When I write my name in my assignments, I write: Sophia Bautista. In most American legal documents, it’s written that way, too. On my passport, though, when I visit the Philippines, my name comes like this: BAUTISTA (last name), SOPHIA (first name). Which is more fitting because as the eldest daughter of immigrants, I inherited the duty of putting my family before myself. My last name was here longer than my first, so I suppose it’s the principle of seniority.
The American Dream is something I always write about for scholarship essays. But I never write that the dream was imposed. I don’t write that the dream was never mine to imagine. I write that my parents sold their house — the very first house they bought in America after two decades of renting and dreaming — to fund my first year at UCLA.
I don’t write about how I’m stuck between being both indescribably grateful and resentful to them for that. I don’t write that dreams are like snapping out of a fever, where you wake up and suddenly see everything with clarity: I don’t know who I am beyond grades or accolades. I have lived another person’s life. What do I like to do? What do I want to do for the sake of just doing it? What do I like to do for fun? But—I won’t write about that.
I don’t write that I’ve never spent my birthday, Christmas, or Thanksgiving with my grandma. I don’t write that I can’t even mourn my grandfather because I’ve only known him for a total of six months spread out over two decades of my life. I don’t write about the sad way the ocean never wants to say goodbye, stretching itself blue to reach the shores of California from the Philippines.
I write that The American Dream is from Davao City. I don’t write that I wonder if the earth can remember the carnage buried so deep beneath its skin—the dead bodies of my ancestors from the war and colonization, the same forces that led my family to flee their own home. I won’t write about the irony of studying at an institution that was born a mere decade after a U.S Senator, in front of Congress, said Filipinos were “children. . . with Savage blood, Oriental blood, Malay blood. . . [who were not of a] self-governing race,” the irony of studying at an institution who studied professors who subscribed to eugencist theories labelling Filipinos as “defective immigrants” and “feeble-minded children.”
When sampaguitas bloom, are they aware of what came before them, from the far side of time? Can the earth exorcise these ghosts it harbors in its land with fire or rain, or does it try to shake it off? If not the earth, who has borne witness to what has been done, to lead me here in a land that is not mine?
But— if the earth can transform the dead into flowers with time, can’t history do that too? If ash can christen the soil for crops, can’t history do that too?
When all the fear that has rotten and fermented in my chest finally aborts itself over FaceTime, my mom uses an old nickname, “PIA. You don’t have to be the smartest and get an A on every midterm. You just transferred.”
“But Papa said–”
“No, no, no. We just say that to push you, PIA.”
“But you sold your house–”
“No. Don’t worry about how much we paid for your tuition, that is our responsibility as your parents. Just calm down and just focus. We understand if you will not get an A.”
There is silence. Years of unspoken acrimony and sadness fall off, slowly, like stubborn autumn leaves too heavy to hang on finally liberated.
Love, like an ocean, stretches itself miles away through the phone, and I can hear it like a heartbeat traveling through a wrist. My mom sighs, like it was simple, “Calm down. Chin up. Everything will be fine. We’re already proud of you.”
I inherited BAUTISTA because of the coincidence of history, but my first name was because of a woman’s dream, and the wish for a gentler world for a child she doesn’t yet know.
When sampaguitas bloom, it blooms a bright white despite never knowing sunshine—because of the faith of a root that knows the love of the sun from the inside of the earth, somewhere between soul and shadow.