Letter to a Firstborn

(Note: I am sharing with my readers some letters that I have written my family in the course of my im/migrant life in the United States. While the letters are really personal, they are political, and thus, public as well. Im/migrant life ceases to be a plain personal matter as the text of experience drawn from such a life is a text that is intertextually linked with other public texts, such as government policies that provide reasons for our people to leave the country for awhile.)

July 28, 2005

Dear Son,
I read your e-mail today--and the raw and fresh emotions in your letter and the poem you attached touched me so. In a funny and ironical way, the emotions are a cocktail of joy and sorrow. They are the same emotions, it seems, that every immigrant feels when he gets to the point where he is not just any longer a faceless and nameless immigrant but someone who can now see his worth as a person and as a worker in this land of opportunity and limitless possibilities. The emotions are a testament to what palpable fortune is open to him now that he has gone past the initiation stage--now that he has gone through that rite de passage of uncertainty, doubt, aloneness, despair, and worthlessness.

Yes, in a new land, you feel all these. The immigrant feels all these as he reaches out to the ground to take root. After the honeymoon with the idea about the mountain of gold and that fantabulous tale about California as a land of milk and honey and gold, the immigrant has to get down to his knees and pray for quiet perseverance, for knowing patience, for abiding faith. Because like all the rest of the professionals who came here on a working visa, the immigrant has so many things to prove not only to himself but to this land that has adopted him, sort of. Is he competent? Can he deliver? Is he willing to walk the extra mile? Can he be trusted as a foreign, alien worker? Are the skills he says he has sufficient, adequate, and at par with his peers?

The proving goes on and on.

Each day, the professional skilled worker trying to give his best must keep on trying to give his best. In other countries, there are many professionals waiting to take his place if he forgets to work on demonstrating the best of his abilities. There are only about 65,000 professionals like him that the entire country allows to migrate each year. And the number is easy to come by if we put all the best brains of the world willing to come here and pursue the dream the Ellis Island immigrants came here for centuries ago.

Anyone who steps out of his birth-land, anyone who goes into another culture and clime, and anyone who commences a life lived differently is necessarily stepping out of his comfort zone and out of the logic of convenience the familiar affords him. In a new land, you feel a certain tinge of alienation in the beginning, a certain estrangement that engages you into mustering enough strength and boldness and daring to explore the limits of the unfamiliar, the unknown-as-of-yet, the uncertain.

I am at this stage--and I am still trying to take root. This is the reason why you might realize that I am still weighed down by this reality of exile. This is the same reason why my poems--even those that I dedicate to you such as "Ayi, a firstborn," contain a lot of sadnesses without names, sadnesses only exiles know. The going through this ceremony of sadness with the alien's world is salving and soothing. No, the sadnesses do not pin us down. They make us see the promises of the brilliant sun the following day.

You wrote in your latest poem, son, about the uses of raw emotions. In the language of our native land, you wrote about "naked feelings redeeming us." How true! And as always, let me assure you that in the silences that bridge us now--father and son, two struggling poets sundered by a strange song about art and poetry and life, and divided, in a tentative way, by a dream of a place where we will be afforded the change to sit down in the quiet of our writing rooms and write to our heart's content about mankind at its earnest, about the redemption we all have to earn--in this tacit understanding that I will make it here and that I will be able to blaze a better, brighter trail for us all--I see clearly the hidden truths of your poem. I see the gore and glory of the courage that we need for us to name that pain that we have to pay for this search for a life that, we hope and pray, makes sense to us. It is ironical and tragic that we will have to search it here in California, in this land of the fantastic and the illusory, this land that is 8,000 miles away, about 14 or so hours away by plane, with several time zones to check if there are layovers. This distance makes us gain or lose three hours, four if the gracious actor-turned-governor, an immigrant like us, declares a daylight saving time.

I heard from your mother that you went to the towns in Quezon and Aurora, the towns ravaged by the three storms that whipped our country last month. She is worried aobut your political and social awakening. But she is glad too--glad that you are now becoming a person-for-others. You need this pain from seeing the wiped out dreams of communities to write your next poem. But, please, write about our California dream too.

May the poet's muse come and visit you.



ie said...


i have written about how it is to be a son of an exile, many, many times. hindi ko lang pinapakita sa iyo.

Ariel said...

let me see. then we should write that book on the life of a family of exiles. let us do it soon.

Ariel said...

this 'letter to a firstborn' has been published in the UH's Ani 2006. Just got a copy today, July 12. beats me.

rva said...

mang ariel, i wish i could also write a letter like this to my firstborn when the time comes. if ever it will come. and if ever he'll become.

Ariel said...

you will. ayi says he has writting letter to me as well. your children have the genes from all over and I will never doubt that. ayi has a blog: ie-fiction.blogspot.com.