One of my most cherished photos is that of a baby girl in her father’s arms, both smiling widely. I told myself I would write a book about her, that little Filipino girl without a care in the world. She is my mother.
I will write a book about my mother, the woman who grew up in a squatter’s home with her two sisters. I will write about how her first fish tank was a glass pitcher filled with hose water and goldfish. My grandma cupped flittering golden fish in her hands and dropped them into the pitcher, letting her daughter marvel at the goldfish’s black bubble eyes and translucent tail. Decades later, my mother would own a spectacular fish tank, decorated with a plethora of green plant life with colorful guppies and mollies darting about. It has shrimp skittering on the rocky surface of the tank floor and a magnificent fighting fish with a blazing trail of a tail the same color as the sun.
I will write a book about the woman who held my hand when we landed at Logan Airport. My mother carried her daughters of two and three in her arms when we first came to America. She lived several years without my father who left the Philippines after my sister was born and went to Boston to work; we reunited with him that day. That was the woman who introduced me to my father.
She is the Filipino mother to two American daughters. My mother raised two daughters that spoke perfect English and not a lick of Filipino. She always seemed a world away to me. Never the suburban mom, she was tough on us out of love, pushing us to be our best. She struggled with weakness, growing up in a world where you have to be strong to survive. The tears and breakdowns of adolescent daughters made her uncomfortable, she could only put on a strong and stoic face. But one day my mother broke down in tears because she was afraid of us going into this brave new world alone, we had to be raised strong.
There was never another option for her.
She isn’t a perfect mother, just as I am not a perfect daughter. But she is a strong one, a mother that ventured into this country for my family, the mother I owe my life to. We have the same face, you can see it so clearly in her baby photos, they look just like mine. The only difference is the worlds we lived in. Her baby photos showed no toys, and as a child I left a trail of My Little Ponies and Barbie dolls. She gave me everything she never had growing up. I want to write a book about my mother, as a thank you and an apology for everything that I was given that I can never repay.