Artwork / Apple Pie / Letter from the American Cousin (Filipino-American, Celeste)

Filipino-American woman as Benjamin Franklin
Gwenn Seemel
Letter from the American Cousin (Filipino-American, Celeste)
acrylic on canvas
40 x 24 inches


Below is the subject’s answer to this question: what does it mean to be an American?

A penny saved is a penny earned,
advised a wise man in his almanac
My grandfather and my grandmother
Raised four kids and two nephews
On a teacher’s salary and the wages of a city worker
The whole family would sleep in one place
So they could rent out the other rooms
To help pay the bills
They would go to the market
And haggle over cents
Over vegetables

When my father was in middle school
He discovered a gift
Prowess on the basketball court
Teammates deferred to him
Ready to crown him captain
“Can I join the team?” he asked his parents
But money didn’t flow
Like the Mississippi
They could not afford to buy his team uniform
Nor the shoes
My father watched the games from beyond the lines
Instead of playing them

My mother and father
Started their life together
Making do with what they had
Bought second-hand winter coats
And dusty furniture that didn’t match ineffable
And their kitchen utensils
From garage sales
All guts, no desperation

And then there’s me.

If I needed utensils that badly,
I would go to McDonald’s for the free disposable kinds
I would never buy used spoons
from a garage sale
And I would never be denied playing on a team
Simply because we couldn't afford the uniforms
In the universe I inherited, somebody can make it happen
I am the lemonade stand
I’m as bankable as Girl Scout cookies
I’m as unavoidable as the Superbowl
I’m inevitable
This land is my land

- Celeste

Filipino-American woman as Benjamin Franklin
detail image
painting of a stamp
detail image