My boyfriend wasn’t much of a problem-solver, but he managed to be the person I called when I needed to solve a problem. He dropped out of community college around the same time as my acceptance into my university’s study abroad program. The event marked an uptick in his use of the word fuckin’. He depended on it in times of anger or whenever he was at a loss for words, which was often. My friends would describe his way of speaking as blue-collar, but I deemed it as charismatic bravado. His fiery confidence laid beneath his oversized black leather…


When my mom asked me to write my uncle’s LinkedIn profile, I knew it was more of a command than a request. She was already holding his resume in her hands. The two pages that summarized three decades of Uncle Amor’s work experience had tattered edges, a yellow tint, and the smell of old printer ink. It was the only testament to the career he had left behind in the Philippines.

I skimmed over it and shrugged.

I had little interest in a foreign relative I barely knew. I only agreed to Mom’s request knowing that in our Filipinx household…


My mom and I eat shrimp with piles of shells stacked between us. At our table in the middle of the eatery at 99 Ranch, we rummage through the mounds of tails, legs and antennas that litter our cafeteria tray. The orange color of the ­­­stir-fry marinade has made its way onto every corner of the Styrofoam container we share. This seemingly desperate act would mark the end of the feast for most but not for us. Mom and I uncover the best part of the meal: the shrimp heads.

It’s quite simple, really. The right way to eat shrimp…


Our distinctions bring us closer together

Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash

My boyfriend and I have been in Peru for less than twenty minutes, and I’m already struggling to speak Spanish. While directing a cab driver to our Airbnb, I suddenly pause in mid-sentence realizing I’ve forgotten the word for left. An awkward silence fills the compact Prius as he patiently waits for me to say something, anything. But, the seven-hour flight from New York and the 11,000-foot elevation in Cusco isn’t exactly bolstering my brain function.

I can’t ever, for the life of me, remember this word. It never fails. Even after studying this language from sixth grade through college…


In the middle of an IKEA showroom, I agonized over the transition between two sentences. I was wrestling with a second-grade assignment on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While I knew any seven-year-old could cobble together two statements about Dr. King, bridging together two thoughts about his achievements with one seamless transition proved to be impossible for me. I treated the plywood desk as my own while I sulked in its Örfjäll swivel chair and stared at my elementary school homework with my head in my hands. Unaware that her only child was facing a literary crisis, my mother took…


There would be times when people wouldn’t know what to make of me, and because of that, I wouldn’t know what to make of me either.

In the middle of my living room, Cindy Crawford taught me how to do a perfect lunge. “The key is to never let your knee go past your ankle,” she advised. Her confident super-model narration and 90s new wave background music guided me throughout The Next Challenge Workout on VHS every day after school. As an eight-year-old, I marveled at the contours chiseled along Cindy’s perfectly sculpted legs, which seemed long enough to constitute…


The girls sat across from me and laughed as I smiled in polite silence. If there was a list of teenage pet-peeves, not being in on a joke was up there. Sam filled me in once their laughter died down. “So, Karen says, ‘He’s just mad because he came here on a boat.’” They were referring to our Mexican server who apparently looked annoyed when he took our order. I thought his annoyance had more to do with waiting on a table of three teenagers who would likely give him a bad tip. But, I forced myself to laugh along…


Rosary beads swung from my aunt’s rearview mirror as she pulled into the terminal at Orlando International to pick me up. Tita Amy was my mom’s pious older sister who hosted me every summer over the course of five years. Staying with her and my two cousins in central Florida was a pleasant distraction my parents had set up as they worked through their divorce. My older cousin JR would manage to bully his way up to the front seat whenever he had the chance to call shotgun. At the self-confident age of nine, being a year older than me…


Going to Jones Beach, my mom’s new Honda Accord found its way into a sandy ditch off Ocean Parkway. My mother didn’t make a wrong turn, she certainly didn’t veer off the side of the road, and she definitely wasn’t distracted by her mother who bickered with her in the front seat. It just happened. You know, with the sand scattered everywhere, it was quite hard to tell exactly where the shoulder ended and the ditch began. …


I was standing in the shower with my legs on fire, and it was no one’s fault but my own. An inane beauty ritual had left my skin irritated and inflamed since I wasn’t allowed to shave as a teenager. Shaving was described as some sort of necessary evil that adult women had to do. Sure, it easily removed leg hairs, but shaving also made them grow thicker and faster. I was expected to hold off from razors in an effort to preserve my dainty Asian leg hairs for as long as possible. …

Kristen Gaerlan

Writer of copy, essays & memoir. | My roots are in the Bronx & the roots to my roots are in the Philippines.

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