Joy Luck Hub: Johanna Poethig

Here’s another Asian-American immigration narrative for the Joy Luck Hub blog carnival, from dear friend and galleonista-in-arms Johanna Poethig: American-born, raised in the Philippines, who moved to the US as a teenager.

Johanna (Poethig)”Putik”

My name means mud. My first venture across the big ocean was at 4 months old.  My family took a ship to Manila and arrived in early 1957. I grew up in Malate to the sounds of roosters in the morning and pigs screaming at fiesta time. The rain stung my skin before the big typhoons. I got H Fever during the 1960’s epidemic from the mosquito with white stripes on its legs.  I believed in aswang and the spirits of dead teachers roaming school halls.  My first profanity was “putang ina mo”. My best friend in 3rd grade got mad at me after she learned the Americans killed Aguinaldo.

My parents had their customs. My Dad taught us the tricks of New York city street life as we made “hot mickies” over carabao grass. My mother tried desperately to keep me from eating with my hands. My mouth still waters for sour salty food on my fingers.  In 5th grade I finally got to be in a school performance. The Ifugao ceremony where we all moved together around a fire did not require pairing me off with a boy half my size.

Fifteen years later I immigrated to Chicago. My batik dresses did not keep me warm in the sub-zero weather. I sprained my ankles walking in my winter boots. My fellow waitresses at the Mellow Yellow lunch spot in South Chicago called me a “virgin white”.  I wore my malongs off my shoulder and snake vertebrae on my head. The lack of food at parties confused me.  As time passed I searched for what was familiar to me; warmer weather, mixed up communities, Tagalog and nicknames. I have been back to Malate where the acacia tree of my old school still shades the children at recess.

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