Let's Talk Human Rights Blog: "I tried like you told me to."

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"I tried like you told me to."

“I tried like you told me to,” I wrote in a letter to my lola/grandma* when I was in elementary school. I didn’t win the coloring contest I entered, but I made sure to tell her that I tried. I grew up next door to my grandparents, Amado Sr. and Alita Villanueva Siasoco, on Trowbridge Street on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa. Lola was an educator, which meant that I, and her 13 other grandchildren, would benefit from a mini-school environment during our time with her. We would go to lola’s house to practice handwriting, do math worksheets, make sugared donuts, play instruments and mancala. She later moved to Council Bluffs; fortunately, lola loved to write and became the best pen pal to my cousins and me. I am not the only family member who has a binder full of letters, cards, and worksheets from Lola. 

Once, when I was in middle school hanging out at her house, I decided that I didn’t have anything to do. So, I told her, “Lola, I am sooo bored.” She simply said, “Bored people are boring people.” 

I don’t remember if she explained what she meant because I was so angry at her for calling me boring. But as I got older, I’ve come to understand what she meant by watching her. Life is too short to be complaining about nothing to do - there is too much dancing, singing, learning, writing and traveling to do.

Our lola had a perpetual imagination and intellect. She consumed books overnight and wrote countless journals. Even when she watched t.v., she took notes.  She took great pride in her Elementary Education degree, and later, her seven children and 14 grandchildren’s education, travels, and accomplishments. 

Growing up in a narrow world where the Asian girl is a ninja or angel, quiet or invisible, I was lucky to have my lola to show me a different way. She was my first feminist role model, because she was confident, loud, and proud. I looked up to my grandmother, not only because of her winning personality, but also because she was one of the only leaders that looked like me with black hair and brown skin. No one on t.v., in magazines, or at school showed me what I could be as an Asian-American girl.

In a “What do you want to be when you grow up?” survey in elementary school, I wrote that I wanted to be the president of the United States, because I saw my lola serve as the President of the Filipino American Association of Iowa – a group she helped establish and grow.

Later, when I was in high school, lola moved back to Des Moines. She loved people and was one of the biggest extroverts you’d ever meet - the “life of the party.” Not only did she direct her energy to social events, but also towards social justice. She was a volunteer for the Des Moines Public Library’s “Conversations and Coffee,” the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Iowa Asian Alliance. By her example, she taught me that there is a time to serve others and lead even when you’re not ready.

Lola, this is your granddaughter and namesake: Dianne Alita Rosales Siasoco. I miss you and don’t feel ready to be a leader right now, but I’ll try because you asked me to. Thank you for challenging me to go beyond what the rest of the world says I should and could be. You’ll always be my first president.

(*Lola is the Filipino/Tagalog word for “grandma” in English.) 

- Author Dianne Siasoco earned her Master in Teaching degree and continues to work in the Education profession, along with 12 other family members (at last count).  Alita Siasoco, her lola, passed away on April 24, 2019, but her pursuit of knowledge, love of writing, and infinite curiosity will continue on in her family.

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