By Marco Samson
My name is Marco Samson. Today, I am living in San Francisco, California. I live here in the city with my mother, grandmother, and Aunt. However, the funny thing is that we don‘t live together. In fact, we all live a few blocks away from each other in the Sunset district; my mother lives in a house on 31st Avenue; my grandmother and aunt live together a block away from me; and, I live on 46th Avenue next to the beach. I am also a college student in San Francisco State, double majoring in Asian American studies and Philosophy. And last but not least, I have a pet dog. Thinking back to how we got to where we are today, I am reminded of our common stories in the Philippines, the place of my birth. So, in this paper, I will start my explanation of how my family and I ended up living a few blocks away from each other in the city of San Francisco by telling a story of myself growing up in the Philippines.
My earliest memories of growing up in the Philippines were of playing with the neighborhood kids in the dirt roads and alleys of what we called in Tagalog the ―barangay‖ or, in English, our village. In our barangay, we started out as a much bigger family; my immediate family tree was not merely limited to my mother, aunt, and grandmother that I have now living in San Francisco. I lived in a large house with a large family; my uncle and aunt lived there; both my grandparents from my mother‘s side lived there; my mom lived there for a while before she moved to San Francisco in 1990. One immediate family member that was not in the picture was my second Aunt; she moved to New Jersey in America before I was born so I did not have the chance to meet her in the Philippines. Regarding my dad‘s side of the family, I didn‘t really know my father or his side of the family. He died before I was born and no one talked about him much.
Our family in the Philippines was actually pretty well-off due to the success of my grandmother‘s fruit store business in the Palenque or, in English, the town marketplace. My memories of the fruit store were from childhood; they are full of fun and games. I did not really share in the labor being done at the store. I merely remember just running around and always playing with the other store owner‘s kids. The fruit store itself was owned and operated by our family. We hired workers and a truck driver for our delivery truck that we used to pick up fruits we bought from farmers and vendors and deliver them to the store for resale. I had fond memories of these trips as a youngster because it was often my grandfather who brought me along; and, when I was with my grandfather, I always ended up getting some special treats like a halo-halo (Filipino dessert similar to some Tapioca drinks). The times I had the chance to accompany him and the driver to the places where the farmers and vendors sold the fruits wholesale, we often managed to take a break at a dessert store. I loved those breaks.
Fast forward time a little bit and we have me a little bit older and my mother ends up in an arranged marriage, leaves me in the Philippines to join her new husband and start a new life in San Francisco. That was in 1990. I would follow two years later to fly over the Pacific Ocean with my grandmother to first meet my Aunt in New Jersey for the first time. I stayed there for about a year and studied at the elementary schools there. I am forgetting the name of the school but I remember being surrounded by a lot of white kids during recess and I was alone. I felt kind of ashamed because I was new to the country and I could barely speak English. I didn‘t even know the rules for eating in the cafeteria. I went to get my food in the free lunch line and I didn‘t know that I didn‘t have to finish everything on my plate. I somehow thought that it was mandatory to eat all that they served. So, no matter what they served I forced myself to eat it, all of it. I slowly realized that it wasn‘t mandatory when I observed other kids throwing away their leftovers.
After the year ended, my grandmother flew with me across the United States to San Francisco to rejoin my mother and her new husband, a man named Edwin, in his house with his family. I did not really like living in his house; and, her new husband with his face surrounded by a full grown beard, did not really appeal to me. He always seemed to me as a strange man. Anyway, my grandmother left San Francisco to go back to my Aunt in New Jersey after a week. I felt sad about that because I had known my grandmother all my life and I felt like I would not see her again for a long time. With her departure, my mom‘s marriage with Edwin didn‘t last longer than a few months after I arrived. They soon got a divorce and my mom was left to find a home for herself very quickly.
The divorce changed both my mom‘s life and my own. We suddenly had to find a place to live in San Francisco. My mother had very little money of her own; she didn‘t have a full time job; so, she had to start from scratch. We ended up renting in a basement room of a house in the Mission district of San Francisco. It was a house owned by a nice Filipino family. They treated us well. However, in that house, my mother and I did not have our own separate bathroom or kitchen. So, when we wanted to eat or use the restroom, we had to go upstairs and eat and use the restroom after the landlords have finished. We were also on food stamps for a while. We did not have a washing machine or dryer. My mother was afraid to use the landlord‘s washer and dryer because she did not want to be liable if we broke them. So, we walked 5 blocks to the nearest Laundromat every week to do our laundry. I remember those days very well because I hated them. I had to push a big cart of laundry, I was younger and smaller then, 5 blocks two ways! I went to school at Miraloma Elementary and I made a lot of friends.
Because my mother was educated as an architect in the Philippines, she used those skills in the United States to help American licensed architects design their buildings. She could not design her own because did not have a license; therefore she had to have a licensed architect review, approve, and stamp her work. After my mother had saved enough money, we moved to the Sunset district with a family that lived in an Apartment building. The room was a bit smaller than the first. But, it was okay. I didn‘t have many friends in this new place. So, I devoted a lot of my time to reading books. I was particularly fond of space and astronomy; I remember going to the library and noticing that they ran out of books on astronomy for me to read because I had read all the ones they had. I was so full of myself and my knowledge of space that I challenged people to ask me any questions about space. I was young and thought I knew it all.
Anyway, my mom and I lived in the Apartment with the family for a while before we moved to a nicer studio apartment in the bottom floor of an old man‘s house about 2 blocks away. This ground level place was nice because it had its own separate kitchen and bathroom. I spent all of my Middle School days there. During these times, we still were on food stamps and I started hanging out with the more mischievous kids at school. I started getting into trouble doing graffiti and stealing small nick nacks from convenience stores. It was not a very moral time in my life to put things short.
It was only when I reached High School that my mom finally bought a house in the Sunset district and I finally had my own room. I was still hanging out with the bad crowd at this point. My bad behavior with the groups I hung out with got so bad that it got to the point that all my grades were failing. I don‘t think that I was stupid at all; I actually started becoming really philosophical in my thinking during the times I hung out with the bad kids. I had really complex ideas and thoughts about life, art, and the sciences. But, I kept them to myself because the kids I hung out with didn‘t understand what I was talking about and labeled everything they didn‘t understand as “weird.” But I never applied my intelligence in the classroom. So, the school counselor sent me to continuation school, the school where all the dropouts and bad kids go. Ironically, the continuation school is where I started my movement from being a boy into a maturing young man. The continuation school teachers really made an effort to reform the kids that they had in their classrooms. The whole school was a place for the kids to find out that the school system has not given up on them and that, if someone really took the time, they could turn the kids into success stories. Some of the teachers noticed that I was smarter than I looked; they told me that I was like a diamond in the rough. The school helped me cultivate the intelligence I had buried inside me.
Before graduating from the Continuation school, my Continuation school counselor hooked me up with steps to college, an EOP program that helps underprivileged kids get into higher education. After I graduated, EOP hooked me up with San Francisco State. And, it was in San Francisco State that I truly believe that my passion for knowledge went on full blast and I matured the most. Also, before I knew it, I started getting straight A‘s and I even ended up on the Dean‘s list my first two semesters at State. I really got motivated to make a change and I credit everyone from my continuation High School all the way to my first professors in SF State that inspired me to learn more about philosophy and ethnic studies. So, this is where I have to end this story because it leads us to the present time; as I am writing this very sentence, I am taking classes at SF State as a double major in Philosophy and Asian American studies. I am taking the Japanese Art and Expression class that I am writing this paper for because it is one of the last classes I need to graduate with my Asian American Studies degree. Then, my future plan is to go to law school.