The Translation Of Love

by Shaira Nixon / Garnet & Black

She tells me,

Anak, halika dito.*

It’s a whisper as if she wants to tell me a secret.

Anak, tulungan mo ko dito.*

In her hands is the electric bill. To her, it was a mix of 

symbols, words jumbled together, a mosaic of 

the things she wished she knew, of words she wished 

she could pronounce.

To me, it was another thing due this month.

At the store, people ask her, “how are you?”

“Do you need help with anything?”

She looks at me with unease in her eyes,

this look says patawad.*

I’m sorry that this is hard for you, too.

I’m sorry for all the words I make you say,

because I know what to say but they’ll 

know what I mean.

In the end, I tell them, “We are fine. Thank you.”


Because that’s all I knew how to say. And that’s

all that matters.

My mother came to this country in her twenties

She came here with dreams and a light inside

that never went away. She treated this country with careful,

nervous hands and, in return, it battered her with words she

couldn’t even understand. As an immigrant, the only thing 

people saw her as was broken.

But she knows she’s a genius. In her mind, she 

knows all the things a mother should know. 

Every time I cried, she held my face in her hands 

and she told me, “I love you.” She sewed blankets 

for me and my siblings with all the love she had,

as if to protect us from the monsters in the world. 

She is espesyal.*

She is all the love I could’ve ever known, and there’s 

not a single barrier between us. 

She says to me,

Anak, help me. Please.

She’s trying. The words are still a bit jumbled, 

but nothing about them is broken. 

We work together on her resume, and she looks

at me as though the reason she came all this way 

was for this very moment. To look at me, 

her anak.

Her bunso.*

Her reason to keep going in this country.

Because despite the way I was treated, I will make sure 

no one ever treats you the same.

She says mahal kita*

I say mahal din kita, mama.*

*Anak, halika dito: Child, come here 

*Anak, tulungan mo ko dito: Child, help me with this 

*Patawad: I'm sorry

*Espesyal: special

*Bunso: Baby

*Mahal Kita: I love you

*Mahal din kita: I love you too