When I Was A Child

When I Was A Child ]

When I was a child, my lola never taught me the word pan de sal.
She never told me its meaning. At dawn, I would hear her voice sing
magtanim hindi biro as she doused our kitchen table with flour, rolling
and filling the bread of salt with heat. When I would walk in, she would
sing, magtanim hindi biro, and smile to me, her arms and hands pale with
flour. I asked her what it meant and she would shake her head.

“Anak, you should not know, I want your tongue free of accent, be
American as I want to be.”

When I was a child, I came home with heavy books in my arms. My lola would
be in the kitchen, pulling up her sleeves and squeezing bright, small calamansi
fruit into a cup. I asked my lola about Christopher Columbus and the Mayflower,
but she shook her head. Hindi ko alam, she’d sing to me, hindi ko alam.

“Anak, you should know, I want your tongue free of accent, be
American as I want to be.”

When I was a child, my lola never taught me the word hiya. She never told me its meaning.
On school nights, I would come home when the sun was gone, my arms
carrying my heavy books, newspaper layouts, my fingers smeared with ink. My lola
stood in the kitchen still, her arms crossed and sleeves up, her eyes gray, cold.

You were with a boy, she would say, her finger raised. No girl should come home this late at night.
I shook my head, I was at school, lola. I tried to explain to her what ‘extra-curriculum’ meant.
She threw pots and pans at me instead, yelling, walang hiya, you were with a boy.
Walang hiya.
I threw shouts and insults back. I was just at school, I’d say,
waving my books in her face. Just at school. My would lola shake her head,

“Anak, you do not know, I wanted your tongue free of accent. You are now
American, unknown to me.”

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