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Mother Tongue | Regina Celine Legarte

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

‘Mureng’ is the only word I remember from the first language I learned as a child. It means ‘dirty laundry’. My mother taught it to me as she taught me all chores in life, and the other words lay forgotten in the laundry basket, socks stuck in the drum of the washing machine.

These are my first memories: sticky-sweet merienda in sleepy afternoons long days of the unforgiving sun and thick, yawning heat— and when it rained, the sky would split open and I would run outside, arms outstretched to catch heaven itself. My nanang would chide me as I swept back inside wet smiles and skin soaked with glee.

I take these memories out from under the bed hang them up in the light. They stare back, dusty and silent, films miming a language I no longer understand. I speak to my mother in a tongue that’s not hers, but mine and I understand what is lost to us. I speak to my grandmother in a tongue neither of us know and I mourn what is lost to us.

I fold these images up and tuck them away ordered and neat in the drawers like fresh laundry. There is merienda waiting in the kitchen— plantain drizzled in caramel, or golden-sweet mangoes, or cloud-soft dumplings stuffed full with sweetness. My mother calls me downstairs: anak, she says. I close the drawers, pick up the laundry basket, and understand what she means.

Regina Celine Legarte

Regina is a British-Filipino who grew up in a small town in Norfolk. She currently lives and works in the middle-of-nowhere, West Sussex, and is trying to figure out how to use her degree from LSE to get where she wants to go. In the meantime, she is spending the free time she has writing poetry and doing laundry.

Photography by Salomé Melchior.

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