I Pan the
by Klarita Makinig
The Women’s Day rally started to fizzle out. Dusk had set in comfortably with the sun sunken well below the sentinels of the Downtown skyline.
Swaths of a dim purple-golden glow at the sky's edge and remnants of various contingents on the ground remained as the programming ticked through the last of its time slots. Short-cropped hair and a pair of unframed lenses peering over a podium to expound about atrocities in Tehran; Dolores Huerta with as much rhetoric yet not as much punch as expected from a hallowed movement shero; a keyboardist rocking her empower ballads. They, and others, all trickled onto and off the stage at the foot of the Federal Building, peppered between with diligent solicitations to donate to the progressive, independent media outlet that largely sponsored the rally.
I arrived alone and on a mission. Having long drifted from Church with a capitalist ©, I'd taken up the mantle of Social Justice Weekend Warrior as my denomination. I transubstantiated eucharistic mass with mobilized masses as the primary sustenance for my senses of kapwa and righteousness. Still, here in the middle of Los Angeles Street, I couldn’t shake the introvert’s dilemma of feeling unmoored in a sea of strangers, even like-minded ones. A few brushed up against me as they passed despite the dwindling crowd and my presumption of a proportionally expanding radius for my personal space. Giddy latecomers finding their buddies; a pair of blonde women in five-inch heels and pinstriped parodies of prep school uniforms holding up a placard as if to announce the next round in the undercard; folx of every color and creed halting to snap selfies for the purposes of political identity authentication. They, and others, all affronted oblivion to the asphalt patch where I endeavored to anchor myself. After bowing my ear for the litany of solidarity statements, I cast off from the demonstrators and picket signs toward a dinner to be determined in Little Tokyo.
Westbound on Los Angeles Street, I crossed over Temple Street and walked halfway down the block until my subconscious snagged on something amiss in the corner of my eye. My steps stuttered into a slower pace before settling on a full stop. A couple trailing behind me had split, flanked, and reconverged around me as they passed. I retraced my stuttered steps as they faded into the night that now enshrouded the city.
I crouched down, nearly sitting with my head cocked to the sidewalk to peer under the hedges bordering the windowless slab of the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center. The jaundiced street lights left anything in the shadows undisturbed. A tiny blue-light special hue faintly pricked the darkness beneath the brush. I fixated my gaze on the nearly imperceptible glow until the vague shape attached to it registered a familiar sight.
A short barrel. A trigger. A grip.
My pupils adjusted to the outline of a small firearm mounted by the weak flashlight. It would have easily slipped into the pockets of my work slacks. A dull finish. Plastic, probably. No orange rimmed the tip. I was fairly certain it posed no live threat. Certainty aside, I reached for it cautiously. My father taught me to always handle a weapon as if it were loaded. I picked it up. Essentially weightless, as anticipated.
Who knows where it came from? Retrospective synapses flipped through old TV Guide blurbs scripting the blunders of some small-time crook dumping evidence from a petty crime. Whatever the answer may have been, it didn't bother me as much as wondering, Who knows where it might end up? Anxious neurons sparked scenarios of a black or brown kid finding a new toy for free and winding up in that fatal intersection of wrong place, wrong time.
I could not leave it where I found it. I did not want to take it home.
Since I’d gone to the rally from my day job at County Public Health, I had my backpack on me. It was not going in my backpack. Tales stitched together with “gun” and “in” and “backpack” generally don’t tie up with neat endings. Plus, germophobia. Also, dubious appearances. (I mean, what would someone think if a stranger abruptly stopped, reached into a bush, and stowed a mystery prize in their bag? Likely answer: Another day in Downtown. Where’s my Lyft? Should’ve been here by now.) Topping off all these neuroses, I didn't want to risk toting some bad trip demonyo vibes around in my backpack. I keep my chapstick in there. Chapstick I put on my mouth.
Coming from the rally, and from attending rallies past, I knew cops were nearby. I figured I'd turn it in. (Not the thought process that my comrades would have followed, I know.) As I was certain the firearm posed no threat, I was certain that my socioeconomic privileges afforded me the benefit of posing no threat. Likewise, I heeded caution as my father had taught. This was another reason why it was not going in my backpack. I didn’t want any unintended fumbling on my part causing unwarranted suspicion on theirs. And I didn’t want to relinquish my property for search. Though it was not going in my backpack, I was not going to openly carry a gun and stroll over to an LAPD vehicle. Imagine that bodycam footage--five feet tall, 140 pounds in a pastel blouse and khakis marching straight toward the viewer, piece in hand. By the by, good evening, Officer So-and-So.
I unwrapped the scarf around my neck, furled the weapon away, and turned back the way I came. If any bad vibes got tangled up, at least I could run my scarf through the wash. On Temple, I saw a black-and-white SUV parked by the curb. Two uniforms sat up front. I approached the passenger door with all the nonchalance I could muster.
“Hello,” I greeted with a courteous half-smile. The passenger window rolled down. “I found what I'm pretty sure is a replica firearm.”
“Oh. Let's take a look,” replied the passenger. No word out of the driver. Both officers stepped out.
From the driver's side, an older white guy. Not husky, but enough hewn bulk to raise an overbearing wall of a posture. A full gray tuft capped his head. He circled around back of the SUV to assume a sentry’s watch.
From the passenger side, a Filipino I'd say somewhere between my age and 40. Completely bald. Slight build. Not much shorter than his partner. No less domineering. No obvious accent besides American. The apelyido “Zabala” etched into his brass nameplate.
Stone-faced all around. No sign of irritation with a trivial chore. No sigh of relief for a break in monotony. Only rote motions of duty-driven public servants. We three clustered around one of the squat concrete bollards tracing the sidewalk and serving as a barrier against drivers reckless or malicious who would cause the 32-foot Molecule Man sculpture to suffer any stubbed toes. I unravelled my scarf atop the bollard to furnish the firearm for inspection. Zabala ejected and examined the magazine (empty); examined the chamber (empty). His partner fished some blank forms from the SUV’s trunk.
“An airsoft gun,” Zabala commented as he started a Found Property Report. “Your last name?”
“Actually, do you have your driver's license?”
I placed it on my scarf next to the airsoft gun.
“Do you have a work address? I don't want to use your home address.”
I wondered if this minor departure from protocol was a gesture of respect for my personal privacy. Same question for my phone number. Surprised I recalled it all by memory.
Silently, he wrapped up the report, then started a Property Receipt. He explained as he jotted along, “I'm required to give you a receipt.” Waiting patiently, I noticed a set of gates occasionally yawn open and shut at the Detention Center across the street. The towering height of the doors made the black-and-white SUVs look like toy cars passing in and out. It conjured up the entryway to Oz.
Mulling over Zabala’s face and name, I already knew we both descended from the same archipelago. I didn't need to ask. Usually, I don't.
First, asking in English doesn't come across at all like asking, “Pilipino po ba kayo?” What correlative “po” do I have to soften the blow of my nosiness?
Second, it irks me when non-Filipinos ask what my ethnicity is. What they mean as innocuous strikes me as invasive. The Philippines itself has been invaded enough.
In this particular case, as Zabala wrote up the receipt, I couldn’t help but consider to myself in all likelihood, I'm never gonna see this brown brother again in my entire life.
“Are you Filipino?” I asked outright.
“Yeah.” His stoic form-filling continued.
“Oh. Born here? Or there?”
“Over there.” A bit of slack loosened somewhere along the thin blue line. “I moved here when I was two.”
“Oh, so uh… mostly raised here then.”
A stretch of silence.
“I'm required to give you a receipt,” he repeated. Neither time did he say “sorry,” but I perceived an apologetic undertone for any inconvenience.
Another stretch of silence.
“Are you Filipino, too?” Zabala volleyed.
“Yeah. Born here.” If any bodycam recorded the moment, what did I look like in its lens, what did I sound like to its mic, if not Filipino? “My dad's from Angat, my mom's from Baguio.”
“My parents told me where they were from a long time ago. I forgot where.”
An instant pang, equal parts kawawa and disbelief. I tried imagining not knowing my lineage. The gravity of this hypothetical vacuum sunk wearily into my chest. Maybe he only said that to reel in the aforementioned slack on the line, to reassert the boundary between officer and civilian. “Have you ever been there?”
I'd already forgotten he said he was born there.
“No, no.” A pause. “My wife goes every other year. I always stay behind. To dogsit.”
How alike were he and I--both on government payrolls, dispatched to the front lines by the respective industrial complexes we bear on our backs to survive this country? To what extent had this Los Angeles Police Department officer internalized this country's oppression against our melanin-tinged skin? So many more questions. I restrained a reflexive jolt to connect with a kababayan, even if he was a pig. I’d already pried enough asking him what I wouldn’t want asked of myself. Instead, I blurted, “You should go sometime!”
“Yeah. Maybe in the next couple years.” He signed off on the Property Receipt.
I resumed my original course toward dinner, unable to decipher if your response hinted towards obliging acquiescence or genuine yearning for our abstraction of a motherland. Would your bodycam have captured the pity in my eyes for a man who doesn’t know his family history, doesn't know himself? Would it have captured a tell flickering across my face, revealing the souls of my ransomed ancestors? An ocean away on strange terrain, those ancestors reach out to yours, grasping through the cages of our bones, urging us to link arms and liberate our generations hence. On the Metro ride home, I remembered that I'd been handed a leaflet at the rally from an ND organization pushing party program about anti-imperialism and denouncing US intervention in the Philippines. Maybe I should've administered this hostile gospel to you.
Triggered by unexpected encounters on International Women’s Day, Klarita Makinig has written “I Pan the Bodycam Diasporic” to reflect on asserting her identity and her place in the community. She unabashedly bestows thought and form to certain perspectives she would not have shared previously in the polite company of allies. Taga-Los Angeles si Rita. To sharpen her craft, she seeks to 1) read books by women, particularly women of color; and 2) write essays for women, particularly women of color. Her interests include sci-fi, yoga, and dismantling capitalism. Periodically, she cuts her id loose on Twitter: @TrimItAsUsual.