work. I know that my brown skin is not an excuse for others to tell me to “Go back to where I came from.” I know that my race does not determine how smart I am nor does it explain my success. I know that I am free to pursue my own “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Though I am grateful for what this country has given me and my family, I know that there are still obstacles that I am facing and will face that our community can work together to overcome. I am not satisfied with settling when I know that better is possible, and I know that my community sees that too. We are a people that makes sacrifices so that everyone at our table has a plate, a people unafraid of hard work. A people fixed on creating better lives for our children. Though my father may not call himself an activist, I know he is. Though the Filipino community does not claim to be built on activism, what else can you call what we do to give our children opportunities, to preserve our culture, to make a home in a place that is not the motherland?
Being the people that are, I do not expect our activism to be like the First Quarter Storm of the 1970s. I see a gigantic kamayan feast. Lolas and lolos, titas and titos cooking up a storm in their kitchens sending spellbinding fragrances throughout the neighborhoods, floating through windows like pamphlets in the wind. Siblings and cousins laying down banana leaves like olive branches. We bring karaoke machines instead of megaphones and we sing with hope rising in our voices the same way pandesal rises in the oven. We sing all the greatest love songs, all the songs that make it feel like the sun is shining down on us, the songs that capture our dreams. We sit around the feast and together, redefining ‘community’ so that it is synonymous with ‘family.’ Mothers tell their children to eat well so that they can grow strong, they know that their children will have to be strong. We join hands and someone leads the prayer over the food, asking that it bless and nourish our bodies. Prays that God bless the hands that prepared the meal. Prays that God bless the people sitting around the table, and that He especially bless those who are not, help us especially to love those who are not. When the prayer is finished, one of the titas makes sure everyones hands have been washed, and then we show the cooks how much we appreciate the food that they have lovingly cooked for us. Filipinos know that everything tastes better when it is cooked with love. It’s what we do best. We love our country, we love our God, we love our people, and we give- our time, our resources, our talents, our love- to others. Today, we at our own table and at this table, we sit instead of march, laugh instead of chant, fill our stomachs instead of filling the streets. At this table, we share what we are thankful for and we discuss the dreams that we have. At this table, we listen and we care.
What more is an activist than someone who works to undo hate and restore love, to eliminate division and sustain unity? Because in my community, that is the activism I see and want to see grow. Our activism is spreading love in shared meals, making enough food for everyone to have their fill and then give baon to the people who live across the street. Our activism is creating unity by giving everyone a chair, a voice at the kamayan. Our activism does not fight what pushes us down but encourages and strengthens the community that raises us up.
Aria Mallare is an avid reader, writer, and creative who wishes books were printed in glow-in-the-dark ink so that she could read at any time and for it to be acceptable to doodle on homework. In another dimension she’s a superhero, but in the real world she hopes to produce children’s TV shows.