At Chapman Square, there is a life-size bronze statue of a
resettling family. (AR Photo/Polo)
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #01 (January 6, 2020), page 7.
Our parks and our shared histories
I love Portland, jah tentu. Sure I do. And surely too, loving this
place is new for Portlanders like me. What I mean is, while I’ve worked in our
nationally envied city since 1984, loving this place didn’t figure into living
here until the inspiring administration of mayor Tom Potter, coincident with the
heady presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.
American dreamers love guapos like these. They take your breath away —
the promise of love and of course, the loss of it. So when that blue collar
mayor and that dignified president left us, I was left breathless. I’m not
complaining, mind you. I’m just saying: Love hurts.
I first heard this saying soon after our family fled deadly political
violence in our beloved spice island homeland, Indonesia. "Love Hurts" by
American country artists The Everly Brothers was on our youngest uncles Max and
Wally’s cookie tin-sized record player, up in their little attic bedroom of our
grandpa’s packed household in the chilly Netherlands.
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Oh, oh, love hurts.
Yeah, kind of crybaby stuff. Pero let me set out some context for how much
this concept matters, here and now.
We began our community law practice around the back tables of N.E. Sandy’s
Yen Ha Café, back in 1984. Also back there and back then, the esteemed Dr. Trí
and hilarious Dr. Kiet, both Republic of South Vietnam army battle surgeons,
were peering down refugee elders’ throats and poking around buddha-belly babies’
tummies. We’ve since been blending Anglo-American law with the cumulative
boatloads of social and spiritual capital banked by Portland’s South and
Southeast Asian, East and North African, Middle Eastern, Pacific and Caribbean
islander, Russian- and Spanish-speaking communities’ elders, and savvy younger
activists. A vigorous mix we make. Like America’s always made and remade.
We’re those crews of stubborn community mechanics working the destructive and
the instructive intersections where Portland’s 70 ambitious ethnic streams and
our mainstream’s staid institutions daily meet. We’ve done this through six
River City mayors, five U.S. presidents, and nine ugly American wars against
peoples just like ours, in places just like Portland. A world of hurt lives in
our shared city. And overwhelming joy too. Love’s this way.
Shared history lives here
Each workweek of every next decade, our crew of community builders crossed
downtown Portland’s Chapman Square or adjacent Lownsdale Square. Like everyone
hurrying to City Hall, our federal and our Multnomah County courts, must.
Enduring monuments stand in our parks. Each expresses Anglo-America’s historical
relationships with our ethnic minority communities’ ancestors and our elders.
And because traditional peoples live our histories, our children and our
grandkids live inside these troubled realities too.
Our chit-chatting ends as we near them. Those statues. Chins drop into
chests. I can’t breathe. I ache in all our kualarga kualarga (our
familias’) bruised and broken places.
Chapman Square has a life-size bronze of a resettling family. There’s a
Conestoga wagon wheel, a bearded dad, his brave boy. There’s a mom holding tight
her absent daughter’s dolly. They have a Bible and rifle. They’re so far from
home, surely so afraid of men like me and boys like ours. Much like foreigners
settling our homelands’ rich riversides and generous valleys, must’ve feared us.
New Americans understand them. We’ve survived this. Our elders say those
settlers’ ferocious armies made of their own men and boys — eliminating our
leaders, levelling our cities, terrifying our families — did not secure peace.
And could not secure law or order. Not ever, not anywhere.
Lownsdale Square is anchored by a limestone memorial for 16 Oregon sons who
didn’t return to their anxious families after warring on Filipinos. There’s a
tall obelisk marking the end of the nascent Philippine nation’s 1898 Declaration
of Independence. Our America did that. Maybe 200,000, maybe one million baby
girls, handsome dads, elegant grandmas died in their neighborhoods during that
U.S. military mission — Just how many no one can say, though any Pinay auntie,
back there or right here will softly tell you about entire towns mass murdered.
Places just like Portland. People on their way to work, just like us.
That’s a lot of history living here and now. Same love, same love lost.
Our elders say our ancestors told and told them that a mother sorrowing her
soldierboy lost across a deep gray sea is exactly like another amala’s
sorrow over her smart schoolgirl lost to a firefight for a downtown
intersection. Love lost is indistinguishable, inarguable, inconsolable. Our
elegant aunties say every determined dad’s dread — a father migrating his family
from 19th-century St. Louis, a papa slipping his kids out of gangland Guatemala,
or pulling us out from under collapsed Aleppo — is exactly the same dread. The
same anguish gets etched by the same humiliation into every good man’s achy
bones. Here, history is coded. Accordingly from here, his children and their
children act out our shared present in our shared komunita, in our shared
country and shared future. We are this love and love lost. Punto.
About our downtown parks, let’s walk them, Native and settled and New
Americans together. Let’s go as we begin another uneasy New Year. Before another
exhausting workweek squanders the enormous institutional wealth and the
irrepressible cultural capital our blending city’s main and ethnic streams bring
to this place. This blessed confluence of rivers Willamette and Columbia and our
deep blue sea.
Parks are meant for laughing and quarrelling and crying. Love is too.
* * *
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