Immigrant musings

These are poems that emerged from my experience - and the experiences of other Filipinas - of being an immigrant in London, of suddenly realising that one is a ethnic minority and yet not quite fitting into Britain's usual ethnic categories. I wrote Seeing Black after a Filipino nurse told me of the day she arrived in Britain and her terror when she met her first black man - who turned out to be a helpful train conductor!. Small Talk came out of my early days in London at innumerable dinner parties where I was asked about Imelda Marcos. Imelda haunts Filipino expatriates the world over. How did a bunch of shoes have such an impact on the international psyche? Domestic Problem is based on the story of a Filipino cleaner in London who was forced to work abroad to support her children after she left her violent husband.

Seeing Black

I was on my way to London
My train had gone a mile
When I saw my first black person
Coming toward me down the aisle
I’d only been in England
For two hours or three
I hope that he has forgiven me
My scream’s velocity
I thought he’d come to grab my bag
So I got up to flee
But then I saw his British Rail badge
My ticket he wished to see

As I got off at Victoria
All set for my brand new life
I saw an Englishman wink
and whisper to his wife
“Hang on to your handbag, darling
There are pickpockets about
Watch out for that black woman
With her jacket inside out.”
I looked around for the suspect
To my purse I hung on tight
But she’d already left the scene
There was nobody in sight.

And then I caught a glimpse of her
As I passed a lingerie store
The woman that had roused such fear
Was reflected on the door
Her jacket indeed was inside out
Her swag bag was on her shoulder
Her brown-skinned face was dusty and tired
It was me we were looking out for.

Now I am a Londoner
I’m used to the melting pot
And Black is only a colour
That shouldn’t mean a lot
But it’s a label that has stuck itself
to the billboard of my face
I normally am a mottled tan
Now Black is the colour of my race
Black is a demographic
The biggest club in town
If only it didn’t refer to
Several million shades of brown.

Back to the top

Domestic Problem

The blade shaved off those wiry hairs
That curled above his vest
And then he started kicking me
So I stuck it in his chest.
When he pushed my face into the wall
His arm my knife did slash
I heard a muffled little call
As he tumbled with a crash:
“Mummy, don’t kill Daddy!”
My youngest one was crying,
“He doesn’t mean to hit you.”
Too late, the fur was flying.
As his fist caressed my aching head
A thought occurred to me:
How do I get rid of that bright red stain
On his brand new white Nikes?

Back to the top

Small Talk

“How is Imelda Marcos?
Are her shoes still on the go?”
When I first came to London
It was all they wished to know
I tried to say that there was more
To me than meets the eye
That a flat brown nose and straight black hair
Does not mean I can’t ask why
They don’t try to get to know me
Or find out what I do
Or say Fine Weather Isn’t It?
Or ask me How Are You?
I tried to talk of normal things
Like Politics and Fashion,
Burglaries, Movie Stars,
Sport and Television
I wanted them to talk to me
The way they talked to each other
But all that seemed to interest them
Was Imelda’s collection of shoe leather.

Back to the top