Speaking to My Asian Folx
What does it mean to be Asian in America?
To assimilate?

Priscila Bernabe Salazar

Her name is Priscila Bernabe Salazar. She was born in Bataan, Philippines, on May 19, 1933.

When she would visit me in Virginia, she’d call me her sidekick, but her accent is so thick that it sounded like “psychic”. That seemed more appropriate and something I would have rather been as a seven-year-old. Lola Presey, as she is known to me, is fun as hell, and I’ve always loved her like crazy.

When I visited last year, she had stopped dying her hair. Her head is a shock of white and contrasts with the purplish black of her eyebrows, which are tattooed on her face. As stunning as she is at 83, she was ugly at 12. Her teeth were knocked out, her hair was shorn, and she was made to wear ill- fitting boy’s clothes in order to prevent assault. This was in Manila during the Japanese occupation.

Presey was born a love child. I was always under the impression that neither parent wanted her. Growing up in her mother’s household she was in charge of providing food. That meant crawling under train coaches, stabbing a hole in the car floor, and gathering the grains that fell through. Presey moved to her father’s home after a relative attempted to molest her.

There have been varying accounts of how she met my grandfather. My aunt says she may have been his secretary; my mother says they may have worked in the Department of Health together; and around the dinner table, I heard that she met him eating balut (fertilized duck egg) on a porch. Everyone agrees that Lola Presey decided that Lolo Pete would be her husband. Her best friend at the time was a dentist, so she got her teeth fixed. She says she prayed for that to happen. Lola prays a lot. Lola and Lolo were married eight months before my mother was born.

Even though Lolo Pete had a government job, Lola Presey’s income provided for the family. She became a biyahera and would buy goods in Japan to sell in the city. (Biyahera is derived from the Spanish feminine for traveller, but I secretly think it’s Tagalog for hustler.) When recounting those days, Lola would tell me, “I’d enter the ship in economy and come out first class.” Both my mother and aunt have childhood memories of watching over merchandise outside office buildings while Lola Presey would sell the goods inside. “Yeah. She’s always hustled. She suffered, she struggled,” mom says.

These days, Lola Presey walks around Quezon City with a recklessness that makes me jump and laugh – partly out of fear. She crosses the street while there’s oncoming traffic, yells at strangers that she’ll spank them, and uses her house dress to wipe sweat off her forehead in a way that shows her breasts. When I visit, we never talk about herstory. We eat ice cream. We laugh heedlessly. It’s me who helps her cross the street.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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