Friday, August 25, 2006

The rest is yet unwritten

My publicist at HeyDay Books calls and asks me if I know what passage I'll be reading for the event on Tuesday before friends, family, fellow authors and journalists. I think about it a while and wonder how it even got this far.
More than a year ago, I sat in Fu War, an old Chinese restaurant bordering San Francisco's gritty 6th Street. The place was a favorite among Chronicle employees -- the food was fast, satisfying and cheap. On this day, I was alone. As I settled into my chair to go over the plastic-covered menu, I heard a familiar sound that made me feel like a little girl again. I turned around and spotted two Chinese women snapping long beans the way my grandmothers would at our kitchen table. I took out a napkin and began writing a description of the sound I heard so often growing up: "The snapping of grean beans was the rhythym that moved my household," I began. "Not incessant like the haunting drip of a leaky faucet, but inspiring like the cool clicking of fingers in a jazz club."
So began the preface of what has now become my upcoming book, "The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America," to be released this fall.
"How does it feel?" people ask. I can barely explain it.
I wrote regular columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, in addition to unsigned editorials on politics, social issues and pop culture. But this was about my childhood -- a story that wasn't meant for public consumption, but for my children so that they could always thumb through the pages and feel connected to their culture and their ancestors. They are second-generation Filipino Americans, and I know that with every generation that follows, that connection to our roots -- our past -- will grow weaker.
So I began writing. Every day I sat on 5th and Mission at The Chronicle writing about important issues that the public needed to know to safeguard the future. At night, I would go home and write about what my children needed to know in order to preserve the past.
As the stack of pages grew, I decided to share my story with one of my collegaues. After a few days, she returned the pages and urged me to submit them to a publisher. Luckily for me, they agreed to turn it into a book.
There is something to be said about telling your story and having people listen. My story is unusual in that I was raised by all four of my grandparents, who were each from different parts of the Philippines. With them, they brought their Old Country ways, their beliefs, traditions and strange homespun cures to America. But it is not so different from the stories of many immigrants who come to America only to find a culture clash with those whom they share the same blood.
To instill future generations with a sense of pride in our culture, new stories must be told, and old ones should be repeated.
Ever day is worth writing about -- the rest is yet unwritten.