Sweat beads drip down her face as she picks tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco leaves, kamote, and corn with her bare hands. Every Saturday, since the age of nine, my mother would work in the fields of La Union, a province in the Philippines. She smelled like the sun after spending all day outside. Over the years, her hands became rough and callous. Nowadays, I embrace the hands of my mother knowing that not only am I holding onto the womxn who gave me life, but also a womxn who has gone through so much more in her lifetime than I ever will. With her loving parents and four hardworking siblings, she hangs tobacco leaves on a stick and places them over a fireplace in order for them to dry. Their crops are then sold to industries or at the local market. During the week, however, my grandparents leave their daughter to her studies.
One day in her third grade class, my mother reads the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She reflects on her laborious life as a daughter of farmers, a duty she takes upon herself in order to help her family financially. She decides to write down, “I want to be a nurse.” By the age of sixteen, however, she knew that nursing schools generally do not accept students who come from families of farmers because of the assumption that farmers are unable to afford the program’s tuition. But this didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams. Her dad, my lolo, purchased pigs to raise and to ultimately sell them in order to finance my mother’s education.
At the age of 26, after finishing nursing school, my mother rode an airplane for the first time. Her destination was the United States of America. After working for several years, my mother was able to buy her brother, who continues to farm in the Philippines, a tractor, which is a tool that is unheard of among poor farm owners. One of her great familial deeds is alleviating the backbreaking labor that our family has endured for generations.
Meanwhile, a young man who would soon cross paths with my mother also contributes significantly to my familial hxstory.
In another region of Ilocos, the sole of his tsinelas are worn out. Dirt accumulates in the crevices of his exposed feet as he campaigns for his uncle’s mayoral run in the barrios of Pangasinan. A t-shirt and pair of worn-out shorts drape his scrawny body. He makes speeches in front of crowds as an adolescent boy, enlightening his community of a new candidate. Little did my father know that his daughter would choose the pathway of law and electoral office like his uncle.
To expound his life in greater detail, my father lived in a house with crumbling foundations. The countless fires to cook food turned the brown wooden walls as black as the hair on his head. Living under the misguidance of an alcoholic father and a helpless mother, my father set the goal to escape from poverty. His uncle lost the mayoral race to represent his community, but he ended up financially supporting my father to attend school to become a medical laboratory technician. My father became the first in his family to achieve a bachelor’s degree. Because of my father, his sisters, my titas, were given the opportunity to pursue higher education, and ultimately, they all lifted themselves up and out of poverty.
My mother and father have made the biggest strides in our family to date. Their success came at the cost of confronting many challenges and dealing with what seemed to be uncontrollable circumstances, whether it be financial instability or discriminatory systems. Nevertheless, their journeys have shaped my Filipina identity to embody their resilience and strength.
My Filipina identity has empowered me to also continue my family’s legacy through my post-graduate endeavors. I am taking the next step for my family, and I am going to be the first person in my family to go to law school. As a lawyer, I intend to be a legal resource, advocate, and fighter for the underrepresented and underserved Filipinx American community. Furthermore, I will run for elected office to be a representative of my community who puts forward policies that produce outcomes that are responsive to our needs. Despite the many hindrances I encounter as a queer womxn of color pursuing power in white, male-dominated fields, my ancestry demonstrates that the support of a family can change the impossible into the possible. Nothing brilliant comes easily, but my familial resilience drives me to change our community’s inequities into justice and prosperity.