Aren’t they beautiful?” I asked my Lolo as he stared at the tropical fish in the aquarium of the nursing home lobby.
My Lolo’s old, crinkly eyes looked up and met my gaze through the reflection of the aquarium glass. He smiled at me from his wheelchair and pointed to a bright yellow fish. “This one reminds me of home.”
I nodded my head and sat back further into my chair, waiting. Waiting for my Lolo to begin retelling the stories of his childhood that I had never grown tired of listening to.
“When I was younger,” he began, “I used to live among these fish. My family lived on the tiny island of Tiwi in the Bicol region of the Philippines, and our house was right along the ocean. If I wanted to see my friends, I would swim across the head of the island to get to them on the other side. Many of these fish,” he motioned to the aquarium, “Swam beside me. And at night, when we got hungry during those hot, sleepless Summers, my friends and I would take boats out into the bay. We would shine lanterns over the surface of the water, and as soon as a big Tuna came to investigate, we would spear it. We would spend those nights out on the beach, and in the mornings we would race among the rows of my father’s plantation.”
As my Lolo’s eyes glazed over while he talked, I realized that he was no longer talking to me, but to his long forgotten friends of the past. His mind had transported him back to the white beaches, crystal clear waters, and lush plantations that I could only imagine. In that moment, I no longer existed to him…
Later, as I rode on the bus going home, I didn’t allow myself to think about the bad fall that Lolo had taken last Spring, or about the sickness that was wracking his frail body.
Instead, I thought about the little Asian boy who spent his childhood cutting coconuts from his father’s trees and swimming in the coral reef.
I thought about the determined young man who worked two jobs throughout college, so that he could attend engineering school.
I thought about the brave immigrant who was separated from his wife and children for one year before he could afford to pay for their plane tickets.
I thought about my hero who used to take me to the playground and give me ice cream when it was only 8 in the morning.
And above all, I thought about the native Filipino who, like so many other immigrants, left the only home he had ever known to create a better life for himself, his children, and eventually his grandchildren. The man who unwillingly, unknowingly, and unconditionally sacrificed so much for his family and for me.
Sophia Harrison ’17