I’m not sure if you remember me, but we met for the first time when I was six years old. My mom and I came to visit you for a few months, separated from my little sister and father. She was only three then. Our stay with you was rough…a little studio in the Tenderloin of San Francisco with two other relatives, but my mom told me I should be thankful because sleeping on your carpeted floor was better than sleeping in our beds at home. I didn’t really understand her, but I believed.
We walked your streets, San Francisco. Back when FAO Schwarz was still open, back when Woolworth was on Market, and back when $2.00 bought you a mushroom burger at Jack in the Box, and I would give half of it to the homeless man outside of the restaurant. I used to stare at your gritty floor, searching for shiny reflections or flecks of glitter because my mom told me that “In America, the streets are made of gold!” But all I ever saw was chewed up gum.
Maybe you don’t remember me then, but surely you remember when I was nine and I came here with my whole family, our entire life’s worth packed into four balikbayan boxes and a couple of suitcases. We wore our best denim jackets, but your cold embrace was too much for my brown skin, and I shivered. I was excited to see you.
I didn’t get to say bye to my friends before leaving because I forgot. I forgot to tell them that I was leaving and never coming back, forgot to get their mailing addresses so I could write them, forgot to hug them all goodbye so that I could breathe them in one last time. I don’t remember their names anymore, I but I still remember their faces.
Do you remember this picture? You took it on May 6, 1993. It was the day you changed my life forever.