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Cornerstones of the Family

or Why Obama Left the Campaign Trail

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , Commentary//Video, Words: Janet Lagto//Video: Jockuela Ballard, Josue Rojas, Jazmyne Young and Marcus Vega Posted: Oct 23, 2008

Five young people - through video and written commentary - introduce us to the elderly rocks of their families: their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. These portraits of Ethnic Elders were produced by New America Media and YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia as part of NAM's Ethnic Elder beat in partnership with Atlantic Philanthropies. Janet Lagto, Jockuela Ballard and Jazmyne Young are content producers at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. Marcus Vega is a writer at The KNOW. Josue Rojas is a video editor at NAM.

Learning From My Grandmother

By Janet Lagto

OAKLAND Calif. -- As a kid, I grew up thinking that my grandmother was invincible, she knew everything and could do anything, nothing could stop her. She grew up the oldest of 10 brothers and sisters and always jokes that she was made to take care of people. She left a job as a nurse in the Philippines to come answer a plea of help from my mother.


So while my mother worked multiple jobs and my father, her beloved son, snorted his way into prison my Lola was there to clean my scraped knees and tuck me in. Through her strictness, she showed me love and guided me when I was wrong.

I remember once, after a grueling day of 1st grade, I came home to my grandmother, cooking a dinner of adobo and rice. I watched her for a while before blurting out the words: "I don't want to be Filipino anymore. I don't want to eat rice and I don't want the other kids to tell me that I eat dogs and cats!"

VIDEO: MY G THANG by Jockuela Ballard



I stood there preparing myself for the Tagalog backlash when instead she replied, "Do you think this is what it is to be Filipino? When you are a Filipino, a true Filipino, it means that you have heart and pride, that you do not let other people "walk over your head" or "crush your mind."

At the time, I disregarded what she had to say, because in my childish mind I was so sure that she didn't know what I meant. Her stumbling English and strong accent were cause enough to justify my actions.

But as I got older, and had trouble identifying with the other kids, I began to realize what my Lola meant and understood that the ferocity and passion with which she said this was not meant in anger. Her passion for our culture and our family traditions came from trying to preserve something, anything from back home. Although my sisters and I cannot speak Tagalog, she has taught us who we are and where we came from. Because of her, I will be able to tell my children the stories she told me and teach them the lessons that she has taught me.

It would take me years to realize the wisdom that my grandmother possessed, and that she wasn't just a woman obsessed with Bingo.

My grandmother's new home in Oakland, Calif. is a reflection of her love of family and her favorite activity Bingo. On her mantle are ceramic angels she made that represent all of her children and all of her grandchildren. On the opposite wall is the framed Bingo card that won her the jackpot 18 years ago.

I wonder if she feels lonely living by herself, but she never says anything. Before my grandma would go back and forth to my aunt's home then to my family's home only staying when she felt needed and leaving when there was no one else to care for. When she finally got a place of her own, it was when all of her grandchildren were old enough to look after themselves, this home was supposed to be where she was safest but instead it turned out to be where she was most vulnerable.

About a month ago, my Lola's mortality was shoved in my face when she fell as she got ready for Bingo. I was in a panic, what if she died?

My grandmother is nearing her 89th birthday and I find myself missing the days she would joke and tell me that she was turning 50. Ever since her fall, I've been avoiding going to her home, because I can't bear seeing her in pain: my idol, the person whom I model myself after, has fallen, literally and it has crushed me. When she calls me and asks me to come over, I always tell her that I will next time. In her voice I hear understanding, but I also hear her disappointment. I have a feeling she knows why I haven't visited yet, but she doesn't discuss it with me.

When I finally do go over there, I know she won't bring it up, she'll leave it to me to start the talk and that's the greatest part about my grandmother, she's constantly helping me and coaxing me to hurry up and learn. Without her I wouldn't try to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer and without her I would never have the courage to be brave and proud of who I am.

Related Articles:

Grandmother's Day

Grandma is My Protection, My Inspiration

The Soup Line Gets Longer and Older

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