“Mango Poem”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original works, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

17th Infantry head for action in the Philippine Islands. (National Archives Identifier 533179)

17th Infantry head for action in the Philippine Islands. (National Archives Identifier 533179)

Today’s poem, “Mango Poem” by Regie Cabico, was inspired by documents within the National Archives related to the Philippine-American War (1899–1902).

After the United States defeated Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the colony of the Philippines to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris.

On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American troops and Filipino nationalists. Led by Emilio Aguinaldo, the nationalists wanted Philippine independence.

The Philippine-American War lasted three years. Approximately 125,000 American troops served. Of those, 4,200 were killed and 2,900 were wounded.

During the conflict, more than 20,000 Filipino troops were killed, and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.

Despite a proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt announcing the end to the war in 1902, intermittent fighting continued throughout America’s rule over the colony. In 1946 the Philippines gained independence from the United States.

Read our Prologue article for more information on records at the National Archives related to the Philippine-American War.

MANGO POEM

By Regie Cabico 

Mother fetches the fruit from the mango grove
…….behind closed bamboo.
…….Rips its paper-leather cover during midday recess,
before English class, describes their dance
peaches plums cantaloupes before my first-world
…….eyes. When the sun blazed on the dust,

she let the mellifluous fluids
…….fall on her assignment books.
Where the mangos were first planted, mother,
an infant, hid under gravel
swaddled by Lola, my grandmother,
after my mother’s aunt and uncle
were tied to the trunk
…….and stabbed
by the Japanese. Mother and daughter living off
…….fallen mangos, the pits planted in darkness,
…….before I was born.

We left the Philippines
…….for California dodging
U.S. Customs with the forbidden fruit,
…….thinking who’d deprive mother of her mangos.
Head down, my father denies that we have perishable
…….foods, waving passports in the still air,
motioning for us
…….to proceed towards the terminal.
Behind a long line of travelers,

my sisters surround mother
like shoji screens as she hides the newspaper-covered
…….fruit between her legs. Mangos sleeping
in the hammock of her skirt, a brilliant batik
…….billowing from the motion
of airline caddies pushing suitcases
…….on metal carts.

We walk around mother
…….forming a crucifix where she was center.
On the plane as we cross time zones, mom unwraps
her ripe mangos, the ones from the tree Lola planted
before she gave birth to my mother,

the daughter that left home to be a nurse
in the States,
…….who’d marry a Filipino navy man
…….and have three children of her own. Mother eating
the fruit whose juices rain
…….over deserts and cornfields

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