He’s funny, I think as I type back.
jasmindls: Weekend’s tough but I volunteer at the hospital on Mondays and Wednesdays.
royceb: okayyyy. Not quite what I was hoping.
royceb: But I do hear the hospital cafeteria is delightful.
That makes me giggle out loud.
Glowing, I head to the kitchen. Everyone is gathered around the stove, spooning rice and adobo into their bowls. I slip the scholarship letter under a book on the counter and grab a bowl of adobo for myself.
Mom notices I filled the bowl only a little. “What? You don’t like my cooking?”
Isko perks up. “Don’t you know, Ma? Jasmine is on a diet,” he says. “So she won’t get taba like you.”
“How can such a little boy have such a big personality?” Mom says, pretending to be annoyed that he called her fat, even if it’s an endearment. Filipinos don’t think being fat is the worst thing in the world, probably because it’s a Third World country where many people are starving.
I pat Isko on the head, which I know he hates more than anything. Isn’t that a big sister’s job? To drive her little brothers crazy?
Danny doesn’t say anything to back me up. He’s at the table sketching some kind of magical beast. Dad doesn’t even look up from his bowl.
“Mommy, I told you, I have to watch what I eat during the season. Otherwise they won’t be able to throw me up in the air.”
“I don’t understand you girls and your diets. In the Philippines, I never had to watch what I ate and I stayed skinny as a stick. I guess you think our kind of food will make you fat, but look at the Filipinos you know. We’re skinnier than Americans!”
Danny sighs. “In the Philippines...”
Mom ignores him. “When I was growing up, all of the children played outside all the time. We made up outside games and ran around our compound and climbed trees. At least Jasmine dances,” she says to the boys. “You’re always glued to the television.”
She always calls cheer “dancing” even though she knows better. I don’t think she ever got over the fact that I stopped doing the traditional Filipino dance classes in junior high. But I had to drop something to be able to keep my other extracurricular activities and still get all my homework done.
She walks over to Danny and grabs his sketch pad. “Tsk. And you. No drawing at the table during dinner. You’re as bad as your sister with her phone.”
I self-consciously check my pocket, to see if Royce has sent a new text, but he hasn’t. The thought of seeing him at the hospital next Monday gives me serious butterflies. I’ve had crushes before, and I can already tell this is the worst one yet. I’m really into him and I’ve only known him for, like, five seconds.
Isko stuffs a pork chunk into his mouth. “I like hearing about the Philippines,” he says, nudging Dad with his elbow. “Tell us the story about how you and Tito Boy used to fight spiders!”
Dad puts down his empty bowl and leans back in his chair. He loves telling this story. Tito Boy died a few years ago at his construction job in Manila, so I think talking about him helps Daddy remember his brother.
“Tito Boy and I would stay up all night before spider-hunting season opened. As soon as the first light came up, we hunted for El Tigre spiders in the jungle. They’re the best ones. We’d keep them in little boxes, any kind of small container, and let them out to crawl on our hands. Then we’d put them on long sticks, watch them crawl toward each other, knock each other off or fight to the death. We’d yell and scream for our favorite. Mine had only seven legs from a fight it survived. But let me tell you, that spider beat a hundred other spiders before I released it into a tree, retired to a new life. If only we could all escape this life with so few scars.”
By the time Dad is done with the story, Mom has brought over the turon for dessert. Danny and Isko swarm over the plate, grabbing two for each of them. Despite the warm sweet smell of burned caramel, I’m too excited about the scholarship to eat any dessert. I can’t wait any longer.
“Mommy, Daddy, I want to show you something,” I say, standing up and walking over to the book on the counter. I slip the envelope from underneath and hand the letter to my father. I’m grinning ear to ear. I’m so proud of myself, of my parents, of my entire family right now.
I can’t wait to hear them cry and scream and cheer when they read it.
I did it! I want to shout. I did it! I’m a National Scholar! And I couldn’t have done it without you!
I take issue with many people’s description of people being illegal immigrants. There aren’t any illegal human beings as far as I’m concerned.
DAD OPENS THE envelope slowly. Mom leans over his shoulder. They are completely silent as they read the letter. I expected my father to jump up from the table and hug me, and my mother to scream and start calling all my aunties to brag about me. But neither of them say anything.
In fact, they look like they just received the worst kind of news instead of the best news ever.
Maybe they’re so happy they’re shocked into silence?
“Isn’t it amazing?” I reach over and pull the acceptance form from the envelope. “Don’t worry, I can fill everything else out myself, but I need a copy of my green card. Mrs. Garcia will let me use the copier at school, but I have to get it done soon so they know I’m accepting the scholarship and going to D.C. for the reception.”
They look at each other with concern. I’m so confused by their silence. Isn’t this the moment they’ve been waiting for my whole life?
What’s going on?
“Danny, Isko. Out! We need to talk to Jasmine alone,” Mom says. “Take the turon with you.”
I feel a chill down the back of my neck. Something must really be wrong. Mom never allows the boys to eat in their room, let alone play games after dinner before their homework is done. I suddenly feel outnumbered. I want to call them back to stay with me.
What is it? Are they worried about the plane fare to D.C.? But the letter says the program will cover all hotel and transportation costs for the weekend trip. Oh, maybe they don’t want to allow me to go to D.C. alone? Is that it?
Mom pushes the dishes to the side of the table, not meeting my gaze. “We have something to tell you, neneng, and you have to believe us when we say we’ve always wanted the best for you,” she says. “We’ve tried to do everything right.”
Dad just keeps staring at the letter like the words don’t make any sense. I thought he would be the proudest of me, of what I’ve done for our family. With this opportunity, I’ll be able to take care of my parents someday. I’ll be able to give them the lives they wanted to give me.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“We should have told you sooner, but we didn’t know how,” she says.
I sense a glimmer of what my mom is trying to tell me, and I feel a cold shock all over my body. This isn’t just about letting me go to another city on my own.
“What are you saying?” I ask. “What do you mean tried?”
“I don’t like your tone, young lady,” Mom says.
“Sorry, Mom, I just don’t know what’s going on. Aren’t you happy for me?” I don’t understand why she’s reacting this way. Almost as if she’s annoyed that I won this scholarship. She’s the one who pushed me so hard—they both did—but the way they’re reacting isn’t making any sense.
“Are you mad that I didn’t make the top-ten list?” The accompanying paperwork mentioned that the top ten scholars were invited to spend the summer interning at the White House. Maybe Mom is disappointed I wasn’t one of them? “Nothing will ever be good enough for you,” I say, almost on the verge of tears. “It’s not fair!”
“You don’t know what fair is!” she retorts.
Dad doesn’t want any of this. “Stop fighting! Right now.” His eyes have tears in them. “Jasmine, it’s not about you not making the top ten. This is an amazing achievement. We’re incredibly proud of you. You know that.”