Guess Who This Is

“Guess who this is,” I said, when I posted this photo on Facebook. Many of my friends, even my family, thought it was me. “I didn’t recognize the background, though,” my cousin Soji said, “so I wasn’t sure.”

My mother grew up in the Philippines for the first ten years of her life, mostly with her aunt and uncle and a few cousins. In the 1950s, thanks to the newly-lifted restrictions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, she came to the United States with her mother and her newly adopted stepfather who was in the army. Time and space and circumstances prevented her from maintaining ties with any family living in the Philippines still.

She’s never returned to the Philippines, or as my grandmother liked to call it, “the Island.”

The picture, though, came to us through one of those Facebook Miracle Reunions. Her cousin Noli, who had grown up in the Philippines with her, finally found her a year ago. He lives in Spain. He had been looking for her all these years now, he said. And he sent her a few pictures of herself that she’d never seen before.

This picture is one of them. She is five or six years old. Selfishly, it’s my personal favorite from his collection because it looks almost exactly like me when I was a little girl. She looks like she could be my sister, and we could have played together. There. That’s my mother, and that’s me, and we are growing up together in a cottage with a grass-thatched roof. It’s one of the few tangible connections that we have to my mother’s early life in the Philippines. She hasn’t spoken much about those first ten years, about the tangled family secrets that kept and held her there. We have only begun to strip back all of the layers of story.