I’m paying my respects to my beloved and dying uncle in San Diego, California and my aunties are gathered around the dinner table with my mother, my cousins and me. My cousin, Allen Lim, author of the Feed Zone series of cookbooks, has prepared an incredible meal featuring a fancy chicken adobo infused with dried figs, tart cherries, and topped with fresh basil. It is paired with a hearty dish of caramelized carrots on a bed of sautéed spinach. He’s crushed pistachios on top to add crunch and layered in some kind of cheese that I can’t catch the name of. The meal is amazing, but more incredible are the stories being shared.
My aunties are remembering the stories of everyone’s birth during WWII in the Philippines. Debates fly about who was born in the city’s hospital, who was born in the jungle and who was born in hiding in the mountains. With aunties and cousins speaking on top of each other about facts and the exaggerations that we’ve grown up with, it eventually gets sorted out through collective memory and the remembrance of certain dates. What comes to light and hardens the conversation is the shared remembrance of the stories of war, the neighbors and relatives who were murdered, those who were sewn back to life using household needle and thread, the stories of infants and children killed, the abandonment of the Philippines by the U.S. military, and how the guerrilla (emphasis added, because of the way the aunties pronounce this — GUE RRRIL LYA) armies worked hard to defend and protect civilian lives.
There’s a moment there where we catch our breath and my cousins start in on the violence happening now, the children in ICE custody, this long thread of colonial and military aggression that our families have witnessed from the Philippines and into our lives in the United States. We are visitors here as residents of Washington, California and Colorado. We have grown a transnational family, surviving trauma, and seeking peaceful places to call home where natural wonders and progressive values live. We’ve also steadily maintained relationships with one another as a means of preserving the family values and a few cultural practices we’ve worked to hold on to.
The morning after this dinner, I take a walk with my mother. We’re reflecting together on my uncle’s life and all our memories of him, mostly very sweet, but some rough.
She tells me, “When your uncle could still talk, I asked him why he always pinched me as a child.” It’s a memory that still shortens her breath and brings a wetness to her eyes. “It was a trauma for me,” she said. “I would run away from him. It wasn’t a normal pinch. It was so hard. It hurt me.” On her own skin, she shows me how deep it would go, nails pressed into tender skin, bruising her. She continues on, telling me the story of him apologizing, of not remembering why he did that, of her apologizing too for the times she might have hurt him.
My mom grew up in a household where she was the seventh child out of eight. Her mother, having survived the war and growing her family in a sea of trauma, was verbally abusive and controlling with her. When my mom was ready to start her own family, it was set in the backdrop of Martial Law and a new era of militarized violence. My siblings and I were born in the midst of a civil war in the Philippines. After witnessing a brutal murder and fearing warfare tearing through our home, my mom decided to move us to Seattle with my dad.
Coming to Seattle was a leap in search for peace, to grow a family with values of care and deep love. As I grew up, she did not tolerate name calling, verbal abuse, or any physical violence between my siblings and me. Like many immigrant mothers, she wanted to create a generational shift, and she did it. My siblings and I had the experience she designed, sheltered from war and family violence. This instinct and work towards more peaceful families is happening in so many of our communities and families, set against a context of surviving militarism, trauma, migration, isolation, economic insecurity, and cultural difference.
Six years ago, I became a parent. The generation I’m raising is the first in one hundred years of my family lineage whose births are not marked by the daily presence of war. I have the grace of my mother’s legacy of peaceful parenting. We are surrounded by a friendly and cultural community that believes in families that minimize harm. And, even with these supports, I find myself losing my mind in moments of toddler tantrum. I think it is mostly rooted in the value of elder respect and this deep, bodily reaction to seeing that value trampled on, even if the culprit is less than two feet tall with no grasp of reason. Epigenetics, however, is teaching us that just as trauma is passed down from generation to generation, so is resilience and healing. This helps me to breathe through the hard moments, apologize for the times my parenting is unkind, and work harder to be present with my kids in warm ways. I know I am setting them up for nurturing their own future children with loving kindness and contributing to a culture where peaceful families are upheld.
I see API Chaya’s work in prevention and community organizing as helping our communities and families find paths towards healing trauma and learning peace in an embodied way. It is the work of each generation nurturing the next one forward in soft moments of acknowledgment and accountability. It is the richness of sharing meals and personal history. It is the tenderness of being in grief and vulnerability without seeking to dominate or harm one another. It is learning how to feel and be with one another in times of distress without causing harm. API Chaya welcomes all individuals and families to be with us in Natural Helper trainings and our monthly Community Education Series. Together, we can build more skills to do less harm, be accountable for the harm we cause, care for survivors, and have more healthy and equitable relationships. I truly believe that together, we are changing the very cells of our communities to know and want peace.
The next community education series, “Community Organizing & Bystander Intervention 101,” will be held on Saturday, March 23rd, from 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library, 425 Harvard Ave E, Seattle, 98102. You can email [email protected] for more information or volunteering opportunities.