AAPI Heritage Month

Maybe 15 or so years ago when I lived in New York, I was talking with a Filipino couple from church at a picnic. I told them how long I’ve lived in the United States, and how long it had been since I visited the Philippines. I came to the US in 1978, and I visited Philippines for a month in 1983/4.

The wife of that couple, with no malice in her voice, matter-of-factly told me that I had lost all the culture in my blood.

I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

May is AAPI Heritage Month, which seems a meaningful gesture on the part of the government, especially in light of the prevalence of Asian hate and violence in the news, though I’ve been navigating my Asian American heritage for my entire life.

Whenever I see a Filipinx public figure, I feel connected to them through our common heritage. Our culture. Although I no longer understand or speak Tagalog, I can still recognize it, I love when my mom comments in Tagalog on my social media posts.

Mom and I sometimes talk about food and entertainment; customs, as well as genealogy.

I have memories of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and villagers from my visit in the 1980s. Humble and happy. Hardworking and hopeful. Qualities I want to sustain in myself.

How much culture is in my blood? How much do I understand from my ancestors? The country’s history?

However much there is, I still want to celebrate it. I want to accept myself exactly where I am, to assess how much my heritage influences my identity. And be ok with whatever that is.

At least for now.

My People from the Land of My Birth

This morning I looked at my newsfeed and out of over 120 articles, 20 of them were about damage or relief or something about the typhoon that struck the Philippines.


I’ve been thinking about my mom’s family who still live there. Because they’re my mom’s family, they’re also my family, even though I haven’t met very many of them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve been worrying the past few days if everyone is okay.

The LDS Church issued a statement that all its missionaries serving in the Philippines are accounted for. Definitely good news.

But I’ve been thinking more about the 10,000 or so who are missing or did not survive. This morning I called my mom and asked if she heard anything about her family. Mom lives in Florida, but she spoke with a cousin who keeps in touch more often with our relatives in the Philippines. Mom said that everyone is fine; they live in a more northwestern part and the typhoon did most of its damage in another part of the country.


Mom said she’s sure her family got a lot of wind and rain, since the typhoon was as big as or bigger than the country itself, but she’s relieved that her family are safe. I’m relieved, too.

One of the things I found encouraging about the headlines above is the clarion call to the world to get moving and help the Filipino citizens. Times like this remind us that we know how to reach out and be good people. These times motivate us to think about humanity and nudge our hearts to beat again, three times bigger.

If I could fly over there and start separating debris and hugging people, I would. I’ll have to find another way. Find your favorite organization, and see what you can do to help.

Keep praying.

Manalangin para sa Pilipinas.

Mom’s Birthday

Do you know my mom? You should. Everyone should. She’s great. She’s been great all her life, and she’ll probably keep being great, because once you’re great, there’s no point in stopping. I don’t think she’d even know how to stop.

This is my mom:

Young Mom

Super cute, right? I don’t know how old she is in the photo, but I’ll guess late teens or early 20s.

Here’s a photo of mom and me. I like the way she appears to be adoring me:

Wedding day

But today isn’t about me; it’s about my mom. Today’s my mom’s birthday. She was born in the Philippines in a tiny town in the middle of the 20th century. After 8 siblings. She was 9th out of 10 children total.

I am taller than my mom. This shows how unselfish she is, how she doesn’t have to be at the forefront of every situation. I really admire how my mom knew to stand back and let me be taller.

Just because I’m taller does not mean that I am stronger. My mom has amazing upper body strength. And since she watched a lot of Bruce Lee movies while I was growing up, I know that she can use her compact body to force a thunderous fist to send me crashing through a wall if I ever provoked her. My mom has worked hard her whole life, and the result of that is a wonderful balance of brute strength and endearing gentleness.

My mom also pounded rice when she was a kid. My brother and I attribute most of her strength to this traditional chore. Here is a short video of some villagers pounding rice. I don’t know if this is the way my mom did it. I remember a bowl carved in a log and then the poles you see in the video are used to pound the rice.

Of course she’ll give you what you deserve. She won’t let you walk all over her or disrespect her. She won’t hesitate to lecture you if you’re being a jerk. She’s learning Spanish, and one of her favorite phrases is to tell you to kiss her butt.

And if you deserve a hug, she’ll give you one. If you need a hug, she can tell and will give you one. And even if you don’t feel like you’re doing anything to deserve it, she will raise you with your best interests in mind and make sacrifices so that you can have wonderful opportunities and encourage you in every way to be happy. She will love you with more energy and effort than you think is possible coming from any one person. Which is what she has done for me.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Sandy Dunkin New York

Right now I imagine a former home of mine is receiving a lot of rain, lightning, and high winds. Many former homes have been part of those circumstances.

I was born during a typhoon in the Philippines. This may be why I don’t really freak out during big rains. My birth versus the storm: I won, but I’ve also always made sure never to get too cocky. Don’t stand in an open field under lightning clouds. Don’t play in puddles and get ringworm.

I lived in Guam. Seems if you live in the Pacific Ocean, you have to expect the whole range of tropical weather. Which would include earthquakes. And if volcanoes were nearby, those, too.

I lived in Key West. Consistently warm weather often compelled my brother and me to stay inside with the air conditioning. But I played a lot outside, too. But I mostly blame Key West for making me break my brother’s arm.

I lived in Jacksonville. Hurricanes mostly miss Jacksonville. The city often catches the fringes of the swirlstorms, and it receives a lot of rain, but Jax has had its share of lucky breaks when hurricanes decide to turn northward toward the Carolinas. And that’s not so lucky for the Carolinas.

I lived in New York City. That damn town greeted me with a blizzard, and it rained when I left it nearly 7 years later. That place brought out my allergies and gave me a true glimpse of depression. Rain, snow, strikes, sweltering and stifling heat. I miss that place.

I live in Utah. The sun is out, I can see the mountains that still hang on to the turned leaves. I walked two blocks through wet and heavy snow the other day, and I felt nostalgic. Today, nary a trace of that white stuff. But the mountains cling to that, too.

New York, I know you’re prepared. Candles, flashlights, water, food, batteries. Board games, radio. Dance parties. Storytime. Quality time. Run to the Hills. Or Washington Heights. I’ll be praying for you.

Guess Who’s Coming to BYU

Friday, September 2. 7:30pm.

I’m really excited.

Also, not coming to BYU, but giving free concerts in Salt Lake City:

Decemberists: July 21

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: July 28

Also coming to BYU: my bicycle.

This summer is so, so, so, so, so, so, so, and so awesome.

That last sentence is my shout-out to the Oxford comma. I love you, man.

It’s Weird to Think She’s Only Five Years Older than Me

Okay, she makes a great Fantine, but I actually first encountered her as Eponine. Lea Salonga is my normalform of Eponine. In my mind, no one can be better.

I know this song is an anthem for a lot of you out there. Me, too.


Tuesday is my last day of class. Next Tuesday morning is my last day of finals.

I’m still working on getting more funding for Senegal. I hope I won’t have to withdraw from the program.

Also, I can’t shake a ___ that I have on a ___ with a ___. I know, I know: get out before it gets messy. I have a plan in mind, and I hope it works. Goodness knows I don’t need anymore drama.

Ang lahat ay mabuti.

That idea I had about where the passport was, it wasn’t there. So I went back to all the places I looked before, just in case I overlooked something. Up in the hall closet was a box where I hadn’t yet looked. I took it down and opened it up and came across some old stickers and supplies for the children’s Sunday School classes. I looked through a few pouches of old photos. A small plastic bag held even more photos, and it was tied shut at the handles. I was fully prepared to look through all of the photos, because I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I untied the plastic bag and I saw a small brown booklet. Vinyl cover, light green, textured pages. The title on the outside reads “Pilipinas Pasaporte” with the seal of the Philippines between the two words. I took it and held it in my hands and opened it immediately to the page with the photo on it, probably to make sure it was me, it was my passport, and I raised it in the air and looked toward the sky, and I let out the biggest sigh of relief of my life. I tossed the passport over to the couch, and I folded my arms and said a very grateful prayer. Then I opened my eyes and picked up the passport again and commenced dancing around the living room. There was jumping up and down, too. And maybe even a few tears of joy.

So yeah, I guess that’s me. I was eight years old. And that’s probably the cutest shirt I have ever owned. Why don’t I wear clothes like that anymore?

On page 4 is a stamp that reads in all caps, “Immigrant.” On page 5 is a stamp from US Immigration, the day I returned to Guam from five weeks in the Philippines. On page 6 are two stamps from Philippines Immigration, the dates I arrived and departed that country: June 9, 1984 and July 16, 1984.

No other stamps.

My mind is flooding with memories from that time in my life. I got baptized just the week before. When my mom, brother and I arrived in the Philippines, we took a cab to my mom’s cousin’s home, and on the way there, I had to roll down the window to throw up the chicken I had just eaten at the airport cafeteria. The vomit stuck to the side of the car, and it was kind of pink.

We spent some time in the city, then we went to the country to visit my grandparents, where they lit their bamboo home with oil lamps and listened to a radio made out of scrap wires and other parts. They lived up in the mountains. They owned chickens and had a grove of guava trees. The view was magnificent – rain forests for as far as the eye could see.

My aunt, mom’s younger sister, lived in the valley with her daughter and husband. They owned a little candy store adjacent to their hut. My brother learned how to bite people from my cousin.

We ate lots of rice and fish and vegetables, and I got to see my uncles slaughter a chicken once for dinner. I craved things to read, but I learned to play with the other kids and I picked up a little bit of Tagalog while I was there.

I had pretty smart and beautiful cousins, but most of them were quite a bit older than me, and they weren’t around very much, so I really didn’t get to see them. My mom’s the ninth out of ten siblings, so the only cousin even close to my age was mom’s younger sister’s daughter.

I got to take a shower at a small waterfall on the side of the mountain. It was early in the morning, and the water was really cold.

At my grandparents’, people used the bathroom sitting on a 2X4 plank laid over a square-foot hole into a large chamber. It had to have been 15-feet square by at least 8 feet deep. I remember being scared I would fall in. There was toilet paper, but no flushing. There was a bamboo shelter built over it in case it rained. It was far enough away from the house for privacy. It was self-composting, and it didn’t smell. I’m not sure why I remember this.

The countryside is beautiful. The city is exciting, but dirty and crowded. Running water is a luxury. Hot, running water is even rarer. I bathed in a large metal basin and ladled  cold water onto my body to rinse off.

Those five weeks were an incredible experience. More happened than I can remember right now, but I want to remember.

It’s time to go back. It’s time to visit and explore and see things with these eyes that are 24 years older.  

It’s time to go back. Curious and fascinated and longing for old roots and family I’ve never met.

It’s time to go back. As an official American.

A United States citizen.

Which, I almost am.

It’s SO close.

Everything is good.