All my life, I felt ashamed because I was born in America. Growing up in Los Angeles, CA, in the nineties, an American, to me, was someone who didn’t know what the term “Filipino” meant. An American was someone who immediately assumed that I spoke either Spanish or Japanese, depending on their first impression of me. The most critical feature that I, as a child, connected with Americans was their eyes; namely, the power of their stares. Those eyes belittled my father because of his accent and disregarded my mother as if her hardships meant nothing— the only features those staring eyes seemed to process were our brown skin, raven black hair, broken English, and weird customs. I learned how to detect these eyes trained upon my parents, brothers, and me as if it were a sixth sense. To sum it up, an American was someone who discredited everything that we came from and any success we might have found in the future.
As a child, the staring eyes taught me to view my family and me with disgust. As a preteen, it began to feel like a preference. As if “cute” and “beautiful” were synonymous with “pale” and “blue-eyed”—a look that I didn’t and would never fit into. As I reached my teenage years, those eyes felt like disgust and a possible hatred that I never fully understood because I couldn’t see why someone who didn’t know me could feel so vehemently towards me. I became ashamed of how I looked. I hated that my parents confused their syllables and grammar rules, and I hated it even more when those same issues rose in my own articulation.
In time, the nineties passed. With the jump into the new millennium, America was attempting to address its social consciousness. No longer a child, the general tide of change began to prickle along my skin. The first time I got to check off “Filipino” on a statewide test rather than “other” felt like one of the most significant moments in my life. It was a moment of recognition, a promise for a brighter future, and a guarantee that everyone would practice just a bit more acceptance. With the possibility of change for how Filipinos are viewed, it meant that, at a subconscious level, perhaps I could begin to accept myself. As the years pressed on, my perception of Americans changed once more. The stares didn’t denote cool, hard disgust; it began to feel like many, many things: interest—jealously—envy—lust—evil—kind—apologetic—determined—turned on—turned off. It was a different type of stare, but perhaps, no better. I was older, viewed as an “exotic.” I wasn’t lopped off into the two categories of Mexican or Spanish anymore. People asked if I was Tahitian, Hawaiian, Chamorro—once I was asked if I was from Sri Lanka, and I was very surprised, even I had never seen a Sri Lankan before. The categories opened up; however, it still played the same role of separation. To this day, I can say that the old feeling of eyes upon my back has never truly gone away.
That said, I had the hardest time figuring out how I fit into the American label. I was born in America; hence, I am American. But I hated the association, and I never once felt American. How can I have such feelings of disgust towards the term “American” when that is exactly what I am? I can only be that. I may practice Filipino customs within my community and my parents may have raised me emphasizing with our culture, but that distinctive label has always been there right below the surface. I am American. Even my Filipino cousins back home do not find sisterhood in me. The Philippines is their country. America is mine. This is the distinction that Filipino Americans are not allowed to forget. As any Balikbayan (a Filipino residing abroad coming home; quite often a U.S. Filipino) that returns to the Homeland knows, we would never be accepted back on the islands. Even if we came crawling back, the stench of America and privilege is soaked deep into our skin. I belong to the large group of second generation Filipino Americans lost between two cultures, drifting with an intense feeling of displacement: not fully American, never fully Filipino.
I had decided to embark on a journey towards the possibility of finding home through literature. My hope was to find a sense of placement, home, and identity through the study of Filipino and Filipino American literature. When I first began this study, I approached it with skepticism and fear. For so long, I had felt disconnected from Filipino culture, going so far as to believe that there is no longer anything worth looking for—that I had stopped searching. I felt that by attempting this project, I would be looking at my absence of culture in its face. I was also very afraid that I would find that there was content, but that there wouldn’t be anything worth looking at or anything to be proud of. I’ll be referencing some of the early books that affected my journey.
Absence of Culture: Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son
Roley writes of two brothers living in East L.A during the 1980’s with their single mother after their white stepfather leaves her. The older brother, Tomas, quickly becomes involved with the local Mexican gangs, while the younger brother, Gabe, remains in the home as a quiet recorder of events. I felt drawn to this novel because it aligned with my experience in L.A. Further, my eldest brother followed a similar path as Tomas and our middle sibling became a silent watcher, mirroring Gabe.
I had a hard time reading this. The brothers, while believable, fell into the roles of Americanized Filipino children that are such an embarrassment, they are hard to look in the face. Moreover, the mother, while working two dead-end jobs to make ends meet, played the stereotypical role of submissive, silent Asian wife bending over backwards to please her Caucasian counterpart. As I finished the novel, I had an uncomfortable stirring within me. There was nothing wrong with the story—it read close to home; however, it wasn’t helping me with my own sense of cultural shame. The brothers and the mother were two more caricatures of Filipino Americans that I felt we shouldn’t be advocating anymore. It confirmed my first suspicions. What was I even looking for? There wasn’t anything to find.
Politics & Culture in Manila: R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters
Both of these novels take place in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Leche is about a Balikbayan. The protagonist, homosexual Vicente, speaks on his sense of displacement upon coming home and finding that no one will accept him as a Filipino despite the fact that he was born in the Philippines, spoke Tagalog, and practiced traditional customs. He struggles through his sense of identity, becoming angry that he is not accepted into his home culture.
There is a particular scene where Vicente is in conversation with a maid about one’s soul. She tells him “Because the soul…it just ends up wandering. Like it’s homeless. But that’s part of being Filipino…because we are all wandered. We’re here, we’re there, we’re everywhere. Scattered like the stars. That’s us… Kalat kalat [spread spread].” Reading these lines gave me a profound sense of assurance. Part of my displacement came from feeling lost and alone. The singular line was enough to spur me on; it gave me the courage to keep going.
Dogeaters follows a collection of characters through their daily lives; however, the novel itself is extremely politicized, taking place in a fictional version of the Marcos Regime when tensions were high between the different political parties. Everything moves with a sense of urgency and tension until the escalation rises to the climax with the killing of a senator. Again, there were lines that strongly stirred me:
“We Pinoys suffer collectively from a cultural inferiority complex. We are doomed by our need for assimilation into the West and our own curious fatalism […] a complex nation of cynics, descendants of warring tribes which were baptized and colonized to death by Spaniards and Americans, as a nation betrayed and then united only by our hunger for glamour and our Hollywood dreams.”
Growing up in America within the Filipino American community, one of the largest debates revolve around the disgust that some Filipino Americans feel watching other Filipino Americans make buffoons out of themselves. Many feel shame watching how low some are willing to go in degrading themselves in order to be accepted into American society. Watching them bleach their skin and lighten their hair, fill their houses with material wealth, and talk as though Tagalog is a lesser language and the Philippines a dirty, primitive place—such Filipinos are viewed negatively, making our culture and our people look comical by how easily they are willing to shed their skin.
After reading the politicized Dogeaters, I came to a realization. Because of the assassination that Hagedorn depicts, I knew that the story echoed what had taken place in the Philippines during the Marcos Regime (1965-1986). While every Filipino is familiar with the name Marcos, I knew it was about time to recognize a truth within myself: I was unknowing. I knew names and events without content or detail. My next step couldn’t be anything other than educating myself, to research backwards and discover the history from the very beginning all the way up until I was back into the present, where I live.
My Beautiful Culture: Mable Cook Cole’s Ancient Filipino Folklore
The folk stories in this book predate the era of Spanish colonization that began in 1565—they changed the course of my entire study. Deriving tales from various indigenous tribes (Tinguian, Igorot, the Wild Tribes of Mindanao, Moro, and Christianized Tribes) scattered throughout the islands, Cook collected the countless stories passed forward in the oral tradition. These stories, rich in magic, imagery, and values centered on duties to the family unit, love, warriors, and the bonds that call us to serve our brethren, filled me with awe and pride. For the longest time, it has been so difficult for me to individualize exactly what Filipino culture is. Ours is a country that has been colonized to death—each country overtaking the nation not for the betterment of society, but rather for the extraction of natural resources.
Because it has taken the Philippines so long to gain freedom, the islands spent many centuries in the dark as the rest of the world evolved. Regardless of the current ruler at the time, the ongoing trend was to keep the natives as primitive as possible to prevent uprisings. Adding to that, the natives of the islands were forced to partake in whatever practices the colonizer at the moment instilled. At one time forced to speak and learn in Spanish, at another English, at another Japanese—this practice took place in every way, whether it was in language, schooling, religion, or cultural practices. One thing that remained certain is the fact that the constant change and need to maintain a dull people produced an unlearned and confused society. After looking at all of these ills in context to the effects upon the native people, it becomes easy to see how hard it is to discern an individual, native culture when it has been tampered, challenged, beaten, and amalgamated for nearly six hundred years. During those many years, a Filipino was less likely to focus on nationalism and much more likely to work on assimilation for survival.
One of the most popular myths is “The Story of Creation,” where a man and woman are born at the same time from a bamboo stalk. The man is called “Malakas” for strength and the woman is “Maganda” for beauty. The simultaneous births hint at the primitive society’s choice to view woman as equal to man rather than beneath him. Indeed, the myth claims that the one without the other is doomed to failure. As I dove into the ancient stories, the more the concept of men and women as equals became prevalent—a fact that I found myself intensely proud of. Even as the stories began to gear themselves towards warrior culture and the ties between a father and a son, the only thing that became more concrete was the richness of these stories and the values that my ancestors treasured and believed in.
What I learned from the ancient folklore was this: there was something there. I breathed a sigh of relief; it was the very thing that I had been so afraid of all these years that it had stopped me from searching. Not only was something there, what I found was rich, powerful, and gratifying. I marveled at the strength of the oral tradition, given that its stories are still told to this day. It shows perseverance and that despite being forced under various dictatorships and having undergone continuous violence—the native voices have not been silenced.
Context for the Americanized Filipina: Luis H. Francia’s A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos
Francia’s historical account may have been the smartest move I made in my research. I was starving to see the islands, the economies, and the people. As I read, much of the content broke my heart, at first, filling it with bitterness, disgust, and shame, but by the end, hopefulness. Many national heroes came up such as LapuLapu and Jose Rizal. Again, while I was familiar with the names, I finally was reading about how they served our country. Further, I had context for how we came to be conquered.
When Magellan first sailed to the Philippines, he came with the mission to evangelize the islands, which was really a cover for Spain to strengthen their ties with the Asian trade routes. Further, Spain was trying to expand their empire as well as gain new territory for natural materials. When Spain arrived and found the native tribes, they attempted to get them to acknowledge Spanish sovereignty. Magellan attempted to make deals with various leaders and whenever he was refused, it led to violence. In one such case, after gaining the allegiance of Humabon (the “datu” or ruler of Cebu), Magellan was advised to sail to the neighboring Mactan Island to rid it of its leader LapuLapu, who was known to neither bow down to Humabon’s larger chiefdom nor to Spain and its Catholic faith.
Humabon offered warriors, but Magellan refused; he believed that his own soldiers would prove more effective. Further, his ships had cannons and his men had weaponry far superior to what LapuLapu’s men would have had. In a twist of fate, LapuLapu tricked Magellan with guerilla warfare, and Magellan paid with his life. After the battle, the soldiers running back to Humabon were slaughtered on the spot by his personal guard because they had failed to appear as worthwhile warriors. This initial meeting between LapuLapu and Magellan brought tears to my eyes; mostly, because it provided me insight to a group of people that offered resistance to the colonizer—it was a show of strength when the Philippines, to this day, is known for her constant submission to perceived stronger enemies.
The detail in which Francia described LapuLapu and his actions was much needed for my journey because, without it, I would have broken apart during the next few centuries I had to read through. It was an account of the countless inhumane, horrific ways the Spanish employed to take over the villages, towns, and cities. Through force, they successfully broke the Filipino people into factions, convinced them of their inferior birth, and employed a sense of self-demoralization that continues to run rampant today. I began to feel an intense amount of bitterness and hatred towards the Western powers—to the powerhouse countries of the world that felt it was within their right to completely demolish and demoralize another country simply because they did not have the resources or military power to oppose them. But there was so much more. After I got through Spanish rule, of course, what followed was U.S rule, Japanese rule, back to U.S rule, and then, finally our turn to run our own country—and that quickly escalated into a series of corrupt presidents.
I felt a deep, painful welling of shame and desolation when I looked at our own efforts at self-rule. It was embarrassing. After years of colonization, once we had the chance to rebuild the country, we proved ourselves to be nothing more than materialistic and corrupt. It was a far-cry from the collectivistic society Filipinos once had. The values of the family unit, love, honor, and bondage were no more—all of those values have been chipped away. There was nothing left of the ancient folklore that filled my head with beautiful stories of honor and love.
Seeing Myself in the Books: E.J.R David’s Brown Skin: White Minds
The political turmoil, the fascination with everything American, the continuation of Western ideals despite the fact that we’re no longer controlled by the states—it all began to make sense. Reading Brown Skin: White Minds showed me that the situation of Filipinos and their regard for culture is much more complex than we would have suspected. David moved through the concepts of the Filipino psyche, describing of the core Filipino value of Kapwa (equality) and how it branches off into the separate values: hiya (shame), utang na loob (sense of inner debt/gratitude), and pakikisama (companionship). All of these work together to produce bayanihan (helping others altruistically). His theory is that these virtues lie at the core of what it means to be Filipino; however, through the constant influence of cultures that we were forced to view as superior, we began to develop “Colonial Mentality.” Colonial Mentality is a condition where the colonized individual retains the belief of inferiority to the dominant race of the colonizer, which they see as superior. Everything I experienced growing up slowly came into focus.
As a direct result of Colonial Mentality, there is the issue of ethnic or cultural identity crisis which is “believed to lead Filipino Americans toward the conclusion that there is no authentic Filipino culture and identity that one could be proud of, and thus, may lead to the perception of inferiority toward anything Filipino.” I quickly realized that I was reading about myself. Colonial Mentality, while starting at one generation, generally passes from father to son, mother to daughter—continually repeating itself. It is not unheard for this mentality to take over multiple generations of a family.
I felt deeply aligned with this sentiment: “I feel like I’m half oppressed and half oppressor.” I had circled the sentence over and over again because it is the exact way I have viewed myself for years. We are stuck in the void of “in-between.” We are both oppressor and oppressed. We are lacking in both Filipino and American culture. We will never be American enough nor will we ever be Filipino enough. At once, I wanted to rejoice and cry—for the first time ever, I didn’t feel alone in the daily struggle that seemed to engulf my entire life. Going back to the idea of kapwa (equality), I’ve realized that the largest suffering the Filipino community has undergone has been and will continue to be the lack of equality in which we see ourselves, are treated, and believe we deserve. David states, “The loss of kapwa, in turn, is analogous to loss of culture, loss of a worldview, loss of identity, loss of connection with other people, loss of shared identity, loss of humanity and personhood, and loss of being Filipino.” The displacement I’ve felt all of these years began to make sense. At this point in my research, I knew that while this has been a painful journey thus far, it was the very one that I needed to heal.
A quote of David’s summed up his belief and became my own: “Filipinos and Filipino Americans [need] to develop an accurate and realistic understanding of the Filipino and the American histories, cultures, and societies, and not simply and automatically regard one part of their self-concept as superior or inferior to the other.” He believed that if one does the proper research on their culture, they can find their way back into their culture—they can find their way home. It can be assumed that I have found the answer to my question. I was able to find home through literature. However, as that question resolved itself, a new question arose. It was no longer a question of whether or not I could find a sense of self and home through literature—it became this: is it enough to reconnect me? I continued on.
National Heroes: Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere
Rizal covers the political turmoil of the Philippines once they started to fight back against Spain. It showed the Catholic Church and its friars in all their corruption, it showed the divide between church and state, and it showed the divide between Filipinos and Spanish Filipinos, defining the class system of the time. What astounded me about this work is that Rizal did not paint Spain as evil. I found this surprising and slightly offensive, but I had to consider his viewpoint. He was a Spanish Filipino who recognized that the Philippines had been colonized for close to three hundred years—there was no divide in sight, and we were controlled by a mother country in a far superior position in the larger world. Rather than fight for separation, Rizal fought for reform and equality. This novel, in a way, was Rizal’s way of writing the history that Spain would not publish. The protagonist, Don Ibarra, is, in practically every way, Rizal.
At the end of the novel, Ibarra is forced to flee the country for his life having given the ultimate sacrifice—he lost his future, his wife, and happiness for his country. Even as he flees, his presence and actions are enough to spark a revolution—the very one that took place after Rizal’s death. The mayor states, “for the first time I have seen how one can be a good Spaniard and a good Filipino and love one’s country. Today I finally showed the reverences that we are not their playthings. This young man has given me the opportunity.” As an unfortunate end, Rizal was executed in the town square of Bagumbayan by firing squad for charges of insurrection. For everything that he stood for and the actions he took against the corrupt government, Rizal became a national hero and we celebrate his life every year on December 30th, the day of his death.
Connecting it to My Own Family: Noel Alumit’s Letters to Montgomery Clift
Alumit covers the life of a young boy, Bong, who comes to America alone during the Marcos Regime. In L.A, Bong is obsessed with finding his parents, who, before he left, had just been detained. As the story progresses, we learn that his father was tortured and killed for producing a journal against the Marcos party. His mother was consistently tortured and raped until she lost her mind. He grows up still waiting for them. Bong’s plight was not uncommon and, in fact, during the Marcos regime, more than 50,000 Filipinos went missing, most of them killed, all of them tortured.
What I felt most from Letters to Montgomery Clift was the intense desolation and emptiness that comes with being displaced. Bong spends his entire life haunted by what he doesn’t know. His parents said they would come for him and they never did—to Bong, he felt betrayed yet always hopeful. This was the same case with my father. My grandparents had fled to America during the height of Marcos rule, but because of the costs of immigration, my father was left behind (this, also, was not an uncommon story in the Filipino community). My grandparents, though they promised my father they would, never went back for him. With my new knowledge, I recognize that the obstacles they would have undergone just to get my father would have been overwhelming. But still, the act of children left behind, taken away, on their own, displaced—it is the reoccurring theme of Filipino children. I can see how my father’s own plight molded and nurtured my own. My grandparents were displaced, they passed it on to my father, and he passed it on to my brothers and me—never intentionally, but because, as David suggests, it’s generational. One of the concepts of Colonial Mentality is the fact that very few intentionally pass it on, and further, most do not even know that they have it.
Empathetic Understanding: Tess Uriza Holthe’s When the Elephants Dance
Holthe covers the Japanese invasion and centers in on an extended family hiding out in a basement. While momentous historical events are taking place outside, they comfort themselves against the danger of their world with stories of their childhoods. In her opening author’s note, Holthe states that this novel was inspired by her father’s stories who “remembers running for shelter [during the American-Japanese battle for Manila] carrying one of his sisters on his back as explosion after explosion ripped by them.” Such a line immediately called to mind how my grandfather and his family spent the war hiding in the forest caves.
Since I’ve jumped around in time periods, I was thankful to enter the world of Holthe’s novel because it was the world of my grandparents and parents—the most immediate connection I have to the Filipino experience. Holthe summed up the time period beautifully by stating, “When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful. The great beasts, as they circle one another, shaking the trees and trumpeting loudly, are the Amerikanos and the Japanese as they fight. And our Philippine Islands? We are the small chickens.” As my grandparents have told me, the reoccurring theme was that the Filipinos had no control over what was happening around them. Their only option was to try to stay out of the way—try not to get killed.
There is a scene in which a group of Filipinos are tortured. A man cries out and the Japanese soldier states, “Your people have no pride. No sense of ah-noh. You bow before everyone. First Spaniards, then Americans, now the Japanese.” I connected what the Japanese soldier had said with David’s theory, piecing together all the memories that have landed us in this state of inferiority—this scene left a dull, cold feeling in my stomach. During this very same war, my grandfather watched as his father was tortured and killed right in front of him. My grandfather had to pretend that he didn’t know his father to avoid being killed next.
A strong theme in Holthe’s novel is the idea that because the Filipinos were divided, they were suffering. She recalls a past in which each Filipino was like a brother and in every town and city, every house could have been considered your own. This was the very same concept of familial bonds that was present in the ancient folklore. When I look at that particular torture scene and the countless others that come after it and compare it to my grandfather’s actions, I can see how we’ve dissolved—I can see how I, myself, have gotten to this point of distancing myself from my culture. There is so much shame. Yet having read everything that had come before Holthe’s novel, I find that I can accept the shame by accepting the cruelties my people endured. The ongoing torture is what developed the mentality; it is what led them to commit the ugly actions that they did, that my grandfather did. No one can say how they would act in such situations and under such conditions. If a “dominant race” had undergone the same treatment, I doubt they would have acted very differently. No, it would have been the same ugly actions filled with shame and desperation.
Filipinos in America and the Continual Struggle: Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart
Carlos Bulosan’s novel, America is in the Heart, takes place before the breakout of WWII and focuses on a different aspect of life from what Holthe portrays. The novel is split into two parts. Part one follows Allos and his family of farmers in Binolonan, where they struggle on a daily basis to find enough to eat. While destitute and poor, the family always remains happy despite their circumstances—the general theme is that of family and the strength of having a strong foundation. No matter how rough their days are, they find pockets of happiness in their everyday struggles. This is the type of lifestyle that my parents have unendingly spoken of to my brothers and me, to remind us to be thankful for what we are given. As the sons age, they want to give more to their family. Once trial after trial hits the family, the boys leave to better their situation ending with the idea that the family unit has officially been broken. Despite loving their family, they leave because they must.
Part two focuses on Allos’ journey to America. Optimistic when he first leaves, he learns rather quickly about the racial tension between Filipinos and white Americans upon his arrival. While I was aware of how Filipinos were treated from reading novels by Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, and John Fante, I was never certain of how true the depictions of the time were. Bulosan showcases the increasing tension between the two groups when Allos overhears a white man say, “I would rather have niggers and Chinamen. They don’t have a college education, but they know their places.” That quote was followed up with, “Years of degradation came into the Filipino’s face. All the fears of his life were here—in the white hand against his face. Was there no place where he could escape?” The novel portrays countless acts of hate in which Filipinos are unlawfully persecuted, shot at for being present, beaten in public, treated as less than human, and called “Brown Monkeys” over and over again. It hurt my heart.
Folding Into An End
After Bulosan, I felt that I was at a good stopping point. He took me all the way up to where my family’s history in America begins—the rest, I could connect on my own. I truly felt that I had taken a journey from the very beginning to the very end—or, for me, the new beginning. I’ve struggled with incompleteness, a sense that something was missing and I cornered it until I understood that I was dealing with insecurity. Prior to this, I’d defined my life as the general experience of being a minority. Now I’ve realized that the specificity of race and culture was needed. Through this journey, a part of me was lifted and found.
As the journey drew to a close, I found myself having to sit back in awe at the immense amount of growth I’ve endured in terms of revealing, facing, and understanding parts of myself that I have buried so deep that I thought I could go the rest of my life without. Wrong. Heritage culture is infused into our beings from our thought processes, sense of self, family structure and practice, how we view our culture, and how we interact with other cultures. I realized I have always been touched by my home culture despite my muddled, unclear perception of what that culture was.
I embarked on this journey to see if it was possible to find home through literature. My gut told me that it was impossible; my sense of self argued daily that the research experiment would lead to nothing. That intense fear hung around my head. The even stronger fear that there was something there—something for me to hate and be disappointed in, was even more immediate. But many, many books later, I can say with utmost happiness and assurance that yes, it is possible to find home through literature. I have done it. This experiment has encouraged me to go further and continue to find traces and hints of Filipino culture by exploring more fiction, exploring more poetry, more personal essays, to reach out to my community, to unearth ancient manuscripts and translate it, to be part of my community, and, finally, accept my Kapwa and Pakiramdam.
This journey is one that I highly encourage any Filipino or Filipino American to embark upon. I am a testament—there is something there, something so fruitful and abundant, I can say with certainty that you will no longer view your heritage culture with a sense of inferiority and disappointment. Our culture is rich, it is vivid, and it is alive—if only you move through the centuries past and find your way to the beginning when we weren’t the Philippines but rather the Tao, the people, of the many islands united by bayanihan. At the core of our values, what makes a Filipino a Filipino is what makes a human a human—in realizing that and living by that value, you will find and develop your sense of Filipino identity. You will find your way home.
Noelle Marie Falcis received her BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently at Antioch University completing her MFA. Her fiction explores her heritage and the urban culture with which she grew up with. She uses fiction to better understand the diasporic, marginalized, and post-colonized life and how it has affected her as a second generation Filipino American. She has been published in Gingerbread House, Drunk Monkeys, Bohemia Journal, and the UK space for Asian writers, Banana Writers. Find out more about her at noellemariefalcis.squarespace.