I came home to visit my family for the holiday weekend and attended my first indoor, extended family party in a long while. I saw family who I haven’t seen in a number of months, others two years, some in ten, and some in twenty. I’d held a newborn nephew who I hadn’t yet met. I cried with an older cousin whose husband just recently passed from COVID in August.
My younger cousin had digitized my aunt’s home videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They were playing in the background, and by the time I’d sat down to watch, they were on a recording from March 1991. You could hear my aunt asking what the red light meant. “It means you’re recording!” my uncle responded in Tagalog.
1991 was the year my grandma, mom, and I came to visit the US, which ended up being a permanent migration for my mom and myself. My mom was just a year younger than I am now when she made the choice to stay. I had just turned five. The home footage caught so many things I’d either forgotten or had no way to make sense of at the time—my grandma’s testing of the waters, my mom trying to put her best foot forward, and me—clueless and still unable to speak more English than what I could mimic from my mom’s Whitney Houston cassette (I was obsessed with “Greatest Love of All” and credit all of my early English learning, pre-migration, to the late and very great Whitney).
I didn’t know if my mom knew we would be staying here at the time of that home video. I suspect now that she did, or at least was considering it heavily. I wonder if I could’ve made such a brave decision at her age, essentially my age now—to leave behind my entire life and take my child to this foreign place and start brand new.
My relationship with my mom changed after we stayed. Once carefree, an emotion and lifestyle of privilege, my mom took on a different demeanor—one of struggle, disappointment, exhaustion. And I changed alongside her.
I think about this video and laugh. I’m wearing my Mickey Mouse cap for most of the video, speaking in Tagalog and playing some game that involved sweeping the back patio and tumbling like a roly-poly. However, my favorite parts are much more obscure. In the video taken at night of my now-aunts and uncles having conversation on the sofa, you could see my mom sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa with me sitting on her lap. We’re playing some kind of game, and it doesn’t matter what, but it ends with me giggling with a huge smile on my face and wrapping my arms around her with the biggest hug I could give.
This post is dedicated to Ne, Romy, Dan, Ong, and Fely.