By Jaelyn Galasinao Sanidad
How old were you when you realized that your family’s tsismis was actually Pilipinx American Hxstory?
My name is Jaelyn Galasinao Sanidad, and I was born and raised in Stockton, California, of the beautiful Central Valley. Like the majority of the people of color here in the valley, my grandmother immigrated to become a farmworker in the fields. The thing about my family though, is that we came straight to this little place called Stockton’s Little Manila.
My favorite intersection in my road to self-discovery has definitely been where gender, sexuality, and ethnicity connect to one another. I identify as a Pilipina, a Pinayist (conforms to Pilipina Feminism/Pinayism), and a native southside Stocktonian. I am a womxn who is in the process of healing from intergenerational anxiety, rape culture trauma, and colonial tactics. My family is five generations deep in Stockton/America now, and I am a third-generation Pinay. I am a daughter raised by tobacco farmworkers, asparagus farmworkers, grape workers, Alaskeros, and the barrio. My mother comes from Isabela, Calanigan in Ilocos Norte and my papa comes from Vigan City in Ilocos Sur. From puro Ilokanx roots to the states, I have found home in south Stockton and south San Francisco. My line has grown plenty in both the motherland and America—all my family in Ilocos lives on one block, all my family in Stockton lives on one block, and all my family in the bay lives on one block. Safe to say, we roll deep.
Growing up as a southside kid meant growing up with odds against you. South Stockton is considered “a place you should never go to,” because it has a dangerous and ghetto reputation. The thing about southside Stockton is that it was once home to the largest population of Pilipinxs from the 1920s to the 1960s. Stockton is in the heart of the valley, which is why it has served as a sacred space and feeling of home for on-the-move, migrant farmworkers. For Pilipinx farm laborers, their typical West Coast route would start from Alaska in the wintertime to work the fishing canneries, then all the way down to Delano to work the grapes. In the middle of that path was Stockton’s Little Manila, which is why it is considered the heart and intersection of Pilipinx-American Hxstory. According to Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, the womxn I consider my mentor and the first to put me on to Ethnic Studies, she states in her book Little Manila is in the Heart: “All roads lead to Stockton.”
The community was demolished by city officials who decided gentrification was more important than people of color, so unfortunately I never got to see the hxstorical sites for myself. Growing up in the southside meant literally being told by teachers that you would never amount to anything unless you got out of Stockton. Growing up in Stockton meant constantly being reminded that your home was once amongst the “Top 3 Most Dangerous Cities in America.” But most of all, growing up as a Pilipinx in Stockton meant growing up unaware that you are the new generation of Little Manila.
Learning your hxstory as a marginalized person usually starts with a brutal cultural awakening that leaves you… angry. And that’s exactly what I was. Knowing your hxstory is not always fun, games, and enlightenment, but on many days, the utang na loob is painful, heavy, and nearly unbearable. Sometimes it’s realizing that your grandmother might have been raped during Japanese Occupation in the Philippines. Sometimes it’s learning that the reason you were never able to meet your grandfather was because he was killed for disobeying the government. Sometimes it’s learning that there was a national KKK revival meeting in the Civic Auditorium of Stockton, your own home, just so they could burn Filipinos alive.
And maybe I sound too blunt, or desensitized, saying these things… But somewhere along the line you learn that knowing your hxstory involves shedding light on parts that have been attempted to be kept in the dark. Knowing your hxstory is learning the things you may not be as proud of. Knowing your hxstory is essentially understanding the problems of mental health, trauma, anxiety, and depression in our own families. The only way to know your hxstory is to learn it and learn it right, so that you can check everyone else telling your own story for you.
Because if we look at who sits at the table right now, who is it? What do they look like? They do not look like us, but they’re sitting at the table discussing politics, they’re making decisions that involve our bodies without OUR input, they’re writing OUR stories in those textbooks. They’re the ones holding the pen, and it’s time that we reclaim that pen AND our voices so that we can reclaim that space and let em know, “Hey. We’re here. And we’re not leaving.”
Although unsettling and dreadful at the time, the anger has transformed into the most deadliest weapon of mine and the source of my power: my pen, and my voice. Throughout the process, I have realized that self-discovery and healing is not always as easy as reflection, aromatherapy, and binge-watching Netflix shows. It has been brutal, painful, ugly, and traumatizing—but the only way to truly know the roots we come from is to dig at the dirt. It is only when we pick at the soil that we are able to see the root of the problem… and from there, we can nurture ourselves in all ways necessary to ensure the future generations we grow are healthy and well-cared for.
I’d just like to ask: How old were you when you realized that your family’s tsismis was actually Pilipinx American Hxstory? My road to self discovery grows stronger and more hopeful with every piece of new information I unlock. But this road was not only started by me, but along the way I come across my grandparents and their grandparents and their grandparents… and it’s liberating.
I constantly express myself through sexual reclamation of my body, my art, cultural dance, and writing. Realizing that my blood as a Pilipinx tells the story of hundreds of years of both colonization and decolonization has helped me put not only my journey into a proper context, but my ancestors’ as well. I am a healer, I am a creator, I am a womxn. From North Ilocos to South of the Philippines where they’re holding it down… From Alaska, to Stockton, down to Delano. Somewhere between the soils of the province and NorCal hip hop culture. I am the bridge that connects “Filipino” to “American,” and not even the ocean that divides us is considered a dead end.
My discovery of identity is never-ending, and I am constantly in my process by decolonizing my mind and definition of self-love. Only some are able to say that the streets of Little Manila has played a classroom role in their lives. Only some are able to say that they come from the land of Larry Itliong, Dolores Huerta, Dawn Mabalon, Dillon Delvo, or Gayle Romasanta. So hell yeah, I’m Pilipina. But I’m a Pilipina from STOCKTON. I am here.
And I’m not leaving.
(Follow art Instagram: @littlemanilaisinthe.art)