Francisco was my Town Car driver when I was in SF last month, the trip a gift from my hubby and co-workers to celebrate my first official poetic excursion. It still amazes me that so many threw in to make sure I got to the California College of Arts from the airport with such ease.
The simplicity of it felt so decadent, took me into a space of more well-heeled artists, that I both felt humbled by the privilege as well as self-conscious about the automatic hierarchy created by the act of generosity. I met Francisco in the baggage claim area, my last name scrawled in black pen on a stiff card. He was taller and a bit older than I, and although he knew my name, never offered his own, not until the very end of the trip when I asked him directly. He wore a dark blue polyester suit and white shirt, classically dressed as a luxury car driver. As we waited for Horizon to disgorge my luggage, we chatted lightly.
He asked if I did this sort of thing much and I laughed and shook my head. His presence was a gift and this trip the end of a long chain of events, a general willingness to say Yes at the right times. There was that distinctiveness about him, that echo I pick up every once in awhile from people I am certain are not only Filipino in ancestry but also US born like myself. My friends speak of gaydar where they can spot someone GLBT from across the room and it's much like that. Fil-dar? *shakes head* I'll have to think about an appropriate compressed term for it... pinoydar?
I've been picked up by other Filipinos the same way, but Firsts seem to have a broader sense of it, startled usually by the first words that come from my mouth, betraying that I am not altogether like them. Instead someone 'diluted' by my 'foreign' birth. Then comes either the drawing back or the pity for being someone without the language or physical memory of the Philippines. An object of longing one moment, then objectionable the next.
It's different, though, finding US-borns. There's that Filipinoness, but also that untetheredness, that singular sense of loss of something that was never really possessed in the first place. Francisco had that feel, familiar in a dual toned way that comes of having genetic ties one place and cultural ties another.
He was hapa, EuroFilipino, with the added experience of having been fostered to a family far from his birth state of California. When he grew to majority he headed back to SF to be closer to his mother, and at least learn something about his European side. Somehow, though, he also learned about his father's side, and traveled to the barrio where he met his father's family, I think in the Visayas. They were concerned about him at first, guarded around him, and he wondered if it was because he was a bit of their past intruding into their present. In a sense, this was the case, because it turned out they were afraid he would lay claim to his father's share of the plantation lands.
His father had been something of the black sheep of the family, leaving them perhaps in anger, perhaps in frustration. The leaving of Pinoys pre-1965 I've found are different than post-1965 with it's more political coloring...there is this sense of leaving a backward place to begin again in the West where opportunity outstrips family obligation.
Once he'd made clear that he didn't want the land, Francisco was welcomed fully and he was asked to visit again soon.
Stateside, he's a towncar driver and photographer and as we wandered the backstreets of the fashion district searching for the college, he gave me tips on taking pictures. He seemed flustered that he was unable to find the college, the streets abruptly dead-ending or merging into other streets unexpectedly. As we backtracked along one street, I spied a taco truck and asked him if taco trucks in SF sold pupusas. A pang of homesickness, really, another manifestation of my unease of being driven around in a sleek, black town car by a person hired to do so.
He answered my query absently, saying that some of the trucks had Salvadoran food and there were some good pupusas to be had along his more regular routes. Then he stalled slightly, backtracking in his mind.
"You know about taco trucks?" he said, disbelief mixed with admiration. I guessed that in his mind, poets who ride town cars to colleges don't usually know what taco trucks are, let alone eat at them.
I admitted it had been a while, but that seeing one there parked on a side street made me a bit hungry for them. He hesitated, turned a corner, and we spotted the college.
"I eat at them when I can," he replied. "There are great ones in the Market district. If we had time, I'd take you to my favorite one."
And if we were in a movie, I would have said Sure, let's go! And we would have had one of those Pretty Woman moments, chatting over pupusas, sour cream and rice dripping from our burdened plates.
Instead, we pulled up at the college and he obligingly took my picture to let my friends know that I'd ridden the car they'd ordered for me and arrived at my destination safely. We slid past so many social conventions, expected roles, levels of social propriety and back again, it was a bit dizzying to consider. In the end, though, with my two rolling cases in tow (I gave a whole new definition to Bag Lady that trip), I finally asked...
"What was your first name again? I've such a bad memory..."
"I didn't tell you my first name," he replied, and I recalled that he'd only given his family name. "It's Francisco."
And I smiled and shook his hand in thanks. Usually, between Filipinos, there is an intimacy that happens over a shared meal. We didn't have pupusas together, but we know each other's first names and perhaps for us, it was good enough to be the same thing.
Later this week, I hope to find time to swing by Super Marios with one of my coworkers and we'll toast pupusas to Francisco and the ties that connect us.