Poem by Eugene Gloria

uses milkfish to explore identity, cultural heritage, memory

milkfish (a staple in Filipino cuisine, called bangus) which takes meticulous effort to prepare due to many small bones

uses vivid imagery and metaphors; uses preparation and its significance as part of its narrative

act of preparing milkfish allegory for

You feed us milkfish stew
and long grain rice, make us eat
blood soup with chili peppers,
and frown at us when we lose our appetite
Milkfish is a Filipino staple. The author does not like this dish. It represents the rich Filipino culture and heritage
I remember when I was young and you told me
of that monsoon: the Japanese Occupation—
stories of a time before you met my father,
when you learned the language of an occupied city
in order to feed your family.
Talks about the Japanese occupation of Philippines. The author had learnt about it from the stories his mother had told him.

She had to learn “the language of an occupied city” to ensure her family doesn’t go hungry.

Contrast this with the above. Here, food is scarce unlike when the author is born and brought up in the US. His mother feeds him milkfish stew that is not only quite expensive but also requires a lot of effort and time.

A delicacy back at home, the author dislikes it.
You were the pretty one at seventeen,
your skin, white as milkfish.
The pretty ones, you said,
were always given more food—
the Japanese soldiers sentried
above the loft where you worked
dropped sweet yams, and you caught them
by the billow of your skirt.
White as milkfish; ties it back to milkfish
talks about how her beauty was essential for her (and her family’s) survival.

She was given more food because she was pretty.

Also, the equation of beauty to fairness.
I remember you in sepia-brown photographs
as a mestiza who equated liberation
with Hershey bars and beige nylons from American GIs—
and the season of the monsoon as dark as hunger
was not about suffering
but what you knew of beauty
recollection, memories, reconstruction of the past; hints that it might have been easier for his mother (relatively) due to her beauty

Milkfish type of fish

mestiza a person of mixed ancestry, esp Native American and Spanish


  1. Cultural Identity and Heritage the act of preparing the milkfish = ritualistic connection to his Filipino roots

  2. Memory and Nostalgia bittersweet evoke memories of homeland, tradition, and family pain of separation

  3. Complexity of Identity