My identity is incomplete without my roots

Evergreen columnist writes about how family, community shaped and raised her together

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MARTHA JAENICKE

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LOREN NEGRON, Evergreen columnist

My roots run deep. They keep me grounded and remind me of my humble beginnings, the sacrifices my family has made, the challenges I have overcome and the opportunities God blessed me with. 

Without my roots, my identity is incomplete because I believe it’s my roots that give my life a purpose.

My name is Loren Cayetona Negron. I was born in Bukidnon, Philippines. I lived the first two years of my life surrounded by pineapple plantations and a crowded marketplace. The sound of jeepneys honking and vendors yelling could be heard all morning and afternoon. Thousands of flies and the stench of meat permeated the air. Farm animals sometimes roamed on the streets.

My mom and her family lived in a wooden shack, located on a hill near a river. We did our laundry in the river and sometimes took baths there. I slept in a makeshift crib in a tiny home that housed at least nine people. The kitchen was cramped, and the living room had rough, worn-out couches. Some slept on the floor, their skinny, frail bodies slightly cushioned by thin coconut palm sleeping mats. 

I’m glad my family documented my early life and preserved those memories in picture albums. I sometimes look at those photos to remind myself of my roots.

My Lola, titas and titos helped my mom raise me. Neighbors often babysat me when my family worked on their farm or when my mom’s siblings were at school. An entire community raised me. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be today.

Growing up, my mom and her family told me stories of their experience living in poverty. I know of their sacrifices, but I didn’t know the weight they carried. They sacrificed so much to give me the opportunities they never were able to have.

My mom left the Philippines a little after I was born. She worked in Korea as a waitress so she could earn more money. She sent her monthly income to her family so they could buy me milk and clothes.

It was difficult for my mom to be separated from me, but she persisted because she wanted to give me a better life.

At the time, my titas and titos were still in high school. They had to balance their schoolwork and part-time jobs so they could take care of me, even if that meant bringing me along to their extracurricular activities. 

Lola sold vegetables in the marketplace across the street from our house. She often brought me with her, me resting in a swing made from blankets. The money she earned was used to buy diapers and milk.

Since I was a little girl, my mom and her family encouraged me to study hard and take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. They taught me persistence. They taught me to fight for my dreams.

Life is a battleground. I struggled with different types of trauma in my childhood, including abuse. I’ve had my own share of pain and grief, but my family’s stories of survival encouraged me to not give up on myself. 

When I immigrated to the U.S. in 2015 with my mom, stepdad and sister, I didn’t let go of my roots. I held them close and nurtured them. I remembered my family’s sacrifices and the values they passed on to me. 

Immigrating to this country was difficult. I had to fight to succeed, but every sacrifice was worth it. I studied hard in high school so I could get a full-ride scholarship, which I achieved. I’ve competed in different public speaking and essay competitions and placed nationally several times. 

I work hard for both myself and my family. I owe so much to them, so I invest my time and energy in everything I do as a way to honor them. I won’t let their sacrifices go to waste. 

My roots give my life meaning. They give me something to fight for. I don’t let life’s bullets stop me from achieving my dreams. Letting life defeat me is not an option.