It was 1968 in the land of my birth, the year Robert Kennedy was assassinated and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. We lived in Ohio that furlough year in my grandmother’s beautiful stone mansion on Adirondack Trail. Dad, once again, lived far away in Boston at MIT on an Urban Studies fellowship. When he came for visits, he would regale us with stories of student sit-ins in Harvard yard, his eyes glinting with radical fervor. He appeared at Christmas with an Alan Ginsberg goatee and a maroon beret crooked French-like. Our father was bohemian and handsome, and we were just missionary kid dorks stuck in the middle of America.
My siblings and I were sick with misery. We were lonely and cold, afraid of American kids, and awkward around the internecine wars between our mother and her mother. So I hid in my room, composing 13 year old songs about the mystery of myself, lost paradise, dying trees. Who was I, the American? I pored through The Autobiography of Malcolm X and memorized all three stanzas of the American national anthem, rocket fire illuminating a tattered flag. Race hatred. Vietnam war. Teen anguish. No stars, no pearls of the Orient or a salty warm sea; no glorious land that held us to her bosom. Each day in homeroom we pledged allegiance to the flag and the country for which it stands. I did not have to promise to love America, or say “faithfulness” and “obey.” But I secretly wanted America to love me, with its "beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain," its streets of clean unfenced lawns, its celebrity nationhood, and even in the worst of times, no want for rest of us.
The next June, we drove past the squatter shacks from Manila International Airport to Malate. Scott brought me with him to UP Prep high school, which rented the dilapidated third floor of the old Supreme Court building on Padre Faura Avenue. As the “first quarter storm” gathered thunder and student demonstrations ripped Manila apart, I pledged with relief, “Iniibig ko ng Pilipinas.”