Words by Mizelle Mayo
Before I stepped foot in Anchorage, I lived at the tip-top of Alaska: Utqiagvik, formally known as Barrow. The weather conditions prompted us to often stay inside because of its never-ending cold, limited daylight. The opportunity to grow up in an environment filled with socialization, where we had family and more opportunities for education, was the reason my family decided to move to Anchorage,. Our first stop and our first home was my grandparents’ red triplex.
That red house, located on Northwood Drive in the heart of Spenard, is filled with the richness of not just my childhood, but the relatives I had grown close to throughout my years.
In the early ‘70s, My grandma and grandpa, Perla and Casiano Mayo, came to Alaska from the Philippines in search of opportunity and a better life for their children. My grandpa came first, after finding a job at the pipeline. In 1973, my grandma and her first two children were able to move to Alaska, too. My grandma had three more children back home, and my family found themselves living between Alaska and the Philippines.
Growing up, my dad and his siblings went to Northwood Elementary School, Romig Middle School and West High School. During their adolescence, there were many house parties and gatherings at thetriplex. One time, things almost got out of hand when a party reached the full capacity, stretching into the porch and front yard. Now, the porch has been restructured and expanded to fit more of my nieces and nephews when we have family gatherings.
My dad and his siblings began adulthood and moved into various apartments, all within the vicinity of my grandparent’s house.
Filipino culture is heavily invested in the importance of sharing our lives together. My childhood consisted of deep bonds with my cousins through picking raspberries in my grandparents’ backyard (and the neighbor’s, too). We did everything together, like share clothes, ride our bikes to the park, feed the ducks at the pond near the house and enjoy the cuisine of our grandparents.
Whenever we had a birthday or holiday, my grandma would make her signature dish: a pancit that stood above all other pancits I have ever tasted. She takes the time to make the noodles soft and juicy with lemon, combined with the tenderness of the chicken mixed in with the vegetables — the dish was so incredibly mouth-watering, but I might be biased.
Moving from Barrow to Anchorage when I was five years old was a foreign feeling at the time. The overwhelming introduction to my 17 cousins and eight aunts and uncles was the best way to be welcomed to Anchorage and Spenard.
Stationed in the back lot of my grandpa’s house was a small RV that was set right next to the fence with the grass growing taller than our heads at the time. It had this orange-golden glow to it, not just because this was our own little escape into our worlds, but because the orange stripes that wrapped around the RV were chipped and bits of the actual frame shined through when the morning sun rose.
My cousins and I cleaned out that RV and created a playhouse. Here, we would map out where to find spiders and other hidden treasures. We each brought small pillows from our homes and placed new sheets of linen on the bed that was made for two in there. We wiped down the leather seats and the dining table that had a limp to it because one of the legs was missing. One of us found a mason jar and filled it with dandelions and placed it in the middle of our angled dining table. We all took turns making sure that the place was clean. It was a cherished place.
Growing up as the third set of Mayo’s in our family, my siblings, cousins and I had the opportunity to grow in an environment where my grandparents taught us the importance of sharing. We shared our food, our stories and legends. We grew up on the morals of selflessness and compassion for people. I am glad that I was introduced into Spenard with my family.