Sounds of the Mother Tongue


My heart leaps at the sound of Tagalog and Ilocano

My ears are enveloped in comfort.

A piece of me awakening from slumber

My body feels like a child’s again,

As if I am home and I am safe.


Finding comfort in the semi-foreign sounds,

My English thinking brain cannot process its entirety

But subconsciously I know it.

And feel it, and it sounds right and it sounds good.


Raised outside of the motherland

Equipped with a different language

The mother tongue is a tune I’ve always known

Something so inherent in my veins

Yet, a song I cannot sing for myself


It’s the sounds my mother makes,

My grandmother, my titas and titos

People that love me and want to hug me

And prepare for me the ancestral food I’m deprived of.

My brain swells with happiness.


The sounds I idolize

Are imprinted into my ears

Yet cannot be replicated by my own tongue.

Pathetically, I long to hear and understand

These foreign characters strung together,

Making sense of the meaning

Shyly contorting my mouth in secret

So I can artificially recreate the warm feelings that arise

When I hear the sounds correctly.


But I can’t.


Attempted Acculturation (Part 2)


But I can’t.


Scorned as they laugh at my American sounding Tagalog.

My broken Tagalog

My accent incriminates me

Your scrutinizing mimicry paints my cheeks red

I turn away

Should I tell you I’m sorry?


Unable to react, I uneasily match your laugh with a heavy heart.

You don’t notice how the smirk on your mouth

Shatters the courage I gathered to impress you.


Exhausted by this bi-cultural confusion,

I want the luxury of being sure of my identity.

Jealous of your certainty, I want to be like you.

I want to forget my assimilation.

Can’t you just accept me?


Your derisive, well-intentioned laughter

Dismisses my sincere efforts as a joke

The embarrassment searing in my chest

Reminds me that we are too different

Two different peoples

You think I’m not a real Filipino

Because I cannot emulate the sounds that I adore


But I’m trying

I’m trying to be a good Filipino

But your stare, your sneer crushes what I hope to be.

I didn’t ask to be raised partially Filipino

I didn’t mean to.


I will never forget how the arch of your brow

Exposed the depths of the hole

My former assimilated self had dug


The shrill of your tone revealed the

Seemingly irreparable damage I’ve done

Is it even possible to escape assimilation?

Can I ever achieve an identity that is not hyphenated?


What kind of identity am I striving for?

Born into a neighborhood whose identity is in cultural limbo,

We are neither and both, simultaneously


My blood, my heritage, my upbringing

Twenty years of my black hair in a sea of blonde

Means I am forever subject

To the implications of my culturally ambiguous childhood


Having rejected my culture for so long,

I figure I brought this on myself.

I deserve to be rejected by my culture now, don’t I?

Their redemption for my former hatred; it’s my turn now

Payback for once hating the community that half- raised me

Is it my fault?


Juggling these fleeting intersecting identities

The only aspect I can anchor onto

Is the part that I don’t necessarily want

But am told to be thankful for.


The prized American

The hyphenated American

The culturally out-of-touch American


Mutual rejection spurred by mutual misunderstanding

These are the results of the diaspora.

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