Sincerely, Mango


January 11, 2022 / Jacqueline Magno



Being mistaken for a fruit should have been funny. But, like a fruit, I bruised easily.



2009

“Is Jacqueline Mango here?”

My face grew warm as I raised my hand. The substitute teacher glanced at me over her horn-rimmed glasses and checked my name off the attendance sheet. Before she could proceed to the next student, I said, “It’s Magno.”

She tucked a finger behind her ear and leaned forwards. “You have to speak up, sweetheart.”

“It’s Magno.”

She looked at me blankly, as if she couldn’t tell the difference.

When you’re the only Filipino-American student in rural Pennsylvania, you learn to explain the parts of yourself that don’t fit in. This was by no means a tormenting experience, but I turned beet red whenever faced with innocent questions from my peers.

“Are you from China?” boys would ask me on the bus, their blue eyes peering at me from over the seat.

“Why is your nose so flat?” a girl once inquired.

“Is your last name really Mango?”

Being mistaken for a fruit should have been funny. But, like a fruit, I bruised easily. Did people just not know how to read? Why couldn’t I have been born with a more American last name like Smith or Todd? I expressed my grievances to my mother that evening, afraid that I’d be called a fruit for the rest of my life.

Anak, you think too much,” she said, gliding her paring knife beneath the skin of a ripened Fuji apple. “You carry our family history with that last name, so you should wear it like a badge of honor.”

I thought about my father, who studied for eight years just to be called Dr. Mango by his patients. I looked up at my mother, who left her career as an operating room nurse to care for her two children. As admirable as my parents were, I was more concerned with blending in at school than shouldering their history. But my mother’s words intrigued me.

A badge of honor, huh? I thought, sinking my teeth into an apple slice. Though I had no idea what she meant by that, I got the sense that it was important. So I tucked her explanation into the back of my mind and patiently awaited understanding.

Like a fruit barely flowering from its branches, I patiently awaited to bloom.




1996

My mother tried to bloom in Washington, D.C., but the weather wasn’t ideal.

As she exited the subway car onto the station platform, the crisp winter air made her face turn pink. She didn’t know why she’d gotten off the train; this wasn’t her usual stop. In fact, as she climbed the steps towards Michigan Avenue and shuffled across the icy sidewalk, she couldn’t remember why she’d come to America at all.

Watching the seasons change in Washington, D.C., was like falling in and out of love. Summer had been blissful for my mother — her days saturated with road trips across the city, idle walks to the supermarket, and late-night study sessions for the test that would deem her eligible for work. But as exam season passed and winter approached, the road trips started to cease. Idle walks became breathless sprints through Howard University Hospital. She no longer spent late nights at her desk, but on the couch in the nurses’ locker room, where she slept until the sunrise made it safe enough to leave.

My mother once saw America as a chance to reinvent herself. Now, she felt like she’d left too much of herself behind. She missed the Lagro sun that warmed her skin on the way home from school, the thick air that could only be cut by an oscillating fan. She yearned for her father, who’d passed a few years before she left. “Maida will take me to America,” he’d say with pride.

Well, we’re here, Dad, she thought, fighting to keep the frostbite from searing through her scrub bottoms. It’s just a lot colder than I expected.

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was a 15-minute walk from the station. Her recruiter Eileen had taken her and several others here on their first Sunday in America, piling them into a shiny red Lincoln without asking if they were religious. The Basilica’s archways stretched like open arms as my mother walked inside, found an available pew, and began to pray. America was full of novelties — snow storms, tall people. But at least the churches were the same.

She asked God for sensation to return back to her toes. A new friend, if she were lucky.

She was looking for a sign that the months she’d spent uprooting herself weren’t completely for nothing.




1994

My father uprooted himself from The Philippines on a whim.

He shrugged on his coat and ambled down Sheldon Street towards the 7/11, away from his relatives’ house in Alexandria, Virginia, and towards whatever future God had in store for him. It was the morning of match day, wherein medical residents across the country found out where they would pursue their medical residencies. All matches had been printed in the daily issue of USA Today, and my father couldn’t wait to read his.

He’d had two months and $200 to impress a residency program in the North East, but this was more of an adventure to him than a challenge. In between interviews in Brooklyn and Queens, he’d scaled the World Trade Center and felt the entirety of New York City beneath his feet. When traveling to Far Rockaway, he’d pieced together subway maps and cut through neighborhoods that reeked of pot. Even on the two-day train ride to Chicago — during which he forgot to eat — he simply watched the trees zip by his window, clutching his cousin’s Walkman as Hootie & the Blowfish blared in each ear.

America was like a speaker with the volume turned all the way up, overexerting every sense, every nerve. But my father never flinched. Too many people had invested in his success for him to be anything but confident.

Lola Cora and Lolo Fred were generous enough to let him stay at their house upon his arrival in the States. His mother back in Quezon City left for the docks at five every morning so her children and their cousins wouldn’t have to. Everyone had wrapped their loving arms around him and lifted him up to higher places. Now, it was his turn to do the same.

The door jingled as he entered the 7/11 and made a bee-line for the newspaper stand. He picked up a copy of USA Today and flipped through each page until he saw his name. He raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Ferdinand Magno: Howard University Hospital, Washington, D.C.

It was unexpected, to say the least. But then again, the best things in life were.




2021

My father always told me that I reminded him of his mother: Type-A, easily unnerved. Always finding new ways to grow. I imagine her rising at four in the morning on weekdays and solving crossword puzzles in her spare time, and I wonder how I could ever live up to someone so diligent. Still, I try.

“Everyone, be quiet! Jackie’s video is starting!” my coworker hissed, passing champagne and cookies around the conference table.

The entire student affairs department crowded around the iPad as the celebration video I’d produced for spring graduation streamed across the screen. I’d been interning with the College of Liberal Arts for about a year now, writing articles for their website and designing graphics for Instagram. But this was by far my most daunting feat.

I glanced at my coworkers as they watched the video and thought about how lucky I was to be here. How privileged I was to have a job that I loved and parents who made that a possibility for me. When I was younger, I was more concerned with blending in at school than shouldering their history. But as I tucked each passing year under my belt, I began to collect the stories they told across the dining room table. Stories of Basilicas and Walkmans, of insecurities and leaps of faith. My parents’ uprooting was the sole reason I was here. And I refused to take that for granted.

By the end of the video, my name flashed across the screen:

Written & Edited by: Jackie Magno

I tacked that last name onto everything these days — video projects, magazine articles, works of fiction, and digital art. I’d fallen in love with it without even realizing. My last name plants the seeds of a post-graduate career I have yet to begin; it reminds me of the woman whose diligence I inherited. It carries with me all the people who have worked so hard to foster my growth. ■




by: Jacqueline Magno

layout:
Juleanna Culilap

photographer:
Ethan Tran

stylist: Sophia Amstalden

hmua:
Sara Tin-U

models:
Pixie Tomacruz

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