On Global Filipinos: Dragons and monsters

Photo taken in the Lewises’ Paris apartment. Daughter Leslie ask her parents to make a funny face, Reginald and Loida end up laughing.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

This is an excerpt from the author’s memoir, “An Asian-American Story of Love, Marriage, Motherhood, and Running a Billion-Dollar Empire,” to be released in 2023 by Wiley and Sons.  The book is a glimpse into the interracial marriage in New York between a Filipino woman and an African American. The 80th anniversary of Reginald Lewis’s birth is December 7, 2022.

After our wedding, one of the first things Reginald and I do as husband and wife is scurry off to Manila International Airport to catch a Philippines Airlines flight. Mama comes with us to the airport and silently cries her eyes out the entire time, which makes my heart ache.  

“Promise me you will take care of Loida,” she says to Reginald between sobs, causing tears to slide down my own cheeks.

My new spouse, who’s slipped out of his tuxedo and into casual vacation clothes, firmly grasps my mother’s hands and looks directly into her eyes with a loving smile on his rugged face. “Please do not worry,” he says in a reassuring voice. “I’ll take care of her.”

I didn’t know it, but Reginald had already secretly promised Papa that he would send me back to the Philippines at least once a year to visit my family. My spouse can be sharp-tongued and hot-headed at times, among other faults, but he’s always kind and respectful toward my parents, which is one of the many reasons why I love him.

When our jetliner roars from a Manila International Airport runway for the four-hour journey to Japan, I’m incredibly sad to be leaving my kinfolk and my homeland, but tremendously excited to be starting a new life with the most dynamic person I’ve ever met. This feels right—at 26, I have no doubt God has paired me with my soulmate. 

I scoot over in my narrow airline seat and rest my head on Reginald’s rock-solid shoulder. Both of us are so tired from the hours-long ordeal of taking pictures and dancing and shaking hands at our wedding that we quickly fall asleep.

A passionate love story

Our honeymoon in Tokyo and the ancient city of Kyoto is marked by three nights of memorable passion, in part because we’ve been apart for two long months.

During the day, we have fun going through the Ginza section of Tokyo, one of the city’s top shopping districts. Then we move on to Kyoto, an ancient city whose ebb and flow is several centuries behind Tokyo’s. In Kyoto, we stay in a Japanese inn called the Ryokan. Instead of a bed, we sleep on a mat in a room that has a hot tub and that’s visited by a geisha who scrubs our backs with warm water. Very Japanese.

The two of us are running around Japan having mastered exactly one word of the native language—sayonara, meaning “goodbye.” Not real useful when we’re trying to order in a restaurant or are asking directions, but we get by through relying on pantomime and by flashing yen when necessary. When two people are head-over-heels, there’s not much they can’t conquer together, including language barriers.

Kyoto doesn’t have a big shopping area like Tokyo, but that doesn’t keep me and Reginald from buying something we treasure throughout our marriage, namely, a beautiful woodblock print by famous Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige.

During the Japanese leg of our honeymoon, Reginald confides that while he was in Manhattan prior to our marriage, he deeply resented the fact that I changed our wedding plans.

“You know what saved you?” he tells me matter-of-factly. “I received a letter from you every day!” Fortunately, I’d had the presence of mind to write him while we were separated in order to keep the fires burning.

Good thing, too, because Reginald says that after his flight from New York City landed in Hong Kong, a flight attendant came on the intercom and said: “Those proceeding to Paris, please stay onboard. Those going to Manila, please get off for your connecting flight.

For an instant Reginald mulled staying in his seat and jetting off to Paris, his favorite city and a place his grandpa, Sam Cooper, had come to relish while serving in the U.S. Army during World War I. As a boy, Reginald heard story after story from his grandfather about how the French had treated Black American soldiers with admiration and respect. Not only that, but Reginald had visited Paris himself while on a summer break from Harvard Law School and had a fantastic time.

But as he sat in his airline seat in Hong Kong and envisioned me standing alone at the altar in Manila—jilted, heartbroken, and utterly humiliated—he says the temptation to head to Paris instantly disappeared. He hopped off the plane, went into the airport terminal, and found the gate for his connecting flight to Manila. As he was destined to.

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