The Ones We’ve Lost

Today is Memorial Day. I know it’s supposed to remember those we’ve lost in war, but my family has taken it to remember all the ones we’ve lost in general. No disrespect or anything. We’ve just…lost a lot of people.

I think the first person in my family to pass away was my maternal grandpa in 1996, when I was four years old. I don’t remember much of him, just that he gave me a necklace that I wore daily until I lost it when I was six. My mom brought me to Philippines for his funeral, and in Filipino tradition, they threw me over his coffin before they buried him. I had no idea what was going on.

A year or two later, my dad’s eldest sister passed away from cancer. She was living in Chicago and left behind my four cousins who were around my age range. We all flew to Chicago for the funeral and I didn’t really know how to feel since I didn’t remember meeting her.

Later, two of my cousins passed away on a visit to Philippines just days apart from each other. One was two years older than me, the other my age. I barely remember my interactions with them (they were just six years old and eight years old when it happened), but to this day I can’t help but wonder what life would’ve been like if they made it. We would’ve been so close. One of them would’ve gone to high school with me and graduated with me, then there would’ve been four Garcia’s in Campbell High School’s Class of 2010. It would’ve been amazing. Their lives were over before it ever really began.

When I was in the sixth grade, my cousin got into a fatal car accident. He was 21. Today’s his birthday, actually — he would’ve been 35 years old today. That might’ve been my first fully comprehensible experience with death. I remember waking up at some ungodly hour of the morning — 3 am? 4 am? — and my mom rushing us out of the house and to the hospital, saying that my Manong Arthur had died. I thought she was overreacting. We got to the hospital and when I saw my cousin, the one who took me to my dentist appointments when my parents couldn’t, babysat us, let me come over to play with his new puppy, let me come over just to play Legend of Mana or Paper Mario on his N64 because we weren’t allowed to have video games…I panicked. We lived down the street from each other and I couldn’t understand that I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. Life changed a lot after his death.

Years later, my mom’s brother in the Philippines passed away. I didn’t know him very well. She didn’t bring us to the funeral. Another year later, my dad’s brother in the Philippines passed away in a motorcycle accident. He didn’t bring us to the funeral either. Already, loss had started to become regular in their lives. My paternal grandfather passed away before I was born.

Several years later when I was 16, my mom’s other brother (she is the second youngest of 12, with a mere four of them being brothers) passed away from cancer (can’t remember what kind it was, but I know it was cancer). He was loud when he was drunk (which was often) and loved to sing karaoke. I didn’t see him at the hospital. His two eldest kids who had moved to Las Vegas on their own years before came back to Hawai’i for it. It was then that I realized that death was what brought my close family even closer.

One by one, we would be gone, and because there was so many of us, we had to grow thicker skin each time.

In 2013, my mom’s sister passed away. I was visiting home on one of my summer breaks from college. She and my mom were extremely close; when she was still a child, my mom took a 10 hour bus ride from Isabela to Ilocos and my aunty raised her herself, paying for her school all the way through college until my mom decided to move to Hawai’i with her other siblings. Because of that, my aunty was a big part of my life. I had so many photos with her, admired her love for traveling, and always marveled at the way she kept a calm and reposed personality amongst the craziness of my mother and other aunties. “Your aunty was my best friend,” my mom told me in tears, and I knew this was the worst loss she had so far (and probably to this day). I dreamt about her often after her death, and even now her absence feels foreign.

Then, in 2015, the unthinkable happened. My maternal grandma, at 93, passed away in Philippines. My grandma was everything to me, and it was naive of any of us to see her as immortal. She was the strongest woman that any of us ever saw. She lived through the death of her husband, three children, and three grandchildren…why couldn’t she live forever? This mother of 12, grandmother of 42, great grandmother of 38, great-great grandmother of five, loved to tell stories, laugh at jokes, and enjoy the world around her. We were very close, which means a lot from being one of 42 grandchildren. Her passing hit all of us hard. I was lucky enough to fly to Philippines for her funeral with my mom and aunties and see her laid to rest next to my grandpa after more than 20 years. I miss her everyday, to this day.

And now, just recently, my paternal grandmother passed away, making me grandparent-less. I have so much I can say about it. She actually lived with us since I was kid. When my dad’s sister was the only sibling he had in Hawai’i, grandma would go there on the weekends and stay with us throughout the week. She loved to sew and crochet, always sewing up our blankets and pillows when we ripped them, knitting us doilies and anything she felt like we needed. She was harder on me than my other cousins or my brothers, which I still don’t understand. She and my mom had a weird relationship, but after 20+ years of living together, her death left my mom in so many tears. We all flew to Philippines for her funeral, where I cried harder than at my other grandma’s funeral, despite me being closer to my other grandma. She was just always there and I couldn’t believe it finally happened. I still can’t believe she’s gone.

My husband never really lost anyone he was close to. When we started dating, he attended my aunty’s funeral with me and it was the first one he’d been to as an adult. I’ve already been to quite a few in my life and I know eventually it’ll be endless. My parents started having the “If I die, this is what you need to do…” talks with us a long time ago. Death is still a scary concept to me but all I can do is try to understand as I get older.

If I was back in Hawai’i, I’d be spending my Memorial Day at the cemetery with my family, celebrating the lives we’ve loved and lost. Today, I’m remembering all my family members who’ve gone, because to be forgotten is worse than death. Miss you all.

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Hawai’i Graduations

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My husband and my brother posing for a photo.

I just recently got back from a very short trip back home to Hawai’i in honor of my younger brother’s graduation from University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Big hopes for my future architect brother!

love graduation season in Hawai’i. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen. People are weighed down by their weight in leis, struggling to breathe, sweating from the heat, and yet the only feeling they have is being overwhelmed with love and excitement for their accomplishment.

Granted, high school graduations are the ones people get serious for, and it gets a lot of heat for doing so. “Why should you be so happy that they graduated high school? Doesn’t everyone graduate high school?!” For one thing, it’s a pretty big accomplishment in Hawai’i to graduate high school (sad, but true), and for another thing, can’t we just have any excuse to celebrate and give someone a lei? Any reason to party, right?

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Throwback to my high school graduation, and this wasn’t even the end of the night yet.

Another thing I love about graduation leis is that in Hawai’i, it doesn’t have to be flowers. As you can see in the photos, some other popular items of decoration are money leis, candy leis, floaties, hakus (flower crowns, essentially), and then the most creative things you can think of. Trust me, you can turn anything into “leis” (for the most part). I’ve seen mini alcohol bottles wrapped in netting, tied together, and draped around people. I’ve been given diaper hats. I’ve even seen cans of spam tied to some strong rope, with the poor recipients lugging around their gift. In Hawai’i, this is so normal. It’s expected. The goal at the end of the night is to not be able to breathe.

When it does come time to take everything off, it feels amazing. Literally 10-20 pounds lifted off your shoulders.

When I graduated college in New York, I had several family members fly up to see me graduate. They came with gifts from my other family members who couldn’t make it. I wasn’t expecting it, and when the ceremony was over, I stuck out like the sorest thumb in the world.

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My then-boyfriend/now husband and I at my college graduation. 

It’s not as much as I had in high school, but it was more than enough to bring attention to me. People stared. People took photos. People stopped me on my way back to my dorm to ask me if they could take a picture of me and send it to their friends because they’ve never seen it before. They asked me what “all this” was. I was actually pretty thrown off by their curiosity, but I should have expected it.

I love being from Hawai’i. I loved that what we do is so different from the mainland. I love this tradition full of love, support, happiness, and fun that’s so specific to us. Being from Hawai’i is definitely being from a different culture, and I only wish more people could experience it!

25 And I’m Still Afraid Of My Parents

Dev: His dad doesn’t know that we eat pork.
Navid: It’s against our religion.
Denise: Wait, aren’t y’all two grown ass men?!
Dev: Yeah! But we’re scared of our parents.

Master of None is a great show. Even though Aziz is Indian-American, as a fellow Asian-American I can relate so much. That’s something very uncommon.

I started Season 2 and this scene made me laugh like crazy. Aziz’s character, Dev, is 33-years-old. The episode touched on religion and how Dev is not a very religious person but had to put up a front for some relatives. It was all just too familiar.

The part that made me laugh, though, was that Dev was still afraid of his parents at 33. I’m 25, living across the ocean from my parents, seeing them at least once a year, and I’m still afraid of them!

I firmly believe this is an Asian thing, and a first generation thing. I don’t really know why that is, but if anyone could explain it to me, I’d love to hear it.

My husband is also a first generation FilAm, but his relationship with his parents is rare for our kind (lol). He can’t relate to my terrors, but I know a lot of others who could.

One example of being afraid of my parents involves tattoos. I’ve had them since 2012. My mom has told me over and over again that I better not get one, but of course, I got two. They’re both on my hip area, so they’re hidden under my clothes 90% of the time. I make sure not to wear anything that may show it around my parents. I can’t even imagine what I would do if they found out. I do want more tattoos but I spend a lot of time thinking of size and placement so that it fits somewhere hidden by my clothes. I daydream about having something on the back of my neck, on my ankle, somewhere on my forearm…but I know it’ll never happen. It’s been five years and I’m pretty sure they don’t know about my tattoos yet.

“Who cares?! Do what you want! You’re an adult!”
Nope. The guilt will eat at me and also my parents terrify me.

Another example? My relationship with my husband started off…well, it wasn’t supposed to start in the first place. It has a weird history that I may write about here someday. I avoided telling my parents about us for almost a year because I was terrified of their reaction. When they finally confronted me about it, I was right to be scared. So much yelling. So much CRYING. SO. MUCH. GUILT TRIPPING. It took them several months to accept us, and now he is the son they’ve always wanted (sorry to my two brothers, lol!). Trust me though, I will avoid that initial confrontation for as long as possible.

Disappointing my parents is just something I never want to do. I believe that most of my anxiety and depression stems from this. The reason why I can’t accept myself as I am currently is because it would disappoint them if they found out. Yup, they have no idea what I’m actually doing or where I am in my life because I am keeping it hidden from them as best as I can. This stresses me out. Every day that my life doesn’t change is another day of disappointment, and I can’t live with it.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to get over how my parents react to my life, but until further notice, the way they see me will always make or break my day.

“Let’s Get Married.”

C and I started talking about marriage a few months into our relationship. We were 18.

It isn’t uncommon for military couples to get married as soon as possible — even if it means at 18 to your high school sweetheart who just got out of basic training.
It happens very, very often.

He asked me to marry him over the phone, when he was in Florida for his MOS school and I was in Hawaii on summer break. I froze and felt my face flush. Was he really asking me this?

“Are you crazy?! It hasn’t even been a year!!!!!!”
“I know, but I already know I want to marry you and I know you want to marry me too. Why not now? It’d make it easier for us to be together physically. I’d get extra pay and we could save up for a big wedding later when you graduate college. Why not? We could do it the next time we’re home together, just sign a paper, I’d be your husband, you’d be my wife…”

It made so much sense. I understood why MilSos did it, I could feel the temptation too.
I said no, though. I felt too young. I wasn’t ready to be a wife, I could barely take care of myself alone in college. I talked to my mom about it and in all her Filipino rage, she told me I better not. She wasn’t on board with me even being with C yet. I would try to talk to her again about it a year later, when she and my dad started to see how well C treated me.

Ever since he asked the question, my mind would flutter back and forth to marrying him the next time I saw him, marrying him after college, or marrying him years and years later. Either way, I knew it was going to happen. I knew he was the one.

Over the next four years together, we talked about getting married all the time. The agreement was that we’d wait until I was done with college to even think about it. We talked about where we’d live, and what we’d name our kids, if he’d help me pay my student loans or support me if I couldn’t find a job after college…we started to set up our future and figure out if things were really meant to be.

Then, I graduated college. I went back to Hawai’i. A month later we were lying in my room at my parent’s house and he said, “What do you think about getting married?”

“When?”
“Soon.”
“Uh….”
“You’re home now. We could move out, I’d get money for rent. If I reenlist you would be able to come with me to my next duty station without any issues. We could save up money and have the wedding we always talked about in a few years. What do you think?”
“Oh…oh wow. We could do all that, huh?”

Two weeks later, we got our marriage license. The next day he surprised me with an engagement ring, even though it was unescessary at that point. Two days later, we were married on a beach on base in Kaneohe by an online-ordained Sailor who worked in the shop with him. I bought my dress that morning from Macy’s, he wore his dress blues. We were 22.

We’ve been married for three years now, and it’s been an adventure. He didn’t reenlist, but we chose to move to San Diego to start something new together. We’ve had our ups and downs but I’ve never regretted marrying him at a time where most people our age would still be finding themselves (and trust me, I’ve yet to do that).

People say not to get married young. People even say not to be dating when you’re in college. The only thing that matters in your decision is your own situation. Do your research. Take some time to think about it. 

Always remember that marriage is work, but if you’re with someone you truly love, the work won’t be so bad. 

The Muddled Blood Of A Pinoy

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Some of my family — brother, cousins, aunty and uncle — in Philippines.

I’m saving up for a DNA test. It seems 23andMe and AncestryDNA are the two most popular ones to try, but I’m worried about how it will read my muddled Filipino blood.

Why do I say muddled? It’s common knowledge that we don’t have a “base” ethnicity. We have the term Mestizo for those who know definitely they have Spanish ancestry, or Mestizo da Sangley for those with Chinese ancestry.

My mom’s maiden name is “Garcia,” but I don’t know if we’re Spanish. My last name is “Bulan,” which is Malaysian in origin, but I don’t know if we’re Malaysian. I’ve been mistaken for Chinese several times. I have no idea if there could be Chinese blood in me, but it’s possible. The only thing I know is I’m Filipino, but I’ve always wondered what exactly that meant for me (I’ll probably get more in-depth on this later, or you could look it up. Our make-up is really interesting).

Going back to the DNA tests, it’s been something I’ve always wanted to try. I could finally know what my specific Filipino blood is made up of! People would say to me, “You look Chinese,” and I could say “Yup, because I am! Even if it’s just five percent!”

I’m all about family and lineage. My mom is one of 12, my dad is one of six. I love looking at my family tree and being amazed at how many relatives I have. Some of my first cousins are the closest friends I have and practically my siblings. Because of this, I’ve checked out Ancestry.com to see what I can find out about my family.

Problem is, my parents are from the Philippines. I’m part of the first generation of Garcias and Bulans who were born and raised and America. If you try to look my family up on Ancestry, almost nothing relevant shows up outside of the ones born in the continental US (yeah, it’s hard to even find records on the ones living in Hawai’i, how crazy is that!?).

That fact made me wary about a DNA test today. White people can easily get their German/Polish/French DNA tracked. Oh, you’re 1% Native American too? That’s awesome that you get to know the specific percentage of your DNA makeup. Now, where are all the Asians getting their DNA tested? It says you’re East Asian. Is that Japanese? Korean? Chinese? They don’t have enough information outside of Europe to say, and that ultimately is my problem.

Here’s an example of AncestryDNA and 23andMe’s regions that they can track.

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Let’s say I go with AncestryDNA. If I am a little bit of Chinese, it will just read “Asia East.” Philippines is considered “Asia South,” but so is Malaysia and India. I could be either of those and wouldn’t know. Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 5.58.28 PM23andMe is a little better, but not really. I would know if I’m Chinese, but not Spanish. Still wouldn’t know if I was Malaysian, or something else in Southeast Asia. They have just a slightly more specific range that I appreciate, but right now isn’t enough for me.

I’ve tried to look up other Filipinos who have tried the tests, and there aren’t many of them. I’ve read that “Pacific Islander” shows up in the results, and that would confuse me as someone who is from Hawai’i but not Hawaiian (more on that in another post, maybe).

I’m wondering if it’ll get better if I wait a few more years, or if this is the best it will get. I’m not exactly sure what needs to be done to get more accurate information, and I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about it, but if there is I’d love to know.

What’s Your MBTI? (INFJ Represent!)

Find out yours here: 16 Personalities MBTI Test

I took AP Psychology in high school and very quickly we learned about MBTI. I took the test, got INFJ, was fascinated for a little bit, and then completely forgot about everything I learned. I wasn’t really a good student.

Years later, I happened upon the test again. Took it. Still an INFJ. With a clearer head I read more about my personality type and was floored. Everything in my life made sense at the moment I read the descriptions. It explained my anxiety, explained why I lied to my friends and told them I couldn’t go out when the truth was I just wanted to stay in, and explained why I can hate people and love them at the same time. I just finally understood so many things about myself, all thanks this little test. I actually became obsessed with finding out everyone’s type — my family, friends, husband, coworkers, I even wondered what characters on TV/movies would be if they took the test. If I could understand myself now, I wanted to understand everyone around me!

The first person I wanted to take the test was, obviously, my husband. He is an ESTJ — practical, logical, straightforward, extroverted, and the complete opposite of me. I knew these from the beginning of our relationship, but after reading things about his personality type, I began to understand him more. It used to be a lot of fights with me thinking I could change some things about him, but I learned it couldn’t be done and we just have to work around each other. If you look it up, INFJs and ESTJs shouldn’t be together (in the same way they say Pisces and Cancer belong together). I take it all with a grain of salt, but I believe MBTIs are the way to go!

I had people argue with me that MBTIs are like horoscopes, and how you can’t fit any given person in 1 of 16 possibilities. I definitely see where they come from, but MBTIs are so much better and more than horoscopes. I’m not a big fan of the idea that you can attribute all that you are based on the day you were born (although admittedly, I fit the Pisces description to the T). The MBTI results come from a test, questions that you answer about yourself, and the types are general and yet specific to all kinds of people you meet in your life.

I do know that personalities change. Different events in someone’s life can cause them to change. Some people can be extroverted children and grow into introverted adults. It happens. Getting a different personality type at different points of your life doesn’t discredit MBTI, but it’s still a great start in getting to know who someone is.

Link: 29 Shameful Things Pinoys Who Who Weren’t Born In The Philippines Understand

29 Shameful Things Pinoys Who Weren’t Born In The Philippines Understand

I looked forward to going through this list. My family is hella Filipino and I knew I would be able to relate and laugh at everything.

I definitely did relate to some of these, but some of them were just so unheard of to me, and I knew it was because living in Hawai’i made things different.

Here are some examples:

3) You keep your shoes on while in the house, much to your nanay’s dismay.
Nope. In Hawai’i, that’s what you do. Why would you track all that dirt into your home? Even living in the mainland now I still leave my footwear at the door.

13) You dare to eat meals without rice.
Hell to the no. I mean, to be honest, since leaving Hawai’i I haven’t had as much rice as I did growing up, but I made that decision for health reasons. My whole life was filled with rice multiple times and not just from Filipino food — Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian plate lunches…rice for days.

18) You don’t like Filipino Food.
UM, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FROM PHILIPPINES TO LOVE FILIPINO FOOD, EXCUSE ME?

20) You just can’t get used to the taste of ube ice cream.
Hawai’i has a pretty good amount of Filipino food areas, so getting some halo-halo is not a hard thing to do. Grew up with ube and all the Filipino goodies even if I’m not from Philippines, thanks to Hawai’i’s amazing diverse culture.

23) You use a Swiffer rather than a walis tambo.
Always have a walis tambo on us. My extended family who aren’t Filipino love to use them as well. They’ve seen them in markets all over the state and use it themselves. They’re just amazing brooms, OK?

28) And you don’t even like going to the beach.
Nope, not true at all. Hawai’i born and raised, I always have to be near an ocean.

Some other things I couldn’t relate to, for my own personal reasons not related to being from Hawai’i:

5) You don’t say “po” at the end of your sentences when you’re talking to elders.
I think this might be a Tagalog thing. My parents have never told me to do this. They did, however, always made sure I said, “Yes, Aunty/Uncle” or “No, Aunty/Uncle” whenever I talked to an elder.

7) And you don’t change into your pang-bahay clothes after going out.
My husband, who is also Filipino-American, doesn’t change into “house clothes” when he comes home. It makes me uncomfortable for him. My mom always made sure we did this, and to this day, I cannot be home in jeans or nice blouses because they are not my comfortable “house clothes.”

9) You rooted for Floyd Mayweather, not Manny Pacquiao, during the “Fight of the Century.”
I am ALL about representation of our people, and until my death I will root for the Pac-Man!

Actually, I couldn’t relate to a lot of this list, and it’s so off-putting to think that there are so many FilAms across the country that do relate to this. In a way, I’m lucky that I my parents decided that Hawai’i was going to be their new home. Hawai’i was basically another Philippines for them. Yes, I know it’s a huge difference, but Hawai’i already had a large Filipino population that allowed them to continue their normal way of raising a family. There’s a fairly large Filipino population here in California (and other states) but a lot of the FilAms I know here relate to this list more than I do. It’s a pretty interesting phenomenon, and I’m glad I can be a little more connected to my ethnicity because of where I grew up.