“Ox!” my mom exclaimed, carefully putting down the “O” and “X” square tiles in her conquest of the Scrabble board. My sister and I shot an exasperated glance at each other, somehow already sensing the mountain of points that those two letters held inside them. As expected, my mom earned a considerable 27 points, smiling broadly at her simple, yet effective use of the triple-word score tile.
My mother's influence on me is best summed up in these "Scrabble" moments. In a world where words are thrown around arbitrarily, she shows me the value of words and the power that they wield. Ironically enough, my mom’s first language wasn’t even English. My mom is an immigrant from Tuguegarao, Philippines, a rural town far from the crowded New York City. She pronounces “cop” like “cup,” “war” like “ware,” “picture” like “pitcher”; if you’re lucky enough, you might find her "opening the tv" instead of turning it on, or "closing the lights" instead of turning them off. But where my mom lacks in pronunciation, she compensates for with purposeful language. Where she misunderstands in meaning, she makes up for in care. I notice the depth behind her phrases, the compassion in her words, the kindness that belies even the simplest of sentences. She might say “What’s your name?” to a foreign person on the street and her words magically become “I see you. I understand.” She might ask me, “Want boba?” and however silly it may sound, I’ll know that she understands my need for comfort. These small incidents have shaped my perception of words, teaching me to listen rather than hear, and to admire rather than judge.
More than that, however, she has been my lifelong teacher, mentor, and best friend. Be it by bringing me with her to the Philippines, enrolling me in preschool Chinese classes, or speaking to me in Spanish, she has taught me the beauty of culture and language. Be it by listening to my Original Oratory speeches, reading stories to me, and singing with me in carpool karaoke, she has taught me the beauty of speech. And be it through Scrabble, Words with Friends, or even the New York Times Spelling Bee, she has taught me the beauty of simple, yet effective communication.
Thank you, mom.