by Joann Natalia Aquino of Intiman Theatre

Over brunch in Seattle on a Monday morning, I met with the Dragon Lady, the title character of our next show, to learn more about her, and in turn, for us to learn about Intiman’s upcoming production. Here, we share that conversation. Read on.

Intiman: Kamusta po. (Kamusta is a greeting or “How are you?” in Tagalog, a language spoken in the Philippines; and “po” is added to sentences to show respect to elders.) Thank you for meeting with me.
Dragon Lady: Oh, you’re very welcome.

Let’s start with why you came to America?
I came to America because the Philippines couldn’t handle how awesome I was. I wanted to be a movie star, and I also wanted to give my children the best education that there was for them in the world -— and I heard that it was in America.

How old were you when you came to America?
I was… Ay ‘sus (“Oh my God”), how old was I? I was 23, I think… I was 23 years old.

And how old are you now?
Ay, baby, you are not allowed to ask me that! It is older than 50 and younger than 80.

Okay, I will go with that. Please tell me, what was your life like when you came to America? 
It was very hard, babe. I had all these dreams, but I didn’t understand that America, even though it was the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is actually a very racist country. I was a Navy wife and I met other Filipina ladies who were married to American men, but all of the other white people would look at us like we were gago (“stupid”), like we were crazy —- you know that. They made fun of our accents. But then, when we would all go to karaoke and we would sing, they would look at us like they were jealous.

How did you deal with racism back then and how did you remain strong?
You know it was hard, because I had five children. I had to work all the time, because you know how much rice five children can eat. I think the thing that kept me strong, even when it was hard, was knowing that one day my children wouldn’t have to do what I was doing for their lives. That I was working hard now, so that I can rest later. It is hard to be strong, especially if you don’t have your family here to talk to and your children don’t understand what you’re going through, because you know they’re babies running around crying, “feed me, feed me!” — and they don’t want to hear about your emotions.

So you raised five children by yourself?
You know, my husband was there but he was in the Navy, so all the time he was on the boat going out to sea, going out to sea… We divorced when my youngest one was born, in 1982 or 1983, and after that, I was definitely a single mom. But because he was gone so much, it felt like I was raising them all by myself.

Looking back, now that your children are older and your grandchildren are also older, what do you want them to know about your story?
Ay, my God… You know, it is hard because I tell them things and my children will say, “Mom, that’s not true. That can’t be true.” And then I tell my grandchildren, and they’re like, “Ay, grandma. That is so cool. You are so gangster, badass lady!” And I think more than anything, when I die, when I drop dead, I hope that they keep telling my story, because I don’t want to have nobody forget me. I want other people to know my story that even through hardship and difficulties, I am a happy person now. I have made peace with all that.

And what is “all that?”
Ay, babe. You want to know what “all that” is, you come see my granddaughter’s show! She put it all out there for everyone to see! The first time I saw her show I said, “Ay, my God, why is she telling everybody my secrets?!” And she does this thing, and I go, “Ay, that isn’t how it happened.” But the next time she does it, I’m like, “Oh, that is actually how it happened.” If you want to know what “all that” is, come and see DRAGON LADY. Maybe I’ll be there too.

Stay tuned for the part 2 of the conversation. And come and see the show!