Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me
You let me make a difference
A place where even orphan immigrants
Can leave their fingerprints and rise up
— Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton the Musical
I am American. This place is the only place I’ve known. The America that I know is beautiful and crowned with “good and brotherhood”. At times over my thirty-something years, I recognize it less… and it’s happening more often lately. But still, I am American, and I am proud to be such. So today I wanted to tell you about the America that I know.
This is my America. A citizen of the United States from the moment that I was born… abroad. Born of my American mother on foreign soil and a place that still in many ways seems foreign to me. When I was born in the Philippines, the country was enduring the two decade rule of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and the movement against him was coming to a head. I had no idea the national chaos that I was born into. A few months after I was born, Marcos was overturned and Corazon Aquino became the first female president of the Philippines, and all of Asia, for that matter.
This is the America of my lola and pop-pop, who each grew up in a family of farmers. My pop-pop, my mother’s father, who worked the fields and raised angus cattle on his 162-acre farm in Pennsylvania. The same fields and barn that my cousin still works on today. The same house where my 92 year-old lola still lives. “Lola” the Filipino word for grandmother, my Pennsylvania-Dutch grandmother, the only grandmother I have ever known. My grandmother whose family came to Pennsylvania from Germany on the Phoenix around 1750. And my grandfather, whose family came to America from England even earlier than that. My grandmother who still lives in the home where her grandfather, her father and his siblings, and her two brothers were born. The same farm where my two brothers got married, and where we celebrated the expected arrival of my first daughter. The house that was built in 1819 over a fresh water creek because if for any reason they were ever attacked (most likely by Native Americans) or could not leave home, at least they would have water and be able to sustain themselves, because they knew that Water is Life.
My lola on her front porch the day of my baby shower, Pennsylvania, 2014
This is the America of my pop-pop, who served in World War II. Who just a few years after his service would find himself in the hospital after he tried to hold back an escaping bull that was over five times his size. There at his bedside was his nurse, my lola, who took care of him and helped him recover. In the words of my grandmother, “the rest is history” starting with a wedding in 1950. Over the next many years they would raise four courageous children who would become or marry among other things: a meteorologist, an Air Force Officer, a shop owner, a Peace Corps volunteer, a writer, a restaurant manager, a teacher, a nurse, a truck driver, a coach, a police officer, a banker, a busdriver, a small business worker.
My grandparents with their 4 children and 9 of their 11 grandchildren
This is the America of my mother, who moved away from the farm to go to college. My mother who after college joined the Peace Corps and whose adventures brought her all across southeast Asia, up the sides of lava-flowing volcanoes, across narrow straits on bamboo rafts in treacherous storms, and to the SCUBA depths of the ocean. My mother who risked her life and saved a life on these many adventures. My mother who left the familiarity of her home to explore and make a difference in places unfamiliar, because good people willing to help and less fortunate people in need know no walls, no bans, no borders.
This is the America of my father, born in the Philippines, like me, but the youngest of seven children and born into a family of journalists. His family established a newspaper in the 1930s because they knew the importance and the power of the press. My father who, by the age of ten, had lost both of his parents and was raised mostly by his older sisters. With the death of his father, the family newspaper shut down, but the family name lived on in his sons that would continue his work, and in the street the city named in his honor in Manila. Years later my father would pursue his own career in journalism. My father who, despite all of these challenges early on was valedictorian of his high school class and was offered full scholarships to the best colleges in the country. My father who when he went to college widened his scope of the world and took up political activism. My father who was water-cannoned and truncheoned by police for demonstrating during the Vietnam War years. My father who dodged bullets while tires burned in the streets before martial law was declared in the Marcos days. My father who later would meet my mother in graduate school in the Philippines and together they would be part of the People Power Movement across the country in the 1980s.
My father with his father and most of his siblings, Philippines, 1950s
This is the America of my father, who immigrated to the United States with my mother and me in 1986, shortly after the people had won, ended a dictatorship and restored democracy to the Philippines. Although the revolution in 1986 was mild compared to what came before, they had felt unsafe in the Philippines under the Marcos rule and wanted to seek refuge in America sooner, but even being married to an American and father to an American child, he was unable to get a visa to do so. He was marked as a “political subversive” by the Philippines government during his college years for participating in protests against the corruption and dictatorship of the Marcos regime. It wasn’t until Marcos was out of power and they finally felt safe again that they were able to finally come to America. When they arrived in Pennsylvania in the late fall of 1986, my father remarked at the sight of the bare trees, a sight he had never seen his temperate homeland. It was the first of many changes for my family, especially my father, who had to start over. He had a degree in journalism but had difficulty getting hired in a market that he was unfamiliar with. Ultimately he took a job that he was certainly over-qualified for so that he could provide for us while my mom, who also had a masters degree, could stay home with the kids — my brother arrived in early 1987 a couple months after we came to America.
My parents after Marcos stepped down and Aquino came into power, Philippines, 1986
This is the America of my parents, who married in 1985, less than 20 years after their interracial marriage was made legal across the United States, but then again, Love is Love is love. My parents, who by 1988 had three children under three years old. My feminist parents raising tiny feminist children. At this time my parents had moved to New York. My dad was working long hours and my mom was a stay-at-home-mom. Years later my mom returned to working full time and even became the breadwinner of our family from elementary school on. Later my parents would watch me, their eldest child, walk across the stage to accept my undergraduate degree at Barnard College, a place where I had been further nurtured to believe that women could be or do anything. Shortly after my graduation, after twenty years of living in the United States, my father applied for citizenship. One of his driving reasons after all that time was that he wanted to say he cast his vote for the first woman president of a major party in the United States, a moment that we wait for still. But while we wait, we know that women “are powerful and valuable and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world” and that little girls can grow up to be stay-at-home-moms or doctors or presidents, with equal dignity.
My stay-at-home-mom (later turned breadwinner) with her three young kids, New York, 1989
This is the America of my brother, the high school football captain who married his high school sweetheart. My brother who worked through law school and is now an Assistant District Attorney in Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. My brother who gets to stand in front of a courtroom to uphold the United States Constitution and try to bring justice in a system that at times seems broken. Who gets to go home to his son and wife, an art therapist, who understands the importance of arts and humanities for healing and nurturing.
This is the America of my sister, who was born a miracle, two months early in an emergency c-section after my mom and I were in a car accident. My sister who was blessed to have been born at a hospital who could deliver her here safely and support her in the NICU for the brief 10 days that she needed before she was discharged home. My sister who, while getting her Ivy League education, was equal parts advocate for Social Justice through our campus Christian fellowship and Sustainable Development through her courses towards her major. My sister who spent breaks in school in Uganda and the Dominican Republic, leaving each community she worked in better than before. After college, she, like my mother, joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to North Africa, where she lived in a small Moroccan berber village in the mountains. Where she was welcomed and treated like family. Where she had deep and peaceful conversations about Christianity and Islam and realized that they had more similarities than differences. My sister who, when she returned stateside, moved to D.C. and helped research and influence policies in forestry and climate change, which is an inconvenient truth and an agency worth protecting. My sister who now continues to work on sustainable development, with a side of Christian-Islamic relationships, as a United States-sponsored Fulbright Scholar in Morocco.
My sister with her host siblings, Morocco, 2013
This is the America of my brother, the teacher, who spends hours in the classroom trying to educate the next generation of mathematicians and scientists and countless more hours outside of the classroom preparing lesson plans and trying to figure out the never-taught challenge of how to be a “brilliant and passionate education advocate”. My brother who spent some of his summers growing up giving back to the community and working outside through AmeriCorps, just as my other brother had done as well. My brother whose wife is a social worker, who understands the importance of fighting for those on the margins.
This is the America of my husband, who was born a Chin Loy. A name that started out as Chin Nook Lyn and later Chin Look Lyn, but was ultimately changed to Chin Loy during the move from China to Jamaica. In Jamaica grandpa Chin Loy found his wife, who had lived in Jamaica for generations as a Chinese-Jamaican. Grandma was affectionately “Ms. Chin” and she looked like she was Chinese but spoke like she was Jamaican. Chin Loy was the name that was passed on when my husband’s Chinese-Jamaican father and black-Jamaican mother married. It is the name my husband gave to me when we were married and the one we gave to our daughter when she was born. It is a name that I hope never becomes a hashtag over something like a traffic stop. My husband, whose parents moved from Jamaica to the United States bit by bit after the birth of their eldest daughter.
Dad and mom Chin Loy with a young Anthony, Florida, 1980s
This is the America of my husband, a young black male, who is also a physician. My husband who trained at a historically black college and university, which happens to be where I met him, as well. My husband who I get to say “I love you” to in secret or in public because of the work of people like Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, and Mildred and Richard Loving. And every day I pray for him. Because he is an amazing husband, father, son, brother, friend and doctor. Because his life matters. Because even after 13 Amendments to the Constitution, slavery is illegal, but alive. Because maybe someday we will be blessed to raise free, young, black males of our own.
This is the America of my daughter, born in the nation’s capital. My daughter who goes to church with me on Sundays and prays before meals and bed, but doesn’t know what religion is yet. My daughter who has never been in the care of anyone except our immediate or extended family. My daughter who has been raised by our village, our beautiful, colorful, and diverse village. My daughter who does not yet know if differences in skin color have any meaning. My daughter who has not yet been taught that because she’s a girl she should feel a certain way about herself. My daughter who is unapologetically her toddler self, who will sing songs that only she knows the words to while dancing in circles without pants on in our living room. My daughter who will hug you and tell you “I miss you” even when she was with you all day.
My husband and our daughter, Florida, 2015
This is my America, where I work as a physician who promises to “first do no harm,” an oath that I made to take care of who ever ends up in my clinic, regardless of skin tone or creed or political views or age. Because healthcare, and affordable care at that, is a human right. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” But inequality in any form is an injustice, and every day as a woman in my field, I save more lives and get paid less than my male counterparts. But this is my America, where I can be both a mother and a doctor full-time. Because that is my choice and what I choose to do, even if it meant going back to work after 6 weeks of maternity leave. This is my America, where I know that I am privileged, and not because of my gender or race or tax bracket, but because throughout my life I have been exposed to people who are different from me, both here and abroad, who have enriched me with their kindness or taught me by their unkindness. This is my America, where I have been blessed to have a family with varied political views and ethnicities, who still manages to gather over 60-deep around the table each Thanksgiving. Because every year, without fail, we have a lot to be thankful for.
My siblings and our babies, Pennsylvania, 2016
And still, I am American, and I am proud to be such. So today I wanted to tell you about the America that I know, so that you can help me recognize it more.