Jul 17, 2024

June 16, 2024 —  A number of years ago, my sister had given me her Capiz shell lamp when the electrical parts stopped working, since my hubby is a MacGyver of sorts, and I am obsessed with all things Filipino.  I recently came across this forgotten lamp that had been sitting in a Superstore shopping basket gathering dust and felt the urge to check out this beautiful piece. 

This is not a 20-minute task.  As I attempted to lift it out of the basket, my shaky arms quickly reminded me that I’d need to hang it to continue the job.  The lamp consists of a circular metal “base” made of numerous translucent fragile shell pieces—Capiz--edged in wire which is hung from the ceiling and from which hang a cord of three light bulbs surrounded by a number of floor-length clear fishing lines with Capiz discs strategically tied along each string.  When the lamp is suspended from the ceiling and the strings hang down correctly, the total effect is this gorgeous dynamic three-sphere column of light that appears to float in mid-air.  With the lights on as intended, it is stunning. 




What is before me now, though, is a heavy, dented dusty frame with a large chunk of the strings knotted together into an immovable mass of shells that requires much work and patience to fix.  I see a few pieces have broken off, and the shells tinkle in protest as I hang the base onto a sturdy hook to get started.

I picture my other lamps that have survived moves to various locations, and I feel a twinge in my chest as I recall the time my hubs had to cut the strings of one lamp that I couldn’t un-knot after days of working on it.  I was hyper-focused and over-invested; I couldn’t bring myself to do the cutting, so settled on barking frenzied orders at him as he did the honours. 

These tangled see-through threads remind me of the unprocessed feelings and thoughts I carry as a second generation Canadian Chinese-Filipina public health doctor and busy mom of four.  My dad, Dr. Eusebio Legarda Koh—the OG Killer Koh--died in 2022, and while I’ve referred to him every time I’ve been handed a microphone or sat at my keyboard since—there are parts of this that I am too scared to--I can’t yet—touch. 

There’s this Twilight Zone “new normal” way of existing that we as a society are doing right now that looks exactly—suspiciously--like pre-2019, as if we’ve conveniently deleted our 2-year version of Armageddon.  As my province’s former Chief Occupational Medical Officer running the Workplace COVID Unit, I was hyper-focused and over-invested then too:  working ridiculous hours non-stop despite all the system limitations, obstacles and saboteurs I’d struggled against for years, but this time I operated on my gut instincts instead of toeing lines that didn’t make sense.  And against the odds stacked against me, all those decisions paid off.  While what I was able to accomplish tells me I made the right calls, this doesn’t negate the daily trauma I saw and experienced then, repeatedly—also too painful to fully tease apart and process all at once. 


Celebration at the Manitoba Legislature with Mabuhay District/Manitoba Filipino Business Council. From left are Dr. Denise Ho, Jackie Wild, Allan Pineda, Karla Atanacio, Joseph Orobia, Hazel Venzon, Antoinette Baquiran, and Karen Umandal.Celebration at the Manitoba Legislature with Mabuhay District/Manitoba Filipino Business Council. From left are Dr. Denise Ho, Jackie Wild, Allan Pineda, Karla Atanacio, Joseph Orobia, Hazel Venzon, Antoinette Baquiran, and Karen Umandal.


May was Asian Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month; June is Filipino Heritage Month, National Indigenous Heritage Month and Pride Month.  There are layers of knots to unravel here, too.

On May 23, I shared my family’s migration story, my personal losses, wins and big insights to the George Waters Middle School students. Going over the map of Asia while self-identifying heritage got this exuberant group of kids cheering; we’re reminded that Israel and Palestine are part of us too.  More intricate even entrenched knots that require delicate fingers, the biggest and most open hearts, the patience and time required here for deep healing.

I witnessed the UM president apologize to the Indigenous community at the Repatriation and Rematriation event of Indigenous ancestral remains, and I couldn’t help but think of Maura and the three Filipinas lauded for their work in sharing the story and getting her and other Filipinos’ remains back home.  We are all connected, sometimes by imperceptible threads.  I marched with the fabulous Filipino LGBTQ+ community at Bahaghari Pride Manitoba, another important first. 

I’ve celebrated the incredible musical, dance and sikaran-arnis talents of our Filipino community at a number of events--The Asian Canadian Showcase Taste of Asia, Celebrating Filipino Heritage at the Manitoba Legislature, Flag Raising and Opening Ceremony at the PCCM, Kundiman Harana y Larzuela-- and connected with Filipinos in action and advocacy at the Virtual National Policy Forum on Combating Anti-Asian Racism and even TEDX Winnipeg.  We got to experience a slice of the Manitoba Asian comedy scene at the 3rd Annual AHM Comedy Show and 3 hilarious Pinoy comics from Toronto and San Francisco at Joke-Silog.  Much respect and awe for these incredible kababayan. 

At the Magdaragat and Red Lotus Cultural Exchange, I was so happy that my kids got to learn some basics about Philippine and Korean language, traditional dress, food, legends and some moves in the tapis, tinikling, and K-pop workshop.  This is a priority to me, since I realized my kids’ connection to their culture could stop with me if I don’t keep them involved in the Filipino community. I even overcame my lifelong belief that tinikling was only for “the older kids” (my ate got tinikling, while I got gayong gayong and tapis), and was able to finally check this one off my bucket list (and not break an ankle).  I am excited for the upcoming events I’m able to attend, particularly with the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and the few up my sleeve I am helping to coordinate. 

As I spread the strings in my hands, working and sorting threads, teasing the circles free, the sound fills my ears and heart with loud clashes and the melodious clinking of individual shells—I see waves carrying me to water lapping distant shores on foreign lands, yet I am so close the sound seems to come from within me--all the things I want to do and be in this world—what drives me in this new cycle.  Connection.  Representation.  Service.  Meaning.  Healing.  Home.  Yes, home.

Canadian Filipino Net is an independent, non-profit digital magazine produced by volunteer writers, editors, and webmasters. Your donation will go a long way so we can continuously publish stories about Canadian Filipinos. Click on a donate button and proceed either through PayPal, Debit, or Credit Card.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.