Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day ... Papa, Tatay, and the Library of Congress

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, two weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor of reading my poems at the Library of Congress in a symposium honoring "Unsung Heroes: Asian Pacific American Heroism in WWII." This kind of recognition in Washington, DC, has been long needed and comes at an opportune historical moment, with Congress's recent passage of reparation one-time payments to the Filipino soldiers of WWII who were stripped, immediately after the war, of the veterans' benefits FDR promised them.

At that event, I had the honor of meeting retired General Antonio Taguba as well as the Honorable Tammy Duckworth (Assistant Secretary at the VA [Veterans Affairs], a decorated Army veteran from our war in Iraq — where she lost both legs and the partial use of an arm — and still a Major in the Illinois National Guard). I also had the genuine pleasure of meeting Dr. Valentin Ildefonso, US Army Philippine Scout in WWII, and a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Air Force, where he served as a medical doctor. Dr. Ildefonso also volunteered later as a doctor during the Vietnam war. (By the way, Dr. Ildefonso was featured in an online news article today for Veterans Day.)

Dr. Valentin Ildefonso and Vince Gotera

As you may already know from other posts in this blog, my father Martin Gotera and my grandfather Felix Gotera also served in the Philippine Scouts in WWII, where they both were in the Bataan Death March. So it was particularly touching and moving for me to meet these three Army vets, whose courage and service are so allied to the esprit de corps that was the spine of the Gotera family's contributions to the US Army, not just my father and grandfather, but also my brother Pepito's US Army service and mine during the Vietnam war.

As part of my poetry reading at the symposium, I read the following poem, which describes my father's relationship with my grandfather, my Lolo whom all of us grandchildren and great-grandchildren called simply Tatay, the Filipino word for "father," because he was so much the patriarch for us all. He was a gentle, soft-spoken old man when I knew him, so unlike the chilling stories Papa told me of Tatay's brutal discipline towards him as a child. The poem, one of three I read at the Library of Congress, describes two sides of that relationship: first, how Tatay whipped my father cruelly and routinely, and second, how Papa found Tatay in the Japanese concentration camp and cared for him as he would have his own child.


My grandfather in a faded photograph is
          a centurion blowing a Christmas party horn,
                    on his head my foil Roman legionnaire helmet.

I remember him smiling like a boddhisatva
          as he pulled on scuffed brogans to bail out
                    my uncle in the drunk tank — Tito Augusto

had been brawling again. But in 1933,
          Tatay seemed another man. My father
                    at twelve was circumcised with a couple

of buddies. The ring of boys.
          The penknife. Blood dwindling.
                    When Tatay heard, he bent my father

over the Army trunk again. Set up
          the pitcher and glass. He made his
                    two-inch-wide leather belt lick the boy's

naked back. Resting, he sipped water, then
          got up, belt in hand. My father glanced over
                    at the pitcher to see how much was left.

There were other stories. How after
          the Bataan death march, they met, father
                    and son, in the concentration camp near Capas.

Tatay shivered at noon, muttering of
          bodies mantled with wings, ashimmer.
                    My father could see two compounds away,

they were burning wood — bark the Igorots
          use to cure malaria. My father crept
                    under the wire. A butterfly's

lazy tango in the glare. That itch
          between his shoulderblades. A bead
                    of sweat. The imperial guard's boots

a yard to the left. The Philippine Army
          regulars who were burning the wood smirked
                    when they caught him, gathering branches

in his arms. With fists and bare feet
          pounding his head and back, did he recall
                    those rituals of trunk and pitcher?

Cradling a bundle of sticks, my father
          crawled back. I can see the bark dancing
                    now in water, next to the cot where

Tatay moans in his sleep. I hear my father
          singing softly. I can almost make it out, but
                    I can't quite place the tune, a Tagalog lullaby.

— Vince Gotera, first appeared in The Madison Review (1989).

In the poem, I highlight an ironic and iconic difference between Filipinos: the Philippine Army soldiers beat my father because he was a Philippine Scout, that is, a member of the US Army. In this context, because the US Army can no longer protect my father, they see him as too good for his britches because he is a Filipino in the US Army — uppity, someone whom they would see as having previously lorded over them. The irony is that Papa is beaten in order to save the life of the man who used to beat him.

The other two poems I read at the symposium have been featured in the blog already: "Honor, 1946" and "Refusal to Write an Elegy." In the first, we see another side of my father being caught between different racial forces: instead of being attacked by Filipinos, he is attacked by white Americans. In the second, we see the war demons he faces, not from external attack but rather from within.

Besides my own small part in the symposium, I was truly moved at the scope and span of the subjects covered, the articulate speakers who gave presentations not only about Filipino Americans in the war but also about the original Flying Tigers, Chinese American fighter pilots who volunteered to fly for the Chinese Air Force against the Japanese even before 1941; the Japanese American soldiers of the most highly decorated American military unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; the Asian American women who served in various military capacities during the war; and so on. I learned quite a lot, and the symposium was indeed a joyous occasion celebrating the tremendous contributions Asian Pacific Americans made to the American war effort.

As General Taguba said in his keynote address, "The Asian Pacific American families who join us today have marked a lasting legacy in our history not to be forgotten. . . . Our unsung heroes have many untold stories yet to be shared. It is their time. It will always be their time." Amen to that, kapatid, kababayan.

Today is Veterans Day. Today is also my father's birthday. If he were living today, Papa would be 88 years young. In the '60s, he was a pioneer in the fight to restore the veterans' rights of the Filipino WWII veterans. In San Francisco, he founded an organization, the Filipino American Veterans and Dependents Association, which worked on this problem, setting out what was probably the first class action suit in the struggle. About the recent legislation of one-time payments ($15,000 to Filipino American veterans in the US, $9,000 to Filipino veterans in the Philippines), I'm certain my father would say, if he were here, "Although this payment is, in many eyes, too little too late, it is a significant gesture nonetheless; we in the Filipino American community, however, should still push for the full restoration of these veterans' benefits."

You rock, Papa. Happy birthday! Veterans Day will always be your signature holiday.

P.S. Many thanks to Reme Grefalda, librarian extraordinaire at the Library of Congress's Asian Division, for inviting me to be a participant in this historic symposium. Maraming salamat, thanks so much, for your hospitality, Reme. I hope I can return the favor sometime if you ever visit Iowa.

Now, just a couple more pictures (click on any of the pictures above or below to see larger versions). The Library of Congress is made up of incredibly beautiful buildings. If you are ever in Washington, DC, you should definitely check out the Library. Many visitors go to the Capitol, the Smithsonian, the various memorials. Go also to the Library; it is the living monument to our country's intellectual aspirations and achievements.

Kluge Room, where the symposium was held

Hallway in the Jefferson Building

Lobby of the Jefferson Building

Friends, please write a comment below. I'd really love to hear your responses. If you have visited the Library of Congress, tell us all about it. Thanks for visiting the blog! Come back often.


SueG said...

A lovely post and a beautiful poem, Vince. Thanks.

Jewel/Pink Ink said...

Congratulations on the readings. Wonderful poems to celebrate a wonderful day.

I visited the Library of C. decades ago when I interned for a Utah senator. I don't remember much of the details, just an overall sense of wonder at everything Washington, DC.

Barb said...

Vince, thank you so much for posting this! I especially love poems that describe such irony. Congratulations on being invited to read at the LoC. Great pictures, too! See you soon, Kuya!

Vince Gotera said...

Sorry to be so late in responding, friends.

SueG ... thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate your feedback.

Jewel/PI ... thanks! I've only been in DC a couple of times. I did a nighttime walking tour of several monuments on my own this time. Wonderful.

Barb ... salamat! Looking forward to seeing you and Brian this week.

Nick said...


I found your page after a bit of searching on Google, and I wanted to be sure and drop you a line. My name is Nick Nelson, and I am an intern working for Reme Grefalda and the Asian Division of the LOC this semester. With this internship, I had the honor of attending and helping with the Unsung Heroes presentation and to hear your incredibly moving readings and stories.

I wanted to say, again, thank you for your role in the presentation, as I felt I learned much from the role of not just a veteran, but someone who was part of a military family as well (I myself am the son and grandson of two retired Army Colonels and the brother of an active USMC Captain), and your perspective was a joy to hear.

Many blessings to you for the rest of your journey in writing and beyond, I look forward to keeping up with your blog!

Nick Nelson

Loved Ever said...

nice post
Work From Home India

Anonymous said...

Hey there this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know
if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have
to manually code with HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

Feel free to visit my web blog usb memory stick

Anonymous said...

Hello there. I'm sorry to bother you but I happened to run across your web site and discovered you're using the
exact same template as me. The only problem is on my site, I'm battling to get the theme looking like yours. Would you mind e-mailing me at: so I can get this figured out. By the way I've bookmarked your website: and will be visiting frequently.


My web page psp memory stick

Anonymous said...

Hey there. I was thinking about adding a backlink back to your site since both
of our web sites are centered around the same niche. Would you prefer I link to you using your site address: or website title: Blogger:
The Man with the Blue Guitar. Please make sure to let me know at your earliest convenience.

My homepage: raid recovery linux

Anonymous said...

Hey there! It seems as though we both have a passion for the same thing.
Your blog, "Blogger: The Man with the Blue Guitar" and mine are
very similar. Have you ever considered writing a guest post
for a related blog? It will unquestionably help gain exposure to your blog (my website recieves a lot of
traffic). If you're interested, contact me at: Many thanks

my page :: power data recovery

13th floor elevators (1) 3d (1) 9/11 (3) a schneider (1) abecedarian (6) acrostic (2) adelaide crapsey (1) african american (1) aids (1) al robles (2) alberta turner (1) alex esclamado (1) alexander chen (1) alexandra bissell (1) alexandrines (1) alliteration (3) alphabet (1) alphabet poem (2) altered books (1) altered pages (2) altered reality magazine (1) amanda blue gotera (6) amelia blue gotera (3) american gothic (1) amok (1) amy lowell (1) anacreon (1) anacreontics (1) anaphora (1) andre norton (1) andrea boltwood (19) andrew davidson (1) andrew marvell (1) andrew oldham (1) angelina jolie (1) angels (1) animation (1) anna montgomery (3) anne reynolds (1) annie e. existence (1) annie finch (1) anny ballardini (1) anti- (1) antonio taguba (2) aprille (1) art (7) arturo islas (1) ash wednesday (1) asian american (4) assonance (2) astronomy (2) aswang (12) aswang wars (1) atlanta rhythm section (1) balato (1) ballad (1) barack obama (7) barbara jane reyes (1) barry a. morris (1) bass (2) bataan (5) becca andrea (1) beetle (2) belinda subraman (2) beowulf (1) best american poetry (1) bible (1) bill clinton (1) billy collins (2) blank verse (4) bob boynton (1) body farm (1) bolo (1) bongbong marcos (3) bop (1) brian brodeur (2) brian garrison (1) bruce johnson (1) bruce niedt (2) buddah moskowitz (2) burns stanza (1) callaloo (1) candida fajardo gotera (5) cardinal sin (1) carlos bulosan (1) carlos santana (1) carmina figurata (2) carolina matsumura gotera (1) caroline klocksiem (1) carrie arizona (3) carrieola (3) carriezona (1) catherine childress pritchard (1) catherine pritchard childress (36) catullus (1) cebu (1) cecilia manguerra brainard (1) cedar falls (6) cedar falls public library (1) charles a hogan (2) chess (1) childhood (1) children's poetry (1) China (1) chorus of glories (1) chris durietz (1) christmas (2) chuck pahlaniuk (1) cinquain (1) civil rights (1) clarice (1) classics iv (1) cleave hay(na)ku (2) clerihews (3) cliché (1) computers (1) concreteness (1) consonance (5) cory aquino (2) couplet (5) couplet quatrains (1) crab (1) craft (5) creative nonfiction (1) crewrt-l (1) crucifixion (1) curtal sonnet (9) dactyls (2) daily palette (1) damián ortega (1) danielle filas (1) dante (4) dashiki (1) david foster wallace (1) david kopaska-merkel (1) david wojahn (1) de jackson (2) denise duhamel (1) deviantART (3) dick powell (1) diction (1) didactic cinquain (1) dinosaur (2) disaster relief (1) divine comedy (1) dodecasyllables (1) doggerel (2) doggie diner (1) don johnson (1) donald trump (5) dr who (3) dr. seuss (1) draft (2) dragon (1) dragonfly (17) dreams & nightmares (1) drug addiction (1) drums (1) dusty springfield (1) e e cummings (1) e-book (1) earth day (1) ebay (2) ecopoetry (1) ed hill (1) edgar allan poe (2) edgar rice burroughs (1) editing (1) eileen tabios (7) ekphrasis (2) ekphrastic review (1) election (2) elegy (2) elevenie (1) elizabeth alexander (2) elizabeth bishop (2) elvis presley (1) emily dickinson (6) emma trelles (1) end-stop (3) english sonnet (1) englyn milwer (1) enita meadows (1) enjambed rhyme (1) enjambment (5) enola gay (1) environment (1) erasure poetry (9) erin mcreynolds (4) ernest lawrence thayer (1) exxon valdez oil spill (1) f. j. bergman (1) f. scott fitzgerald (1) facebook (3) family (4) fantasy (1) fashion (1) ferdinand magellan (1) ferdinand marcos (5) fib (1) fiction (3) fiera lingue (1) fighting kite (4) filipino (language) (1) filipino americans (6) filipino poetry (1) filipino veterans equity (3) filipinos (5) film (3) final thursday reading series (2) flannery o'connor (3) flute (1) fortune cookie (1) found poem (1) found poetry (6) found poetry review (2) fourteeners (1) frank frazetta (1) fred unwin (1) free verse (1) fructuosa gotera (1) fyodor dostoevsky (1) gabriel garcía márquez (1) gambling (1) garrett hongo (1) gary kelley (1) gawain (1) genre (1) george w. bush (1) gerard manley hopkins (8) ghazal (2) ghost wars (5) ghosts of a low moon (1) gogol bordello (1) golden shovel (3) goodreads (1) google (1) gotera (1) grace kelly (1) grant tracey (1) grant wood (1) greek mythology (1) gregory k pincus (1) griffin lit (1) grimm (1) grinnell college (2) growing up (1) growing up filipino (2) guest blogger (1) guillaume appolinaire (1) guitar (9) gulf war (1) gustave doré (3) guy de maupassant (1) gwendolyn brooks (2) gypsy art show (1) gypsy punk (1) hades (1) haibun (2) haiga (1) haiku (23) haiku sonnet (3) hart crane (1) hawak kamay (1) hay(na)ku (18) hay(na)ku sonnet (8) header (1) hearst center for the arts (2) heirloom (1) herman melville (1) hey joe (1) hiroshima (1) hiv here & now (1) homer (1) how a poem happens (2) humboldt state university (1) humor (1) hybrid sonnet (1) iain m. banks (1) iamb (1) iambic pentameter (1) ian parks (1) ibanez (1) imagery (1) imelda marcos (4) immigrants (1) imogen heap (1) indiana university (1) inigo online magazine (1) ink! (1) insect (2) insects (1) international hotel (1) interview (3) introduction (2) iowa (2) iran (1) iran-iraq war (1) irving levinson (1) italian bicycle (1) italian sonnet (2) ivania velez (2) j. d. schraffenberger (4) j. i. kleinberg (3) j. k. rowling (1) jack horner (2) jack kerouac (1) jack p nantell (1) james brown (1) james gorman (2) jan d. hodges (1) japan (1) jasmine dreame wagner (1) jeanette winterson (1) jedediah dougherty (1) jedediah kurth (31) jennifer bullis (1) jesse graves (1) jessica hagedorn (1) jessica mchugh (2) jim daniels (1) jim hall (1) jim hiduke (1) jim o'loughlin (1) jim simmerman (1) jimi hendrix (3) jimmy fallon (1) joan osborne (1) joe mcnally (1) john barth (1) john charles lawrence (2) john clare (1) john donne (1) john mccain (1) john welsh iii (2) joseph solo (1) josh hamzehee (1) joyce kilmer (1) justine wagner (1) kampilan (1) kathleen ann lawrence (1) kathy reichs (1) kay ryan (1) keith welsh (1) kelly cherry (1) kelly christiansen (1) kenning (1) kennings poem (3) killjoy (1) kim groninga (1) king arthur (1) king tut (1) kumadre (1) kumpadre (1) kurt vonnegut (1) kyell gold (1) landays (1) lapu-lapu (1) lapwing publications (1) laurie kolp (2) leonardo da vinci (1) les paul (1) leslie kebschull (1) lester smith (1) library (1) library of congress (2) limerick (2) linda parsons marion (1) linda sue grimes (2) lineation (6) linked haiku (4) linked tanka (1) list poem (1) little brown brother (1) little free libraries (3) lorette c. luzajic (1) lost (tv) (1) louise glück (1) luis buñuel (1) lune (2) lydia lunch (1) machismo (1) magazines (1) mah jong (1) man ray (1) manananggal (2) manong (3) margaret atwood (1) maria fleuette deguzman (1) marianne moore (1) marilyn cavicchia (1) marilyn hacker (1) mark jarman (1) marriage (1) martin avila gotera (16) martin luther king jr. (1) marty gotera (5) marty mcgoey (1) mary ann blue gotera (6) mary biddinger (1) mary roberts rinehart award (1) mary shelley (1) matchbook (1) maura stanton (1) maureen thorson (206) meena rose (3) megan hippler (1) melanie villines (1) melanie wolfe (1) melina blue gotera (3) mental illness (1) meter (7) mfa (2) michael heffernan (3) michael martone (2) michael ondaatje (1) michael shermer (2) michael spence (1) michelle obama (1) middle witch (1) mirror northwest (1) misky (1) molossus (1) monkey (1) morel mushrooms (2) mushroom hunting (1) music (3) muslim (1) my custom writer blog (1) myth (1) mythology (3) nagasaki (1) naked blonde writer (1) naked girls reading (1) naked novelist (1) napowrimo (213) narrative (2) natalya st. clair (1) nathan dahlhauser (1) nathaniel hawthorne (1) national geographic (3) national poetry month (214) native american (1) neil gaiman (2) neoformalism (1) New Formalists (1) New York School (1) nick carbó (3) ninang (1) north american review (7) north american review blog (2) of books and such (1) of this and such (1) ottava rima (2) oulipo (1) pablo picasso (2) pacific crossing (1) padre timoteo gotera (1) painting (1) palestinian american (1) palindrome (1) palinode (1) palmer hall (1) pantoum (1) paradelle (2) paranormal (1) parkersburg iowa (1) parody (4) parody poetry journal (1) parol (1) pastoral poetry (1) pat bertram (2) pat martin (1) paula berinstein (1) pause for the cause (2) pca/aca (1) peace (2) peace of mind band (1) pecan grove press (2) pepito gotera (1) percy bysshe shelley (2) performance poetry (1) persephone (1) persona phone (1) peter padua (1) petrarch (1) petrarchan sonnet (9) phil memmer (1) philip larkin (1) philippine news (1) philippine scouts (6) philippine-american war (1) philippines (8) phish (1) pinoy (1) pinoy poetics (1) pixie lott (1) podcast (1) podcasts (3) poem-a-day challenge (211) poetics (6) poetry (5) poetry imitation (1) poetry international (1) poetry reading (4) poets against (the) war (2) pop culture (2) popcorn press (1) prejudice (1) presidio of san francisco (1) prince (3) princess grace foundation (1) promotion (1) prose poem (3) ptsd (2) puppini sisters (1) puptent poets (2) pyrrhic (1) quatrain (4) r.e.m. (1) rachel morgan (2) racism (1) rainer maria rilke (1) rap (1) rattle (1) ray fajardo (1) reggie lee (1) rembrandt (1) ren powell (1) reviews (1) revision (1) rhyme (8) rhysling awards (4) rhythm (1) richard fay (1) richard hugo (1) rick griffin (1) rime (1) rippled mirror hay(na)ku (1) robert bly (1) robert frost (2) robert fulghum (1) robert j christenson (1) robert lee brewer (211) robert mezey (1) robert neville (1) robert zemeckis (1) rock and roll (2) roger zelazny (1) romanian (1) ron kowit (1) ronald wallace (2) rondeau (1) ross gay (1) roundelay (1) rubaiyat (1) rubaiyat sonnet (1) run-d.m.c. (1) saade mustafa (1) salt publishing (1) salvador dali (1) san francisco (8) sandra cisneros (1) santa claus (1) santana (1) sapphics (1) sarah deppe (1) sarah palin (1) sarah smith (26) satan (1) sayaka alessandra (1) schizophrenia (1) science fiction (2) science fiction poetry association (1) science friction (1) scifaiku (1) scott walker (1) screaming monkeys (1) scripture (1) sculpture (1) sena jeter naslund (1) senryu (3) sestina (7) sevenling (1) shadorma (1) shaindel beers (2) shakespearean sonnet (1) sharon olds (1) shawn wong (1) shiites or shia (1) sidney bechet (1) skateboard (1) skeltonics (1) skylaar amann (1) slant rhyme (5) slide shows (1) small fires press (1) sniper (1) somersault abecedarian (1) sonnet (33) sonnetina (4) soul (1) southeast asian american (1) spanish (1) specificity (1) speculative poetry (1) spenserian stanza (1) spiraling abecedarian (1) spondee (1) spooky (1) st. patrick's day (1) stanford university (1) stanley meltzoff (1) stanza (1) stars and stripes (2) stereogram (1) steve hazlewood (1) steve mcqueen (1) stevie nicks (1) stone canoe (2) sue boynton (1) suite101 (2) sunflowers (1) surges (1) susan l. chast (1) syllabics (1) sylvia plath (2) synesthesia (1) syzygy poetry journal (2) t. m. sandrock (1) t. s. eliot (2) tanka (8) tarzan (1) teaching creative writing (2) ted kooser (1) term paper mill (1) terrance hayes (1) terza rima (10) terza rima haiku sonnet (7) terzaiku sonnet (4) terzanelle (1) the byrds (1) thomas alan holmes (120) thomas crofts (4) thomas faivre-duboz (1) thunderstorm (1) thurifer (1) tiger (1) tilly the laughing housewife (1) time travel (1) tom perrotta (1) tom petty (1) tom phillips (1) toni morrison (2) tornado (1) translation (2) translitic (3) tribute in light (1) trickster (1) triolet (1) triskaidekaphobia (1) tritina (1) trochee (1) tucson (1) typhoon haiyan (1) typhoon yolanda (1) university of northern iowa (6) unrhymed sonnet (2) us army (7) vampire (2) ven batista (29) verses typhoon yolanda (1) veterans' day (2) via dolorosa (1) video poetry (6) vietnam war (4) viktor vasnetsov (1) villanelle (1) vince del monte (1) vincent van gogh (1) virgil wren (1) virtual blog tour (1) visual poetry (3) vladimir putin (1) volkswagen (1) w. somerset maugham (1) wallace stevens (3) walt mcdonald (1) walt whitman (3) war (7) war in afghanistan (2) war in iraq (2) wartburg college (1) waterloo (1) whypoetrymatters (1) wile e. coyote (1) wilfred owen (1) william blake (1) william carlos williams (1) william f tout (1) william gibson (1) william oandasan (1) william shakespeare (2) wind (1) winter (1) women's art (1) wooster review (1) writing (1) writing away retreats (1) writing show (1) wwii (6) young adult (1) yusef komunyakaa (6) zone 3 (1)