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'You Can Only Choose One': A Biracial American Explores His Filipino-Russian Roots — And Explains Why He Won't Check Just One Box

A woman in a dress with light-tone skin and hair is at the left next to a man and boy in suits and ties with medium tone
Mark, 7, with his parents in a family photo dated August 1987.
(Courtesy Mark Moya)
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Years ago, I received a phone call from one of those irritating survey companies.

Race in LA

It must have involved something beyond the banal, seeing as I submitted myself to an hourlong interrogation by a man with a congested, Urkel-esque voice. Eventually we got to the point where he asked, "Are you white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American?"
I responded, "I'm Asian and whi--"

Assertive and resolute nasality punched through: "You can only choose one."

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"Fine. Other."

"That's not one of the choices. Choose the one you identify with more."

"Uh, I don't play that game. Let's skip this part."

The survey continued for at least another 15 minutes, and then the matter of racial identification slithered back into queue: "So, are you..."

Irritated by what I perceived to be a taunt, but was more likely motivated by the surveyor's not wanting to have wasted time on an incomplete interview, I went into a mild philosophical rant about how choosing only one was akin to honoring one parent while denying the other; that I felt fully attached to both races.

Mark with his mother during a visit to upstate New York, 1982. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

I excused myself from the survey and hung up the phone.

Moments later, the phone rang. It was the same fellow insisting I give a conforming answer to this question. I snapped, "Go f*** yourself!" And with that I slammed the phone on its cradle, hoping it would ring like Big Ben through the man's obstinate head.

The prevailing system of racial classification is an odd one that I never cared much for, one that casts disparate nations and cultures into monolithic amalgams, delineated by our facial features or skin color.

Humans like order and simplicity, and they like it without fuss: it's a system neat in its compactness, but a taxonomic disaster whose application is inconsistent and arbitrary. Especially for people who don't fit neatly into any of the prescribed boxes.

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Under this system, I am both Asian and white: what some might call hapa, to use a popular Hawaiian-derived term, or Eurasian, another endonym commonly resorted to.

But even this is insufficient, nebulous, and to a degree, even misleading. Generalized labels like "biracial" or "Asian" or "white" conjure stereotyped images that don't necessarily reflect one's identity, experiences, or outlook. There is very little I share culturally or historically with someone who is, say, of Korean and English extraction -- yet they, too, are both Asian and white.

Mark's mother and grandmother, circa 1979. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

While still very generalized, it would be much more accurate for me to call myself Malayo-Slavonic: My dad was a Filipino immigrant of Pangasinense-Tagalog ancestry, my mom a third-generation American of full Rusyn background whose family identified as Russian (more on that later).

For as long as I've had an awareness of being and my relation to the world at large, which was quite early, I've believed it necessary to understand and connect with one's history and origins. Emphasizing one group while minimizing the other seemed dismissive, disrespectful, and inauthentic. The relationships are different: some things are more accessible and quotidian, while others occupy a less tangible realm. It's a mix-and-match situation, but both are equally important.

I remember many times being asked, "Which do you identify with more?" or being allowed only to "check one box," the incident detailed above being but one example out of dozens.

Having a Spanish surname, passing as Latino -- itself a complex category, with its own nuances and twists -- would have been a simple proposition questioned by few. But that isn't who I am. And to do any of these -- choosing just one, or even something that I wasn't -- would shoehorn me into yet another prefabricated "box" as it were.

In an age where diversity is ostensibly celebrated, it's important that one set of preconceived notions not be replaced by another. In this country, everyone comes from somewhere, and we are shaped by both our immediate and more distant histories.

Growing up in the east San Gabriel Valley during the 1980s and 1990s, my schoolmates were mostly of Far Eastern, Latino, South Asian, and Western European extraction, with a smattering of students of Middle Eastern background who were either Muslim or, like me, Orthodox Christian.

My father emigrated from the Philippines, and owing to my second-generation status as a Filipino-American, as well as the large Filipino presence in Southern California, I was well-exposed to that culture and considered it part of my working, everyday identity.

Mark's father, Eliseo, upon a school graduation in the Philippines, circa 1955. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

My dad's upbringing in a staunchly Protestant (Seventh-Day Adventist) family contributed to an outlook somewhat different from a culture that is heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism and Spanish colonialism. He was very American, having attended a school administered by American missionaries with instruction in English.

Tagalog was reserved for intimate and informal interactions with family and friends, and much of what he related of the more mainstream aspects of Philippine culture -- his recollections of hanging out in front of the town cathedral during Simbang Gabi and eating puto bumbong from a street hawker, for example -- were from his many adventures and misadventures away from the family home.

My connection to my maternal roots have been a process of rediscovery, as my mother maintained a nominal-but-concrete awareness of her ancestry despite being thoroughly Americanized over two to three generations.

White Christian privilege

One thing I can say is that during the final years of the Cold War, telling schoolmates of my "Russian" ancestry and Orthodox religion -- its distinctly "Eastern" expression quite different from Catholicism or Protestantism -- was met with suspicion and confusion.

It continues in the geopolitical climate of today, with a relative ignorance of the history that's shaped the cultural dynamics of Central and Eastern Europe. I would argue that it was on account of this part of my identity that I experienced the most prejudice growing up.

Yes, the people from this part of the world are racially "white," but culturally, we are distinctly Eastern. We are, thus, perceived as "foreign" and "the other." Choosing to ignore this would constitute an act of historical denial: a denial of tragedies suffered by my maternal ancestors at the hands of neighboring powers -- tragedies seldom discussed, or inaccurately represented in Western historical accounts.

When I was in college during the late 1990s, I took a course in multicultural psychology and became acquainted with the notions of white privilege and white guilt. They were concepts that clearly cast "white" people as a monolithic European race collectively responsible for more than a millennium of oppression and enslavement, conquest and genocide, often in the name of Christianity.

I wouldn't take issue if the definition of "white" were more specific: Catholic and Protestant Western Europeans, namely the British, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish -- the "colonial" powers.

But where did my Orthodox Eastern European maternal ancestors fit in? What role did they play? They were "white" and suffered profoundly at the hands of those on both their western and eastern flanks, from Crusader and Caliph alike. I saw no reason to bear responsibility for things my ancestors knew nothing of. Why was our history being marginalized?

I posed these questions to the professor, adding that for earlier waves of immigrants to the U.S., the experience was generally much harsher than for most who arrive on immigrant visas today: there was no protective legislation, and those who showed signs of illness were sometimes shipped back.

His answer was something to the effect of, "Well, that's why we have these measures in place now, and besides, your people assimilated into American society and could blend in, and for that you should be grateful."

With considerable resentment, I thought, "Excuse me? Then why all this chest-beating about other experiences and histories?"

He offered no answer to the more remote historical realities of the Old World, as if he hadn't heard what I'd asked, didn't think it deserving of examination, or just thought I'd flown in from an alternate reality and timeline -- which might just as well have been the case.

My Eastern European ancestors were expected to blend in whether they liked it or not, and my contention was that if a unified American culture cannot be had, then multiculturalism must be pursued for all, not just for a select few.

'I am from nowhere'

Andy Warhol liked to tell people he came "from nowhere" when asked about his origins -- a declaration at once ambiguous but supremely incisive in its truth. Like my mother, he was a Carpatho-Rusyn -- a Slavic people whose homeland straddles the Carpathians from southeastern Poland to northern Romania; a part of the world that is popularly associated with Dracula.

There is much contention as to whether or not Rusyns constitute a distinct ethnicity apart from our neighbors -- the Poles, the Slovaks, the Ukrainians, and, as the similarity of name suggests, the Russians.

There is a complicated history here that stretches back to the end of the first millennium and a people called Rus' -- which itself deserves its own article -- but I'll condense it to the most salient points that have influenced my identity, and how I see the world.

A statue of Andy Warhol sitting outside a restaurant in Bratislava, Slovakia. The late American artist was the son of immigrants from what is now eastern Slovakia. (Richard Parmiter via Flickr)

Religion is the vessel by which culture has historically been disseminated, through whose appropriation languages, ethnicities, and nations coalesce. Like our fellow Rus' -- Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians -- the Byzantine Greeks brought Christianity to our people in the form of Eastern Orthodoxy. By the late Medieval era, the Rusyn homeland found itself under Roman Catholic rule and Orthodox Rusyns were persecuted, much as their brothers-in-faith the Greeks, the Armenians, Arab Christians, Serbs, and Bulgarians have also been at times.

Some relented and converted to Roman Catholicism, and in so doing also took on a Polish or Hungarian identity. Others adopted a sort of hybrid religion that maintained Orthodox rites while submitting to the authority of the Catholic hierarchy. Among these, some continued to call themselves Rusyns, some (like my ancestors) called themselves Russians, and some assumed the name of the region the Russians gave to the westernmost fringe of their empire: Ukrainian.

In one notorious example of persecution, thousands of Rusyns and other minorities perished in the Thalerhof concentration camp at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I.

It was against this dark and difficult backdrop that my maternal family began to trickle into the United States through Ellis Island, starting around the turn of the 20th Century.

Mark's maternal grandmother, Mamie Yurkovsky; her brother Andrew, and their parents (John and Eva Yurkovsky) and grandparents (Mary Pawlak and Basil Danilo), circa 1920 in Pennsylvania, where the family settled. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

For those of my grandparents' generation, there was for a time great pride in being both American and Russian. Under the banner of what then was a nation that promised boundless opportunity and freedom, they fought alongside their brethren from the Old Country against those who saw them as livestock fit only for hard labor.

However, the Orthodox Russia they once looked to for protection was no more, held captive by a new and godless Bolshevik empire, the Soviet Union. Even the successor states to those that once oppressed us -- Poland and Hungary -- were imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain.

Now, more than ever, being a good American citizen meant shedding old customs and identities. But even as memories of where they came from and what they endured were subsumed by baseball and apple pie, elements of consciousness remained.

For my mother's family and for me, the symbol of Russia wasn't that ghastly hammer and sickle; it wasn't even the venerable old double-headed eagle inherited from the Byzantines. It was the three-bar cross of Orthodoxy.

The Soviet legacy inflicted a gaping wound on the Russian soul that, viewed through this wider lens, was in some ways a logical outgrowth of the assaults that came before. And half a world away, Russian Americans felt the blowback.

When my mother was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, my grandfather used to tell her: "Don't tell anyone you're Russian. You can be 10,000 miles away and if something goes wrong, they'll blame you."

My mom's siblings complied, but she, being the defiant sort, made a point of revealing her ethnic identity when opportunity availed itself.

(Left to right) Mark's mother Barbara, her brother, her cousin, and her grandmother, Eva Yurkovsky, circa 1950 in Astoria, Queens, NY. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

This, during the height of the McCarthy era, led to her enduring a number of unfortunate confrontations. I've heard her talk of a blowup with a high school teacher who addressed her as a "God**mn communist," which led nowhere good, save for the principal's office, where she insisted she be moved to the front so that the teacher would have to look her in the eye for the rest of the term.

By the time I came along, memories like these were vestigial. But since my dad was a first-generation immigrant, I was exposed to his native culture in a firsthand way, and that made me curious about my mother's story by the time I was in grade school. And since I was at the time enrolled in an Adventist school, my interest in religion was also stimulated.

My maternal grandmother refused to share much, saying, "We're American now." But she eventually relented and offered what she could remember.

Mark's father and maternal grandmother during a family vacation, 1987. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

When I was in the fourth grade in 1989, I transferred to a public school. In fulfillment of an assignment I gave a presentation on Russian Orthodox iconography, dutifully obtaining an assortment of slides from a San Diego museum.

And this is when I began to learn, the hard way, something about my mother's experience and just why my grandfather said what he said to her. First came the insinuations about the benighted Russian mind from my teacher, who shared anecdotes about an "ignorant-but-not-stupid" Russian acquaintance of hers. (This was also a teacher who routinely referred to the Soviet Union as "the Russians.")

Then came the aping of vague Central and Eastern European accents by schoolmates who'd seen "Rocky IV" a few too many times -- a pity they'd likely never watched movies like "Taras Bulba" or "Doctor Zhivago".

And of course then ensued the usual schoolyard brawls warranting my own visits to the principal's office, complete with pep talks advocating contentment with an "American" identity and the pitfalls of ethnic baggage. I've wondered, would she have told me the same thing if I were of another minority background?

I began to see patterns that were predictable, not only in media depictions, but also in the way history was taught in school. In foreign policy rhetoric and decision-making, even after the Soviet bloc had been consigned to history's dustbin, "Russia" was conflated with the USSR in the Western mind. Russia was, is, and likely always will be "evil."

Today's allegations of troll farms and election meddling reinforce the "bad Russians" trope. Recent history and current news needn't be rehashed here, but the next time you turn on the news, pay attention and think about how you'd see things if you had my -- or my mother's -- eyes.

Like my grandfather once advised my mom, I could've kept my half-Russian background secret or ambiguous; "blended in" as the college professor said my fair-skinned immigrant ancestors and their contemporaries were able to do. But is that what we really want, to erase who we are?

'I thought he knew kung fu'

There's a twist to my story. My mom is a white woman, born in America, but the product of a culture that is in many ways exotic and foreign. My dad was a brown man from a faraway place, but in many ways he was very American.

As I've mentioned, my father grew up in the Philippines and was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, although he wasn't religious. But his father -- my grandfather -- had a questioning and investigative spirit that saw him venture away from the Roman Catholic mainstream of Philippine culture, coursing through a variety of Protestant sects introduced to the Philippines by American missionaries before settling on Adventism.

Mark's paternal grandparents, Antonio and Josefa del Rosario Moya, circa 1928 in the Philippines. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

My dad's Protestant upbringing contributed immensely to his American outlook. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who was far less interested in, let alone encumbered by, the history of his native Philippines and interactions with successive waves of Hindus, Chinese, Arabs, Spanish, Dutch, English, and Americans with the indigenous Malays.

Of course, he would tell me stories that every Filipino schoolboy knew: about Magellan, Lapu Lapu, and Rajah Sulayman; of the heroes of Philippine nationalism, Rizal and Aguinaldo. But when I'd start talking about the ancient Hindu and Muslim principalities of Srivijaya and Majapahit that encompassed maritime southeast Asia, he would just throw his hands up and roll his eyes: "Mark, you're too into roots!"

There were a few stories involving racism that he encountered, but he had a way of lightening the situation, something that I'm not very good at: "Mark, you take things too personally!" He would just exhale in exasperation, roll his eyes, and shake his head.

He had some opinions regarding the overreach of law enforcement, particularly officers from municipal and county divisions. One memorable incident circa 1970, which he related several times, involved a routine traffic stop where he was restrained by chokehold despite complying with the officer. At the court appearance, he mentioned the excessive restraint, and the officer in question attempted to justify himself by saying, "I thought he knew kung fu."

The judge wasn't impressed, and the citation against my dad was dismissed.

Having arrived from the Philippines just a few years earlier, my dad was acutely aware of the racist nature of such a comment.

But he felt the incident was an example of a policeman letting his position "get to his head" rather than being racially motivated or the product of an institutionally endemic mentality. In his own words: "A lot of cops are a**holes, especially the younger ones. They get a badge and a gun, and they think they can do whatever they want."

And as I see it, this sort of tendency isn't unique to law enforcement, but can be found anywhere people have the ability to exert a measure of authority.

My dad was very much informed by the American pop-culture of his time, and enjoyed watching Westerns, war movies, and in some ways I think tried to embody a rebellious spirit in the manner of characters portrayed by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson, with a measure of polish à la James Bond.

He had a macho quality that was also chivalrous and family-oriented: think "man-of-the-house" but ready to defer to the wants and needs of his wife and son. He insisted on putting himself last (as was my mom in relation to me) and bordered on the indulgent.

He was something of a raconteur, and stories of his rebellious escapades growing up, his fights and brawls with classmates and teachers and even more "colorful" confrontations on the streets of Glendale and Boyle Heights -- right up until he met my mother in 1971-- were plenty. Stories about never studying in school, yet managing to ace his exams, introduced me to a habit that, for better or worse, I might have tried to emulate in my own studies.

He was fiercely independent; at once pragmatic and practical. It was a spirit that endured throughout his life — even after he contracted COVID-19 earlier this year.

A dad being a dad

I share this story with you, because my father's memory deserves a glimpse into just who he was and his own views -- not quite the same as, but by no means dissimilar to mine -- about this public health crisis during its nascent stages.

I'm not talking from a place of intellectual or philosophical speculation, I'm not talking because of social or economic concerns. And even though I do have something beyond a layperson's technical understanding, I'm not even talking from a medical or scientific standpoint. I'm talking as someone who actually lived through it and lost a member of my household to it.

You see it with your own eyes, you feel it yourself. You feel the frustration when fellow healthcare professionals dismiss you as you're arguing with them to abandon protocol and use anything they can -- even if we don't know it will work -- to save someone you love.

Late last year, when news of the novel coronavirus began to trickle in from Wuhan, there was considerable anxiety amongst my professional colleagues -- I am a dentist by trade -- about what this meant for us from an occupational standpoint.


Details about transmissibility were vague, and subject to endless revision, reversion, and contradiction. At the time, it was still thought to be an ailment confined to the interior of China -- dangerous, to be sure, but quite literally half a world away.

Dentists are bombarded with respiratory droplets on a daily basis, and standard PPE -- masks, gloves, eye coverings, and either a lab coat or disposable gown -- have been de rigueur since I entered the profession more than 13 years ago. I operate a small practice in Diamond Bar and also work for a larger corporate dental chain at a number of their locations.

I also live in a multigenerational household: my mother is 73 and visibly frail, with a number of existing health conditions. My father, who would have been 76 this past July, also had a number of preexisting chronic issues, but these were well-managed and he had a strong, robust constitution. By no means was he "at death's door."

Living with your parents doesn't mean that you're a debt-laden loser living in your mom's basement. I paid off a middle-six-figure student loan the better part of a decade ago and live comfortably, but being the only child, my parents wanted me to save; leaving the nest to start my own family once "the one" came along. Perhaps that was my biggest privilege, not one of race or skin color, but one where parents saw their children as building on what came before, not sending them into the world as they relished an "empty nest." When the day comes, I hope to have the opportunity to replicate their approach.

By late February, as the pandemic spread, I saw the writing on the wall, and had begun to consider suspending all clinical activity. I knew we had a problem on our hands, but didn't expect it to balloon so quickly, let alone find it at my own doorstep.

Within a few days, I modified my daily routine. I used to visit local flea markets early in the morning before work to find the odd ancient treasure, and also for exercise -- that was now out of the question. I'd even begun wearing a mask before we were told to -- or told not to -- I can't remember which came first. Organized dentistry was slow to adopt an official pronouncement, despite the high-risk nature of our work.

In both my private practice and my job at the group clinic, I began to treat only acute and urgent needs, trying to minimize exposure. By the middle of March, the California Dental Association and the dental board issued a number of vague recommendations that stopped short of giving any firm guidance or directive. It was at this point I closed my practice, and reported to work at the group practice only for emergency cases.

Between March 14 and 23, the day I stopped working altogether, I saw perhaps five patients for brief consultations. Other dentists I work with weren't so cautious with their approach. I cannot rule out the possibility that I contracted the disease at work, but proving it is well-nigh impossible.

When I told my dad about my concerns, he chuckled, threw his head back, sighed, and laughed, "Oh, Mark, you wear a mask, you wear gloves, you wear goggles, you have a lab coat. I don't know why you keep worrying when you have protection. You'll say anything to justify having a break. Do what you want!"

I would even undress before going inside the house -- perhaps a bit of an overshare, but it's true. I insisted my dad do the same, and even though he thought it absurd, he complied: "See, Mark? I'm following orders. The boss has spoken."

When it was time to do the grocery shopping, he insisted that he be the one to venture out, despite my protests: "If one of us gets sick, all of us will get sick. I know the protocol better than..."

As he often did, he interjected before I could finish objecting, reminding me of his time as a hospital administrator: "Mark! You think you know how to do this better than I do. I worked in the hospital for 45 years -- I dealt with JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a hospital accreditation and credentialing body) and OSHA. I know what I'm doing."

Mark, a dentist by trade, is also classical musician on the side. Here he is in 2014, checking out a violin bow. (Courtesy Mark M.)

He'd continue: "People in their 30s and 40s are getting sick -- even people in their 20s are dying! I go during the senior hour and no one's there. If you go, it'll be crowded. I don't want you getting sick. You have your whole life ahead of you. And if your mother gets sick, she'll be a goner. I'm going to go. You. Stay. Home!"

He was a dad being a dad, and I couldn't dissuade him. Frustrated and a bit annoyed, I waved him off and left the room, mumbling.

What was happening in my home was doubtless unfolding in millions of others at the time, while high above us, the national debate over how to handle the growing pandemic played out as a mutually contrarian, all-or-nothing, zero-sum tug-of-war. As I see it, our country's worst ailment -- selfishness -- coincided with the gravest and most acute public health crisis to strike our planet in more than a century.

We Americans have a warped idea of essentiality. One side justifies civilizational upheaval whilst beating a drum of perpetual grievance and identity politics, cloaking it in politically correct and inclusive euphemism. The other side makes weak economic and libertarian appeals, citing Constitutional amendments as if they were handed to Moses atop Mount Sinai, and as if the founding of our imperfect Union were mandated by the Almighty Himself. Both, in their selfish carelessness and obsession about "being right," instead of "doing the right thing," poured kerosene on the fires of contagion.

Meanwhile, people die.

'Don't dwell on things you can't control'

During our final weeks together, my dad and I were riveted to the various tallies being kept of COVID-19 cases worldwide. He liked Worldometer but I preferred the Johns Hopkins tracker, despite its frequent glitches. He liked to play with numbers and statistics, and he'd compare his own prognostications with those being offered by public health officials.

Despite his computational acuity and intellectual astuteness, we got into an argument about his clearly linear extrapolation -- which is, of course, not how unchecked replication and transmission happen. That, and his low estimate of the number of deaths that would occur by this point in time, not knowing that in mere days he would be part of those statistics.

There were many moments of humor during those final weeks, some perhaps not suited to polite company. And moments that, in retrospect, prepared me for what was to come. Like the time he said, "Mark, don't dwell on things you can't control. Everyone's time comes -- it's part of the life cycle. When the Commander calls, I'll be ready. You focus on what you need to do to get where you need to be. I'll be fine."

One moment is engraved in my memory as our goodbye, perhaps two days before he fell ill. I prepared his favorite breakfast plate -- lox, sliced onion and tomato, and a toasted bagel -- and brought it to his bedside as he crunched the current COVID numbers on his calculator. I'd also been tending to some much-needed tidying and organization around the house.

Mark with his father in Lake Tahoe, 1984. (Courtesy Mark Moya)

With a huge grin on his face, he declared, "My son is taking good care of his parents! I love you, Mark."

I rolled my eyes, said "Yeah, yeah, yeah," waved him off, and turned to leave the room. I glanced back at him and saw him shake his head, still grinning before he began to eat: "You're a good son, Mark. I love you."

I closed the door and went about my spring cleaning. He said these things often, and my reactions were similar as here, but there was an urgency in its repetitiveness this time that makes it especially poignant, in retrospect.

I last saw my dad alive when I brought him to the triage tent in front of the hospital around midnight on April 5. He was certainly frustrated, but not fearful, and he acknowledged that his demise was likely.

We spoke briefly on the phone during the next couple of days before he was intubated. I could hear he was struggling, so I kept the conversations brief so as not to exhaust him. His only concern was for my safety and health, as well as that of my mother: "Mark, be careful and take good care of your mother. You might be the only one left."

I tested positive while my dad was in the hospital. But my symptoms were very different from his. At the time my dad was admitted, the focus was on a triad of symptoms -- fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Those symptoms appeared suddenly and progressed rapidly. I'm still unsure if what I experienced were indeed symptoms: no cough, but rather episodes of rapid heart rate, hypertension, and what could best be described as Parkinson's-like tremors that were brief and intermittent.

My dad died on April 10. I recovered.

There is a tremendous amount of sad irony knowing that my dad came from a country where exotic maladies are commonplace, found a measure of success in the "land of opportunity" as it were, and succumbed to an exotic disease that found its way here from the other side of the globe.

Tragedies are weighed by those who write the history books. Many are overlooked or disregarded. Those who manage to be heard seldom use their voice to bring attention to those forgotten atrocities, as if suffering and oppression were exclusive to them.

No, it isn't exclusive. Nearly a quarter of a million people have died in this country, and well over a million have died worldwide in the space of ten short months.


I think a lot about my dad these days. I think about the life he led long ago that shaped him, and how he and my mom shaped me.

My dad was born during the final months of World War II and grew up in the aftermath of the devastation it wrought. I have many childhood memories of his stories, tales of Japanese soldiers holding out in hiding after the war and rice sacks full of worthless, Japanese-issued 100-peso notes stashed in his family home, repurposed as play money.

MacArthur and Eisenhower were heroes of his, and he was a firm believer in American exceptionalism. He arrived from the Philippines around this time of the year in 1967, when our nation was in the midst of an earlier iteration of social change that I wish I could say was purer in its intentions than what I feel we are now experiencing, but the truth is that its seeds had already sprouted.

In 1971, he met my mother and married her at the end of the following year. A strange and unlikely combination that, as is to be expected in any mixed marriage, saw a number of cultural squabbles. But as my mother has said, "He was a responsible family man and that's why I married him. He was funny, too."

They were practical people whose love grew out of compatible values and a shared mission to raise a family. Still, it wasn't uncommon for him to propose spontaneous day trips to San Francisco or Las Vegas to dine at favorite restaurants, leaving before dawn and returning late in the night. He had something of an indulgent, bon vivant streak, yet in me, he encouraged a conservative, circumspect approach.

My view is more nuanced and less romantic than my dad's. Our country isn't the nation of MacArthur and Eisenhower -- and hasn't been that way since shortly after their time. Perhaps it's because I take a longer view. My sensibility arises from seeing how history, some of it quite distant, affects the dynamics of our own time.

As he would often say when we'd discuss world events, "Mark, you keep harping about things that happened 500 years ago! Get over it!"

My dad's frame of reference was fully within the confines of the 20th century, and he saw these turbulent episodes as regrettable but cyclic, confident that America would always prevail: "Mark, these things come and go. You should've seen how crazy the hippies were when I came here!" And then he would go off ranting about the antics of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Weather Underground, and so on, and so forth.

I'm not so certain America will prevail. Unless we can put aside our competing agendas and work together to solve the unprecedented confluence of crises we now face (and others we will most certainly face down the road) there may come a time that is unbearably dark, no matter what side of the ideological fence one sits on.

But my dad's optimism, and a faith in a better future that drove my mother's family to these shores -- where their shared values found an heir in someone like me -- attest to a belief that their adopted country would indeed prevail.

I hope they were right.


Mark Moya is a native Angeleno who grew up in the east San Gabriel Valley and its environs, living for a number of years in New Jersey and New York while pursuing his undergraduate and graduate studies at Rutgers and NYU. He has been practicing dentistry since 2007 and operates a small general practice in Diamond Bar.

An amateur violinist with a particular interest in Baroque and other early music, he is the founder of the @voxsaeculorum composer's association and served as composer-in-residence for the Long Beach-based Kontrapunktus Baroque Ensemble from 2016-18.

He is an active member of Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Lake.

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