Today’s Google doodle: Adobo!

Hard to believe but my favorite comfort food is today’s google doodle, with a handy link to all things adobo.

‘Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities’

I recently came across the following passage and though it was published in 1909, I suddenly had a feeling it was being written about America in 2019:

The ordinary people of the villages think of the town government, not as something that belongs to them and in which they may share and by which they should benefit, but as something that has to be maintained and to which taxes must be paid and they probably feel that the least of it there is, the better for them. Their ignorance and timidity are such also that it is still very easy for them to be abused by a powerful and unscrupulous man or official, defrauded, and deprived of many of the rights which the laws of the Philippines say that the people shall have.

It was in an essay called “Village and Rural Improvement Societies: A Series of Articles for Fourth Grade” by David P. Barrows, Director of Education, in Philippine Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1909, under a subsection titled “Some General Ideas About Filipino Communities.”

Barrows was in charge of reforming a national public educational system in the Philippines when it was a colony of the United States. In speaking about the “ordinary peoples” of the Philippines — the poorly educated working class that included my ancestors (and thus why I was reading this to begin with, wondering about what the education system was like for my ancestors, what those first years of America’s colonial system was like in the day-to-day implementation of a policy called “benevolent assimilation”) — he could’ve been talking about my fellow Americans who decry “big government” and taxes and think the system is rigged to only benefit the “elites.”

Are my fellow Americans who think like that suffering from some kind of colonized mind-set? Are the American nativists who support the current administration displaying a pattern of thinking in line with Filipinos who had been living for generations in distrust of the Spanish colonial rulers? Is this just one part of the great irony of the racial resentments being given space and time to flourish by certain white people in these United States: that they don’t rise out of the Western tradition of the Enlightenment; rather, they come out of the destructive system of colonization in which the victimized have historically had darker skin.

Continue reading →

Publication: ‘The Tahamaling’ in Mirror Dance

My poem “The Tahamaling” has just been published in Mirror Dance, edited by Megan Arkenberg.

Check it out here.


Over the holidays, toasts are usually a thing. Often in a lot of languages: Cheers, some say, or L’Chaim, Prost, Sláinte, Salute, Kampai, Salud … and I didn’t know what was said in the Philippines.

Here’s the thing: there isn’t a direct translation, because the tradition is different.

On Gideon Lasco’s website, he explains how there’s no word for cheers in Tagalog because of the tradition of people drinking from the same glass to mark celebrations and special occasions. That is, unlike having everyone raise their own glass to toast or clink them together, in the Philippines one person becomes the pourer (the tanggero) and fills a glass that gets passed around for everyone to share in a communal way.  The custom is called tagay.

Laso even finds a definition of tagay in a 1630 dictionary, and writes:

Then, as now, tagay is defined as the rationing of the liquor around the group using just one cup. Strikingly, this cup is also given a name in the same vocabulario passage, one that is familiar in street corners on Friday nights: tagayan.

You can also read this account on Medium, in which Rina Diane Caballar writes:

The tanggero makes sure that all the drinkers have their fill, that everyone gets their fair share. The drinkers return the favor by drinking bottoms up from the glass, in the custom known as tagayTagay means that you trust each other enough to drink from that single glass. Tagay means everyone is united. Tagay is synonymous with goodwill and camaraderie.


Friday Photo: One Peso Note from Philippines, 1922


On the wall of The Bahn Mi Shop restaurant in White Plains, NY, a one peso note from the Philippines. The small text across the top of the currency says, “BY AUTHORITY OF AN ACT OF THE PHILIPPINE LEGISLATURE, APPROVED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES JUNE 13, 1922.”  That president in 1922 was Warren G. Harding, often regarded as one of the worst presidents. The signature in the center of the note says “S. Osmeña” (for Sergio Osmeña). Beneath  that is says “President,” and he was president of the Philippines from 1944 to 1946.

Spoken Word Artist: Ruby Ibarra


Check out this great spoken word piece by a young artist born in the Philippines and lives in California.

Ruby Ibarra’s website is here:



‘Positively No Filipinos Allowed’

bestdoorI came across this image while looking up something else. I couldn’t find the name of a photographer for it, though some say it is likely a hotel in Stockton, California, in and around 1930. Though I had read about such signs, especially in the great Carlos Bulosan book America is in the Heart, I hadn’t seen one before.

There is something visceral and powerful about this image. How dark it is. How well-used the door, floor, and walls look. It doesn’t appear to be a place of wealth; rather, it is a place on the margins of American economic security and who gets counted as belonging.

2017 in Review in Publishing

Thank you goes out to all the readers out there who’ve read my stuff, and to the editors and publisher who put my poetry and fiction out there for the world to read. Continue reading →

13 things about my Lolo, Col. Maximiano Saqui Janairo, for Veterans Day


This is my Lolo, Maximiano Saqui Janairo, in a studio photo taken in Manila around 1930, when he was about 24 or 25 years old. On his lapel, you can see the castle emblem of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Note the shoulder patch — the gold carabao on a red field — the symbol of the Philippine Scouts.

Here’s a photo of my Lolo, Maximiano Saqui Janairo.

  • 1930 graduate of U.S. Military Academy at West Point
  • Commission in the Philippine Scouts
  • Chief engineer with the Philippine Army in 1941
  • Captured by the Japanese in April 1942
  • Survived the Bataan Death March
  • Prisoner of War in Camp O’Donnell
  • Escaped while being transferred to a hospital for malaria and dysentery
  • Joined the guerrilla units fighting the Japanese occupation
  • Served in Korea during the Korean War
  • Served with NATO in Paris
  • Retired as a colonel, stationed at the engineer school at Fort Belvoir
  • Awarded Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States from 8 December 1941 to 9 April 1942”
  • Buried at Arlington National Cemetery