Political Content Writing Workshop:

On the Lookout


Teresita Bautista

On the Lookout

On by block were two other Filipino families who knew me since I was 7 months old. There were other Filipino families who lived around the corner. It was busy with a cafe on the corner and a big gas station across the street where my childhood Filipino best friend would steal cigarettes. Big trucks would come in and out off the freeway. A block away was the railroad tracks so you could hear the ding-ding sound of the arms coming down for each passing train to make its way east and west, carrying people, bearing products.

We lived on the edge of Oakland Chinatown where we would go to buy food, eat every Sunday after Church. I remember Momma would drive to the one block lined with restaurants and stores. She would double park. I would be her lookout to yell when a police car would approach. I would toot the horn so she could rush out and move the car.

We lived in a second floor flat in a brown-shingled building with two other apartments below. My Uncle Alex and Auntie Lila lived downstairs.


The rice fields spread so far I could not see the end. Cousin Baldo walks slowly leading the old white carabao in and out of the lush green. If I went to the second floor of Uncle Pio’s house I could see the sea and the beach where the elves would wait for the fishermen to return before dawn with their nets heavy with the early morning catch. I was born nearby in Auntie Indang’s kitchen sometime after dinner and before the cock crowed in the dark morning.

Momma’s village was overgrown with tall grass where my Lola and Lolo would gather hangsad samora to cook for the Hilot oil that they would use when they delivered babies in the village. Orchids were abundant. Chickens, roosters, pigs and the handful of scrawny dogs.

You’re so black!

                Why is darkness so feared?

Momma welcomed me with her loud voice as I stepped from the yellow school bus filled with pre-teens traveling the last three hours on the highway from the California–Nevada border. I had spent ten days at Campfire Camp outside of Auburn. She didn’t want to hear how I nearly drowned taking my Beginning swimmer’s test on the lake. Nor did she give me a chance to tell her how I went to mass at sunrise. I had tied a towel to my bunk so counselors woke up the Catholics at 6:30 to walk in the shadows for 7 ‘o clock mass in the clearing beyond the trees. And what about my first time with a bow and arrow. After two days, I finally hit the bull’s eye.

Her first exclamation was startling enough. I blinked. She followed with:

And you’re so skinny!

Have I lost weight from my 80-pound frame after having three squares every day and gooey s’mores at the campfires?

I walked past her mumbling, “Where’s Daddy?” How I wished he came. Momma was now chatting with Mrs. Croft, whose five red-headed children were filing out of the bus. I didn’t hear her ask about all their freckles! I got into our old 1949 Plymouth and saw my sister, who was even blacker than me.

Teresita Bautista teaches history, culture, and current concerns of Filipinos in the U.S. and works as the programs manager at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. She curated the OACC exhibit “We Are America: Resistance and Resilience,” a 100-year timeline of Filipinos and their struggle for civil rights in the 20th century. As an educator and community organizer, she integrates ethnic studies in her work with Asian immigrants and in ESL classes.