Small Town Friendships and Unconscionable Doings – Pete Deakon’s Buried Within

Pete Deakon’s second novel, Buried Within, is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Not everything is alright in America’s humble Midwest.

I’ve only been to Missouri for three days, at most. One day in Springfield, two in St. Louis. While I remember the weather being muckier than desired, walking from the botanical garden in an inadequate poncho, the people continued to grin.

In Buried Within, Pete Deakon illustrates just how the fond, playful winsome conflicts with the dreary, the two eventually coalescing as the horrific transpires.

“I’m here for you if you need it,” a friend offers in tragedy’s chill. But of course, the person facing loss may brood, in his own special way. Some understand, others are spooked. Maybe he’s not sad enough. Maybe he’s too angry. Perhaps, a bit obsessed. Crazed. They’ll still continue to talk about him, meaning well, though not immune to plasticized gossip and sentimental recollections of some romantic movie.

Mark, he’s a romantic. An awkward one who Deakon endows with calculative flair. Like The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor, Buried Within holds tight to the logical, each character’s thoughts, mannerisms, and relationships presented with the accessibility of a well-written instruction manual. But the steps you follow to assemble the cabinet, they’re written with heart and integrity.

Here is just an example of dry humor by which I was charmed:

“Like most men, Adam and John were not attorneys and they certainly made decisions that proved them to be hypocrites to their own lofty notions of morality, but still they held these notions.”

Of course, attorneys aren’t perfect people, and everyone, in a series however prolonged or brief, repeats the same mistakes. This is a human flaw, and while imperfection can embarrass and disappoint, Deakon describes everyday follies with a bluntness and dialogue that not only has one chuckling, but reassures readers that maybe, even through the appallingly unpredictable, things will be okay.

The thrill of courtship, the drabs of marriage, the challenge of keeping the flame at a flicker. Couples and partnership are key players in Buried Within, helping to establish the backdrop of a quiet town and steady friendships. Mark and Rebecca are great for each other. The girl, young and lively, shivers in her modesty, though comfort is found in the sheer stability of quiet, awkward Mark. Again, no one is perfect, but upon finding out, most would “tsk” and pry. So Mark and Rebecca keep to themselves for much of their married lives.

Before, things were better. Wholesome memories of a budding love that makes me think of that movie with a young Reese Witherspoon. Man in the Moon.

In time, Mark unravels. We see the petals of a vibrant rose gradually fall. Insecurity, infertility, the bureaucracy of adoption. Work. Because love doesn’t pay the bills, though you’d think it makes hardships easier to bear.

Mark gets struck with a hardship. Brought on by a different kind of awkward.

Deakon writes about the interpersonal in very personal ways. Again, I’ll emphasize that he’s quite technical, something I can’t deduce too often in the span of a short novel. The chapters read like vignettes, Norman Rockwell paintings that hang on the same wall, but don’t necessarily depict the same thing, like dogs or the ocean, hotdogs and cottages. We begin at the present, roll in the past, proceed to the present again. The woods, a car, a bowling alley. A garage. The trunk of a car. Deakon doesn’t concentrate too much on building a bridge from scene to scene, but they all fit tightly. More so, we appreciate detail in thoughts and dialogue.

But one thing I wish the author could have done more is drill more detail in those more unpleasant scenes.

In general, we tend to be more comfortable reading about atrocity than seeing it. Given the freedom of imagination, it makes a lot of sense. While Deakon did well with his fine brushstrokes the first half of the novel, I felt things grew curt towards the end. Know that the writing is always straightforward. But with actions we associate with high coverage trials, I was hoping for more exploration. The content itself is unsettling, though I wanted something more graphic.

However, this may be the point of it all. Contrasts are everywhere. The conventional versus the old-fashioned, the young and the old, the masculine and the effeminate. Pay attention to what Rebecca says about Mark’s dad, the perks Rebecca hopes for at work when she hits her thirties, the way Mark’s friends laugh at him because he uses the word “tendrils.”

By the way, I’ve never actually heard a man use the word “tendrils” in person.

So while I initially felt I was walking through some lush forest beneath some starry, lovelorn sky (and I do like to feel this way every once in a while), it seemed like I suddenly found myself in a pale tundra, with poison ivy here and there. Jarring and out of place.

But then again, maybe this was the goal Deakon aimed for.

The quirky and the creepy. The grieving and the vengeful. These, among a handful of other attributes, harbor similarities but diverge at a certain point. A fork in the road, or a fine line. The demarcation isn’t as harsh as the water of romance and the oil of postmarital boredom, but it’s there to be noticed. A point for reflection.

Despite its occasional brusqueness, Buried Within left me with thoughts whole and absorbed in our own flaws. The things we hold most dear, and things that really, anyone is capable of accomplishing when we lose our grasp on what we loved.

The Way of Tea, and How to Make a “Matcha” Latte.

Courtesy of Hibiki-An

 

I’ve had a thing for matcha green tea. And while one can only find matcha in its truest form in Japan, you can still enjoy something similar to the real thing elsewhere.

Typically, I bring a tumbler to work, and like its lid, the drink within glows a delightful green. Yes, you may be familiar with the “green tea latte” at Starbucks, but know that you can enjoy it in the comfort of your home and break room.

(Matcha) Green Tea Latte (Iced)

2 cups of skim milk (or whole milk. Whatever milk you wish. I have heard rice milk makes for a great addition).
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Republic of Tea’s Stone Ground Matcha Green Tea Powder.
1/2 cup of lukewarm water.

The Steps

Mix 1/2 cup of water with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the green tea powder until thick and dark.

Put the green tea powder, mixed with water, into a blender.

Add 2 cups of skim milk.

Blend these parts together.

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*You can choose to add or not add sugar. I usually add 6 small packets of Imperial Granulated Sugar after the drink is blended. Honey also works quite well.
*For boosted flavor, add a sprig of spearmint before blending!

Know of any good matcha powders besides the one I mentioned? Share your experiences with homemade green tea lattes here!

There stands the neighborhood.

I walk,
pace,
and search.

styrofoam cups
caked in spoilt dairy.

but rather,
Bacardi rolls
in the key
of E minor.

you appreciate no sadness
while I anticipate
a respectable shunning.

gates of steel
and shutters bright green.

structural integrity.

your dream,
in one square mile.

so indulge me,
in stories without a plot.

tell me,
where I’d fit in.

*Cat No. 21 of the 500 Cats Project

Southeast Asian Flash, pt. 2

This is the second installment to last week’s post on my experiences as a half-Caucasian, half-Filipino living much of my life in Texas. I’ve always been a fan of lists, and Jason Cushman’s 10 Things Not to Ask an Asian brought back so many memories and topics for discussion. In the last post, I wrote 5 250-word recollections relating to items one to five on the list. I realize I wrote a second piece for item no. 5, but decided to keep it, leaving you with six more memories (After “Johnny Rivers was a Great Man,” the posts correspond with items 6 through 10 on the list). I didn’t anticipate such a positive response to my first post. Thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement! 

Johnny Rivers was a Great Man

We sat at the coffee table, graced with the latest from the Audubon Society, a pinewood pipe, and a taxidermied sugar glider. The Bishops were an eccentric bunch. Another weekend, the third apathetic wheel.

Three months ago, I awoke to a text. A girl in lilac, seated on a bench. Not exactly a porcelain doll, but a miniature cobra about to strike.

“My first Asian!”

I roll my eyes, notice the organics of her chestnut hair, and ask, “Is she half?”

“Nope, just a quarter. But damn!”

Mr. Bishop was kind, happy that we were there, and relievedly unabashed in his insistence that I keep my shoes on. Stocky, cheery, the shade of mahogany. But as we sometimes notice the severity of dogeared pages, Anthony couldn’t contain himself at the sight of eyelids not exactly unfolded.

Mr. Bishop walks to the back, says the barbecue will be ready within the next hour.

“I better be on my best behavior. He’s probably got a katana back there.”

Bree and I don’t know each other, but roll our eyes in shared annoyance.

Her mom arrives with chips and salsa. Avocado slices dance in semicircle.

I wait for a joke about the Japanese, and how they don’t fuck with their guacamole. Anthony’s now in the back, singing with his arm ’round Mr. Bishop. A Kirin Ichiban in his callused hand.

“…secret ASIAN MAAAANNNN….”

Bree was three months pregnant. Their baby, mostly Italian, had only a hint of Thai. The rest was Costa Rican.

We’re Not Exactly Related

We were in lab, again. Squeamish and grieving over pale pigskin, I scribbled our notes as throughly as possible.

“We can do that later. We’ve got to label the parts.” Aimee would later recall this episode to remind me that maybe I shouldn’t pick biology and pre-med as we filled out our college applications.

“Pick up the scalpel. It’s dead. It’s not gonna bite you.”

I halfheartedly picked at his bones, poked at the trail of small intestines and gagged at the off-white marble lodged in his left side.

“What in the hell is wrong with you?”

“Look! It’s an eyeball! Oh my God, how?! There’s an eyeball inside! I’m NEVER eating bacon again.”

“Grow the fuck up.” Aimee would later tell me, in four years’ time, that I annoyed the hell out of her.

Ten minutes left. We’d continue the next three days. And while I sighed in relief to learn the eyeball was actually a tumor, I frowned to learn we were getting yet another fetal pig.

Though Aimee and I had few things in common, we’d always be deferred to when others had questions about manga, katakana, the origins of Pokemon. But see, I wasn’t Japanese.

“Maybe it’s the frizzy hair. From afar, we look like sisters.” Aimee shrugged. Neither amused nor annoyed.

I wonder if that’s what our English teacher thought. Somedays, he’d address us with the same name.

“No, I don’t make bento boxes.” I looked at the box he brought to class from Kowloon’s.

Blizzards, or Orange Chicken? 

The last time I stepped in a Wal-mart, I was four. And for a span of six years, I’d toddle through the base exchange, enamored by kiosks peddling waterbeds, paintings and sketches that included the meaning of your full name. Still, nothing compares to the PX.

So while Mom hyperventilated at deals aplenty and notepads of coupons welded to shelves, I wandered to the music aisle. Overseas, CDs and movies hit the stands within a month’s delay. My cousin, blue flannel tucked into Wranglers, was eager to serve as a guide. The rainy frontier. Baytown, TX.

“So, my mom wants to take you all out tonight.” My aunt was just as eager. Even at ten, I could sense the rocking of eggshells beneath our feet. Multiple times, my mother would say, “No sushi. Please, no sushi.” She didn’t grow up with raw fish, she said. Eating it made her sick.

“Do you know of any good Asian food?” A general question. My cousin sure liked his Dairy Queen.

“Pancit canton, lumpia, chicken adobo. You’d like some?”

He nodded in famished vigor. But my aunt believed in treats.

“They’re visiting us this week. We’re treating them, so she doesn’t have to cook. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Are there any Asian grocery stores?” They squabbled this way the next six days. My mom was on the defense, remembering when Grandma asked her if she was borderline retarded.

“This is your week. Let us treat you. What’s a good Chinese buffet?”

Pingpong.

“Apologize, to All the White Nurses.” 

If anyone has seen that movie Ten Things I Hate About You, you’ll probably remember the black English teacher who jabs at the protagonist’s white female privilege.

Femi-nazis, man haters, and professors glided from podiums to issue some sort of politically correct apology to a student who wasn’t white. Another pop culture reminder. Remember that scene from Saved by the Bell?

Awkwardly, I’d sit, my head bowed down. Today’s lecture: Outsourcing, “Asian” SAT scores, and the overwhelming ratio of Indian to non-Indian physicians. A few days before, she wanted to discuss racial diversity. I erred to divulge my childhood experiences, how the Chinese differ from the Thai, how Filipinos are not Korean.

“I’ll take this as a teaching example, shall I?”

I blinked, perplexed.

“You are just another example of someone who really doesn’t understand what diversity means.”

At this point, I was decided. I’d delve into the adventures of my local Ron Paul chapter.

We’d meet in various places. Doctor’s offices, park pavilions, classrooms at my college. People of all backgrounds, culturally, financially, temporally. We got along, had similar grievances, but bring up immigration and mosaic tiles scatter.

I learned what birthers were. And debates on the veracity of Obama’s certificate got a bit old. Laboriously unproductive.

“We’ve talked about this the past two meetings. And it’s gotten us nowhere!”

“And who are you to talk?” Laura coughs in her nurse scrubs. “Your mother is the reason I’m getting laid off.”

“My mother works at a gas station.”

“Right.”

“Practice Makes Perfect.” 

Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic. Mandarin.

Spanish and Portuguese, offered in heaps. Four years of courses. A minor, a major.

While the last two languages were “top demand,” and given my intentions to try my hand at applying for the task of Foreign Service Officer, I thought, “I’ll take Arabic.”

My friend at the time, she’d laugh at me. Echo the cringeworthy clang of my sentences, tell me it sounds like “you’re speaking Spanish.” The same was said from a classmate as I attempted to learn Japanese.

But dammit, I would learn Mandarin.

My friends at far-off Ivy Leagues were busy learning characters, and I thought, “I’ll never get bored.”

Either my professor was exceedingly kind, or my “pals” were simply assholes. I did come home convicted in my strength as a nonverbal learner. My sentences were written neatly, I wrote decent emails without flipping through a dictionary every two minutes, and eventually, I wrote a short story. The equivalent of one page, single-spaced. Times New Roman. 12-sized font.

But dammit, I wrote a story!

Nonetheless, she sent me links upon links. Films on Youtube and songs I’d like. Tones. They slash your confidence.

“Always, work on your tones,” she’d wag her finger as I left my desk.

“Nǐ yào shén-me?”

“Wǒ yào yī-ge fàn.”

“Nǐ shì nǎlǐ de rén?”

“Wǒ shì Fēilǜbīnrén.”

“Again.” She smirked at my tongue-tied butchering.

“Wǒ shì měiguórén.”

“That’s not what you said previously.” She tapped her desk.

“Wǒ bú shì zhōngguórén.”

“No, this you aren’t.”

Eating with Our Hands

He spat an orange rind into the trash. These aren’t things you microwave. “Not my smartest decision.”

Alas, a lime lands onto wood. A fish out of water he throws back in.

“I am such a klutz.” He shakes his head, adjusting his hold on over-shaved chopsticks a fifth time in four minutes.

“Dude, I wouldn’t know. I just use my hands.”

He snickers, knowing full well that this is no consolation, but a reiteration to dispel misconceptions repeated and dispersed, with confidence.

Stickiness never bothered me. Grains of rice, pungent oils, fish scales gleaming in summer’s wrath. I’ve promised many, I always wash my hands.

Not that manual deboning is a foolproof practice. I once saw a cousin rushed to the doctor’s, a sliver of dingy white poking through her throat. It didn’t deter her, and dinner that night continued without a single plastic fork.

We did, however, nibble our fill on paper plates.

“I think I’ll just stick with pretending,” he says, hopelessly grasping at wild lo mein.

A month later I laid on the couch of a friend who had the same challenge: getting her friends to eat Spam without fear.

“Tell them it was all your parents could afford when they came to America.”

“Tried, doesn’t work.”

But tonight we ate the usual. Dried fish, rice, some bland soup with bean sprouts. Every chair sheltered in plastic.

She gives me chopsticks. I decline.

“You’re Filipino!” She moans, disapproving.

“And you’re Korean.” I shrug and dig in.

I do presume.

Originally posted on Mighty Optical Illusions

“And where did you meet Gerald Reeves?”

We sat in a booth, on strawberry clouds with form after form and my driver’s license littering the table, speckled with dry tea. Placemats for coloring. Coloring for postgrads.

I adjusted the lining of my ruched black skirt. “You look quite nice.” “Thanks, James.” Previously I made another “last” visit to my place of study, to sign yet another form. Hopped on the bus with Jim’s last dime, waited in their marble suite with a raspberry soda in hand, and said goodbye to another prospect as a legal assistant in the antiquated convenience they call Downtown. My favorite work shirt hasn’t been ironed since.

“We met on the bus.”

Keeth chuckles in Irish mirth, motions to the Oreo Crumble and asks me how I like it. Applying for serving and barista positions certainly carries its perks. Peppermint mochas, green tea lattes, milkshakes and slices of mousse cake. On the house, as I scrambled for cash to stay in the laundry room of a friend’s.

Gerald convinced me serving was an art, that rewards follow refinement. Humanities degrees aren’t useless. They supply fodder for conversation. And this clientele, they’ll pay for fodder. Most are cops who come for the free coffee anyway.

He was only thirty-eight and claimed to work six days a week, seven if lucky. $500 a night since age seventeen at the same place. A different picture on the wall for twenty-four months straight. Two dozens’ worth of the “greatest employee we ever had.”

***

“He’s full of shit.”

I folded my hands over my apron, still boxy with tucked away tips. This was reprieve from the usual talk with disgruntled aunts at call centers. But a date would soon follow. “To be fair, you meet ’em on the bus.” “Thanks, James.” My disappointments with men aren’t worth speaking of as of today. Probably a good thing.

“You can really make good money, if you work the long hours and are fine with kissing ass. I mean, Gerald is going to retire. He put a good deal into an IRA Roth and some other stuff. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Must be nice to live at home. What kind of parents charge rent nowadays?”

“Mine.”

“Well, that’s you.”

Presumptions flutter and stand by our doors. The easy-to-access two-by-four they say to beat intruders with if you don’t have a gun. People you don’t know.

***

It’s very much like saying only dirty kids get lice, and I’m only reminded of a bubbly cop I really enjoyed pouring sweet tea for, until he offhandedly said that people get arrested for a reason, that trials were a waste of time. Yes, if they’re prolonged. “Innocent until proven guilty?” I quipped. “The arrest indicates guilt. Nine times out of ten.” “So what about that ten percent?” “Well, they sure did something.”

Sometime in 2010, or 2011, Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone that rape was a sad thing. Something along the lines of not liking abortion, that yeah, it’s really sad when a woman has a baby by rape, but “everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes. But what are you implying about the rationale? Is every reason justified?

Three weeks ago it was asked if I had an eating disorder. Anyone who lives with me would laugh at the question. I think Ren would be pissed. And today it was asked just how much I allocate for groceries. “How do you afford to get everything from Whole Foods?”

For the past five days, I’ve brought quinoa in a Tupperware, a bag of avocados, and mangos to spare. Put these together, glaze it with salsa, and you’ve created a filling salad.

All from an inner-city grocery store for less than fifteen bucks. And there’s enough to last for the week ahead.

Not that Whole Foods is bad. I love salmon jerky and matcha green tea powder. And if I can’t get matcha online, I’ll go to Whole Foods.

***

Perhaps I am oversensitive. But after a while, comments like this are no more grating than belittling someone for moving to Austin, “where affluent students panhandle.” Bring up the beauty of Portland, OR to hear similar scoldings from neighbors and friends. “A better Austin. Richer people.”

Today we sat through a sales pitch. Another local wholesale store hosting a membership drive, wedding cake, cookies, and photo packages lined on a table, set to tempt. They praised this part of town for its spending potential, family needs, consumers aplenty. And I turned to a coworker and whispered,

“Most people can’t afford to live here!”

“And really, he hasn’t done his research. Look at the study that made the paper. Where I grew up, you’ll find the greatest disposable income. It also costs the least to live there.”

I smile.

“Sorry. Just proud of my South Side is all.”

***

Turns out I’m already a member. Welcome to Costco. Not certain if I love you.

My plastic spoon sifts through quinoa in ways Rocky Road could never allow. But mousse-filled cake is always nice, chocolate chip and oatmeal comforts waiting in a brown paper bag should I seek them during break.

Another coworker apologizes for not inviting me to lunch.

“It’s okay.” I point to my empty tupperware. “Maybe next Friday.”

“I admire your discipline.”

Less than two years from my interview with Keeth, I’m finally working Downtown. Restaurants scream with specials and an authenticity I don’t entirely doubt. But even the doors of McDonald’s and Whataburger stand ajar and aloof, as lines stretch on and I only wonder how everyone dines inside and returns in due time.

Maybe I’m not so disciplined.

Perception reflects off each of our eyes. Myopia, astigmatism, and more. Not everyone needs glasses, but no one peers through a magnifying glass impervious to the drawbacks of subjectivity.

Friendly Sneezes

IMG_1351

I have a voice
a smooth’d timbre
when those who call out,
cough up an itch
that mountain cedar

notoriously
predictably
and without one “sorry”

demands to see,
interrogate,
tease.

But as for myself,
softened is trust
I hope you’ve secured
in a frayed old purse
respective to all allergies

sincerely
concernedly
brewing regret

Perhaps, it is best
that we look, and not touch.

 

*Cat No. 20 of the 500 Cats Project

Southeast Asian Flash, pt. 1

IMG_0431

This is the first part to a personal take I wished to write after reading this article by Jason Cushman. Being biracial in South Texas, I’ve had a share of interesting experiences that amused, annoyed, and appalled. It’s not my intention to offend, and I hope these bits of flash writing don’t trigger unpalatable memories, if anyone has them. Of course, there are issues here that some may want to discuss further, like English as an official language, immigration, and affirmative action. I only welcome civil discussion on these topics (even if we disagree).

Jason shares a list of ten items: Things not to say to an Asian. Here, I provide five 250-word recollections sparked by items 1 through 5, respectively. I’ll eventually write a second installment. Thank you, Jason, for letting me add my personal spin. 

She Called You Sir and Me a He. So She Gets a Fine?

Another cocktail of medications, curbing my tears and protestations when all my sister tried to do was hug me in my angst. My mother, she wished to hear none of it. Pharmaceuticals were Lysol wipes in plastic containers wide enough to securely roll our quarters. Not that we needed them, as the last we saw of a Laundromat was when I turned twelve. The stickiness of condensed milk attracting needy ants. This, my mother begrudgingly called the attack of teenage hormones.

“Do not take when pregnant.”
“Do not take with grapefruit.”
“Avoid driving upon ingestion.”
“DO NOT stay in contact with the sun.”

The first three labels, easy to abide by. Boyfriend was studying five hours away, I approached the fruit like a newborn to apple juice, and I was too anxious to hit the freeway.

But on my third mile, the whites on the track converged. I felt as if edges of paper just cut slid across eyes now shut in fright.

“If you can learn Spanish, you can learn Braille.”

The trainer retrieved an orange Powerade, placed it on my lap, and told me to drink. She snapped her fingers, yelling “Can you see?” The grayscale relented, but really, I would fail tomorrow’s biology test.

“Your mom. She’s here to pick you up.”

I gave my neck a stretch, and lumbered off the patients’ table where my shoes muddied the paper draped.

“You know, it’s the law to speak English.”

My forehead creased. “Okay.”

“Mom could use improvement.”

Nori-less Rice Balls and Spicy Hot Tacos

Miss Kimmy was a frightening pole of a doll. Her nails, the plum of extroversion, tips the length my mother told me indicated one was a stripper.

She shifted through our rice cooker, filled the bowl with silken grains, and turned on the tap. Out came the cane sugar.

“Kim, what are you doing?” In the middle of the stove sat a sky blue plate. A boat filled with fish dried and flat.

“You’ve never heard of rice balls? This is how you make them.”

“Ah, I always have fish with my rice.”

“But it makes good breakfast. Want to try?”

Unashamedly, I grabbed a freshly kneaded ball, admiring its resemblance to a baby seal’s head.

“Jesus is crying. Don’t play with your food.” Mom’s glare pricks though I continue to admire.

“I eat this everyday. It’s cheap, and the kids like it. It’s really good breakfast, and healthier than cereal.”

“But Kim, only rice? And water?”

“You add sugar.”

“This, this is not food. You live on candy. That’s why you’re skinny. You hear that, anak? Stop eating candy. On the news the other day, this girl your age died in her sleep. Too much Chips Ahoy.”

“Kris, take a bite. Tell us what you think.”

Without a stripe of nori, it was the same as most I enjoyed when living in Japan.

A week later, Kim went away. To spend a week with a blind date.

My mother set tacos on my plate.

“Let’s try something new. Mexican.”

Pouring Margaritas at a Mexican Restaurant

“Where are you from?”

“Excuse me?” Given responses to which I had grown accustomed, I was ready to say, “My mother.” But Miguel? He’s a nice guy.

“I apologize. I’m just curious is all. You don’t seem like you’re from here. And you speak in an awkward accent. Not that it’s bad. Again, I’m wondering.”

“My mother’s Filipino. My dad’s just white. But all my Spanish teachers told me to mention he’s an Anglo-Saxon, with proper enunciation.”

“Ah, I see. But you’re not from here.”

“Not exactly. I was born in my mother’s country, traveled to San Francisco when I was around three, and remember wrinkling my nose as I peed in a stroller. I watched my parents get married in a helicopter. I can’t remember the details.”

“Wow. So, your dad, was he away a lot when you were young?”

“Yeah. My mom would read me stories, and that’s how I say things awkwardly. I can’t be exact and say a bed is comfy. It’s com-four-ta-bull, but I know that’s wrong. It took a while for me to learn that ‘bullshit’ isn’t pronounced ‘boyshit.’ Same difference, right?”

“Nah, I’m no feminist.”

A customer approaches, requests four margaritas. A slushy filler to staring in awkwardness, or listening to minors sing “Gangnam Style” in feigned slurs. Friday Night Karaoke.

“I hope you’re not offended. It’s just that I’ve noticed people here think you’re Hispanic. But something told me you weren’t.”

“So what did you think I was?”

“My guess? Possibly Indian.”

Sophomore Year I Learned Why Asians Hate Harvard

“So, I got your email.”

“Yes, it’s good to see you. So you switched your major?”

“No, I just added one. Had enough hours to do it, so I’m taking your class this semester.”

“I see. Well, if you didn’t know already, I’m the director of the McNair Program.”

“Okay. The research program, right?”

“Correct. I thought you’d be a great candidate for this program. You see, academia needs minorities, and there aren’t enough in doctoral programs. Your other professors speak highly of you, so I think this would be great. I do have some questions to ask you.”

“Okay.”

“Parents’ highest level of education?”

“Mother? Sixth grade. Dad majored in history.”

“Well, most Mexican students have fairly uneducated parents.”

“Excuse me?”

“You are Mexican.”

“…I’m Filipino. Now, I was told by a Taiwanese a while back that we aren’t Asian, but I’d rather not go into that–”

“You’re Filipino?”

“Yes.”

“You know, I hate to say it, but there is such a thing as things being unfair. And you? You’re overrepresented. This program helps Hispanics.”

“I didn’t know, ma’am. I just answered your email.” A year ago, my father embarrassingly argued with the financial aid officer as to why I wasn’t a minority. I wasn’t too phased. If you work hard, don’t you reap rewards?

“Well, it’s not exactly fair. And I’m sorry to have wasted your time. And mine.”

I picked up a folder I dropped as I rose to leave.

“Your mom cooks pad thai?”

Silence rattles.

“Bakit?”

My first job in khakis and an oversized polo gave me confidence to save and time to talk. But while I refined my Spanish to where enunciation was mastered, I couldn’t reply fluently to the pleas, scolds, and barks of “Bakit?” when asked if I spoke Tagalog.

“In your father’s country, we speak English.” My feet left the ground as my mother pulled the elastics of my pants as high as she could. I was five, after vacation, during which my opal-ringed grandmother told my mom she was ruining me. “No one will take her seriously if she can’t speak English! And even still, she’s gonna have an accent. No one takes you seriously. You babble like an idiot.”

Since then, the words of my mother’s tongue echoed in familiarity. After telling me what I could and couldn’t say in Dad’s country (addressing issues like shouting “Fire!” and “Green Light!” in the beam of a halting red light), she loosened her grip on cultural conscience. All I could dance was tinikling, and while I knew of duendes and ladies cloaked in white, she’d sigh at my fascination. She napped in complacence, and I sought to learn about history, culture, language. Maybe, if I could have cooked, she would have nurtured more.

In summer, I stood, baked. Bangs curled. And if not asked if I was black, guests would inquire whence smirking,

“Your dad. Was he in the military?”

I’d nod, and they’d muse.

“Of course her dad’s the white one.”